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.

Huzzah (and booooo!)

It’s been a bit of a mixed bag over the last couple of weeks, to say the least.

Firmly in the ‘Huzzah’ pile was our visit to the Malverns Classic at Castle Eastnor. Last time we visited in 2018 it was a bit stressful – I am not a natural camper, and Mini Toast was just under two years old. I threw my back out lifting him, he ended up breaking the tines off the fork he was eating with. Not good times.

This time was very different. Mini Toast is now a robust five year old. He still can’t pedal, despite our best efforts, but he proved on the Strider course that he could certainly balance, zipping around the track and lifting his legs on the mild downhills. He absolutely loved it, so we’re wondering how we can use that enthusiasm to get him to try pedalling more – unfortunately he’s inherited his parents’ overly cautious nature and fear of failure.

Camping was also more tolerable, with our new inflatable tent from Decathalon. Roomy, and a lot easier to get up and down than the old beast.

Festival portaloos are still a horror though. Even when they’re relatively clean, there’s the awful smell that permeates everything, and not being able to properly wash your hands afterwards is a bit ick. I AM A DELICATE FLOWER.

Mr Toast was getting all moon eyed over the retro bikes, and I foresee some sort of weird 90s monstrosity making an appearance in our garage soon. We also spotted Hans Rey a few times, including successfully making the lake crossing. Although I didn’t actually see that, due to being too short – Mini Toast did, as he was perched on dad’s shoulders, and Mr Toast did, because he’s 6ft 6.

I’m genuinely impressed how much stuff there was for kids and families, including free fairground rides, dodgems, the Strider track, kids’ races, etc. I’m hoping next time we go Mini Toast might be a bit more into biking, and able to hang out with the Little Rippers lot! It was very entertaining to see tiny children bopping around to late 80s/early 90s dance.

I’d hoped to demo some bikes over the weekend, so we didn’t take our bikes – but alas, there was nothing to demo. But it didn’t matter – I’d be able to get out over the Chase on the Monday, with my Intrigue. Which brings me onto the ‘Boooooo!’.

On one climb towards the end of our stay at Glentress, my bike switched itself off, and wouldn’t come back on – the lights would come on for a moment, before going off again. I was a bit wary, but after ten minutes or so it was able to come back on. I resolved to keep an eye on it in case it happened again, but it was solid.

Which brings us onto Monday’s ride, and I bet you can guess where this is going. I’d done a couple of laps of the blue, and was about to embark on Follow the Dog – just under 5 miles, at that point. I was rolling down the end of first section towards the exit when off went my bike.

I was annoyed, and resolved that it needed to go in for warranty – I’d already planned to get it in because of the dropper post having a bit of play in it. I’d just wait for it to come back on, and finish my ride, and hoped that it wouldn’t cut out again.

Only it didn’t come back on. Every few minutes I pressed the button, the lights would come on, then immediately off again. Oh dear.

I pedalled my way back to the car park, testing my bike again before popping it on the rack. Still nothing. Drove the hour or so home, took it off the rack – still nothing.

By the time it went into the local Giant dealer some days later, it managed to come back on. I’d started looking at various forums, and it looks like Giant ebikes have had issues with waterproofing for a couple of years, which haven’t been resolved. The diagnostic codes suggested my bike indeed had issues with water getting in, so now I have to pay £45 for additional waterproofing… as it’s not covered under warranty.

I’m a little bit salty about it – why should I have to pay anything for an issue with a brand new bike? It’s soured my attitude to the brand slightly – my Lapierre Overvolt has ridden in rain and through water crossings with no issues, and is up to nearly 2000 miles (compared to the Intrigue’s 270-odd). I was considering Giant for an e-gravel bike, but I might give them a swerve if they can’t cope with the British weather.

That said, I genuinely love my Intrigue – it rides great when it works, and I hate the idea that I’ll have to get a refund if the further waterproofing fails. But it does seem to be a bit an issue to sell a bike in the UK that can’t cope with water. It’s a mountain bike, not the Wicked Witch of the West. Hopefully the waterproofing will put an end to any more random cut outs!

