About Missus Toast

I want to ride my bicycle I want to ride my bike I want to ride my bicycle I want to ride it where I like

A Pivotal Moment

Ah, the daily check of the weather forecast, hoping that as the day draws closer, the forecast will improve. The sinking feeling as the forecast gets worse instead. Oh dear.

I very nearly bailed on Pivot 24/12. The spectre of Mountain Mayhem 2012 loomed large, with the added complications of a seven hour round trip and having to leave my son for the first time, only one week after his first birthday. What if the course was too technical, too brutal for me? What if Mr Toast couldn’t get mini-Toast to sleep? What if the entire venue was a mud bath? And camping? I hate camping!

Eventually I pushed all of those thoughts to the side.

I wouldn’t know about the course unless I tried it. Anything too tricky, I’d walk.

Mr Toast is perfectly capable of looking after his own son.

Venue a mud bath? Well, it couldn’t be much worse than Mayhem 2012, could it?

Camping? Suck it up princess.

I have to admit, the event didn’t have an auspicious start. The two hundred mile journey took five and a half hours, for a start. The weather restricted itself to a light drizzle throughout the journey … until about twenty miles out from Newnham Park, where it promptly started pissing it down. Glorious.

I met up with my fellow Chase Trails soloists. Dave and Andrew helped me set up my new tent (a ‘Fresh and Dark’ one from Decathlon), Petra provided me with food (although I’d gorged on half a massive bag of cashew nuts on the journey down – optimum pre-race nutrition there…), and we continued to check the forecast in the vain hope that it’d improve.

(Ron Howard Voice: It didn’t) 

As I snuggled down for the evening, checking my phone for updates on the Toastling and listening to the rain beating down on the tent, I admit I was filled with regret. Fortunately, I slept relatively well (with the Fresh and Dark tent actually being fresh and dark), and woke up determined to attempt at least one lap, hopefully two.

Still, there was a general feeling of panic as I did the usual race preparation, and some less usual preparation – as I’m still breastfeeding but was without my darling offspring, I sat in the tent for over twenty minutes accompanied by the gentle honking of my portable breast pump. It was a bit surreal, to say the least.

Eventually I found myself on the starting line, heart racing. And off we went.

Being the consummate athlete in peak physical condition that I am, I quickly fell to the back. Petra, bless her, kept on waiting for me to catch up as I bimbled up the Clif Climb. I may not have been particularly speedy (*cough*), but I rode it without stopping both laps. After the climb it was into the woods and…

OH.

MY.

GOD.

The course was brilliant. It was honestly a huge amount of fun, even in the mud. I had to walk a couple of bits, but I like to think that I could have ridden it all in the dry. My main issue was having to pull over for faster riders on their second  (and third…) laps – I ended up spending a lot of time standing off to one side trying to find a gap in the traffic.  I’m also terrible at maintaining speed in slippery conditions, so there were a few steep inclines that I didn’t have the momentum to ride up. With the patience of a saint, Petra continued to wait as I made my merry way along at a leisurely pace*.

Then disaster struck. Petra had a puncture. After trying for a while to sort the canister out and failing, and her pump being broken, Petra bravely sent me on to find help. What would have been helpful is if I’d remembered that I had a new shiny pump in my bag, purchased for exactly such a scenario. Sadly, this thought didn’t occur to me until fifteen minutes after abandoning Petra. Oh dear.

Fortunately her husband Dave, being the speedy chap that he is, was already on his second lap. He soon caught up with me after having helped sort the puncture. We approached the river crossing – through the water, or over the bridge? Decisions, decisions. I decided on the water, but completely messed up my approach and went over at the top of the slope, right in front of the marshal. The marshal kindly helped me up, made sure that I was OK, and then promptly started telling riders to avoid the bridge as another rider had come off at the same time as my acrobatics.

