Huzzah and boo, part two

Much like when you google medical symptoms, googling issues around ebikes can be a fairly depressing read. I’d always been a bit baffled by the bad reputation ebikes had for reliability – after all, dear Voltron, my faithful Lapierre Overvolt HT, has served me without complaint for nearly 2000 miles over four years (most of which have been done in the last year). Never had the motor or battery serviced, it just goes. That might be jinxing it, but to be fair, old Volty’s done good.

So when my new Liv started having issues, I started googling. I found that quite a few people with Giant Reigns, Trances and Liv Intrigues had experienced problems very similar to mine. Disconcertingly, several reported that the issues were actually quite hard to resolve, requiring replacement or refunds. But as my bike went in I though, “I’m sure it’ll be fine!”.

It was not fine.

As my Intrigue was returned to my care, I planned a visit to the Forest of Dean. I wanted to see if I could tackle the Verderers any better after my skills course. I wanted to try the newly re-opened Countdown and Launchpad on my mighty beast.

Obviously it’d be silly just to take the Intrigue out without checking first, so I took it for a sub 6-mile loop one lunchtime around the local roads. It was unseasonably pleasant for September, and the bike didn’t experience any issues. Huzzah! I booked a night at the Ross-on-Wye Premier Inn, and started looking forward to my little weekend jaunt.

The day came, and my bike was popped on to charge. When it came time to load up the car, I put my bags in, and rolled the Intrigue out. I switched it on to check the battery, to see if I needed to take the charger in case it hadn’t had time to fully charge, the lights came on… and immediately went off again.

“Have you tried switching it on and off again?”

You have got to be shitting me.

I confess, I actually had a bit of a cry. My plans of merrily shredding were in ruins. RUINS. Perhaps I should just let Mr Toast go in my place, rather than wasting the hotel room. I could spend the next few days sulking.

Instead, I remembered that I’m in the incredibly fortunate position of having two ebikes and hell, I still have the Professor – but I confess that I’m not entirely sure how my knees would cope now on a non-ebike, and my last memory of riding the Professor at FoD involved me vomiting halfway up the climb…

Voltron had tackled the Forest of Dean before, and could do so again. Sure, I’d probably Countdown and Launchpad a miss, but I could still have a good time. To the west!

Soon, Voltron and I were relaxing in a Premier Inn, which was much like every other Premier Inn (which is why we like them – clean, comfortable, and bike-friendly).

Something something Lenny Henry

The next day I chatted with the local Giant dealer about my dead Intrigue. To be honest, I feel pretty sorry for them – I don’t think that a huge number of their bikes have these issues, but enough to be a pain in the arse, and without an easy solution as I don’t think the error codes always give a true impression of what’s going wrong. I’m going for a refund – as I told them, I can’t trust the bike, and as a woman who rides alone (not to mention with shit knees), it’s a bit of a dealbreaker – so now it’s got to be couriered back to Rutland. Gutting.

ANYWAY, back to the Forest of Dean. Breakfast was scoffed, the room was emptied and the bike loaded, and off I went.

It was a beautiful, warm sunny day (in September!), and Cannop was packed. Usually when I visit FoD it’s mid-week, so this was the first time I had to go into the overflow carpark. After the trek to the parking machines that actually accept card (because despite the optimistic Ring-o signs, no-one has signal, and who carries coins in a pandemic?), it was time to set off.

And… it was great. I pretty much felt like a riding goddess. I took every uphill switchback easily. I took nearly every downhill easily (there’s one left-hander I still can’t clean fully early on). The final descent made me wonder how the hell I’d ever had problems with them on my visit back in the early summer. I blasted down the Dragon’s Back to the sound of the Beastie Boy’s Sabotage. It was ace.

Feeling smug and confident, I decided to tackle Countdown and Launchpad after all. Now, you’d probably be expecting from my previous writings to be going, “Aha! So this is where she’s going to come a cropper!”

Do you wear glasses? You may be entitled to condensation.

But no, I made it to the bottom without stopping, falling, or comedy injuries. Which is just as well, because those trails are FAST. I imagine that I had a similar demeanour to the shitting terrified deer in Castle Crashers. There were signs saying, “Check your speed”. Yeah, not a problem there.

Have you played Castle Crashers? You should play Castle Crashers.

