09/04/11: Getting there…

So, it was another lovely day, and back onto Follow the Dog again.  I really need to get my fitness, strength and confidence up for June… and for myself, really.  Mountain biking is so much more fun when you’re not about to throw up.

This day was a bit special because not only did I do Follow the Dog in reasonable time (about an hour… OK, section 11 is still out of commission, but we don’t talk about that), but I then did up to section 8, and still had energy at the end when I had to meet Mr Toast!  I’m definitely rolling stuff with more confidence now, and I think I may have identified my cornering woes – on the Professor, I have a tendency to put my weight back whenever I’m out of the saddle, which is fine on descents… and also fine if I’m crouching down a little.  What I’m actually doing is getting towards the back of the saddle, but still being quite upright – I think I need to make more of an effort to centre my weight more and get a little lower, it seems to make a massive difference (well, it feels like I’m going faster! :P)

I also had a pop at Messrs Root and Slab.  Root I attempted on my second run of 7, and I cleared it with my front wheel easily.  I put my feet down though – I think if I’d kept pedalling I could have made it.   I didn’t exactly have the smoothest run into it though, my right foot had slipped off the pedal and I’d only just managed to get it back into position as I hit the root.  Next week!

Evil Slab (nee Root) had me trying to take the left hand line – actually avoiding the slab and tackling the two roots that are there.  Bottled it and put my feet down just before it though. -_-

Generally took everything a lot smoother this week and overtook quite a few people and didn’t get overtaken much – although given the weekend crowd, not really surprising! 😛  I even seemed to have a few occasions where people were using me as inspiration – including at the end of section 8 where a bloke was telling his son to how to roll the end and said, “See how she got her weight back and straightened her arms a bit”.  Which was funny, as I actually took the exit a bit iffily and had my weight further forward than usual, but not enough to cock it up.

I love seeing a range of abilities on the trail, it’s inspiring to see where you came from to where you could get to.   I love seeing little kids on their 20″ and 24″ wheels riding around FtD, enjoying the woods with their parents.  I love seeing people in jeans on their Halfords specials – some struggling and having a borderline asthma attack as they light up their cigarettes at the top of eight, others casually rolling Werewolf Wolf (although I’d prefer it if they wore helmets…).  I love seeing nutters going around Follow the Dog on jump bikes – who needs a comfortable ride or gears? I love seeing women with their blokes taking their first steps into mountain biking, trailing behind nervously as their menfolk leave them for dust.  I love seeing women with their blokes leaving their blokes for dust.  I love being overtaken by men that are twice my age and probably four times my fitness. I love seeing people on expensive bikes who are actually a bit rubbish, and realising that I fall into that category.  There are so many people riding the trails, it’s great to see the variety and makes you realise there’s so much more to mountain biking – even just trail centre riding, on this one trail – than what’s presented in MBUK and the like.  Long may it continue!

Ride: Cannock Chase

Trail: Follow the Dog

Highlights:  FtD and a little more FtD.  Actually trying stuff

Bad bits:  Trying and not succeeding

Post ride food snaffled: Bacon sarnie.  On brown bread.  IT’S HEALTHY.

Good dogs seen: Well, I actually thought today was going to be a bit of a bust – two overweight labradors and a Chinese Crested Hairless Dog.  Which OK, the latter is exotic, but… good?  Pushing it a bit.  Fortunately the day was saved by a last minute labradoodle, a minature schnauzer, and a very small jack russell wearing a muzzle.  Small, but deadly.

02/04/11: Follow the Dads

So this fine Saturday was the day I finally decided to bite the bullet and hit Follow the Dog in its entirety.  If you’ve been reading previous entires you’ll know that my red route riding since the end of November has been limited to the start and end sections of FtD whilst I get back into the swing of things.  And oh my, how I did swing!  Took it fairly steady, and it was very, very busy – there were a few breaks between sections which were longer than I needed as I was waiting on groups of people to pass, or giving families a headstart, but even still I clocked in at a not entirely terrible 1 hour 15.

