Year of the Snail 2015

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Solo, with strangers, with friends, on new trails and old routes, from the front door and abroad, to work and back again, on a road bike, mountain bike, Dutch bike, quick spins and epic rides, in sunshine, rain, hail, snow, ice and plenty of mud, these have been my rides this year, which is my third year of Project Snail – trying to have more fun on my bikes and in particular to increase my skill, confidence and fitness through mountain biking.

I’ve definitely ridden a lot this year, regularly commuting and then getting out most weeks on the mountain bike as well.  Our regular weekly evening rides have been a god send, demonstrating how you can fit riding into a busy work/ life balance arrangement and it has kept me riding with people who are much better than me.  Their encouragement has meant that I think I am slowly improving.  It’s really hard to tell as confidence and perceived lack of skill remain rather large issues for me, but judging by how I ride some of the sections locally I definitely think things are on the up.  I must remember that it apparently takes 10,000 hours before you become a master so I’ve got a bit of work to do yet.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed some of my trips to North Wales this year, #MTBMeetUP was a great weekend ,I’ve I returned to ride Llandegla a few times and we’ve had some great weekends crashing in bunkhouses and doing Penmachmo, Marin etc.  Getting round these as well as some of the more challenging local riding has definitely helped and I look forward to more in 2016.  One day I’ll find the flow.

As well as riding it’s been good to take in the Tour of Yorkshire and the Nationals in Lincoln and I launched the Leeds Bicycle Film Club showing monthly bike related films and documentaries that has been good fun and has sold out every event so it would appear that I’m not the only one who likes a beer and a bike related film.  I’ve got a good programme lined up for 2016 so grab yourself a ticket and come along.

For me more than anything though I love the social side of riding and I’ve ridden with some ace people this year, my heartfelt thanks goes out to all of you, look forward to more pedals out across the New Year.  Cheers.

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Amsterdam Movement

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Lithe, easy going, effortlessly gliding; understated coolness moving to a different beat.

Water ever present adding it’s own shimmering, chugging splashes to the palette of the cities movement.

Like looking into the ever changing flickering flames of a late night outdoor fire I find myself hypnotised by a city that flows like no other.

Trams snaking through the middle of ancient streets, utter modernity alerting you to their presence with a timeless 1920’s bell.

A progressive political and social heartbeat, tolerant, boundaries pushed outwards in art, philosophy, architecture, enlightenment shining through still.

I adjust to it’s rhythm, thought processes slowing but clearer, more space as my mind relaxes, body too in no rush, gentle movement and wandering seems the best pace.  Natural not forced and I instantly feel the better for it.

Then I join the flow, turn the pedals, relax and just journey randomly taking the temperature of it’s perpetual movement of which I’m now part.

I stop at a canal-side cafe and settle into the Dutch state of being, gezellig.  Time for my pen to move and distil thoughts.  I sit and watch trying to work out how to capture the moment and the movement that aligns with my soul.

MTBMeetup

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Social media, a bit like the news or politicians gets a bad press – usually I think because we seem for some strange reason to be drawn to the negative in many things.  So social media when it hits the headlines is usually because of people using it to do bad things, rarely do you hear it as a force for good but that in my experience is very much what it is.  It enables you to spread ideas, entertain, inform, bring people together and coalesce them around an interest or idea.  That bringing together can be done virtually but it can also be a physical thing.  On the weekend Si Bradley (@_Si-Bradley) used that very concept and a simple hashtag to bring mountain bikers from around the country together, not to race or be competitive but to share, to meet, to socialise, to eat, to drink and to enjoy the simple pleasure that riding a bike off road can bring, irrespective of your skill or experience.

Myself, Rob (@chasinsheepMTB) and Brian (@oldstuntmonkey) left Leeds very early and got down to Llandegla for 9am to find scores of mountain bikers of every hue milling about and chatting doing that awkward thing of trying to introduce yourself to someone who may only know you via a twitter name …. i.e. hello I’m yetiridingdragon or whatever.  Amazingly the sun was out (I know it’s always sunny in Wales isn’t it) and with charity raffle tickets bought and a brew drunk with the mornings riding began.

Si had organised a great range of options for people to do if they wanted to or they could just do their own thing and people had kindly given up their time to pass on skills or lead rides.  Groups of riders headed out to ride the Blue, Red or Black runs, Craig (@P9ADV) ran a kids ride, Trail Takeover led a women’s ride, Chris (@CMJDavies) led an adventure photography workshop and I went on a skills session delivered by Steve from (@chasingtrails).  All of these people kindly gave up their time and skills for free.  Talking of free after the morning session the fab guys from Kirby Lonsdale brewery were handing out their specially produced Berm Basher beer.  Happy days indeed.

In the afternoon I headed out with Rob and Bri to have a crack at the red run and see if I could put my new found skills into action.  I was a tad nervous as I always am but I got round in a reasonably ok fashion I think.  Slowly my projectsnail confidence and skills are improving.  The beautiful day was finished with tea and cake provided by (@puremountains) and of course a bit more beer.

Could a day get any better ?  What I really liked about it was that there was none of the macho radness that can sometimes infect the MTB world, an attitude I detest.  The atmosphere was really chilled people rode, passed on skills, shared the trails and the tales and a good time was had by all.  Huge thanks must go to Si and all the helpers and sponsors for making it such a great day.  Si had even organised us a great campsite (Llyn Rhys Campsite) so we stayed over and rode the trails again on the Sunday before heading wearily and happily home.