I carried on riding the Verderers, and did have an off on the aforementioned left turn. What can I say? I am not an ambi-turner. I think I took it a bit too quick and didn’t make the turn enough – I probably could have salvaged it if I’d just turned hard and held off the brakes. Instead, I held onto the brakes hard, and fell off… slowly. Splat. Still, every other bit nailed, so still good.

After that, I did my customary green loop, with a diversion off to Mallard’s Pike cafe for rainbow cake (unless my Slimming World consultant is reading this, in which case I had a salad).

As I still had a decent chunk of battery left, I decided to do a third lap of the Verderers. I was feeling fairly mashed by this point, but still had a great ride. My left thigh was screaming, my arms were aching, but I still tried to push myself (and this time, I didn’t fall off).

I rolled back to the car thoroughly pleased with myself and Voltron and, when I returned home, was even more smug when I saw my Strava times. I’d achieved 18 personal bests, and knocked 7 minutes off my previous best time.

That’ll do pig. That’ll do.

It’s a Miracle!

Last week I finally did a long overdue skills course. As anyone who has read this blog knows, I’m more than aware of my riding shortcomings, with some fairly major gaps in my core skills such as “the ability to go around corners” and “breathing whilst attempting anything remotely technical”.

My previous skills course some ten years back didn’t really help much. There was a section on jumping. I never managed to jump. There was a section on manuals. I never managed to lift the wheel. There was cornering on tricky corners. I had to be caught as I nearly went over the handlebars on Devil’s Staircase. There was drops. I kept bottling it on Werewolf Drop.

This time I went with SkillsLoop. I’d long accepted that jumping and manuals are off the table, but could Adam at least get me cornering better?

The course first started with an assessment of my basic skills, at which point I didn’t cover myself in glory. Adam quickly identified one issue with my bike set up – my brake levers were angled too far down, which tended to pull my body position too far forward and made braking more jerky. This small change alone made a massive difference to my bike handling.

Then there was body positioning, which had a few tweaks required. Firstly, I tended to keep my body a bit too straight, and my arms almost locked out. Secondly, my left hand has a tendency to drift inwards on the handlebar.

And then there was breathing. As an adult human who has made it to 41 years of age, you’d think that I wouldn’t need to be reminded to breathe, but…

Let’s take a closer look at that, shall we?

Oh dear.

Now, to be honest, I did know that I had a tendency to stop breathing when concentrating. Generally, I realise when I make a noise like a balloon having its air let out, and finally start breathing again. Adam pointed out that I literally puff out my cheeks. What I didn’t realise it that I was also completely changing the rest of my posture – my hands slide in on my grips, my elbows drop down, and my knees start hugging the frame.

I am basically a hedgehog.

We did a few basic drills to improve my body positioning, and then it was decided that I was going to learn how to lift the front wheel.

I have never intentionally lifted the front wheel. I’ve tried, but it’s always stayed firmly stuck to the ground. I’ve always just accepted it as one of those things I can’t do.

Well, it turned out that I can do it, I’d just never been told how to do it properly. Adam broke it down into steps, and…

ENHANCE!

IT’S A MIRACLE, MOTHERFUCKERS!

Words cannot express how happy this made me. How happy it still makes me. I can even apply the technique and lift the front wheel on my hardtail. I’ve been riding around the local roads lifting the front wheel, giggling like a small child.

High from my lifting the front wheel, it was onto cornering. This was where I had to conquer my hedgehog tendencies, and I actually made a fair improvement.

Soon it was time to put that into practice on the trail. One of the things that Adam had told me was not to go too far back off the bike – back when I started mountain biking, I was always told to put my weight back as much as possible when pointing downhill. However, with changes in bike geometry, this meant that my arms were pretty much locked out, and the front of my bike was very twitch and floaty. With my new found advice, I immediately felt a lot more stable and in control.

Then came my nemesis – the Werewolf Drop… bypass. Yes, it’s fairly tragic that I can’t handle the chicken run to a feature. I think I’ve ridden it once or twice, in the first year or so of it being built, but over the last eight years (at least), I’ve always just hopped off the bike and walked down.

