Less is More #SSCXEU2017
Less is More #SSCXEU2017
SS - singlespeed
CX - cyclocross
EU - Europe
2017 - now
Location - Brighton.
Format - 'Fondo' ride on the South Downs, Saturday; Party, Saturday night; A good old race in Stanmer Park, Sunday.
The drive from Leeds to Brighton isn't insubstantial. Friday night is not the best time to be making the trip. Time to think. Time to listen to Radio4, shuffle through forgotten new downloaded albums. Solitude. M1, slingshot around the M25, M23, A23, then past Brighton and on to Eastbourne. Beer and wine and friends. Old news, new news.
Group rides seem to take two forms. They are either competitive smashfests, stretching the group out until, eventually it goes pop; or the ride the settles into a conversational pace – with all its commas, full stops and italics. This was the latter. Our small group of friends and to-be-friends set off after the majority had already left, and showed no threat of catching them up.
It mattered not, as it was a freakishly mild February day. Rolling downs that could have been hopelessly exposed to any prevailing wind felt welcoming and friendly. The sun provided warmth and a sense of spring. We rode, chatted, stopped, fixed punctures and eventually made it to the pub stop. Fellow riders were lazing in the beer garden, pints in hand and bikes stacked against any spare portion of fence. We joined the queues for the bar and order beer and food and found a table. We sat for possibly a little too long. The sun was already dipping behind the looming Fulking Escarpment as we eventually set off. Tarmac quickly gave way to clay/chalk porridge and riding became walking, pushing, and clearing mud from between canti brakes.
With our backs to the sun, we made our return, aware that we were rapidly losing light, and hadn't had the foresight to bring lights. The sun eventually dipped below the horizon before we got back, but near enough to home that we could enjoy riding a final piece of bridleway in half light, roots and fallen branches just visible in the shadows.
Now with lights strapped to bikes, we traced the seafront from Shoreham to Brighton, clicking into the bar with SPDs. It's something I'm used to. I'm less used to my choice of footwear being in the majority. Rehydrating with beer is always a good idea at the time. It was a good idea. The return ride, alcohol fuelled and sweaty felt quicker than the way out. Sleep came easily when it eventually came.
It turns out drinking strong beer and little sleep is not wholly conducive to feeling ready to race for an hour. Slow start, and a body in shock, trying to remember how to race. Simultaneously wanting to be elsewhere, while trying to be up there. Singletrack descents that rewarded momentum and the intangible 'flow'. Cheers and heckles in equal measure. Beers and battles that were good enough to wait and try all over again. At some point, I stopped hurting; actually, the hurting just changed. It was no longer something that I was seeking to escape and actually just part of the game. It was fun. The race didn't matter, and because of that it mattered... not where I came, but how much fun I had in getting there.
Racing Belgians in fancy dress, high-fiving friends in the crowds, Madison slingshots for strangers, and one more lap than expected.
And it's done. I stand and chat and get cold, to the brothers who make beautiful magazines about riding bikes, the girl who rides bikes and used to live in Leeds but now lives in London, the two different designers of bikes, the man who draws a sheep that rides bikes, the many other friends I've made because they too happen to ride a bike.
The drive home is one of many coffee stops, hood pulled over sweat-tousled hair. I wheel in a muddy bike and prop it up against the old wooden chest of memories. A few more were made this weekend.
Dave Hayward for the great photo all the way up there ^^^^
Dean, Jo, Phil, Katie, Raluca, James and Todd for the company on Saturday's ride. Thanks to Todd for the blinky lights too.
All the other friends that made the weekend special. The Bacons, Dom, Philip and Andrew, Chris, Adam, Soph, Mark, Oli, Nicky, Matt and I'm sure there are others I've missed.
A bicycle is an object, a thing, or perhaps more accurately, a collection of things. These objects have an intrinsic beauty and worth (and I am as attracted to shiny and new as much as anyone), the real value of a bike isn't in its physical being, but in where it can take me, the fun it brings while being ridden. A low sun lighting up mountain peaks will last in my memory longer than it takes fresh paint to pick up the scratches and scuffs of use.
I'm lucky enough to own bikes covering most niches and corners of the riding spectrum. From fixed wheel road bikes through to cyclocross bikes and my first love of mountain biking. I test many more. Most are good bikes. They do what they are meant to and deliver me to the quiet roads, local woods, far away mountains. Do I love them? No. I am sentimentally attached to them though... as much for the stories that they have helped me to tell as the bikes themselves. There are some that I will never part with... the SSCX bike with a frame gifted by a dear friend, the first frame given to me as a "supported" rider, Jenn's Cotic Solaris – the only one of her bikes that can I squeeze myself on to for the occasional short spin.
