The weather in the north west of England is unpredictable. Yesterday started with our first frost, then was gloriously sunny. Later clouds came over and have remained overnight and today. With winds from the north yesterday it was suddenly colder than it had been so it feels as if we are slipping into winter. Of course by next week we may have unseasonably warm weather, you never know, though it’s unlikely we’ll have warmer weather for long enough to dry the mountain bike trails. Excepting times when frost dries the ground we’re likely to have wet trails until spring and the only thing a mountain biker can do is to change their expectations of riding.
After 30 years of riding all year round I’m well practised at getting some fun out of riding in wet conditions and accepting the situation is the first step to a winter of good riding. I change the places where I ride because many of the good summer trails are poor in winter conditions. Today I decided to ride to Birkacre, which is a compact area of muddy and gravely tracks, to put my winter bike through it’s paces. I’ll be riding a Trek Fuel EX8 with 29″ wheels this winter and on my last ride I kept thinking that the front wheel offered more grip than the rear. This may be an advantage in winter because a rear wheel slide is easier to control than a front. You just need to keep the front wheel pointing where you want to go and let the back slide out. Still, I was determined to look into this anomaly. I rode a couple of loops of a short circuit with 3 excellent corners turning right, then left, then a sharper right which exits up hill. Yes, the rear did seem to let go first and was locking very easily when I applied the rear brake. I then went to a section of man made jumps to find that nature had temporarily taken over.
Whilst stopped I had a good look at the Trek and noticed that the front tyre has chunkier treads than the rear but could this be enough to account for the difference in grip?
What I also noticed was that the saddle is set as far forwards as possible. I did this because the bike was bought for our son, who is much taller than me, so it’s too long for me. What this has done is pull me forwards to concentrate my weight on the front wheel which provides it with extra grip. The rear, meanwhile, is left with less weight pressing down on it so provides less grip. The best solution may be to fit a shorter handlebar stem so I could push the seat back to a better position. Alternatively I could try to redistribute my weight on corners to improve the balance of the bike, so this is what I tried first. I returned to the short circuit to session the 3 corners.
Above is the view from part way round the first corner. Because a left hander immediately follows you need to keep the bike tight in to the first corner on exit to give a wide line into the next. Then you don’t want to let the bike drift out too wide from the second corner to give a good entry into the third. It’s a fabulous puzzle to solve and I rode round the circuit many times. At first the front wheel was gripping and the rear sliding, especially under braking but by pushing my weight back from the handlebars I was finding balance between front and rear wheel grip. I even had some delightful 2 wheel drifts which felt amazing. I was still easily locking the rear under braking but I think this is simply because I don’t fancy using the front brake very much at all in such slippery conditions. I was only out for around an hour but had a good time at the limit of grip which is a place I always seem to enjoy visiting.