So, did I make it? After a couple of less than textbook attempts and a lot of heavy breathing, I managed the first chicane. Huzzah! Another first. You can behold my awesome skills in the video below (just ignore the face…)

The subsequent turns were a bit tougher, but I managed to get around them, albeit with a bit of dabbing. I made the last turn fine, and all of the uphill switchbacks (which I don’t usually), so all in all, I’m in a much better position than I started in, and hope to apply all that I’ve learned at Glentress in just over a week! I finished the day by going off and riding parts of Follow the Dog and all of the new blue, and found that even on the Bombhole, which I’ve been finding a bit more sketchy recently, I was a lot more solid.

I have developed an unfortunate habit of singing, “I’m a funky chicken” whilst riding though, in order to remind myself to lift my elbows up…

Ding a ding dang my Ding a Long Ling Long

For this weekend’s adventures, I travelled across the border to Wales. It’s the first time I’ve ridden in Wales for over five years. To be exact, the last time I rode Llandegla, it was June 14th 2015 – my 35th birthday. I don’t think I even rode the red, instead sticking to the blue.

Today, in an effort to be MORE AWESOME. I decided that I was going to do the red. Everyone uses Llandegla as an example of an ‘easy’ red, I’d done it in the past and it had been quite friendly. What could go wrong?

To start with, the weather was uncooperative. When I booked this escapade, it was supposed to be cloudy, but dry. As the weekend drew closer, the forecast became increasingly grim. First, the prediction of rain, and the percentage chance increasingly ticking up. Then, joy of joys, the suggestion of thunderstorms and lightning in the afternoon. DEEP JOY.

I ventured out this morning, determined not to be deterred (and also determined not to waste the hotel and petrol cost of the weekend). It was, quite frankly, pissing it down.

“Aaaalways look on the briiight siiide of life!

I worked my way up Llandegla’s climb, getting increasingly saturated. Fortunately, the ebike made easy work of it, and I found myself at the top feeling rather cheerier than I would have done if I’d had to grind up a 2 mile hill in the pissing rain on a normal bike. Naturally, the first time up I stopped to take a photo by the Black Grouse sculptures. IT IS TRADITION.

Traaaadition!

I was in two minds over whether to start with the red or the blue. I eventually decided on the red, hoping that it would be a little quieter first thing in the morning than a later attempt.

The red was, for the most part, even easier than I was expecting. I had to dismount one of the early descents (that runs parallel to the black-graded jumps), but that was because there were literally branches hanging over the trail at face height. It felt a little melancholy – the trail is good fun, but it’s… well, there’s no nice way of putting it. It’s ugly as sin. Llandegla is a working forest, and a good chunk of the red runs through heavily deforested areas. So whilst the trail itself is entertaining, you don’t get the wow factor or sense of speed that you get when zipping through the trees. I think it’s also battering the trails a little too – it was a lot rougher and rockier than I remember it being, and I’m not sure whether it’s my memory playing tricks, or whether the trails are suffering more from erosion being exposed without the trees for protection.

All went well until I was relatively close to the end, where there were a few things that forced me to dismount. The first was on the Golden Trail – I rode the boardwalk cautiously, but hopped off right at the end as there’s a drop off. It was actually relatively small, and I think I could have rolled it with a bit of speed, but I erred on the side of caution (I did watch another rider clip his bottom bracket plopping off the end).

It unnerved me a little, and then there were two downhill turns that had me walking. They were similar to some of the turns on the Verderer’s, but with much steeper exits. It was raining, I was feeling a little on edge, so it was a hard NOPE.

The last bit was on Julia’s Trail – there were some nasty climbs with accursed uphill switchbacks, and a steep climb with lots of loose rocks. Even on the ebike, I didn’t fancy it, so I pushed up. This is now a walking blog.

It was worse if you were there, I swear

I was still pretty chuffed with my efforts as I finished the trail, but also slightly miffed. My plan was to do the blue next, but… I’d accidentally paused my Garmin on the red, and forgot to unpause it for a couple of sections. Obviously if it’s not on Strava it doesn’t count, so… onto the red again!

I was even more comfortable this time around, but split onto the blue to avoid those tricky sections that had thrown me on my first lap. Interestingly, the blue section I rode can only be ridden if you bail from the red at that point – it’s not part of the blue loop proper. I’m also pretty sure that it’s made up of an old original red section, and used to be part of the blue when I rode it six years ago, but I wouldn’t swear to it. In any case, the Llandegla trailbuilders have been busy, and have done a great job.

