26/04/09: This is Stumpy, I’m Happy, and he’s Grumpy

Professor Von Stumpy had his first trip over Cannock Chase today.  I decided that there was no better way to break him in than a full bost around Follow the Dog.  I’ve done the trail so many times on my Trek, I was intrigued to see how it would feel on the Stumpy.

The answer…very good! 😀

It was a relief to confirm that I was as comfortable with it on the trail as I was on the pootle.  I found myself capable of building and maintaining speed a lot easier, darting up climbs, and cornering more confidently.  I don’t know how much of it was down to the suspension, or the geometry, or the fact it’s a fair few pounds lighter than my Trek, and quite frankly, I don’t care.  All I know is I now have a bike that I can grow into in terms of my ability level –  and definitely no hardware excuses any more!

I set off on Follow the Dog.  As I approached the section with the log skinny, I paused.  Mr Toast pulled up behind me, a slightly pained grin on his face.  He turned his bike over, and spun the back wheel – or at least tried to.  It did about half a rotation before stopping abruptly.  After listening to his bitter cursing about XT wheels, I left him to it.

I did most of the trail, although I’ll admit I bottled it on the boardwalk, telling myself that it’s best that I get fully familar with the handling of my new bike.   Although that’s partly true, I think I’ve done the boardwalk so few times this year, I’m again mentally building it into something that it’s not.  You see, the boardwalk on FtD looks like this:

On the boardwalk, we'll be having some fun

Now, from a cold, logical point of view, I can see it for what it is.  A reasonably wide, fairly flat bit of northshore, which I’ve done many, many, many times before (pretty much on a weekly basis for a good chunk of last year).  I’ve never fallen off it before – never even come close to falling off it.  Yet somehow, in my mind, it’s somehow evolved into this:

Faster, hobbits!

Silly?  Yeah, fairly.  I’ll get there eventually (maybe next week), but for today, it was the chicken run.  Fortunately for my nice white Stumpy, the chaps at Chase Trails have done some serious upgrading to the chicken run, turning it from a boggy pit that actually made the boardwalk look like the more pleasant option, to a well surfaced path.  It was even signposted with a rather fetching ‘Blue’ marker, the first I’ve even seen across the Chase.

I decided to play with the travel on the fork on the fireroad hill, setting it to 100mm, and switching Pro-Pedal on the rear shock.  I did find climbing easier, but again, I don’t know how much of that was down to the gadgetry, and how much was down to riding a better fitting bike.

As I approached section 12, I checked my mobile.  Mr Toast was not a happy bunny.  His back wheel was still stuffed, and he didn’t have the tools in the car (a cone spanner, a cassette tool).  I decided to do 12 and 13, and to head back to my unfortunate husband.

Section 13 was fantastic on the Stumpy.  Again, I played with the travel, this time dialling it up 140mm.  I went down feeling fast and confident, and exited the section with a huge grin on my face.

When I met up with Mr Toast, he was distinctly lacking in huge grins.  Not only had he been stuck outside Swinnertons for an hour or so, completely unable to ride around the woods, but he sat on a particularly itchy piece of grass.  It took him some time to realise he was sitting on  a baby nettle.

So, we got home, me grinning, him grumbling, and commenting on how he’d achieved the remarkable feat of knackering/partially knackering three different set of wheels.  I’d offer to swap him the Bontragers off the Trekadee, but I don’t think he’d be overly impressed…

Ride: Cannock Chase

Trail: All of FtD up to and including section 13

Highlights: The Stumpy!

Bad bits: Mr Toast’s rear wheel dying

Post ride food snaffled:Had a mid-ride Oatie

Good dogs seen: Two schnauzers, one minature, one regular.  Also, two Westies yapping at each other – it was like watching a pair of clouds having an argument.

25/04/09: Introducing you to…

Well helloooooooo nurse!

Professor Von Stumpy!

Got to the Specialized Concept Store, and got fitted up.  There was a brief twang of panic when the BG Fit chappy expressed concern about the reach…but then he pointed out that I was sitting on the very back of the saddle, instead of sitting on it properly!  I guess this is because I’m so used to my arse hanging off the back of the Trek to increase the reach, it’s just become second nature to me.

Speaking of arse, I got mine measured to see what size saddle should go on, and I needed the 155mm, the widest one.   Saw that coming from a mile off – just like my arse!  HAW HAW!  Fortunately the Specialized Concept Store are very good at setting up the bike – changing from the blokes’ saddle to the women’s equivalent is free of charge, as would have any stem changes have been.  However, it was pretty much good from the go, in terms of geometry.

The suspension was set up (although the front fork required further tweaking when we got home, it was a bit soft), and it was pretty much ready to go.

