Archive for the ‘The Polemics Page’ Category

Bike Shop Rant

Posted: September 19, 2011 in 2011, The Polemics Page

I guess this is aimed at shops selling low end stuff rather than the type of emporium of glittery goodness frequented by serious/hobby cyclists. Why, oh why oh why do they persist in selling kids bikes that are patently too big? Maybe it is the parents’ fault, thinking that if they buy big, the kid will somehow ‘grow into it’ like a pair of trousers or a jumper. I saw another example on Saturday of a diminutive child wheeling a new bike out of Halfords and riding off with its Mum. The saddle was in the lowest possible position, the bars were set really high and the poor little mite was struggling to keep its toes (I keep calling the child ‘it’ because I couldn’t tell whether it was male or female) on the pedals when the cranks were at bottom dead centre. As the child rode off, following Mum – also on a bike- it was struggling to keep a straight line on the road…a recipe for disaster I felt. Anyway, I caught up with them later as I drove home and the kid was just about coping though not helped by suspension forks which were pogoing even on the road, with someone way too small and light on board. Waiting behind until there was enough room to pass safely, I reckon the frame was at least an 18 inch-er and the kid was no bigger than Tom Thumb. The idea that the bike would last until the kid had grown into it seemed unlikely as it was one of those £100 jobs which fall apart as soon as you mention riding off road.

Apart from maybe damaging the child’s hips, all it will do is imprint the idea that cycling is painful and no fun. In the longer term, the shops ave to realise that going for these one off sales, they are reducing the future market as people leave cycling as soon as they take it up.

Grrrrrr.

A bit of a controversial one here with opinion polarised between proponents of digging and those who disagree.

In Thetford, the current battlefield is concentrated in the area at the bottom of the Beast though in the past, people would dig up random bits of singletrack to build ‘jumps’ which was equally bonkers.

Riders in search of ‘air’ usually want a gravity assisted run up so they tend to congregate around the bottom of suitable hill, slopes or other natural features. In most venues they can carry out these activities well away from general trail users where there is little chance of anyone blundering into a jump site without knowing what they are doing and to that extent they are felt to be  ‘safe’. Problems arise when there is a shortage of areas in which to ride, build, jump or whatever. Within a Thetford context this problem is quite obvious where XC riders, recreational riders and families use the same trails as the jump squad. To compound matters, the jump folk seem to feel forced to build their ramps etc on, or slightly to one side of, an ‘official’ waymarked trail, in this case the so called Black Route. To be fair, this is probably more to do with the topography rather than a desire to do anything overtly dangerous or antisocial. This does not justify what they do however as the damage and disruption caused are out of all proportion to the benefit they must derive from getting airborne.

It does not take a brain surgeon to work out what is going to happen when you combine a way marked trail, semi skilled riders, terribly built and thought out jumps. Riders on the Beast will fly down the hill taking what may seem like a main bit of trail only to be met with unexpected jumps, diversions or badly eroded sections. The ‘trail features’ are often poorly constructed with borrow pits immediately adjacent to the obstacle meaning that riders have no opt out. Unless you are capable of reacting in time or are sufficiently skilled to cope (and let’s face it, not that many riders are) then you are heading for trouble. How much trouble can one ‘little’ jump cause you may ask? As I understand it, an accident on one of these jump/borrow pit combinations resulted in a recreational rider being so severely injured he is now a quadriplegic. I’m sorry to say that in my book, responsibility lies squarely with the builders of the jumps and however much fun you get from jumping, it can’t be worth even one such injury.

Another example of how crazy things have got is the new section from which riders exit at speed directly into the areas where cars park, immediately adjacent to the B1106. I understand that there has been at least one occasion where a youngster has exited this section and wobbled directly onto the road. How crazy is that?

The FC will routinely demolish dangerous jumps and obstacles not least because they have a liability to forest users, the liability that many pirate builders try to avoid. This in turn, gets the jump boys upset because they have nowhere to go so building continues unabated. Battle lines are clearly drawn up with one side doing the pirate jump building stuff, and the other doing whatever it can to keep the majority of riders safe. Until this problem is resolved, things are just going to get worse and worse.

