In which the Reluctant Cyclist gets down and dirty
As a summer treat I had long ago promised to take my kids to Thetford Forest, home of high wires and mountain bike trails. As I was not at all keen on the mud-splattered mountain biking (MTB, for those in the know) effect, I waited for the longest dry spell we had seen all year to ensure that all the dirt would have fully dried out leaving a nice clean trail for me to attack. Well, approach cautiously armed with elbow-pads, knee-pads, full face helmet and a bubble-wrap suit for protection.
The first thing I should be clear on is that there were no mountains. No mountains, no hills, not even a small tuffet. This was East Anglia after all, and the fens at that. Apparently mountain biking does not necessarily involve going up things (yay), and can be practiced even in the flat fenland forests. Seeing as my general response to hills is to grumble, change to the lowest gear and then decide that I don’t need to go wherever that road is taking me after all, I was feeling quite cheery about the whole affair.
We all hired bikes at the forest, apart from my other half, who naturally owned three to choose from so could match his bike to his underwear, and then got ready to set off on the trail.
My eldest daughter decided that it was her turn to play the Reluctant Cyclist and had a pre-teenaged hissy fit complaining that the bike she was given didn't 'feel' right and insisted on sitting the whole thing out. The youngest, however was keen, so one rider down we set off into the woodlands.
Comfy-bum saddles clearly haven't made an impact on the mountain bike world and despite the suspension it was certainly a bumpy start, and this was apparently before we had even reached the trail proper. Practicing the art of riding with my bum out of the saddle to avoid internal damage, I could only watch as my youngest rode through some sand and came a cropper in the dust.
This was meant to be the easiest trail, and we were yet to ride even a mile.
Worried that we were dropping like flies, and this was going to become a 'there were two on the trail' teddy bears' bed I administered hugs, wet wipes and a brief lecture on the stiff British upper lip and we were quickly back on our way.
Reaching the next piece of sand, I tried to learn from the previous encounter and, needing to make a split second decision between trying to climb out of it and heading for the bushes, I decided that the bushes looked like the comfier option and crashed into them instead of the dirt trail.
Who'd have thought that sand could be such a dangerous medium for riding in?
And I speak as the owner of a 'beach cruiser' bike (which has seen as much seaside action as it has the inside of a velodrome). Bang go my beautiful dreams of me in a bikini cruising down a californian beach. Okay, maybe it’s not me in that dream, but someone who owns a bikini. And an up to date passport.
Inwardly I started compiling a list of things to avoid when on the bike: sand (see previous), rocks (for obvious reasons), tree roots (very bumpy with a tendency for the front wheel to get stuck between them), bits where people have cycled a lot (you get stuck in the grooves), bits where people haven't cycled at all (not very smooth), in fact I was at a loss as to why they hadn't just put a nice smooth bit of Tarmac down to facilitate the passage of bicycles between the trees.
As my other half set off to tackle a 'red route' (what other dangers lurked there? Bear pits? ‘I’m a Celebrity’ style bush tucker trials? Small children with water pistols?) I sat with the grumpy daughter and the injured daughter (4 falls in the first 2 miles) to contemplate whether mountain biking was really the sport for me.
True, I wasn't muddy, but I was coated with a thin layer of dust which had stuck to my sunscreen, and had bits of bush in awkward places. That is not a euphemism. I actually found leaves down the back of my pants.