28 – 29/03/09: Noooooooooooooooo!

So, this weekend was the weekend of reckoning.  We picked up a small Meta 5.5.3 from Leisure Lakes in Wolverhampton, and then headed to Cannock Chase.  How would Mr Toast’s favourite full-susser fare against previous competitors?

Initial impressions weren’t great.  My thoughts as I wound down the short version of section 8 was that the steering was nasty.  Mr Toast pointed out that this was probably because of the handlebars, which are exactly the same width as the ones on his XL Meta – and wider than the ones on his Stumpy and Zaskar.

I’m used to my hands being right on the end of the grips, and was doing the same on the Meta.  I made a conscious effort to move my hands in as much as the brake levers and gears would allow, and the bike became a bit more managable.  Running it through sections 9, 10, and 11 definitely had its moments.

Of these moments, my favourite was following Mr Toast.  I don’t think I’ve actually ridden with Mr Toast since Llandegla.  I was following Mr Toast, when he  slowed, stopped, then pulled over.  Given that I’d been having a bit of trouble stopping and starting on the Meta (more of that in a minute), I decided to pass Mr Toast.  The look of surprise on his face was priceless.

Basically, he had slowed and stopped to wait for me.  Last time we went around Follow the Dog together, he would often leave me for dust.  He’d stopped because he thought that I’d be quite a bit behind, and moved to the side when he heard someone behind approaching – not imagining that I’d actually be that close.  He was impressed with my speed, and it was a nice reminder for me how much I’ve improved.

I have to admit, I did do that wooded section a lot faster than usual – on my hardtail, I struggle to keep up momentum on anything other than descents.  A combination of fragile knees and slightly too-small bike means that I really struggle with the attack position, and the terrain saps my speed- but not on a full-susser.  Mwahhahahaha!

There was one major problem with the Meta though.  As mentioned earlier, my mounting and dismounting of the bike was somewhat…ungainly.   Eventually, I figured out why.  Length of the bike?  Great!  Height of the bike?  Great!  Stand over height?  NIL POINT!

Yes, when I got off the saddle, the top tube was trying to firmly embed itself in my nether regions.  Bugger.  Realising that this would be a fairly big problem, we realised the Meta was off the list.  We went back to the café for the obligatory cookie with heavy hearts.  Whilst being hailed on.

But, we still had it for another day, so today we took it out again.  Not really feeling too confident on a bike where stopping and starting was a bit of a saga, I decided to do part of the green – unfortunately, our time was limited as we had to get the bike back to the shop.  Yesterday was heavy rain and hail, but today marked the start of British Summer Time…

Mr Bluuuue Skies

British weather, eh?  Got to love it.

It was a pleasant pootle, and it was nice making friends with the Meta in a controlled environment.  Despite the reviews, I found climbing on the Meta easy – a lot easier than on my hardtail.  I also felt compelled to explore, and to ride through streams – several times.   I also took it down section 13 again for a fond farewell.   Again, it felt really nice, but the complete lack of standover was always there at the back of my mind.

So, the search goes on.  Something that feels like the Meta, and has basically the same geometry as the Meta…but with more standover.  I’m considering maybe a Stumpjumper or and Enduro – I don’t know whether I should go for a lighter option, or for a ridiculous amount of travel that I’ll probably never need, but will fill me with confidence.  I’m also considering trying a couple of Cannondales if I can, and maybe re-testing the Trek, the Orange and the Zesty.  You know, just to be sure…

21/03/09: Greener on the other side

No Meta to test, sadly – Leisure Lakes managed to get it Saturday afternoon, but that was a bit late for this weekend, especially as the Sunday was out for biking because of Mother’s Day.  However, we’ll definitely be able to test it next weekend.  Woot!

Anyhoo, for this ride, instead of doing FtD, I decided to hit the green loop.  Last time I did the full green route was the end of June, just before the wedding.

I was chuffed with how fast I did the green loop.  Last time I really struggled on the climb – it’s not that steep, but it’s quite long.  In fact…well, I took a lot of breaks.  I was happy at the time, because I didn’t know if I had the stamina to do a 19 mile route.  Yes, yes, I know that’s fairly pathetic, but we all have to start somewhere.