So anyone who knocks twitter again – ignore the naysayers there are good people out there using social media to bring people together to share good times.

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Lunchtime Ride (aka The Snail goes looking for wiggly hips)

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Plenty of people manage to pack in a bit of exercise during their lunchtime, fitness classes, gym session, run, swim or just get out and have a stroll about but it’s tricky to fit in a bit of mountain biking.  My working environment has changed to one of hot desking and home working at times and the other day I’d been out at meetings in the morning and found myself back home at lunchtime, so I grabbed the bike and headed to the woods for a blast about and a bit of practice.

I feel my riding is a bit weirdy inbetweeny at the moment, I know that I have improved and am not completely useless but at the same time my mind is full of demons, no confidence and still got a lot to work on skills wise.  Still that’s all part of the fun and I thoroughly enjoy the challenge of testing myself in my own small way and the search for my own personal flowy holy grail.

Recently out riding with Rob he said that I was unrecognisable from where I was a year ago (I hope he meant my riding :-)) but having the good fortune to ride with him and others it gives me lots of things to watch and think about working on.  One of the biggest I’ve been thinking about recently is that I’m a scaredy cat unconfident rider which translates to stiffness on the bike, knowing that you are stiff on the bike though and trying to get yourself to relax are two very different things but I’ve been thinking about hips recently.  I’m more robot than Elvis so I’ve been riding with Jack Black from school of rock in my head – “Loosey Goosey Baby, Loosey Goosey” and to try and point my belly button where I want to go as when relaxed my hips will turn.  There is a danger that I’m overthinking this of course but it was useful to spend an hour really trying to think and practice this approach.  A couple of times I definitely got it right and then of course as things got a bit quicker I saw the tree I was heading towards, stiffened up and grabbed the brakes.

Still it was a highly pleasurable way to spend an hours lunchtime and a great way to practice and enjoy my local woods (see photo at top) which are now starting to dry out so it means working from home will get a lot more fun over the summer.  Of course I don’t then have to think about changing when I get back to the house, just prop the bike up grab a brew and log back in, refreshed in mind and body.

The Shop Ride

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Photo Credit: Amy (@akersh91 on Instagram)

As I talked about in this post one of the great things about mountain biking is that it is fairly unique I think in enabling people of different abilities to ride together and for everyone to get a lot of enjoyment out of it.  Nothing perhaps epitomises this spirit more than The Shop Ride. Garage Bikes, my local bike shop is particularly brilliant at organising regular shop rides and huge thanks must go to Al and Sarah for doing this.  Once a month a motley crew begins to gather on a Sunday morning, I was one of the first at the shop yesterday and it was ace to watch the riders arrive in ones, twos and small groups until a pretty impressive collection of bikes and riders of all hues was arrayed outside the shop gathering bemused looks for the passing traffic and pedestrians.  As is always the way some riders I knew, others I’d seen but didn’t know and for some it was their first ride with the Garage Bikes crew.  The brilliant thing is though all are welcome, it’s a very social ride supported brilliantly by the shop, the staff ride (unless they are racing) and guide and support all comers around our local trails.

The atmosphere is always good and outside newcomers were made to feel welcome and all were chatting away and engaging in the MTB ritual otherwise known as the pre-ride faff ! and with so many riders there was some serious faffing to be done.  29 riders pitched up yesterday in the drizzle, which was on top of the ladies ride on the Saturday which also gets a good turnout and as we set off we looked like some ragged bright baggy peloton.  As we ride along I like how you can chat, get to know new people move up and down the group or just peddle along in your own thoughts but surrounded by like minded people.  We ride at an easy pace and someone rides sweeper to ensure that we all meet up at various points.  Back at the shop we all pack in for steaming mugs of coffee, tea, biscuits, rum and banter.

The shop ride is a magical thing for me, the very essence of community and what is great about MTBing and MTB riders, friendships are made and groups spin off from the ride to organise other get-togethers and adventures.  The people I’ve met through the shop rides and the riding that has resulted has hugely improved me as a rider and really enhanced my whole riding experience so I’d like to say a big thanks to the good ship Garage Bikes and all who sail in her.

 

 

The Smiles are the Same

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Today was an amazing experience riding with some great people, the weather was incredible for a winters day, bright blue sky’s with a low retina burning sun but it was still very cold and as we climbed onto the moor tops there was solid ice, snow and freezing fog that rolled in.  It was one of those classic British Mountain Biking days, and we had more wardrobe changes than a fashion show as layers came on and off as the temperature and conditions fluctuated wildly.

The were some highly technical (for) me sections on the ride that I took immense pleasure from just about riding although my fragile confidence did take a knock in places.  However what I thought about as we were riding round is how unique mountain biking is as an activity in terms of the enjoyment you can get riding with people of different ability.  The people that I was riding with today are miles better riders than me but we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves in a way that I don’t think is possible in any other sport.  If I was playing tennis for example against someone really good then it would be a very dull experience however on a mountain bike that all changes.  You can ride along together chatting, laughing and chewing the fat and then if you get to a more technical or quick section the better riders can take it at the pace they want picking all sorts of lines and I’ll attempt to snail my way down.  We meet at the bottom all having enjoyed it equally in our own way and then ride on together to the next bit.

As always we finish at a pub for a pint chatting over the ride and the fun we’ve had, no matter the difference in our abilities the smiles are the same.

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 ?