The rest of my first lap was uneventful, and I pulled off the course for lunch, because I’m basically a Hobbit. I scoffed some pizza and was joined by Abby and Andrew. They seemed quite pleased that I was enjoying it, because… well, my feelings about Mountain Mayhem 2012 are well known.

Determined to at least qualify, I set out on my second lap. The course had deteriorated a bit more by this point, so there was a bit more walking, but some of the sections were still surprisingly quick – and some had been improved by the rain, as the mud was now thin and watery instead of thick and clay.

I fell off a few more times on the second lap, but the main issue was reoccurring cramp in my left leg. Ow, ow, ow.  I managed to get through most the episodes with dignity intact, but then I had a particularly bad cramp in the arena, so close to the end.

However, this episode highlighted one of the greatest things about the weekend – how bloody nice everyone was! From chatting away over pizza, to even the fastest riders waiting patiently or taking the time to say thanks as you pull over, small children giving high fives – it was a great atmosphere. And if you get cramp in the arena? Expect spectators to shield you with their umbrella, offering you drinks and waving your leg in the air in an attempt to banish the cramp!

Given that the weather wasn’t improving, and my cramping and falling off shenanigans, I decided to call it a day. I was absurdly pleased though – my first endurance race since Mountain Mayhem 2012, a year after pushing a human out of my nethers.

Sadly the race did take a bit of a toll – my shoes ended up in a skip, I’m covered in bruises, and my bike is away for a new bottom bracket. I’d do it again in a heartbeat though – let’s hope that next year has better weather!

 

 

 

 

Erk.

I’ve been managing to get out on the bike a bit more recently, which is fortunate, as I have Pivot 24/12 next week. We’ve had months of hot, dry weather, so naturally it stands to reason that it starts pissing it down as soon as my race comes within sniffing distance.

Fitness-wise, I’m not doing too bad – I can do 16-20 miles off road fairly comfortably. Tech-wise, I’m a bit more frail. I’ve done the Forest of Dean blue (which was fine), Dalby Blue (struggled with the berms at the end), and Follow the Dog.

Despite having ridden FtD without issue more times than you could shake a stick at, there were numerous points where I had to stop. The turns at the end of the first section. The exit to the first section. The tiny plank stream crossing on the second section. Most of section 11.

It wasn’t all bad news – I rode the Steg and the original boardwalk with no issue. Yay! I’ve also been trying to do a bit more off-piste to prepare for the race with… let’s just say ‘mixed results’.

I did the Summer Classic. As I was a bit out of shape and out of practice, I entered in the beginners’ category. I felt a bit guilty, as obviously I’ve been riding for a while and done quite a bit of red graded stuff. I needn’t have worried.

It was fucking horrendous. The course was the hardest I’ve ridden – loose, rutted, rooty and steep in places (confidence not helped by another beginner going over the handlebars on a chicken run in the first five minutes).

I was determined to finish, despite having a pretty miserable time, but we started to get lapped by the under-16s. The lads were polite and passed safely. The leading girl caught me on very narrow singletrack and barged me off track whilst screaming at me.

I picked myself up out of the heather and thought ‘fuck this!’. I was having no fun, and was being rammed by children. FML. I bailed around the halfway point, angry and miserable – not emotions I usually aim for when riding. I reported the rider, but she suffered no penalty – I’m guessing because a beginner doesn’t really matter compared to the regular elite racers. It’s amazing though, I’ve done Mayhem and Sleepless, and never encountered anything like that.

I seriously considered bailing on Pivot, but I’ve been assured that Pivot’s completely different, very relaxed and friendly. It’s going to be hard for me though, not just because it’s my first solo endurance race, but because it’ll be two nights away from my son. Apart from the emotional aspect and the gnawing feeling of guilt (which I always feel when I’m out riding instead of being with t’boy), I also have to take the breast pump, or risk blocked ducts and excessive leakage.

Motherhood is haaarrrd.

