20/04/08: The day after…the day before

Yesterday’s ride was awesome. Today’s ride was rubbish, as I forgot the ibuprofen. Still, I got a couple of sections in – didn’t spend all day, as I took my mother shopping in the morning, abandoning Mr Toast to his own devices for several hours. His ‘own devices’ consisted of three laps of FTD, and the first couple of sections with me before my knees gave in.

19/04/08: Don’t stop me now, I’m having a good time!

I had such an AWESOME time today. I think it’s the best I’ve ever ridden, seriously. I did an entire lap of Follow the Dog, and I think I actually shaved a good 10 minutes off my previous best time.

I made sure I was dosed up on ibuprofen, and set off. First section – didn’t stop once, and took all of the berms. Second section I took less well, and nearly flew off like a tard at the end of the bridge (didn’t slow down enough/turn fast enough). Third section I took fairly well, although I avoided the boardwalk due to there being an instructional class walking up and down it – they did say ‘go ahead’, but I didn’t want to do the boardwalk with an audience!

Then there was the fireroad hill. God, I hate it so much, and sometimes, I wonder if I’ll ever manage to get up it on a bike. Mr Toast has suggested that I should promise myself a new bike for when I finally manage it. I may have my Trek for some time…

But the fun part of long uphills is that there’s inevitably downhills. I decided to take the older, shorter section instead of the new one, and I was glad I did. I used to avoid this section, as the first time I went down it, I came off. Twice. It terrified me. Today, I flew down it – admittedly, I nearly came a cropper on one berm, but I was impressed (and surprised) at how much I had improved.

The woody sections leading up to Section 13 were also a lot of fun, but tiring, especially on the knees, although I actually (drumroll please!) overtook someone! Section 13…a lot of fun, as usual, and I really did go hell for leather (by my standards, anyway). I laid almost completely off the brakes, got right out of the saddle, I remembered Mr Toast’s tip about angling my feet so they wouldn’t bounce off the pedals on the bumps.

Before Section 13, I was thinking, “I’m feeling a bit iffy, I’ll do Section 13, then head back.” After Section 13, I was re-energised, and decided that stopping was actually the worst idea ever. To Ill Phil’s Hill!

I was ropey on the uphills (ok, ok, I put the ‘push’ into ‘push bike), but on the downhills – again, I got right back off the saddle, laid off the brakes and flew down. I also went stupidly fast (for me) on the wooded section after Ill Phil’s Hill.

So, I felt a lot more confident and speedy, but my fitness is still causing me to take long breaks. Got to get that fixed.

Ride: Cannock Chase

Trail: Follow the Dog

Highlights: Doing all of Follow the Dog faster and better than I ever had before. Taking bits which I used to be terrified of with ease. Basking in the smug glow of self-improvement.

Bad bits: None, apart from my appalling lack of fitness!

Post ride food snaffled: Chocolate shortbread.

Good dogs seen: Oh god, where to begin? Numerous Jack Russels, including Zack (I think – the dog who FTD is named after), and two tiny, adorable dalmation puppies. SO SWEET!

I should also point out that, as good as my performance was today, Mr Toast actually did two laps in the time it took me to do one.

13/04/08: Oooh, shinies

Spent rather a lot of time up the Chase today. It was a Singletrack demo day, so I tool the opportunity to try out some new rides – the Specialized Safire Expert, and the Giant Anthem W.

Got to Birches Valley just after 11am and the carpark was PACKED. It took two circuits before we were lucky enough to drop on a space – I’ve never seen it that busy before! The first bike I tested was the Specialized. The Specialized guys were great, really thorough in setting the bike up for me, making sure the rear shock and forks were of the appropriate squodginess, and explaining how they worked and the different settings (knowledge which I needed, as I have a hardtail with a basic fork). They even got a different saddle for me with a shorter seatpost, as I tend to have mine so low because of being a noob.

The Safire rolled really nicely, and the suspension was smooth as butter. However, I was a bit disheartened that it had the turning circle of a rusty piano. At the time I thought I’d somehow forgotten how to steer, but Mr Toast explained to me that they do turn slowly because of the ‘slack head angle’. Again, the handlebars were quite a bit wider than I’m used to, so it did feel very sluggish on tight corners. I think it’d just be a matter of getting used to it, perhaps – the long swooping sections were awesome fun.

Unfortunately, we arrived at the Chase late, and as mentioned earlier, the Specialized guys were very particular, so it meant I had less than half an hour on the bike. I would have loved to have taken it on Section 13 or Ill Phil’s Hill, but only managed the first three sections. But I wanted to get it back so it wasn’t late for the next person, and in any case, I had the Giant booked. 🙁

Which brings me to the Giant Anthem W. The Giant stand was quite amusing, with a forlorn-looking Basset Hound called ‘Wilma’ moping around. Wilma was being kept under close supervision, as apparently she had earlier gorged herself on the stand’s supply of Nutrigrain bars. The bikes were also named, rather than numbered. The standard bikes were called things like ‘Trixie’ and ‘Roxy’, whereas the women’s bikes were more sensible named ‘Albert’ and ‘Alfie’. I was waiting for Alfie. And I kept waiting.

Wilma, the Giant Dog

Wilma, the Giant Dog

Unfortunately, Alfie came in over half and hour late thanks to his previous rider, which meant that after the bike had been cleaned and set up, I had twenty minutes on it. The Giant chap confidently assured me that the Giant Anthem had better suspension than the Safire, and that I’d find it more responsive. He also mocked how low my saddle had been on the Safire. “Your knees were be up by your ears!” I explained that I have the saddle low as I’m fairly new to mountain biking, so want to be able to get my feet down quickly, plus I find it easier to move my weight* around with a lower saddle. He didn’t seem convinced.

