Why I’m writing this….

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I am a lifelong mountain biker who rarely lacks motivation. I had always ridden bikes off road like most kids but in 1976 I bought a “scrambler” for 70 pence. This was a bike which was dedicated to off road use. In 1977 I added a homemade suspension fork. I used the front suspension units from a Honda C50 motorcycle. I lost the use of the front brake but gained over 3 inches of plush suspension. I was the only one who had this in my area. After a few months my fork fractured but returning to a rigid fork I had plenty of off road adventures. I went to university but always promised myself that I’d build another scrambler one day, even if I was the only one doing it.

I needn’t have worried. By the mid 80s mountain bikes started to appear and in the fullness of time I got one. My riding developed with the MTB technology. I got a suspension fork (again!) in 1995 and a full suspension bike in early ’97.

I’d made friends through riding, we rode regularly and pushed ourselves hard. Now, sadly, the rest of my crew have allowed age and infirmity to intervene. I’m left needing to motivate myself.

This is the purpose of my blog. By describing my regular riding you may find useful ways to get excited about the best sport there is and find plenty of reasons to get out there. I’m riding soon and will tell you all about it afterwards.

 

Facing my demons.

Today I decided to face a demon of my own creation. It’s a technical climb with a very steep final part and I set it as a target for the year in January. I chose to ride my Whyte JW4, which is 15 years old, because it has the lowest gear. I used to ride it weekly 20 years ago so at some point in the summer I’d expect to get to the top without a foot down. In fact it became quite a regular occurrence even though a couple of parts were harder in those days. Erosion has smoothed the trail in places so it’s really just the final climb which is hard. You need to conserve your energy up to that point so you can sprint at it and not give in. It’s about 8 miles away and climbs Crooked Edge Hill, a subsidiary peak to Winter Hill which dominates the West Pennine Moors. I took a route with plenty of climbing but none of it too steep and resisted the climb and descent of Rivington Pike, which is a quality trail. This was all so that I could be as fresh as possible for the 100 yards to the summit.

In the dry, almost still conditions the riding wasn’t particularly challenging for around 9 minutes. I reached the last bit and kept to the left as I knew I must from previous attempts. I crested the steepest part but on the lumpy ground I needed to dab my foot so I wouldn’t call that a success. I have conquered my demon though because it doesn’t matter enough to me to do it that I’d potentially spoil another ride. I’d have been better off enjoying a few of the other options that I passed on the way and just doing my best on Crooked Edge. At least I was now at my highest point of the day with the Lancashire plain to the west and lots of delicious riding to come. I rode down the fast, rocky and rutted trail with it’s many drop offs and other challenges. It’s like driving a fast car on a minor road, you can have far more speed than you’ll ever need and the brakes are your best friends. I took some pictures at the bottom where I’ve found nature provides something unusual in the summer.

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Foxgloves are usually a pinky purple colour. You’ll often see dozens of the plant without a single white one but here the whites dominate. They contain digitalis, a heart stimulant. It could increase my speed on the bike but use too much and it will kill you! I’m sure it’s a banned substance in all sports. I don’t even like to use caffeine to increase my stamina, which some cyclist apparently do. It helps you to burn fat thus saving glycogen, the bodies most important fuel. After a few cups of strong coffee I can’t concentrate and get the tremors. Not good for mountain biking. I get my kicks from the adrenaline rush of a good segment. It doesn’t even need to be a downhill if your putting the effort in. Fatigue has it’s own reward.

I followed the very beginning of the River Douglas as it drops steeply with waterfalls through a finger of woodland. I noticed rocks half the size of cars in the bottom of the steep valley. The trail sticks to the edge of the woods and is rooty single track at first but becomes wider later before returning to a narrow ribbon of dirt. It’s a thrilling few minutes right down to the road back to Rivington village. I turned off to the left to ride through the parkland at the side of a long reservoir. After this was a long but gentle climb on a gravel road. The down hill afterwards was spoiled by a group of walkers. What can you do apart from slow to a crawl and smile as if you’re actually happy to see them?

I then rode an old favourite trail along the side of Anglezarke reservoir to the back of Healey Nab. It’s a good cross country and varying ride and I wondered why I do it so rarely. The trail on the Nab is in perfect condition down through the woods and the open field section which follows was seriously fast. I’ve often thought about trying to set a Strava King of the Mountains on this segment but at real speed it seems to change in nature. Parts where I was in control today become more of an exercise in aim and hope. At over 30 mph the risks are obvious.