This time, I pretty much flew around.  I was still slow on the uphill climb, but at least I wasn’t having to stop every couple of minutes!  Most of the stops I made were to take photos.  Speaking of which…


Obviously Follow the Dog isn’t exactly ugly, but it is nice to have a change of scenery.   There’s a lot of intriguing little trails off the track, which I’ll maybe one day explore.  For this ride though, I stuck to the road more travelled, through the packs of orientating kids, families out walking and Power Ramblers.

Unfortunately, my inability to accurately follow a route to completion meant that I took a wrong turn.  I managed to lose sight of the route markers in an area full of caravans – I think it was some sort of gathering of the South Staffordshire Caravan Club, not entirely sure though.  So, I picked a random direction, and sought out…ADVENTURE!

Thankfully, my sense of direction wasn’t as bad as I feared.  I ended up emerging near the end of section 16, where I found a familiar face, fiddling with his upside-down carbon Zaskar.  Yes, I’d managed to bump into Mr Toast.  Huzzah!

He was travelling light, so he was grateful that I had my multi-tool on me – he’s recently fitted a new saddle and seatpost, and the saddle kept tilting.  After a few fruit pastels, we decided to carry on…well, I’d finished the green a lot faster than I’d expected, how could I not throw in a bit of FtD?

So, I threw myself down 13, 14 and 15 before heading back to the cafe for a cookie.  I think on weekends when we do two days in a row that I might spend one day doing Follow the Dog, and the next doing the full green route.

Ride: Cannock Chase

Trail: Most of the green loop – missed out the last section or so due to my risible navigational skills, but made it up by eventually finding my way back!

Highlights: Realising how much I’ve come on since June, even with the operation.  Perhaps the progress is a sign that the operation was a success?  Also, riding with an MP3 player – flying through section 15 with Queen’s Bicycle Race blasting is an awesome experience!

Bad bits: Um…none, really.   Maybe large packs of orienteering children forming a solid block across the path, but hey…it’s nice that they’re getting out and enjoying the countryside.

Post ride food snaffled: Heaven’s Own Cookie.  Smartie flavoured.

Good dogs seen:  Again, jack russells with pleasing head-to-body ratios, and a variety of well-groomed westies.

France Versus Andorra: FIGHT!

Mr Toast has been in touch with Leisure Lakes.  They had a slight hiccup with the small Meta – apparently, it’s now gone to a magazine!  Fortunately they, along with Commencal, have agreed to sort me another small Meta, which I’ll hopefully be able to take out this Saturday.  Can’t wait!

Whilst reading Singletrack, Mr Toast noticed that there was another set of demo days going on – the Premier Demo Series.  They have Lapierre bikes, so I tried to find out if I could demo a small 314.  Alas, they only have medium bloke’s 314s and 514s, no small ones.  I am tempted to try a small bloke’s Spicy, but I think it’s possibly a little burlier than what I’m looking for.

Have I mentioned how I hate being short?

15/03/09: The sun has got his hat on

First, an apology over yesterday’s post.  Lengthy rambling Lord of the Rings analogies?  By Odin’s Beard, I really shouldn’t post at one in the morning!  With that out of the way…

Went over the Chase again – it would have been criminal not to whilst we’re having a sunny spell!  Today’s run was a bit of a mixed bag – I pushed myself harder, and had shorter breaks (if any) between sections.  However, I didn’t ride as well yesterday – I made some really iffy line choices, catching my pedals and nearly losing control a couple of times.

I don’t know whether I was still a bit knackered from yesterday, or whether not giving myself as much time to recover between sections meant I was flagging too early.  I really struggled to get off the saddle and keep my head up…and I threw up after Ill Phil’s Hill.

On the plus side, even though today’s performance wasn’t as good as yesterday’s, I was still better than I was last week.  Plus I got up the fireroad hill.  Huzzah!

I had a moment of eye-rolling wonderment as I approached the exit of section 11.  A family were walking up the track, the wrong way, with the young children waving long branches around, pretending to sword fight.  I just don’t get it – they were passed by a number of bikers, travelling at speed.  There were a number of bikers on the fireroad, near the exit.  The family were very close to the exit, which suggests that they came onto the trail via the fireroad.  There’s a clear ‘No entry sign’, with an explanation that the enticing forest path is a mountain biking red route, and shouldn’t be used by walkers, horse riders or leisure cyclists.  It was an accident waiting to happen, and a completely avoidable one at that.

