The following series of events in no way represents the views or opinions of Bikemagic. Or me for that matter.
A misty haze surrounded me as I woke from a disturbed dreamy beer-fuelled slumber. It was 8.45 on a Sunday morning. The very same Sunday morning after the clocks went back an hour. Bugger, it was 7.45. Back to sleep then.
A farty, beery haze surrounded me as I woke from a disturbed dreamy beer-fuelled slumber. It was 8.30 on a Sunday morning.
My incredible guitar solo from the previous evening, some four and a half hours earlier, was still playing all too loudly in my skull, only this time it sounded much like it did for those present the evening before – a bag of kittens and Howler Monkeys being burned with petrol whilst bagpipes played Lady Madonna by the Beatles.
I gathered my biking things together, as is customary when going for a bike ride, and donned my best biking ballgown. Also required were some flat pedals and toeclips due to a total absence of ownership of spuds, just one item on a long list of 20th and 21st century bike products currently not attached to my XT combi shifters. Attached instead I have a 1937 Orange Clockwork with similarly dated mechanicals.
The purpose of such an early rise after a night supping Leffe, sadly also Vodka shots all polished off with Whisky, was to go riding with various BM members around the leafy slopes of Leith Hill – a place I’m reliably informed is somewhere between Dorking and Guildford. The honourable Lord CT of Liecestersvilleshire, a ludicrously posh bloke who regularly posts rubbish on the BM website, had foolishly agreed to show me around the aforementioned area of the world. His butler rang the doorbell and quickly took my bags and temperature to the Golden Carriage. A swift stop at a supermarket chain-store to stock up on breakfast and dehydration inhibitors and we were on our merry way.
We arrived at the car park in Peaslake and began the process of assembling the bikes. CT was utilising his Giant NRS and I had quite generously been loaned the Giant Reign 2 from the stables of BM Towers courtesy of Mike Davis, who did the nodding, and David Arthur, who did the physical labour involved in setting the bike up and getting it down the fire escape to the awaiting horse drawn carriage of CT.
As soon as I’d hammered the pedals on I hopped aboard to have a spin on my first ever suspension bicycle. As soon as I’d picked myself up and put the wheels on I hopped on for my first ever spin on a suspe… you get it.
‘Boing!’ said Zebedee. ‘Boing!’ said the bike. ‘Bleeaaaccghhh!’ said Numpty as the Leffe from the night before frothed dangerously close to his Hampstead’s.
This was a bad sign, but a sign, like many others in my life, which I ignored. I rode in a straight line to the other end of the gravely car park and performed a gentle turn. Later that day the turn was complete. This was going take some getting used to. I’m used to the instant response of the rigid forks and was unsettled by my lack of ability at turning, this could prove tricky in the coming hours as I was sure there would be one or maybe two turns ahead.
I continued pissing about in the car park and bouncing the forks down until they bottomed out, whatever that is, and began to get a feel for the bike, also the feel for a swift little chunder.
The other riders assembled and we sped away slowly up the road. Riding this day were, in order of appearance (or as near as I can remember): Numpty, CT, Matt, FLaP, Flan, Pete, and the inimitable Hairy footed Hobbit.
The first climb was mostly on tarmac, so I was ok, until we reached the crest of Holmbury Hill which opened from the wooded road/track out onto a beautiful panoramic view of the land between Dorking and Guildford. I clung on to the monument thoughtfully built there for such an occasion and after a few moments regained single vision. Bloody hills. I was informed that groups of folk dress up as Orks and other such Lord of the Rings characters round these woods. I knew what was going on, in my booze riddled state I had already seen the White Wizard and had chatted to Gollum on the climb up.
I didn’t notice too much ‘bobbing’ on the way up and was quite pleased by the time I’d reached the top. It was the first climb so I wasn’t paying that much attention to energy loss through ‘bobbing’ and was still as fresh as a used nappy at this point. I got worse.
From the top of the hill we took a trail called ‘ Parklife’ which seemed to merge into the next trail called ‘Telegraph Poles’ which funnily enough followed the line of telegraph poles. Parklife was a roller coaster affair through more than a decent amount of puddles and one particularly huge puddle (which FLaP followed me through). ‘Telegraph Poles’ (I’m sure I heard CT call it Telegraph Proles) which was concreteblocky, rooty/drop, droppy rooty, all of this twisty turny which was a real test of my grasp on the suspension fork (and my stomach as well). It went well.
The rootty-droppy stuff would have been pretty tough on the arms riding a rigid bike and I was pleasantly surprised to find this bike just eating up everything on the trail. This was also the trail on which I realised just how wide the bars were. My bars are the biking equivalent of a boy racers steering wheel, the size of a 10 pence piece, my bars would be too small should I decide to grow another finger.
I can’t remember the exact order of the next chain of events, but in my defence I was turning grey.