I’d been putting off the Steg for a while because I am still a glorious mincer in matters of the rocky steps on corners going onto a bridge variety.  But I did it no problems – oddly it’s no longer the turn on the rocks that bothers me, but the fear I’ll go Benny Hilling off the right hand side of the bridge after clearing the rocks.  Hasn’t happened yet, so fingers crossed!  I marvelled at the end of section 6, which was previously almost completely flat, but now resembles a pump track for tiny, tiny people.  Remember kids, go through the puddles, not around them!

Had no problems with section 7 other than Evil Root Number One, although I automatically hopped off before I even looked at it.  Having looked at it, I could swear that it’s not actually as bad as I remembered it being, as if the front had been filled in a little.  The climb up to 8 felt a little more tiring than the week before on the Fuel, but I think that’s more down to having done more sections beforehand.  8 was good fun, although by the climb out of it I felt like I’d been kicked by a particularly ill-tempered donkey.

9 and 10 were nice and fast, although I nearly came a cropper on the bowl berm.  I noticed overall that I was still feeling a little unbalanced on corners compared to the Fuel, which was slightly disconcerting.  I still went at a decent clip though.  Went into 12 fully intending to conquer the Evil Slab (nee Evil Root Number Two), but it looked far bigger than it had in the photos.  With Evil Root Number Two, I could plough into it with no ability or finesse whatsoever – the replacement actually requires a modicum of skill.  Curses!

The Tackaroo section was good fun as always, although I still can’t ride the bloody switchbacks into Werewolf Drop, never mind Werewolf Drop.  Werewolf Drop is a proper collection of my nemesiseseses…nemesi…nemesises… er, riding issues.

A 90 DEGREE TURN INTO THE FEATURE!  I still struggle on tight berms and switchbacks (see The Monkey for details), so having a sharp zig zag leading into a right hand turn doesn’t come naturally to me.

NARROW TREES!  OK, I can cope with narrow trees – I’m quite small and don’t have the Harley Davidson handlebars that are all the rage.  I can go through the trees through the bridge onto the rocks on that one section of The Monkey. But that’s approaching from pretty much straight on!  That’s different!

A DROP…SLOPE… THING!  The drop itself doesn’t actually bother me that much.  OK, it took me two years to ride the exit to 8, but I don’t think Werewolf is actually that much steeper, and looks perfectly doable if you just keep your weight back and speed down a little.  But then….

A 90 DEGREE TURN AT THE BOTTOM!  Turning!  Bloody steering!  The humanity of it all!

For a lot of people, this agonising will be completely baffling.  They don’t even register Werewolf Drop as a hazard, dismiss it as a slope, etc.  And looking at it rationally, I know I can ride it.  I’ve seen people on Halfords specials wobbling down it with their brakes fully on and clearing it.  But this is my problem – what if?   Here, allow me to illustrate my thought process as I ride towards Werewolf Drop:

No, really

A lot of the time I’ll assume that at some point I’ll royally balls up and either damage the Professor, myself, or even worse, make a complete tit of myself in front of an audience.  So… I get off the bike and walk down. 🙁

Rest of Tackaroo is riding nicely, although I swear those two drops before the rollers are getting bigger, especially the first one!  I’ve also taken to riding the stumps right before the rollers – not managed to get air yet, but I’ve also not fallen off.  Woot!

Sunday was Mothers Day, and also the day of Mr Toast’s 1-2-1 skills course with Chase Skills that I sorted for him for Valentine’s Day.  In the morning I went trailbuilding before having a meal with my mother – we worked on section 11, resurfacing the most damaged areas of the trail.  I put my feeble upper body strength to as good use as I could and helped prepare the trail for the new material – for more information on trailbuilding, remember to take a peek at Chase Trails’ blog!

After trailbuilding and the Mothers Day meal, I went back to pick up Mr Toast.  It’s quite alarming going through the carpark at the end of the day – blokes seem to completely drop their inhibitions, and next thing you know, you’re surrounded by naked buttocks and swinging genitalia. Gentlemen, is there any reason why you need to get changed in public, out of doors?  Sweet Merciful Zeus, I had to get changed after trailbuilding, but I didn’t bloody do it in the carpark.  I didn’t know where to look!  WON’T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN?

