When the stars align.

Sometimes a mountain bike ride just seems perfect and this may happen for a variety of reasons. The stars simply align. Today I had just such a ride which started as an idea with very little ambition. On my last ride I tried to ride a circuit of around 14 minutes in a fastest ever time. I was way off the pace and blamed my recently fitted rear tyre for causing too much drag. To tackle this I intend to ride the lap on a totally different bike, the 2004 vintage Whyte JW4. I can’t remember riding the JW4 at all this year so I pulled it out and inspected it. I inflated the tyres, which are old school 26″, to now unfashionably high pressures like we used to use. I added some air to the front and rear shock absorbers to get the pressures correct and found the pedal cranks had come loose, so tightened them up. I was ready to go.

I had no intention of trying to ride the lap in question today but wanted to find out how the bike was riding. From memory I thought it had the odd creak and other minor gripe but setting off on the road everything felt fine. I used the roads to the village of Rivington then started to climb the terraced gardens, which were laid out in a Japanese style. I used some unusual climbs which were very steep and here the JW4 was fantastic. It’s light in weight and has an old fashioned 3 X 10 transmission with a very low bottom gear and closely spaced ratios. I know the simplicity and lower weight of current single chainring transmissions have their attractions but in this type of terrain they are simply not as good. I climbed a segment which had been used in the 2002 Commonwealth Games mountain bike race and gave up on a short and steep rocky section. The front suspension of the JW4 was struggling (or maybe that was just me) and I elected to walk for 10 yards. In the 2002 race women had to ride this 4 times and men 6. It really is a savage climb, even to ride once.

My only plan was to ride to Wilderswood to remind myself whether our dog, Freddie, was likely to enjoy walking there but first I had a superb downhill to tackle. At the side of the woods is an old favourite, which I rode many times with my mates from 1997 and for years afterwards. It was such a good downhill that we didn’t bother to explore the area further so hadn’t discovered another excellent single track descent which I rode today. It felt a little unfamiliar and has lots of tree roots and small drop offs on its rutted surface. The 100mm of suspension travel of the JW4 coped well enough though if ultimate speed mattered I would be happier with more bounce. The climb up the woods again was a long, tough one and here the bike was in its element. The clever, linkage suspension at the front prevents the front suspension from bobbing on climbs and so preserves energy. I was also thankful for the ultra low gearing. For reference I think Freddie will love it!

Back home in the garden, the JW4 is a strange looking beast.

Next I rode along to a segment which was built last year, yet feels very natural. It’s a mixture of open moorland single track and some well spaced trees and has plenty of features including narrow corners, a big, rocky drop and plenty of ruts. I managed a time only 3 seconds outside my best time which suggests that the bike was well within its capabilities on what would probably count as a red graded descent with a couple of black graded features. I was buzzing and still had the tight twists which also featured in the 2002 race. These corners are harder on modern, longer wheelbase bikes so again the JW4 shone.

I don’t know if it was the easier riding, with less tyre drag but I still felt full of energy and completed the ride quickly, maintaining the effort to the end. An 18 year old bike had given me a fantastic ride and whilst it may have felt less safe at times it never lacked excitement. It rode faultlessly. I don’t know what I’d been thinking.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s