Swingin’

I generally have a pretty monogamous relationship with Devastator, my Stumpjumper. He’s confidence inspiring, fun to ride, and lovely to look at. But sometimes, I get curious about other bikes, so it’s great when demo day season kicks in.

Sadly I missed the Specialized demo day this year, but I hit the Leisure Lakes one the following week. It was a glorious orgy of bikes!

I attended last year’s Leisure Lakes demo day as I was helping to man the Chase Trails tent. I was also five months pregnant, so restricted myself to a Haibike Sduro ebike. This year I started off the same, only a slightly smaller Sduro (35cm instead of 40cm). It made for a more comfortable ride, but the smaller Haibikes are only available with the Yamaha motors, due to the battery – the Yamaha’s slide out sideways, whereas the Bosch lift up – and there’s not enough room in the frame for that.

Not that the Yamaha motor is a problem – I avoided the demo loop that took in the last few sections of Follow the Dog, due to fear and cowardice, instead heading down the blue. I hoped to do the short blue, and hoped I didn’t run too much over the allocated 30 minutes. 20 minutes later I was returning the bike with a big grin on my face, having cackled merrily all the way up a hill.

Bizarrely, I probably get more out of breath uphill on an ebike than on a regular bike – on the latter, I have to go into an easy gear and spin up hills, due to my substandard knee cartilage and lack of ligaments. It’s a big strain on the legs, but not so much cardio wise. On an ebike, I’m pedalling like the clappers and guffawing as I fly uphill. Lovely stuff!

Second bike was a bit off an odd choice – a small Orange P7. There’s something lovely about a nice, simple hardtail (Mr Toast has a gorgeous SIngular Swift). As I rode out with Chase Trails’ trail builder and noted Apple fanboy Will, it became fairly obvious that ‘small’ in Orange wasn’t quite small enough.

Again avoiding the demo loop, we rode to the start of Section 12, which marked my first attempt at riding any of FtD for over a year. The P7 felt a bit skittish and unwieldy, but that was down to the too small, rubbish rider. I literally stopped on a descent that has no drops and is a straight line (and is in no way off piste, ahem) because I panicked over what might happen. Boooo!

Third bike was a Specialized Turbo Levo, Spesh’s full susser ebike. Despite my better judgement, I ended up on the women’s ride, which was going around Follow the Dog. So, after being off FtD for well over a year, there I was, on an unfamiliar bike, in a group ride (so putting myself under loads of pressure).

It wasn’t a complete disaster, but I was very, very nervy, and massively struggled with… corners. Downhill switchbacks, uphill ones – I’m normally pretty bad with them, but that day… yeesh. I did also nearly come a cropper just before the Rollers, when I took the ‘easy’ side of the rock feature, over cooked slightly, headed towards the drainage ditch, hit a stump, but miraculously managed to correct myself. My heart was in my throat, but I was quite pleased at my save.

I did Twist & Shout, hovering at the back. However, I was painfully conscious that I was a) on the only small Turbo Levo they had to demo, and b) holding everyone up. So I bid the ladies farewell, and headed back to Tackeroo. I was alternating between frustration and satisfaction – I felt that I’d embarrassed myself a bit, and recognised that I’ve got my work cut out to return to my previous level, but at the same time, I’d got back on the red route, ridden Tackeroo, etc.

My cunning plan was to next demo a Cube ebike. However, the small was out. Did I want to demo a standard bike? Sure, why not. So I demoed a 13.5″ Cube Stereo, and it was actually rather lovely.

Emboldened by my earlier efforts, I took the Cube to a different part of the Dog, and did the Bomb Hole. And you know what? I actually did it in a half decent time (for me). I’m guessing it was because the Cube was a good size for me, very nimble, and more like what I’m used to.