There was lunch…

If my Slimming World consultant sees this, I have no idea what it’s doing here. I chucked it in the bin, or something.

… and then the blue in full!

The draw distance was terrible…

I really enjoyed the blue, and was kind of gutted I only got to ride it once. It seemed to have a bit more of a fun factor, and was more rewarding for the climbs, but it’s possible that I was feeling particularly well disposed as it had finally stopped pissing it down, and I’d just eaten cake. I did plot a second lap of the blue, but I realised that my battery was a little low, so I played around on the skills course and did a few laps of the green.

Gnar

I once again emerged at the trailhead, and tried to wash my bike. I’m staying in a Premier Inn, so I needed to get it as clean as possible. I also looked like an absolute mess…

Wonky helmet? Oooh, errr, etc.

…and everything was covered.

Fortunately, I’d had the hindsight to pack some clean clothes for the drive back, so I didn’t have to do a muddy walk of shame through the Premier Inn foyer – plus, the driver’s seat in my car also avoided a slimy fate. Less fortunately, my dirty biking clothes are fermenting in my car. I think the drive back tomorrow is going to stink. My nice new Camelbak (and the bike *cough*) has had a rinse off in the shower – which reminds me, I need to check for gritty residue.

All in all, a most excellent day.

(Btw, if anyone is wondering why the title of this entry is quoting the Jesus Built My Hotrod lyrics – it’s because, for some reason, Llandegla is nicknamed ‘Ding Dong’ amongst my friends… and it’s a banging tune).

Turning a corner

Despite my multiple medical woes over the last year or so, I’ve actually been riding more miles than ever before. A good part of this is down to moving to a pleasant little village with a ridiculous name in the Warwickshire countryside. It doesn’t have much in the way of fun off-road riding, but it has a few nice enough bridleways, and a lot of quiet country roads.

It’s enabled and encouraged me to get out a lot more, because riding is more fun when you’re passing green fields and pretty villages, than it is riding through slightly miserable towns with busy roads. Plus it’s a lot nicer passing hares, rabbits and squirrels than it is shouty blokes. Generally, you don’t have to worry about being attacked by wildlife in the UK.

The church at Chesterton

That, combined with the Overvolt, has made a huge improvement in my life, both mentally and physically. I’ve found myself getting out in all weathers, exploring, and just generally feeling better. My knees are still awful, but a lot stronger than they were, and my ankle only occasionally reminds me that I was still on crutches nursing a broken ankle this time last year. And when I’m out on my bike, I can briefly de-stress, and forget the multitude of near soap opera-esque bollocks that I’ve been through over the last year or so.

So now, a photographic tribute to my Overvolt. I’m still very fond of it, and it’s my go-to ‘local’ bike, although the Liv gets all the foresty fun.

Burton Dassett in the snow!
Burton Dassett in the fog!
Bridleway at the top of Compton Verney
Farnborough by moonlight
Compton Verney Bridleway in the sunshine
Compton Verney Bridleway at night
Moor to Sea route near Dalby

Although the Overvolt is great for getting in the miles, it’s possibly just a little too big for me. It’s absolutely fine on roads, or easy bridleways, but on the trail it feels a little cumbersome – the standover is slightly too high, and the reach is possibly a bit long.

Now, I’ve always been fairly terrible at tight corners, but I definitely feel like I’ve got worse since getting back on the bike after having my son. When I was on my Stumpy, I’d struggle to have the leg strength to power up around uphill turns. On the Overvolt, I struggled in both directions – I had the oomph to get uphill, I just couldn’t get positioned correctly. Downhill, I just suffered from the paranoia that I wouldn’t make the turn, and go off the edge, or hit a stump, or…

After getting my Liv and realising that it wasn’t a magic bullet for my cornering woes, I realised… it wasn’t. Falling off twice in one ride at Cannock was one clue, but it became particularly apparent in the Forest of Dean, where I was fairly shocking both up and down on the Verderer’s. Part of me got paranoid that maybe my new and really fucking expensive ebike wasn’t right for me. Was the stem too short? The bars too wide? Is the frame TOO small?

