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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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.

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 ?

 

 

Buying a new Mountain Bike (aka Project Snail goes full bounce)

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After a few years of rattling around on my battered hardtail the time has come for a serious upgrade into the world of proper mountain bikes, the only question being what to choose.  Actually as I discovered when I started to look around there is an awful lot of things to consider when you are parting with a sizeable chunk of your own cash.  There is no such thing as ‘a mountain bike’ as there are different styles of bikes for the innumerable branches of the mountain bike family tree (actually someone should draw that it would be ace) broadly categorised by Cross Country (XC), Trail, Enduro, Downhill.  So the first thing to think about was ‘What sort of riding do I do?’ or perhaps more importantly ‘what riding might I be doing over the next few years?’ and this would narrow things down a touch.

The answer to what sort of riding do I do is really slow not very good riding ! (check out my Project Snail posts) which I do mainly on XC terrain with a nudge towards some trail riding.  Trail riding is what I’d like to be able to confidently ride so with that future in mind I started my search for suitable bikes, looking at reviews, narrowing brands down, asking people and trying to come up with some sort of vague shortlist.  Once you begin this process though other thorny questions arise, how much travel do you want (or require), what about wheel size, and what level of spec do you want (or can you afford). With regards to wheel size I’d have quite happily stayed on 26 inch but there are less and less to choose from so I decided to look at 29er over 650b as I’m unlikely to be able to ride the very techy tight stuff where 29ers perhaps struggle.  I looked at a range of travel but decided that 120-140mm would be ample for what I do and give the growth in case I ever get any better at this lark.  Spec, ideally wanted to go with Shimano over SRAM and come in around the SLX / XT mix, I wanted to have the option of going tubeless and I wanted to have a dropper post.  Never did I ever think I would write the last bit of that sentence but having had a go with a dropper post and spoken to others who ride them they all say they would never go back.

So I had my rough ‘wish list’ of what I wanted, now to find the bike that would deliver this and fit me within the budget that I had, which while decent was going to rule out the super marques.  Once I started going round bike shops, having a look and trying out bikes I quickly came to one conclusion, the geometry and sizing of bikes is so different that for me getting the right fit by trying a lot of bikes was going to be essential.  I’m a stumpy Welshman, some bikes that were technically the same size as I ride now were too big others too small so while I did consider the elephant in the room of direct sale bikes I ruled it out very quickly as there was no way I was going to spend decent money on something I had no idea what it felt like to ride.  This would be my one biggest tip, unless you really understand geometry and your body size, don’t buy a mountain bike unless you have tried it and compared it to others.  I was starting to despair a little as many of the bikes I tried out just didn’t feel right, didn’t fit or didn’t deliver what I wanted, even taking certain compromises with the spec into consideration.

A couple of people had mentioned having a look at Cube bikes and also mentioned EscapeBikes nr Ingleton as a good shop that stocked Cubes.  They had a welcoming approach when I contacted them about the Cube Stereo (the bike in their range that I thought might best meet my needs), ‘Yes come on up swing your leg over and try it out’ and I’ll just point out that not all bike shops adopt this approach, some seem genuinely surprised that you might want to you know actually ride and try the bikes in their shops.  Sam up at Escape was great taking time to talk knowledgeably about the range (again not all bike shop staff can do this) and get the bike set up for me to try, including adjusting the sag in the shocks.  The bike felt great as soon as I got on board and crucially for me the fit was good and I felt instantly comfortable.  It did of course feel odd looking down at big wheels but I’m sure I’ll get used to that.  The spec and value for money looked excellent, SLX / XT mix, dropper post, Fox doing the suspension all wrapped round a carbon front triangle – way too good for me 🙂

So after months of searching and trying numerous bikes the Cube Stereo (see photo above) is what I’ve settled on and I can’t wait to pick it up and get used to it.  Hopefully we’ll have many adventures and smiles over the next few years and who knows I might even get to the stage where I ride it to it’s full capability and even if I can’t I try to have as much fun as I can trying.

