with arms wide open

 

“Hooning” the Young People call it, I believe.

Ey, when I were a lad, it were all fields around ‘ere and, what’s more, I’d hop on my BMX, push it to the top of the steepest hill I could find and go hooning down it with wild abandon and total disregard for my own safety. As I recall, I never wore a helmet and never hurt myself.

Now I’m a grumpy old man, I have to put quite a bit more thought into it before I go hooning anywhere. After all, I did once manage to break my collarbone when I rode head first into a gigantic steel post that’d been there forever. Another time, I inexplicably woke up on my back in a ditch, my bike up in the air still clipped onto my shoes, my ribs broken and my so-called-friend half laughing, half worried about me back up on the road.

As I reported on Monday, this week’s escape from the office was clearly earmarked for non-stop mountain biking. Of course, as is the way with such things, I ended up wasting spending 2 precious days doing work stuff and another day doing chores (there’s only so much anyone can get away with, I guess). I did manage to squeeze in a trip to the bike shop and a few miles exploring the local lanes but the excitement all happened in t’ hills around t’ Chorley about 20 miles north of t’ Manchester.

Surly Troll Rivington Pike 1 Surly Troll Rivington Pike 3 Surly Troll Rivington Pike 2 Monday was really a bit of a shakedown. My Surly Troll was devoid of its usual rigid fork, racks, luggage & road tyres and instead was sporting a Fox F100 suspension fork, 26×2.1″ Continental Speed King tyres and, well, not a lot else.

After abandoning the car somewhere in deepest, darkest Rivington, I basically spent a couple of hours getting well and truly lost, fiddling with the adjustable fork, trying to sort out the shifting issues I was having and dusting off my extremely rusty mountain biking skills.

The majority of my day was spent climbing, climbing, climbing so there was sadly no hooning to be done until right at the end of the ride. The scenery was pretty spectacular though.

When it finally came time to find my way back down to the car (it was somewhere down there by the reservoir), it seemed the perfect opportunity to give my new Jeff Jones Loop handlebars their first proper off-road test. You can check out the various hand positions they offer and the eye-watering price tags on the excellent Jeff Jones Bikes website.

Pointing the front wheel down the hill, I shifted my hands to the very outside of the bars, one finger on each brake lever (the rest firmly wrapped around the grips) and unleashed my inner BMX riding child. I shudder to think what speed I was going at but it certainly wasn’t the “safe and controlled pace” recommended in the brochure. The fork was doing everything it could to absorb the massive impact from each of the equally massive rocks it hit, my water bottles threatened to rattle loose from their cages and as I neared the bottom of the descent, I wondered whether my brakes were going to stop me in time.

The front wheel hit a particularly large rock and as I gazed down at the approaching trail, I wondered just how the ambulance would reach me. Happily, with all the extra stability and leverage the bars gave me, I stayed upright and the Troll just wanted to go faster. Moments later the front wheel dropped into a rut, caught the sides and again I was wondering how I’d look after facial reconstructive surgery.

The only thing you can do in that situation is let go of the brakes, get your weight back over the rear wheel, close your eyes and hope. “FASTER, FASTER, FASTER!!!” the Troll kept screaming and somehow we made it to the bottom in one piece.

I’d never been so happy to see a Vauxhall in all my life.

Friday morning, I was a determined man. I woke up and ate the contents of my fridge. I packed a bag with a couple of bananas, some malt loaf and a lump of Kendal Mint Cake. I grabbed a MUCH better map and set off to ride the curiously named Anglezarke Loop. All of it, this time.

Monday’s shakedown had taught me several things:

  • it might be only 30 miles but at least half of them are climbing very steep hills and almost all of them are on very rough trails
  • [this] man cannot survive on very little food
  • bigger is better

I made the decision to swap out the 26×2.1″ Contis for the only bigger tyres I had lying around the garage: a 26×2.4″ Maxxis Holy Roller for the rear and a 26×2.4″ DMR Moto RT for the front. Not exactly off road tyres but I was guaranteed good drive and sticky rubber on the rear and at least some directional knobblies to help keep the front going where I pointed it.

For reasons that escape me, I decided to ignore the “mountain bikers may find it easier to ride the route in an anti-clockwise direction” advice, parked at Anglezarke Reservoir and set off in a decidedly clockwise direction.

