Quiet Moments

The wind is uncharacteristically still at the tower.

The heat of the climb is emanating from my jacket and I breathe deeply. In through my mouth then out through my nose, deep in and deep out. I am slowing my breathing and can hear the exhalations loudly in my ears. The usual dog walkers and families burning the Christmas energy are about, but my gaze is elsewhere.

On the other side of the valley the trees are breathing as well.

The warmth of their cover rising in tendrils of mist with every exhalation of their limbs. Thin threads of moisture slowly rising and intertwining in infinitely complex and delicate forms. Barely rising above the uppermost boughs of the plantation, just high enough to meet the cold December air.

The grey sky cracks, and the woodland’s mist illuminates, golden fleece hanging pristenely in the air. The heat from the sun energising and exciting the droplets, they rise and dance. Rapids and eddies of warm and cool air, revealed by the shifting of the subtle density of the woodland’s breath.

The clouds above roll in their own waves, suddenly washing over the crease in the flat grey blanket cover, blinking out the shaft of golden “God ray” light. The mist has risen too high and now begins to dissipate. Like cotton wool in water, it has spread too thin, and slows, and fades.

The whole dance was probably no more than five minutes long. A brief canto in the hills and woodland. One that I would have missed had I been within the canopy, and one I would have missed had I pushed on to get as much riding into the time available. But sometimes, well, most rides, these moments occur. Some are not as delicate as this, but there are always those moments where you can see the land breathe.

They are important. Yet they do not always present themselves obviously, but sometimes, it’s worth stopping just to breathe.

Pannanich DH

On a recent ride I went to find a local legendary trail called Heart Break Ridge.

A long sinuous line flowing singletrack cutting over a open hillside along a wide ridge before dropping steeplly into the tree line for a rooty technical finale. Or so I was hoping for.

Setting off up a burner of a fireroad climb, the elevation grew quickly, as did the wind chill. Hoping to get some higher routes before the winter settled in, I hadn’t fully appreciated the conditions higher up.

With the climb put to bed, I found frozen trails and high cross winds. The climb was followed by an undulating plateau of frozen trail, a sugar dusting of snow covered the frozen puddles. The wind chill steadily grew, and I regretted not digging out all my winter riding gear as my feet began to really feel the chill.

Reaching the start of Heart Break Ridge the cross wind was what you could call, bracing. Remembering caution is the better part of valour, I took a different descent to get into the tree line faster and down into the ley side of the hill.

The Panannich DH was still a good trail, but having seen the ribbon of frozen single track that is Heart Break ridge extending into the distance. I just want to go back in better weather and get that trail under the belt!

Gotta Learn to Lean

The winter mud is refusing to freeze, so another wet and mild winter to grind through.

With the winter season being the time for base miles and building the foundations for the coming years riding, the skills side of things can be easily left behind. Base miles, as important as they are for fitness, can be a bit dull, so time to find some turns.

Some self filming (easy tiger) is also a great way to see your form so you can dial in technique. Got to learn to lean properly in the turns.

gotta-learn-to-lean-mtb-cycling-stravainging-scotland-3

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Sessioning

I once wrote “Sessioning is not Strava.

And it isn’t, sessioning, stopping mid trail to push back up and practice a corner, drop or feature does not win PBs and KOMs. Or does it? Sure, on any particular ride a sessioned trail will sit you at a time of 20 to 30 minutes instead of 2:30 on Strava.

But surely its obvious, that never stopping to assess the trail, to practise specific skills and only riding the Strava race, is counter intuitive to progression? Inarguably Strava will make you faster, too a point, by encouraging you to attack and ride with the clock counting against you in your head.

But riding like this will only get you so far, you plateau as you ride the line you know rather than the best line. You ride on your subconscious rather than practising conscious efforts.

Again you could argue that setting a specific skills goal for a days ride, better body position, being less of a passenger on drops and rock gardens will make you better. But riding a full trail with goals like this is tiring and you will forget and revert to your ingrained riding style.

