I'm a mountain biking virgin (more or less). In 18-odd years of riding a bike, I've spent about two weeks in total riding off-road. That includes UK national bike routes. I'd have nothing against riding on those if I had a 'cross bike or a full suspension Yeti 575. As it so happened, I had access one of those machines to do my first mountain bike ride for well over a decade last Sunday. It's a nice rig and it treats you gently.
The Yeti 575, pristine in the car park.
Three of us started in Bath: Sean, from John's Bikes, John Stevenson, and myself. We loaded up the kit at the civilised hour of 8:45am and Sean drove us to the Forest of Dean. There we met Sean's mate Jim, who it turned out had had a bit of a big night, involving four bottles of wine and just one other person. He was able to ride fairly well, considering.
After fine tuning my machine (a bit of eyeballing of the seat height and fore-aft cleat positioning) we set off. I was immediately in trouble, trying to figure out how to ride through mud and over slippery tree roots, of which there are a lot in the Forest of Dean. Pulling my foot out, trying to get going again, not having any idea of how this bike handled. Fortunately, no-one was in a great hurry and they waited for me several times until we reached a hill, where I could comfortably keep up.
As John kindly explained while getting splattered with mud behind me, the trick to riding on this sort of terrain with a proper bike is to just point it in the direction you want it to go, and let the suspension do the rest. So easy is it. Panic do not. That is why you fail.
The 575 was that good that somehow, I didn't manage to fall off. The closest I came was putting a hand down to stop myself getting covered in mud. Still, whenever we did any form of descending, I was well off the back. It's not easy to unlearn all your road habits about keeping your weight firmly on the back wheel and outside leg pointed down.
Towards the end of the ride, I was getting the hang of it a lot better, to the point where I could keep up on the rooty sections and wasn't too far back on the downhills. Of course, we weren't doing anything like racing speeds, but I was happy enough. You can do some ridiculous things on a mountain bike that are just impossible on a road machine. Yes, I know most of you WhatMTB people know this, but it absolutely amazed me.
I'll do it again.
The Yeti 575, mid-ride and muddy.
John is looking good mid-ride, but Jim is feeling the after effects of a lot of wine.
It can't have been that muddy.