On the short road section, I was instantly glad of my tyre choice as, despite the increased volume, I had considerably less rolling resistance. As I hit the trails and unlocked the suspension, traction on the wet, slippery rocks was spectacular but in the deep, squelchy mud, it got a little skittery.

Anglezarke Loop 1 Jones Loop barsBefore long, the anti-clockwise advisory became clear. Heading this way, it’s uphill for what? 70 – 80% of the ride. At least that’s how it felt.

The loop is a mixture of very short tarmac road sections, bridleways, forest tracks, disused packhorse tracks and desolate moorland. This picture simply doesn’t do justice to the incline or the severity of the surface. Take one hand off the bars or one eye off the trail at your own peril. Believe it or not, this trail is actually on the map as a road. It’s got a name and everything.

Anglezarke Loop 2My Maxxis Holy Roller rear tyre was doing a truly spectacular job at finding grip on the loose, wet rocks and even the carpet of rotting leaves didn’t provoke any slippery moments. Up front, the DMR Moto RT (both tyres running at 40psi, by the way) was taking the bike exactly where I pointed it with the legendary Fox F100 fork soaking up the relentless impact from the trail. A previous rider had lost his water bottle (and cage!) when the welds finally let go under all the punishment.

Anglezarke Loop 3About half way round the 30 mile route, I made the mistake of stopping on a climb for a nature break and to nom a banana. The incline was so severe and the surface so rough, I really struggled to get back on the bike and start pedalling without losing my balance.

Once I did get going again, I shifted my weight all the way forward, grabbing the loop on the front of my Jones Bars which really helped keep the front wheel down as I ground out the remainder of the climb in the lowest gear I could find.

A few slurps of energy drink later and I was rolling onto the beautiful false flat proffered by Darwen Moor. See that big hill hiding behind the sign? Yeah, the car’s over the other side of that somewhere.

Anglezarke Loop 4I hadn’t seen another human being for over an hour and now my only company was the occassional disgruntled looking sheep. As I reached the end of the moor, I had to chase them away to keep them from escaping through the gate with me.

Another short tarmac section and I finally met some other humans. Oddly enough, all men. All just kinda hanging around on the trail. All looking a bit shifty. A few heading into the woods. A few giving me the ‘I wasn’t doing anything’ nonchalant look as I rolled by, checking my map.

Into civilisation, I rolled. Through a nice little park. Down a wrong turn into a very unfriendly looking farmyard. Quickly back down the lane. Up, up, up. Again the wrong way and this time onto open access land, flagrantly cycling on a pedestrians only footpath. Horizontal rain lashing my face as I crested an obscene climb and played with the traffic. Off in the distance I thought I saw Rivington Pike.

“Not far now, keep pushing. Not far now.” I lied to myself out loud.

Another huge slurp of energy drink and I hammered onto a bridleway I actually knew.

“COME ON! KEEP PUSHING!” I yelled to myself on the final hideous climb. Again, out loud.

With Rivington Pike at my side, I gazed down at the reservoirs, knowing the car was only a few miles away and all I had to do was survive the descent.

Anglezarke Loop 5Wild-eyed, hepped up on energy drink and malt loaf, I stuck it in the big ring, pointed it down the hill and hooned all the way down. I got out of the saddle, shifted my weight back, threw my arms as wide as they’d go on the bars and just went with it. By the time I’d made it to the bottom, the combination of rain, sand and abuse had eaten my rear brake pads, my leg muscles were screaming with lactic acid from keeping hold of the bike and I was filthy. Exhausted, exhilerated and… dammit! I’d parked in the upper car park! Those last few miles were pure agony.

And my verdict on my Jeff Jones Loop bars? Despite all this rambling hyperbole, there are only 3 words required:

Worth. Every. Penny.

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pour some sugar on me

I love it when a post comes together.

This week’s foray into the murky world of ‘Random stuff people were searching for when they landed here trivia!’ is quite literally a little bit interesting… It’s almost as though the search engine gods had some kind of master plan when they gave us such gems as:

“schwalbe kojak brompton pressure”

and

“bob yak lowrider”

Regular visitors will of course be familiar with me and my Yak and the nightmares fun we have together.

