There are certain perks in having an addiction to bikes, chief amongst which is also the simplest.
On a crisp, clear Sunday morning you can hop on your bike, head into the hills with good friends and just while away the hours.
This happened. And it was good.
Excused from my usual weekend cake selling duties, I abandoned Karen at the market and with the bike on the roof of the car, I picked up Spanner Monkey and novice fat bike rider Sylwia along with her super-shiny, almost-never-been-ridden Salsa Mukluk and together we headed for Hollingworth Lake where we met up with Rich & Shona before setting off in search of adventure on t’ Pennine Bridleway.
As is often the way with such things, the deceptively flat trail began rising and rising and rising. Soon enough I was in the granny ring, grinding out the relentless climb as Sylwia suffered with her mahoosive tyres and Rich & Shona made an utter mockery of us both by storming up the hill on their single speeds like it was nothing at all.
The fleet was certainly turning heads. I was riding my Surly Troll in its usual off-road setup with suspension fork and less than ideal tyres. Sylwia was tearing up the trail with her brand spangley new burnt orange Salsa Mukluk, Shona was rocking a beautiful titanium something-or-other with flat bars, hydraulic disc brakes and well, not a lot else. And Rich? Well, despite striking a rather camp pose, Rich had brought along a steel Jeff Jones Spaceframe & Truss fork.
Set up ‘half fat’, the Jones was running a 29″ wheel in the rear wrapped in (I think) a Surly Knard tyre and up front was a true fat bike wheel & tyre. The awesome stopping power was delivered by Avid BB7 mechanical disc brakes and minimalist Paul brake levers. The drivetrain couldn’t have been simpler: one ring up front and one at the back with a chain inbetween. And the bars? Jones Loop Bars of course.
And then it happened. As a red faced Sylwia got her breath back and I cursed my lousy tyres, Rich came over and nicked my Troll. Git.
As I watched him pedal away, tyres hopelessly skidding in the deep slimy mud, I threw my leg over the Jones and pointed it towards the horizon.
It took me a while to get used to the relatively tall front end and what I thought was a bizarre saddle angle, but a few hundred metres later and I was settling in. Maybe it wasn’t the right size frame for me but I did find the whole thing a little bit short in the top tube and for my taste, I would’ve liked a couple less spacers under the stem. That said, the Loop Bars have never made more sense; on the Troll they still feel super wide but they fit the Jones perfectly. On a short road section I could even get down into the elusive beard-resting-on-the-bars aero position.
Jeff says: “A Jones is a high-performance non-suspended bicycle. The ride is both efficient and comfortable and the handling is immediate and assured. With the default choice for off-road cycling nowadays seemingly suspension before anything else it might seem odd to ride rigid but that is the last thing my bicycles are – the geometry and construction provide an extremely satisfying and direct connection between the rider, the trail and the bike. It’s pure cycling and a lot of fun.”
I tend to agree. The bike felt responsive, sharp and direct but not harsh or jarring, even on the really rough stuff. The full effort my puny thigh muscles put into the pedals was instantly delivered to the rear wheel and, even with that gigantic tyre, the front end felt precise and controllable.
Before long and we turned onto a steep gravel climb. Once again Shona & Rich took off and monstered their way to the top as Sylwia and I took turns losing traction, losing balance, running out of strength and running out of talent.
I couldn’t tell you what the gear ratio was on the Jones but for me in that moment on that climb it was just that little bit too tall. Getting out of the saddle and giving it everything I had, I managed to lumber the bike up to speed and get enough momentum together to keep going until I hit the next patch of gravel or fell into the next rut or was forced to stop for breath. Eventually Sylwia gave up and started pushing but not before singing ‘The Final Countdown’ by Europe to me as I nommed half an emergency banana and gave it every little bit I had left to crest the hill.
Despite being so high, that was the low point.
After the climb came the flat. And with the flat came a narrow track on a ridge, mossy drystone wall to my left and jeebus-that’d-hurt-if-I-fell-down-it drop to my right.
“Don’t you have any proper mud tyres???” Rich complained from behind me as the Troll refused to grip anything. “I’ve got some mud tyres. I’ll give you the damn things if you promise never to lend me this bike with these tyres on again!!!”. Then, as some kind of sick punishment, I finished sniggering about the awesome mud-shedding ability of the tyres on the Jones and the front wheel snatched in a rut, throwing me and the bike towards the perilous drop.
Somehow, some way, the thick tufts of grass managed to catch the bike and break the worst of my fall. Clinging on for dear life and listening to Rich laughing at me I realised just how close I came to a really horrible accident.
With that unpleasantness out of the way, we stopped for some emergency chocolate, a photo opportunity and some downright childish jumping over a mound of earth.
Seeing just how much fun Sylwia was having, I simply couldn’t resist taking her up on her offer to swap bikes. So, I handed over the Jones, watched Rich skid all over the trail and embarked on my first true fat bike ride ever.
Obviously, it was a million sizes too small for me so I had to stay out of the saddle and just pedal like I was riding a kid’s BMX. In fact, that’s exactly what it felt like, the best, most fun BMX in the world. In fact, I yelled “THIS IS LIKE RIDING THE MOST FUN BMX IN THE WOR…”
…and then it happened.
Like finding a worm in your half eaten apple. Like realising there’s a spider creeping up your arm. Like a rodeo bull throwing a cowboy across the arena. For reasons that escape me, Sylwia’s Mukluk suddenly realised some big hairy guy was riding her and she threw me to the ground in spectacular style. Gracefully, the Mukluk executed a perfect landing next to me and just sat there laughing at my misfortune along with my so-called friends and the walkers on the trail.
Oddly enough, Sylwia came and rescued the Mukluk, Rich rescued the Jones and I was reunited with my Troll for the final stretch of the ride.
Bruised and battered, I gingerly made my way down the trail only to find Shona stopped and off her bike (this almost never happens); turns out the Mukluk had struck again and thrown Sylwia into some rocks. Luckily she escaped with only minor cuts and bruises but it was a healthy reminder of just how careful you need to be on unpredictable trails (no matter how big your tyres are).
We all struggled with the last section, even Rich had to put a foot down as the Jones sunk into a bog but we all made it safely back to Hollingworth Lake, heralded down the final super fast descent by Sylwia crowing like a demented cockerel. Bless.
You know when your face hurts from smiling and laughing so much? Yep, it was one of those days.