Fearful Snail but progress being made

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So my ProjectSnail journey continued last Sunday as I stepped up to take part in a full day of Stop Crashing 2 with the mighty beard Ed Oxley of Great Rock.  I’d done the beginners half days at the start of the year and had a one to one session with Ed as a birthday treat and it’s my intention to try and do 4 training sessions this year and ride as much as I can inbetween and see where I end up at the end of the year.  Hopefully I’ll be a bit more confident, have gained some skills and experience, be fitter and most of all have had lots of fun.

The day took place at Gisburn, somewhere that I know is popular with riders but it’s somewhere that I really struggle to ride (and I’m talking about the red run sections not the black run).  I guess I’d like to be in the position where I could ride red runs confidently and take those skills into the general off road riding which I prefer to trail centres.  Gisburn I’ve been to a few times but find it rooty and rocky and not somewhere I’ve been able to tackle with any confidence at all.  We pitched up and introduced ourselves to the other riders on the course and looked up at the leaden skies wondering if the extreme thunderstorms of the night before were going to return, either way the roots were going to be slippy.  I looked on as the other riders fiddled and fettled with some impressive looking machines feeling somewhat inadequate and hoping I’d not bitten off more than I could chew by coming on the course and was not going to make a total fool of myself.

As we set off I kept trying to keep Ed’s mantra ‘chin up’ in my head, thinking about body position on the bike.  After a short ride to warm up we rode a stony downhill section that required an off camber turn.  Ed had us all riding it, gaffawing at our strange lines as we battled against the contour and the surface.  Ed broke the section down and one of the things that I’ve really learnt in working with Ed is how he picks lines that enable him to ride the section in it’s optimum way and that these lines are often not the obvious line as you approach something.  It’s easy I think to be seduced by the way the trail has been worn by other riders, Ed demonstrated why this was not the best way and it’s important to ride the line you think is the best which will often not be the line picked out by others.  We watched from the edge of the trail as rider after rider came careering down taking the obvious line which was actually clearly the wrong line once this has been pointed out to you.  We rode the section several times, Ed telling us where to look, trying to force us to get our heads up and not focus on the loose stuff directly under our wheels.  The harder things get the more my vision gets drawn to what is under my nose but I’m realising how detrimentall this is but knowing it and being able to force the head up are two different things.

We then went onto ride a small section that to everyone else was not an issue but to me was one of the first parts of the day where I stuttered, stopped and had to have several attempts to summon up the courage to ride it.  All it was was a steep narrow slope that you roll off but steep, narrow things, steps, drops etc I really struggle with.  However I knew at the start of the day that I could struggle with stuff but I was determined to try and eventually got riding it properly.  This is when I really realised the importance of chip up, if you are going down steeply and you are looking at your front wheel you’ll soon be heading over it !  This was a lesson that was going to repeat itself throughout the day.

Next we looked at riding some tight small bends through the trees.  Here, not only was the looking a long way ahead vital but the movement on the bike became very important, really trying to use your hips to physically turn and try and whip the bike off the apex of the turn.  I’m far too stiff on the bike and need to learn to loosen up, you can’t move in the way you need to if you are stiff on the bike.  Standing next to the bend it was quite incredible to watch Ed ride the section, you could hear how his weight transference affected his tyres making them grip and propel him out of the corner.  The speed, fluidity and movement was something to behold.  Big lesson get your weight much further forward than you think, relax, chip up of course and really move your hips.

Things were getting gradually trickier and we then looked at a section of rocky steps down through the trees, something I’ve never been able to ride before and have bottled it every time.  Now I’m a bit of a brake grabber but as Ed explained if you touch the front brake you are going to crash so knowing where to scrub off whatever speed so that you feel comfortable has to be done before you ride the section.  I had seveal goes at this bottling it every time but determined to try and ride it.  My fellow riders were great, encouraging me and standing at the bottom and trying to get me to look at the them to force my chip up.  Ed as always was calmly encouraging, saying I was ready, was approaching it the right way I just needed to have faith, commit and roll through it.  Eventually I made it to whoops and hollers all round.

