Year of the Snail – 2014

 

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I’m now two years into my Project Snail idea, which in a nutshell, was to have more fun on my bikes and to do this by trying to improve my fitness, skill and confidence – all of which when I looked at myself I realised were areas where I was lacking quite a bit.  At this point last year I looked back over my first year and realised I had moved on quite a bit through a combination of riding more, riding with different people in different places and having some coaching from the marvellous Ed Oxley.

This year has very much carried on in the same vein and whilst I still have pretty major confidence issues I do feel like I’m improving slowly and I have definitely had a huge amount of fun over the year which is the whole point for me of riding my bikes.  As well as simply trying to ride as many days as I can, which hugely helps on the fitness front – little and often, I actually bought myself a proper full suspension bike which has brought me endless smiles, I simply love it.  It was great to have another session with Ed shortly after I bought it when the picture at the top was taken.  That section was a classic for me, I looked at it and bottled it numerous times but with Ed’s gentle encouragement I finally made it and I actually look like a proper rider I think on that photo.  Later on in the day we rode the section at the end of a run with Ed following me down, as we approached he veered off on another route whooping through the woods and when we got to the bottom he just said I knew you were going to be fine and would ride it so left you to it.  It was one of many small steps I took during the year each one of which, while nothing for many people, filled me with a huge sense of achievement.

I also rode in a couple of events, the Morvelo City Cross in Leeds which was huge fun and attempted to ride up a steep hill which was quite frankly silly and fun at the same time.  Although it did not involve riding I did put on an event which combined books and cycling with a couple of authors coming to talk about their adventures.  Having never done anything like this before I was worried it would be a shambles but it actually turned out to be a cracking night in front of a packed house.  I’ve got some ideas for some similar events this year as well.  Talking of events I guess the main one was witnessing the Tour de France take place in Yorkshire a weekend that will live long in the memory.  Seeing all the events that took place around the tour as part of the Yorkshire Festival and seeing different people on bikes in and around Leeds on a daily basis I’ve set up Leeds Rides which aims to show the human side of cycling in the city.  I’m hoping to try and get a thousand people on it in 2015 and then have a bit of an exhibition and a party.

Perhaps the most exhilarating step I took this year was to venture into night riding, something that genuinely terrified me but which is something that I have hugely enjoyed doing and which created some amazing memories and pictures. It also enabled me to ride much more over the winter which I’m hoping will pay dividends as the weather and the light improves and will have helped me considerably on the Project Snail plan.

Without doubt though the most important thing for me in my riding has been the people who I’ve ridden with who have helped, coached and cajoled me along.  Thanks to all of you it’s been genuinely humbling and loads of fun.  There are too many to mention in person but the Garage Bikes community in particular are a special group of people and riders who are great to be around and who make my world a better place.  I’m not a competitive person on a bike, for me it’s all about the social side of things, riding, having a chat and finishing with a beer (or occasionally having a cheeky swig from a hip flask on the ride) and this side of things has been the real highlight of the year for me.  The day before yesterday was a classic case in point, 3 of us on an amazing ride around Hebden Bridge, me out of my comfort zone but being encouraged by better riders, all of us enjoying one of the best rides of the year chewing the fat as we rode and finishing with a cracking pint.  If I have more rides like that in 2015 I’ll be very happy indeed.

Rob finished the the ride and tweeted the following.  I still think Project Snail is ongoing but who knows maybe I need a new nickname.  Any ideas ?

 

 

Night Riding Snail

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I’d heard that people went off road riding in the dark and while the idea intrigued me I was also bewildered by it.  How did they do that, after all I can barely work out what I’m doing in the daytime when I’m aware of my surroundings and can see stuff.  However as we slid into autumn I began to think whether I could do it, as if I could, it would add a lot to my riding and enable me to keep riding through the winter in the evenings and ideally most importantly having fun.

Over the last few weeks I have taken the plunge and it has in many ways changed how I think about riding while at the same time it’s been some of the most enjoyable riding I’ve done.  I still feel nervous when we are getting ready in a car park or lay-by surrounding by the all enveloping blackness as I still suffer from a lack of confidence in many respects, however night riding is perhaps perversely doing more for my confidence than anything else.  Lighting is obviously key enabling you to confidently strike out into the dark and once you get them set up right you create your own personal projected halo of light into which you ride.

