I guess that I always used to look at mountain biking as not for ‘serious’ cyclists – just for people who like to muck about on a bike. Having now been out for a couple of rides on my first ever mountain bike – bought second hand from the local bike hire shop – I can see that ‘just mucking about’ is actually a lot of fun (I guess that’s not too surprising if I’d really thought about it). Perhaps more surprisingly (well for me anyway) is that it’s also quite hard work!
I thought that I’d ease myself in gently – not like the breakneck downhill stuff that I tried out this summer with my friend Phil. I’m sure that it was more luck than judgement (or perhaps just ignorance?) that saved me from seriously damaging myself that time. With the thought that beginners luck won’t save me forever, I set off out along the valley for a pretty much flat ride, where only the mud and massive puddle avoidance was likely to cause me to come a cropper (potentially messy, but not life-threatening). The sun had just come out after raining for a day and a half solid – and that’s serious rain, not UK style drizzle. A local guy told me today that he can’t remember it ever raining like that here before (unfortunately this information came to late – I’d already done the ride by then, coming back looking like the swamp thing).
Anyway, back to the ride – I did still have a couple of moments – a sharp left turn up onto a narrow footbridge, and a drop off into a ditch that I didn’t see till the last minute due to a puddle avoidance manouvre (more like a lake than puddle in my defence). But I managed to keep it upright, and got home quite proud of myself.
So today I thought I’d up the stakes, and chose a less flat (but still cross country) course
from Bourg D’Oisans to Venosc. It started off fairly easy, but after 5 km of easy flat I suddenly came up against a steep stony incline. I managed to keep the front wheel down and just about kept my balance to the top (heart rate at 170 – I told you it wasn’t easy!). At this point I realised I’d just got to the charmingly named ’Cascade de la Pisse’ – a local waterfall that we’ve walked to with the kids before (and yes, it does mean what you think it does). After a break to get my breath back, and to take this photo (left), I carried on and spotted a big log across the path. I thought I’d give it a shot and went to ride over it (someone had kindly piled up a few rocks against it in the middle to create a kind of ramp) – I was doing really well until I realised that despite having enough travel in the suspension, that wouldn’t stop the chainring digging into the log like an especially rubbish axe. Somehow I managed to not fall off, having enough momentum to get over, but I sure felt the shock in my wrists!
Once past another up and down but mostly flat section, I arrived at my next challenge – deep sand / silt from the nearby river bed. I wasn’t ready for how much this was going to slow me down, and after losing most of my speed, I also lost traction and had an interesting few seconds of riding sideways before all momentum and grip deserted me. Another falling-over opportunity just about missed – luckily – although it did result in a fairly panicky dismount just before I nearly toppled over).
Once through the quicksand the real climbing began – although thankfully the track had nearly turned into a road and the surface didn’t have big stones / rocks like last time. This was what I was used to (except for the 15 – 18% gradient and riding a 14 kg bike) so after I’d discovered the granny gear it was tough but no problems.
My next lesson was just a little further on – slippy roots criss-crossing the track. I’d experienced roots before, but downhill and on a dry day. Wet and uphill was much more interesting, and like the quicksand resulted in a general loss of speed prior to an undignified stop, after not going in the same direction as my wheels were pointing.
A bit more easy (well relatively) riding uphill and I was there – feeling quite proud of myself. I don’t think that I’ll entering the next world cup mountain bike series that comes to area anytime soon, but I certainly got some practice on a few tricky sections (for me). A stop for a bit of food and to enjoy the sun, and it was time to turn round and enjoy the fruits of my labour – the downhill bit!
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