So, overall musings – Orange P7 was a bit useless for me as it was too big. The two ebikes were really good fun, and it was interesting to see the difference in the motorised assistance. The Specialized felt like it kicked on the first pedal stroke, giving you instant zoomy fun, whereas the Haibike felt like it took a few pedal strokes to kick in, a bit more subtle. On climbs, however, the Haibike felt like it gave quite a bit more assistance – however, that could have been because I’d been riding for a while and was possibly a bit knackered by the time I was taking the Levo uphill! Either way, I’d definitely love an ebike for exploring.

For trail centre riding though, I definitely felt more comfortable on a normal full susser – which is fortunate, as I have an excellent one in my Stumpy!

 

Post-natal Blues

I had a pretty easy pregnancy, all things considered.  I managed to get out on the bike a couple of times during the first two trimesters, but being fairly risk averse at the best of times, I took it very steady. I even got a heart rate monitor to make sure that I didn’t go over the oft-cited 140 limit.  This gave me two options:

  1. Flat, easy routes such as Draycote Water and the Stratford Greenway
  2. Riding an e-bike

I generally stuck to 1, but I did get the opportunity to demo an e-bike at the Leisure Lakes Demo Day last year. It was glorious – it was the first time I’ve ever been able to ride up a hill with no knee pain whatsoever. It also created the (probably comical) sight of five month pregnant woman sailing past a load of other riders. I was doing 11mph. Uphill. To put this in context, my Garmin normally autopauses on the same hill because I’m going so slow…

But, just as summer was cranking up, so was my girth, lack of balance and pelvic girdle pain, and it was getting increasingly difficult to ride. One of the hardest things was the feeling of restriction and desperately missing the woods, especially whilst the weather was glorious.

Fortunately my relatively easy pregnancy was followed by a relatively easy birth – unlike his mother, my son was a speedy little fellow (less than four hours, I’ve had longer bike rides!).  Six weeks later I got the OK from the doctor, and went on a short ride down the greenway.  I managed just under ten miles of flat riding without too much grief, but was a bit tender afterwards.  Which isn’t hugely surprising, really.

Since then, I’ve been gradually increasing my riding. It’s been slow going, as I’ve been breastfeeding, so it’s been hard leaving the little fellow, but he takes a bottle well so I’ve been able to get out a bit.

Since he hit the six month mark, I’ve gotten a bit more adventurous and started ‘proper’ riding again. I was hoping to have an ebike when I got back riding, as it make it easier riding through winter, with dodgy knees and baby weight, but after a sensible look at our finances we decided against it. Maybe next year. 🙁

So, it was just me and Devastator. I was a bit worried – it’d be my first real test of fitness.  What if my legs crapped out on me?  What if I couldn’t cope cardio-wise?

I won’t lie, it was tough – I was only doing the blue route, but it was the hardest I’d found it in years.  I loved being out though, although it was cold, and miserable, and my knees hurt.  Happily though, my woes were more muscular than cardiovascular – I hadn’t lost too much fitness, but my joints were still knackered from longstanding injury, pregnancy (hello, relaxin!) and the excess weight I still need to shed.

I’ve been out a few more times over Sherbrook Valley, and once over Dalby blue.  Dalby blue is massively improved since the last time, with more single track added. Again, I struggled a bit – I found the initial climb very tough, and the final descent (hooray for flat bits!).

It’d be so easy to get demoralised, as I have been in the past, but I just loved being out, unperturbed by my shoddiness. Ultimately, I’m in a better place than I was when I first started biking, so I’m sure I can get back to where I was!

Crime!

So, I mentioned my bike getting nicked. Here’s the comical story.

After a hard day slaving in front of a hot computer (very hot, it was our old offices and there was no air con), I meandered outside to my bike, which lived out of sight behind a wall, chained to a fence. Only my bike wasn’t there, and my heavy duty, insurance improved cable lock was in bits. Well, shit.

With a growing sense of rage and shock, I bimbled to the police station, the remains of my lock curled up in my bike helmet like an injured animal. I recounted my tale of woe, described my bike, and went on my way with my crime number.