I slowed and informed them (politely!) that they were on a dedicated mountain biking trail, and told them to be careful as there were likely to be bikers coming down a lot faster than me.  They seemed a little put out, but hopefully they’ll have gotten off the trail and realised that it was meant for their benefit as much as anyone else’s.  I can’t imagine the collision between a five year old child and a 20-35lb bike carrying a fully grown adult would result in a pretty sight.

It makes me cross, but sometimes you have to give people the benefit of the doubt, and assume they’re on the track out of ignorance rather than because of wilful stupidity or spite.  I think a lot of bikers just try to ignore walkers on the track, instead of informing them of their mistake.  But if they’re not told, how will they ever know?  They’ll probably just assume that the mountain bikers are arseholes who run along the forest trails like complete lunatics. Which is probably a fair assessment, which is why we get our own segregated trails. 😉

Anyhoo, I wore my new shinies both rides this weekend.  The leggings are possibly a little on the large side, but are otherwise fine – they don’t bunch up too much, and they fit a lot better around the ankles.

The Dhb glasses are great – much better quality and looks than Mr Toast’s bloke’s equivalent from a year or so ago (they’ve got this psuedo-Oakley iPod feel), they fit on my head just dandy (even with the helmet on), and they don’t mist.  The only problem is that, due to my rather hamster-esque face, the bottom of the lenses sit on my cheeks, and are completely lifted off my ears when I smile.

Perhaps this by design, so that mountain bikers are forced to look cool and serious – without them, we’d be compelled to grin like idiots a good 90% of the time.

Mountain biking.  Serious business.

Ride: Cannock Chase

Trail: All of FtD, with the exception of sections 6, 7 and 16.

Highlights: Getting up the fireroad hill – I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t make it yesterday

Bad bits: Feeling a bit spaced out and out of control on the trail, making silly mistakes.  Plus being ill between sections 14 and 15 was pretty rough.

Post ride food snaffled: Bacon sandwich, and Heaven’s Own Cookie.  A smartie one this time, instead of triple choc fudge

Good dogs seen:  A daschund, with a dapper walk and proud buttocks.  Another schnauzer – it’s been a veritable schnauzer bonanza this weekend!  Good jack russells with pleasing head-to-body ratio.  Plus some sort of crazy sitcom-in-the-making comedy couple of a Westie and a greyhound, having a sit in the lake.  The moorhens looked unimpressed, however.

14/03/09: I’ll just lie here for a while…

Another weekend, another pootle around Follow the Dog.  You know that bit in The Two Towers movie, where Theoden is released from Saruman’s spell – he goes from being all cobwebby and geriatric, to kick ass warrior king?  That’s a bit like me recovering from winter, that is.

Well, OK, to continue this quite frankly ridiculous Lord of the Rings analogy, I’m not quite chopping orcs yet.  Or I might be, I just need a good long rest and a biscuit between each kill.  But I definitely feel like I’m actually getting my confidence back on the trail – I just need the fitness to follow!  On the plus side, I rode most of Follow the Dog, and rode most of it fairly well (by my standards).

I did the boardwalk easily, no wobbles, rode the wooded sections after section 8 pretty fast, and sections 13 and 14 were awesome.  However, I felt really knackered on the climbs – I didn’t make it all the way up the fireroad hill in one go this time (but I didn’t get off to push!).  I don’t know if I was just having an off-day, or didn’t give myself enough time to recover before tackling the hill, or if the Rebas were bobbing a bit too much (which would be an issue with my weighting).  The sheer joy of trying to go as fast as possible quickly destroyed the memory of the nasty climbs though.

I even overtook people!  Admittedly, they were a family with young children (section 7), a couple who were obviously new to the Chase (section 12), and some poor sod who was obviously dragged there by his more experienced mates and was struggling a bit with the trail (sections 13 and 14).

I actually rode all of section 14 without my usual stop to ‘admire the scenery’ at the top if Ill Phil’s Hill.  I think this was actually the first time I’ve done this!  Unfortunately I paid the price at the start of 15, where I had to sit down for a bit until my eyesight returned to normal, and the compulsion to be violently sick passed.  Ah, the cobwebs of winter.  Damn you, Saruman.

Now I really hope that I do get a Meta 5.5.2, just because it’s white, and I can call it ‘Snowmane’.  Hopefully it won’t crush me to death…

Ride: Cannock Chase

Trail: All of FtD, with the exception of sections 6 and 16.