I do remember not having to do much in the way of thinking about what line to take on the trail in front. The bike just rolled over everything. Through pine woods, riding the slopes, ups, downs, round and rounds, the same environment in which I first went MTBing, fantastic! And legal!
FlaP was still following me at this point and my erratic riding was less and less on the trail and more and more about six inches to the left. This was partially due to a lack of understanding of how a suspension fork works and partially down to the remaining alcohol in my blood being pumped about my trashed, hungover corpse. Actually it was probably down to sheer luck I was in that much/little control. At one point the rear end, with me perched high up on the saddle, swung out at 90 degrees to the frame and front wheel and I rolled along on the front wheel only. All this whilst on the side of a slope and travelling swiftly and still, unbelievably, I managed not to fall off .This also possibly produced a view of things that would suggest I knew what the hell I was doing. I wasn’t me, it was the bike. This bike was getting to me. It was possessed.
I soon realised the bike was not the only thing possessed around these parts, my bowels and hangover had taken a turn for the worse and were now insisting they too were possessed. By chance, we had a road transfer between trails via the sleepy little village of Holmbury St Mary. A quick emergency stop off was necessary in the local pub, which was awash with middle-aged, cardigan-under-a-leather-jacket, mid-life crisis bikers. Numpty had to drop some pesky kids off at the pool and have a little cat-sick for good measure.
As soon as the pointing and laughter died down we were on our way again, this time on a long climb up ‘Mother’. It proved to be as bad as climbing up Mother would suggest. At the base CT said something silly like ‘take it easy’ or something. Halfway up I was steadily losing my white/grey complexion in favour of green, only to return once again to an even paler shade of nothing.
I was hallucinating quite badly at this stage. Fortunately all would prove well because I saw an alligator on a penny farthing riding past bidding me a ‘good day’ and ‘not far now’, and even the London Symphony Orchestra at the top of the hill who were tuning their instruments gave a wave of encouragement. Finally I did reach the top, well not the top but close, at which point I gracefully dismounted and began a gentle prayer on all fours. After a small amount of cramping and stomach leakage all would be well. Leaking was interrupted by a vague background sound of giggling and a group of other riders, well, riding past, giggling. A few stretches and a quick Technicolor yawn and we were away. I must have tinnitus because the giggling didn’t seem to go away for quite a while.
Having dealt a blow to my hangover in fine fashion I was feeling pretty good. Sick, but nonetheless, pretty good. Senses were returning that were hereto unavailable. Peripheral vision returned. Perspective turned up arm in arm with depth and the whole ensemble began reporting for duty just in time to save face.
Next up was the last little bit up to the Leith Hill Tower and another nice view, but more importantly some orange juice from the shop and a meander to some trees for my second cat-sick of the day.
The downhill section took us over a trail designated ‘Deliverance’ then ‘Waggledance’ and along to ‘Summer Lightning’, all of which were pretty fluid with plenty to keep you amused. The bike was performing marvellously. Although a weighty beast it was easy to throw about and once I’d sussed out how to jump the thing rather than just bounce it down and then lose all the lift through the travel, I started having a whale of a time. Throwing up probably helped too. Less weight.
I couldn’t believe how much the suspension took out of the trail. It was perfect for my delicate condition. With my new found confidence I began to really enjoy not caring about what line to take, it didn’t matter. When I later mused on this I thought it was not as skilful as having to pick the right line and deal with the bumps like you must with a rigid bike, but then I thought what rubbish! Yes, it does require more concentration and a certain amount of skill and brute force to go fast over rough stuff, but so what? It’s nowhere near as much fun as crushing everything in your path, riding over anything and jumping stuff that would have had my bike throwing me like a rider from his horse at Beechers Brook during the Grand National.
Eyes opened. With every second that ticked away I noticed more and more how easy everything was on the Giant. The brakes, despite what editors may say were fantastic. My V’s in comparison feel about as much use as tissues trying to soak up Niagara Falls. I could brake as late as I pleased knowing they would do the job, how liberating!
Yet another climb back up to Leith Hill tower and then down into the woods for some big up and downs at ‘Pint Glass’. The climb was a tough one. I really noticed the bob effect here. Not on my bike, I’d dismounted and was crawling now, but on the others. The only two riders to even get close to the top of this hill were FlaP and Matt who were both on hardtails, Matt on his Orange and FlaP on his newly built Inbred. The hardtails had a massive advantage, fitness may have played a small part too, but I’m thinking the bouncy bikes were just lost on this hill, a rooted steep affair.
I wanted the Clockwork at this point. In fact if CT’s butler would have taken the bouncy bike to the top and I rode my bike up then I could have ridden the bouncy bike down. I must look into that. Nothing climbs like a rigid bike. But who the hell wants a rigid bike when you get to the top of a hill? Well, not me anymore.