Not long after Jenn died my friend, Lee, sent me a care package. It included a pile of components from different manufacturers, each personalised. They have all been fitted and used for a year now, with the exception of a pair of Hope hubs. I wanted to use them for something special, but didn't know what. I kept riding #forjenn, for myself, but the hubs sat in their box.
With my old Tallboy getting a little long in the tooth, it was time to buy a new full suspension mountain bike. I've got a love for mid-travel 29ers for along, up, down, repeat type riding, and the Cotic FlareMAX looked like the perfect tool for the job, with a firm nod towards having as much fun as possible on the descents. I've long admired Cy's approach to bike design, and I'm a sucker for a well worked steel frame. Oh, and that aqua blue!
As soon as I received the special hubs, Al at the awesome Garage Bikes asked if he could build them up. He knew that these would be more than just a set of wheels. And for me, it was even more special to know I'd be rolling along on a pair of hoops that were built with care and love, by a close friend. The cranks were a pair that Jenn gave to me. I wanted a bit of her with me for the ride. You can barely make out the "Race Face Next SL" logo any longer... long since scuffed off by her turned in ankles. I liked that even when brand new, this bike would have bring memories with it, as well as creating new ones. Other than a couple of minor details (more on those later), I had few other components sitting around worthy of hanging of a new bike. Thanks therefore also go to Singletrack Magazine (particularly Wil and Hannah), who offered up some primo test kit, as well as a few items from the "office spares" box.
Riding is not, and never should be a serious matter. Sometimes it is hard, sometimes it doesn't feel like much fun. It's during those times I'll look down at the donut headset cap, again a gift – this time from the lovely Christian of North Bar fame. And who can hold a poker face, or a Chris Froome grimace when you have a Simpsons-esque sticky bun staring back at you?
It has been noted on a couple of occasions that I don't really do "subtle". I'm not sure what people mean... but, there was something about the aqua paint job that screamed for clashing components. I've avoided purple anodising since my first MTB dripped in it. No component was spared. More was indeed more. It may have taken me 20something years to shed my aversion, but I'm glad I did. Thank you to the all round ace Julia Hobson and Hope for helping me relive my youth.
And I sit writing this with the FlareMAX directly behind me, propped against the wall and on a promise of a ride this weekend. It's already less shiny than the day it was built. I've not had the heart to wash off the dust from an autumnal trip to Spain with Pure Mountains. That paint has already picked up a couple of scuffs. It's no less or more beautiful as a result. It is, after all, just a bike. A very, very good bike, but just a bike. The difference is, this one doesn't just bring me happiness through the adventures I take it on; it is also a physical reminder of some of the great people I have in my life. Nearly all of the friendships have been made through riding, they are the giggles at the bottom of trails, wheels to rest on in the wind, they keep me straight and true. For that, I feel as lucky as ever... and look forward to many, many more rides in the future.
It was back in the spring of 2015 that Chris Davies and I (along with Jamie - Chris' drone pilot and my wife, Jenn) made the long journey north to Assynt, and the small coastal town of Lochinver.
Ever since Chris had got his drone license, we had a plan in mind to shoot a trail running short. I wanted to pick the most spectacular location I could think of - somewhere that would really make the most of the variety of shots a drone would offer. We had a tough 4 days shooting, but got lucky with the weather (mostly) and headed home with some great shots in the bag. Editing always takes a long time, especially when squeezing it in between other work. We also wanted an original soundtrack that matched the drama and majesty of the landscape. Fortunately my brother, Alex is a composer by trade, and has created a beautiful score.
The full story of the film will be live on Sidetracked in the near future. I'll be sure to let you know when. In the mean time, grab a brew, settle back and enjoy.
#fromthefrontdoor was a call to arms at the start of this year. This was my post on my blog at the time:
I’m on the bed, legs covered by the duvet, feet sticking out the end. The nooks and wrinkles, under my toenails, the cuticles are stained black with mud. I did (kind of) wash them in the shower, but I was cold and just wanted to stand in the jet of warm water, carefully keeping my still icy hands out of the stream. The temperature differential meant the water felt boiling, and I did’t want to risk chilblains. It was an interim stage in finding warmth, quickly followed by dry merino and a down gilet.
Now, warm, fed and sipping a mug of tea, I can allow post-exercise hormones to wash over me – less frenetic than the water tumbling out of the shower, more like sliding into a deep, warm bath. Contentment that I can only achieve through aerobic exertion.