Highlights: Ill Phil’s Hill – fast replacing section 13 in my affections.

Bad bits: My chronic lack of fitness, and lengthy recovery periods.

Post ride food snaffled: Bacon sandwich, and Heaven’s Own Cookie

Good dogs seen: A schnauzer.  They are just unbelievably awesome!

Missus Toast saves the economy

Apparently, to save the economy, we all need to spend.    Normally I shirk my civic duty on the grounds of ‘having no money’, but this month, I decided to play hero.

So, I’ve bought some Dhb triple-lens glasses.  I normally wear my contacts when biking, but I’m a bit paranoid about getting stuff in my eyes.  Personally I blame Mr Toast’s friend Ovide for this.  He got mud on his contact lens whilst biking, and struggled to get it clear.  Eeew.

I’ve also bought some new Endura legwarmers.  The Trek ones have served me well and faithfully, but are looking a bit worse for wear, with the grippers starting to disintergrate and a general tendancy to gather around the knees and ankles.  So, it’s time to retire them, but they’ll still be on standby.

And last but not least, I’ve bought some V8 flat pedals.  I did have some V8s borrowed from Mr Toast, but he’s reclaimed them, so it was back to the default Trek pedals.  Not too keen on them, so I’ve decided to get some V8s of my own.  And they’re green.

I’m still waiting to see if I can test a small Meta some point soon.  Until then, my full-suss future is still very much up in the air, and I don’t really want to spend too much money pimping my Trek if there’s a new bike on the horizon.

Fortunately, I’ve got the Rebas back on my bike, so it’s a bit lighter again.  The back end of my Trek still weighs a tonne though.  Fat bottomed girls make the rocking world go round, but fat bottomed bikes make the rocky hill climbs sloooooow.

Mr Toast had reclaimed the Rebas for his Zaskar, but because he’d cut down the steerer tube to fit my bike, it didn’t really fit.  So, he got a Fox F100 for his Zaskar, and popped the Rebas back on the Trek.  Yay! \o/

Somehow during the transplant procedure he managed to hit his arm with a mallet, resulting in an impressive bruise.  I think it’s possibly the worst mountain biking injury he’s had…

07/03/09: Shaken, not stirred

As we were travelling to FtD, I realised how much last Sunday’s exploits had shaken my confidence.  There I was, contemplating doing the full loop of Follow the Dog (well, of all the parts that are open), and I was filled with a palpable sense of dread.  Although I’ve done FtD more times than you could shake a stick at, I was mentally picturing all manner of terrible accidents I could have.

I could fall off the boardwalk!  I could come a cropper on the jumps on section 8, or fall off on the log slope!  It didn’t matter to me that I never had before – that was last year!

I was torn – do I face my fears head on and get back on the trail?  After all, I did a couple of sections last Saturday no problem.  Or should I wait until I’m a bit more comfortable on the bike, and then get back on the trail.  But wait!  What happens if I delay getting back on the trail, then I mentally build it up to be far worse than it actually is?

In the end, I decided on a compromise.  I missed out the boardwalk section, and went straight up the fireroad hill to section 8.  I did the old downhill version instead of the newer one, not due to fear but because I know my fitness isn’t quite up to it yet.

And…I had a blast.  I’ve lost quite a bit of speed over the past six months’ hibernation, and a bit of confidence – not only in terms of biking, but in common sense.  I felt that my tyres were a bit skittery, but I didn’t want to let any air out in case I ended up running around on them under-inflated.  As it turned out after the ride, Mr Toast pointed out that the front wheel was far too high.  But it didn’t stop me from having a whale of a time.

I’ve recently been re-reading Mountain Biking Essentials, which I picked up in Glentress.  The main thing that stuck with me when I was riding was ‘Looking Ahead’.  I’ve mentioned before that I have a chronic habit of looking at the ground immediately in front of my wheel, rather than the trail ahead.  I noticed I was doing it again, and marvelled at how much faster I went when I wasn’t staring at my front wheel.

I did Ill Phil’s Hill (section 14) for the first time since September, and it was fantastic.  The Chase Trails chaps have obviously put a bit of work into it over the winter – like section 13, it felt a lot smoother and faster than at the end of summer last year.  I did the entire section with a huge grin on my face.  Pausing at the top, naturally.