31696_433159445659_539585659_6272016_296285_nIrregular visitors [see what I did there?] may even be familiar with the saga of the wheel… you see, all that time ago when I spent all that money on all that trailer I was thoroughly disappointed to find the stock wheel & tyre supplied with my BOB Yak had clearly been pinched from the nearest kid’s bike and thrown in my box.

A lot of time, a heap of internet research and more visits to various bike shops than even I think was appropriate and I was all kinds of familiar with the different versions of 16″ wheels and 16″ tyres, none, NONE of which are interchangeable.

Originally, I bought a stock Brompton front wheel and a 349c 16″ Schwalbe Kojak slick tyre (tyre pressure is between 60ish and 120ish, as I recall) but it turned out the axle length on Brompton wheels is considerably narrower than the 100mm (standard front axle) width the Yak required; so, replacement wheel #1 was promptly sold.

150030_465165489862_6224409_nReplacement wheel #2 was a 305c 16″ lowrider wheel complete with 16 x 1.75″ white wall tyre; essentially the same wheel & tyre size as the original but with extra bling bling, 17 million spokes and a couple of extra pounds weight. Cool eh?

Cool, heavy and blinging aside, that wheel really isn’t much better than the stock kid’s bike one I started with and, although the tyre would accept a little more pressure (and therefore drag less on the road), it really wasn’t the solution I was looking for.

270547_10150255310509863_784234862_7043533_3617116_nCue replacement wheel #3: a custom built 349c Brompton rim laced to a standard 100mm wide quick release road hub, all wrapped in a brand new 16 x 1″ Schwalbe Kojak tyre – sweet. I can run this with high or low pressure (dependent on how much weight I have in the trailer), it’s super light, nice and strong, the tyre’s super sticky and it comes with awesome puncture protection and reflective tyre labels.

It’s amazing the difference it makes to the feel and handling of the trailer. In those bad old early days with the crappy original, I remember dragging the damned thing up and down hideous climbs and I distinctly remember the crappy tyre buzzing on the tarmac, sidewalls pathetically flexing under load and generally ruining my life.

These days, I fit the trailer to the back of the bike and just forget it’s there! No matter how much weight I have in it, the larger rolling diameter, slick tread, higher pressures and more resilient sidewalls just keep the trailer well planted and make sure it’s not ruining my life any more than it should.

Which all leads rather nicely to my favourite search term from this week’s selection:

“kendal mint cake cycling”

Now, I happen to lurve Kendal Mint Cake and on more than one occasion it’s saved me from certain bonk atop a ridiculous climb in equally ridiculous heat… I mean, come on, 4 different kinds of sugar all melted down, given a minty fresh zing, (sometimes) wrapped in chocolate and sold in gift shops everywhere… what’s not to like?

Yes, it’s true they climbed Mount Everest on it. Yes, it’s true I’ve had a bar of it in my cupboard for ever. Yes, it’s true I sometimes take it with me when I’m cycling but no, it’s not true that it’s a good cycling food.

Kendal Mint Cake, as awesomely tasty, minty and sugary as it may be, is really not much more than a block of pure sugar. Now, sugar’s great for picking you up when you’re down and a bar of the white stuff (I prefer the brown, personally) will certainly beat off the worst bonk but it won’t last for long.

Your body burns sugar really quickly and, before you know it, you’ll be back to bonking again and it’s only going to be worse because you’ll also be crashing from your sugar high.

So, by all means, grab a bar or two from the gift shop and stick it in your pockets but rely on it in small bites at a time as only the last of last resorts – you’d do much better to get plenty of slow release energy into you prior to the ride with some Clif Bars and / or bananas in your pockets.

Other high quality energy bars and fruit are available.

zombie

 

OK, so it’s really a thinly veiled excuse to play the excellent Zombie, but I thought I’d share with you some of my thoughts about avoiding exhaustion on the bike.

This is me back in 2010 about 300 miles from home at what ended up being the somewhat premature end to the first proper bike tour I’d attempted; you’ll notice I’m not doing so well.