Also sessioning with friends and ideally, better riders, will encourage progression even further. When you are attempting a feature repeatedly by yourself, you cant see what your doing right and more importantly wrong. Watching more accomplished riders attacking the same trail that you are riding will show you better ways of riding, better lines and more dynamic riding styles.

The winter is a perfect time to develop your bike handling, the ground gets more challenging and your body english has a bigger part to play. No room for passengers in the slop.

In winter training, you traditionally think long boring rides and base miles. And whilst building fitness is important, so is building skills. Picking a specific type of feature and breaking down the body movements, technique and deliberately practising until it becomes an unconscious effort, rather than conscious effort, is where gains for the coming year will be made.

Ride without Strava sometime, see if you ride differently.

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Nimbo Cumulos

Loamy moss and pine needles rooster tailing off your back wheel, endless grip and at the end of another great ride, a clean bike to go back into the shed.

Then as the nights draw in and the lights come out, the trees shed their foliage and stop drawing water from the ground. The heavens open more often, the mercury is a little lower on the scale and the ground starts to hold a little bit more water than it had a few weeks before.

It happens every year and every year it catches you out, there is always at least one ride where you ride like a total squid as you have forgotten how to surf the slop. Winter riding, (or Autumn, Winter and Spring riding in Scotland) is a particular type of wet, and the wetter the better once the ground starts to get slick.

winter-riding-mud-pligging-mtb-scotland

A change of rubber is usually when things start to click again, the spikes come back out and the wheels start digging for grip. Once confidence in your grip starts to return (slowly) you remember braking works differently in the slop. In that, you brake less and have to look harder for safe braking points. The soft mud is scrubbing speed off your wheels for you anyway.

there is a special kind of panic reserved for when both wheels try and drift in different directions

Your body movements have a different effect as well and you work harder to keep momentum. Or more accurately, you let the bike move around more and your body has to instinctively react to counter the bikes sudden wiggles in the mud.

Then there are the unexpected drifts, moments when the back end just lets go and makes a pretty good attempt to overtake the front wheel. The front end likes to wander as well, cutting loose and sliding downhill on both wheels is hilarious fun. That said, there is a special kind of panic reserved for when both wheels try and drift in different directions.

The important thing is to stay loose, the moment you panic and get tense is the moment your over the bars and you get muddier than you already where.

The winter is when I usually remember how to properly control a bike and when I usually notice some improvement in my skills. The pace may be slower but I love this kind of riding, I find myself hollering and laughing out loud to myself as I drift into a deeply ruddered corner hoping to hook into it.

I love hardtails for this kind of riding, a simpler bike for slower, more comical pleasures, less linkage to clean out as well.

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Fungle Road Infection

A evenings ride towards the end of summer, some final days of late northern light to play in, but be sure to be home before the street lights are on.

With the wee man settled and the chores done there was still enough light for a stolen hours or so of riding, yearning for some wilder terrain than the local woods (the local woods has some fairly wild trails mind you) I loaded up the wagon for a raid on the infamous Fungle Road single track.

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The Fungle Road is an old drovers road that links Aboyne and northern Deeside with Tarfside and Glen Esk, it is a classic stretch of natural trail mixing rough LRT with single track, fast descents and steep, persistent climbs. but when people refer to the Fungle singletrack, they mean a ribbon of perfect natural trail that nestles between Ballochan and Aboyne. It is the kind of rare naturally occurring single track that perfectly blends flow, speed and light tech with some drops to keep you sharp. It is the kind of trail that when you have a clean run, it instantly becomes your new favourite trail.

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Parking up at the Forest of Birse Kirk I set off with Sven for a hardtail mission, this ride was about attacking the climbs and getting some pace on a prolonged natural trail, it certainly wasn’t going to be volume training but it would be a fun jaunt. The sky was showing the first signs of dusk as the hillsides darkened with slithers of golden light streaking illuminated ribbons across the heather. It wont be long until the get you home lights will be mandatory kit once more.

The south climb from Birse castle is very much the lesser of the two options, it may only be a cat4 climb, but on a very sandy track which only adds to the effort. Thinking ahead to the climb out from Mamore lodge in a few weeks time, I concentrated on keeping my weight balanced and the power even, ground it out and focused on the work. Once your elevation is earned its a quickly sprint to the trailhead, the sky’s where still light but the ground was quickly darkening as the late evening light was starting to pale out.