Holiday! Celebrate! (2021 edition)

Long term readers will know that Mr Toast and myself usually venture north of the border once a year. It’s a tradition that began with our honeymoon in 2008, and continued almost yearly for our anniversary.

We had a couple of years out when Mini-Toast was born, but we carried on once he was a toddler. Obviously last year was a plague-ridden washout, but this year, we were determined to get back up there.

Unfortunately, our anniversary holidays are a no-goer for the next 13 years, as our anniversary falls during term time. So, summer holidays it is!

Now, the term “summer holiday” often comes with certain expectations. Blue skies, warm sunshine, happy frolicks in the woods. To be fair, we’ve often had changeable weather in Scotland, but this year it pretty much pissed it down every single day.

As we arrived late Saturday evening, my first ride was on Sunday. The cunning plan was that I’d ride to Glentress in the morning, then I’d meet my loving husband and child for lunch at the Peel Cafe, and it’d be all lovely and charming.

I rode along the old railway trail alongside the river, and arrived at Glentress during steady drizzle. I made my way up the blue, which is pretty much unchanged, chuffed at clearing all the corners easily. My plan was to do the climb to Buzzard’s Nest carpark, the blue descent to the cafe, then the full blue and greens after lunch.

What actually happened was that I reached Buzzard’s Nest, and it promptly started absolutely hammering it down. Literal streams flowed down the track, and I could barely see. It was impressive, because the initial descent out of the carpark has pretty heavy tree cover, yet somehow provided no shelter.

As I began my descent, I was decidedly shakey. My vision was clouded from excessive rain and foggy glasses with rain-coated lenses, and I was on a fast downhill that I’d not ridden in over two years. Marvellous.

I freely admit that I walked on some of the berms, because I couldn’t see shit, and felt it would be somewhat poor form if I managed to mash myself on my first ride – especially with my family waiting for lunch.

I made it to the bottom, feeling slightly grumpy and downhearted. I associate Glentress with flowing speed, not soggy terror. Fortunately the trail builders and Glentress’ terrain ensure a solid ride, even in the worst conditions, so I didn’t need to worry as much as I did.

Still, I was relieved as I pulled up at the cafe, looking much like a gender swapped Swamp Thing. Mini-Toast looked equal parts repulsed and amused, and I sat awkwardly at a table with my family, feeling decidedly sorry for the poor sod that has to clean the seats after filthy bikers have finished their snack stops.

Pure filth.

After lunch the weather had calmed down considerably, and the male Toasts went on a gentle walk. I decided to do the blue up to Buzzard’s Nest again, as well as a few laps of the skills course and the greens. I felt a lot more comfortable this time around, because it turns out that actually being able to see is quite confidence inspiring.

Wanting to see more of the area by bike, my next ride was a gravel ride. After a recommendation on STW, I purchased the Glentress to Bowbeat route from www.bikevalleytrails.co.uk. Yes, I could have plotted a route myself, but it’s nice to have one that’s been confirmed to be rideable – especially when it comes with a written description to confirm the route if the map gets ambiguous for any reason.

The route had more climbing than I expected, mainly due to me misreading “1200m” as “1200ft”. WHOOPS. It was definitely worth it though – there were some incredible views, and in some parts I felt a bit unsettled at how small and insignificant I was compared to the environment I found myself in, and how isolated and alone I was. I found myself suddenly a lot more sympathetic to Lovecraft protagonists…

I gradually made my way closer to the Bowbeat wind farm, creeping ever closer to the turbines. Literally creeping – I’d set off with sub 80% battery, and was paranoid I’d kill the battery too early with all of the climbing.

Destination: Bowbeat
Closer…
CLOSER!

As I finally rode beneath the turbines, my sense of unease returned. By this point it was less Lovecraftian and more Final Destination, riding underneath giant whirring death blades with warning signs about stuff that can fall off them. In all seriousness though, wind turbines are cool af.

EEEEEEK!

So here I was, at the top… no, wait, there was another climb. The last proper climb of the route, as it turned out, and not particularly long, but steep as hell. Paranoid about my battery, I walked up it, as there was no way I was getting up it on a bike without anything less than max assist – and I wasn’t sure if I had enough juice to complete the route as it was.

