My plan for today’s ride was to use a road route to the village of Rivington where I’d ride 2 very different downhill sections in the terraced gardens. This would also give a valuable training element with 2 tough climbs to reach the top of each descent.
The weather was very still with occasional, hazy sunshine but I knew from walking my dog, Freddie, earlier that the ground would be rather wet and muddy.
Fortunately most of the trails today have a stony surface generally so remain hard packed regardless of the weather. I arrived at Rivington Barn, which is a popular meeting place for motorcyclists at the weekends, throughout the year. Today the carpark was being resurfaced so I detoured around the side. Then the climb begins, and it’s steep but no where near as hard as it was before it was repaired and smoothed out a few years ago. After a short downhill segment intervenes the climb resumes on a much wider trail.
The picture shows the rough, cobbled surface where 29″ wheels excel. The larger diameter wheel rise and fall less quickly than smaller wheels so the ride feels less harsh over the bumpy surface. Also, with a smoother ride, there’s slightly less resistance to forward motion so it’s a tiny bit easier to make progress. A gentle descent brought me to the top of the first downhill. I rode this segment on my last ride and wanted to ride the first few corners more cautiously to improve my technique. The corners used to be flat but are now deeply rutted. Rather than trailing my inside leg in a motocross style I used the near 12″ deep ruts as berms (bankings), keeping my feet on the pedals and leaning the bike, not my body. It felt good but it’s important to be accurate with your line so you don’t fly out of the rut! All went well and I enjoyed the remainder of the 2 minute 46 second downhill trail. After a good linking segment the next climb starts.
The rough, stone strewn climb rises 225 feet and took me 9 minutes 30 seconds. Again I was at an advantage on the Trek with its 29″ wheels compared to riding up with smaller wheels. Next came a very tightly twisting downhill trail which descends the terraces of the Japanese style gardens. This route was used in the 2002 Commonwealth games mountain bike event which I watched with my, then 1 year old son, Dylan. The corners are so tight that you can’t just take a smooth line around. You need to lock the rear wheel as you turn in to slide the rear end round, pointing you in the right direction to exit. 29″ wheel bikes are often said to be hard work on tight corners but I’ve been coping well on the sinuous descent on Healey Nab. Today I arrived at the first corner and couldn’t seem to get the bike turning as I wanted. On the second corner I was running wide and only just got round. At the third corner it all happened so quickly I was on the ground before I knew much about it. The front wheel slid as I turned in then dug in, catapulting me over the high side. I found myself on my fists and now scuffed and battered knees. I failed to prevent my face from kissing the ground, leaving a graze on my chin. I wonder if my wife will notice????
It may be that my technique was a little lacking in the slippery conditions but I am thinking that I found the limit of the larger wheels. These corners are very tight but definitely easier on an old school bike with 26″ wheels. I’ve struggled a bit with my 27.5″ Boardman but have made it to the bottom unscathed. Maybe in dry conditions I’ll try again on the 29er, though I think this may be a rare circumstance where it performs less well. It must be said that corners as tight as these are few and far between so I wouldn’t in any way be put off from buying another 29er when that glorious day arrives to buy another bike.