I rode 17.26 miles and climbed 1,905 feet of ascent. It turned into a great summer ride and I won’t let that demon plague me again. As for my other 2 unfulfilled targets I’ll have a go when I get the chance. They’re both nearer home so are easier to fit in and I’m still excited to try to lap Healey Nab in  sub 11 minutes. Watch this space.

Please feel free to leave a comment.

Healey Nab video.

I ride down the red graded trail of Healey Nab very often. It’s usually the best route home from Rivington or Great Hill and I also like to session the trail, riding 3 to 5 laps, which each take around 12 minutes. Here is about half of the ride down borrowed from a Facebook post. The rider’s time isn’t particularly fast but it’s a good video of the twists and turns. It begins with the recently modified section of large jumps.

Point Break.

Point Break was a 1991 action movie starring Keanu Reeves and Lori Petty. If you’ve never seen it, it’s well worth looking up. It is a crime thriller centred around surfing. My connection with today’s mountain bike ride is simply that when Keanu’s character asks Lori’s why she does it she says, “For the ride. For the ultimate ride”. Today’s ride wasn’t planned with the intention of searching so high but it turned out to be a massively fulfilling experience and I can now bask in the great memory.

I fancied a trail ride but thought it would be good to do the fantastic trail down Great hill, which is to the north west of Chorley. Including a few undulations and a return over Healey Nab I climbed a total of 1,490 feet and covered 13.62 miles in 1 hour 46 minutes. I took a familiar route to White Coppice but avoided the side of the reservoirs in case it was overrun with anglers. The technical trail from White Coppice to Brinscall woods went well. At the hardest part I accelerated to let the momentum carry me through. Then the climb started in earnest. A 744 feet climb with a little downward slope on the first steep section. I reached the summit still feeling quite fresh. All my photos were taken from the stone cross shaped windbreak on top. The picture at the top shows the haunt of witches, Pendle Hill to the left and Darwen Hill with the jubilee tower to the right.

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The Lancashire plain and Fylde peninsular beyond the city of Preston looking west.

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The Yorkshire Dales were visible to the north west.

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With the naked eye I could see the Lake District across Morecambe bay.

I was determined to make safety rather than speed my priority on the long downhill. It starts with an action packed roller coaster of trail which unfortunately ends at a stile. There have been times when I could have saved 30 seconds because the stile had been broken. Unfortunately I would imagine the damage was caused by irresponsible riders because I can’t imagine who else it would benefit. Over the stile the trail drops steeply and is a mixture of dirt, grass and rock. You can really get some speed up as the trail turns to a drier, stonier surface. One stretch has some really pointed rocks, some of which are large. I’ve mentioned previously that it’s cost me punctures and even a broken wheel rim. I got through it and as the surface became smoother and grassier I took the responsible decision to slow for 2 walkers. Back up to speed and into a smorgasbord of trail obstacles which would make a superb Enduro World Series segment. The broken surface dips and twists savagely. The rain ruts running down the line are itching to catch a wheel and pitch you off. It’s such a tough battle to maintain your speed. I kept an eye on safety but fought hard. The thrills continued on more open ground followed by a steeper gradient and the chance to pick up massive speed. More walkers but I was only held up a little. The last part of the descent is the toughest of all. There is drop off after drop off where the bike falls through the air, often landing on loose rocks up to football sized. If I’d slowed I’d have felt every bump but with sufficient speed I surfed as if the rocks were liquid. I slowed for a group of girls who were clambering up and it broke my rhythm. At the bottom I was buzzing with just Healey Nab left to climb and ride down.

My 7 minute 18 second descent placed me 59th out of 914 riders on Strava. I could throw caution to the wind and cut that by a good margin but I’d rather just enjoy the ride. I have no reason to take the unnecessary risks of a full on attempt. 20 years ago it would have been,and often was, a different story. Still, I was pleased to set off after a much younger rider down Healey Nab red route. He took a short cut at first but by half way down I got up behind him. He pulled over for me to pass.

OK, so it wasn’t the ultimate ride but it was a big thrill. I don’t think any one ride could be somehow the ultimate. I’ll just keep working to make every ride worthwhile and enjoy the best sport there is.

Never too old to learn!

It’s funny how you learn things throughout your life. We, as a species, seem to have a thirst for knowing more which never leaves us whilst our minds are still healthy. Today I learned a few things on my mountain bike ride, some good and some less appealing!

We’ve had showers since Monday afternoon but I could tell when I walked the dog this morning that the trails would have only surface moisture, not mud. I thought it would be interesting to do something I haven’t done for, I think, 8 years, which is to ride 5 laps of Healey Nab red graded route at a continuous fast pace. I’d probably have put more effort in if I’d been competing against other riders but I wondered if I could keep the pace up for 5 laps at 57 years old.

