The last time I went mountain biking was in 1998 (I think). Some friends and I had hired a cottage in North Wales and we spent a few days there over the new year period. I seem to recall a trip to Beddgelert (or somewhere like that), to cycle around what felt like almost vertical hillsides with very muddy tracks. I liked coming down but hated going up and, since then, my riding has been confined to roads, cycle paths, towpaths and bridleways.
More recently though, I’ve felt the need to push a bit harder – to try something a bit less sedate than the family rides out (which I might describe as “leisurely”, if I was being charitable, or “pedestrian” to be more honest…) – and when the latest catalogue from Evans Cycles landed on the mat, their Ride It! events caught my eye.
These organised rides offer all the benefits of a race, without actually racing. In fact, racing is prohibited. Even so, we were timed with chips, the route (in multiple lengths) was clearly waymarked, and there were “pit stops” with refreshments (sports drinks, jelly beans and cake!) and the ability to carry out simple bike repairs (more on that in a moment). There are two classes of event – mountain bike and “sportive”, with very different courses, run over very different terrain. Even so, I was intrigued to see where I was going to go “mountain biking” in Milton Keynes!
The answer, it seems, is the Beds/Bucks border in and around Brickhill – I really enjoyed the trail (graded 2/4 for climbing – so not too bad, although almost everyone walked some of the hills of sandy soil that felt pretty much like riding on a beach…) but was let down somewhat by my bike (although they do say that a bad workman blames his tools). You see, my “best bike” is a Trek 830, which cost me a few hundred pounds in the late ’90s and was recently serviced (by Olney Bikes) but it has no suspension, making it a bit rough for off road use. I also have a cheap full-suspension bike that I bought from a neighbour a few years ago and that’s the one I selected today. Five miles in and I took a tumble as I turned from tarmac to gravel and my front wheel was badly buckled. Unable to straighten it at the next pit-stop (despite the best efforts of the Ride It! team – thank you!) the consensus was that I should disconnect the front brake and ride on back brakes only… which was “interesting” on some of the downhill forest sections! Actually, there was some more advice too – buy a cheap wheel, then sell the bike, and buy a new one (something I’ve wanted to do for a while, but have so far failed to gain spousal approval for). I kept going until the second pit stop but by then I’d decided to switch from the medium (25 mile) course to the short one (advertised as 15 miles, but nearer to 18 according to the GPS on my phone), missing a fairly flat road section around Woburn Sands and another blast up and down through Aspley Woods. I was probably a bit ambitious going for the medium course on my first ride anyway – just because I can do a quick 6 miler from home on local cyclepaths and bridleways in half an hour, I thought it would take me about two and a half hours to do 25 miles – that may have been a little optimistic with this course!
So, the verdict on Evans’ Ride It! events: great fun; a good workout; friendly (both participants and staff); and well organised (although I was disappointed that the timing chip failed to register my start, and the GPX routes were not posted in advance on the blog as the FAQ suggests – and the link was broken in the confirmation email for my registration).
As for the verdict on my maintain biking abilities: needs more practice – and a new bike! My shopping list is something like: hard-tail; disc brakes; front forks with suspension; good quality; but not too expensive…
Those who are interested in the route can check out my workout from today on Endomondo (although not all paths are generally open to the public – some require a permit, which had been arranged for this event).