Each day I checked eBay and Gumtree for my bike, and each day – nada.

That was until five days later,

I’d registered my details on www.stolen-bikes.co.uk, and used their excellent ‘Find that Bike!’ feature, which collects bike sale ads from numerous sources. And there it was, some 80 miles away. At first, I nearly overlooked it – it didn’t have my distinctive purple flats on. But then I spotted the Superstar logo on the grips, took a closer look – yes, it was my bike, but with shitty old pedals on. The guy who was selling it had a history of selling a wide variety of bikes on Gumtree, and indeed had put up another fairly decent hardtails shortly after my bike.

I immediately called the police, whose response was… underwhelming. It’d probably take a few days for them to get the info from Gumtree, there was nothing they could do.

So, in the absence of actual policing, I turned internet detective. In the space of an hour, I’d learned the name, address, occupation, education history and family details of my bike’s seller. Although he lived miles away, he had a brother who lived fairly local to me. Hmmmm.

Armed with that knowledge, I contacted the force local to the seller.  They were originally reluctant to get involved without a referral from my local force, but I… well, I nagged them, pointing out that my bike was likely to sell quickly at such an artificially low price. After describing the unique quirks of my bike, they said they’d pay a visit.

And they did! The following day my bike was recovered, and the selling scrote  admitted that he’d got the bike off his brother, but that he obviously had no idea that it was stolen. Amusingly, when the police recovered my bike, the purple Wellgos were back on, which would suggest that the seller removed them and replaced with shitty old pedals (which were used on another bike in another advert) for the sole purpose of the Gumtree photos for some reason. If one had a suspicious mind, one might think that this was because they were an identifying feature.

As local brother scrote was local, it was now a matter of the local force interviewing him, as selling scrote’s police force needed more evidence that he knew it was stolen. Once that was done, I could get my bike back.

The local police interviewed him promptly, his story quickly unraveled, and he was charged with handling stolen goods.

Oh wait, no – what actually happened was my case was assigned to a guy on sick leave who eventually returned six weeks later, wasn’t allowed out of the office so had to reassign the case, and a few weeks after that an officer finally got around to talking to local scrote. Local scrote said that he bought it off Gumtree (despite there being no other Gumtree ads for my make and model of bike in that time period), from a fellow ‘at the side of the road’, but ‘couldn’t remember who’.

And that was that. Besides, he ‘didn’t look like a bike thief’.

I was… a tad miffed. Surely he could be done for handling stolen goods, as obtaining expensive goods for a fraction of the price and not keeping records is an indicator, but the police felt that sub-£200 for a £900 bike was fine. Indifferent shrugs all around.

I raged. I seethed. And, being British, I put in an official complaint, I eventually got an apology and a reinvestigation of the case, with the Sergeant admitting that it was pretty obvious that local scrote was stealing/obtaining bikes and giving them to his brother to sell.  Unfortunately, too much time had passed, and nowt happened except the promise that they were now ‘on the radar’.  It still rankles that it was handled with such indifference, but it could have been worse – in all seriousness, the same local force ignored a woman who phoned them and said she’d been beaten, who was murdered shortly afterwards. Perspective, and all that.

And Tessa, the bike in question? Three months later I had to drive a 180 mile round trip to get it back. It had some new scratches in the paintwork, and the lights and bell were long gone, but I had it back.

A few months after that, I discovered that I was pregnant. I swiftly knocked commuting on the head as many local drivers are psychopaths, and decided that we needed a bit more room, so decided to give Tess a new home. She’s now gone to a new owner in the Peak District, so will hopefully be having more exciting adventures than canal towpaths and dodging cars.

I’d hoped to replace her with an ebike, but that’s not happened yet, so it’s just me and Devastator, my Stumpy, for my post pregnancy adventures…

Whoops

Blimey, has it really been nearly three years since my last update? I admit, I was finding it hard to find different ways of writing, “I rode Cannock Chase and I still sucked”, but still… tsk.

