I bought a mountain bike this week (a Revolution Triad 3, for those of you interested). I love road biking, a lot – it’s one of the default places my mind goes to seek refuge at points of boredom (read: work), thinking about notching up the miles on a vast stretch of up and down country road on a sunny day. Since summer dwindled into autumn, however, then with winter setting in and the days getting short, and car drivers getting seemingly more clumsy and idiotic, my mind had begun to wander towards riding where there weren’t any cars, and where winter might make things more fun as opposed to a little bit less fun. For that, a mountain bike would be required. And so in a suspension of financial prudence, a mountain bike was acquired.
This weekend, a rare weekend of not being at work, was an opportunity to get out and give the new ride, and my body, a bloody good thrashing, so myself and my more experienced mountain rider buddy Adam set out to Edale, in the Peak District, to attempt one of several rides we had in mind.
We were staying the night before and after at the YHA hostel at Edale, a decent if somewhat institutional hostel that was near enough several rides that we could just set off from there in the morning. We got there relatively late on the Friday evening, cooked ourselves up a mountain of pasta and drank wine out of tea cups so as to not get caught flouting their don’t-drink-any-booze-apart-from-our-overpriced-rubbish policy. I was knackered after having been up since pre-dawn, so after a while we retired to our bunks.
I woke up in the morning feeling, to be honest, crap. I had a bit of a hangover, but mainly I think I was suffering from the fact that the heating in the hostel was turned up to a level that means it will probably be solely responsible for the demise of the species through resource wars in the coming century. The heating was turned up higher than in an old dears’ care home. So groggily, we had breakfast and then got ready for the day. I had a couple of new pieces of kit to put on, some leg warmers and proper winter gloves. Stepping outside, I instantly felt like kissing myself on the face for buying these, as I knew that my day would have been somewhat grim without them.
We set off along a footpath, pushing our bikes as we are conscientious ambassadors for cycling as opposed to hoodlums. We had decided to do the route that Adam’s mountain bike magazine suggested was the best one to do in the Peak District if you only did one, and its difficulty was rated as ‘medium’. After a mile or so, bridleway was in sight, as were a group of horses (and riders) coming up said bridleway. We hopped on our bikes for the last bit of footpath so as to get going up the first hill before we got stuck behind them.
This was my first proper rocky, from my point of view difficult, hill on a mountain bike and my technique was clearly lacking somewhat. I was struggling with not pulling a wheely every time I got going after stopping, and it immediately became clear it was going to use my body in a whole different way to the cycling I was used to. Some pushing was required. But it was fun. A little frustrating, but a lot of fun.
Eventually, we reached the top of this hill, and I got my first little bit of downhill. It all became clear at this point – the rewards of every downhill made every single slog up hill completely worth it. Flying down this hill, Adam putting distance between us and bunny hopping over steps in the hill, showing off his experience, I must have been grinning, and we forded a fairly wide stream at the bottom here before another uphill awaited. I had to push up a lot of this one, as with the previous one, and a welcome break halfway up was taken as a tractor came past slowly down the track. Once we reached the top of this hill, we were on the route proper. And it began with an enormous stretch of downhill, through puddles and mud, which was bloody brilliant. I could already feel my confidence rising, and I was beginning to develop some vague form of technique.
After a while, we got down to Ladybower reservoir, around which the route was taking us, and crossed the dam at the bottom of it. Shortly after this, we stopped for a cup of tea and a chip butty to get out energy reserves built up before slogging out way up Derwent moor. This was the toughest part of the ride, as it was incredibly boggy and, at my level of skill, nearly impossible to ride. Eventually, we reached the top of the hill and the view was stunning. It was really high up, and despite having been more on foot than I’d have liked, there was a clear sense of achievement. (However, we were only halfway round at this point, so time was not for wasting. Incidentally, at this point, my phone which had been GPS tracking our ride conked out. It was good to get the first half of the ride recorded, however, and if you’re interested, you can see that here: Ladybower Ride First Half).
We had a glorious period of downhill here, where I had my second fall (the previous having been a very slow one on the ascent), which was over the front into a load of mud. It was pretty funny, and falling was helping to increase my confidence too. We met some more serious looking riders, about fifteen of them in one big group, coming past us up the hill here, and let some people who were going somewhat faster than us (me) past us on the way down. One of them informed me that my pedal clips/baskets would be the death of me, and he is probably right. I wasn’t really using them, and will likely take them off my mountain ride.
We got to the bottom at the head of the reservoir at the bottom of this hill, probably about two thirds of the way round, and realised we probably only had about 45 minutes of daylight left. Hmm. Well, all we could do was press on. The next uphill was just not going to happen in the saddle, and we both pushed our bikes up almost all of it as dusk set in. ‘Medium’ difficulty involved some seriously rocky climbs that required a lot more technique than I had, but if you don’t push yourself then you don’t progress. We had another steep downhill at the end of this, which was fun but my eyesight isn’t the best and it was beginning to get tough to see, making concentration a must and regulating the speed at which I tackled descents. Thankfully, Adam has a ridiculously powerful headlight which began to be of use here. At this point, it was pretty much dark, and all that was left for us was the steepest climb of the lot. Oh. We pushed our bikes up here, and reached the top of the ascent out of breath and in the dark. This point was where we had joined the route, so we had done the entire circuit. I felt great about this, regardless of all the pushing, as it was 20 something miles more than I had ever really done off road before. Riding back towards the hostel, downhill with Adam behind me lighting the way, I was really tired, but really happy, enjoying the last little bit of bumping over rocks and nearly falling off.
We got back to the hostel after the slowest of rides up the driveway, having missed the turning off for the footpath in the dark, and high fived over a ride well done. After stretches, a warm (yet pretty shit as all they were all knackered) shower and a brief sit down, we drove off to find a pub to have some dinner and a couple of ales in. Eventually we found one that wasn’t full (bloody tourists etc), and there have been few occasions where an ale has tasted so good and richly deserved. This was a brilliant introduction to what I can do with my new bike, and I can’t wait to get back out there, getting muddy and trying to outrun my foggy breath down hills.