The first thing I noticed as I tentatively pedalled into the abyss was that yes it is possible, the lights designed for MTB night riding really do their job, and you soon start to get used to the change in your visual panorama and I think it’s a change that has the potential to improve me as a rider.  In the sessions I’ve done with Ed one of the real things that Ed works on is Chin Up – i.e. you need to be looking where you wish to go not at the ground under your wheel.  You are completely forced to look up at where you want to go, to shine the light on your helmet in that direction and then let the bike flow into the pool of light.  As I’ve got used to it and adjusted I have found it a hugely liberating experience.

One of the best things about mountain biking for me is the immersion into the landscape and how you experience it throughout the changing seasons, the smells, colours and textures providing an ever shifting backdrop to your movement.  Night riding takes this to another level again.  On the one hand you are surrounded by utter inky blackness but this darkness magnifies your senses and your movement through the trees in a small tunnel of light takes on a magical quality, leaves crunch, breath clouds out around you, chilled facial skin breaks through dewy cobwebs, free wheels clacking and echoing around the still woods like a pack of new animals moving in.  It’s utterly exhilarating and intoxicating.  Riding along the flat stretches between runs finds me totally unwinding from whatever I’ve gone through during the day and there is a feeling that you and your mates are the last people left on earth even though you are only a couple of miles from the pub.  If you’re lucky one of those mates will have packed a hip flask to warm the belly before the last run back down to civilisation.

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Up The Buttress

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(a fellow ‘rider’ tackles the cobbled climb)

Ride 400 metres up a street, how hard can that be? Very as it turned out when the street in question is insanely steep and cobbled.  Saturday saw me and Rob (@chasinsheepMTB) head over to Hebden Bridge for the Up The Buttress challenge, a timed hill climb up the steepest ‘road’ in the town.  Now anyone who has ridden over in that valley knows that it is steep sided and makes for challenging riding, whether that be on or off road but this street took things to a whole other level.  I don’t know how steep it is but people milling about the registration tent were saying it varied from 1 in 3 to 1 in 5.  We had no chance to think much about it as after paying our fee we were lining up ready to roll, I had no idea what I was facing as you could only see the start of it from where we were to set off and that looked like a wall.

There was much talk of tyres and tyre pressure and what was the ‘best’ style of bike to get up it.  There were all sorts, hardtails, full suspension, blinged out cross bikes, old clunkers and one dude having a crack while attempting to tow his daughter in a trailer !  All ages were present and it had a feel of a really inclusive event – young or old, good or bad just have a go which exactly as I like it and it should be and everyone no matter the ability was cheered, encouraged and cowbelled up the slope.  To add to the air of inclusiveness anyone who got to the top, no matter how you did it, got entered into a prize draw and there were some amazing prizes including a bike from Orange !

As I got ready to go Chipps from the Singletrack crew felt my tyres, “any good?” says I, “you’ll see” was his reply with a knowing look in his eye.  Oh dear.  I didn’t bother thinking about trying to charge into the bottom of the slope, I thought I’ll just roll to it in bottom gear and then spin away.  I’ve recently ridden up some very steep stuff so I thought I’d be OK but I’d not factored the slippery cobbles into my equation.  As the wall hit and I started to peddle I thought to myself, yep I can do this and inched up the steepest part of the hill but then just before a lip across the path all my wheels were spinning like something out of the road runner cartoon and I ground to a halt.  Jumped off and pushed for a bit then tried to get going again which was a lot harder than it should have been as just could not get any purchase.  Finally got moving and felt OK (well that I was not going to die anyway) and plodded slowly along until the inevitable spinning of wheels hit again and I ground to a halt again.  I seemed to be now standing on glass as I was actually struggling to stand still but I could not get the wheels to get any grip so resorted to pushing up the hill in a comedy slip / sliding about fashion.  As I neared the top the shouts of encouragement rained down but I could not have moved any faster if Genghis Khan’s Mongol hordes had been behind me.

Crossing the line I realised that at least there were some others who had slipped about, Rob however had no problems right tyre choice and running at an insanely low pressure meant he didn’t slip once, that and he’s a great rider of course.  We encouraged a few riders up, got our breath back and then headed down the road to the pub for a few beers before going back to see the winners receive their fantastic prizes – a massive cobble a la Paris-Roubaix and see what our lucky numbers got us in the raffle.  Rob got a bottle of beer whereas I got a fantastic Timothy Taylor’s cycling jersey.  Sometimes it pays to be the snail.

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My Grand Depart

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A bit like Alice in Wonderland, I emerged blinking back into the world wondering if the surrealness and madcap antics of the Grand Depart had been real and reflecting back on one of the most incredible experiences.  When Yorkshire won the right to host the depart I was of course hugely excited but after going to the launch event I was worried that we would mess it up as that was a truly dreadful event.  Fortunately everyone involved clearly bucked their ideas up after that and put on a truly stunning Grand Depart.