The Giant…well, me and the Anthem didn’t make friends. I felt a bit more comfortable with the geometry than the Safire, and the handlebars were narrower, like my Trek. However, the thing road like an epileptic donkey. It was very, very twitchy, and I found taking tight corners even tricker than the Safire, but for the opposite reason. The bike was also skidding and sliding all over the place, and I thought, ‘Holy crap, I haven’t felt this uncomfortable on a bike since I first started biking’. As I finished the test ride, I realised that the source of my woes was probably that the tyres were pumped to a far higher pressure than I’m used to, as well as being narrower. I think someone who’s more experienced and a lot speedier would probably get more out of it than I did, but I was just left pining for my £400 hardtail.

The café was packed, so my lunch consisted of a lonely Tunnock’s Teacake. 🙁

In the afternoon I did the Dirt Divas course. If you’re thinking about doing one of these, DO IT! It was fantastic – I was in the intermediate group with Jacqueline, and I learnt a surprising amount in two hours, and performed my first (very small) jump over a branch. Unfortunately, after a morning of intense test riding, my already feeble levels of fitness started to flag, and my knees were KILLING me. I’ll definitely do a Dirt Divas course again, but I’ll wait until I’ve upped my fitness levels first! I went to the café, utterly paggered, for a slice of cake and a nice cup of tea.

I desperately wanted to sit down and to drink a non-Camelbak beverage, as I’d started to feel rather nauseous, but I was waiting for my tea. Unfortunately, it took a while, and I ended up throwing up. In public. In the café. On the plus side, I actually managed to hide it as a cough, contained it in my hand, and grabbed some serviettes. Stealth vomiting skills – a new talent!

Ride: Cannock Chase

Trail: Follow the Dog

Highlights: Dirt Divas training session, trying out different full suspensions, pushing myself to the very limits of my fitness

Bad bits: Pushing myself the limits of my fitness to the point where I throw up in public, having my Anthem test ride time cut very short thanks to some cow returning it late.

Post ride food snaffled: Lemon drizzle cake

Good dogs seen: Just Wilma, I think

Ebay hilarity (or misery)

You may recall I mentioned that Mr Toast was keeping his eye out on an Orange 5 on Ebay. Well, it kind of played out like this:

1) Mr Toast bid on the bike. He then went on a bike ride, thinking he’d be able to keep check on the auction with his snazzy 3g phone. Sadly, there’s no signal in Cannock Chase, so he couldn’t.

2) Mr Toast found out he’d been out bid…by £1. He was a bit put out.

3) Mr Toast put a thread up on Bike Radar, to see if anyone was flogging an Orange 5. Someone responded – they were selling their Orange 5 to fund an upgrade to a Nomad. The spec was remarkably similar to the one Mr Toast had missed out on, but a 2006 instead of a 2004, and a slightly worse headset. They were also asking £450 more than the bike Mr Toast had missed out on.

4) Mr Toast asked questions, and started to get suspicious. As it turned out…IT WAS THE SAME BIKE! The cheeky sod had outbid Mr Toast on Ebay, removed the Chris King headset, then tried to flog the bike as a newer model at a much higher cost!

Mr Toast was distinctly unimpressed and told him where to go. He still doesn’t have an Orange 5. 🙁

06/04/07: I’m just going outside, and I may be some time…

OK, so the BBC were right this time. Woke up Sunday morning to find everywhere under a blanket of snow. But we decided to go biking anyway!

Needless to say, it was again ‘a bit nippy’, but it was also a lot of fun. I actually did a full lap of FTD, including the new section at the top of the fire road hill. Most of the sections I really enjoyed, and felt I put in a passable performance.

Unfortunately on the new section my confidence took a bit of a knock – I took the first two jumps fine, mainly because I wasn’t expecting them. However, I bottled it on the following jumps (as I was looking out them). It’s something I’ve noticed a lot – there are obstacles that I have trouble with mentally (berms, jumps), but if I don’t think about them too much I can do them. Weird.

New section (No, those aren't the jumps!)

I also started to panic that I was holding people up…and I didn’t much fancy someone’s front wheel parking itself in my arsecrack. It’s quite difficult to get up much speed when you’re looking out for people behind rather than at the track ahead! That said, I had a great time on all the other sections, and everything’s a learning experience – I remember last year that I felt pretty similar on most of the sections!

Ride: Cannock Chase

Trail: Follow the Dog

Highlights: Doing all of Follow the Dog for the first time this year. Biking in ze mud! My Camelbak not tasting like a swimming pool. And section 13, oh how I’ve missed thee!

Bad bits: Losing my bottle on the new section.

Post ride food snaffled: Bacon sandwich, chocolate shortbread.

Good dogs seen: Er, none. Think they were all curled up by the fire, nice and cosy.

Ze weekend

I’ll hopefully be going biking on Sunday – on Saturday I’m going for my wedding dress fitting, and the dress shop (in Rugeley) is conveniently close to Cannock Chase! The BBC says near freezing temperatures and snow, so I’m looking forward to a dry and sunny weekend!

Mr. Toast, rather predictably, has been eyeing up Orange 5s since the demo day, and has spotted one second hand on eBay. Watch this space!