I’ll admit, once I got to section 16, I was seriously knackered.  Never mind keeping my head up and looking at the trail ahead, I was struggling keeping my eyes open (particularly my right eye, as my contact lens was playing up…).  It’s a very narrow section of singletrack, and my moment’s hesitation caused my handlebar to clip a tree, sending me off the bike.  Fortunately, I was going so slowly at this point that injury was always going to be fairly unlikely on the soft, soft foresty ground.  It was like a big snuggly duvet…

So, overall, it was an awesome ride.  I can see I’ve lost a bit of confidence and a bit of fitness since the operation, but I’m in a better position than I was this time last year.

Ride: Cannock Chase

Trail: Greens up to the top of the fireroad hill, then the remainder of FtD

Highlights: Ill Phil’s Hill.

Bad bits: Still not fond of section 16.  I guess I’ll grow to love it if I ever get good at riding it!

Post ride food snaffled: Food had stopped at the cafe, so it was a cup of tea and a delicious, delicious cookie.

Good dogs seen: A sweet little Westie pup, and and an awesome collie that dived into a water…outlet…thing.  Er, one of these:


Mr Toast saw him on the trail, described him as ‘an awesome mountain biking dog’.  Apparently very well trained, and very fast…and doesn’t lose speed on ascents!




Map of Joy: UPDATE!

The first addition to the Map of Joy. Admittedly, it’s from our regular haunt of Cannock Chase, but it’s rather special.  Yes, my Chase Trails membership pack arrived in the post today, complete with signage coasters.  The handy screw holes meant that they were ideal for pinning up, so the two FtD-specific coasters went up!




01/03/09: Recipe for Disaster

Recipe for Disaster


One biker (preferably relatively inexperienced)

Two unfamiliar bikes

One unfamiliar trail


1. Take the biker and leave to soak in a marinade of knee-op recovery for six months.

2.  Add the bike to biker.  In reality, it doesn’t really matter which bike is used, but in this example we used a Santa Cruz Juliana.  Make sure it’s of a completely different build to any previous Julianas that the biker may have ridden, and add a long stem.

3.  Add the unfamiliar trail.  After about five minutes, the biker should meet a steep descent covered in roots that look far scarier than they actually are.  To the left there should be thin annoying at face height.  These should suitably panic your biker, and ensure that they are forcibly dismounted as they panic starting the descent.

4. Once the biker has rather gingerly returned to base, add the next unfamiliar bike.  In this recipe, we’ll be using an Orange Diva (Long).  If the biker expresses concern about riding in a pack because of being unfit and out of practice, reassure her that the guided demo ride won’t be too tricky.

5. Return the biker to the unfamiliar trail.  Ensure that there are several long gruelling uphills, that are far longer than the fire road hill.  This should ensure that the biker’s knees swell up uncomfortably.

6.  Follow the uphill with a completely unrewarding descent.  Make sure that the descent is actually far more difficult and technical than anything the biker has done before, be it Follow the Dog, Llandegla or Glentress Blue.

7.  The biker should be completely worn out by this point, both physically and psychologically.  At this point, they should have lost confidence to the point where they literally cannot ride the bike, even over stuff that they know is doable.

8. Rub salt into the wound by following the terrifying downhill with more dull uphill climbs.

9.  Return to base, and your biker is done.

Yes, as you can probably gather from the above, today’s demo day didn’t go too well.  It didn’t get off to a roaring start when we got a phone call from Leisure Lakes just as we were about to set off.  Unfortunately the Meta, which I’d been looking forward to testing the most, hadn’t been delivered to the demo site.  It was understandable – the chap who was responsible for sorting it out had suffered a family bereavement, so it’s completely understandable – it was just a shame.

I went on a Julianna again, which still felt too short, despite the long stem.  We were too late to join the guided ride, but were allowed to take the bike for a pootle nearby.

Unfortunately I discovered that going down a steep rooty hill, whilst being whipped in the face by branches, on a bike you already feel uncomfortable on was a bad, bad idea.  I bailed in spectacular fashion with a scream, landing shoulder first.  Fortunately there was nothing hurt but my pride, but I was left a bit shaken.

