Having fun on a bike.

I don’t mean to upset road riders but riding on the road is about the thrill of speed and the pleasure you get from pushing yourself to perform. Mountain biking has all of this but also gives you the chance to pit yourself against the trails which are determined to slow you down. There is little in life more fulfilling than riding a trail as fast as possible with the constant risk of sliding to the ground or being thrown off the bike in some other way. It’s good to time yourself with a stopwatch or an app. like Strava, which I use for every ride but it’s equally important to not let targets get in the way of just having fun.

I subscribe to a mountain bike magazine called Mountain Bike Rider (MBR). I bought the first copy over 25 years ago but had a break from buying the magazine for a few years and found that I’d become hopelessly out of touch with new technology and trends in a sport which has always rapidly evolved. Since around 2015 I have got MBR through the post every month so now when I walk into a bike shop I know what I’m looking at. I know the kind of bike I’d like to acquire when the chance comes, (next year with a bit of luck!) In last months MBR was an article about just having fun on a mountain bike. They made a pseudo scientific claim that play is essential to the human kind and I’m fairly sure that this is correct. We’re just like dogs aren’t we? Dogs are endearing to humans because, like us, they want to play though I do wish our dog, Freddie, knew when I was not as enthusiastic as him to fight over a chew, ball or whatever. He understands some English but not “no”, “calm down” or “stop that”. Or perhaps he just pretends to not understand?

Today I set off on my ride with no targets other than to enjoy playing on my bike. I rode to the purpose built trails on my nearest hill to ride 4 laps with 1,143 feet of ascent in 9.74 miles. There were a few other riders on the hill but they mainly seemed to be using the area as part of a longer trail ride rather than sessioning the same trail repeatedly. Just being out on the bike was always going to be a good workout and the often steep gradients mean that to keep going you have to work hard for much of the ride. Trail conditions remain perfectly dry but the gritty and sometimes gravelly surfaces mean that you can still reach the limit of grip easily.

Butter wouldn’t melt.

Whilst playing I made sure that I maintained a good body posture for the many corners with my torso almost horizontal, elbows out and some weight pressing down on the handlebars. The aim is to balance front and rear wheel grip so that you can go about as fast as possible before a wheel slides. I had a great time riding 3 laps of the red graded downhill with one turn on the top loop circuit. I played around with different approaches to some of the corners. I unclipped my foot from the pedal at times to ride corners with my foot out like a motocross rider. This way you can risk getting closer to the limit since if you do slide you have a good chance of saving it by tapping the ground with your foot. This reduces the weight pressing down on, and hence the available grip of, your rear wheel. A rear wheel slide is then assured and fairly easy to control.

I did have one little incident on lap 3 when I was descending steeply towards some jumps. I must have hit some fist sized stones which had the back of the bike going sideways. With the roots of a fallen tree to the left of the trail I was lucky to have quickly flung the bike the other way. I saved the day but thought afterwards how it could have gone very badly. The fallen tree really needs to be moved but it would be no easy task.

For my last descent I rode the red route climb in the “wrong” direction and it is the best downhill in the immediate area. I’m just careful to look ahead and to make way for anyone riding it the right way, as a climb. I did have to apologise to one rider but from his brief retort I could tell he knew exactly why I was going in the wrong direction. Yes, it was worthwhile exercise but it was also a hell of a lot of fun.

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