Getting cross on the trails
One of the best things about the tail end of spring and early summer is the novelty of post-work rides in the daylight. Yesterday – after too many hours of staring at screen and paper, too long spent on the phone, not long enough spent in the fresh air – I was groggy with fatigue, ready to retire to the sofa with a beer. My legs twitched, though. I needed to do something before I did nothing.
Five minutes later, I was in lycra and aboard the trusty Felt Breed SSCX bike, and spinning down the couple of hundred metres of tarmac before I hit my local trails. I’d left in such a hurry that I had forgotten to top up my water bottle, not brought any food, and couldn’t remember whether I’d replaced the punctured inner tube that was sat in my saddle roll. It didn’t really matter. I wasn’t planning on riding far or fast. I was just riding.
My local trails have been ‘mine’ for well over a decade, now. I had moved to Leeds not long after finishing university – a few years of my life where my trusty mountain bike was forgotten about and I formed a strong friendship with beer and junk food instead. Running and climbing gradually became my preferred choice of beergut-reducing antidote. Once in Leeds, my now brother-in-law reintroduced me to the joys of off-road riding, and I mountain biked around the suburban trails and field edges of north Leeds. Over that time, trails have evolved, I’ve discovered new ones, been shown others. Some have fallen out of favour, others have become classics. I’ve ridden most of them on every kind of bike possible, from burly enduro bike to hardtail 29er, to last night’s choice – the cross bike.
For 80% of the riding I encounter, it is perfect. Ploughed field edges and farm tracks are despatched with minimal fuss, but an engaging ride. I must still pick the smoothest line, moving from trail edge to trail edge, or balancing on the crown of two ruts. Hitting sinuous singletrack is joyous, twitchy handling becomes nimble trail dancing. Ineffectual cantis scrub just enough speed off to prevent too many bike/tree interfaces, but force concentration and flow. Roots are bunnyhopped, pinch punctures are literally around the next corner for the inattentive rider (me). The grip of 33c tyres is tested beyond their capabilities. Drifty, drifty fun is had on the mostly dry trails that I’ve been dreaming about since October.
For the remaining 20%, the ‘cross bike is a stupid choice. Rocky steps that are cleared with a single huck of the mountain bike become a serious technical challenge. Rougher trails must be taken at more conservative speeds, more time spent manualling and lifting the rear wheel over obstacles than pedalling. There are even points at which a dismount is the only realistic option, a quick shoulder of the bike, and remount 10 metres down the trail.
It is because of the whole that the ‘cross bike is perfect though. Practical impracticality. Blindingly fast, improbably slow. These bikes rawk.
Waking up to bramble scratches I check my emails, including one from grit.cx despatch king/towering adonis James. He’s rediscovered an old Vimeo clip. I remember it well – it first inspired me to take my CX bike out on trails that I thought were only rideable with tyres wider than a couple of inches. Thanks for the reminder James, and thanks to Andy Wardman for the inspiring vid.