Dropping into the trail I rode within myself to begin with, having not been here in over a year, a lot might have changed in that time, would it still be passable or even worth riding? I soon forgot these question and let the bike run as the trail was exactly as I remembered it. Speed was easily gained with a narrow heather dodging rut giving way to rocky stream bed followed soon after by a root strewn, drop filled wooded trail. The bike was flying, a full sus would of been faster but the connection of a hardtail on natural terrain is just indescribable.

that deflating feeling, like the battery is just running out as the bunny claps the cymbals lethargically one, last, time.

The sensation of every once of power, every hip shift, wrist flick all having a direct and instantaneous output on the bike as you feel the trail through your hands and feet. Looking ahead and working as one with the bike to make the trail as smooth and fast as possible. A full sus may of been faster, but the connection of a hardtail on natural terrain is just indescribable and whilst a well set up full susser can feel like this, those who know, know.

But like all those who “know” know, that deflating feeling, like the battery is just running out as the bunny claps the cymbals lethargically one, last, time.  Tubeless fails can happen to the best of us.

Sorting the puncture took more air than I would like and far more time to seal than I had. CO2 carts’ and mini pumps combined as I resorted to walking out of the trail hoping that by shouldering the bike and leaving the pierced section of tyre at the bottom of the wheel would bath it in enough sealant to stem the leak, I hoped. Reaching the landrover track the hills where dark and the sky threatening, the hiss from the rear wheel had ceased but the tyre was almost flat, pumping it back up to road bike pressures and cursing my misfortune I was ready to try pedalling. The air seemed to be holding and some how my phone had signal, I sent a message to my wife asking her to still love me when I got home much later than I had promised and tentatively saddled up and slowly built my speed to make sure things where as they should be.

Soon I was careening down what I had just climbed, skipping over water bars and dancing round rocks, trying to stop myself having to much fun incase the sealant failed and the rear gave way again. Cautions aside I was soon passing Birse Castle and scaring the livestock as I made it back to the carpark. What was meant as a short training ride had escalated into more of a  training exercise than anything else, however practising remote servicing in anger is never a bad skill to keep sharp.

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That said I got a unexpected personal best on the climb landing a 20 out of 196, and whilst I wasn’t going to be PB’ing the singletrack on the hard tail, I was feeling fast and the bike was running smooth, silver linings and all that.


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Things are different in the Dark

The summers sun still shines, but the post work ride will soon need some additional lumens as our northern skies darken.

With night riding comes a new sense of your surroundings, the trail becomes a tunnel, peripheral distractions are obscured by the velvet night. Trail features are held in sharp contrast, the head torch both helping and hiding what rolls beneath our tyres. This sharper focus has led me to some PB’s that have taken years in the daylight to topple.

I am comfortable in the dark, I spent years walking my labrador as a teenager in the kind of night that only those in the true countryside can enjoy. I walked in the dark for a few reasons, I realised my night vision quickly adapted to the woodland and I could see perfectly. I didn’t interrupt the natural flow of the woodland by disturbing the fauna with artificial light. And finally the cost of batteries would of eaten away the meagre pay packet from my weekend jobs.

That being said, once accustomed to the low light, you do see some strange things in the night.

On clear nights I saw on regular occasion pinpricks of light amongst the stars moving in controlled ways. Satellites move in a constant arc across the heavens, shooting stars burn a line of brilliant, but soon fading light. I also saw dots of light move then stop, then move in a different direction. Once I saw two lights move toward each other then make 90 degree turns to avoid colliding and then glide away from each other.

Lights in the Sky and big cats on the ground

In the dark your eyes and mind can play tricks, your black and white night vision is in the periphery of your field of view, the centre of your vision has more colour receptors and therefore needs more light to see clearly. Easy to think that there is something in the corner of your eye that disappears when you turn to get a better look. The mind interrupts the eye with what the mind wants to see.