Ride: Cannock Chase

Trail: Follow the Dog

Highlights:  Doing Follow the Dog and not being utterly terrible.  The beautiful sunshine. Trailbuilding.

Bad bits:  Still cowardly and avoiding stuff instead of riding it

Post ride food snaffled: Bacon sarnie

Good dogs seen: A most excellent minature daschund and minature schauzer.


26/03/11: Of clown wheels and lady bikes

Popped down to the Demo Series on the 26th.  I hadn’t really got a firm idea of what I wanted to ride, other than a strange inexplicable compulsion to try a 29er.

We arrived later than planned, as per usual.  First ride of the day was a Trek Fuel 8 WSD.  My original plan was to go out on the 14.5 inch model, but once I was standing next to it both the Trek Chap and myself agreed that it was probably going to be far too small.  So instead I ventured out on the 16.5 inch model, as the 15.5 wasn’t available.  Given that the Fuel 8 WSD have the same geometry as the ‘men’s’ Fuel 8s, I had a sinking feeling that it was all going to go horribly wrong.  When I tried it out for size, however, it didn’t seem too bad at all, and Trek Chap definitely earned bonus points for telling me that my legs weren’t that short and, as he set up the rear shock, that I was lighter than I claimed.

Setting off on it definitely felt a bit weird.  Not bad, just… different.  Despite it supposedly being a bigger frame than what I’m used to, I felt as if I was sat further forward than on the Professor, and a lot higher up.  As I turned into the first section of Follow the Dog, it felt very, very strange.

Very, very strange quickly turned into very awesome.  Last time I’d ridden a Trek Fuel two years ago I didn’t really get on with it – the brakes were honking (Hayes Soles), the gearing was terrible and it had annoying dual-platform pedals that always swung SPD side up when I wear flats.  This time was an entirely different kettle of donkeys – the Fuel was perfectly set up, and although I initially felt a little odd on it, I quickly got used to it.  Given that I’d not actually done much of Follow the Dog this year, I erred on the side of caution and left out the Steg, and instead headed to section eight in a rather roundabout fashion.

So, my first run through of section eight was on a strange bike after over four months of eating treacle pudding and playing World of Warcraft.  First was the small matter of the fireroad hill, and the Fuel proved it was a nice little climber.  Then onto section 8, and more awesomeness.  Perhaps I’d been expecting to be so much worse after the treacle pudding fuelled winter, but I seemed to fly around.  The Fuel seemed very stable around corners – on the Professor, I tend to lean into corners to the point of feeling that I’m starting to tip over, but on the Fuel I took the corners comfortably.  I don’t know whether it was the bike or whether I was just having a particularly good day, but I felt exhilarated that I was riding confidently at a decent clip after so long.  I’d planned to return the bike after section 8 as I didn’t want to push my luck, but I felt like pushing my luck anyway and did 9 and 10 as well.

I returned the Fuel with a big smile on my face.   Don’t get me wrong, I love the Professor, I do, but it’s nice to know that there’s another bike that I clicked with so quickly.  And Mr Toast has four bikes, and I only have two.  Just saying!  It also goes to show that:

a) Frame sizes can be pretty arbitary across different manufacturers, so don’t dismiss anything… or conversely, assume it’ll fit!

b) Just because you didn’t get on with a particular make or model one year doesn’t mean you should dismiss it forever more.  Geometry changes, things get tweaked and altered, and your own riding style might evolve.

Before I could demo another bike, I had to pick up my friend who’s looking into getting a new bike.  I was hoping she’d have a bit more success this time around – last time I took her to a Demo Day two years ago, she ended up riding a red route for the first time in her life on a carbon full suspension race bike (a Top Fuel, to be more specific).  Not being used to singletrack, the lightness of carbon bikes or full suspension, coupled with truly terrible weather meant that she had a less than pleasurable experience, and has now sworn off full sussers as a result.  So this time, I thought I’d get her on a nice, practical hardtail.  Having ridden a very basic Giant mtb for eight years, mainly for road riding, she made a beeline for the Giant stand straight away.  We ended up with…

209110_203571379662842_146798235340157_716619_4026472_o.jpg *

Clown wheels! \o/  I’d thought I’d be trying out a Gary Fisher Superfly 29er, but they didn’t have the 15″ model available.  So I joined my friend at the Giant stand AND still managed to sate my 29er curiosity with an Anthem 29er.  The idea that there would be a full suspension 29er that I could actually ride was a stunning revelation… although the seatpost did have to be sawn down so I could get on the saddle.  My friend also ended up on a 29er, a Giant XTC.

