Words by Tim Norris
It started less than 2 years ago.
I walked into what I have now learnt to refer to as my LBS (that’s Local Bike Store for the uninitiated) to see if they could service a 16-year-old bike. On and off over the years I had dabbled with some martial arts and tried running to keep me fit and healthy, but with the big 40 looming I thought it was time I got some exercise and some fresh air. Little did I know what that lunchtime visit to my LBS would do to my wallet, my free time and me.
The chances are you are already familiar with the inability to walk into a bike shop and leave without buying something. Well on my first visit I bought a bike of course. The Aladdin’s Cave of shiny metal objects was too tempting and I bought my first hardtail. It wasn’t anything fancy and I didn’t much in the way of plans, just to ride along the odd tow path and get some spring air into my lungs. This was about to change.
After a few 5-10 mile rides I realised that I could go further and higher, so I started to explore the hills near my house. This was great fun! My digital camera soon started to come with me so I could start taking some photos of the local scenery. My new hobby of bike riding and my old hobby of photography become introduced in a relationship that would become all-encompassing over the next two years.
For a few months this was my new life, my wife and kids rapidly had to get used to me disappearing for few hours at the weekend while I went “mountain biking”. That was until a chance conversation with one of my oldest friends in a pub when I told him I had a mountain bike and he said, “you should come out with us sometime”. A few weeks later we met at his house in South Wales and we rode up a mountain! I hadn’t realised just how flat Wiltshire was until I returned to my old local territory of South Wales and tried to ride up a mountain. What had I got myself into?
Within an hour or so he was trying to talk me into going to Morzine with his friends. I had no idea what proper mountain biking was all about until we reached the top of the Welsh mountain and started to go down the other side. What came next was a whole new experience yet came surprisingly naturally to me and changed my life forever.
Suddenly I found me and my £400 hardtail bike with mechanical disc brakes and very little fork travel riding down the steep side of a mountain. Twisting and turning (and braking a lot) through the trees, over the roots and occasionally down a steep bank that I couldn’t even climb back up on foot!
I would find out around 14 months later that this off-piste local trail that I had ridden was a little shorter but probably no less technical than my first Black rated descent off the Pleney lift in Morzine (of course I signed up to an Alpine trip)… I am not going to pretend that I am the fastest or most confident rider, but on that day still less than 2 years ago I learnt what mountain biking really was.
If there is a bug to be caught, I caught it! On returning to Wiltshire I sought out a mountain bike club (www.mbswindon.co.uk) and found a great little trail in Swindon (yes, mountain bike centre of the UK) where I started to learn my skills on the twisty and well featured Croft Trail. By the end of my first summer of mountain biking I was on the lookout for my second bike. You are probably smiling as you read this, I am as I am writing as I now know this feeling all too well! It was actually around October, I finally spent my first serious amount of money and bought an ex-demo full suspension bike from the same LBS my hardtail came from in the spring. My life was about to change again.
My local routes all of a sudden felt tame and flat and I found excuses to go back to Wales and soon learnt the joys of the “trail centre”. CwmCarn, Afan and the Forest of Dean were to become regular trips and suddenly I bumped into mountain bikers everywhere I went. I discovered hidden treasures on my doorstep, that while not as big as the mountains in Wales allowed me to practice the skills I would need to enjoy my first full year of mountain biking and prepare me for a trip to the European mountain bike mecca of Morzine.
Now my life will probably sound all too familiar to you; checking the weather reports, seeking out new spots to ride, pushing myself and planning trips. Oh and buying new bike parts – no one warned me about this! Upgrading and fitting my first set of brakes, new tyres for different terrains and conditions, knee pads, lights, GPS and GoPro cameras. Everything revolved around improving my riding experience in someway or another and of course sooner or later the inevitable would happen and I would buy another bike.
Today I find myself looking out of the window looking at the blue sky and realising that British Summer Time has arrived. The clocks have gone forward meaning brighter evenings and hopefully drier conditions. I am leading my first club ride with MB Swindon in a few weeks’ time so I spend time both outdoors and on the internet planning a route to challenge and excite my fellow club members, and I have devised a training routine to get in shape for a week-long trip to the Alps in June.
Little did I know how much that lunchtime visit to my LBS would have an effect on me, and now I wonder what I did with my time before mountain biking?