I think it was in 2011 on my previous Whyte JW4 that I rode 5 laps in 57 minutes 58 seconds. The first lap was slowest at 11 minutes 48 and the last was quickest at 11 minutes 17. Yes, I have a quite ridiculous and rarely useful memory for such trivia, especially if it involves numbers. I knew I wouldn’t be able to match these times but that’s not the point. The exercise would be good for fitness and tell me something about my current level and how 8 years might have slowed me down. I thought I’d ride the Boardman FS Pro which I believe to be at least 15 seconds slower per lap than my Whytes but I told myself that this was not important in any way.

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I rode to the Nab and started my first lap from the gate where I’d met a herd of cows 2 rides ago. Strava wouldn’t be timing me from this point but if I rode to the top of the hill I’d have needed to do 6 laps to get 5 timed full laps because that’s where the Strava segment starts. I would use a stopwatch to time the laps and, of course, remember the lap times! I started the lap on the main climb and made sure I didn’t put any massive efforts in to overcome obstacles. The ideal way to ride would be to put in the same power all the way around the laps, gradually getting more tired as the ride went on. If I’d reached exhaustion just as I crossed the finish that would give me my best possible time. This would be hard enough to do on an indoor velodrome and is surely impossible on a mountain bike since the ever changing surface and gradient mean that you have to vary your effort to keep your momentum and some obstacles are just plain hard to get over. There are plenty of shortcuts on the circuit but I decided on a definite route on lap 1 which I maintained to the end.

The climb went smoothly with no drama or feeling like it was hard work. Up to the trail head and down to the back gate where the Strava segment starts and I just kept spinning the pedals as best I could. It was half way down the descent that I learned my first real lesson. I approached a newly modified stretch with several tighter corners. I thought I could take a straighter, quicker line by ignoring the banked right had corner and cutting across the off camber inside. The front wheel slid viciously and I fought hard to avoid flying over the left hand berm which followed. I somehow stayed upright, lost some speed and got through. Close one!

The next lesson came at the end of my first lap when I tried to check the lap time on my watch. Without stopping to concentrate it was just a blur. 8 years ago I was just on the brink of needing reading glasses but now it was going to be very hard to check lap times with any accuracy. Subsequently I must have fumbled with the buttons on the watch and managed to zero it. I still had Strava to rely on, fortunately. I noticed the increased effort as the laps progressed and had a couple more small slides where my enthusiasm got the better of me. For the last lap I thought it would be sensible to keep the effort fairly constant but until I crossed the finish line I found it hard to restrain myself! I gave it a good bit more effort on the final climb but didn’t completely drain the tank.

The Strava record is interesting. Because I started half way round the lap I have 4 results for a full lap, 12 min 40, 12 min 43, 12 min 48 and 12 min 34. This shows that my extra effort on the last climb gained me time and made my last full lap the fastest. My downhill times, meanwhile for all 5 descents were 2 min 8, 2 min 3, 2 m in 12, 2 min 11 and 2 min 14. The second lap was quickest whilst the last was slowest but the margins, considering the shorter time for the downhill, are more significant. The total time was 62 minutes 40 seconds compared to 57 minutes 56 seconds 8 years ago. In totally dry conditions and especially if I rode on of my Whyte bikes I could get closer to the old time but I’ve learned that I can still do 5 laps without slowing at the end. I can still really enjoy the experience and finally, I could do with a coupe of days to recover!

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Dry weather riding.

It’s been great to have some dry weather after a very wet period early in June. We haven’t been getting the very hot conditions that have been causing problems and breaking records in Europe, though I think that the global warming agenda has caused the news reports to be over emphasized. There was little mention of the fact that the UK summer has been cooler than normal after a hot Easter. Today the temperature has been 17 C. Too cold for sunbathing and several degrees below the July average but perfect for mountain biking!

I fancied a trail ride rather than going for a target and remembered the ride I did recently to Roddlesworth woods. The conditions were wet then but would surely be drier today. I’d found a segment from the app. Strava called “Better then the bone shaker” and rode it once last time. Today I wanted to have a practice run before a second, fast descent.  It’s quite a few miles to Roddlesworth, over 8 miles, in fact, and I used a very familiar route utilising as much off road as possible. It took me via the reservoirs north of Chorley to White Coppice where I could have another go at the technical and difficult section to Brinscall woods. I noticed from the start how much easier a technical section is on the modern Boardman FS Pro I was riding than it had been last time on my much loved 15 year  old Whyte PRST4. It took plenty of determination and unwillingness to give up but I made it without stopping or putting a foot down. I took an easy, flat trail to Brinscall village and after a steep road climb, a fast gravel descent. Crossing the tarmac road a narrow farm track turns to gravel and took me up to the start of the downhill.