This has made me think a bit about fear, as clearly I get nervous and frightened even though it’s something I want to do and I’m not sure what I can do to conquer it.  I’m reminded of taking my kids to swimming lessons when they were very young and how some kids would simply jump into the pool but others would either have to be coaxed or would simply refuse to jump into the pool.  What is it that creates this fearlessness in some people but not others ? as clearly the same thing applies in mountain biking (and of course many other sports and areas of life).  Some of the people on the course would happily launch themselves forward without any trepidation whatsoever, I on the other hand was like the kids on the side of the pool.

The afternoon had us looking at front wheel and rear wheel lifts, the building blocks to many skills and which so many riders make look so effortless.  Strangely I managed to get the rear wheel lift sorted straight away and even managed a bit of front wheel lift.  As I’m learning much of the skills are down to body weight and moving on the bike and knowing how to do this means I can practice this whenever I’m out and hopefully I’ll eventually be able to get the wheels lifting whenever I want and hey maybe even start bunnyhopping.  We used the front wheel lift to practice going off small steps and even the snail managed to be airborne at some point.

All this led us to the final denoument of the day – riding off the cliff of doom (or at least that’s what it appeared to be to me).  Ed calmly said do not look down or touch your front brake or you will DIE !  To be honest the rock slab in the quarry that Ed was proposing we ride off looked like the sort of thing riders in magazines do and certainly was not for the likes of me.  Ed calmly explained that if you got your weight right you could roll it and demonstrated that to my utter incredularity.  It must have been tricky as other riders where now stopping to watch proceedings.  This was a massive test for me, technically but certainly psychologically as I was genuinely fearful and doubted whether I’d be even able to attempt this.  Several of the other riders in the group were also looking somewhat nervous.  I tried and tried to ride to the edge and slammed on the anchors, I then rode to the edge looked over, down, touched my brakes and headed head first over the bars.  As I lay at the bottom, apart from a few scrapes and bruises the only thing that was really hurting was my own pride at my utter failure.  Back up I went and after a few more stumbles and bumbles I rode to the edge, kept by fingers off the brakes, moved my hips back and looked way ahead – low and behold I rode it (see the picture above bottom right).  With more whoops and hollers and adrenalin flooding my veins we finished on a high and went back to the pub for a debrief.

I’d been quite hard on myself during the day but Ed reminded me that I’d tried my best, had a go at everything and had actually ridden everything that had been put in front of me.  He said that I’d made huge progress since the start of the year and sent a great tweet out later on.  So lots of fear and a real test for me but I had huge fun and hopefully I’ve learnt some stuff along the way, not least CHIN UP !   Cheers Ed.

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The Snail goes through the Doors of Perception

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After my first foray into some mountain bike training as part of my Project Snail project I’ve decided that as well as riding as much as I can with different people and in different places I was so taken by the initial training that I realised this will be very much an ongoing thing for me – ride then check progress with some more training. As a result I decided that this year I’ll look to do one training session a quarter, 2 group sessions and 2 one to ones. Luckily it’s been my birthday recently so my family chipped in to help fund the first one to one. It’s interesting in that each bit of cash I spend on training is money that I can’t put towards buying my first ‘proper’ mountain bike (more on that later) but I figure there’s not much point in having a kick ass bike if you don’t have much clue on how to ride it.

Having done my first bit of training with Ed and feeling very comfortable with it I was really looking forward to having a day’s one to one session, although this was of course tinged with some trepidation as Ed likes to take you out of your comfort zone but he does it in the nicest possible way. The day was going to be spent working on basic skills and confidence in the real world riding environment of Hebden Bridge which I’ve learnt from my participation in Clifcross is steep ! However right from the first climb I realised that one thing has definitely changed since the start of the year – I’m slowly getting fitter. This feeling continued throughout the day and Ed consistently said both from a fitness and technical point of view “I wouldn’t have brought you up/down here when I first saw you ride”

After the initial climbing we rattled into a gorgeous bendy downward section (Ali’s Z’ds ?) which started with some single track and flowed into and over some lumps and bumps. I felt I rode it OK and realised as I was riding it that my position felt better on the bike but that also I would not have ridden it or attempted it a few months ago. Ed followed me down and at the bottom simply said that was great you now look like you are riding the bike as opposed to the bike taking you for a ride and rightly recognising that I would have struggled with the trail when I first met him. Having completed the first section OK it was off to find something to try and improve my skills on – The Blue Pig ! Before we could get there it was up a searingly steep tarmac climb past the house once shared by Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, next to which Ed pointed out one of the trails he uses on his Alpine prep course, Gulp. I’d love to think that one day over the next couple of years I might be able to ride it but long long way to go before then.

