In full confession mode I can admit that I have recently been cheating on both Albert and Claud, leaving them waiting oblivious at home whilst I sneak off to enjoy the illicit, heady excitement of a new experience….getting down and dirty and discovering the fun of Mountain Biking.
I should probably clarify at this point that Albert and Claud are my road and touring bikes respectively and my (joint) first loves.
NB I’m not about to go into the whole naming thing for bikes – I’ll just say that when you spend that many hours with something experiencing the same highs and lows as the most intimate of relationships, the bike develops a whole personality, let alone a name.
I am definitely a ‘Roadie’ at heart. I love riding on tarmac, sailing serenely along on the road, passing the clunky Mountain Bikers chugging home, covered in mud and labouring up hills on their thick, knobbly tyres. I would often smile indulgently as I dropped down a gear and shot by them, the sleek, slight racehorse-like road bike slicing aero dynamically past their shaggy-pony-frames.
But that was before. Before I was recently persuaded by a friend to stray over to the ‘dark side’ and, for the first time, head off road and up sand dunes, across forest trails and through bogs.
Don’t tell anyone but….it’s liberating and more than that, it’s great fun!!
I’ve been flirting with the idea of trying Mountain Biking for a while now – ever since a friend sent me Danny Macaskill’s amazing and atmospheric short film – The Ridge (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQ_IQS3VKjA)
This amazing film shows an expert biker balanced on the knife edge of a Scottish mountain ridgeline, the view, courtesy of his helmet-cam, is of a white knuckle technical descent in which he gracefully hops, shimmies and blasts down the iconic Black Cuillin Ridge in Skye.
In my head I was going to be (a female) Macaskill all cool, style and skidding tyres. However, now, actually sitting on the bike, about to plunge off the lip of a precipitous, near vertical stony incline (reached after sweatily pushing the bike up a path too steep to negotiate in the saddle) my fear of heights and instinct for self-preservation have banished all such thoughts of chic from my mind. Now I’ll just settle for getting down in one piece, with limited pain.
Dropping nearly head first down the embankment, I recognise that I have no control whatsoever, rocks and trees race past and under the wheels in a blur as I fight with the bike to steer round the biggest boulders and through narrow, twisting gullies.
At some points I feel like a ball in one of those arcade pin-ball machines as I bounce down the trail, careening off the side of bushes, boulders, embankments, skidding across mud and sand slicks, but, by some miracle I’m still upright and now with an insane, muddy grin plastered over my face.
Completely embracing my inner child (and high on adrenalin) I head for every patch of mud and water I can find, bogs that are knee deep, cycling into them full tilt, coming to a sticky, squelchy halt before sinking into the mud and wading out pulling the bike (and my shoes) from the treacly, earthy soup.
It’s technical, challenging riding and it’s completely different from any way in which I’ve ridden before. It’s exhausting, it’s exhilarating and it’s battering. In fact I’ve never fallen off so much.
It amazes me that, last year, I managed to ride over 5000 miles on Claud the touring bike, with road cleats, and have not one solitary fall. None…..Yet in the few times I’ve been Mountain Biking I’ve already managed to hit the deck on a good half dozen occasions or more meaning I always finish the rides covered in an equal amount of muck and bruises, luckily, so far it’s just my ego that’s taken the biggest beating.
As much as I’m enjoying the MTB fling, the sensible part of me, the bit that values my limbs and my own mortality, isn’t seriously tempted to throw over a well cultivated relationship with road riding just yet. But this unexpected dalliance has been an amazing amount of fun, and, bike-wise, there’s still room yet for a little bit more on the side.