For the record, I think the jump pilots have every right to do what they want but it has to be somewhere within the forest where they can be as creative as they want but not conflict with other forest users. Sudbourne Jumps

are in Tunstall Forest which is arguably even flatter than Thetford so, as Thetford is on more of a gradient and has stacks of unused areas, there has to be somewhere for them to build in the forest. Somewhere where they can build and jump to their hearts extent without putting less experienced riders at risk or screwing up trails used by many other riders. The current situation clearly does not work, what with people getting injured and crazy new trails being established. I believe the FC will be responsive to sensible proposals (and that does not necessarily mean dull) from aircrew, if they were only to ask. Make contact via Timber or speak to a Ranger direct and you never know what might happen. Pirate builds have already destroyed one person’s life, will it take someone getting killed before something is done?

Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

Link to Timber Forum

The Icepits in Gt Barton this is where I spent many hours and trashed many bikes as a kid. Today’s bikes are better suited to this sort of environment. Last time I looked down here, I was very impressed at the standard of jump they had put together. Well worth a visit I’d have said but there again, I don’t know much about getting airborne!

With any luck, this link will work so you can find your way there.

Introducing the Polemics Page

Posted: February 26, 2011 in 2011, The Polemics Page

I have decided to file anything that might be slightly controversial or cause arguments under the polemics page. I may well take positions or say things to stimulate debate because without debate, no one knows what anyone else is thinking.

The major flaw of course, is that any responses might also be designed more to stimulate argument!

I will allow any comments whether you agree with me or not, the only things I will moderate are abusive comments (and that covers a wide range of sins).

This may make uncomfortable reading or may be controversial in some people’s eyes. It isn’t aimed at anyone in particular but it does address an issue that has always been close to my heart.

Racing in the winter, whether it be cyclocross or mountain bike, can cause damage to trails. Hundreds of wheels going over the same trail in a couple of hours are going to do one of two things, ride the trail in nicely or cause damage that takes months and sometimes up to a year to recover, just in time to be trashed once again. The factor deciding whether the trails are improved or damaged almost beyond repair is rain. If it is wet, trails will suffer. You can’t not notice rain, it falls out of the sky and makes riders wet and muddy but how come organisers see this and ignore the consequences?

Quite often, race organisers will use trails that have been in use by local riders for years. Let’s imagine a race is put on and it rains, no… it chucks it down and superb singletrack becomes a boggy morass and gets wider and wider as riders search for dry lines so you could get a truck down it by the time the race finishes. I have raced sometimes where the trails are unrideable and drop offs/bomb holes have become dangerous yet no attempt is made (maybe no thought has been given) to redirect the race because it would be too much work. Maybe this is the job of marshals or commissaires but they rarely bite the bullet and make any sort of decision until it is way too late.  Net result, the organisers use and plunder a resource, take the money and walk away leaving a disaster zone in their wake.

Is it morally acceptable for this to happen time and time again? Who cares? No one ever takes them to account (ironically they even get credit for creating the trails in the first place – bizarre or what?)and they can plunder a diminishing and finite resource to their heart’s content. Hey, it’s called apathy, we have had a couple of hour’s entertainment, the organiser has pocketed a very handsome pocket full of cash so he doesn’t care and as for us… it isn’t our forest so who gives a ****?

Whatever your feelings about this, let’s go off at a slight tangent for a minute. Imagine if you will, an off road race where organisers create mile upon mile of new trail for their race (trails that can and do serve the mtb community for years to come). The race will be on two wheels but instead of muscle power, the bikes are powered by the infernal, internal combustion engine. A lot of damage is done but the rather unsubtle difference is that organisers happily clean up after themselves. Trails are dragged and harrowed to minimise the impact on other riders and trails are ready for use in weeks.

First off, let me hold up my hands… Mea culpa, mea cupla, mea maxima culpa, I have raced, I have contributed towards the trashing of trails and I may do so again but the question remains, is it morally acceptable for the land’s trustee (let’s call it the Forestry Commission) to take their fee and let one organiser get away with murder, while another acts responsibly and sets an example? In my opinion, probably not and it has annoyed me for years. Maybe it is a question of responsibility. One of the first things you are taught as a child is if you make a mess you clear up after yourself. Why does it not apply to race organisers?

The question of responsibility also rests to an extent, with the riders. Ultimately it is their wheels which cause the damage and the organiser is merely (excuse the phrase) their pimp or pusher, providing the wherewithal for their enjoyment and pleasure. Can riders walk away expecting someone else to clear up after them or do they imagine their race fee covers that off? Have people even bothered to give it any thought?

How about this for an idea? Assuage your conscience, make some sort of recompense to local riders whose playground you have blithely trashed, make a (voluntary) contribution to the restitution of the tracks and make sure it goes to people who actually care for what happens in the forest and not those whose vision extends no further than their bank balance.