But I looked at it logically. Have I always struggled with uphill switchbacks? Yes, yes I have. Have I always been a bit nervy on bigger or tight downhill berms? Also yes. Have I ever managed to ride the Werewolf bypass? Once, about ten years ago. Despite that, can I ride the Bombhole? Yes I can, despite it being a tight turn on a downhill. Well, OK, I came off on it the other week, but that was literally the only time in FOURTEEN YEARS (which I’m putting down to a combination of getting used to a new bike, and overdoing it on the brakes, which were bedding in at the time).

So, I need practice! I’ve been cracking on with the practice – I did a good ride this weekend gone, and felt absurdly pleased that I did a lot of corners that I’d been flunking, and taking other corners a lot smoother. I guess that one of the advantages of starting with such a low bar is that even tiny improvements even great.

It really is a basic thing, but I was consciously forcing myself to look at the exit to the turns – I’m pretty sure a lot of my woes are fixating on my front wheel, checking if it’s going to make the turn, and then not actually making the turn as a result. I’m off to Llandegla this weekend, and I’m aiming to do the red, hoping that I don’t end up splatting myself. I’ve also got a skills course planned, hopefully before our Glentress holiday, so maybe this will be the year where I manage to become marginally more competent at cornering!

And now to close, pictures of the Intrigue so that it doesn’t get jealous.

Forest of Dean family trail
Forest of Dean – section that makes up part of the Sculpture Trail.
Just before Son of Chainslapper at Cannock Chase

Intrigue!

If there’s one thing my medical mishaps and general state of physical shonkiness has taught me, it’s that e-bikes are fucking great.

I got Voltron (as my LaPierre Overvolt 700HT is known on Strava) shortly after my son had his first birthday. I was struggling with my knees, as not only had I got the usual issues that had been plaguing me since my teens, but pregnancy had also done a proper number on them.

Did you know that the body produces a hormone called relaxin during pregnancy? It’s supposed to prepare the body for pregnancy by softening the ligaments and cartilage in the pelvis. But, if you’re particularly lucky, it goes overboard on all of your joints, leaving you in pain and more susceptible to injury. SO BLESSED.

I hoped that an ebike would help me get back some fitness. I never planned for Voltron to become my primary bike – the idea was that I’d use it for longer bridleway rides, and my Stumpy would still be my go to for more technical stuff.

It took a couple of years, but eventually, I had to accept… I am an ebike wanker. I could ride further and faster, but also harder, if my heart rate monitor is to be believed. I started taking Voltron on the trails, which was fun, but not quite as confidence inspiring as I would have liked. It’s a little too big for me, which is fine when I’m bimbling around, but suboptimal on the more techy stuff.

So, I bought a new ebike – a Liv Intrigue E+1.

So far, it’s been amazing – the motor has all the power you could ever want, and the battery lasts for aaaages. I’ve comfortably done 30+ miles of trail centre riding, and still had nearly half the battery left. The geometry is taking some getting used to though, and I’m not sure if I could do with a longer stem and narrower bars, or if I just need to get used to riding a more modern, aggressive style bike.

I’ve had a couple of comedy offs, including a spectacular splat on the Bombhole at Cannock Chase. It’s infuriating, as I’ve chicken out of it on subsequent rides, despite never having an issue for 14 years. That, coupled with my longstanding cornering issues, has led me to book a skills course. Maybe, just maybe, I can be an ambiturner.

Get shorty

Ah, shorts.  Next to shoes, getting trousers and shorts that even remotely fit is the bane of my clothing existence.

A word on my physique – I am short of leg, and wide of arse and thigh, but relatively narrow of waist.  This, dear readers, is a problem.  What normally happens with trousers or shorts is that I go for one size, and I can’t get them over my hips.  Nope, nope, nope.  But if I go for the next size up… huzzah!  They pass the thighs and hips and… oh.  Oh, right.  I have an extra two inches or so of waist band.  Awesome.  I end up with loads of excess fabric, and end up having to wear belts, which I dislike for two reasons:

1) It bunches up the waistband and looks awful

2) I’m allergic to nickel, which is what’s generally used in costume jewellery and belt buckles.  So I quite often end up with an unslightly (AND ITCHY) rash on my belly.

Given that I’m not blessed with the most attractive pins in the world (especially given the events of the previous post), I like 3/4 length shorts, which seem to be quite hard to get hold of if you’re a lady – quite a few will claim to be 3/4 length but only be knee-length… and believe me, it’s not because I have long legs.

