And there goes the summer. The leaves outside are gradually beginning to change and there has been a very noticeable drop in the temperature in recent weeks. The mornings are much cooler and when I’m waking up it’s dark, and when I’m getting home I’m eking out those final few hours of daylight before dusk sets in. It’s been a busy old summer on many fronts — not least a summer holiday and moving to a new house — and the cycling season has just got swept up in it all.
The last time I wrote on here it was a review of the Tour de France way back on July 26th. A long time ago it sometimes seems though in another way I’ll tell people that this summer has flown in. Way back then the summer days were still long, the leaves green and the temperatures soaring. I was riding home from work when I could and looking towards the late season mountain bike races upon returning from a trip back to Northern Ireland.
The road riding back in Northern Ireland was three great rides on beautiful, hedge lined, quiet, narrow, rolling country roads with my old club, North Down CC. Given I tend to do a lot of my riding home from work and, as such, by myself, it was nice to get out with a group for a change. It was the first time I rode with a group since my last trip back the previous December. It was also nice to get onto quiet roads with some short-sharp little hills.
I also got out once on the Mountain Bike. That was with my cousin Ross who had raved about Kilbroney Park near Rosstrevor in South Down and finally got me on a free morning to go down with him for a look. The place is a huge forest park on the edge of the Mourne Mountains, it was recently converted into a top class mountain bike park with an endless variety of trails for both cross-country riders and downhill riders a-like that includes bike rental as well as a vehicular lift service to the top for those not wanting to punish themselves with the savage climb that begins right out of the car park. The climbing is intense, but so too is the single track down hill stuff and the route we took lasted for 25.5 kilometres in one huge loop that rose high up above Carlingford Lough before swooping down through a varied collection of single track from rocky runs on the side of the mountains to tree covered trails, back to where we began.
Take a look at it here:
The interesting challenge for me wasn’t so much the stiff climb at the start or the technical aspect in itself, but rather the bike I had to ride it with. Having failed to bring my good Mountain Bike over on the trip with me, I decided I’d be just as well using my old Mountain Bike from my younger days. My 1998 Sunn Revolt GP. An antique to be sure, and a well built bike to be certain, but one that has been long since left behind by the modern day Mountain bike with their 100mm plus travel (130mm in my case) and — in most recreational mountain bikers cases — their full suspension.
To ride the loop we did at Kilbroney comes with the need to ride full suspension. Hard tail just won’t cut it if you want to ride somewhat in comfort. And if you do decide to go hard at the back, be sure that your front suspension gifts you that 100mm of travel, at least. My old MTB had a retro travel give of about 30mm. A bone shaker, or as Ross so aptly put it upon climbing off a go on it and back onto his own modern take of a Mountain Bike: “Like climbing out of a Mini and into a Rolls Royce.”
I didn’t suspect it being an issue and felt it’s narrow frame, compact size, and lack of glamorous equipment, would make that light steel frame easy to ride on a very hilly course. And if truth be told, on the climb it was pretty nimble, but once things got technical it became a fight and it didn’t help that in rebuilding it the breaks had been assembled as they ought to have been when it was built originally in mainland Europe, with the rear brake on the right and the front break on the left. I continually had to remind myself not to squeeze hard the left hand assuming it to be the rear break because I’d soon be thrown over the bars. I never quite came off, but I came close several times when I failed to remember.
The narrow handlebars which were all the rage back in the late 90’s proved a challenge to get used to by comparison to the wider bars on my bike back in Canada. “It’s like riding a low profile bike,” quipped Ross when he took his turn. A turn that allowed me onto the Rolls Royce and off up the trail in comfort.
But if you’re looking for a bike to remind you how far Mountain Biking technology has come, as well as to improve your technical skills and strengthen your wrists, then a run out on the Sunn is just the medicine for you. Back in 1998 that bike was one of the best available and it served me pretty well, and it still will on trips home when I’d rather do some mountain biking than none at all. The thing would convert brilliantly into a cross bike and it’s something I might consider down the line, but that day when I took it out and rode so tentatively on anything technical or downhill, I was reminded how good I must have been on a mountain bike when I raced that bike and, at times, raced it well. Either that or we were all much slower back then?
Back in Canada I got back to riding home from work and with the extra little fitness I had gained on my trip back to NI, I went and done five days of riding on the road and three mountain bike races in the space of ten days.
My Tuesday night series had been badly neglected by myself this summer for many reasons, but with two rounds left I decided to get back to it and enjoy two more races. On both goes I felt much stronger than I had when I last raced on a Tuesday night sometime back in late May or early June.
I then entered one of the Ontario Cup rounds at Highlands Nordic — the location of my first MTB race in Ontario back in September 2011 — and rode my best race of the year. I felt strong and I paced it in a way that I rarely do, that allowed me to feel as good on the final lap as I had on the first two. One check of my Strava times through various segments showed a consistency between each of the three laps. I didn’t win, not even close, but I came away delighted and feeling fitter and stronger than I had been in years.
Something worth building on I told myself.
Then however things got busy again. We had the big move to our new home and everything that comes with it and I’ve barely thrown my leg over the saddle since. Indeed, since the move I’ve only got on my mountain bike to take my daughter to the park in the chariot behind. That was until a few days ago when I found a single track trail right at the end of my street. But I only lasted about 3 km before darkness came in fast and forced me back. It was like riding that night shift at the Summer Solstice 24-hour race way back in June when my handle bar light failed me. Now that’s something that seems a long time ago.
The fading light was a reminder of the fading cycling season and the knowledge that it would be soon time to stop and get back on a turbo trainer. Too busy to ride these past few weeks, I’ll be longing for such opportunity in a few months from now. I hope to get another ride in later this week and then do a little something on the weekend when I go out to explore the roads around where I now live … on the edge of the country, I must add, with pleasure. And that’s a story for another day.
I was planning on signing up for the annual 50 kilometre Tour de King, point-to-point Mountain Bike race this Sunday, but with the lack of riding I have done, I’m not sure I’d have the legs and likely wouldn’t get the enjoyment from it that I had the previous two years. That fitness that was becoming so evident to myself in mid-August, has surely all but evaporated now.