I took it for a pootle around the car park, and had a sneaking suspicion that the Professor and I were going to become great friends.  Sure, he had a couple of things going against him – dual platform pedals (why, God?  Why?), plus it had been left in the very highest gear, which lead to some…comedy setting-off attempts before I twigged.  But once we got moving… it felt right.

We got the Professor home, and Mr Toast gave him the once over, checking that everything was fine.  He’s a perfectionist at the best of times, and has been pretty distrustful of bike shop mechanics ever since the cranks on his (then brand new) Avalanche nearly fell off.  And then we were off!  Local pootle ahoy!

We did quite a long ride, and numerous things became apparent.

1) I should have gotten a longer bike waaaay sooner.  It made me so much more stable, and therefore more confident.  I could take corners tighter and more comfortably…and I could indicate on the roads.  With either hand!  Without going wobbly!  No more Zoolander  “I’m not an ambi-turner” issues on the road.

2) The Professor is a miracle worker, as I was grinning whilst going up hills. I could actually steer whilst going up hills, carefully avoiding sheep poo, instead of having to jump plow upwards in a straight line.

3) Despite his awesomeness, there is one issue.



Alas, white bike, sunny day and a camera phone leads to poor quality ride photos.  Poor Professor!  The internets will struggle to see his glory.

I’m looking forward to taking him to the woods tomorrow.  I’m sure I’ll have a few ‘moments’ as I’m getting used to a new bike, but I think that we have a good future together.

In other news, I’m sad to report that my iPod Shuffle is in critical condition after a trip through the washing machine.  It’s getting progressively closer to being functional – we leave it in the airing cupboard, try it out, and it gets a little closer to being properly detected by iTunes.  Hopefully it’ll pull through, but things aren’t looking hopeful. 🙁



19/04/09: Dirty Hoe

We went to our first Big Build Day today, and blimey, creating a trail from scratch is a bit different from repairing an existing one.  We were taken to a wooded hill, and…let loose.  Stick to the yellow flags and go between the marked trees, and off you go!

I have to admit, when we first got there, the task seemed to be fairly monumental – digging out the track, making sure that we got down to the clay stuff. It initially seemed like we were just making a mess, but it actually started taking shape really quickly.


As you can see, Mr Toast was…ho ho, getting into the swing of things with his trusty pickaxe (I’m here all week, try the veal).  Beyond him are the Grimey Limeys, who, in addition to being thoroughly nice people and awesome trail builders, also have the Best.  Club Jersey.  Ever.  Their part of the trail looked miles better than ours, so we watched what they did, and copied them.  Eventually we ended up with something like this:

I’ll be a real trail soon!

There were about fifty or so of us building today, and it was impressive how much stuff got done.  As you can tell from the photos, the weather was great.  A little too great, unfortunately – as usual, Mrs Toast’s back + sunlight = sunburn.  Ho hum.

Also seen whilst trail building:  a mother duck and TWELVE ducklings (deadbeat dad nowhere to be seen):

Not angry, just disappointed

The ducklings were obviously very cute, and very young – they’re the smallest ducklings I’ve ever seen.  We also saw another impressive bit of wildlife – Mr Toast said, with faint tone of alarm, “Love, I’ve just seen something slither into your bag”.

I was expecting an adder, but out popped…a lizard.  I vaguely recalled that we had lizards in the UK, but this was the first time I’d ever seen one.  He was small, quite a deep emerald green, with two black stripes on his back.  Checked a book on British wildlife, and that, combined with the power of Teh Internetz, informed me that it was a common lizard (although they’re normally more olive/browny coloured.  We must have found a flamboyant one…).

Not entirely sure why they’re called common lizards, given that they seem to be seen quite rarely.  Perhaps they don’t know which fork to use in a fancy restaurant, or put the milk in first when they make the tea.

Anyhoo – ducklings, lizards, barbecue, and the immense satisfaction of using pickaxes productively.  If you weren’t there, I bet you feel pretty stupid now.

18/04/09: We have to put a barrier between us and the snakes!

Had quite a decent ride on Saturday – did the first couple of sections of FtD (missing 11 and 12 and it was pretty busy), then all of the green loop, then sections 13, 14 and 15 to finish off.  I rode with Mr Toast, which pushed me quite a bit.  I felt like I was going slower, but we actually finished the green loop quite a bit faster than I do normally.  I think that I tend to stop more when I’m on my own, which leaves me a bit more refreshed and zippy when I’m riding.   The breaks are not so much because I need a break, more because I’m taking in the beauty of nature.  Of course.  Ahem.

Speaking of the beauty of nature, take a look at this little chap!

 Badger badger badger badger, mushroom, mushroom…

We saw him slithering near the start of section 15 – it was quite hard to get the camera out and get a picture of him in time. It’s only the third adder I’ve ever seen, and only the second live one!

