Knee pads

We’re at Betws-y-coed, riding the Marin trail on a damp Monday afternoon. It’s the final leg of Alex’s stag weekend, which has involved the fantastic Penmachno trails, gorge walking, a crazy tree-top adventure, a parachute simulator and the odd pint of local ale, amongst other things.

We roll off the fire-road and into the final descent. Simon first, then Brett, me, Anton, Alex and Matt. Si sets off in his usual style: like an ICBM aimed at the far end of the trail. The rest of us roll in behind him, pedalling like maniacs to try and keep up.

We’re moving down the singletrack at ludicrous speed. It’s big, wet, rocky stuff. Properly rocky. North Wales rocky. It gets to the point where I have to back off a bit because my forks aren’t working very well I’m getting really quite scared.

We arrive at a particularly evil off-camber corner with a really rough run-in. Si has a big moment on the way through and stops a bit further up. Brett gets it wrong on the way in and has to really wrestle the bike around. I get all slidey going through the corner but manage to hold it together. Anton goes one better, losing the front wheel on the wet rocks and going down hard.

He bounces straight back up looking more or less unscathed, but for some reason he’s saying “That’s not good. That’s really not good.”

I look him up and down and can’t see what’s wrong. Then I look at his bike, which seems to be in one piece. I’m about to congratulate him on a spectacular crash when he lifts up the leg of his shorts to reveal the gash in his knee.

I can see his kneecap.

That’s really quite unpleasant.

Several stitches later, he’s off the bike for a few weeks while it heals up.

Earlier that day, when we were getting changed into our biking kit, he put his shoes on before realising he hadn’t put on his knee pads. “Ah bugger it” he said, and didn’t bother.

Magic people

I broke a gear cable on the Cannondale, so when last tuesday’s Hotsingletrack ride rolled around, Tim very kindly lent me his classic Voodoo.

We met up with the others on Leckhampton Hill in the pouring rain. Luckily that eased off a bit, but after a few weeks of foul weather the trails were coated in a thick layer of thick, wet mud. Here I was, on a completely unfamiliar bike, riding in some of the most challenging conditions I could imagine. In the dark. Game on.

Just like the last time I borrowed it, I finished up the ride wanting to keep the Voodoo. It’s a lovely bike, all light, pingy and playful. It’s an XC race bike at heart, though. You can’t just sit back and cruise. Faced with a climb? Hammer up it. Deep mud? Hammer through it. Stretch of road? Big ring it leaving everyone else for dead.

And the descents? YEAH BABY! Off the brakes, BRAARP! OK, so I spent more time travelling sideways than forwards and there was at least one spectacular leapfrog-the-bars dismount. It was proper fun though, drifting everywhere, mud flying in all directions, whooping as we went. Especially comical was the sight of the two Marks dragging their bikes across a field, wheels completely clogged up with the thick, claggy mud.

I still haven’t fixed the ‘dale, and Tim’s put a shorter stem and wider bars on the Voodoo now. I wonder…

Pondering web technology

There’s been a lot of talk lately about HTML5, which is the latest incarnation of the language we use to write the web. So far, most of it has been about the new structural elements it brings, which is a great start, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Thanks to HTML5 and a handful of other standards, in the not-too-distant future web browsers will do all of this without the help of plug-ins (e.g. Flash):

  • Vector graphics (SVG, Canvas)
  • 3D Graphics (Canvas3D)
  • Animation (Javascript, SMIL, CSS animation and transitions)
  • Rich media (native handling of audio and video)
  • Javascript at speeds close to native compiled code
  • Proper layout and typography (through advances in CSS)
  • Complex form handling

This all all potentially awesome stuff, but there are a lot of hurdles to overcome. I have questions.

Do plug-in technologies like Flash, Java and Silverlight become irrelevant? Or will they continue to do things that the browser alone can’t (yet) do? What are those things?

What will it take to bring these new capabilities into wider use? The likes of Webkit & Opera are already bringing much of this stuff to millions of users through their mobile phones and games consoles. Will that be enough, or will the dominant desktop browser (Internet Explorer in case you hadn’t guessed) hold them back?

Will efforts to hack support into IE by other means (e.g. Raphaël, which uses IE’s proprietary VML to fake SVG support) be a good enough stop-gap measure to help with the adoption of these technologies? Can we leverage the likes of Flash, Java and Silverlight to help out where IE is lacking? (Will cross-browser headaches ever really go away?)

Then there’s the question of developer tools. The availability of decent authoring software helped the adoption of Flash massively. Will such things appear naturally when enough people are hand-crafting these technologies, or will the tools drive adoption?

Obviously I don’t have any answers. I can’t wait to start playing with it all though.

Things you don’t want to hear when you’re out night biking

Me: Was that rain? Or maybe snow?

Brett: Neither. I blew my nose.

Me: AARGHH! NOOOO!

Twice

I nearly always bring a bike when I come back to Guildford, but I never seem to actually ride the thing. Last time I was all set for a ride with Raoul before realising my helmet was still in Cheltenham. Bugger. This time though, things were going to be different. This time, I got up on Christmas Eve, chucked the bike in the car and headed towards vaguely familiar territory.

I’d not ridden around Peaslake for years — not since the heady days of my GT LTS singlespeed. My memories of the place were all a bit hazy…

Now, I’ve not been out on the bike at all for a week or three. I had a couple of “can’t be arsed” weeks, followed by a bout of the dreaded man-flu. So perhaps charging up the opening climb like a bat out of hell wasn’t my best move. Where’s my lung capacity gone? Why am I trying to cough them up? Why do I feel like I’m going to vomit? Surely it shouldn’t hurt this much…ooo singletrack! Lets see where that goes!

