Bike Park Wales

Sorry it’s late, but Happy New Year!

I’ve not gotten around to writing anything yet because I’ve made it my mission to get out and do a lot more things this year. That means running, meeting up with friends, doing daily yoga and, of course, riding my bike(s).

So, when you last left me, I was playing in the snow at Ashton Court. Now it’s 2018, I’m setting my sights higher.

That’s why at the weekend I went to… *drum roll*

BIKE PARK WALES.

Photo: Phil Hall

Holy crap. I’ve never had so much fun in my life.

I was taken, nay, escorted there by the lovely Aoife Glass and her partner, Phil Hall (who also doubled up as our personal paparazzi). They’re both much more experienced than me but they didn’t ditch me for the black trails! We allowed Phil some freedom to go and do some red trails, but Aoife stayed with me on the blue trails and was a great riding companion.

I was able to follow her line when I was unsure, and having her up ahead allowed me to assess her reactions to things that I couldn’t see yet. Plus, she gave me some great tips to help me improve my technique (more on that later).

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Photo: Phil Hall

I have to say, it was so much more challenging than I’d anticipated.

I wasn’t really aware of the fact that the grading of trails (blue, red, black) isn’t uniform across the board, but is dependent on what’s there already. I.e. what’s blue in one place can be red in another, if the first place is much more challenging. Blue demarcates the easiest trails there, but not all blues are created equal.

So for me, having only really acclimatised to the Nova trail at Ashton Court, I was in for a big surprise when experiencing the blues of Bike Park Wales. It was much more down-hilling; steeper and more undulating. At Ashton Court I can easily avoid rock gardens (which I have been doing to date), but at BPW there was no way around them.

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Photo: Phil Hall

Learning to trust

As I said in my last post, I have trouble riding off-road with my glasses. What with the downhills and the rush of air, I frequently experienced watery eyes and my vision became really blurry. Usually I can handle this, but I was in unfamiliar territory, and going at an alarming rate down the side of a very steep hill. With rock gardens. Big rock gardens.

So where I’d started to learn to trust my bike by going through the puddles on the Nova trail at Ashton Court, here I was forced to put my life in its hands, so to speak. There were moments where I felt I was losing control, but the surface just wasn’t meant for braking on, and I had to force myself to let the bike take me.

It was terrifying at times, but also thrilling once I came up for air and realised I was still upright. My bike was definitely put through her paces that day, and she handled it well.

 

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Finding a tribe

I’ve talked before about feeling the need to fit in, and categorise myself as a cyclist. Am I roadie? A tourer? A mountain biker?

One of the reasons I’ve reflected on this many times is that I often get asked, ‘what kind of cyclist are you?’ and I never know what to say. I’m a bit of everything, I guess.

But then a couple of days after BPW I went into work, excitedly told one of the mechanics (a mountain man through and through) all about my experience. I told him how much I was craving another go on the trails, and how cycling into work on my Dawes seemed so dire and dull in comparison. He laughed, looked at me, and said: “you’re a mountain biker”.

I have to admit, it felt good for someone to acknowledge me as part of their tribe.

Of course, I do still enjoy road riding, and riding long distances is something that really drives me to keep cycling. I’ll absolutely still do these things, but I know that it’s the trails where I’ll really feel the rush.

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Photo: Phil Hall

Paying attention

I mentioned earlier that I’m practising daily yoga now. This is partly to help myself become stronger, more grounded, and of course, more flexible. The other benefit I’m experiencing is that I’m becoming a lot more self-aware.

This really showed when I was plummeting down the trails. Unlike road cycling, where I very easily zone out and just keep pedalling, mountain biking forces me to concentrate, not only on what’s ahead, but what my body is doing at all times.

I found myself constantly checking my posture, technique, and analysing what I was doing well and what needed work.

