Britain is going through a resurgence of cycling, thanks to our justified heroes and heroines of the past few years.
My own interest in cycling picked up a few weeks ago, not from road-cycling but mountain-biking. For several years I’ve had Dawes ‘mountain-bike’; rigid and not dedicated. After doing some road cycling on hybrid tyres to aid an old knee injury, a trip around Harting Down on foot made me decide I wanted to cycle the South Downs Way, as I’d previously completed it on foot. I knew I’d need something a little dedicated for the job and after researching my new interest, decided on a 29″ wheel, semi-rigid (front suspension) mountain bike.
Thanks to the patience of the staff (especially Tim) at ‘Cycleworks’ in Petersfield (Tel: 01730 266007) I chose a Specialized Hardrock Sport Pro 29 with XL frame.
The route that I take to reach the trails are on the road; the Hardrock felt agile and the steering responsive and light even with large diameter wheels but having gotten used to hybrid tyres the OE fast-trak tyres did create some noticeable drag but thats no surprise; an observation, not a criticism. From Petersfield I pass through Buriton. The ride up the steep Kiln Lane is always an unpleasant one (@27c) but the bottom gear on the HR made it more bearable than normal. At the Car Park at Halls Hill on the South Downs Way I flicked the switch on the right fork leg to unlock them for my first proper off-road ride. My goal was to explore the trails in Queen Elizabeth Country Park, with a view to use them for training for my South Downs Way ride in Spring 2014.
The ride up Halls Hill is a mix of chalk and stone and I was really pleased at the smoothness afforded by the front forks, and surprisingly the rear tyre. Several times throughout the ride I found myself looking down the rear tyre, expecting it to look very soft, but that wasn’t the case. After the narrow road tyres of my previous ride these were very comfortable.
There are two specific mountain bike trails, a beginners one and an advanced one and also trails for cyclists. I simply headed for the highest point at QE Country Park, saw the sign with the bicycle symbol and shot into the trees. What a breath of fresh air. On a bike specifically designed and built for this.
Having been a 365 days a year motorcyclist for quite a few years this brought back all the enjoyment of two wheels I’d forgotten about. Let me briefly explain. Heading down the trail through the tree’s brings your mind alive. Everything seems so compressed, watch the trail, branches, turns, texture, roots, surface changes, gradients, braking, correct gear?
Feet on pedals, accelerate, scrub off speed with superb front disc, overlap with feather on the back disc to stabilise, or front/rear brake balance depending on surface conditions, feed back through the brakes, changing surface under the wheels, next turn, all that information needs to be re-processed; changes that need to be made. Think of it as riding a motorcycle on the road as they’re designed to be ridden; the corners are the fun part, the straights just link them up. Heading through the trees on chalk, stone, dirt with constant changes of direction and necessary rider input for the challenges that appear just brings your mind out of the general humdrum of day to day life. It’s what I miss most about motorcycling and this Specialized or any MTB in its natural environment just brings it all back – what a buzz.
A mid-life crisis? Probably, and loving it!