The day really went south when I demoed my second bike.  The bike itself – the Orange Diva – was great.  It was the guided ride that did me.  It went down the rooty annoyance that had dislodged me on the Juliana, but that was nothing compared to what was to come.

There were long, long climbs.  There was a terrifying downhill section with seriously churned up mud, extremely tight corners,  and tightly packed trees.  I found it impossible to get any sort of flow – I would have found the section intimidating on my own hardtail, never mind a full-susser that I was riding for the first time.  I was literally edging down the trail with my feet on the floor – that was when I wasn’t walking down.  I was just too shaken and scared to even attempt what they were expecting me to do.

I had the small consolation that I wasn’t the only person who was struggling – a few people commented on how the route we’d been taken was harder than any red they’d done, and some were only just getting into mountain biking. One even came off, and ended up having to go back because they were too hurt to carry on.

It made me wonder why on earth Leisure Lakes had insisted on the guided ride format for their demo day, particularly as they’d no effort to find out the experience or ability levels of the people attending.  In a way, I can completely see why after attending other demo days – do guided rides, and you can make sure that the bikes go out and come in exactly when they should.  No late returns, no double-booking, etc.  And I imagine they couldn’t hold the demo day near the tamer Follow the Dog due to the fact that Leisure Lakes and Swinnertons are competitors.  I can also understand that if you’re demoing a full-suspension, you’d want to be able to test it on something other than a fire road.

But on the other hand,  I can’t imagine anything more off-putting for newcomers to the sport than being forced to ride an unfamiliar bike on a very difficult trail.  OK, ‘forced’ is a bit OTT, but it is difficult to say, “I can’t do this”, especially when you do genuinely want to try the bike out. I was just getting incredibly frustrated and in a lot of pain, which would have never happened if I’d been allowed to test the bike at my own pace, and within my own ability level.  I had to keep reminding myself (and anyone else who was within earshot) that this was only the fourth time I’d been on a bike since my operation, that I’d ridden the Chase and Llandegla reds fairly comfortably, and that the trail was unfamilar and far harder than anything I’d done before.  Even now it feels like I’m making excuses, and that I should probably pack in mountain biking as I’m obviously not cut out for it…and I hate that feeling.

In any case, I can’t imagine the guided ride was that great for the very experienced riders either, who had to frequently wait for the less experienced. I can’t really blame Leisure Lakes though, I suppose it’s not entirely unfair to think that people demoing top-of-the-line bikes should be able to ride whatever’s in front of them, and they always made sure that there were enough guides keeping an eye on everyone, including freaked out stragglers.

On the plus side, the Orange Diva was great.  Wasn’t too keen on the brakes as although they were powerful, the levers felt a little loose (again, more of a setup issue/matter of personal preference than an actual problem), but I loved being on a longer bike.  Loved it.


Out of interest, I asked what the difference was between the short Diva, the long Diva, and the man’s Five.  The answer?  The long Diva has the same frame as the standard Fives.  Mr Toast was quite pleased about that – he now has high hopes for the Meta.  Although the downside is that if I don’t like the Meta, the two bikes I like are well over two thousand pounds.

The chaps from Leisure Lakes said that I could demo a Meta for an entire weekend, so I’m hoping to get that sorted soon.  Until then, I’m going to drown my sorrows with ibuprofen and get out the knee peas again.  Oh, and here’s a picture of Mr Toast’s Meta:

It's huge!

28/02/09: It’s just a wafer thin mint…

Today was my first ride on my Trek since my knee operation back in September.  I wondered how I would get on – for the past two weeks, I’ve been riding £1500 – £2400 full-sussers.  Would I be able to get suitably re-acquainted with my diminutive black and green hardtail friend?

The answer was a most definite ‘Yes’.  It’s funny, because the combination of the demo days and my consultant’s dire warnings have really taught me the importance of having my saddle at an appropriate height.  I now wonder how the hell I actually rode with my saddle as low as I did.

Although I still think that the Trek is a little on the small side for me, I had a blast, and it was a lot more comfortable and a lot less tiring with the higher saddle position.  I’ll confess, my plan was to stick to the greens, and not do any reds.  Didn’t want to overdo it, see, especially given that we’ve got the Leisure Lakes demo day tomorrow.  Wanted to strengthen my knees and get used to being back on the bike before hitting FtD.  And I’ll admit, I’ve lost quite a bit of confidence – part of my reluctance to get back onto FtD was down to my worry that I’ll have lost all of the skills I gained last year during my recovery.