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Photo: Phil Hall

This, plus Aoife’s advice, has helped me identify some key areas to practise:

  • I need to loosen up a bit. It’s clear from the photos that my arms are too straight, and my knees aren’t turned out enough.
  • Saddle height hasn’t really been something I’ve thought much about until yesterday. I now understand why people like a dropper seat post. I failed to lower my saddle before a big descent, and realised that I wasn’t able to lean back enough. It also taught me that my legs were too rigid, as I kept pinching the saddle between my thighs (to the point where I’m bruised there!).
  • I also need to practise braking with one finger instead of two (which is a terrifying thought). I noticed on the big descents that with only two fingers gripping the handlebars, I didn’t feel like I had enough control over the bike, and towards the end as I became more tired, I started to lose my grip altogether.
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Photo: Phil Hall

I have a long way to go but this early on, I’m really bloody proud of where I am.

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Oh, the weather outside is… delightful!

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Photo: Nikki Pugh

Despite being a generally cold country, and despite having a winter every single year, the UK just never seems to be prepared for the ‘adverse weather conditions’ when they arrive.

Yes, it’s that time of year. Snow has fallen, winter is looking beautiful, and the public transport system is in chaos.

I was supposed to be getting a coach to London today, but since they decided to close part of the M4, I would have spent around 4 hours getting there, only to be late to the CycleFox Christmas Market, and then spend another 4 hours to get back at stupid o’clock in the morning.

So, I made the difficult decision to not go, and instead went to play in the woods with Adam, Lucy, and her friend Nikki.

Because, snow.

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Smiles all round! Lucy, Nikki and Adam.
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Proof that I was there too. Photo: Nikki Pugh

I’ve discovered that mountain biking in the snow may just be my new favourite thing to do.

We met in Ashton Court at the start of the Nova trail, and took each section at our own pace. I started off slower than the others (though I was stopping to take photos at first), but later on I was able to keep up with Nikki, which was reassuring.

We then progressed over to Leigh Woods, which I’m less familiar with, and did a bit of Yer Tiz. By that point though, it had already been well over an hour, and none of us could feel our fingers and toes, so we decided to quit while we were still having fun.

I actually found my confidence really grew today. I focused on my cornering technique, and found I was really able to power through some of the bends. I also found it easier with the big, deep puddles, which sounds counter-intuitive, but it helped me stop worrying about picking out a line, and just put some trust in my bike. It worked every time, though I don’t know if I’d have this same trust on an unfamiliar trail.

And… and! I even attempted part of the red trail. Whilst practically blind. I consider myself suitably challenged today. I couldn’t do the whole lot, but I did about half of what the others did. Once I saw Adam and Lucy slipping and sliding over a steep, rocky part, I backed out and cycled to the top of the hill to wait for them. Perhaps I could try that part another day when it’s dry, and when I can actually see where I’m going.

Yeah, I was practically blind due to my glasses steaming up. I think I’m going to try and wear contact lenses, because it was quite terrifying when I couldn’t see properly.

Also I definitely learned that I need to invest in some decent waterproof socks. My poor toes were not very happy afterwards. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been so cold in my life, and when we got back and changed I thought I’d never warm up again.

Not much else to say, other than it was super fun, and absolutely beautiful. So here are some pictures of the snowy trails.

 

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Now, go ride.

A confession, and a trip around Chew Valley

So, I’ve not been entirely honest with you.

Last time, I told you about acquiring a new bike – Phoebe the Cotic BFe – and I felt the need to justify it by explaining that I part-exchanged Regina for her.

That’s true. What I haven’t mentioned yet, is that Phoebe is the second bike I’ve bought since we last spoke. Sorry.

And there’s no way of justifying this one. It was an all-out purchase. Because I wanted it.

This is Edie, the Genesis Equilibrium Disc 20. She’s really, really sexy.

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With a 725 steel frame and carbon fork, she’s surprisingly light and zippy, and the perfect bike for a long road ride or sportive. Despite her turkey-warbling rear brake (I need to sort that out), she’s an absolute joy to ride, and today I took her for a spin around Chew Valley, with my dream team, Lucy and Ania. You may remember them from my spontaneous 200k.

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We decided not to be so bold this time, and did a comfortable 56(ish) kilometre route down to Chew Valley Lake, and back up to Bristol via the Whitchurch Way cycle path.

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It transpired throughout the day that all three of us had considered cancelling, as we were all feeling a bit run down and tempted to have a Sunday lie-in. I’m so glad we didn’t though, as it was a really lovely ride through some beautiful countryside.