The plus side of all that climbing (other than the stunning views) was the long descent into Innerleithen. Again, thete were fantastic views as I worked my way down through the forest, accompanied by sproinging deer. Eventually, I reached the bottom.

If you wear glasses, you may be entitled to condensation

It was now simply a matter of riding alongside the river to our cottage, which lay between Innerleithen and Cardrona. Despite the encroaching darkness and my ever-depleting battery, I still kept on stopping for photos, because priorities, yeah?

I arrived back, quite pleased with my adventure. Next time though, 100% battery from the start!

My last day of riding was focused on the trail centre. I did the full blue, but to be honest, I don’t find the post Buzzard’s Nest climb that fun, nor the first couple of descents. Subsequent efforts saw me riding up past the free ride park and joining Blue Velvet instead.

The weather was actually pretty nice, and it felt awesome to be on the trails. I was feeling pretty confident, so I was going to go on some of the novice freeride runs… but I decided against it after seeing an ambulance stationed at Buzzard’s Nest. Best not to tempt fate.

I definitely felt that I’ve improved – I shaved 13 seconds off my previous best ebike run down Good Game, and 21 seconds off my previous non-ebike best. I also started jumping – only on the lower green trail (on which I have a Strava QOM!), because of knowing my limits, but it felt great getting both wheels off the ground (deliberately!).

I have to admit, it’s harder going on these sort of holidays with a family now – two of my three rides were in the evening whilst Mini-Toast was being put to bed. There’s no more carefree riding for hours in the day, or popping Benny into doggy daycare whilst Mr Toast and I ride together. But I wouldn’t change it for the world, and hopefully Mini-Toast will grow to share our love of riding…

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.

The Medical Misadventures of Missus Toast

So, this last year has been fairly rubbish for a variety of reasons. My mom’s death, the small matter of a global pandemic and, for me personally, the stark reminder that my body is a shonky wreck.

(Incidentally, autocorrect just tried to change ‘shonky’ to ‘chunky’, which is also accurate).

My knees have always been a hot mess since my teens – soft cartilage that gets chewed up easily, missing a couple of ligaments, and so on. But last year, shortly before my 40th birthday, I decided to add a broken ankle to my repertoire.

It was self-inflicted, and completely stupid. I was riding up what is usually a fairly tame bridleway – for context, I’ve towed Mini-Toast up it in a trailer. But this time I was riding solo, it was a beautiful evening, and I decided in my infinite wisdom that I’d try to beat my previous Strava time up the hill.

My line choice was poor – instead of riding within the rut of the track, I rode the raised bit in the middle. It’ll be faster, I told myself. And so it was… right until the point the edge of the line fell away and I went over.

There was pain. There was shock. There was the growing realisation that I’d properly hurt my ankle. I didn’t want to call Mr Toast, as he was getting Mini-Toast to bed. I didn’t want to call an ambulance, because that would be an overreaction, and I was probably fine, and we’re in the middle of a pandemic. So, after rolling around in agony for about 20 minutes, I gingerly got back on the bike and rode the most painful 3.5 miles of my life.

After getting home and crawling in, Mr Toast came downstairs and was slightly disconcerted by my general demeanour. We got my shoe off, rolled up my legging… and it was not pretty. Nothing poking out of the skin, but my ankle was exceedingly wonky. We called 111. They called an ambulance.

The paramedics were amazing. They assessed that I’d certainly done something to my ankle, as one pressed my foot and said, “There should be a bone there, but it’s not”. So off to hospital I went, with delicious, delicious morphine.

Long story short – unstable Weber B fracture, 3 months in a cast, 6 weeks in a moon boot. Not the best way to spend a summer. Especially not in a heatwave. In lockdown.

As the ankle recovered, naturally, something else had to go wrong. I developed an ear infection that lasted three months, and took multiple courses of increasingly aggressive antibiotics to clear. Apparently, I have ‘dainty ear canals’, which means they’re more at risk of infection. Hurray! The ear infection eventually cleared, but the antibiotics kicked off another issue, which I won’t go into as… ugh.

