There’s a lot of injustice in this world. I could list hundreds of them and we’d all nod and agree that they are terrible. We’d debate what could be done to solve each and everyone. The answer would be probably be along the lines of removing a despot or changing a regime.
I too suffer an injustice, but mine has a different slant. The county that I live in is trying to stop me getting exercise. In Wiltshire it is nigh on impossible to ride your bike off road in winter. This may seem a trivial geographical injustice to you. But come the revolution this one will not be sorted out. There’s nobody I can put against the wall to fix this one. As counties are accountable to no man.
Come winter Wiltshire selfishly hoards as much water as it can in order to reap two terrible injustices upon me personally.
The first is a hideous clay mix that has been specifically designed to kill the drivetrains of mountain bikes. This mix gathers grass, branches, stones and any other surrounding foliage with a view to appending them to bicycles. It’s inescapable and once it has you in its grasp you’re knackered as all its mates gang up on your bike dragging it to a halt and forcing you to poke it with sticks to get rid. The second is a snowless ski slope, or “chalk down” as John Craven once cheerily labelled them on Countryfile. What does he know? Stood there in the warm glow of an English summer’s day merrily pointing at seemingly innocent death traps. As soon as winter comes these things become lethal. They hand over all of their traction to the clay mix and lie there all white waiting for an unsuspecting mountain biker. Stray onto one of these slopes and you can wave goodbye to your bike and say “hello” to a sore arse (and a few quizzical sheep).
Chalk and clay, that’s what Wiltshire is, as I know only too well after a few geography lessons at Wootton Bassett school and years of destroying both myself and my bike on the downs. When the weather’s grim the road bike comes out as does the other hazard, Swindon drivers. Look up the legend of the Moonrakers and then ride a road bike around here. You’ll soon learn that the legend is absolute bollocks and many people round here really are plain stupid. They choose to display this stupidity by driving as close as they possibly can to me and getting offended when I display a mild air of protest.
This year I’d had just about enough of these injustices and was tempted to call it quits. The running shoes were ferreted out of the loft and I’d caught myself browsing rowing machines upon the Argos website. I knew something needed to be done when I began to wonder where the turbo trainer was hiding. And so I bought another bike.
Because “another bike” solves everything doesn’t it? There are very few maladies that can’ be cured by “another bike”. Donald Trump would calm down significantly if he forgot about walls and simply spent a few hours on the Planet X configurator. Jacob Rees Mogg could name his bikes after Roman poets instead of abusing his children with monikers that are going to get them bullied at school.
The addition to my stable was designed to fight back against the injustice that is Wiltshire. I bought myself a B+ machine, a bike with big chunky fat tyres and shed-loads of clearance. A bike designed to flick two fingers at chalky slopes and tell clay to “do one” as it mashed it deeper into the ground. For the uninitiated a B+ bike allows one to fit a 650B wide rim wheel and a affix a pretty damn large tyre to it. My model was the Pinnacle Ramin 3+. I bought it from Evans Cycles not realising that it came with a hernia until I tried to lug the box up my office stairs. The bike arrived fully assembled with the wheels on. The only concession to packing being the lack of pedals and the handlebars turned.
I wheeled it home. Removed the tubes, added some sealant and inflated the tyres. Ride with tubes in Wiltshire and the thorns will find you. Ten minutes later the bike looked a sorry mess with two deflated tyres. Some furious internet searching and twittering revealed that fat tyres need a LOT of sealant to stay up. A trip to the bike shop with a small fortune in cash sorted that. Why on earth is sealant so expensive? Is it milked from some rare animal or fashioned from gum chewed by legions of African bushmen?
Everything came together midday on Saturday. The tyres appeared to be inflated and staying that way and it was utterly shagging it down with rain. Time to see if my semi-fat bike was going to work.
I gingerly pedalled out of my drive and headed for Swindon’s mini-trail centre, The Croft MTB Trails. These had been lovingly crafted by mountain bikers (including a tiny bit by me) in shale and stone, only for Wiltshire to cover them in a thin layer of mud and leaves. Every winter previously I’d managed to stuff myself into a tree on these trails due to some form of water formed hazard.
Today was different. The plus tyres were having none of it and stuck rigidly to the ground. This was actually fun and I even managed a semblance of speed. The Pinnacle weighs in at a little over 28lbs a fair bit heavier than my other mountain bike, but still light enough to get chucked around a bit. So far so good, time to try it on a climb.