This time of year the weather doesn’t really make for picturesque photos (though we did see a rainbow), but here’s a little glimpse anyway:

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In terms of the route, the first two-thirds was the same as the route I took back when I first tried clipping in and riding solo. We took the Bristol-Bath to Saltford, and followed the Avon Cycleway (route 410) through Compton Dando, Stanton Drew, Pensford and finally Chew Valley.

One of the highlights of this part was encountering some running Santas.

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Another lie. These ones weren’t running.

Turns out today was the Saltford Santa Dash, so that provided some comic relief. Lots of people dressed as Santa, many with dogs in tow. I wish I’d gotten a photo of the pug dressed as an elf. Probably the highlight of the entire day.

When we reached Chew Valley Lake, we rewarded ourselves with coffee, chips, and ducks. Lots of ducks.

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From there, it became unfamiliar to me. In the past I’ve continued south, into the Mendips, but this time we turned back towards Bristol and joined the Whitchurch Way (route 3). It’s a really lovely traffic-free cycle path, which takes you all the way into Bristol city from the south.

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I have to admit, I did find some parts of today pretty challenging. Edie has an 11-spd 11-28 cassette, as opposed to the 9-spd 11-32 cassette I’m used to riding on a daily basis, so climbing hills becomes a little harder. It’s good though, because it forces me to get out of the saddle and really put my legs to work, and that can only spell out good things for my quads and glutes.

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What Ania looks like after climbing a hill, versus me.

Back in the saddle, back in the mud

Sorry it’s been a while. Multiple things have resulted in me only really riding to commute for the past month or so, and therefore not really having a lot to say. I don’t just want to spew out some garbled train of thoughts here, I want to talk about things that I think are worth talking about.

So I’m back, because I have something to tell you!

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while, will already be aware of the fact that I’ve been wanting to ease myself back into mountain biking, despite my confidence issues relating to a previous crash.

Now the time has come. Meet Phoebe, my new Cotic BFe.

Before you gasp that I’ve acquired yet another bike, I have had to make a rather difficult decision. I can only justify it to myself by operating on a one-in-one-out system, and so I said an emotional farewell to Regina.

This has been tough, because I have a real sentimental attachment to my Orange RX9. We’ve had some awesome adventures together, including riding to Oxford, around the Yorkshire Dales, and the Mendips.

Regina is a super fun bike to ride, and she is very distinctive to look at. She’s become an iconic part of my blogging identity within Bristol’s cycling community. People have recognised me from the bike I’m riding.

But the fact is this: she’s a CX bike. She deserves to be racing through the mud.

When I got her, I was upgrading from the same Ridgeback hybrid (RIP Ripley) I’d been commuting on for three years. I wanted something affordable, with a racier riding position, drop bars, and disc brakes. She was one of the few options available in my size, and she came with Crosstop levers, which helped me transition to the hoods comfortably. She was exactly what I needed.

But now I have Dori as my go-to bike. A touring bike is perfect for year-round all-weather commuting. When I got her, I told myself that Regina would still be a weekend fun ride. She ended up living in the shed instead.

Back when I was musing about the need to fit in when it comes to various cycling categories, I toyed with the idea of trying out cyclocross at some stage, without fully understanding what it was. I know what it is now, and while I know it looks incredibly fun, to me it really is just a race. Unfortunately I’m not motivated by racing. I like mucking about, and being able to take my time when I encounter something technical.

I liked the idea of getting into CX, but was massively put off by the fact that in order to do so, I pretty much had to just turn up to a race and jump straight into the deep end.

The main thing that appeals to me about CX is the mud. I like being off-road and getting dirty. So it just makes plain sense for me to spend some time on the trails and do them in my own time, gradually building my confidence. And not only this, I want to do it with a bit of front suspension.

So I’ve exchanged Regina for Phoebe, and I honestly don’t regret it.

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I’ve been out for a couple of rides now – one with companions, and one alone. I feel so incredibly proud of myself, to have moved on from the trauma of my crash and get back out on the trails. I’ve been craving a chance to get back out into the woods, and I’m planning to do this as often as possible.