FtD was a little odd – as I’ve mentioned, it was very busy with more ‘casual’ riders, so I actually managed to overtake quite a few people! 😛  At one point, I heard people whooping and hollering behind me on section 8, so I pulled over as a couple of kids went belting past, flying over the jumps (with no helmets, tut tut).  I was able to activate smug mode as I passed them on the climb at the end, as they pushed their bikes up the hill.  IN YOUR FACE, KIDS!

Ride: Cannock Chase

Trail: Most of FtD, green loop in the middle

Highlights: Snaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaake!

Bad bits: Getting a bit panicky because someone was nearly on my back wheel on section 13.

Post ride food snaffled: Cookie

Good dogs seen: Not many. There was a scottie, and a pair of chihuahua…I think they were puppies, but they could have been fully grown. Although I normally don’t like the breed, I actually thought these ones were quite sweet. Maybe I’m mellowing with age…Mr Toast still referred to them as ‘horrendous little shit rats’, however.


We’re hoping for a good weekend, weather-wise.  I want to get a good day of biking in on Saturday, then on Sunday it’s the Chase Trails Big Dig day.  Mr Toast and I have our spade and rake ready, and are looking forward to seeing (and contributing to) the progress of Phase Two.  I’m hoping I can rake, although admittedly that’s mainly because we only have one spade…

Anyhoo, if you can, get yourself along there – 10am at Swinnertons!


Dig Dig Dig!

Map of Joy: Update II!

The Map of Joy is now sporting souvenirs from Dalby, including the rather useful map and a delightful leather keyring from the Dalby Forest Visitor’s Centre.  Nothing but the best for my board!


Full-suspension quest update! On the way back from Mr Toast’s parent’s, we took a detour via the Specialized Concept Store in Birmingham.  We’d tried a couple of local Specialized dealers, but they’d either wanted a non-refundable 10% deposit to order one in (a bit risky for a bike I’d never even sat on!), or promised to get back to me, but never did. 🙁

But never fear!  The staff at the concept store were awesome – after giving them a refundable deposit, they’ve ordered in a small Stumpjumper Elite, and are going to put me through their ‘BG Fit’ test…procedure…thing. I’ve got a good feeling about this one, even planning on naming the bike ‘Captain Stumpy’.  Or perhaps ‘Professor Von Stumperson’.

12/04/09: This was a triumph, I’m making a note here, huge success

First things first – I won at Pirate Golf.  Huzzah!

Went to Dalby today and really enjoyed it.  The previous times I’ve been to Dalby it’s been a bit…meh.  Nice enough, but I’d find it’d outstay its welcome after a bit.  Today was great though – I don’t know whether it was because I was on my own bike for the first time (the previous times I’ve hired Konas with the stiffest…forks…ever…), or whether it’s because…I actually did some of the red route.

I’ve got to admit, I was bricking it slightly.  The only red route other than Follow the Dog I’ve ever been on is Llandegla, and I was riding with Mr Toast.  Both of those reds are known for being a touch on the easy side, and here I was, galumphing onto a ‘proper’ red, on my own.  I didn’t do a huge amount by any means, but I’m chuffed with what I did do – it highlighted again how much I’ve come along since I’ve started.

My route took in bits of the green, blue and the red, as loving illustrated on the map below – my route is marked in yellow, going clockwise.

My route, highlighted in a charming shade of yellow

We started off at Dixons Hollow, and I took the green route for a good while.  The green route actually starts with a nice little bit of friendly singletrack, complete with berms – it reminded me a bit of the skills loop in Glentress. After that, it was a rocky surfaced bit of track to the normal fire roads.  Following the instructions from a chap on Bike Radar (cheers Matt!) I got to post number 26.  I took a deep breath, and hit the red.

And…it was awesome.  It boosted my confidence to realise that yes – I can actually ride new red routes without stopping every twenty seconds in sheer panic.  I found myself tackling stuff that I wouldn’t have dared to this time last year.  For example, these log drops – they’re not huge, by any stretch of the imagination, and your average mountain biker would probably scoff at them even being regarded as an obstacle.  But for people who are new to the sport/lacking in confidence, they can be pretty intimidating – as the sludged up section around the side where people have chickened out demonstrates! 😉


I think it was section 28 when I had my first real ‘WTF’ moment – there’s a steep descent, with huge berms making the track zig-zag down the hill.  One of these berms has a big rock in the middle of it – being a bit inept, I couldn’t really see what line I could ride down safely, so I’ll confess to a bit of shuffling down that one bit.  The rest of the berms were of similar size and gradient, but were so much friendlier as they didn’t have big rocks sticking out of them.  I had a little giggle as I rode down them, remembering the bowl berm on Follow the Dog.  It’s taught me well.