I Want to Believe

But sometimes there is no mistaking what you saw.

On a night ride on terrain I ride on a nearly weekly basis I had an encounter with what you could probably call an apex predator. That is, if you are one of those people who know our hills and woods are home to such animals.

Having climbed a farm track I was pushing across a field to access a fire road and some single track on the other side. The L shaped field was usually full of sheep and I thought that it was funny that all the sheep had gathered in the furthest corner from me. Literally as this thought dawned on me I turned the corner in the field, looked up and was met by two pairs of feline eyes glowing back at me from the light of my head torch.

One pair was significantly higher off the ground than the other, we paused. As I took a step tentatively forward the eyes turned and bounded high over Broom and Gorse bushes, over the boundary fence and sat on the fire road behind the field. Turning, they stopped and watched me. Not processing what sort of animal I could have disturbed I kept light in their direction and watched the eyes and carried on walking forwards. The hairs on the back of my neck were fully on end when I found the object of their interest.

A full grown ewe lay dead on the ground, drag marks showed where it had been pulled from concealment from under the Gorse and Broom. The front quarters were untouched, no puncture marks or goring around the neck. The hind haunches where a different matter, a scalpel like precision had removed the skin, organs and a lot of the muscle tissue leaving the open cavity of this poor animal. Now realising that most likely the taller eyes had taken down the sheep, cleaned part of the kill and hidden it, before returning with the shorter eyes that were presumably her young. The adrenaline started to seep into my system.

The eyes  stood still, both pairs unmoving, watching me with their kill.

I decided, rightly or wrongly that turning my back on an ambush predator was a mistake, so for some unknown reason, I carried on walking towards them. I didn’t get far before they turned and slunk into the dense under story, I still kept walking towards them, struggled through the Broom and climbed the fence.

The adrenaline was really starting to hit now and I finally decided that a mother cat with young was not something I wanted to disturb. Flight had finally won out over fight, I have never pedalled so hard, for so long in my life. it was only a few kilometers to a road but but it felt like a full length time trial.

Maybe they were pine martins, possibly wild or feral cats. I don’t know, all I know is the size of the gorse and the steep of verge they jump in two bounds whilst clearing the fence means that it was unlikely to be either of those. Things are different in the dark but one thing is certain, something took down that ewe.

This post has been shamelessly inspired by a Mike Levy article on Pink Bike.


Scroll down for a photo of the ewe, don’t scroll down if you don’t want to see a poor dead animal.

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February

The rains have eased, the waters may have subsided, but the trails are still saturated.

The heavy sodden ground can be a blessing and a curse, the falling mercury freezing the ground hard and fast rolling. As the thaw creeps in and the ground softens, traction is easy to find, but too far into the melt and a mud bath ensues – you can’t have it all.

It was a month of regular rides and of building pace, revisiting old trails, riding them in a way that only served as a reminder of lost speed and gains to be made.

Mostly it was a month of having fun on the bikes.

Stravaiging Enduro Scolty February

Stravaiging Enduro Scolty February 11

Dropping-in-DH

Stravaiging Enduro durris February 3

Stravaiging Enduro durris February 7

Scolty DH 2

High Burnside

The winter of 2015 has not been a classic winter,

with record rainfall combined with warm temperatures keeping the snow off the high tops and the rain in the rivers, it has been a disaster for many. Thankfully the worst we and our neighbours have suffered is being cut off with road and bridge closures.

That being said, there is no such thing as poor weather just poor clothing, so with the family packed we set off to Aviemore for the annual New Year trip. After an occasionally fraught journey we safely reached Speyside and found a very different weather picture. The northern Cairngorms were significantly colder and drier with the snow staying on the mountains.

There was standing water in some fields but the flooding was incomparable with what was happening in the southern Cairngorms and Deeside. Importantly for us this also meant the woodlands were mostly dry and frozen solid, not the mud baths of my local trails.

With the drive and weather being what they were, I thought it prudent to leave my bikes at home saving the bearings from a fate worse than death, and to hire a bike there. As it transpired, this was a good plan.

