Merry Christmas. A phrase that I have been trying and failing to utter with a degree of sincerity since December began. Getting into the festive spirit is hard enough at the best of times but at the end of the University term it becomes something of a herculean task. I don’t mind admitting that I’m utterly spent, a combination of illness, injuries, assignment deadlines and other sources of stress have made these last few weeks ‘challenging’ to say the least. In terms of training it’s been the worst winter I’ve ever had, at best managing half the weekly volume I was able to complete last year. Anyway, rant over for now.

In the midst of all the upheaval I have at least had some time to think about my goals for 2018. Unlike last year I’m not banking on being competition ready in March when the Cycling / Triathlon competitive season begins. Instead I’ve had to have a rethink, earmarking events taking place later on in the summer for which I hope I’ll have time to rectify the damage that’s been done over the winter. Having once sworn never to enter one again I’m targeting another Half-Ironman distance race in June.

Rather scarily I’ll turning 21 in February, it’s with this in mind that I’ve set out to try new things before the responsibilities that come with adulthood really begin to make their mark. For a long time I have been loosely thinking of dipping my toe into the off-road world and hitting the trails. I like the idea of escaping the traffic and being able to venture deeper into the open countryside that characterises much of South West England. In addition it opens up the possibility of trying some new forms of competition, perhaps XC-MTB will suit me better than road racing did.

Up until recently there has been one glaring flaw in this plan, lack of a suitable bike. Being a student this venture was always going to be largely dictated by budget, a full-suspension carbon dream machine is off the table. To that end I’ve been browsing all the usual websites, scanning through bike reviews is after all a brilliant means of procrastination. This time round it’s been about trying to find the best possible value for money. From the perspective of a relative outsider there seems to be even more choice when it comes to Mountain Bikes than with the Road going variety. Of course there are the usual things to look for; weight, material, groupset, wheels, etc. Equally I’ve had to familiarise myself with a few new ones; amount of travel, wheel size and whether it’s hydraulic or mechanical discs to name some examples. If only I could apply myself to Uni work this well.

I had my mind set. One model stood out head and shoulders above the rest, a level of equipment not seen on any other bike at that price point. It was going to take some time to get the money together but I was hopeful that by the time of my 21st I’d have enough funds to give myself that extra gift. Sadly the bike itself is only one of a long list of accessories needed. Knee pads, Shoes, Pedals, Bottle cages, Spare tubes and tyres just to name a few. Realistically it was going to be late spring before I had the chance to start learning the craft.

It was then that I came across a rare piece of good luck. I’ve always had a keen eye for a Cycling bargain and this was one I couldn’t ignore. A second hand mountain bike of the perfect size and spec, even the 1x drivetrain I was looking for. Better still it was on for less than half the price of the new model. Having had a particularly challenging day before this point I decided to investigate further, feeling that familiar urge that we Cyclists all come to know so well.

Suffice to say that if all goes to plan a new edition will very soon be made to my two-wheeled family. At this very moment I’m still trying to iron out a few kinks in the plan, minor questions such as: “Where am I going to keep it when there is no space at all in the garage?”,  “Where do people actually go to ride mountain bikes around here“, “Is it acceptable to wear Lycra on the trails”  and of course the inevitable “How do I justify the purchase of another machine to non-cycling friends and family members who I suspect will (sensibly) ask why on earth I required an additional bike”. Time to break out my copy of the rules of cycling and explain the N+1 concept.

Ultimately this new purchase has served to give me hope that things might finally be looking up. Winter will come to an end, assignments should get handed in on time, injuries will heal and hopefully the irritating head cold that I’ve been nursing for the last ten days will lose it’s grip on me. My fellow students and I can all look forward to heading home for Christmas and recharging our batteries before the inevitable last minute cramming leading up to January exams. Perhaps I will come to find that elusive festive spirit after all.

Thanks for reading.

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