Then, towards the end of 2020, I lost full use of my shoulders. For weeks my shoulders could cause agonising, breathtaking pain if knocked the wrong way. Even when the pain subsided, I couldn’t lift my arms up past a certain point. I couldn’t brush my hair properly, or put it in a normal ponytail (I had to rock a side pony, 80s style). I could only wear baggy tops, or ones that button/zipped up. Fortunately, that only took five months or so to clear up, and I nearly have full mobility back.

So, I’ve been plodding on, with intermittent bouts of IBS which I put down to stress. Only, it might not have been stress, as two weeks ago I ended up in A&E again, and am now missing a gallbladder. Fortunately, this has been relatively minor compared to everything else, and recovery has been quick. Also, free weight loss! Yay! I’m currently assessing what other organs I can get shot of to cheat the scales.

I’m hoping that I can be free of hospitals for a while, and that things might start looking up. I’ve had my Covid jab, I’ve got a new bike arriving today, and we’re moving into summer. We’ve got holidays booked for Forest of Dean, Glentress and Dalby, so fingers crossed I can have a better year this year!

2020 and the road to recovery

You know, it really was a shame that I didn’t keep up with this blog. The month after my last post, I rode Pivot 24/12 and got a podium place! Third! With a trophy, and everything! Admittedly, there were only four women in my category (12 hour solo, under 40s) – something like eleven had dropped out due to the horrendous weather, which also ended up curtailing the 24 hour race. It would have been a great post. Really uplifting. Look, here I am with my trophy – sadly not on the physical podium, as the wind made it too dangerous.

Instead, I’m posting in 2020. Now, I’m sure everyone’s aware by this point that 2020 has been a bit shit, but I’ve found it particularly… trying. Let’s tick things off the list, shall we?

  • Global pandemic: Got to say, didn’t see that one coming. Here in Blighty we’re currently riding our second wave. Yay.
  • My mom died: OK, we did see this one coming. She was diagnosed with cancer last year, which had already spread, and she actually had relatively good health until the start of this year. I still can’t believe that she’s gone though, and despite our occasionally fractious relationship, I miss her like crazy.
  • I broke my ankle: First time I’ve broken a limb, and I did it on my bike! I tried to peg it up a hill as fast as possible to beat my previous Strava time. It didn’t end well.

Fortunately things are coming around a bit now, and I’m riding more than ever. I’ll possibly detail my recovery a bit more in future posts, so I can look back cheerfully at this amazing year….

Electric Dreams

Yes, another good ol’ stretch between posts. In my defence, this time I have a slightly better excuse: like the US elections, my site was compromised by the Russians! It took a bit of work, but it’s now back to normal and safe again. Huzzah!

So, what have I been getting up to? Well, I’m still riding, although crushing mommy guilt (as well as a genuine desire to spend time with my son) prevents me from getting out as much as I used to. Ethan’s got a trailer now, so I’m looking forward to getting him out on more rides.

I’ve got a Lapierre Overvolt ebike (known as Voltron) that I use for getting in the miles, but Devastator the Stumpjumper still reigns supreme on the technical stuff – mainly because my ebike is slightly too big for me, and weighted oddly due to its small frame size.

I can still push it a lot on the ebike though – with the strain on my knees much lessened, I can pedal harder and faster. Today I pushed myself so hard over 30 miles that I felt dizzy and nauseous when I stopped. Once the ride was over, I treated myself to a ham sandwich, a slice of malt loaf and a shower.

Unfortunately, the nausea made a sudden and dramatic reappearance whilst I was in the shower, culminating in surprise projectile vomiting. If you’ve ever wondered what malt loaf looks like approximately 20 minutes after consumption, the answer is “exactly like dog shit”. My shower was followed by an intense bath cleaning session, and then another shower. Because picking chewed up ham out of the plug hole is kind of disgusting.

If you’re feeling iffy reading this, just be glad that you didn’t experience it first hand.

So yeah, still possible to push yourself on an ebike to the point of being sick. Yay, I guess?

Today’s adventures aside, we’ve got a couple of weeks before our anniversary trip to Scotland. We haven’t been for the last two years, as in 2016 I was two weeks off giving birth, and last year Ethan was a bit to little for such a long car journey. My fitness still isn’t quite up to how it’s been on previous visits, but I’m hoping that I’m up to the task – Voltron is staying at home, so the initial climb should be interesting…