I’ve ridden a few times recently where I’ve concentrated on my riding technique. I’ve also looked at my bike setup to see if I could benefit from any changes. I’ve lowered my tyre pressures because I found that I could improve the grip on corners yet after a fair test found the bike not to have slowed down due to tyre drag, which I’ve always thought would be the case. In addition I’ve lowered my handlebar height to drop my centre of gravity slightly down and forwards, in a search for improved front wheel grip. I’m sure many riders do as I’ve been doing and leave their bikes with the identical setup for long periods of time or even leave them as they were when they first got them. I’ve enjoyed the experimental nature of making changes and will continue to fiddle with the bike. Simple changes you can look at making are the ones I’ve already mentioned, tyre pressure and handlebar height but there are plenty of other small and easy things you can do. You can shift the saddle forwards or backwards on it’s rails or tip it forwards or backwards. You can twist the handlebars in the stem to change the way your hands fall onto the grips. How about adjusting the distance of the brake levers from the grips or moving the levers inwards on the bars so that you can pull with one finger whilst gripping the bars with the rest? I’m sure there are other changes as well, that you can make at no cost.

For today’s ride I chose to ride up to the top of Great Hill which is good for fitness with over 15 miles of riding and 1,521 feet of climbing over the course of the ride. The best part, though, was bound to be the long downhill from the summit to the bottom of Brinscall Woods. I’d use it to put the techniques I’ve been working on into practice, particularly my body position on corners to get the balance between front and rear wheel grip. Because there are long sections of pedalling on the downhill I could make sure that I was getting the power in by circling the pedals, not just pushing down. I could also study the ground carefully to find the best line to take. On a climb it’s slightly easier if you chose a firm, smooth surface rather than mud or loose gravel. On the way down you can feel bigger rocks jarring the bike and slowing it down. I set my tyre pressures to 25 psi front and 27 psi rear. I wouldn’t want to go lower on this ride because I use inner tubes which could be pinched by sharp rocks.

I set off on the hour long climb to the summit. It’s good cross country riding with plenty of climbing but not especially exciting. I took the easier side of the river from White Coppice because there didn’t seem to be too many walkers today. I rode along to the steeper climb up Brinscall Woods and according to the app. Strava was quite fast, proving again that my lower tyre pressures were not causing energy sapping drag. Later, on the gravel climb up the hill, I thought about my pedalling technique and made sure I put the effort in all the way around the circle which the pedals scribe. When the trail turned eastwards the wind was right in my face and before the top had become savage, almost blowing me to a standstill! I chatted briefly to another rider on top, who then set off down the back of the hill.

The stone cross shelter at the top, pictured last winter.

I’d taken some pictures of a very rocky section on the way up. I’ve had several punctures and a damaged wheel here, over the years.

Part of a long, straight section of damaging rocks. Speeds can exceed 30 mph here.
Looking up towards the summit.

I clicked my stopwatch and set off from the top. The first part is a blast with an ever changing surface. The strong wind was right behind me. I went over the stile onto a section where you can chose between rocky or my more favoured option of a twisting, grassy trail. It’s not long before you’re onto the rocky straight pictured above and picking up speed. I really didn’t need a puncture so slowed a little and tried to pick my way through the rocks. I hadn’t intended to set any records today but once the metaphorical starters pistol had gone off I couldn’t help myself! I was now thinking about my previous best time to the concrete bridge over the river of 13 minutes and 50 seconds but when I was on the smoother, gravel track I had to slow almost to a halt for a man with a dog. I am particularly cautious when dogs are involved, being a dog owner myself.

The scene as I type!

I must have lost quite a few seconds by slowing down and now I’d turned by ninety degrees and had a cross wind. I’d slowed just before a small rise in the trail which compounded my problem. It took me a while to regain my speed. I was working hard and making sure I spun the pedals full circle. It seemed like a long way to the excellent section down to Brinscall Woods where the wind was behind me again. One part is a sinuous ribbon scored into the peat. I was pushing the handlebars down into the turns, keeping my body fairly upright. This seem to be the best way on a mountain bike for fast twist and turns. The surface varies down to a stile into the woods and I rode along the top for the best part of all. There are so many corners and other obstacles. Today the recent rain had left things a little more slippery than it has been which added to the thrill. The bike slithered underneath me in my relentless persuit of speed. Along the bottom of the woods to my finish at the concrete bridge and I kept the effort up. I beat my previous best time! By 2 whole seconds at 13 minutes 48 seconds. I’d worked hard in that time and took it easy for the rest of the way home.

I rode up to the top of Healey Nab on the way and noticed something that I found last time I was there. On the downhill, banked corners it’s hard to lean on the handlebars for front wheel grip. It just feels as if you could be thrown over the front when you lean your weight forwards. Maybe I’d need to tweak my bike for the best performance on this kind of trail. I’ll consider my options.

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