As all Cyclists know, nothing quite compares to the thrill of a new bike day. Bringing it home, inspecting it, showing it to any family and friends who are prepared to listen (in my case this number has dwindled considerably over the years) and finally getting it ready to ride. I had one such day this past Saturday, I must say that my MTB is quite something. Sporting an upgraded 1×11 drivetrain it proved to be a true bargain for a mere £375. I’ve always been wary of second hand purchases but in this case I was very impressed with the condition of the bike.

On went garmin mount, bottle cage, lights and saddlebag. All that remained was to take it out for a first spin. Luckily I’m fairly familiar with most of the local bridleways (for any non-UK readers that’s a term for trails that are accessible to pedestrians, MTB’ers and horse riders) from my horse riding days. This morning I decided to take the plunge and enter the off-road world. At the very least I wouldn’t be reliant on my famously appealing sense of direction, having programmed a rough route into my trusty Garmin GPS, as it would later turn out, rough wasn’t quite good enough.

This can’t be too difficult”. I thought in my naivety, after all I would consider myself an experienced cyclist by this stage having raced on the road (albeit with limited success), ridden the length of Britain and completed the Ventoux Cingles challenge to name a few. My ego was due a big reality check, half a mile from my front door I turned onto the first off-road section – a narrow track that at first glance seemed very straightforward. That was before I realised just how deep the mud was, those massive tyres at a pressure of 30psi that seemed cumbersome on the road now came into their own. Nonetheless it was hard enough to just to stay in a straight line and avoid ending up in the hedge.

I realised immediately that some new equipment was going to be needed in order to make these rides more straightforward, namely a set of mudguards and a water bottle with a secondary cap to protect the drinking apparatus from the mud and whatever else had been deposited in the Dorset Countryside. After some uneventful miles on the road the next trail came up. This one was even tougher, a gravelled uphill section for which I needed the 40t gear on the back which I had initially scoffed at at. Next came a muddy descent, punctuated with murky and unavoidable puddles. Some of which turned out to be much deeper than I thought (we’re talking the bike getting stuck and me having to get off and pull it out).

By this point I had given up hope of achieving any speed goals I had in my head, just surviving this first ride was going to be enough. Unsurprisingly there wasn’t much of a let up, a steep hill that is relatively painless on a 8kg road bike was another matter entirely on my 15kg MTB setup. You know it hasn’t been easy when you look down to see if you have a puncture (i.e. prey this is the reason why your legs don’t seem to be getting you anywhere).

Next came the most difficult off-road section of the whole ride. I vaguely remembered something about this particular path being next to impassable in the winter but rather foolishly dismissed it. Half a mile later I was in trouble again, ankle deep mud that simply wasn’t rideable with my as yet ‘undeveloped’ (utterly crap) off road skills. It was reminiscent of those very early days on the road bike, pushing the bike along the trail just as I had once had to do on a regular basis when the hills got too steep for my rather large frame. On the plus side once the wooded section had been negotiated I was rewarded with that rather spectacular sunrise that you see below.

More of the same followed. Lifting my bike over a fence and riding through a field of rather bemused looking sheep. If nothing else this MTB thing was proving to be far from boring, due to the level of concentration required in order to stay upright time passed very quickly. Cutting a long story short I made it out in one piece, hoping against hope that the next few sections would prove to be more straightforward.

At first it appeared I was right. Miraculously the next trail turned out to have a reasonable surface. It was the most fun I’d had on a bike in a long time, bouncing over small rocks and trying to avoid large ones whilst pushing the pace as high as I dared. You won’t be surprised to hear that this spell of cockiness was short lived. The next obstacle turned out to be a river, in the spirit of adventure I decided to ignore the perfectly good bridge that some sensible person had erected and ride through it. I could see that it wasn’t too deep, sadly what hadn’t caught my eye was a small rocky shelf in my path. Suffice to say I came very close to falling into the river. My loud cry of ‘Oh Sh*t’ was probably heard for miles around.

After negotiating that section I was considerably more wary, apprehensive of what the very last off-road stretch might hold – it was the only one I had never seen before. It wasn’t long before I was cursing myself for not having paid more attention when plotting the route, a tricky dilemma presented itself. Namely whether to go to the left or the right of a certain hedge line, I couldn’t remember for the life of me what the guide book I’d read the day before had specified. I went with my gut and chose the right hand path, you won’t be surprised to hear it was the wrong one.

Obstacle number one was a field of turnips, it wasn’t hard to see that the path going around the edge was poorly maintained and probably unrideable. My only choice therefore was to go as the crow flies, I failed to appreciate just how steep the descent that followed actually was. I won’t deny that several turnip plants were caught in the crossfire. Having survived that experience I arrived at a rusty gate that looked as if it hadn’t been opened in about twenty years.

Now things got really interesting, according to my Garmin the only way to get home was to plow straight through a patch of woodland with no discernible path running through it. Once again I begrudgingly began to push my bike, dodging logs and branches and hopping over the occasional stream. All appeared to be going well until I arrived right back where I’d started having walked round in a circle. I would certainly never make it as an explorer.

The second time round I made it out of the woods, quite literally. Had I taken the left hand path I would of course have instead come to a perfectly rideable track. Mercifully the last off-road mile was straightforward with the exception of one particularly deep puddle which took me by surprise. It’s going to be a while before I can invest in a pair of clipless pedals, had it not been for the flats that came with the bike I would no doubt have fallen off several times.

What’s the verdict? Mountain Biking is a strange new world but one which I am very eager to learn more about. It’s been a long time since I last had enough to say about a ride that I could dedicate an entire post to it. My second hand MTB performed very well, sadly the bloke riding it is in need of some very serious work.

Thanks for reading.

2 thoughts on “Fail to Prepare

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