A lifetime of cycling – part 6

Posted: March 9, 2011 in 2011, General

Followers of this series will have seen my cycling progress from a little trike with a rusty blue boot, through to Time Trialling and circuit racing.  The time has come to begin the charting of my time spent in the mud.

The early years were a bit sad really. I went down the oh so familiar route of buying a mountain bike as a bit of a novelty, something to bimble around the highways and byways on, maybe pop into the forest from time to time on and finally as a commuting bike. I had persuaded myself that such a bike was necessary but had no idea what to buy, what was out there and even less, where to buy it. At the time, the only bike shop I trusted was Buck’s Bikes in Ipswich (long gone now I think). They made awesome wheels, several people I knew shopped there and therefore they must be the best place to buy a mountain bike from. Flawed logic I am afraid but, the day I went over to see them, one of their mountain bike race team was there and he was assigned to help me out.

Where do you start? I had no idea what I was doing, what I needed to ask for, which brands were good, which were awful still less what the difference between each type of bike. In the late 1980s, buying a mountain bike was a lot simpler than it is now. Mountain bikes were relatively rare beasts and there wasn’t much to choose from. A few minutes of intense questioning, and the chap in the shop had the measure of me. He recommended a Specialized Hard Rock just the same as the one shown here, but in green. There was a different saddle and the pedals were resin with clips and straps. I honestly don’t remember if it was heavy or light, but it was mine! I carefully packed it into the boot and drove home from Ipswich. In retrospect, then as now, the Hard Rock was a good platform from which to start learning. The build and component quality was fine and the frame design was pretty spot on for the time.

I can’t remember my first time out on the bike but I do remember the first  time that I ventured off the fire roads and onto singletrack. (You might laugh here but, you have to remember that the trails in Thetford were very poorly defined, lightly ridden, hidden under vegetation and completely devoid of signage or maps. If you didn’t know your way around or if you didn’t have a guide you could have got terribly lost.)

One sunny day then, I parked at High Lodge and followed the fire roads keeping a careful eye on where I was going (so I could get back!). There were no other cyclists around, no one else had bikes in the car park and the ranger I spoke to had no idea of where to ride. Anyway, I set off and eventually found my way to fire road 10 at Mayday. I rode around the grassy clearing a few times and when that got boring I ventured further afield, well towards the road actually. Maybe 25 yards before the gate I spotted a tiny gap in the bracken on the left and decided to go for it. throwing caution to the wind I went as fast as I could, weaving in and out of the trees, through a massive nettle bank and onto a sinuous section of singletrack. I went as far as I could, before it petered out and then I retraced my steps agin and again and again. I loved it, it was fun, completely different to riding on the road and surely I’d master it in no time at all. Buoyed up with all the enthusiasm of a recent convert, I popped back out to FR10 and went in search of more. I failed, and concluded I had probably ridden the one and only fun bit of track in the forest! I headed back to High Lodge and went home, concluding that riding fire roads was going to be good fun, as long as I could keep popping back to my bit of singletrack (part of the black route now if you hadn’t already guessed).

The following weeks (when not on my road bike) were spent on bridleways, enjoying getting muddy but finding the whole mountain bike thing strangely tiring. I could ride for hours on end, on my road bike but off road I was at the end of my stamina after maybe two hours, and the next day I ached everywhere.

The first thing I worked out was that I needed some decent shoes. Road shoes were no good and trainers were awful. I therefore went to Cambridge one day and popped into Ben Haywards to have a look around. As it happened, they were having a sale (i.e. dumping all the kit they couldn’t shift) and then I saw them! A pair of Nike boots that came up over the ankle bone, had massive velcro closures (to keep your laces under control maybe) and chunky soles. They looked more like trekking boots than cycling shoes but undaunted, I bought them. I also bought a pair of Cannondale shorts so I was set for the trails.

A week or so later, my sister rang up to tell me there was a mountain bike race in Thetford Forest and if i was quick I’d get in. She faxed me the entry form (no internet then) and I sent my cheque off. Entry fee paid, I set about not training. I was fit, I was fast, I could ride singletrack and fore roads, what was there to worry about?

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