Clipping in off-road

I promised you progress, and I’m happy to deliver. Sort of.

Last Sunday I met up with Lucy, Grainne and her partner Livi, and the four of us rode around Ashton Court and had lots of fun.

I used the day to test out my newly purchased Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch II shoes, and Time ATAC MX4 pedals.

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Baptism of fire

I’d had every intention of giving myself plenty of time to adapt to the new set up. Having only ever clipped into my Shimano pedals before, I had no idea what the tension would be like on the Time ATACs, especially as they’re non-adjustable.

However, the best intentions rarely go to plan, and I found myself flailing about my flat 10 minutes before I needed to leave, in desperate search of a pedal spanner*.

*a pedal spanner that, it turns out, we actually don’t have.

With a train looming, I hurriedly stuffed my new pedals in my backpack and cycled over to Lucy’s with an awkward cleat + flat pedal combo.

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Photo: Lucy Greaves

In her mechanical prowess, Lucy had my new pedals installed in record time, and was ushering me back out the door before I knew it. Suddenly I was on the street, with these strange new pedals, and we had a train to catch.

I’m happy to report that there was nothing to worry about at all. The tension is perfect.

We rode up to Ashton Court from Clifton Down station, and I immediately became aware of how much more efficient my power output was when going uphill.

I’ve struggled endlessly with the actual ride to the trails. My bike’s lockout doesn’t work, so when I’m riding on tarmac I’m contending with a fair amount of suspension, and a 2×11 groupset which I’m struggling to use efficiently.

So, let’s just say that the journey this time was a bit more energy efficient, and I adapted to my new setup almost instantly.

The Setup

Lucy was riding a Cannondale owned by Lee Craigie herself (no I’m not jealous AT ALL), which she’s had on loan for a little while and was looking to get some more use out of before giving it back.

Grainne, on the other hand, was on a single-speed, which would prove not only that she must have legs of steel, but also that SS mountain bikes suck when it comes to steep, rocky climbs. Sorry Grainne. Get some gears 😉

Livi was on a Kona of some description that I didn’t get much of a look at, but she seemed happy enough.

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Excuse the blur. L-R: Livi, Grainne, and Lucy

Sunday Funday

It was a glorious start to the day. The sun was shining, the temperature was chilly but not debilitating, and we were all super excited to get rolling around the trails.

Lucy made a comment about how it’s traditional for it to be snowing at Ashton Court when we go riding there. I felt the need to point out that we’d in fact only ridden there once, so that doesn’t quite make it a tradition, but I soon ate my words.

As we ascended to the start of the trail, the sky became more of a gloomy grey, the windchill became more biting, and the clouds opened. Only this time, it wasn’t lovely snow. It was hail.

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My phone camera is too terrible to do it justice, so you’ll just have to believe me that it was way bigger and cooler than this in real life.

So Lucy got her way, and we proceeded into the woods under a sky containing a very mixed bag of elements for us.

A knock and a boost

Despite the big boost in confidence I gained from riding in the Forest of Dean, I felt my confidence waver pretty early on in this ride.

Maybe I was too conscious of the fact that my feet were fixed to the pedals, and I was concerned about not being able to put a foot down when I needed to stop suddenly.

Maybe it was also because I was proving to feel extremely unfit that day. I’d not been very well the week before, and perhaps still doing my usual commuting by bike, daily yoga and running a 10k the Wednesday before had proven to be too much for me.

Despite the better power output, I was starting to struggle up the part of the Nova trail that leads to the quarry, and I pulled over a couple of times to let other riders past. I reverted back to feeling like I should be at the back of the group, and this feeling started to show in my handling of the bike.

I misjudged a couple of corners, almost hitting a tree on one occasion, and coming to a very abrupt stop. Admittedly, this taught me that even in an emergency, at least I can unclip.

But it shouldn’t have happened in the first place. It’s like, even though I had the theory memorised (“look at the exit, steer with your belly button, use your hips!”), I was overthinking it almost, and by the time I followed my own instructions, I was too deep into the berm to do anything about it, so I just carried straight on over the side and off the track completely.

However, once we reached the big, rocky climb (if you know, you know), I came back to life. Part of me was terrified of a repeat of what happened when we took a wrong turn in the Mendips, but another part knew that being able to pull up as well as push down, was going to make all the difference. It was touch-and-go at one point, but when I got to the top I felt a sense of relief, and started to believe in myself again.

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On the way back up. Photo: Lucy Greaves

Round Two

After the first lap, we got a coffee from the cafe, which gave me a chance to ease my nerves and get my head back in the game. At the time I wasn’t sure if I felt capable of doing a second round, both mentally and physically, but I’m glad we did. It went a lot more smoothly than the first.

Grainne commented on how much faster I was going, and although I did slow down a bit on the climb up to the quarry, I was being a lot more forgiving to myself, and that made all the difference. Sometimes you have to make allowances for yourself and not expect to be perfect all the time.

As Katherine said: “you need to let yourself be a beginner”. Still the best advice I’ve ever been given.

So this time around, I knew what to expect. I knew where the muddiest parts were, I anticipated the parts where I’d messed up beforehand and made sure not to do it again.

On round two I didn’t make any unprecedented stops at all.

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Always room for improvement

One thing that I didn’t quite achieve that I’d set out to do, was a particular rock garden that you encounter on the way back from the quarry. The path splits into two: one with a rock garden and one without. This is the rock garden I’d mentioned avoiding at all costs beforehand. This time I really wanted to give it a go.

My main problem was that I couldn’t keep my momentum on the lead-up to it, meaning by the time I got there, I was going too slowly to just roll over it.

In the lead-up to it there are a few rollers, and ideally you need to pump (or jump) your way through them to keep that speed up. That’s something I’ve not yet mastered, and so that’s the next thing I need to work on.

I’ve already made a start on this, but for the sake of not making this a novel, I’ll tell you about it soon.

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