Ladder Lane has a bit of a reputation round here and would give the bike a perfect test. The climb is quite long and starts off with a mild gradient which gets worse with altitude. The crux is reached after a steep rooty slope, a narrow steep gully that coincides with heart rate max and a set of muddy steps requiring control and perfect weight balance. It’s doable in summer, could the plus bike get me up it in the slop?
To be fair it wasn’t the fault of the bike which was more than happy to keep on ascending. The Dave of January just does not have the legs and lungs. Additionally the bike could do with lower gearing as I ran out of cogs long before the gradient really kicked up. Mental note to replace 11-36 with something more plate-like. But I got off at exactly the same place where I’d fail on the other bike. So a score draw on this hill.
Onward to some really desperate shite. Horse hoof lane. It’s not called that on the map but it should be. A stretch of grassy clay ambling gently uphill to the Ridgeway. Horse riders love it here and they merrily canter up and down it on Dobbin with no consideration for the bikers who may come after them. It’s a disaster to ride in the winter due to its churned up nature. It’s a double disaster in the dry as the surface becomes bumpier than a brick in a tumble drier.
The plus bike cleared the whole thing. It wasn’t pretty and needed some grunt to achieve but I’ve never ridden the whole length in winter and usually require two stops to swear and remove clay. On the plus bike I got to the end slightly knackered and with the bike pretty clagged up, but rideable. This was brilliant and I began to make a mental note of many other sections that had previously been off limits but could now be revisited. The fat tyres worked a dream over this horse shattered shite and would have been even better if I’d dropped the pressure a little bit more. The roadie in me still insists on having rock solid tyres.
Excellent. I can ride over all sorts of crap now, let’s have a go at a descent. A mile later saw me turn right onto one of the aforementioned chalk ski slopes. This little beggar starts off as grass ruts, lulling you into a false sense of security, before becoming full on chalk and shoving you onto your arse. Not today. The fat tyres definitely provide more stability and whilst I minced down the slope, I was a lot less mincier than if I’d been on a standard tyre. Seeing as I could win awards for my trail mincing this was another mini-victory. Anything that subtracts even the slightest amount of mince from my riding is worth money to me.
The slope morphed into water filled ruts which I rode with a new confidence. Bigger tyres made these easier as well. Don’t ask me why? Maybe it’s because I felt more confident and stable which subsequently kept the bars and the wheels in the right place. As I reached the Wroughton Airfield I realised that I was already in love with this bike after a mere 7 miles. The film “The Grand Tour” here so I scooted over to the fence as I’m sure Jeremy Clarkson would want a go on my new bike around the track. But the wind had picked up a bit and it would have been hazardous for his flappy chin so I guess he was hiding in a hanger.
Gravel tracks lead the way to Avebury and Mr semi-fat bike was now having a whale of a time. Normally I’d avoid puddles for fear of what lies within. But on this bike I went straight for each and every one of them. What a laugh, like being a kid again and properly playing in the mud. What a twat as I arrived at the Circle Cafe covered from head to toe in shite and too embarressed to ruin one of their seats. I quaffed cheese scone and milky coffee in the pouring rain outside whilst contemplating my new steed and wondering why my receipt said “Latte”?
This bike was properly fun to ride in the bad weather. I had not got off once on my way to the cafe and even found myself relishing the challenge of mangled trails as opposed to avoiding them. It wasn’t all wine and roses. It’s nowhere near as sprightly as my other steed and needs extra effort to get it into motion, almost slightly sluggish until it’s reached “ramming speed”. The gearing is too high for my liking and climbs were making me sweat a little bit more than usual. And then there’s the spray! These big tyres pickup huge volumes of water most of which gets shoved in your face. I’d fitted a downtube guard but it really needs a front fender so I can actually see when going at any speed. However, I found myself easily adjusting to a slightly slower pace of riding, knowing that these tyres were going over almost anything in their path.
The fun did not abate as I made my way home. In fact I nearly went into fun overload on top of Fyfield Down as the tyres made short work of a long slippery grassy track and even shorter work of a loose gravelly descent.
I’d intended to spend Sunday doing jobs around the house, but on arriving home I checked the forecast and it was going to rain, a lot. Bollocks to the housework, the semi-fat-fun bike is going out again. And it will keep on going out throughout this winter as I’ve found a way to fight back against my Wiltshire based injustice.