Normally I’m not what you’d regard as a monarchist, but I have to admit the extra Bank Holiday for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee was very welcome. God save the Queen, and all that… especially if he throws in some extra days off. I decided to ride somewhere completely new to celebrate. That somewhere was Sherwood Pines.
I’ve pondered riding Sherwood Pines for many, many years now, but somehow never got around to it. I have been there before, for a holiday back in 2019 with my mom and Mini-Toast (Mr Toast was in San Fransisco for Google I/O at the time), but never got any riding in. It was a slightly bittersweet experience as I pulled into the entrance and passed the sign for the Forest Holiday cabins – it was the last holiday my mom ever took, and when I first realised that something was really amiss with her health. I made her promise to see a doctor when she got back, and less than a month later they confirmed that she had a mass in her oesophagus.
It was a lovely holiday though, despite what came after, and I’ll always have fond memories of my mom and Mini-Toast zooming around – mom on her hired off-road mobility scooter, Mini-Toast on his little green Strider balance bike, so with the sadness there was also smiles.
Still, I hoped to make new memories, and to scout the place as a potential venue for family biking trips. Sherwood Pines has always been maligned for having an easy red route, which for me, is a strong selling point – not just for the family potential, but also just for me.
I rode the blue first, just to warm up. It was pleasant enough, but exceedingly tame. Emboldened, I felt that I was well up for giving the red a go. And honestly… it was an absolute winner. I loved it. It was fast and flowy, and reminded me a lot of the old Follow the Dog. There were no tight turns, either uphill or downhill, just super zoom wide turns and berms to keep speed. It was nice to ride a trail where I felt completely comfortable, even though it had sections called HELLFIRE ALLEY and DEATH VALLEY.
When I set out I’d been plotting to do the blue once or twice, then the red, then go on an explore. But honestly, I loved the red so much I did it three times. It’s a relatively flat trail, but as I said, super fun and they use the elevation that they do have well. I was surprised at how little fireroad there was a well – it’s got a pretty high percentage of singletrack making up the trail.
Where there downsides? Not hugely. The last section was closed and diverted, but I can live with that. The signage from the visitor centre is a bit vague (especially for the blue), but nothing unsurmountable. They’ve changed the name of the trails (Kitchener is now the Outlaw trail and the Viking trail is the Adventure trail) which can also add to the confusion as there’s still a bit of a mix and match of waymarkers. But otherwise? Cracking trail, nicely maintained (looks like some stuff has been resurfaced fairly recently), and I will fight anyone who says it’s rubbish.
Despite my blog posting frequency dropping over the years, the number of miles I’m doing has drastically ramped up over the last two years in particular. Prior to moving to our current home in a more rural area, I was getting a rather paltry sub-300 mile average in per year. Now? It’s not even June and I’ve done 765 miles. Admittedly a good chunk of those are on the pleasant enough but distinctly un-gnar country lanes and bridleways of south Warwickshire, but they’re miles nonetheless.
My goal this year is to hit 1500 miles, which I think I’m on track to do – I’m way ahead of previous years, so barring any further limb breaks, I should be good to hit my target. But, to give me a little extra incentive, I signed up to some Conqueror Virtual Challenges – specifically, because I’m a massive Tolkien nerd, the Lord of the Rings Challenges.
Now, some people may argue that you’re basically paying for pretty medals, and… well, OK, that’s mostly true. The medals are awesome. But there’s also a rather nifty app that hooks up to Strava and Garmin Connect that shows the map for each challenge, so you can follow in the furry footsteps of Frodo and company, with markers and stories highlighting various bits of lore and where you are in the story. I’ve bimbled through the Shire…
…travelled the East Road to the Misty Mountains…
…and passed through the Mines of Moria.
I’m currently on the ‘Eye of Sauron’ challenge, which takes me from the exit of Moria to Mordor – and I’m currently sailing down the Anduin River, pursued by orcs. Three medals so far, working on the fourth, which is a 1000+km challenge.
Like I said, Tolkien nerd.
The tragic thing is, the medals are actually so much better than I was expecting when I signed up. They’re beautifully detailed front and back, and some of them have moving parts. The Shire medal has a envelope containing a replica of the One Ring on the back…
The Moria one has doors!
I know this post probably reads like a hideous paid promotion, but it’s really not. I just really like the medals, and the extra drive to put in extra miles to get aforementioned shiny medals.
Naturally, such majesty needs a display worthy of Mordor. I’d been planning on resurrecting the Map of Joy (remember that?!) for a while, but this year was the year!
It’s the first time we’ve had a Map of Joy since Mini Toast was born (which honestly sounds a lot more melancholy than intended!), so I decided we’d all get our own colour pin. Mine’s purple, Mr Toast’s is yellow, Mini Toast’s is blue, and there’s black for places where all three of us have ridden. Which will hopefully start becoming more common, as today t’boy finally got the hang of pedalling!
Mr Toast will be adding a pin to London on Monday, along with a medal, as he’s riding RideLondon 100 tomorrow.
Last weekend was a bit of a milestone for me – I rode the Monkey for the first time in nearly ten years. The last time literally has to have been pre-2013, as I have no Strava record of the Monkey on either a normal or e-bike – and as we know, if it’s not on Strava, it didn’t happen. There was an attempt in 2019 – but I immediately sacked it off after the Devil’s Staircase.