All joking apart, by this point, I was quite seriously exhausted both mentally and physically; the reasons for this were many but essentially fall into 3 categories which apply to all forms of cycling:

  1. Fitness – As you may be able to tell from the picture, I wasn’t in the worst shape of my life ever and really wasn’t carrying all that much extra weight, my legs were strong and I had plenty of stamina. Or, so I thought. As it was, I really hadn’t done any training for the tour other than the occasional ride in the evenings; worse still, I was staying away from home during the week, indulging every day for over a year in a Hilton breakfast and the very best food & drink Nottingham had to offer that I could afford with my expenses.
  2. Equipment – Again, on the face of it, I had all the gear; but it turned out I also had no idea. My custom built Graham Weigh cyclocross was super light and I was towing along the legendary BOB Yak single wheel trailer. The problem was, I was running road gearing on the bike and I bought all of my camping gear in a mad half hour rush on the Saturday; we left on the Sunday. I had a HUGE 2 man tent weighing in at over 2.5kg, an equally huge sleeping mat at just over 1kg, one of those single burner stoves that comes in a plastic case (I have no idea how much that thing weighs!) and so on and so forth; you name it and it was at least twice the size and twice the weight it ideally should’ve been.
  3. Fuel – This is actually the one thing I did get right; every morning we ate porridge for breakfast, snacked on bananas, malt loaf, fruit & nuts, baguettes and the like throughout the day and feasted on hearty, healthy food in the evenings. We also had energy drinks on the bikes constantly to replace the salts and electrolytes we were sweating out in the heat. There was even a Kendal Mint Cake or two nommed along the way when the going got really tough.

They call it ‘bonking’ when your mind wanders off somewhere else and you get a song stuck in your head for hours and hours or you focus on your left knee then your right knee then your left knee, right knee, left knee, right knee… It’s unpleasant, I tell you and it can be downright dangerous too because when your mind starts wandering, so too can your bike and, before you know it, you’re trying to figure out how you ended up in that ditch at the side of the road.

In one particularly dark moment, I remember nomming a whole chocolate covered Kendal Mint Cake, washed down with half a bottle of Gatorade atop a long, steep climb we later realised we shouldn’t have made. I was bonking that day, bonking hard.

So, how to avoid the dreaded bonk? Well, it’s really quite simple and, again, it breaks down rather nicely into 3 categories:

  1. Fitness – Train, train, train. You may think you’re fit right now and, indeed, you may have a good level of underlying fitness but commuting to work and back with a clean shirt and a fresh pair of boxers is just not the same as climbing a hill with all you need for a week’s camping. I put a minimum of 75 miles on the clock every week just by commuting but when I come to tackle a 30 mile run into the local hills at the weekend, I find it a bit of a struggle. A lot of that is due to my body becoming conditioned to storming the 7.5 miles to work as fast as possible which is really good for building muscle but does little to build fitness and stamina and almost nothing in the fat burning department. Longer, slower paced rides (which is the style you want to develop for touring) will help shed the pounds, build stamina and you can enjoy the countryside too!
  2. Equipment – Think! Do you really need to take that? Really? On the 2010 tour, I was so desperate to save weight, I was throwing away my socks every day after wearing them! For the 2011 tour, in addition to a minimum 20 mile a day training ride, I’d also replaced almost every piece of camping equipment I’d bought the year before and every single thing that went in the trailer had to earn its keep. Believe me, you’d be surprised by how few clothes you actually need when you need to pedal them around with you!
  3. Fuel – An old friend of mine who’s a personal trainer used to tell me “My body is like an engine and the food I put in it is the fuel” and, do you know what, he was dead right too; feed your body well and it’ll serve you well, feed your body badly and you’ll suffer. You want to focus on getting slow release energy foods into you at the start of the day; things like muesli, porridge oats, bananas and the like are the best. If you’re heading out in the afternoon, a good bowl of beetroot soup for lunch will set you up really well for many hours in the saddle. In-ride snacks should be oaty flapjacks, malt loaf, bananas (is there anything they can’t do?) and, if you really need it, a sugar rush from some Kendal Mint Cake or an energy bar but, with a sugar rush comes the inevitable crash so do use with caution.

And so, there it is. Chill out a little, don’t sprint away from the lights so quickly and don’t feel too bad about dropping another cog on a hill climb. Get the right food inside you and, if you’re going to be out for a while, take the right food in your pockets. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, make sure you’re fit enough to do the kind of riding you want to – it’s supposed to be fun, remember and, contrary to popular belief, bonking is not fun.