Over the past few years I have progressed quite a bit, going from owning an old Dawes Galaxy touring bike and a hybrid bike that I rarely used to owning a mountain bike and a cyclocross bike and venturing out every weekend, averaging about 35-40 miles each time. This did not happen overnight by any means though.
The hybrid bike is a Claud Butler with 700x38C tyres, alloy frame and wheels, V-brakes, typical Shimano triple chainring and chain set. The hybrid tyres allowed me to venture off tarmac but also rolled well enough to enable quite long rides, the furthest I went was 60 miles which is still about the furthest I have been. After exploring the wilderness around my local area, which includes numerous bridleways, footpaths, and forest tracks, I learned which are bike-friendly and which are overgrown mud alleys, so now I know pretty much exactly where I can go for a decent ride. The local forests are at the top of a hill in either direction, there is no easy way up to them, this has been to my advantage as it means I am spoilt for choice of small country lanes up the hill which all lead to the forests, and I have been forced to improve my hill climbing ability and general cycling fitness; once up there I can ride along the top or venture down the other side out onto open moorland. The hybrid served me well, I upgraded the handle grips to a pair of ergo ones to help with shooting nerve pain from the grip position, this helped a great deal to keep me going out on the bike. During this time I also invested in and upgraded my cycling clothing and other bits and pieces, increasing my enjoyment and making life a lot easier in general when out on the bike; I went from tracksuit bottoms and t-shirt / jumper to proper lycra padded trousers / shorts, cycling jersey and long-sleeved top, with windproof cold / wet weather jersey, headband to protect my ears from the cold, winter cycling gloves, fingerless cycling gloves, and numerous other things too.
I take my Garmin Dakota 20 with me to mark waypoints along the way, helping me to pick out landmarks and work out interesting routes, places to avoid, dangers on the mountain bike trails, and to know where I am in the middle of the forests on the maze of forest roads – a map generally isn’t much use here as one crossroads looks much like another. The GPS also records my route so I can analyse this when I get home and upload it to Strava to share with friends. I have considered a dedicated cycling GPS but the price just seems prohibitively expensive for something that doesn’t really do anything more useful than my Dakota 20 already does.
I decided that if I was to tackle and enjoy the forest trails properly then I should look at getting a mountain bike, I read a lot of reviews and opinions on the internet and eventually took a gamble on a 29er hard tail that was on sale as an ex-demo bike in a local bike shop, I snapped it up and it turned out to be a perfect match for my style of riding, which by now had become quite fast and unrelenting, zipping up and down the roads and forest tracks. This bike is not suited to the technical parts of the mountain bike trails, however it is excellent at the uphill and fast sections so those are the parts I tend to ride, the trick for me is finding ways to miss out the technical sections as the forest tracks tend to take me a long way around and sometimes don’t meet up with the other end of that particular section at all, I’m still exploring this part.
During the time I rode the hybrid extensively and moved onto the mountain bike for trail riding, I lost probably two stone in weight and went down a couple of belt holes.
With the hybrid definitely out-grown I decided I wanted a better bike for use predominantly on the road, the eventual decision was a cyclocross bike, mainly for its riding position of slightly more upright and relaxed compared to a road racing bike, and still very capable of some off-road fun. The bike came equipped with Rocket Ron 700x32C mud tyres which I rode for a total of 330 miles before noticing the rear had started to wear down, time to upgrade to some proper road tyres; I purchased some Panaracer TourGuard Plus tyres, classed as city tyres these are designed to cope with bumpy streets, gutter rubbish, water, muck and bullets, you name it these tyres should survive it. First ride out on them this weekend was a great success, they roll so much better than the mud tyres and offered me plenty of grip on the tarmac, felt more grippy in the wind too as I couldn’t feel the bike wobbling about as much under me.
So that’s where I am at the moment – averaging about 35-45 miles each weekend, more if I ride on the roads, less if I’m in the forests on the mountain bike trails. I’ll be detailing some of the kit I’ve purchased over the past few years in later posts.