Well, a lot has happened in those years. For example:

  • I’m massively chuffed with my career, now working at an ace studio, on ace stuff, with ace people
  • I had my Contessa stolen, but got it recovered in Sheffield using my legendary stubbornness and Internet Detective skills
  • I learnt to ride a 125cc scooter, which was stolen a week after my Contessa. I didn’t recover that. 🙁
  • I lodged a complaint (which was upheld) about the police being a bit shit
  • I’ve accepted that I’m just too damn hobbity for 29ers
  • I’ve replaced the Professor with a new Stumpjumper FSR, this time a 650b
  • I discovered that there were two medical reasons for my increasing chunkiness – polycystic ovary syndrome and an underactive thyroid
  • Mr Toast and I have successfully procreated a Mini Toast. He’s currently six months old, and adorable. He’d be more adorable if he slept more at night though… I’ve not really ridden much for a year, due to pregnancy/breastfeeding!
  • Despite not having ridden much and becoming large(r) with child, I’ve signed up for Pivot 24/12 this year

So yeah, quite a few posts’ worth of material there.  I’ll get around to it…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cake

Since the demo day, I’ve been ramping up my riding. Sadly my winter hibernation and weight gain has had quite an impact on my riding – I feel slow, fat and waddling. Fortunately, given my prodigious consumption of all that is sugary and fat filled, it’s not as bad as I feared. Yes, I’m slow, and I’m taking longer stops than I used to, and ascents are downright unpleasant, but I’m still able to ride 15+ miles comfortably and I can still ride up hills without stopping. I’ve retained some stamina, so that’s good.

My confidence is also quickly returning – on my first couple of rides, I avoided various things. The Steg on one ride, the boardwalk on another, the exit to section 8 (Zig Zak), the bridge on section 9 (Aunt Flow). In my defence, the weather had been fairly terrible, and there was a surprising amount of mud around, especially on the diversions. A chap was standing in Swinnertons, covered in stinking mud – apparently the mud on the Steg diversion had made the boardwalk slippy. Ew. Didn’t fancy that. A few rides later, I was back to riding everything that I could ride before – a somewhat ridiculous achievement, when you think about it. “Hey, I rode that rock garden I’ve been riding for nearly four years, hear me roar!” Still, I’m always pleasantly surprised.

I’ve been trying to top up my riding with some local riding too, commuting to work when the weather isn’t too bad, and doing the odd loop around Ryton Pools. I’ve not done my usual bridleway loop, as I’m still waiting for it to dry out, but soon…

 

 

Like Bananarama, I heard a Rumour

Spring is here (FINALLY), and that means a fresh batch of demo days.  I gave the Leisure Lakes one a miss due to the demos being group guided rides, and instead waited for the Specialized demo day.  Aaah, Specialized – manufacturers of my beloved Professor, not to mention three of Mr Toast’s bikes. A solid, reliable brand who’ve gone from being good value, to being overpriced, and back to being good value.  There is one slight issue with the current crop of Speshes, however, and that’s the thorny issue of wheel size.

Specialized, with a few exceptions, only make 29ers now.  Being of shorter stature, this has proven to be a bit problematic for me. Previously, back in ye olde 26 days, I struggled as women-specific bikes were far too short in the top tube for me, and bloke’s bikes often had no stand over.  My Professor, a 2009 Stumpjumper FSR, was the exception. It was still a little tight on stand over, but the reach was perfect and together, we’re a good fit.  So really, I don’t need a new bike, but I’m always trying to ensure that I have a back-up plan in case the Professor perishes.

The push towards 29ers has cut down my already limited options, however.  I kind of got on OK with a Giant Anthem, but I didn’t really get to ride it as much as I’d like to make a definite judgement. The small Specialized Camber had less than zero stand over, but the reach was fine.  The Stumpjumper was even worse, due to even longer forks.

