I wouldn’t like to fall off a bike on the road but usually when you fall off a mountain bike things are not so bad. I’ve always enjoyed testing the limits of speed on a bike on the dirt. I love it when the tyres reach the limit of grip and start to shimmy around. Around 5 years ago, though, I had 2 big crashes 7 months apart, which both involved broken bones. It was time to make a commitment to riding more safely. Although I still want to test the limits of grip what I don’t want to do is fall from any height. This means that I jump safely, often keeping the bike on the ground rather than going for something spectacular. I tend to avoid the really risky steep drops where you can be pitched over the front. I’m sure that mountain biking is more dangerous in some ways than it was when we all rode fully rigid bikes. It may seem intrinsically safer to ride with full suspension and better brakes but this means that you can go so much quicker than in the old days. When you reach the limit now you’ll be going faster. What we ride in terms of trails has also changed. Suspension allows you to ride in better control and at higher speeds over much rockier and bumpier ground. We also now have man made trails with berms (bankings) so that you can maintain a higher speed. If you misjudge it and go over the top of a berm you may well be in big trouble, hitting trees or other trailside obstacles. So naturally in todays slippery conditions I set off on my ride determined to be safe. I had 2 accidents which flung me to the ground but it was no problem.
I’d rode up Healey Nab with it’s range of man made red and black graded trails but I wanted to find the limit, just for the thrill of it, on flatter corners. Even if I fell off I’d just be finding the wheels sliding away from me, causing me to fall on the low side of the bike. A short drop to the wet ground was hardly likely to hurt, surely? I used a mainly off road route to the north end of the hill and climbed to the woodland. I’d decided to use an old school trail which was always a footpath before the MTB trails were constructed. It links to the red graded climb at the top which, when no one else is around, makes a great downhill section. First, though, I went to the trail head for a look at the old red graded descent which had been destroyed by tree felling. Quite a lot of the trail has now been cleared and I rode it recently. First I climbed a steep slope covered in tree roots. I briefly remembered falling off on this climb around 5 years ago and maybe this was enough to break my concentration or commitment. I spun the wheel, fell sideways and rolled back down the slope. Perhaps a tiny bruise but no real damage done. I dragged the bike upwards and continued.
I descended but found a short section blocked by fallen twigs. Beyond this another section of the trail has been cleared and I realised that with 5 minutes of effort I could clear a link to join the nicely cleared sections.
I rode the section a couple of times climbing up via the “push up” route. Who’d push when, with a bigger effort, it can be ridden? Some riders only seem to want to ride the downhills, hence the popularity of Ebikes. I’ve always enjoyed a challenging climb and riding gets me to the drops quicker than pushing ever could. I soon went on towards my longer downhill with the plan to ride it twice. I’d time each effort and hope to correct any mistakes on my second attempt to improve my time.
It begins with a twisting single track around the top of an old quarry. There are no dangerous drops if things go wrong so I pushed the handlebars down into the twists and kept my feet firmly on the pedals. At the end of the small quarry is a superb right/left combination. I could have managed it much more quickly. I dropped down towards a long right hander with a surface of mud, grit and stone. I ran out wide on the exit and really could have taken a better line. Still, at least I’d have another try a little later. After a straight is a corner I practiced on a few times recently. It’s only become the corner it now is since the tree felling and drops down onto a flat surface with a currently damp and slippery surface. I slithered round and got back on the pedals. On towards the man made trail which I’d ride in the wrong direction and things were quite muddy. It was entertaining enough but is better when conditions are drier. I was wondering when to click my stopwatch for my finish point when, curving to the left, my decision was made for me. The front wheel washed out, dumping my in the slime. I clicked the stop watch at 2 minutes and 2 seconds. The next step was obvious. I’d try to beat 2 minutes.
Back to the top, this time getting up the slope which defeated me earlier and I felt I was going mainly quicker as I descended. In one or two places I grabbed the brakes before I ran off the trail. It was clear that to get a good time I needed to ride the trail a few more times to really get to know it. I finished without falling off this time but was a little surprised to only have improved to 1 minute 59 seconds. The 2 minute barrier beaten! I rode home cautiously down the fast and open section. It had been a good ride, testing the limits in a fairly safe way. I’d also done a few short but hard climbs to test me. Something I’m planning to do through the coming winter. At least I’m lucky to live with a maritime climate. We may get a lot of rain but there is no mountain bike closed season, just different levels of mud!