Draining the tank!

You could just jump on a bike and maintain the same speed until you couldn’t hold that speed any longer. This may give you a good workout and would certainly take you to the limit of your ability. On a mountain bike ride, though, the terrain changes all the time. You climb, you descend and the ever changing surface under your wheels resists your progress in a continuously varying way. The same does apply to a road ride but on a mountain bike ride things are far more extreme. Today I decided to ride 3 laps of a circuit which I’ve used many times before, where I’d start with a relatively easy lap before ramping up the effort on lap 2. I was curious to know whether I’d then be able to maintain my speed on lap 3 as I got more tired. With the wet ground I was expecting my laps to take around 8 minutes.

I rode towards the circuit at Birkacre and managed to keep going up the first rocky step. After that, though, I found the steep slope to be tougher than I can ever recall. I got to the top but could really feel the effort in my legs. The patches of mud were sucking up my energy which was also being wasted by wheel spin. A ride through the housing at Eaves Green took me to Burgh Lane where the narrow, dirt road drops towards the river Yarrow. I enjoyed the 3 corners and fast, bumpy surface but slowed almost to a halt for a dog. The owner returned the favour by moving off the track. My time was always going to be slow for the segment. At Birkacre I rounded the small lake and climbed to my circuit, doing a 3 corner loop to check conditions. This loop is included in my circuit towards the end. From my start/finish I started the first, longer downhill of 2. From the first corner I was sliding around. In such wet conditions the grip is totally unpredictable. If you want to go quickly you just have to accept the slides and deal with them as they happen. For a front wheel slide it’s best to quickly adjust your line by steering out of the curve and letting the wheel grip again. Alternatively you can tap the ground with your inside foot which lightens the load on the rear wheel and causing that to slide instead. When the rear slides it’s just a question of keeping the front wheel pointing around the curve in the direction you want to go. Sounds easy in print!


Part of the 3 corner section on a sunnier day last year.

I put some effort into the subsequent climb and could feel it in my legs. Towards the top of the climb and highest point on the circuit the lumpy grass offered so little grip that the wheel was spinning even on fairly level surfaces. Another slippery downhill and a climb back to the finish. I wasn’t surprised by my slow time of 8 minutes 11 seconds. I stopped and thought about my lap. I now intended to put more effort in and realised that with around 17 corners in the loop it’s not all about pedalling. I tried to take wider lines to maintain speed and for the the muddiest section at the top of the circuit I sped up in advance to allow momentum to take me further. I worked harder on the pedals and was pleased to cut my lap time to 7 minutes 39. I didn’t know if I’d be able to improve on this time but started my last lap and pushed myself hard. I love a good corner. For me it’s the best part of mountain biking. You take a risk by braking late and hard and try to stay just the right side of the limit of grip. It’s always a good feeling but it’s significantly enhanced when a stopwatch is running. The whole of your being, physical and mental, is full out to achieve the same objective of speed. I had the odd hairy moment on the lap and never eased off. I could feel myself reaching exhaustion as I sprinted to the finish and was massively pleased with 7 minutes and 9 seconds. Climbing back up Burgh Lane I had very little left. I’d drained the tank and only improved a little as I neared home. It was a very fulfilling ride on a damp day.

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