The rental was a Hoot
The rental was a hoot

A quick trip to the excellent Bothy Bikes was in order and a Genesis High Latitude was acquired. This steel 29er fitted with Suntour forks, Maxxis Ardents and a 3×9 drivetrain was a weighty beast, but I thought if I was riding a radio rental for a weekend, then why not wagon wheels? My main concern would be how well mannered the budget forks and XC tyres would be on steeper natural tech, but we would have to wait and see.

We were meeting with family in Aviemore and riding was planned for two days. The first day would be a gentle XC jaunt round Loch An Eilen with my brother-in-law (Jonny) and his partner, the rest of the group (my wife, wee boy and mother-in-law) walking the route with me joining the walking group part way round. The second day would be Jonny and myself exploring the natural trails behind Aviemore in High Burnside.

Loch An Eilien Cairngorms Winter Landscape Scotland Cross Country

The Genesis, as I expected, was an XC mile muncher with the spin from Aviemore to Loch an Eilen passing quickly and easily. I was surprised by how well the Genesis handled rooty climbs and at how easily it maintained speed, albeit being slower to accelerate.

Round the loch the larger wheels were starting to make sense, as when on pedally sections the bike flew with Jonny’s Zesty 514 being easily outpaced. Although not a fair comparison between an XC and more all-mountain bike it was certainly an eye opener.

Cairngorm Golden light Dawn Winter Snow Clear Sky All Mountain Enduro SCotland

We had planned a dawn raid on Burnside and were greeted with a stunning morning and incredible views. The bikes had been left outside as there was nowhere to keep them indoors, not a problem, but we hadn’t thought about the minus temperature overnight.

My drive train was frozen solid as were the pivots on Jonny’s Zesty, a little persuasion with some hot water and GT85 was in order to get the bikes moving again. This may have delayed play but was a good omen for the trails higher up and a preview of what we could expect.

Having been given a comprehensive trail map by Bothy Bikes we had decided to take a suck it and see approach. We quickly gained height with the fire roads being frozen solid with only the occasional sheet of ice to keep you on your toes.

We reached the first trailhead (which transpired was Richards Down) taking a walk downtrail to look before we leaped. It looked a little water-logged to begin with, but no worse than we expected.

Jonny mcconnell Riding Enduro Trails Lapierre High Burnside Aviemore

Rolling into the wet and stacatto start, the flow soon kicked in as a tight sinew of trail with roots and drops wove its way through the trees. The further in we got, the drier and more frozen the mud became and the faster the trail rolled.

The 29er was still making sense, even as the trail steepened with little chutes and wooden kickers providing plenty of scope to be playful on the bike.

Winter woodland frozen landscape

Buoyed by the flavour of the first trail we took a quick gander at the map and headed further up and into High Burnside. The plethora of trails was abundantly clear as we passed trail after trail ending and crossing the fire road as the road climbed higher.

We were surprised by the number and the quality of some fairly substantial park style jumps, they were cunningly hidden and immaculately dug into the edges of the fireroad, a few were hucks too flat, but not what you normally expect to find on a jaunt into natural trails.

Finding the next trail we dropped our saddles and let gravity take over, starting with a similar feel to the first trail, it soon provided a little spice with punchy little ups and exposed rock that was slick with ice. Not to mention the deer skull nailed to a tree at the end of the trail

High Burnside Deer Skull Scotland Mountain bike Enduro XC DH Trail nature
The trails have eyes.

Strava is a wonderful thing and Strava is a terrible thing, it turns every ride into a race whilst giving you a scale to measure yourself and your progress against. It also discourages certain behaviours on the trail, such as sessioning and stopping for a social or to allow a group to reform if it is strung out on a trail.

Ignoring the Garmins, we decided to stop if we found a good techy section or series of turns to session and see where we could improve. Standing at the start of Christ Almighty it was plain to see that this was going to be the steepest trail so far with the trees sharply disappearing on the down slope.

It wasn’t far into this brilliant trail that a series of steep rocky switchbacks appeared, the perfect place to session some turns, there was even a push up path. After smashing out some turns the differences in the handling and turning speed of the 29er HT over my usual 26er were becoming apparent. With more time on the bike you could adapt your riding style, but this steel XC machine certainly needed some nursing over the techier sections.