Running the Yorkshire Festival in the build up was I think key to creating such a great atmosphere as it got all sorts of creative people and enterprises doing stuff linked to the tour who may otherwise never have got involved. The result was a huge range of art and cultural activities across the region, big and small, high art to utter madcap which helped the region raise a collective eyebrow and take an interest in what was coming over the horizon.  The Festival also, in my view, acted as a catalyst to all sorts of other events as communities got well and truly into the spirit of it all.  The result was that countless individual acts, which on their own would have been meaningless, became part of a huge patchwork quilt of yellow, green and polka dot covering the whole of the county.  A perfect example of this was the knitted yellow jersey put on the Black Prince statue in Leeds that had been knitted by 70, 80 and 90 year olds that you can read the lovely story of here.

Thursday night saw the team presentation.  I did not buy a ticket for this in the arena and was pretty miffed that the organisers had taken this approach instead of the normal free show so I decided to use the money that I would have spent on a ticket for a train fare to London on the Monday.  However there was no real need to go to the presentation as the teams did a presentation ride through the city centre, the huge crowds that lined the route giving a flavour of what to expect of the the next few days.  Some of the riders looked a bit bemused by it all but most were smiling, acknowledging the crowds and interacting, with Ion Izagirre high fiving my daughter as he road past.

I took the Friday and Monday off work, determined to soak up the atmosphere and take in as much as I could and of course to see each of the three stages taking place in the UK.  The sun had been shinning all week prior to the start but there were numerous glances at the forecasts as rain was expected on the weekend (which if it had materialised would have certainly changed the whole vibe of the event).  I mooched about on the Friday, took in the Yorkshire bike show and marvelling at the vast media empire that was swinging into action and loving all the different accents I was starting to hear around town.  It was fun catching up on tweets and glimpses of the teams riding around the area, included the lovely touch by Giant-Shimano who organised a tweet up ride in North Leeds.  It’s amazing how the nature of social media has changed the game enabling me to catch up on all that was going on while supping on a pint of Magic Spanner at a pop up bar in the old police cells.

Saturday I wanted to see the start in Leeds, but even though I knew a lot of people would be coming into town I was still taken aback by the sheer volume of people, the whole city centre was heaving and people were standing 5 deep from about 8.30 in the morning.  I was lucky in that an organisation that I know were based right on the bottom of the Headrow in a perfect spot and so I found myself hanging out of the second floor window ready for the start (see photo at the top).  The crackle of noise that swept down with the riders will live with me for a long time, the riders looked pretty startled I thought by the sheer volume of people and noise that greeted the roll out.

Sunday I’d decided to head out as early as possible on the first train to Mytholmroyd and walk up Cragg Vale (the longest continuous climb in England).  There was again a huge sea of people and another fantastic atmosphere as thousands of people walked and cycled up the hill chatting and smiling with the local residents who were getting set up outside their houses, parties getting started and kids selling drinks, home made buns and loom bands on the roadside.  This time I managed to see the breakaway and of course the peloton sweep through treating the long drag as if it was a flat road.

London beckoned on Monday and it was strange really as after the huge party across Yorkshire I arrived in the capital to no visible sign that the tour was going to be in town.  This time I headed out a little bit and was fortunate to see the two strong breakaway on their last legs before the peloton steam through at full tilt, the sprint trains getting organised.  Quite incredible to see the speed at which they were riding.

After each day I watched the stage on the tele and marvelled at how brilliant it all looked.  There is of course a reason that Yorkshire looked so amazingly green as we get a good chunk of rain up here but the rain held off until London, if fact the sun shone brilliantly across the weekend and Yorkshire came out to party.  My abiding memory was that I’ve never seen so many people with a smile on their face and enjoying themselves.  A truly memorable and magic weekend.

 

Morvelo City Cross 3 – Leeds – The Snail races again

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Trumpets, cowbells, cheers, beers, thrills, spills, music, laughter, beards, baldies, fat bikes, thin bikes, mountain bikes, cross bikes, single speeds, bananaman and a werewolf were all present as the third iteration of the Morvelo City Cross concept hit the mean streets of Leeds.  Never mind the Tour de France, Holbeck Urban Village surely hosted the most fun bike racing that Leeds will see this year, all thanks to Emma Osenton and her mighty crew of helpers and sponsors.