Once at the top of the climb we rolled down through Heptonstall (doesn’t Calderdale love a cobblestone) to the start of the Blue Pig, the top of which has been criminally ‘improved’ with some loose stones that will surely wash down into Hebden in the next flood waters. The top part of the trail has a number of steps with lips or roots in front of them and we spent a good period looking at line and how you might ride these. Ed had me concentrating on the concept of weight distribution and trying to unweight the front of the bike, and trying to get me off the brakes, so that I could roll naturally over the obstacle. Each time I attempted a section Ed would film it and then ask me what I thought – I was generally critical of myself but Ed showed me the clip and said “Your perception of what you are doing and what’s actually happening are two different things” and it was clear from the video and photos that Ed was taking that things were not too bad. This was when things started to change for me, as I realised that yes I’m not very good and am working at the basics but that I’m also having a huge amount of fun, am improving and maybe am not quite as bad as I think I am.

The good thing of doing one to one work and building up a relationship with a coach/ trainer is that they get to know you, what you want, how to stretch you and to discuss in detail parts of your riding. I’m slow and heavy on the braking, Ed was clear that he’s never going to have to get me to slow down but it’s also not about speed but about the concept of momentum on a tricky section and momentum and letting the bike roll is something different than speed. We looked a lot at how I can adapt my braking and worked on braking before something, rolling through a section and then braking after it as well as what happens if you use your front brake in a rough section (it’s not good !).

Without getting too Zen about things Ed was working with me to try and look through a section and just try to feel the ground and moving your body and weight accordingly. Imagine spreading butter with a large knife over the ground your body needs to flow along that line but keeping your head still and looking foward and using the legs and arms more to adjust the torso or to compress and acting as additional suspension. I struggle with this but definitely began to get it a bit more as we worked on it.

We then headed further down the trail to look at some loose rocks and roots walking the trail and discussind lines. Fascinatingly Ed would ask me what line I would take and then his would be totally different and it was great to chat why that was. At this point some speed merchant came flying down the trail, Ed commented that he’s not riding the trail he’s riding around it. This was part of the perception change, trying to accept the trail as it was and ride over it or through it not around it. This was a big confidence shift for me. We repeatedly looked at a little section as shown in the video below. Remember that I’m trying to grasp the baiscs here but this felt like a big step for me and again I’d have never have attempted this previously I’d have walked down most of the blue pig but as Ed reminded me at the bottom you have ridden the whole trail – respect.

Project Snail from Ed Oxley on Vimeo.

After a great pie back in Hebden we then headed up to Peckett Well, this again reminded me that my fitness is getting better as it’s a fairly long climb and I was chatting with Ed most of the way up, instead of puffing and wheezing. At the top Ed said right you’re riding my bike this afternoon and promptly swapped the pedals over. I’d been thinking of switching to flats but Ed said to stick with what I’m doing and stay clipped in for the time being. Now I’ve never ridden a full suspension bike, nor a 29er, nor one with all the bells and whistles that this prototype On One Codeine had on it.

Wow, what a machine – now appreciate that I have no experience nor anything to compare it with but I felt like I was in the bike as opposed to being on a bike, the suspension felt amazing – solid as opposed to pinging me about all over the show. I’ve never really understood all the hoohar about wheel sizes, dropper posts, wide bars etc but the wide bars and short stem just felt right and helped me feel more as though I was in the right position; the dropper post was a total revelation not something I’d have ever thought about but a brilliant and simple innovation. Ed was running a single chain ring as well which also just seemed right, I might go for a double but with the right combination out back then this again seems the way to go. 29er wheels after the initial shock of the sheer size of the beasts again just seemed right. The voodoo of tubeless tyres, sold on that as well as I managed to somehow ping the rubber off the rim (I’d like to say through speed but obviously that was not the case I think I just hit something) but bit of air and watching the whole thing self seal was magic indeed. God damm I want one of these bikes which made me think, bike companies use brilliant riders (like Ed) to test and showcase their products which makes total sense. However there are lots of people who aren’t brilliant surely they also need accounts from basic riders as well after all if the Codeine is great for me and Ed then that’s some bike. So if On One fancy supplying me I’m happy to ride and write about it 🙂

