So it’s a Wednesday night in late summer; not too warm, not too cold and its dry. I never go out on a school night but this is an exception, I am out on a ride off-road in the Oxfordshire countryside with 3 of the team who rode London Nightrider back in June.
Coxy, Jab and Elliott and I had planned to ride a few trails on a warm Wednesday evening. Elliott is a really promising rider both on and off-road, as well as being a good cricketer and just a nice lad. He told me on the way round that he is going to go to University eventually and become a chartered surveyor!
Anyway, back to the ride or at least to the prep for the ride. I agreed to meet Coxy at 18.00 hours at Steventon Village hall. Coxy said he just needed to get a new tube in his front tyre, get kitted up and we would ride to Lockinge and meet the others. What could possibly go wrong ?
I arrived early as usual; Coxy arrived at 5:55 – all good. Wheel off, tube out, new tube in and inflate. “Coxy how much do you want in this tyre mate?”
“Oh about 60 I reckon”… BANG !!! A noise like a gun-shot echoed around the previously tranquil village hall car park. ”F**k me! I had only got it up to 55 honestly”, I said. Probably not a great experience for someone who suffers from tinnitus! Sorry mate!
“That’s OK I’ve got a spare tube,” said Coxy. We removed the shredded new tube for Coxy to take back to the bike shop and haggle over a replacement for the defective one he had purchased. Tyre fixed, pumped up and ready to go. I let him pump it up just in case!
Without further ado we mounted up and headed up Steventon Hill en-route to Jabs country pile. Got to the top of the hill, right at the lights and who should pass us in the car but Phil Tynan, team leader of a ride that Coxy is undertaking in September for The charity Delete Blood Cancer.
In short it’s a 250 miler in 24 hours: Wantage to The Isle of Wight via the ferry at Lymington, a quick peddle clockwise on the Isle, back across the briney and then ride back to Wantage. Now you know if you didn’t before just why he is known as Mad Dog. The above really just illustrates one reason to be fair. It’s a great charity and if you want to find out more and have a few quid spare visit their fundraising page shown below
Got to the RV with Jab and Elliott to find Jab in a slightly grumpy state of mind after a particularly bad day at work. There was enough steam coming out of his ears to power the Mallard. We set off shortly after Jab’s wife, Rachel, had been stung on the arm by a bee; Jab was looking a tad tetchy at his point – time to go.
Betterton to the Ridgeway via the loose, dry surface, with quite a sharp climb out of Lockinge. Jab on the lead out, Elliot close behind me and Coxy bringing up the rear. We’d both had a little warm up, so soon got in to the rhythm and started feeling good for the hill that lay ahead.
Elliott soon dropped us and powered off ahead. Being the wise old sage that I am, I got on the pedals, head down, arse up and started “embracing the hill”. Soon encountered the loose stuff and managed to keep the traction on right until the top. EH as he will be now known was sat at the top having a look round and a drink of water hardly breathing. I sucked in a couple of big ones and tried not to let on!
Soon after Jab and Coxy arrived up the top. Looked as though Jab’s boiler had gone out a little on the ascent but a quick stoke and some water did the trick.
We all flew down to Worlds End which was hard, fast and bumpy; great fun but you hear the bikes rattling and the pigeons and crows taking flight as we barrelled down to the dip at the bottom of the Long Valley. Jab rides a 29 er and once that gets rolling he just flies along!
We made it unscathed to the Illsley road, crossed over and began the next ascent. Coxy on lead out with EH then Jab and me in the rear gunner seat. Ground up to the top where much to my disgust I found I had got yet (another) puncture in my front wheel! Someone always gets a puncture on this climb, there are a lot of hawthorn and brambles but why always on this section? Puncture located, new slime tube in; seals punctures up to 3 mm but weighs a tonne! Let’s see how we go with these tubes, fingers crossed!
Drinks taken and ready to roll again we soon got through the Bluebell Wood and started to build some speed again on various surfaces including road, loose gravel bridleways and pitted off road footpaths. The going was slightly slippery from the week’s rain showers, not fully drying out under the shade of the overhanging trees and hedges. Add in the odd pile of horse poo plus the stingers hanging across the path and the fun was just beginning.
Jab is in his element going downhill on the rough stuff. When the big old 29ers get rolling momentum just takes over! Riding behind in the fading light my eyes streaming and going flat out, you can see the lines he is taking and can imagine the big smile on his face. ’Embracing the (down) hill!’ Jab used to ride a lot on these lanes in his youth on a 450cc KTM motorbike! Looked to me like he was still riding it!
We got to the bottom of the path and pulled up for a drink. All grinning like idiots and thinking that we were happy to be in one piece with no one taking a tumble. ‘If in doubt go flat out’ always sound like a good mantra but I still think it’s probably just sheer bravado when you really think it through.
Rode through the car park at Bury Down and along the Ridgeway heading West into a bright firey-red sunset. Got off the trail down the steep, rutted, chalky descent back into Hendred that just has to be ridden at the top of the curve; no braking and off the saddle working hard to try and smooth the bumps as much as possible. I love this hill! It’s great for grinding up when you really want to open the lungs out; it’s long and you have to really work at it to keep up an even pace. I know one day that I am going to overcook it and give myself a big scare. Hasn’t happened yet but it will when I get complacent and stop showing it respect.
Getting dark now and it’s not yet 8 o clock. Summer is nearly done for another year, my 48th. It’s fair to say that I have ridden more miles this year than in the previous 47 years both on and off-road and with a great group of people from all walks of life. The common link is that we are all good friends and choose to ride together, not just a physical test of endurance and strength but as an easy form of “mateship” and relaxation. All trying to improve as riders and keep the ageing process at bay for as long as possible.
Up Pinneys Lane and into Ginge slowly winding up the pace; Jab in front and the rest of us riding just on his wheel. It’s funny how the last few miles home get faster and faster, always with a sprint finish but never with any one rider arriving at the finish point without the others. The unwritten rule is upheld as always and we pull off the road back at Jab’s place. A welcome jug of cool iced water is waiting along with some fruit flapjack – lovely! Thanks Rachel.
Coxy and I then hit the road again; lights ablaze, all three of them! Coxy in the ‘lantern rouge’ position and me in front with my rather poor, little flashing white light to guide us home.
It’s properly dark now and we have been out a lot longer than our lovely wives can ever comprehend, so its heads down and pedal as fast as possible. Down the Hendred dip and up the other side on that lovely smooth stretch of new tarmac. Why can’t all the roads be like that ? Flying along down Featherbed Lane and off-road again, much safer and shorter. Passed the reservoir and down the hill into Steventon village.
Typically we get stuck at the level crossing with the 21.12 from Didcot to Bristol Temple Meads passing by at what seemed like 250 miles an hour. Although at this point Coxy was hiding behind the hedge having muttered something about not liking that “scary train s**t noisy stuff!”
Down the Causeway and over the road back to our start point. Relived to see it despite the Steventon massive were in attendance; they were not in the least interested in two middle aged blokes in lycra shaking hands and bidding each other farewell until the next time.
A good ride out with mates and a few more calories expended. Bring on the next ride!