With the temperature still hovering around zero my front deraileur also needed a little persuasion from my foot to move and change gear. With a solid block of frozen mud immobilizing the mech I was reminded of why I love 1X drivetrains so much.

Having worked on line choice and braking it was time to move on and see what the rest of the trail had in store. Cleaning the switchbacks one more time I followed Jonny down the trail, the gradient eased off and a more flowing and relaxed character emerged. It was the sort of trail you could really enjoy a cruise down or if the mood took you, absolutely cane it on.

Back on the fire roads and with time moving on, we made our way back to the house, knowing full well whilst sampling the flavour of what was on offer, we had barely scratched the surface of the full riding potential of High Burnside.

Jonny McConnell Enduro MTB Mountain Bike

Burnside Profile

Rewarded

No good deed goes unrewarded, so the saying goes.

Some people would warn against emotional attachment to objects, they would say that a bike is simply a tool that serves a function, versatile it may be it is still a just a utilitarian object. I am not one of those people, having spent the long hours together I know not only the characters and capabilities of my bikes but their names also.

Sven the bike 2

Sven Specialized hardrock fat creations before stravaiging 1

Sven is a Specialized Hardrock, he is not a flashy frame, nor a poorly conceived one. he is part of a long line that through gradual refinement and evolution has led to him being a compliant, comfortable, fast and adaptable frame. If we borrowed language from the drug world he would be a “gateway bike”, easy to ride, forgiving to beginners but fast and surprisingly capable once you’ve gotten to know him.

Hardrocks are usually considered a beginners entry level bike, they have a special place in many peoples hearts as they introduced them to riding. I rode mountain bikes as a teenager, but after a long break when I discovered gin and other distractions at university Sven reminded me of what I didn’t know I had missed.

I wanted a Hardrock that was unique, the build has been a continuous project which has left no component stock. I liked the colour and graphics but the paint was a little tired and my tastes in colourways has matured. A respray was the answer.

I spoke about Fat Creations in a previous post, having had some email conversations with Ali at Fat Creations I started the tricky process of designing my own colour and graphics package.

ruling out everything from murdered out stealth to candy apple red I settled on a petrol blue and teal colourway in metallic pearl paint.

With the RAL codes confirmed I parceled Sven up and confused the local post office with the size of the box and waited impatiently for Christmas.

Needless to say, Ali did a stunning job the photo’s honestly don’t do it justice as the depth of paint and metallic finish really sing in natural light. All that is left to do is to build him back up, get some nice finishing touches and take the time to service and build the best bike he can be.

Shed time
Shed time

Sven the bike 7


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Sermon

I ride bikes to test myself, make a measure of where I am and to go inside.

To lose myself in the work, the trail, the flow, repeating the rites that make up the routine of riding bikes. Routine it may sometimes be but the anticipation for the ceremony can begin days in advance, the thoughts and lessons from the last observance repeated in my mind.

On the day of the ride wearing clean kit with bottles filled and bags packed I perform the rituals, I check the bike, the tyre pressures, the brakes, some bolts but not all. Turning the cranks I pass the chain rosary like through my hands, applying oil one last time before I depart.

Dawn Raid Sermon Church Stravaiging Clachnaben Aberdeenshire Snow 4

leaving early the dawn yet to fully break around me I enter the woodland, the early light slowly working through the canopy, mature trees buttressing high above the trail-head. The cold has worked into my fingers but my core is warm with the effort of the climb, it is never long before my hands have acclimatized and I become unmoved by the cold.

The climb is fast as winter has frozen the long autumns worth of water and rain in the ground, giving cold sure grip. Breathing slow and deep I take in the woodland, drinking deep from the ever changing yet familiar trails, time disappears as vertical metres are gained.

I run through the little motions that precede descending, clipping in I begin to build momentum, I ease around turns with the bike telling me what the ground feels like beneath its tyres, he lets me know when it is safe to attack and when to be prudent. The silent song of the trail plays loud in my ears, the satisfying silence of a well prepped bike broken only by the whirring click of the freehub and the buzz from tyres compressing through turns.

