A chaos of hard clay

Ashton Court is an old mansion estate on the edge of Bristol. It’s home to¬†various¬†things throughout the year, including the photogenic balloon festival and a large herd of small deer. It’s also been adopted by the local mountain bike community and there are several carefully constructed trails in the woods. I’ve done my best to ignore this aspect of the cycling world for about 36 years, but lately have been surreptitiously dipping a toe into the filthy primordial pondwater of mountain biking. I have assembled a bike for the carrying of the small person; it just so happens that it’s a retrotastic steel framed Orange P7 mountain bike and perfect for riding the sturdy and fast Nova trail in Ashton Court. Penelope has been taking a keen interest in all things cycling and is eagerly tracking the developments in the spring classics.

Well Dad, Boonen might be on the front at Driedaagse Van West-Vlaanderen but i’d wager he hasn’t got the form for a concerted and successful campaign. More milk please.

I’ve been over to Ashton Court twice this week to use it as my recovery ride. It’s a 4 mile circuit through the woods on a track built up and maintained by some ardent trail pixies. It has berms and banks and drops and all sorts of technical features. More importantly, it’s dry and free of the kind of slurry normally associated with this darkest and most vile of sports. I like it because it’s been deserted in the mornings and is a lively, technical ride requiring lots of decisions, a degree of focus but not too much out-and-out effort. It’s also a lot of fun. I learnt some interesting lessons: it’s best to let air out of tyres in order to go faster and gain a semblance of control. Not quite sure how Tim Wilkey of Das Rad Klub fame managed a fixie 120psi loop; courage.

the view from the Nova trail this morning at 10am

Today and last week I didn’t see another soul. On my way out, however, i saw an endless stream of men of a certain age in rather large and expensive looking cars with their large and very expensive mountain bikes in the back. It’s a minor gripe, but these chaps should really be riding to the trails. I’m sure there are a few excuses, but it didn’t look good. I nearly always see people unloading their bikes from the boots of huge cars in Leigh Woods and Clifton. It seems anomalous and not in keeping with the reasons why many people cycle.

That aside, the Nova Trail is the perfect introduction to the disgusting ‘off-road’ realm and I’d recommend it as an ideal workout for those new to such dark pursuits.

The Dark Side

As a general rule, i have few principles or convictions. There are a couple that tend to affect the way I live my life:

1. I’m a vegetarian.

2. Mountain bikes make me feel physically sick.

You may recall that some time ago my ‘friends’ identified, correctly, that a classic stag-do humiliation would involve making me ride a mountain bike. This came in some distance ahead of being cling-filmed to a tree naked, or other derring-do.

As you can see from the image, they topped it off with a rather fetching-looking jersey. The experience was witnessed by all and sundry who happened to be out that day, and retweeted by the owner of the local bike shop.

Of late, I have felt this conviction waver in the face of the new-found practicalities of a changed way of life. I am embarking on ‘project dark side’, the assembly of an all-terrain bicycle suitable for transportation of a small child.

I have sourced a very cheap and old Orange C16 frame with a rigid fork It’s the best of a very bad bunch. I couldn’t bring myself to look at anything other than a rigid steel frame. I have embarked upon an ebay trawl and forum surf to see if i can get a job lot of cheap parts. I have already come up against a number of obstacles. Firstly, the dimensions of everything are completely whacky, especially the wheels. Secondly, I have no experience of fettling the type of things that need to be fettled on a mountain bike. Thirdly, and perhaps worst of all, these sort of bicycle-shaped obscenities usually come with a triple chainset. This is rank and cannot be tolerated.

I shall keep you posted on my journey into the Stygian gloom. With any luck it will look a bit like the one below, without the bar ends. And a slammed stem. And minus the goddamned triple.

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