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I rode the bike all afternoon down Peckett Well 1 and 2 and as Ed said the bike will not make you a better rider but it can help your confidence and will help you to ride some sections with momentum and control. The second trail was steep, rocky and rooty and I was now way out of my comfort zone but Ed again quietly eased me through the doors of perception changing my whole notion not just of what could be ridden but what I could ride. We practised a section repeatedly before riding the whole trail and heading back to Hebden for a well earned pint.

The picture at the top of the page is of me on the afternoon trails on the Codeine and for me, if you did not know that I’m a basic rider, I look good there. Position looks right on the bike, chin up, eyes looking ahead not down at the rocks I’m riding over it all just looks right and it felt fantastic. Don’t get me wrong I’m still the snail but I’m having fun and learning stuff. Aldous Huxley famously took some drugs and wrote about his experiences and how they opened the Doors of Perception (Jim Morrison’s band took their name from the book) but on this one to one sessions I didn’t need the drugs but Ed opened the door and changed the perceptions of myself and what might be possible in the future. Cheers Ed.

ProjectSnail goes local

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Sunday morning saw me out riding off road locally which is something I’ve never done before which sounds a bit odd on reflection.  Normally when I get a chance to ride I head up into the Dales but that does involve a car drive of an hour plus each way which stretches things out and it can often mean that the people I normally ride with can’t make it.  As I work on projectsnail this year I’m keen to ride whenever I can as riding regularly will, I hope, help me to improve and won’t leave too long in gaps for me to try and remember the tips passed on by Ed Oxley in January.  I’ve mentioned previously that I’ve been incredibly impressed by Garage Bikes but not only are they a great workshop they are helping to build a community of cyclists locally by putting on organised shop rides and women only rides as well as riding with friends.  Al invited me to come out with them on Sunday which meant a lie in instead of the crack of dawn car journey and also meant that I could start to learn what’s available to ride right outside my front door.  I’d heard that there was good stuff to ride but to be honest was not sure where it was.  I was a bit nervous as I’m not very good but I’m trying to improve and what better way that riding with local riders on local trails.

When we set off from the shop there was a slight eeeeek from me as they all pulled manuals and bunny hops whereas I was thinking curb/ lip don’t clip it and crash before we have gone 100 yards !  As I began to relax however the ride was a total blast with all sorts of varied terrain but I found it amazingly hard to get my bearings as we looped round areas that I’ve never seen but knew were never more than a few miles from my front door.  Occasionally we’d pop out onto a road somewhere and I’d get my bearings before we vanished off through some gap into a wood which provided a whole new perspective on the area where I live.  The riders were great to me as well providing tips and advice which meant that I rode some stuff I would not perhaps have normally contemplated including a couple of very steep bits and some steps (Ed voice in my head chin up let the bike roll) which went OK.  I found my abilities being stretched but not going to far (ideal) and as things went on I found myself relaxing a bit more as well on the bike instead of my normal death grip which could be to do with slowly increasing confidence but also perhaps that my battered steed has had a bit of serious kit fitted with new Shimano SLX brakes and some Lizard Skin grips.  I can’t tell you much about the technical side of these additions or talk through modulation or anything but they all felt great and the brakes in particular seem fantastic and confidence inducing.

One moment I was pleased with was a steep bit going down to a stream crossing, I was very nervous on the way down but the encouragement to keep rolling meant I got down in a sort of controlled fashion but was so pleased with myself I then forgot about the stream and ended up standing in it.  Following on from this was a steep incline (see pictures) that the lads I was with were determined to try and get up.  They enacted Sisyphus by hurling themselves repeatedly upwards but none of them managed to get to the top.  They made coming down look a breeze though.  I didn’t try this but managed to get myself round everything else and had a great time.  Can’t thank my co riders enough for their encouragement and support, they were seriously good riders but more importantly nice people.  Hopefully the snail will be doing a lot more local rides.