We have had an active Christmas – a mini-break in the Lake District spanning the 25th itself involved mountain biking, hiking and running in near-desered hills. Upon returning to Leeds, I have had solo rides, rides with friends, rides with Jenn. Each has had a similar feel, if a different route and different company. Pace has been relaxed, and duration squeezed into daylight hours – usually after a luxurious lie in.
A couple of days ago, tucked up on the sofa with a beer and a laptop, I was catching up on film-based inspiration, playing Vimeo and YouTube hopscotch, clicking from a backcountry-skiing video to a Himalayan mountaineering one, to another trail running on pristine desert tracks. Sitting in a small front room, in a small terraced house, on a small backstreet, in a suburb of a city in northern England, I felt a yearning to be out “there” – anywhere. There was maybe even a pang of jealousy, as I sat watching these people completely immersed in their chosen pass time. I clicked on a series of videos on the Arc’teryx website. As well as making very posh, very expensive outdoor kit, they have some excellent quality media content tucked away on their small corner of “http land”. Justin Lamoureux is a backcountry snowboarder, living in Squamish. After travelling the world ticking off “must do” locations, he realised he was neglecting his own backyard, and decided to set aside a season to ride all the mountains visible from his house.
It’s a nice idea, and the resulting videos are well worth grabbing a brew and a biscuit for and settling down to watch. Squamish is a pretty amazing backyard though. From my house, I can see rows of other terraced houses that’s it. There are no mountains accessible without getting in the van and driving for a few hours. I can’t run or ride a trail without spending at least some time on tarmac first. I almost started to feel sorry for myself again. A seed was planted though…
Riding with friends a few days ago gave me the chance to see my local trails with fresh eyes, share my enthusiasm for “the good bits”. We managed to string together a 25 mile loop with minimal road riding, right from home. I can hit off road trails within minutes of closing the door. Not only that, they are fantastic trails – real quality stuff. Admittedly they aren’t in the best of nick this time of year, but it just means that I can appreciate them all the more come spring. There are still trails that I haven’t explored. On today’s run, I took at least two minor detours from my usual well worn path. Road riding with Jenn a couple of days ago, I was on an under geared SSCX bike, it forced me to look up and around more than I usually would. Bare trees and bushes allow for a longer line of sight than summer. I spotted paths to explore – a few were the best kind, little snickets tucked against the wall of a house or barn, begging to be investigated further.
So, this year I will be starting my own backyard project. I will be taking the time to appreciate what I have available to me on the doorstep. Fun powered by nothing else than my own steam. I will shut my red front door, and keep exploring locally. I will be recording my experiences here, on instagram with the #fromthefrontdoor hashtag and keeping a track on the actual routes via Strava. I will savour the moments of solitude that a few square kms of woods can provide, even when it is tucked on the outskirts of a busy city. I will appreciate the joy that can be achieved by sharing the best experiences with friends. I will deliberately get lost, I will have to untangle myself from brambles, I will ride through dogshit, I will plunge into muddy puddles, I’ll discover dead ends. I’ll also touch history, take the time to stop and look, I’ll watch red kites watching me, I’ll hopefully find some gems of undiscovered trails, be able to increase the variety of “getting from here to there” options and find new “theres” to get to.
Realistically, I’ve been doing this as long as I’ve been running and riding – it is nothing new, and hey, if I didn’t I wouldn’t get to ride or run a tenth as much as I do. I just want to take the time to document it, both mentally and in cyberspace, to take a step back and appreciate what I’ve got. I want to make sure I don’t get stuck into the routine of doing the same rides and runs, forever taking the same path.
I’ll also climb into the van with riding and running kit. I’ll visit new places, I’ll savour being in hills, mountains and wilderness. I’ll travel shorter distances, to friends’ houses, to Garage Bikes, to ride the trails that are out of their front door. I will, however always come home. Local runs, rides (both road and trail) will not be training for the next adventure. They will be the adventure itself.
I’m not the first person to use the hashtag #fromthefrontdoor, and I’ve no intention of being the last. I’d like to extend the invitation to all my blog followers – show me your local trails. That patch of woods that you run past on the pavement? Go and explore. The left hand lane, when you always take the right? Take the left. The esoteric crag at the back of the guide book? Go climb it.
What are you waiting for? Crack on.
Nearly nine months on, and the project is very much alive. From a personal perspective, I've explored new trails on my own patch, found new favourite spots, rediscovered forgotten pockets of woodland, felt more connected to my home. What has been even nicer is seeing others adopting the #fromthefrontdoor hashtag, and getting out on their local patch, whether it be on foot or on bike. I'll do a full round up at the end of the year, and documenting my thoughts in Sidetracked Magazine.