(She says, sitting in her pyjamas at her laptop when the sun is shining outside).

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I just fucking love being in the woods.

I love being surrounded by trees. I love the splash of mud against my shins.

Since I’ve talked to my colleagues about it (most of them being MTB enthusiasts), I’ve been inundated with recommendations of awesome places to go riding in the local area and also in South Wales. I have every intention of branching out as soon as I can, but for now I’m trying to be sensible.

I’ve learned from my past experiences, and I know where my limits are. For now, I’m planning to make a (hopefully) weekly trip to Ashton Court to do a lap or two of the blue Nova trail. I’ve ridden this a few times before, and I like the idea of getting to know a trail and building my confidence first, before branching off.

When I went riding with companions, I was led through Leigh Woods and the 50 Acre Wood, and I’ve had a taste of what’s to come. It’s exciting, but I’m taking my sweet time. I don’t want to end up in the middle of the 50 Acre Wood alone, lost, and suddenly encountering something I’m not ready for.

So here’s to more mud, more confidence, and more MTB.

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If you’re not dirty, you’re not doing it right.

#WednesdayWisdom: The Importance of Visibility

This isn’t about visibility in the ‘high-vis hero’ sense.

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Photo: Cycling Weekly

Last week’s Groundswell event left me mulling a few things over. Numerous themes were raised that I felt deserved some exploration, and one of them was the importance of being visible. Not to traffic, but to other would-be riders who may relate to you on a personal level.

Let me explain.

During the event, Joe and Elly felt it necessary to cover a few frequently asked questions, in order to save us the time of asking them ourselves. One of the timeless questions they’ve heard over and over again, is ‘how can I encourage more [women/people of colour/poorer people, etc.] to cycle?’

While well-intentioned, this question is quite a problematic one, for two reasons.

  1. It’s usually the result of a projection of one person’s experience, onto an entire group of people.
  2. They’re almost always already doing it.

Projection

This question, when asked, is usually proposed by a person who doesn’t belong to the group being discussed. A man may ask about how to encourage more women to join his local cycling club. A Caucasian person may want to diversify their local club by making it more inviting to people of colour.

There’s nothing wrong with this, of course. It’s good to want to diversify your social groups. It’s nice to want to share your experience with others. The issue arises, though, due to that person’s projection of their experience of cycling onto the group in question, despite their experiences being vastly different.

For example, a man in a male-dominated cycling club may want to encourage more women to ride with them. In his experience, the group is welcoming and friendly, the routes they take are scenic and beautiful, and generally they always have a great time. What woman wouldn’t want to join in?

But a woman’s experience of this same scenario may not be the same. She may feel intimidated, being the only woman in a large group of men. Their joviality may not resonate with her in the same way. She may feel like she doesn’t belong there. She may experience behaviours on the roads from motorists and pedestrians, that the men may have never encountered, such as cat-calling.

And it’s not just women who may have a different experience on this street. In certain areas, a person who appears to be noticeably poorer may be likely to be treated as inferior by middle class drivers. Or on a practical level, they may just not be able to afford to invest in the kit and the equipment needed to accompany a group on a long, fast ride. On the other hand, the risks are much higher for some. A person of colour, in some neighbourhoods, could be pulled over by the police on suspicion of stealing the bike.

So it’s not a bad thing to want to share your experience with others, but it is important to realise that your experience may not reflect theirs. Of course, these terrible things may not happen. But the likelihood of poor treatment can be higher for some groups, and their perception of this participation could be influenced by those fears.

They’re already riding

Just because a particular group aren’t joining in your club ride, doesn’t mean they don’t know the benefits of cycling. A white middle class male-dominated Sunday club ride may be bereft of women, for example, because those women are already off riding together, perhaps with a Breeze ride, or equivalent. A neighbourhood with a high population of people of colour may have already formed its own collective of riders.

With a little research, it’s clear that there are many lesser-known groups, clubs, and organised rides that are already catering for diverse and minority groups.

This is where I come to the point of visibility.