This time I stuck it out and… it was OK. Ish. Still a lot of stuff I’m not comfortable riding, and a lot of the downhill switchbacks have a lot of nasty loose stuff on them that I’m not a fan of, even if I was good at corners. Still, there’s some nice sections – I’m still pondering whether it’s worth it though. I’m painfully aware that I’m not the fastest downhill, so, being unfamiliar with the trail due to it being so long, spent a lot of time between sections waiting for other people to go, as I didn’t want to hold them up.
I was probably not in the best frame of mind for this momentous occasion, as I’d managed to go arse over tit on one of the optional red rock gardens on the start of the new blue trail on my second lap, less than 4 miles into the ride. I’m still not entirely sure what happened – whether my wheel caught, or whether my weight was in completely the wrong position. Either way, it was quite spectacular.
I still decided to do the Monkey though, plus the old blue to take the ride up to nearly 27 miles, because I want shiny medals. I was pretty battered though – my tights were stuck to the blood of my left knee (nothing too bad, just a nasty graze), and even a week later, I’m still covered in an array of interestingly coloured bruises, and my left hand still doesn’t feel quite right (getting better though, the swelling’s gone now!).
My poor Intrigue, fresh from its service, also took a bit of a beating, and now has a bit of play in the seatpost (which is very similar to how the first one was from the start!)
Still, medals! And I least I know from the last Intrigue that the local Giant shop are excellent at fixing droppers (and at least this one has an excuse for having an issue now, instead of being shonky out of the box!)
I got compliments on my ‘Will Ride for Cake’ jersey, and my new glasses were undamaged, so not the worst ride!
Well, my new Liv Intrigue E+1 hasn’t died yet. Great success! In fact, it’s currently going great guns and being a fantastic partner in grime. My old Liv died at 272.7 miles (but had been experiencing issues a while before its eventual shuffling off the mortal coil), whereas my current one is up to 256.4 miles with no issues at all.
In fact, it’s ruddy great. It handles brilliantly, it’s confidence inspiring, and the battery allows for extremely respectable rides. Last weekend I was at the Forest of Dean, and I clocked my longest ride (over 35 miles), and still had 10% left on the battery. Niiiiice.
I have a special fondness for the Forest of Dean, especially on an ebike. The blue Verderer’s trail is fantastic fun, it’s all very pretty, and there’s a chance of wild boar. What’s not to like? Last time I headed to FoD in September, funnily enough, was the exact time that my first Intrigue died, so I took the Overvolt (which is up to 2,219.6 miles, fact fans!) which did a more than admirable job.
That time I actually managed to get a fair few personal records, which I put down to my SkillsLoop course. I’m evidently still putting that learning to good use on the new Intrigue, as I managed to smash a load of my previous personal records, despite the trail being the busiest I’ve seen it. To put it in perspective – I’ve knocked off an entire minute off my final descent time since riding it last June (on the original Intrigue).
Only thing I’m dying for this year is for the weather to properly pick up. We had a glorious few days of warm sunshine. I rode back from Slimming World down the bridleways for the first time this year (normally I avoid them in winter, as they’re just a sludgefest). At the weekend, I rode the Chase with my best mate and her little boy (well, he’s not that little anymore, he’s nearly as tall as me…).
It was 18 degrees – I even wore a short-sleeve jersey! In March! Madness!
Naturally days later it was snowing. FFS. I still enjoy mountain biking when it’s miserable, but road riding is infinitely more horrible, so it makes it harder getting the motivation to get out during the week – especially when you’ve got a cold. And even with mountain biking, wrestling a muddy bike into the van which, with muddy clothes, muddy hair and grit in your teeth… well, let’s just say I prefer sun any day of the week!
Still, the clocks have changed, and hopefully the weather will start picking up soon. We’re off to Yorkshire soon, so it’ll be interesting to see what riding I can get in there.
So, I mentioned in my last post that, after much torturous wrangling, I’d managed to get a refund for my bust Liv Intrigue E+1 from Rutland Cycling. The next step was to pick a new full-suss ebike.
I looked at the different options, and eventually decided on…
A Liv Intrigue E+1!
Yes, having looked at all of the different options, I decided to get exactly the same bike. However, given my past experience, I definitely wasn’t going to get it from Rutland. Instead, I bought it from Giant Leamington, my local Giant (and Liv) dealer – they’d been so supportive with my issues with the previous bike, I felt (and still feel) confident that, should any issues arise with Mr Intrigue II, they will sort them promptly. And, knowing of my previous bad experience with a Liv bike, also gave me a discount, added extra waterproofing, switched the wheels to tubeless, popped on a longer stem for me AND treated me like a human. Huzzah!
I’ve done over 100 miles so far on the new Intrigue, and it’s been fantastic so far. It’s amazing how much difference a 10mm longer stem makes – the handling is so much more comfortable now, less twitchy. I’m racking up the personal bests, and it’s all in all great fun.
Although it’s only done 100 miles, some of those have been quite the adventure. The most memorable was during Mr Toast’s birthday break up in North Yorkshire. We stayed in Keldy, and I went exploring. Forest, farmland, moors, plenty of mud, and fallen trees.
I also got mildly lost on the moors, which was exciting, and I had to race the setting sun to get back into the forest – I had a front light, but not a rear one, so had to get off the roads!
Aaaannd obviously a few rides over the Chase. I’m hoping that I have more luck with this version of the Intrigue, because it’s a cracking bike to ride.
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.
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).
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!”
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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?
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…
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…
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.
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.
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.
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…
… and then the blue in full!
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.
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…
…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).
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.
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.
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.