On the first descent I was learning the twisty single track trail as well as I could. I was still putting some effort in and left the trail several times as I misjudged the turns, struggling across broken ground to rejoin the ribbon of rooty dirt. I looked ahead later on to see a big area of deep, wet mud stretching right across the trail. There was no way round it and when I hit it my wheels sank quickly, almost throwing me over the bars. I’d just about got through it and pedalled back up to speed. I knew I’d be facing the same on the next run and thought I’d just have to hit it quickly enough with my weight pushed backwards in the hope that the momentum would carry me through. I wasn’t sure where the end point of the segment was so carried on over a stream crossing. In fact the segment finishes before a steep drop to the gravel road know for good reason as the Bone Shaker. It’s actually been resurfaced a couple of years ago so isn’t nearly as challenging a ride up or down as it previously was. I climbed back to the top.

On my second run I set off quickly past the start but soon had forgotten which way the trail turned and ran way off again. I returned to the start to correct my mistake. The route is fast with quick turns and lots of protruding tree roots. It really needs to be dry for safety as well as speed so apart from the one short section today was perfect. My first try had taken 2 minutes 1 second and would have been joint 29th fastest out of 226 riders. My second took a much improved 1 minute 38 seconds and got me 10th fastest for which I was awarded a small trophy icon for being in the top 10! To be  King of the Mountains, the fastest ever, I’d need to take 17 seconds off my time, which would be very hard.

I rode back by reversing my route out. The only change I made was when I took a downhill into Brinscall village. I had remembered it having a very rocky last part and it still does. The difference today was that on a modern bike with much longer travel suspension it was much easier, aided also by the dryness of the ground. I arrived at the start of the technical section to White Coppice and despite the odd hiccup I again made it without a foot down. I’ve overcome the psychological barrier that seemed to be preventing me before. I now believe that I can do it and today did it in both directions.

I wanted to go back over Healey Nab to see what work had been done on the jumps at the weekend. Some reprofiling of the slopes has you getting aloft more easily. I’d hate to seem like a spoil sport but I am a little concerned that with no easier, blue graded run, less experienced riders might have problems on this trail. It’s easy enough if you go slowly but who wants to do that? On the open field I took the first steep drop at full speed only to see 2 dog walkers where the ground rises again. I was easily able to slow down to a crawl in time but sensed a prickly disapproval in the atmosphere. Time to be a man about it, dip my head, not make eye contact and get out of there!

In 2 hours 12 minutes of riding I covered 18.24 miles and climbed 1,550 feet of ascent.

The best laid plans of mice and men……

 

…….and cows! Today was a good day to try for a sub 11 minute lap of Healey Nab red graded trail. I’ve mentioned often that this is one of my targets for the year and I’ve had a few goes at it with a best time on Strava of 11 minutes 8 seconds, though my stopwatch said 11 minutes dead. I’d had a light breakfast and 2 hours later was ready to go. The weather was sunny and still. I may rarely have a better chance.

I rode to the north end of the hill and climbed to the woodland, with it’s purpose built trails. My weapon of choice was my 15 year old Whyte PRST4, a fast trail/cross country full suspension bike with it’s unique linkage front suspension. I’d been a bit worried by the poor back brake so last night I cleaned it with aerosol brake cleaner having sand papered the pads. It still wasn’t perfect but this morning I found some new pads and fitted them. I inflated the tyres to unfashionably high pressures of 42 psi, rear, for low drag and 36 psi, front for grip. I went through the gate into the woodland and saw a herd of dairy cows walking down towards me! They must have got through an open gate but definitely shouldn’t have been there. I waited whilst the bulk of them walked close by and headed south. I hoped they would leave the trails by the time I reached the top but noticed more walking down the climb. After they’d dispersed I rode up but saw more coming towards the trail head. There must have been around 30 in total. I descended to the start point of my lap and set off at speed. After the first climb I turned towards the trail head only to be confronted by 4 or 5 lumbering beasts which turned round and skipped away. It was obvious a fast lap was going to be impossible and rather risky so I changed my plan completely.

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When you have a number of targets you want to achieve, you have to take them on sooner or later and today I couldn’t do this one. If I hadn’t been chasing a goal I’d already thought that a ride to Brinscall woods would be good in the almost bone dry conditions, so that’s where I went.

