if a complete (well almost) mountain bike novice decides to ride
Lands End to John o' Groats off road or bust? Find out in the first
part of this more than epic story.
My First Nine Months Of Biking''
My first bike was a Raleigh Arena; it was a shiny blue colour and was blessed with five gears. I must have ridden it for all of 20 minutes before the novelty wore off and the poor machine was left to gently return to its natural state (iron oxide'). But then life seems so much simpler when you're a kid, you just do what you want. Peer/parental pressure was never a big issue for me and it seemed (much to my parents chagrin having spent £95 on a new bike) that biking just didn't float my boat. While other kids were wheelie-ing I was busy digging, building, and shooting.
To be quite honest the paragraph above would probably have been sufficient to describe my life's interaction with push bikes if a good friend of mine (Ben) hadn't suddenly (and rather mysteriously) decided to devote ALL of his waking free time and existence to the strange sport of mountain biking.
By this time I was in my early thirties and although I had managed to survive happily bikeless for the previous 25 years a constant nagging presence, and insistence, that I was missing a fundamental part of life echoed through Bens' regular phone calls and holidays. I resisted for as long as I could (a further two years!) but was eventually overwhelmed by a combined onslaught of a cycling mad girlfriend (Julie) and Bens' continued insistence that all the worlds' religions had made a huge mistake and missed the real meaning of life'. Apparently (and rather implausibly I thought) he claimed to have found the light, and had named this expensive wonder 'Mountain Biking'.
So it was that my second bike arrived from a small cottage in North Wales. A £400 red Specialized Rockhopper Pro. My first impressions were mixed, it was shiny (a good point), it had 27 gears (could be a good point, wasn't sure really), and it seemed rather heavy (possibly a bad point'). My full technical appraisal wasn't lost on Ben who immediately informed me I should have spent at least another £2000 on the machine or I was wasting my time. In the meantime he had a route I HAD to try and provided me with a grid reference and an arrival time for the following weekend.
I gingerly spent a week trying to remember how to cycle and cursing the moronic gear system which meant that one thumb pushing did the opposite of the other doing the same thing. I marvelled at my complete lack of ability to make the bike either stop or go with any useful intent, and at my similar incompetence when it came to controlling its direction unless I was riding along a flat, straight, road.
Two days later Ben deposited a map in my Email inbox. It detailed a route of 50km over 1500m of ascent starting in a place called Nidderdale. The website details seemed to think the 'route' was quite good and they (MTBBritain) gave it a five out of five rating. In hindsight I can now see that this
was an excellent example of 'ignorance is bliss', and that Ben had either underestimated his own skill levels or vastly over estimated mine!
I turned up as instructed with my shiny new bike only to be met with
a puzzled look. Where was my helmet? And water? And food? And
lights? Hmmm'. All potentially good questions, especially as it
was around 3pm when we set off (even I was highly impressed by our
anticipated route time in order to arrive back before dark, after
all it was late October). Well what can I say? By the
time we got back to the Pizza shop in Harrogate I was in a bit of a
mess. I think I was suffering from something approaching Post
Traumatic Stress Disorder, I felt decidedly sick and dizzy, my legs
were shaking and suitably grazed from numerous tumbles, and my left
shoulder was hanging low after an over the bar incident when on Bens
instructions I had attempted to dissipate downhill vibrations on
rough surfaces by riding as fast as I could 'over' the offending
boulders. I was clearly dehydrated (my pupils were the size of
dinner plates), certainly past the point of sensible nutritional
sustenance (Although it was good of Ben to give me the two chewy
bars he had spare), and rather concerned about my 'new', shiny
bike which had clearly devalued by at least £200 in the last 7
hours and currently had no working gears or brakes.
Ben strolled out of the Pizza shop he declared what a superb
day/night it had been, but, he said, 'it might be a good idea to
get yourself a helmet for next week', and as an afterthought he
thoughtfully added, 'are you alright? You look a bit pale?',
what could I say' Although I felt that I should have enjoyed
the biking experience, somehow it just didn't gel. The
overall adventure was exactly what I was looking for, but me and the
'biking thing' just wasn't working. I felt as if I was
fighting the bike all the time and even though my technical
knowledge was (and still is pretty much) non-existent I knew that my
bike and I weren't working together. I did a few rides after
Nidderdale but was making more excuses than rides and was, in truth,
looking to sell the bike and retire from my biking career
The next part of the story was really rather odd. Ben sensing he was about to lose a riding partner offered to sell me a Cannondale F2000 for a very good price. He assured me that this would cure all my riding problems, and amazingly I trusted him enough to believe him. I suppose I owe all my subsequent riding and biking experiences to Ben's generosity and my own gullibility. Whoever was 'to blame', I am certainly not complaining!
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