If you are seen by others to be riding, someone who may relate to you is more likely to see you, and be inspired to do the same. Women like to see other women riding. If poorer areas are filled with commuter cyclists, others may be inclined to sell their car, ride to work, save a lot of money and then in turn inspire others to do the same.

Being more visible – to people who can relate to you, and picture themselves in your shoes – answers the original question of how to encourage others to ride.

You don’t need to project your personal experience onto others in the hopes of actively encouraging them to immerse themselves in your idea of what cycling means. It’s likely that many of them are already riding in a way that is meaningful to them, and they’re inspiring others along the way.


This article was inspired by one of the Groundswell movies,  Colour Lines and Bike Lanes: Creating a place in the movement.

You can watch the movie below, and read more about it here.

Monday Night is Women’s Night

This article was written for The Bristol Bike Project, and originally published here.


Walking into the workshop at The Bristol Bike Project is a sensory experience. You hear the clinking of metal on metal, and the grinding of ratchet spanners. You smell the grease, the oil, and the rubber. You feel the grime of these things on your skin, and it’s a welcoming sensation.

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Photo from Women in Flow, a series by Rosa Lewis

Because if you’re walking into the workshop at The Bristol Bike Project, it’s likely that you enjoy this kind of thing. You want to get your hands dirty, play with some tools, and make a real connection with your bike.

But wanting it isn’t enough. You have to walk through the door, and for many women, this part isn’t so easy. Walking into a workshop can be intimidating for some women, because it is still a very male world.

Even in 2017, girls are not encouraged to learn mechanical skills, and there’s still an assumption among many people that they are less capable in this area. Many women don’t have the confidence to get stuck into the maintenance side of cycling, believing it to still be a bit of a boys’ club, and instead rely on bike shops or male friends to keep their bikes ticking over.

So as a woman in the workshop, it’s difficult to put your hand up and ask for help. You don’t want to be that girl who doesn’t know anything, and you may not want to rely on a man to help you.

But we’re changing that, one Monday at a time. Monday night is Women’s Night.

Because it’s important for women to learn these skills, and gain the confidence to enter the workshop. It helps them to become more independent cyclists, able to make necessary repairs while out on the road.

Many women who start this way really get a taste for it, and may even go on to become a bike mechanic themselves. Having female mechanics in bike shops is hugely encouraging for female customers, and could even result in those women walking through our doors on a Monday night.

So when you walk into the workshop at The Bristol Bike Project on a Monday night, you still get that same sensory experience: the grease, the oil, the grime and the grinding. But there’s one big difference: it is filled only with women. Monday nights are about providing a space for women to come and develop their skills and build their confidence, without concern over judgement or being overlooked for their male counterparts.

It’s just like the Thursday night Bike Kitchen: all the workshop’s tools are there for you to use, there’s a coordinator to run the session, and usually volunteers on hand to help you if you get stuck. But the onus is on you to get your hands dirty, and work on your bike yourself. There are no silly questions, and there’s no preconception about your capabilities.

It’s just you, your bike, some inspiring women, and the workshop.

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Photo from Women in Flow, a series by Rosa Lewis

Groundswell: Bicycle Culture Rising

If you’ve not heard of them, Joe Biel and Elly Blue are two writers, filmmakers and bicycle activists. They co-own Microcosm Publishing in Portland, Oregon, and are currently touring various cities in the UK with Groundswell: Bicycle Culture Rising.

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Photo: pdot.org/groundswell

The event comprises of 8 short films that delve into communities using bikes for social justice, and a discussion of the boundaries which undermine them.

On Tuesday 5th September, Joe and Elly came to Bristol and presented Groundswell to a packed-out workshop at The Bristol Bike Project. The night was organised by Lucy Greaves, a mechanic at the Project, and a wonderful wordsmith in her own right.

The night was hugely insightful, providing a glimpse into other cycling communities.

On the one hand we laughed with Peatonito, a Mexico City vigilante, facing the traffic head on and using guerrilla tactics to make public spaces safe for cyclists and pedestrians alike. All while wearing a custom-made lucha libre costume. We loved him.

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Photo: towardsthehumancity.org

On the other hand, we shook our heads in dismay and gasped at the treatment of a single mother, who has been pulled over, ticketed, and arrested more than once, just for riding her bike to work.