And so it begins. I followed myriad trails up and over and down and around. My mental map of the place started to return, or so I thought. I rode all the way up one mysterious bike-tracked path until I reached a car park on top of the hill. “That one’d be really good in the other direction” thought I. So I turned around and hammered back down it.

With the exception of the odd puddle twenty foot deep bog of death, it was fantastic! I found myself drifting through loamy turns, railing natural berms, pumping the undulations and getting all sketchy over the exposed roots. Awesome. But my mental map had let me down. Somewhere I’d taken a wrong turn and ended up by a reservoir I’d forgotten even existed. I was about to ride off up a rather dull-looking trail when I spotted another bit of singletrack over the road…

Oh man. I remembered this one from years gone by. That ride when we broke Tim springs to mind. Back then, it was a fun and sinewy little bit of singletrack. Good, but nothing really special. Someone’s been tinkering since then though. The fun factor’s been turned up to eleven. Loads of little jumps, whoops, drop-ins, fantastic zig-zag berms, endless roots and whoops of delight. Oh, and it’s really very fast indeed.

One moment stands out vividly. I came charging though a corner, saw some evil-looking roots ahead of me and instinctively pumped the front of the bike to lift it over them. Usually in these situations the back wheel follows without issue. Not this time. The rear shot sideways at light-speed before gripping hard. The back of the bike was now pointing in an entirely different direction to the front and moving just as quickly. I’ve no idea how I held it all together, but I pin-balled wildly into the next section with a massive grin on my face. BRAAARRP!

The descent finished within sight of the village. Whist resting there, I spotted adverts on the village noticeboard for biking companies based in Morzine and near Glentress, and that the village welcomes mountain bikers. Refreshing.

My second loop took an altogether different route around the woods, before quite coincidentally ending up at that car-park on top of the hill. Same again? Well, it’d be rude not to, wouldn’t it?

WHOOOP WHOOOOOOP!

That was odd.

Death in Vegas intrigue me. I bought The Contino Sessions years ago, but only ever liked one or two tracks. Later I saw them do the sunset slot at Glastonbury and thought they were brilliant. They didn’t release anything for ages after that, so, well, I forgot about them. Then a couple of weeks ago, I noticed Satan’s Circus Vol.1 on eMusic and downloaded it — more out of curiosity than anything else. It’s been sat there in my “new and unplayed” playlist ever since.

This evening I finally put it on in the background while I read some more of Thirteen.

I think I bought it for my mum last christmas. She read it, then passed it back for me to have a go at. It’s the first book I’ve read in ages. I was a bit bored a few evenings ago and picked it up. I spent the first couple of chapters thinking how trashy it was. A couple more and I was utterly hooked. It’s an intriguingly wierd story.

About an hour later, the album finished at precisely the same time as the book did. The last note of Come On Over To Our Side, Softly Softly played as I read the last word of the novel.

That was odd.

Guak!

Picture the scene: It’s the evening before the Megavalanche qualifier. We’ve all returned from a day of riding and a few of use are out on the balcony, fettling bikes.

Building bikes

One of the guys staying on the floor above us leans over their balcony:

Excuse me, do you guys have a 7mm screwdriver?

Funnily enough, we don’t, but it’s not long before Brett‘s upstairs taking on the role of works mechanic and bleeding brakes for them. It turns out they were legendary downhill world cup racers Tommi and Pau Misser (now co-owners of the mighty Guak empire), who’d come to the mega with their mum. She was busy cooking them dinner and shouting at them every time there was any danger of grease going anywhere near the carpet. Brilliant.

Tommi went on to win his qualifier the following day, with Pau finishing fourth in his. Whether it was because they couldn’t stop, we may never know…

For us though, “Guak” took on a whole new meaning. It became the call of some sort of rare animal, and could be heard ringing out across alpine valleys for the next week and a bit. GUUAAAARRRK! GUUUAAAAARRRRRK!

You probably had to be there.

Progression

You ride in and it all feels fine for the first couple of corners. You’ve got a nagging doubt though.

They say Brendan Fairclough built this trail so he could practise for Champery (widely regarded as the toughest track on the world cup downhill circuit, especially when it rains). The really steep descents have never been your strong point.

A few corners further down the hill and your internal monologue isn’t fit for publication. This is utterly ridiculous! How in the name of your favoured deity are you supposed to ride down it? That Fairclough fellow is a bounder and a cad!

Before you know it, you’ve let the gradient get the better of you. Mild panic, slippery roots and a tad too much front brake mean you find yourself in the undergrowth, entangled in your bicycle. After a bit of struggling and a lot more swearing — mainly at yourself — you manage to extricate yourself and get back on it.

Fresh start. You’ve just watched Si, Jon and Alex disappear down the trail ahead of you. If they can do it, so can you. You’ve ridden Sixt, so just apply the same techniques here. You’ve got the storm trooper kit on, so even if it goes wrong, it’s not going to hurt too much. You’re not exactly going at light-speed anyway.

It takes you a while, but you get to the bottom eventually. It’s something of a relief. Si asks you if you enjoyed it. You answer honestly:

Not particularly. Can we go and do it again?

It gets eaiser. I think it’s what they call pushing the envelope.