As regular readers of this blog and my projectsnail idea will know I’m no racer and have no ambitions to be but I made my debut at City Cross 2 and seeing as City Cross 3 was basically a roll down the hill from my house I thought it would have been rude not to have another go.  This is racing Jim but not as we know it and while there were some very keen bees riding, plenty were there for the fun and I found it a very inclusive, supportive and encouraging event.  Yes I’m way out of my comfort zone doing these events but there are times in your life when you need to do that and in doing so you will be richly rewarded, City Cross delivers on this for me big style.

As I rode down to the event I reflected on my hydration preparation the night before and as I peered through the fog of a hangover realised I might have been a tad too enthusiastic and the thought of a hard physical effort ahead made me feel, well a bit nauseous to be honest.  I was really intrigued however on how the course was going to be laid out as it was in a part of Leeds I know well owing to the cracking nearby pubs and I wondered how Emma was going to shoehorn a race circuit into the streets, alleys, ginnels, cobbles and courtyards that surround them.

Before I knew it I was going to find out as I lined up for the novice race start.  It had been mentioned by my garagebikes colleagues that I had looked terrified before City Cross 2, that was because I was so this time while very nervous I didn’t feel quite as scared – I’d ridden the warm up lap and was confident of getting round.  Whistle goes and we’re off swooping into the main arena, missing the traffic bollard (phew) to the sound of The Smiths (nice one Brant) and as I got into the swing of things I decided to put my race strategy into action.  This was to ride as hard as I could, smile when not grimacing, physically stop every lap for a beer break (yes beer is kindly supplied to riders who want it – and why wouldn’t you?) and to get to the end without being lapped by a fellow garage bikes rider.  There were a good chunk of us in the race all fiercely contesting the #raceyourmates race within a race category which gave a prize to the fastest lap from among your club / mates at any time during any race of the day.

Slow I may be and undoubtedly looked but I was burying myself and legs were screaming after a couple of laps but on the plus side I’d not vomited on the course.  I was wearing my Snail from South Wales shirt in the first race and Brant kindly gave me a shout out on the mic as I rode back into the main section, this happened throughout the day with kind encouragement from him such as ‘come on Ian the bloke in front only has one gear you can catch him’ and other helpful hints while all the time keeping the tunes spinning.

I totally loved the course, it was so weird to ride in this way around areas I know so well and to swoop into courtyards of the Midnight Bell and the Crosskeys with spectators lapping up beers and racing felt amazing.  My weapon of choice for the event was a Kinesis Pro6 kindly lent to me by Sarah (the not so silent partner of garagebikes) and even in my prosaic hands the bike felt fantastically agile and was a joy to ride the event on.  I may not have looked it but I felt like a proper rider out there, leaning into the corners, swooping and flowing, flying off the steps, flicking round the tight bends all the time inches away from the concrete edges.  It felt incredible, I was completely buzzing and it was unlike anything I’ve experienced before.  As I approached the final bend my race objective was in sight, behind me though breathed Chewie, he took the berm whilst I attempted to hold the inside line but Chewie went by me over the top on the line and went on to take the garagebikes race your mates fastest lap time.

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After a short while recovering with a few beers I entered the last chance saloon race for all those knocked out of the earlier motos.  a mighty herd of us set out, this time with me resplendent in full orange garagebikes kit.  This race there were no beer stops so I just had to keep riding as hard as I could until I finished shattered, gasping for air but utterly exhilarated before then taking up the cowbells to cheer on the riders in the finals.  Special mention must go to all who supported the event, I personally recieved lots of shout outs (thanks to Timothy Pulleyn for doing this every lap) and of course my garagebikes mates who supported from the barriers and from within the race itself.  Of course the biggest thanks must go to Emma and all who made it happen.

I’ve tried to describe the race but Timothy Pulleyn (thebrokenline) filmed a lap from the handlebars so strap in and take a ride:

 

Here’s a fab video highlight of the event (however note the amateur nature of the riders failing to stop and enjoy their beer – shocking behaviour).

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proof that I did put some effort in

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I watch all the riders vanish into the distance

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On the charge (ramp)

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The garage bikes crew – top day out and a very handsome devil in model pose

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Remember I mentioned there were fatbikes and Werewolves

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Thanks to the following photographers for the photos on this post:

Joolze Dymond – flickr of garagebikes day out  and official photos from the event to purchase here

Stuart Petch – flickr of day here and website here

Jack Chevell – flickr of day here and website here 

 

The Year of the Snail

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Back at the start of the 2013 I was thinking about my riding and in particular how I wanted to get more out of it so that I could have more fun.  Much as I enjoyed riding, a brutal self analysis revealed that I lacked confidence, skill and to a large extent fitness so set out on my Project Snail journey trying to do something about that by getting some skills training from Ed Oxley and then just trying to ride my bike as much as I could, whether that was to and from work, grabbing an hour to do a loop somewhere or heading out further afield.  I don’t use a bike computer so I don’t know how far I’ve ridden or how often and I’m not really bothered about that but I reckon I’ve ridden around 250 days or so during 2013.