Other films tackled subjects like race, poverty, gender, and social isolation. I won’t talk about them in depth, you should just watch them for yourself. What I will say, is that it was hugely thought-provoking to glimpse into other worlds. Where for some, bikes are a form of social justice, and for others, they’re simply a way to get out into the world and meet other people. For one man in particular, bicycling quite literally saved his life.

But it wasn’t just about how people are making it happen. Some of the grassroots initiatives that we saw and talked about, didn’t quite achieve their goals. The reasons why they failed were also discussed.

Joe and Elly argue that in order for a city to be able to build a thriving cycling community, they need three things:

  1. Political proponents – local politicians who support cycling infrastructure, and ideally use it.
  2. Boardroom advocates – the important folk who schmooze with various influencers and acquire vital funding.
  3. Street-level activists – those of us who ride our bikes every day, showing that there is a demand for safe cycling infrastructure, and lobbying our governing bodies for change.

This made me question whether Bristol has what it takes to become a better cycling city. Supposedly it’s one of the best cities in the UK for cycling, and in many ways I can see why. We have plenty of bike lanes, both on- and off-road, shared use paths, space for bike parking, and a wealth of beautiful Sustrans/National Cycle Network routes at our disposal.

However, while these things make it possible to cycle around Bristol, many of them were clearly not well thought through. Many bike lanes are nothing but crumbling red paint on the left side of the road. Plenty of them suddenly end, and become car parking spaces. The road surfaces can be awful in certain parts of the city.

And yet, we are the home of Sustrans. For four years, George Ferguson was our mayor. Every day, scores of people commute to work by bike. Yet, I just don’t know if I can see things improving for us.

Of course, watching these films did make me realise that we have it better than many cities, and I recognise that we’re very lucky in that respect. But it made me question, if even a city like Bristol hasn’t managed to get it right yet, then what hope do others have?

Go watch the films, and tell me what you think. There were so many thought-provoking themes that came up that night, I’ll be exploring some of them further in future posts. Stay tuned for that.

Taking Dori off-road

I told you that I’ve been allowing myself some play time on the bike. I also mentioned that my confidence and skill level has really started improving.

I decided to take myself to Ashton Court to practise riding on gravel. I sometimes do Parkrun there, and I know the route it takes goes up a gravelly climb. I figured this would be a good place to start.

Originally I’d planned to take Regina, my lovely Orange CX bike, but alas, I stupidly cross-threaded one of her pedals in my eagerness to get out on a ride. Silly me. So I took Dori instead. She’s more than capable of these things, and knows gravel well already, despite our relationship still being in its early months.

I’m pleased to say the gravel climbing went well straightaway, so I attempted some gravel descending. It was okay at first, being a nice, gradual decline. However I must admit when it dropped steeper I lost my nerve a little.

To my left I saw an opening that led into the woods, and what looked like a bridleway, so I decided to explore that instead. It was nice: a bit muddy and riddled with tree roots, which made for an interesting challenge.

In the end I grew so much in confidence that I did something I didn’t think I was capable of. I took Dori – my steel touring bike, with her 32c tyres – onto the mountain bike trails.

Despite not being the right bike for the job, she certainly held up well.

Not only did I go on the trails, I spent about an hour flying through them, occasionally picking up a good pace and taking on some technical parts that would normally freak me out if I had time to think about them first. It was the fact that everything was moving so quickly that helped me keep my nerve. I didn’t have time to chicken out, I just tackled what came and reacted on instinct.

I had an absolute blast, and didn’t fall once. I felt in control of the bike, and on the few occasions where I felt I was losing control, I was able to stop on a flat part and regain my composure.

I’m so bloody proud of myself.

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Photo: mbswindon.co.uk

Time to Play

I recently left my full-time job to go part-time, meaning I have more days free to do the things I enjoy. I’ve been taking advantage of this, and riding my bike for fun a lot more often.

I came to a realisation that I not only want to ride faster and further, I want to ride better. What I mean by this, is that I want to ride with more confidence, balance, and skill. You may remember from my 10 Confessions of a Clumsy Cyclist, that I’m not the most nimble person and I’ve got a lot to learn still.