So, here, for your delight and delectation – the world of Missus Toast’s biking shorts.

Altura Synchro Women’s 3/4

Well, let’s start with some of my favourites.  I have two pairs of Synchros – a grey pair with black piping, I think from 2009 or 2010, and a black pair with white piping on, from 2010/11.  OBSERVE THE MAJESTY OF MY SYNCHROS!grey_synchrosSo these shorts have been bloody fantastic:

  • The cut is nice, reasonably loose on the legs but not massively baggy around the waist.
  •  They actually make a pretty decent effort to get past the knee.
  • There aren’t any fastenings to get caught or rub.
  • They’re very light, so they’re ideal in the summer.
  • The pockets aren’t great, although the later pair have slightly deeper ones that are more useful, but really… who puts anything in their pockets? It’s uncomfortable, and makes you look bobbly. Pockets are overrated!*

Despite being used for commuting to work, weekend mountain biking and 24 hour races in horrendous weather, they’re still in perfect condition.  And yes, I wash them after every ride as well, thanks for asking. In the case of my older grey pair, they also survived the 2010 crash that took out my helmet and a good chunk of the skin on my right arm.  The blood washed out nicely!

Loeka Tech Short Capri Length 2010

Loeka-Freeride-Shorts-Pinstripe-Side

I bought these last year.  The dimensions are a bit unusual – I’d personally say they’re a bit short to be classed as ‘capri length’, but they are just about knee length on my hobbity legs.  They’re very baggy in the leg, which makes a nice change, but they are also quite baggy around the waist and gut – not too bad though.  More room for cake, eh?

So, an overview:

  • Relatively short for ‘capri’ length
  • Nice and baggy
  • There aren’t any fastenings to get caught or rub.
  • Quality feels really nice and sturdy
  • Very cool looking

Endura Hummvee 3/4 Women’s

The Hummvees are very popular, both the male and female versions.  Unfortunately, despite being the most expensive shorts I’ve bought**, they’re the only ones I didn’t really get on with.  Again, this is probably due to my rather… ahem, ‘stout’ legs.  The Hummvees are definitely designed for those more slender of pins.  They’re a nice length, but very slim fitting, and I found the velcro fastenings around the back of the knee quite annoying.  The belt that comes with it is also a bit rubbish.  It’s frustrating, because the quality and look (when worn by others…) is great.

  • Good length
  • VERY slim fitting on the legs
  • Velcro fastenings tend to rub when pedalling
  • Good quality
  • Looks good… on non-hobbits

So overall, the Synchros are winning in the battle of the shorts, with the Loeka shorts being a close second – if they were just a bit longer, they’d probably be my favourites.  The Hummvees make me sad, because they make me realise how ridiculously out of proportion my thighs are compared to the rest of my body. 🙁

*Seriously, I really don’t like putting things in my pockets.  Ever.

**It’s probably worth mentioning that I have a tendency to only buy cycling clothes if they’re heavily discounted, usually because they’re last year’s stock, etc.  I am married to a Yorkshireman, after all.

Five Ten Impact Karver for wimmins

Yes, my first review is going to be about shoes.  I am a walking stereotype.

Five Ten Impact Karver (Women’s)

Long term readers of this blog may recall that I obtained my Five Tens in January 2010. At the time I described them as being “incredibly comfortable, and incredibly grippy!”.  But how have they fared over the past three years?

The answer is – very well.  Although they’re starting to show their age a bit with the interior of the back of the heel starting to come apart (which is probably partially my fault for trying to ram my feet in without full undoing the laces…), the soles are still solid and the bulk of the shoe is still as solid as ever.  This is pretty impressive given that these are the only shoes I ever go mountain biking in, and for a year or so they were also my commuting shoes too.

It’s even more impressive when you take into account that they survived two Sleepless in the Saddles and two Mountain Mayhems, including 2012’s which were… a trifle inclement, to say the least.  They’ve been through the washing machine several times and emerged clean and unscathed.