Breaking through the tree line and back onto the fire road that punctuates the landscape, it marks the end of the single track. Carving to a stop I lean heavy on the bars and breath deep, I pause and let it soak into me.

The fire starting to recede in my legs I clip back in and crank it back up the hill to earn another descent, I climb then descend, climb then descend.

I climb then descend, climb then descend.

The light is growing now as we enter the golden hour, shafts of light break through the canopy creating pools of rippling gold in the under story either side of the trail. The sounds to have started to change, as melt water drips heavy from the boughs above, disturbed by the birds flitting from tree to tree.

Dawn Raid Sermon Church Stravaiging Clachnaben Aberdeenshire Snow 6

Time has again disappeared and the day is starting to dawn for those back indoors, its time to thread a path through fire road and trail back to home. The route possibilities running through my mind I quickly decide on the best use of time and height to return home on singletrack, I clip in once more.

Its Church.

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Rule #9

The seasons march on, the contracting of daylight hours mirroring the trees receding sap, falling like the leaves that blanket the trails on which we play. The sap in the legs also slowing as we are ironically in the best condition of the year if not our lives but tired from a year of training and riding, riding and training, the wheel always spinning. There are those who move away to other pursuits waiting out the wet months for fairer weather and dryer times. There are those who change tyres, clothing, pack lights and every autumn relearn how to let a bike slide. There are those who change discipline and count miles rather than meters descended, on the road or on the trail trying to stem the tide of seasonal decline.

RULE 9 XC Winter Training stravaiging 5

On any given Sunday we can be any of those riders, Struggling to find the motivation to maintain our gains, work on our weaknesses or ride trails that challenge us as they will be too loose, too wet, too sketchy, almost too easy to find reason not to ride. These months are long and many in Scotland, if you don’t ride in the wet here then you won’t ride at all, with the same hill frequently having dusty corners and deep scarred muddy ruts that will never fully dry.

Even so when the mist clings to the hills, the air wet with the slow creeping cold that only a dreich autumn day can provide it can be especially tough to step out the door and turn those wheels. It may be canon to road culture but Rule #9 still applies here, it is still acknowledged by people who ride mountain bikes even if they don’t know its cultural significance to our lycra clad cousins. If such a manifesto as The Rules were ever written for mountain bikes it would be a much shorter tome, probably along the lines of like bikes, like beer and don’t be a dick to your fellow rider, but that is an argument for another time.

RULE 9 XC Winter Training stravaiging 4

Once on the trail and turning into the wind the rain gathering on your helmets visor as your eyes narrow to see, goggles and glasses are useless here, pray you don’t get grit in your eyes at the wrong time. Your feet cold but the worst held off by water proof socks, the wet slowly working its way through the outer layers. You know you are the only person on the hill, everyone else is warm and inside, your mind wanders as you try to keep focus as a tough climb is round the corner.
 RULE 9 XC Winter Training stravaiging 1
Low cadence, just south of top of the block you keep the pedals moving, forcing yourself to look up trail rather than the ground in front of your wheel, each oncoming turn is a new goal, somewhere else too aim for. Metronomic in movement the grit in the drive train equaling that in the limbs, counting your breaths to clear the mind. The meditation of the climb settling in as the heat in your legs starts to mount, you start to enjoy the work as the flow comes from the ups as well as the downs.
Flow comes in the ups as well as the downs.
Transitioning onto the plateau the deraileaur moves the chain through the block to keep a constant cadence whilst building speed, nursing the changes as any oil has long been washed from the chain. Moving into a descent, heals dropping and moving over the back wheel, keeping your weight low carving turns and letting the bike move beneath you. The flow brought on from the climb still in control of your thoughts.
Reaching home you wrap yourself in the warmth and sanctuary, the ride that is begun is never regretted but if taking those first steps to go for a ride are hard and the conditions poor just remember there is always Rule #5 to help motivate us.
RULE 9 XC Winter Training stravaiging 2

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