I didn’t really ride much as a child, so I missed that stage where you play: learning tricks, mucking about in the woods, and generally taking risks that build your confidence. So with my newfound leisure time, I’m setting myself a series of challenges, or goals. I’ve listed the skills and techniques that I want to learn, practise and perfect, in order to make myself a better cyclist.

Riding slowly, in a straight line

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Photo: robbholman.com

When I haven’t got to be anywhere quickly, I’m taking opportunities to shift into a low gear and slow right down. This is to help improve my balance and stability, which will be useful for commuting in traffic. On top of this, I’m aiming to be able to ride slowly in a straight line. This means tracing painted lines on quiet roads as slowly as possible, without jerking left and right too much. I’ve got a long way to go here, but my confidence is building.

Track standing

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Photo: bikesafeboston.com

Building from here, I want to be able to come to a complete stop and hold my position for as long as possible. Again, it’s all about improving my balance and stability, but it would also be nice to avoid having to unclip and re-clip as often as I do right now.

Riding one-handed

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Photo: wikihow.com

Technically I can already do this, but I’m much less confident taking my left hand off the bars than I am with my right. I don’t know why, but I struggle with it. So, every chance I get, I’m forcing myself to take my left hand fully away from the bars, placing it on my hip. I’m then riding like this for as long as possible, to show myself that I can very quickly re-gain my stability. This is going really well.

Riding no-handed

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Photo: bikelah.com

I’ve always wanted to be able to do this. It would be really useful to be able to sit up and remove a layer without having to stop, or unwrap a snack bar while riding. As my one-handed riding has already improved drastically, I’m making good progress with this too. I’m making a point of straightening up and just gently resting my finger tips on the top of the bars, until I gain a good amount of balance. I then lift my hands an inch or so. Gradually I’m able to do this for longer, and even had a recent breakthrough where I held it for so long that I confidently put both hands in my lap! I’m not there yet though, and still need a lot of practice.

Climbing out of the saddle

cyclingweekly . com
Photo: cyclingweekly.com

I’ve been getting much better at this and feel like my legs are so much stronger now. I’ve been experimenting with where to put my hands, and swinging the bike from side to side. The latter felt very strange the first time, but I’m improving slowly. I want to do this more because I find shifting into the granny gear and spinning up a hill isn’t very efficient when I’m trying to keep up with other riders who are on much lighter bikes than me. I want to be able to get up a hill quickly.

Scooting and mounting

bikeforest . com
Photo: bikeforest.com

I want to be able to mount efficiently. I see so many people placing their left foot on the pedal, kicking off into a scoot and swinging their right foot over the frame, planting themselves on the saddle and pedalling off. I’m nowhere near achieving this yet, but I’ve been working on simply scooting to find my balance. For some reason I naturally veer to the left, and I’m struggling to overcome this. No matter how much I concentrate, the moment my right foot leaves the ground, my hands pull the handlebars towards me.

Update: Since originally penning this post, I’ve now picked this up! Woohoo!

 

 

 

Dismounting

downtownexpress . com
Photo: downtownexpress.com

The same thing as before, but reverse. I’ve now mastered this one, but I still need a bit of practice. I’m able to slow, swing my right leg back and plant it on the ground, but I want to have such good balance that I can swing it into a scoot, and stay on the bike still. When Adam demonstrated these skills to me, he was slowly scooting along, swinging the right leg over, then back, then over, and then back again. I want to be able to do that.

 

 

 

 

 

Bunny hops

mbr . co . uk
Photo: mbr.co.uk

I want to be able to hop a curb. I frequently come up against this when riding home from the Bike Project, and I hate having to stop and lift my bike up onto the curb before getting going again. I also realise it’s a good skill to have for avoiding unexpected hazards in the road, like potholes. I’ve started off by practising lifting the front wheel only. I push all my weight down onto the bars, and then use the upward momentum to pull them up as I return to position. It’s really tiring, but I’ve been seeing progress and I just need to build my strength so I can get a bit more height. I’m not quite able to make the curb just yet.