‘WTF’ number two came on…I think it was the following section, it might have been the one after.  Basically, there’s a big drop (by my standards, it’s over a foot!)  after a corner.  Valuing both my bike and the integrity of my limbs, I walked down that bit too.  I decided to give the red a bit of a rest after that, as I was worrying that there might be more of that sort of thing, and I bailed on post 33.  I headed up the hill to the blue, and ended up at the start of section 26 of the red again.  Hooray for my complete lack of navigation skills – still, it wouldn’t be a trip to Dalby if I hadn’t gone completely the wrong direction at least once!

I followed the blue back the Purple Mountain cafe, and ate cake.  Delicious, delicious cake.

Then it was back onto the blue – the start of the blue is shared with the red, and I’d forgotten how bloody knackering it was.  It’s odd that the rest of the blue is very similar to the green (fire roads ahoy!), but that the start is so gruelling by comparison.  Or maybe I’m just rubbish at switchback climbs.  Well, there’s not really any ‘maybe’ about that…

Took the blue a fair way, and rejoined the green to head back to Dixons Hollow.   Good day all around! \o/

Ride: Dalby

Trail: Green, blue, and sections 26 – 33 of the red

Highlights: Getting onto the red

Bad bits: None really, although I bizarrey found the start of the blue after my cafe stop a bit hard going.  Possibly because I’d gorged on cake and tea….

Post ride food snaffled: Went to the Purple Mountain barbecue with Mr Toast

Good dogs seen:  Loads – a greyhound, a husky, numerous Jack Russells, lots of collies, a trio of border terriers, loads of labradors.  All of which were looking expectantly at their owners whilst they ate food from the barbecue.

10/04/09: Moo to sea

 So we’re once again Oop North.  Such a beautiful part of the country, and so many more awesome biking opportunities than back home in sunny Leamington.  Today we decided to get warmed up on the ‘Moor to Sea’ route.  OK, it’s got a terrible (yet descriptively accurate) pun for a name, and it’s a fairly tame route, given that it was built on the old disused railway line.  But not every ride has got to jam packed with berms, switchbacks and jumps, has it?  Sometimes it’s just nice to pootle along and appreciate…


I like to think they’re a singing trio

They were very sweet, and very inquisitive – as opposed to their mothers.  Jeez, if looks could kill…

You probably can’t make it out from the photo, but the middle one was bald on his forehead.  He did look a little like a zombie mini-moo.  He was still very nice though.  Not sure what’s going on with the crazy leaning action, I think they were preparing some sort of choreographed song and dance routine before we showed up.

We carried on, and took a little diversion at Hayburn Wyke to get a good look at the sea.  Mr Toast’s bike had some more upside down time as he tried to sort the play on the rear wheel…

Moody bike shot

…and Mr Toast then took a well earnt break, and looked at the sea.

Oh look, it’s another shot of the husband’s back.  He does have a face, honest

No rest for the wicked though.  What goes down must inevitably go up again (sometimes), and Mr Toast was ready and waiting to be all manly and chivalrous.  Two bikes and steep rocky steps are no match for the might of Mr Toast!

The ultimate uplift service

We rejoined the main route, and carried on to Ravenscar.  By this time the weather had turned a bit nasty, and Ravenscar looked strangely bleak and melancholy, yet still fantastic for it.  More fantastic was the tearooms.  If you ever find yourself there, their bakewell slices are the best you’ll find outside of the Peak District.

Tomorrow we’ve got a non-bikey day, where we’ll head to Whitby and play Pirate Adventure Mini-golf.  Naturally, I’ll win.  Then on Sunday we’re off to Dalby.  Huzzah!

Missus Toast and the full-suspension quest

As anyone who’s been reading this blog will be aware, I’m in the market for a full-susser.  So far I’ve tried:

A Specialized Safire

An Orange Diva (long)

A Lapierre Zesty 514L

A Santa Cruz Juliana

A Commencal Meta

A Trek Fuel EX 8

All of which have either been great but over budget, not had quite the right fit for me, or just felt a bit ‘meh’.  So, the quest continues.  On Thursday morning I’m heading to Mike Vaughn’s in Kenilworth (where I got my Trekadee from), where I’ll hopefully get some inkling as to whether a small Specialized Stumpjumper will fit me.  Fingers crossed!

After that we head up to Mr Toast’s parents’.  We’ve got quite a bit of biking planned – Dalby at least once, and we also want to do part of the ‘Moor to Sea’ route too.  This will be the first time I’ll be hitting Dalby on my own bike – the previous times I’ve hired a bike up there.  I really need to do a little research beforehand – I want to work out a fun route in advance, possibly incorporating some of the red route.  Need to make sure it’s within my ability level first, though!