When I look back I’ve had some great times and experiences over the year riding with different people, entering a couple of events (Clif Cross and Morvelo City Cross), trying to slowly pick up the basics through some skills training, helping to put on some bike/art events, live tweeting for Morley Literature festival at the Ned Boulting / Rod Ellingworth talk, riding different bikes and buying a new road bike for starters.

The three sessions I had with Ed were amazing as he set about trying to turn me from someone who just sat on the bike, grabbed the brakes and hoped for the best to someone who had a semblance of an idea on what I was supposed to be doing (even if I couldn’t manage to do it).  There’s a long way to go before I become even vaguely competent but I’m going in the right direction and look forward to some more sessions with Ed in 2014.  You can read about my experiences with Ed here, here and here. The big issue for me though is still confidence, it’s been amazing to ride with so many fantastic people this year but as I watch them swoop, pop, hop, float and flow I realise that they view the terrain around them as a three dimensional playground that has been laid out for them to take full advantage of.  I however seem to see every rock, root and obstacle and mentally cower as my hands yet again look to grab loads of brake.  It’s frustrating in many ways but I’m not being negative, just realistic, it’s something I’ve got to work at and hopefully my skills and confidence levels will eventually start to rise.

The big thing this year for me as well as dipping a toe into some coaching was riding out with different people, discovering my local area thanks to the Garage Bikes crew in a way that has opened up a whole new world for me.  The shop and other rides have been huge highlights for me.  Other riders have also invited the Snail along for a ride which has really helped me broaden my range of riding.  Everyone that I have met and ridden with this year has, without fail, has been nothing other than pure gold, helping and encouraging me, passing on tips and knowledge and just being great people.  There are too many to name individually but if you read this many many thanks it’s been hugely appreciated.  I look forward to riding with you again in 2014 if you’ll have me along and maybe meeting some new people along the way.

I’ve looked to sum up my year of riding in all it’s various guises via the gallery below but my overall fav picture is the one at the top that was taken of me by Ed on a session I had with him.  I look at that and think blimey I actually look like I have a clue, chin is up, I’m looking ahead, elbows out, weight back a bit but in control, heels not too bad, look fairly relaxed and I’m rolling down a rocky trail.  I need to keep that picture in my head !   The other interesting thing is that I’m riding one of Ed’s bikes, the On One Codeine that he’s been testing out, a proper 29er trail bike.  I’m looking to buy my first ‘proper’ bike in the first quarter of 2014 but the choice is simply staggering – what wheel size, how much suspension, what about bar width etc etc.  No idea what I’ll end up with (and if you have any suggestions please let me know) but looking at that photo I look OK on a 29er I reckon.

So projectsnail is one year old but I’m not stopping, I’ll keep plodding slowly on looking to have as much fun as I can.  I’ll never be the best rider but I can and do have loads of fun which for me is what it’s all about.  After my last session with Ed he sent the following tweet which made me smile.  Roll on 2014, see you on the trail / road :-)

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10 Things Every Mountain Biker Should Do

 

I’m not one for lists really or come to think of it New Year’s resolutions, I just tend to bumble along trying to be a good person and enjoying myself along the way.  For those who read this blog (what do you mean you don’t read it) you’ll know that I love to be out on my bike but quite frankly I’m rubbish and lack just about everything needed to be a competent mountain biker.  I’m slowly (very slowly) improving with the help of lots of people this year but the thing is no matter how rubbish I am I just hugely enjoy being on my bike bumbling around trying my best and laughing at my incompetence.  Bikes are after all a toy and I’m just a big kid playing about, even if it does form my main form of transport into work.  Thing is I get pretty annoyed with most bike magazines and videos as I wonder who they are aiming at, certainly not me, and they often seem to encourage / promote a macho bullshit culture that is a total anathema to me and pretty much everyone I’ve come into contact with who rides.  I clicked the link to the above video with some trepidation thinking to myself, here we go another load of people flying off all sorts doing the sort of riding that I’ll never be able to get near to.  Yes there’s a bit of that in the film but it’s not about that it’s really about things that, no matter what your ability level you might be able to do and if you did would undoubtedly look back with a smile on your face.  I’m not going to stick this list up anywhere as my list is simpler – enjoy myself – but I did enjoy the ten things in it.  Cheers to @kristoffrides for bringing the video to my attention.