That’s all of them! I’ll keep you updated on my progress. It’s nice to have some things to aim for, and work at. It’s not always just about how far I can go on the bike, after all.

August Adventure, Day 2: New Forest to Steyning

If you missed part one, click here.

Needless to say, we were pretty exhausted when we got up in the morning, and we still had a fair way to go on our journey. It was lovely to spend the sleepy morning under the trees though, cooking some hearty porridge on our stove and sipping a hot cup of tea.

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As it was a Monday morning, we decided to wait until after 9am to get going, so we could avoid the rush hour traffic.

We headed for Hythe, where we got our first ferry of the day. I made the great mistake of buying us coffees before we boarded, which made for a very stressful journey to the end of the pier. Pushing an extremely heavy and imbalanced bike with one hand, and holding a very hot cup of coffee in the other, proved to be more hassle than it was worth, particularly when we had to negotiate two sets of chicanes at each end. I dropped my bike more than once. On two occasions, a complete stranger held my coffee for me. #damselindistress.

Learning from that mistake, we kept the rest of our ferry trips coffee-free.

We arrived in Southampton and set off on the next part of our journey, though we weren’t there long before we crossed a bridge into Woolston, where we joined a nice coastal shared use path. The day would be filled with these paths which, while pleasant, don’t allow you to pick up much speed because of the sheer amount of people milling about, walking their dogs and their offspring.

Once again we had problems with the Garmin. It seems taking it on a ferry confuses it, and for the next few hours we were without turn-by-turn directions because it thought we were following a ‘trail’. We had to rely solely on Adam’s map-reading skills, and the teeny-tiny screen which occasionally decided to zoom out completely on its own. Bloody thing.

The second ferry took us from Hamble le-Rice to Warsash. It was a dinky little pink boat. The captain insisted it was fine for us and our bikes to board, though it wasn’t the easiest feat!

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More flat roads and coastal paths. It was pleasant, but after a while I found it a little boring. I never thought I’d crave some hills, but they do break it up a bit and make it more interesting.

I was also conscious of how slowly we were progressing, due to negotiating shared-use paths. At this point I was starting to worry about how long it would take us to reach Steyning, as it was getting later all the time and it felt like we were moving so slowly.

All we could do was keep going. We went through Lee-on-the-Solent towards Gosport. One of the nice things about this route was going past the Titchfield Haven Nature Reserve.

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In Gosport we got our final ferry, which took us into Portsmouth. Having finally finished the aquatic section of the route, we turned the Garmin off and on again, as it still hadn’t moved on from that ‘trail’. Unfortunately, while this was a success in terms of getting it working again, it also lost us some more time, because when it switched back on, we had to re-load the route. For some reason it takes forever and a day to calculate routes, particularly one as long as this. We found ourselves waiting around a lot.

By this time it was the evening rush hour, which we hadn’t considered as much as the morning. We left the coast and rode inland towards Chichester, where we stopped at a pub for the usual chips and soda.

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By the time we left, it was around 8pm, and the sky was beginning to darken. We still had 30 miles to go, and our Garmin had mysteriously switched itself off.

It had been plugged into a cache battery and was at 100%, but despite this, we just couldn’t get it going again. After waiting about 10-15 minutes for it to calculate the route, it would reach around 85% and then switch off again. We went through this a few times, growing more and more frustrated, tired, and cold.

It was fast approaching 9pm, we still hadn’t left Chichester, and we couldn’t use Google Maps because my phone’s battery was low from the previous day, and Adam’s GPS is broken. We weren’t having fun anymore, so we reluctantly pedalled to the train station.

We got the train to East Worthing and managed to find our way from there. We arrived at the house at around 10:30pm, with an Indian takeaway in tow, and quietly stuffed our faces in silence.

If anyone else has experienced these kinds of issues with a Garmin, I’d like to hear about it. I can’t work out if ours is defective, or if it’s just an unreliable piece of tech. I hear mixed reviews all the time.

Despite the troubles, it was a really good experience. It taught me to ride in lower gears, for one thing, and it was my first time doing two long-distance rides consecutively. I’m definitely up for another!