I’d like to note that all the riders here were equally competent; some in true Orwellian fashion were more equal than others and kept us in a well marshalled group. One leader and two outriders, very subtle, very spy. CT pretty much took the lead and at a good pace, not too swift not too slow and everybody was always within earshot, Pete and Flan keeping us all within earshot. Flan was also riding with an injured arm, how he got this is open to speculation, but probably RSI. Suffice to say it was very well organised, without being organised, which always adds to one’s enjoyment of a ride, fannying about finding which route to take generally being annoying for everyone.
The ‘Pint Glass’ was next up. I hang back with the Hobbit at the start and he said ‘I’m not doing the Pint Glass, it’s a bit much.’ Fair play, don’t push yourself if you don’t feel you can do it, so a few scoops and a couple of big drops later the group stopped. The hairy footed one again said ‘I’m not doing the Pint Glass’ at which point he was informed by CT he’d just done it! I had the little giggle fit I missed out on earlier.
We pressed on along something called ‘The Hidden Trail’ which was again rooty but this time hidden amongst dense foliage, down a really rooted section then a sharp right hander up. It was here that Matt received an externally rotated inner tube, announced with a bang and a puff of chalk. After much pointing and laughing we climbed up, enough of the up already, and over the cricket pitch. Which cricket pitch I don’t know, nor why it was three quarters of the way up a hill.
The best bit was saved until last. ‘Barry knows best’. I can’t argue with that. This trail was brilliant. All downhill through woods, berms, bumps, jumps, lumps, clumps, humps, slumps and jumps. I liked the jumps. The bike glided over all of it, what a thrill. I’ve ridden similar trails on the rigid bike and there can be no comparison. It’s a totally different type of riding. On the rigid bike I would have been terrified travelling at that speed and would undoubtedly have ended up several meters away from the trail and several meters up a tree.
The Giant allowed me to forget all the troubles of landing and steering and just enjoy the soaring. It was like floating, although that could also be attributed to my blood. The best bit was a big jump near the end of the trail, brown trousers would have been required on the Clockwork, the Giant encouraged me to jump the sucker. I don’t ever remember being so high off the ground on a bike, just brilliant, and all with the total confidence that the machinery beneath me will easily cushion the blow. Liberation!
The ride was over. My socks had been lost somewhere halfway down a slope after they were impressed off. The grin on my boat race would not be shifted until I returned to Amsterdam to pay off outstanding bills.
We stopped at the pub in Peaslake for a pint of Tea, which turned out to be ale, and a post ride chunner. What a great ride, an excellent bunch of lads and a well thought out route. Hats off to all the chaps and an invitation to the trails in the Dutch Dunes for each of them.
Summing up, I really enjoy the technical side of riding that you must do when riding a rigid bike, finding the right line, hanging on for dear life over rough terrain, filling my trousers at jumps and the ability to climb. Prior to riding the Giant I really had no idea just how much a suspension bike does for you. It inspires confidence, at no time was I hesitant about any of the stuff we rode over, there really was no need to assess too much, just do it. The bike would deal with the impacts, not my arms and legs. It really was fantastic.
I loved the freedom the suspension gave, my teeth appreciated it too. The shocks and impacts involved in fast rigid riding, fast? Compared to the sus it’s a glacial pace, become very tiring very quickly, a rigid off-road ride becomes an endurance event rather than an out and out blast and that is what has been hard to accept.
The rigid will remain my daily use bike for the time being. He’s old but perfect for the road use it gets and also great for Dutch off-roading, but really, compared to the full susser it’s pony. I loved the feel of the big bike, like a motor-cross bike, with a one human power engine.
The bike came back with me to the Hotel I was staying at, much to the disgust of the Hotel staff, it was still minging with mud. That’s what the maids get paid for, at least I’ll know if they hoovered the room properly, there were clumps of mud all over the place.
I returned the bike to BM Towers, but not before riding it along the South Bank and riding up and down as many sets of steps as I could find, and some steps I couldn’t find too. I was behaving like a big kid. Great, more of the same please.
I was very sad to see the bike returned, I’d grown very attached to it and wanted to keep it. I would have to change the RapidFire shifters, particularly Numpty unfriendly, and replace with the Combi-shift but other than that it would do. Crap, it had to go back. When Giant want it back, I suggest sending it to them via me, I’ll clean it and pass it on.
My encounter with the Giant has left me in turmoil, I’ve been unfaithful to the ageing Clockwork with a beautiful, young supermodel. Even other supermodels are looking gorgeous compared to my classic diva, the diva is cheap and reliable, the supermodel is expensive and high maintenance. I think I can cope with both.
I’m hooked. I want one. I have to get one.
Once again, thanks to Mike and Dave at BM and a big thanks to all the chaps who took a day out of their lives to watch a man be sick by a hedge.