Determined not to make the same mistake as the previous demo day I’d taken my friend on, I took her around some of the green routes to let her get to used to the bike, before leading her down the old section 3 (which she’s ridden before).  She was fine on the flat, but struggled a bit on the singletrack – again, not really surprising given that she’s not used to that sort of riding, and was on a completely bonkers bike.  Again.

Because I’m a sadist (and also because I felt it’d be a fairer test of the Anthem) we then went on the first section of Follow the Dog.  I was expecting riding a 29er to be a bit of a nightmare (but I still wanted to ride one, just because I believe hobbits should have the right to be niche too), but it wasn’t at all.  The handling was surprisingly nimble, especially given I was expecting it to be something like riding a Penny Farthing, and on longer stretches it could fly over stuff. Bloody good fun.  I’ve never really clicked with Giant bikes before, clearly they just needed massive wheels to match the name!

Alas, my friend wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about her dandy horse, and nature was calling to us both, so we returned the 29ers.  Sadly by the time we hit the Specialized stand they’d stopped letting the bikes out, so no Epic test for me.

Overall an awesome day – it seemed to be a lot better organised than on previous years, with a decent choice in bikes for both Mr Toast (he tried a Trek Paragon, a Specialized Epic and a Carbon Stumpjumper) and myself.  The guys on the Trek and Giant stands were fantastic – despite being incredibly busy the bikes were perfectly set up and they were happy to chat.   Rather depressingly it’s been the first demo day where I’ve come out of it thinking I’d quite happily own both the bikes I’ve ridden, but alas, food and shelter sadly takes priority. I’ve come to the conclusion I need one of those stereotypical wives blokes on the Singletrack forum moan about – the ones who say, “Why do you need another bike?  What’s wrong with the one you’ve got?  You could get a car for that!” Plus even if I did get those bikes, I’d still want to keep the Professor and Cletus, so then we’d have eight bikes in the house.  EIGHT.  Is there a biking equivalent of a Crazy Cat Lady?

* Photo shamelessly robbed from Giant’s Facebook page.  If you’re one of those Twittery types and can tear yourself away from Charlie Sheen, you can also get Demo Series information from @TheDemoSeries.

Spring! Yay!

I’ve managed to have a good few rides over the past couple of weeks.  I’ve been focusing on getting my fitness back up on the blue, and throwing in a couple of sections of Follow the Dog.  Despite my first efforts of the year over the final Tackeroo section starting off a bit dicey, I’ve actually managed to get back into the swing of of it.  Although I did manage to skid sideways on the last berm before Werewolf and land on my side, much to the amusement of a group of blokes standing about.  Tell me boys, if you’re so frickin’ awesome why are you standing mincing at the top of the Werewolf instead of riding it?  Eh?  EH?

It’s amazing how quickly the trails recover once the frost finally buggers off – a little bit of added drainage here and there by Chase Trails (example:  the berms on the Tackeroo sections) and voila!  Perfectly rideable!  Occasionally a bit of mud and a fair few breaking bumps, but, as I keep on saying, if mud and bumpy trails bother you, you should probably question whether mountain biking is the hobby for you.

There’s lots of good dogs out at the moment – there seems to have been a bit of a puppy boom.  Last week alone I saw two German Shepherd pups and a spaniel pup, all bouncing merrily along.  Well, that’s a bit of a fib, the spaniel was bouncing, the alsations were quite dignified.

I also helped marshall the Midlands XC race last week – it mostly went smoothly, and thanks to the Follow the Dog riders for their patience and following the diversions.  Hope everyone enjoyed the day!

And now, photos!