But hark! A Rumor! A women’s specific 29er.  Would this fit me, or would it still have a crazy short cockpit for t-rex women? Looking at the geometry it seemed promising – very similar wheel base and top tube length to my Stumpy, and lower stand over. Well, I never.

So, I patiently waited to demo the Rumor.  When I arrived there, the small Rumor had been out for 50 minutes already.  Great! It should be back any time now!

It wasn’t.

The previous demo-ee finally returned the Rumor after having it out for well over two hours. By this point, there were two other women waiting for it. Despite being next in the queue, I surrendered my spot to another lady who was there with a chap – he’d already got his demo bike, and was waiting for her before going out. If I went out first, it’d mean that either that they wouldn’t be able to ride together, or that he’d wait, meaning that whoever wanted to demo the bike he was on would also be delayed.

So, after three hours of waiting, I finally got out on the Rumor. Was the wait worth it?  I sat on the bike, pleased with the geometry. Standover! Sweet, precious stand over!  Internal cable routing, niiiiice. And the Comp is white with purple grips and decals – OMG IT MATCHES MY EXISTING BIKES AND GEAR!!111

Unfortunately, my initial reaction was “HELL NO”.  It felt completely alien and just plain wrong. My body position felt weird. The handling felt weird. The brakes felt weird.  I pondered though – was it the bike that was wrong, or just me? After all, I hadn’t been out on a bike since October… unless you count my new 110cc scooter. Toot toot!

As it felt distinctly odd, I elected to skip the Steg – squiffy handling, squiffy brakes and general uneasiness on the bike does not go well with rocks.  I raised the saddle a little, and the bike immediately felt better.  Off I toddled, skipping the boardwalk section and heading up the fire road hill.

This was slightly terrifying – would I be able to get up the hill without having a cake-induced heart attack?  It was also at this point that I realised that the Rumor had different gearing to my Stumpy, having two chainrings instead of three. WHAT MADNESS IS THIS?  Yes, I paid more attention to the paint job than the gearing. Deal with it.

The more I rode it, the more it made sense. No gears that you’re not supposed to use for fear of knackering the chain, no utterly redundant big ring. By the top of the hill (which I managed to get up without stopping, much to my surprise) I felt a lot more comfortable on the bike.  A quick sip of water, and I was finally riding FtD for the first time in ages.

The Rumor did well – given that I find High Voltage particularly bountiful on the slippy pebble front, grip was excellent and it ate up braking bumps and jolts.  Again, it climbed and turned well up Zig Zak, but I decided to err on the side of caution and toddle down the ramp. A few more sections and I was really rather taken with the Rumor – I still found the handling a bit quirky, but that’s probably to be expected after a) a long time off the bike, and b) on an unfamiliar bike.  I was left with the impression that it would be awesome over somewhere like Llandegla or Glentress, but less ideal for the tighter areas of the Chase – although again that might be me, rather than the bike.  The only other gripe was that the brakes were a bit spongey and the levers pulled right back to the handlebars – I do one finger braking, and the lever kept on hitting my middle finger knuckle whenever I wanted to even feather the brakes.  But that’s something that could be fixed with a good setup (possibly involving throwing the Elixirs into the fire and replacing them with brakes that don’t need bleeding every five minutes).

I returned the bike with a big smile on my face, and the Rumor has certainly made me a bit more open minded about getting a 29er to replace the Professor, should he fall in battle.

Of the demo day itself, the Specialized guys were great – they were making sure that everyone was completely happy with the bike setup before they went out, adjusting not only forks and shocks but handlebar angles too.  They were frequently apologising for my wait, and chatting to make sure that I wasn’t forgotten. They were also handing out free t-shirts and Phenom saddles, which was a nice gift for Mr Toast. YAY! PRESENTS!

I might take another test ride of a Rumor later in the year, when I’ve shifted some of my winter bulk and gotten used to biking again.  That said, I quite fancy trying an Ibis Mojo too…

October. Bleugh.