I rode down the gravel road at the back. To stop the rain water running straight down and making channels a number of diagonal humps have been made on the gravel surface. They were surely planned by a mountain biker because they make excellent jumps! I slowed on the last one for a walker. After a short stretch of tarmac it was dirt all the way to Brinscall woods with the excellent technical section which was another of my targets and has been achieved. Today I had a foot down and noticed just how much harder it is to ride this trail on the Whyte than it I saw on my modern Boardman. Modern bikes tend to be considerably longer to prevent you being thrown over the handlebars, which happened later when I hit an innocuous looking rock. A bit of bark lost from the elbow is nothing. I won’t mention it to my wife and see if she notices!

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I climbed the gravel road up the woods. The picture above is the very similar Whyte JW4 on a previous ride. I found later that my climb up the woods on the Whyte was the fastest I’ve recorded on Strava, proving that it’s every bit as good as I keep saying! Up onto the moor and I passed someone collecting bilberries,   which are rather like small, wild blueberries. After the climb I was rewarded with a fantastic, long downhill. It starts as rough singletrack through heather and coarse grass. Over a stile into the woods and it’s an ever changing mixture of roots, rocks, drops and loam. The Whyte again made it harder but the sensation of speed is definitely greater on the older bike. I had my feet down a couple of times on the return to White coppice.

I rode back over Healey Nab and the cows had gone. I was now for too tired to try a fast lap, it will have to wait. I rode for almost 2 hours, today. It was nothing like my planned ride but a good one anyway.

Short but sweet.

Today I rode for just 1 hour and 6 minutes. I leave home and am on the trails in 5 minutes so for regular riding I save hours of time when many riders would be driving to the trails. Once I get off road the action starts straight away. After a short, straight shale track I took a sharp right hander, I messed it up! I braked too much and didn’t get the bike into the corner quickly enough. Next came a climb up a field with 2 steeper, rougher sections. It’s a seriously fast and exciting downhill on the way home, which is easy to ride in under a minute. Since I was right near the start of my ride I didn’t want to empty the tank but put some effort in. I was surprised how dry the ground is after lots of rain and 5 mainly dry days. It’s only the second time I’ve ridden the climb using Strava on dry ground and last time I stopped to move a dangerous rock so it was unsurprising that I set a best time. It took me 3 minutes 53 seconds compared to a fastest ever rider at 2 minutes 32. Obviously I could improve but at the beginning of a ride it’s the wrong time to find out what I can do! Still 35th fastest out of 226 riders is fine by me. Reducing my time by 30 seconds would put me 16th but I just don’t see myself targeting this segment.

Up onto the trails of Healey Nab and I had decided to ride 3 laps. First I rode to the trail head in a relaxed way but sped down the sinuous ribbon of single track to the start of the full lap of the red graded trail. I wasn’t sure how much effort I was prepared to expend. I had a weekend away at a scooter rally, which inevitably involves lots of alcohol and junk food. It was a good weekend! I’d had a full day to recover yesterday and felt lively enough. After a few quality twists and turns a small climb took me to the top of the recently modified section which has had some quite big jumps built. The picture below is from a previous ride.

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The lack of contrast on this photo doesn’t tell how deep the dip between the 2 main jumps is. I used the technique I’ve worked out previously but at the race pace I was riding at it’s hard to stop the bike leaving the ground on the first part, leaving no time to prepare for the second. I made sure my weight was pushed back to stop the rear wheel getting kicked up and got through well. This feature is now about the most exciting part and continues into 3 nice corners.

The trail continues to descend through many more bermed corners leading to a section of 7 jumps. The important thing is to ride smoothly on trails like this and leave the brakes alone as much as possible. You can lose speed quickly but getting it back is not as easy so hang onto it and don’t surrender! There are steep undulations along the bottom section before the climb starts in earnest. I was relaxed but again trying to keep the momentum up over the harder areas. After a few minutes of going up, you go down for a short time before the twisting final climb to the highest point at the trail head. A little over half a minute of fast curves take you back to the start point. I was happy with my lap and felt that I could have maintained most of my speed on a second lap. Instead I rode the more technical black graded down hill but returned by the same route back to the top. For my final descent I rode the red graded route again and carried on down the first big climb which I’d managed in 3 minutes 53. Going down was easy in 1 minute 6. Gravity is the best friend of any cyclist. I hardly pedaled!

When I got back home I checked my performance on the fast lap and was very happy with 11 minutes 40 seconds compared to my Strava best of 11 minutes 8. I’m also convinced that this circuit is better suited to my 15 year old Whyte mountain bikes.

I may have a go at my target for the year of sub 11 minutes on my next ride if the weather stays dry so I’ll need to decide which of the very similar Whytes I ride. Believe me it’s a delicious choice!