The fact I came off last week at the Bike Radar demo day on one of the two red sections that we did didn’t help matters.  I wondered if it was because I was on a different bike to what I was used to.  I wondered if it was because of the hideous dual platform pedal.  But most of all, I wondered if it was proof that my worries were well-founded, and that my already limited skills had utterly evaporated over the winter.

I set off with some determination.  Greens only.  But there was one challenge which I wanted to see if I could still meet – the fireroad hill.  Which would give out first, my fitness or my legs?  The answer?  Neither!

I have to admit, I didn’t approach the hill in the best of moods.  There was a large group of bikers completely blocking the fireroad path.  Not only did it mean that to get past them I would have had to leave the fireroad and ride through the muddy, churned up grass, but they were also blocking the exit to the previous section of FtD, completely messing up other riders’ flow and forcing some of the faster ones who weren’t expecting to run into a gaggle of morons to brake sharply.  I swear, some people have zero common sense.

Fortunately they moved off just as I was about to make my way through the mud.  I started up the hill…and actually got halfway up in the middle ring before dropping to granny.  I think I was fuelled by a mixture of disgruntlement and smugness – disgruntled that there was a big group of people showing zero trail etiquette, and smugness as I passed them as they gave up and starting pushing their bikes.  I think sheer bloody mindedness kept me in the saddle. At the top, I stopped for a well deserved Nutrigrain Oatie cookie.  Incidentally, I’ve developed a disturbing addiction to these baked wonders, which can’t be good news for my waistline.

So, at the top of the hill.  I could go straight on down the green…or left to the newer section 8, or right down the old one.

Well, the old section 8 isn’t really red route any more, is it?  I mean, it’s all downhill, and so friendly looking.  Look!  The berms look like smiles!

So, off I went.  Didn’t do too badly at all, although I think I might have uttered “Oh shit” at one point.  I came out at the bottom in one piece, and decided to head right and explore.

I went down a lot of green routes – it was really nice to explore new areas, plus it gave me time to recover from the fire road hill and the bermy bit.  I always come out of red sections utterly knackered, even the downhill ones.  I think it’s possibly because I forget to breathe…

Anyhoo, new routes mean exicting new warning signs.  I particularly enjoyed the one below, it adds a sense of danger and adventure to the tamest of paths


After riding around for a good while, I eventually ended up finding myself back at the entrance to the wooded sections that follow section 8.  Then bizarrely, I found myself  riding along those wooded sections.  Not sure how that happened…

Again, I was a little shaky.  I’d forgotten how much punishment my bike could take – I’d see a particularly angry looking root or rock, and think, “Oh shit, this is going to knock me”, but my bike pretty much sailed over it, and the jarring bump I was expecting to happen never occurred.  It probably would have been even less jarring if I had been more relaxed, and not bracing myself for major impact.  “Mountains and molehills” spring to mind…

I did a few more greens, then found myself at the start of section 13.  I think you can probably imagine what happened next, dear reader.

I hung around the start of section 13 for a good while.  There were a couple of blokes there, and I was worried that if I started off before them, they’d end up catching me up and putting me under loads of pressure – or worse, crashing into me.  Once they started taking off their helmets and getting out their lunch, I figured I was fairly safe…then a bunch of other guys bowled up.  Again, I waited…and then they took their helmets off and got their lunch out.  It would seem that the start of section 13 is THE place for manly sandwich eating and male bonding.

I started off, desperately hoping that I wouldn’t make a tit of myself when there was an audience.  Fortunately, I took the section very well – not particuarly fast, but more consistent in speed and with a smoother line than I have in the past.   I had a huge grin on my face as I came out the section.

I did more exploring of the paths around the pools before returning to the cafe and meeting up with Mr Toast.  A good day all round!

Ride: Cannock Chase

Trail: Exploring the greens, a good few sections of FtD

Highlights: Section 13, managing to prove to myself that I haven’t become utterly inept over winter.

Bad bits: The group of selfish numpties blocking entire paths and the exits/entrances to FtD

Post ride food snaffled: Food had stopped at the cafe, so it was a cup of tea and some peanuts.

Good dogs seen: Sausage dog, staffie pup, some sort of minature black and white English Sheepdog, and a silvery jack russel type thing.