Well, it’s been an odd few months. Confession time: I haven’t actually been on my bike since October, a thoroughly miserable little factoid there.  When I was first made redundant, I did vaguely have this dream that on days in between looking for work, I could get some extra miles in over the Chase.  Unfortunately, as time went on, I realised that the £20+ in fuel it cost to get to and fro the Chase was financially a bit irresponsible – especially as the statutory redundancy claim was taking longer than expected to sort out.   

It was, all-in-all, a pretty grim cycle of misery for a few months – I felt guilty about doing anything ‘fun’, as ‘fun’ wasn’t looking for a job or improving my skills.  Jobs were scarce, and each week that passed made me feel more useless. The redundancy claim was a fairly fraught process, with an investigation dragging it out, and leading to the delightful conclusion that my role had been TUPEd to another unrelated company.  I was informed that I’d technically resigned by refusing a job at the company in Oxford, so wasn’t entitled to anything other than my owed wages, which I’d have to claim from a company I’d never worked for. There was misery, there was despair, a fair bit of anger… put it like this, if I was strong in the Force, I would have been full on Sith and shooting lightning out of my fingertips, with Yoda looking a bit disappointed.  There was also a fair bit of weight gain – winter eating combined with no exercise plays cruel, cruel tricks on my waistline.  The weather went terrible, and EVERYTHING WAS RUBBISH.

Fortunately, things started to turn around.  The company that I was supposedly TUPEd to got their lawyers involved, and I ended up getting my statutory redundancy, loss of notice and unpaid wages/holiday after all.  Money may not buy happiness, but it pays the bills and buys motorbikes, so that was a plus.  I then managed to not only get my career back on track, but to give it a massive boost – I’m now working on two awesome projects for a company that helped shaped my childhood, and am professionally the happiest I’ve ever been.

And I’ve also taken up a new hobby – archery.  Longtime readers (if there are any) will know that I often talk of my love of Lord of the Rings, and my childhood desire to be an elf – ride a horse, live in a tree, have awesome hair, shoot a bow.  Well, I tried riding a horse, didn’t like it, but mountain biking is close.  Living in a tree is impractical, but we have a semi-detached and a mortgage. Hair… well, I try. 

But archery… I’ve been wanting to do it for years, and I finally managed to complete a beginners’ course which demonstrated that I wasn’t going to have anybody’s eye out, and joined the local archery club.  I was surprised at the bewildering array of stuff that you can get for recurve bows (my weapon of choice) – sights, long rods, clickers, etc. I’ve now got the basics, and have hopefully passed the ‘excruciatingly bad’ starting period, where my arrows were landing in strange and unpredictable places.  Unless you predicted ‘on the floor’ – then they weren’t that predictable.  Sometimes I would hit the target… just not the one I was aiming at.  Turns out you should keep your head still when shooting, instead of bobbing it around like an angry pigeon or like the possessed lass in The Exorcist.  WHO KNEW? But it’s great fun, will hopefully do something about my feeble upper body strength (18lb draw weight…), and will stand me in good stead for any forthcoming zombie apocalypse.

So now, I’ve just got to get back on the bike.  I’ve suffered from a lack of enthusiasm because of the weather, but now it’s starting to be less awful, I’m actually a little bit scared.  Scared to see how much fitness I’ve lost over six months, scared because people will be laughing at the fat girl on the expensive bike, scared because what if I’ve forgotten how to mountain bike and hurt myself on the Steg, or on the exit to section 8. What if people laugh?

But screw that – I can’t solve any of those problems unless I get back riding.  So this weekend I’m going to the Specialized Demo Day, so if anything terrible happens I can blame it on an unfamiliar bike (I’m also quite interested in the Rumour, as it looks like it might be a new-full susser that fits me). So if you see a tubby lass wobbling around – go easy on her, yeah?