A much better ride in muddy conditions.

I’ve been a little worried after my last few rides that I wasn’t going to be having as much fun as I usually have mountain biking. Although I’ve generally been riding between showers, not whilst it was actually raining, the ground has been muddy. This slows me down throughout my rides and makes corners treacherous. Corners are usually the highlight for me. To corner quickly and not fall off requires judgement, quick reactions and hard learnt muscle memory. You can be taught these skills but I find after so many years of riding trails I control a sliding bike by instinct. The trails I rode today are trails which I first rode in 1992! One three corner combination is, for me, about as good as it gets. The surface is a mixture of grit, gravel and mud which, whilst it can be dry and grippy, was a sinuous and slithery delight today. My plan was to ride 3 laps of a circuit with 2 downhills and 2 climbs on each lap. I’d time each lap and try to keep my times consistent whilst gradually increasing my effort.

I soon left the tarmac to climb a steep slope. I had enough grip but the soft ground had me near maximum effort from the start. On the way to my destination at Birkacre, the site of a long closed mill, is a gentle but fast downhill. Unfortunately the first corner was blocked by a fallen tree. I also had to slow for 2 walkers and by the time I passed a weir I became fully aware of the effects of our current and second Covid 19 lockdown. A lot of walkers and families were enjoying the hazy sunshine but I started to worry that it would be selfish of me to be lapping the area as quickly as I could. I carried on to the sloping area where my circuit is situated. I could only see the occasional person here so tested conditions on the 3 corner combination and climbed up to my start point.

I’ve found on several multi lap rides this year that I often lap too quickly on the first lap with my slowest lap being the middle lap. It’s not so hard to lift my performance towards the end, knowing that I’ll soon be able to rest. Today I made sure that I controlled my pedalling and speed on lap 1 but still had the bike gently sliding from the first left/right combination.

The fairly steep drop into the first left hand corner isn’t apparent in the picture. It’s important to stop the bike from drifting too wide on the exit to line up correctly for the right hander which follows.

After the 2 corners is a downhill straight followed by a sharp left hand corner.

A sharp left and steep drop to an open area.

A woodland section follows and I soon had to stop for another fallen tree. I could ride cautiously around the end and continue. More slippery corners follow before the lowest point of the circuit. A long climb takes you to the highest point and is a 100 feet rise. The second descent of 75 feet has several corners before the 3 corner combination with a final ascent back to the start, 67 feet higher. That means around 167 feet of ascent and descent in the circuit which took me 8 minutes and 10 seconds. I deliberately put more effort in on lap 2 and was rewarded with a good improvement to 7 minutes 54 second though some of the 16 second would have been due to being surprised by the fallen tree first time. I was ready to push the pace on the final lap but was thwarted by the fallen tree! Crossing the leaf strewn camber around the end of the blockage my front wheel washed out on a broken branch, casting me to the ground. I picked myself up and got going as soon as I could but knew that I’d lost some time. I made sure that I was powering the pedals through the full circle, not just stamping them down. I ensured that where the trail changes from a downhill to climb or vice versa I didn’t lose any time in the transition. I maintained my concentration on the ride and didn’t allow random thoughts to distract me and was quite surprised that, despite my crash, I finished in 7 minutes 43 seconds, my fastest lap of the day.

I wasn’t perfectly consistent in my lap times but by concentrating on the ride for almost half an hour and by pushing myself hard in this time I had a great ride. Putting a bigger effort in is not just good for fitness, it makes the whole process more fulfilling. I certainly had a better time than I’ve been having in the current wetness. I’ll ride again before the weekend and will probably do laps again to give the ride more value.

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