When attempting to increase physical performance, you only get fitter / faster / stronger when you push your body out of its comfort zone and force it to overcompensate. Repeated small cycles like this are what bring the big gains over the course of a season.
But what about technical riding? I would argue that the same thing applies. If you struggle on rocky drop-offs, but always shy away from them, you’ll never be able to do them. You need to push yourself beyond what you would normally do. Sometimes it is possible to do that on your own, but sometimes you need a little help.
I spent the weekend just gone in the valleys of south Wales at Afan Forest – home to trails which offer the best riding fun to travel time ratio for a weekend from central London – jump on the M4, drive 40 junctions or so, turn right up into the hills and you’re there. I had good company: cousin Ben Spurrier and mate Andy.
The weather did not play ball. January 2014 had been a month to forget in Britain; persistent heavy rain, large parts of the country severely flooded, and closer to home my local trails in Surrey rendered a swamp. That was part of the reason for heading to Wales – well-built trails are much more weather-proof – you might get wet, but you don’t spend your time grinding through a quagmire. While the rest of the country had a rare weekend of mild sunshine, south Wales saw a heady cocktail of hail, heavy rain and gale-force winds. Perfect riding conditions!
Despite that, I was able to clock up a good few hours on the trails. And was reminded of the merits of riding with someone better than you. Both Ben and Andy are very tidy riders, but Andy in particular, as a long-time part of the bike industry as magazine writer and editor, is no slouch on the singletrack.
Saturday’s riding saw me roll out the winter bike – a Salsa El Mariachi singlespeed (actually two-speed, but that’s an explanation for another day). And I struggled to keep up with Andy on his Orange 295, DH-style goggles and knee-pads and all. So on Sunday I rolled out the big gun – the Bianchi Methanol 29 FS. The difference was quite obvious – adding gears and rear suspension made a real difference on the rocky Afan trails. Andy definitely still had my number, but at least now there were some trails where I could keep in touch. It was a really interesting experiment in seeing where the relative strengths and weaknesses are. Especially on the steeper trails where it was a case of staying off the brakes and letting it roll, Andy would still disappear out of sight; but on the more pedal-y trails, I could just about keep in touch.
It meant I was really pushing myself, more than if I had been at the front of a string of riders; there’s nothing quite like having someone up front to chase. And racing / chasing your mates has got to be some of the best fun it is possible to have on a bike. There were at least a couple of sections when we got to the bottom of a piece of trail, panting for breath, all three having survived a few sketchy moments, but grinning broadly from the fun of it. What a buzz.
All photos (c) Andy Waterman – http://andywaterman.info/