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This time I was determined to get out into the dirt. The last time I came down, it rained and frankly, a wet 4 degrees C is below my ‘enjoyment’ level, regardless of how good the trail. This time though there was no excuse, 2 days off summer officially starting, it was warm.
Of course that meant getting out of bed by 5, but with 4.20am the regular start time of my road rides these days, 5am seemed like a luxury. I was flying solo too, always too hard to organise people when you don’t exactly know when or where you’ll be riding. Not that that was a bad thing, I figured at that time most of the locals would be still in bed, after all I used to be one and know that dirt rides rarely start before 6am at the earliest, so I was going to have the whole place to myself.
I was not disapointed.
The crisp, fresh smell in the air, the early morning light and knowing that the chance of bumping into any of the interstate interlopers I saw heading in with bikes strapped to their cars would be nowhere in sight – this is pretty much a ‘local’s’ haunt and hell, I was riding it before most of the ‘current’ locals even knew it existed… or knew what a mountain bike was.
I got to have that first crackle of rubber meeting dirt all to myself.
From there it was follow the trails I know until I warmed up, or at least until my legs warmed up. My brain function was still stuck in ‘road’ gear, so the corners were awkward, the flow jittery and the braking, well, frankly, shockingly bad. The turns and twists though were like a dose of Draino and the fitness gained over the past months of early morning road rides meant that the portion of one’s brain that is usually set aside for making sure the lungs do not explode and the legs from stopping could be put towards compensating for the skills that were still turned off; a theory that proved itself true several times over.
Up, down and discovering new sections that were not there the last time I rode here. With each passing 10 minute block, a layer of grime was peeled off and with each, a buried skill woke itself up. The key was not to back off and ride those trails you knew were going to make your mind work.
It happened at the 40 minute mark.
Like a giant click, it all came back, well enough to remember just why I became addicted to the dirt. It’s the same physical push that comes from riding road but dirt then delivers a higher plain buzz that sends you somewhere else altogether – you get that from surfing, which is why I have always thought the two, mountain biking and surfing, are very similar. Down trail, gain speed, weight the outside pedal, touch of brake, pivot from the torso, push from the shoulders and rail the corner. Flip and do the next. Push hard, accelerate out and into the flat section and flipflop flow the next series of turns and twists. That was so good, loop around and do it again… faster.
Before I know it though, time has ticked by and on the second run of the trail I usually leave till last, I come up against riders coming the other way (why on earth you’d climb a trail designed for down flow is beyond me). I stop, let them through but the flow is gone and just as I almost get it back, a dog comes running towards me and then another two riders (I didn’t stop this time – not enough room and going a tad too fast).
It’s time to head home, the party’s over.
I used to do this all the time, when it’s in your backyard it’s easy. At the same time, while I want / need to do it more, these days when I do, I probably have a higher appreciation of why. It’s just remembering that the skills don’t go away, so planning occasional rides long enough finds the hidden nirvana; you just have to hang around long enough to allow the layers of grime to be chipped away.
And I’d like to thank…
The now defunct Mountaincycle, because there’s something special about riding a bike you designed, even if it’s overkill for the trail you’re riding.
Shimano’s XT brakes, only because they really are that good.
Marzocchi 55 TST2 Coil/Air. Super rare (an OEM only spec that pretty much didn’t get spec’d!!), they are the last of the famous Zoke air/coils. Sure they are heavy but are the plushest, stiffest, most sure footed fork you’ll ever push around.
Turn Cranks by Praxis Works. The Girder M30 are simply boss cranks designed by a really nice guy.