29 August 2021

Taking my bike into the hills

I like my exercise. I still go every day. But once every few months, I get a bit restless and want to explore new territory. I had been really broadening my oeuvre in running routes, but in the end, the possible number of feasible routes from my front door is limited. In the wet season, it is more limited than ever. So for reasons of variation, and not making my poor long-suffering feet all do the work, I had already done several bike rides. I had started on the black bike, and followed up with that quite many times all in all, and even taken the road bike out for a ride once. But I was getting restless again, and I had spent months listening to the lovely routes Martin was routinely doing on his rather sophisticated mountain bike, so I decided to give my red bike a bit of a spin. This is my bike with the most off-road credibility. It actually is a mountain bike, but it is a bit old and rattly, and I don't think the suspension does much. But at least it is the only bike that has any semblance of suspension, and the frame is a lot smaller than that of my black bike. I wouldn't want to do rough terrain on that! That is accidents with the frame waiting to happen. I had been longing for it when I tried a new route to the big supermarket and the terrain became way too uneven for my poor gravel bike. It had been put to use as a bike for getting between Menai Bridge and Bangor, but out in the hills it would come into its own a lot more

The first thing I had to decide was how much protection I thought I needed. I didn't intend to go hell for leather, so I wanted to keep the risk of falling off low, but it's never zero, so protection was a good idea. After some pondering I decided on the somewhat unusual ensemble of my digging kneepads and a pair of gardening gloves as additions to my usual helmet and biking glasses. That would have to do.

Then I needed to do decide on a route. I figured my weekend off-road loop would do, with a few adjustments. It is a just under 6 miles loop around the nearest three hills. The quality of the paths is generally good so this might be a good place to start. It has some footpaths that are really not suitable for bikes (not in my world, anyway) at the beginning, so I needed to think of a different approach. So I devised a detour via Rachub.

Then it was going to happen. I first got to the start of my route without issues. Then the first bit I already had to walk, as it was too steep, but soon I was on a wide path with a good gradient. That was quite comfortable to bike on! So far so good. But after a while it becomes narrow, has a lot of rocks sticking out of it, and crosses lots of streams of various sizes. I had to get off quite a lot! I suppose that when you do this sort of thing bit more often, you stay on the bike a lot more often. But this was a first, so I was not embarrassed about walking bits. And the crossing of the biggest stream was not something I would ever want to do on a bike.

After a while, the path got wide again. It also got steep! And if you make one steering error it's hard to correct for it, and you might end up walking again. And then the path to the pass was fairly steep, very rocky, and festooned with a big rut in many places. I didn't do an awful lot of biking there! But then I got to the top, and things improved. Soon I came off the wide path and ended up on a narrow, grassy path. That was quite comfortable for a while! And that too has very rocky bits, but altogether it was quite nice. I quickly recognised the mental strain Martin had been talking about. You really have to concentrate going downhill! And I was doing a complete sissy route, but I wasn't used to it, so I could feel my brain strain. And my fingers, working the brakes.

When I got to the kissing gate that would lead me back into the village I had to lift my bike over the gate. But from there it was easy! First a farm track, and then the actual road. And then I was home!
What is the verdict? I think I will do this bit more often. I think a bit of practice will pay off. As it was now, I think it took me longer than it would have done if I would have just gone running. And if you go running, the uphill bits are still strenuous, and the downhill bits might be harder work on the body, but they are easier on the mind. I might try this in the other direction first. Just to see how that feels! And if I manage to become a bit more efficient at this, I can go a bit further than when running. And it certainly is very different! So even though I think I showed a remarkable lack of talent in actual mountain biking, I did show some serious acumen in giving myself bit of variety in my exercise regime. More to come!

my improvised set-up 

Crossing the biggest stream

The pass between Moel Wnion and y Gyrn 

One of the easy stretches of the way down

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