Durability aside, they’re also some of the most comfortable shoes that I own. I have awkward feet – one’s a size 6, the other a size 6.5, and they’re also very narrow, which is INCREDIBLY ANNOYING.  I mean, seriously – there are many parts of my body I wish were narrower: my face, my thighs, my waist, my arms… but my feet?  They’re an absolute nightmare – the standard with is a D, and although many high street chains do wider fittings, absolutely bugger all companies do narrower ones.  Usually the inside of my shoes end up a mess of innersoles, stick-on cushions and extra socks, but the Karvers are actually pretty good for me straight out of the box – which is probably worth bearing in mind, as this may be a problem for women who do need wider shoe fittings.

Functionally, they’re great – very grippy and comfortable for riding, feeling secure on the pedals, but also comfortable for walking.  Aesthetically, they’re a bit marmite – I quite like them, but I have to admit I stopped wearing them to work after a colleague kept on making fun of them looking like ‘special shoes’ due to the supportive padding around the ankle.  I like the grey, black and magenta colour scheme (*cough*) particularly now it matches my Scott Scale 29, *cough*) – they clean up from being muddy pretty well too.  I quite fancy the new Karvers, but really? White? White?  Who, in the name of Odin’s beard, makes mountain biking shoes in white? I’m guessing that decision wasn’t made by anybody who lives in the UK…

So, all in all, personally I’d really recommend the Karvers. Which is a good thing really, as there’s practically bugger all else in terms of flats for women mountain bikers…

All the gear….

Right!  Quite a while back I added a tag entitled ‘All the gear, no idea’.  The aim of this tag was to discuss when I bought something new, but I also planned to do reviews.  Mainly because the bulk of my purchases are biking clothes, and reviews of biking clothes are somewhat in short supply if you favour women-specific stuff.  So, without further ado…

Two Updates, One Night.

Like buses, and all that…

So, about my Scott Scale Contessa 29er.  Bet you didn’t see that one coming, did you, eh? Truth be told, neither did I – I’ve been interested in the idea of 29ers for a while.  Obviously there’s the word-of-mouth aspect, with several friends (and a husband) jumping on the big-wheeled bandwagaon and thoroughly endorsing it.  There’s the magazines who bleat on incessantly about them.  And there’s the slight issue that some manufacturers seem to be switching exclusively to 29ers.

But there’s always been one, tiny, tiny problem.  And that problem is me, being tiny (vertically, at least..) Given that I’ve struggled in the past to find 26ers that fit (women specific being too short in the top tube, standard models being too lacking in standover), I imagined that there wouldn’t be much choice in the 29er department.  I’d demoed the Giant Anthem 29er, and that had been rather nice, but sadly I didn’t have enough time with it to make a real judgement.  I’d demoed the Specialized Camber, which was almost nice but had impractical standover  – it was fine once I’d got going, but was hard to mount, dismount, stop and start.  Ah.

I’ll also wasn’t that bothered about getting a full-susser, as I’m quite happy with the Professor.  I wanted to get something that I could put some miles in with, preferably a hardtail.  Mainly because winter makes the Professor sad…

I was pondering a Niner EMD, as they do tiny.  But as fate would have it, I was browsing the classifieds on Singletrack World (which I rarely do, because I’m normally posting nonsense on the chat forum), when Mr Toast piped up over my shoulder, “Oh look, a Scott Scale Contessa 29er in small…”

After a bit of research, I bit the bullet and bought the bike.  I may possibly have missed out on paying my share of the mortgage that month, and been a bit stingy with the Christmas presents, but… NEW BIKE.

TTT

When it arrived, it was a surprise and a relief to find that it did actually fit – it actually feels quite similar in terms of length and standover to the Professor.  Whilst Mr Toast did frivolous things, like assembling the bike, checking the brakes and immediately assessing what upgrades were needed, I did sensible, practical and important things, like ordering getting matching purple grips and pedals, and later a much needed pink chainstay protector from Swinnertons.

I decided to get familiar with the bike before taking it on anything remotely techy.  After pootling around fireroads though, I wanted to see how I’d get on FtD.  For some reason, I’ve had it in my head that there’s no way I’d be able to ride FtD again on a hardtail – my knees are rubbish, and I’d probably gotten too used to my skills compensator, etc, etc.  So I picked sections 9 – 12, as they’re relatively tame, and don’t have too many narrow bits through trees that I could clip the comedy handlebars on.

And I didn’t die.

It was actually good fun.  So much so that I finished the trail and did Tackaroo too – strangely I felt like I had a lot more control.  I don’t put that down to wheel size though, I put that down to my forks and shock on the Professor being set far too soft.  Mr Toast has been banging on for ages that I need more pressure, and now I think I can see why.

Since the first ride I’ve been around a few times, and getting better each time.  I’m also really glad that I commute to work by bike now, because although I went months without going off-road, at least I’ve kept some level of fitness.  As opposed to the traditional three months of hibernation, followed by biking and vomiting by the start of where section 13 used to be.

Looking forward to getting more riding in this year – hopefully Mr Toast won’t have quite the same amount of overtime (and hopefully I won’t either), plus we’ve found a great daycare place for Benny so we can go biking together again.

 

 

26/02/12: Flirting

I love the Professor, I do.  He has been a faithful steed, taking me on my journey of being a rubbish mountain biker to being a slightly less rubbish mountain biker.  But he won’t be around forever, and sometimes it’s nice to have a back up plan.

So, whereas Saturday saw me spending over two hours walking around the Chase with t’boy, Sunday saw me demoing an Orange Five.  For me, there have been two consistent facts on demo days:

1: There will be a cock up with the booking on at least one of the bikes

2: If it’s a Leisure Lakes demo day, I will fall off in spectacular fashion at some point.

These facts held true on Sunday.  Firstly was the mix-up – I’d asked to demo a 14″ Orange Five or an Orange Five Diva Long, but I’d been put down for a Diva Short.  Fortunately the Orange chap was fabulous – he quickly assembled a regular 14″ Five and let Mr Toast and I go out seperately to the guided ride.  So, off we went.

As the demo was at Tackaroo, we got on Follow the Dog from there.  The bike initially felt a little alien to me – it’s lower than the Professor and a little longer.  The tyres were also fairly horrible compared to my High Roller/Captain combination.  The suspension felt lovely though, and it cornered really well – I actually managed to get around the nobbly zig zag just before Werewolf for what I think is the third time ever.  Said hello to the trailbuilders who were busy fixing the end of the Tackaroo section, and continued over the road and onto section two.

By this point I felt more comfortable on the bike, but there was one thing that really wasn’t right for me.  Handlebars.  Handlebars that were as wide as a wide thing.  It made me a little overly cautious between some of the narrow trees, but the bike still felt great.  Very confidence inspiring.  Too confidence inspiring.  Onto fact 2…

As I was approaching the end of section 2, I was literally thinking, “This corners really well!” as I washed out on one of the switchbacks.  Somehow one leg went in one direction, and gravity and the bike took the other leg in the opposite direction.  It’s the nearest I’ve gotten to doing the splits since my Tae Kwon Do days.   Fortunately there was no damage done other than a few impressive bruises, so it was back on the bike.  As we were on a time limit, we skipped six and seven and headed straight up the fireroad to eight.

At this point, I felt that the Five was at a disadvantage to the Professor as it didn’t seem to climb quite as well.  However, I had just battered myself a bit by sliding across the trail, I was a bit achey from my sudden upswing in weekday riding, and  I was a bit achey from the previous day’s fairly long walk. Eight was fairly uneventful, but the slippery pebbles were a bit problematic with the horrible tyres.  Headed back to to Tackaroo fairly pleased with the Five – a few home comforts (like sensible handlebars and tyres) and it’d be awesome.

Evidently I wasn’t as pleased as Mr Toast was with his 22″ demo, as he’s now got one on order.  Apparently he’ll now have to give up trail riding in favour of riding around the car park, and we’re going to have to swap the Vectra for an Audi.  Herp derp.

On the 2012 event front, Dave and Andy headed over to Pat Adam’s house in person to hand in our Mountain Mayhem entry forms.  They were the first people to ride there and hand in the entries (some others had gotten there earlier, but had driven), and massive thanks go to them for being so utterly bonkers and getting the entries in.  Although that thanks might be revoked when I’m doing my first lap, probably in torrential rain…

On the Dog Front, Benny had his first training session this week.  There were many puppies – spaniels, cockapoos, many, many pugs, a strangely vicious whippet, rough collies, a chihuahua, a pomeranian, border terriers, an English Sheepdog… and all of them could walk to heel better than our boy.  ALL OF THEM.  He was kind of the derpy remedial pup.  Still, I’m sure he get it eventually…