Words by Ali Todd and William Shakespeare
If we are mark’d to die, we are now
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
– Lines penned by William Shakespeare over four hundred years ago. That immortal, nigh-unbeatable battle speech, designed to raise spirits and instill courage into the hearts of the soldiers.
I say “nigh unbeatable”, because what you’re about to read is going to have a go at beating it. A good, hearty stab. And if I’ve learnt anything in mountain biking, it’s the trick of remaining excessively confident, until you realise you’re well and truly beaten. Then find an excuse.
Comrades in Spokes,
We are called here today, bound by our common cause. Our unbreakable bonds, our rousing desire to defend what we love most. This is, of course, the mountain bike. Let me tell you, brothers and sisters, brethren of the community – clips or flats; wide bar or narrow; 26 or 29; bib shorts or… erm… not… that we are under threat. Our very lifestyle is in danger. The enemy advances. It is on our doorstep. The zeitgeist breaches the threshold of every trail centre in the land.
This enemy is not the road cycling community – indeed, on this matter we will align ourselves in hope of winning the battle. It is not the militant, wooly-sock-endowed rambler. It is not even the rear shock. (We accepted that years ago – keep up.) It is, in fact, much more potent. It is all around us. It whittles our numbers down, striking at our forces as we speak.
This hideous enemy is, of course, the weather. Winter. Rain. Mud. Indeed, ourselves. Even the word “winter” sends shivers down my spine – as does the literary style in the previous few paragraphs, so we’ll ditch that one for now. Back to the point – and it is a serious one – something needs to be done. I go out for a ride and find the trail centre half empty. So empty, indeed, that the café’s waiting time for warm chips scrapes below half an hour. Gone are the days of having trouble finding space to park your bike. Far removed are the memories of being able to show off to other riders, as even David Attenborough and his crack team would have trouble sniffing out other riders at all. Why, as mountain bikers, do we fall at the first hurdle of winter? As soon as the leaves start to look a bit orange at the edges, it seems half the riders disappear from view, only to be found hibernating in the forums…
This is what I’m trying to address. So here, after a long, rambling introduction is the main body of this piece on motivation:Events
Let’s start with racing. I’ve got a love/ hate relationship with racing. As much as I love the fitness training for cross-country, the line analysis for downhill, and the bike preparation for both, I do occasionally feel like I can’t be bothered… It takes time. It takes time sitting looking at the entry list for a race, considering the logistics of getting to wherever it is, the cost of entry, and the ritual of watching the weather forecast religiously – and yet I can’t actually stop myself. It’s a bug – enter one race and it’s bitten you. There’s nothing better – really – than the build-up for a race, and the benefits of the preparatory training are huge. Most of all however, it means it gets you off the sofa or out of bed: the approaching deadline is something you can’t stop and you have to be prepared for. It’s forced motivation. And this is where I suggest you start. Yes, you – the one looking at this when you should be out there getting soaked and covered in mud. Humour me. Try it. Here’s the British Cycling website. www.britishcycling.org.uk/eventsTravel
Moving onwards, throwing ourselves firmly towards the uniform lines of the enemy, we hit the second Pillar of Motivation. It joins hand-in-hand with the first. It taps into the travelling culture of the nomadic past as a species – it is, of course, going to new places.
As much as I love the Forest of Dean (a ten minute drive from the door of the BM office), turning up at a trail centre with no idea of what’s in store is amazing. I spent a few weeks at Glentress (the Scottish borders) last summer, and although the thought of the drive was intimidating, the thought of all those trails was a great way to get myself out on the bike, and come the trip, it was a good feeling to be fit enough to ride the trails without aching every night. We live in such an amazing country for mountain biking, and the trails are everywhere. Check Bike Magic’s ‘routes’ section to get some ideas, then get to it. Pack your bike and your kit, find an obliging B&B (or just go for a day trip) and hit the road. You won’t regret it, I promise. Even if it is always pouring with rain.Branch out
My third Pillar is one the conservatives (small C) among us won’t like. It’s change. I’m guilty of this. I was one of those who looked at a 29er a few years back and just saw a combination of veganism, cyclo cross and a worrying little beard approaching over the horizon. I was proved wrong. Try something new.
Riding only XC trails can feel a little stale. Equally, just riding downhill for months on end can begin to feel like a drag. The answer, therefore, is to mix it up. This isn’t just a tip to avoid boredom and keep riding in the deep mid-winter though, it will make you a better rider. The amount of times you see people struggling to go down anything approaching a 5% gradient in cross-country races is amazing, and to think it could all be fixed by venturing out onto the downhill trails and spending time learning how to handle a bike at speed… It’s that simple. The same, of course, applies to the downhillers who find themselves out of breath after a small flat section: the benefits of trail rides are obvious. The mountain bike legend Brian Lopes is a prime case in point: after racking up more gravity-based World Cup wins than any other male rider, he tried his hand at XC Eliminator in the 2012 World Cup and blew the competition away. Humour me. Give it a go. Even if you feel out of place among full-faced pyjama-suited youths, stick at it. I have, and it’s done me a lot of good. Heck, I even went to an indoor skate park last week!Weatherproof yourself
At risk of sounding like a boy scout escaped from camp a week early, I’ll use the phrase “Always be prepared”, because, neckerchief or not, it’s true. A few things can make a winter ride so much less threatening, and a good jacket is top of the list. It doesn’t have to be a fashion item at £8,000,000 – Gore and Endura make some excellent jackets for reasonable money. If it’s waterproof and warm, most of the pain will subside and you’ll find yourself able to enjoy the ride without concentrating on the small river progressing slowly down your spine. Next, some waterproof overshoes or socks. I prefer socks as I like to ride flat pedals a lot, and I’ve found none better than SealSkins. Various thicknesses, and complete protection from the elements, so even if your shoes do squelch, you’ll have no idea. Waterproof shorts (Endura again for me) are also essential unless you enjoy feeling the icy puddles return to you from your back wheel as if magnetised, joining the spine trickle to create a river. Or possibly an estuary. Either way, not something you want. I don’t like feeling like a moving water feature.Find your inner, competitive self
Pillar Five. Competitiveness: friends, and beating them up hills.
For those of you who don’t read Dirt Magazine, Steve Jones is the deputy editor and bike-tester-in-chief. I spend a good bit of time riding bikes with him – especially trail bikes – and I’ve had a taste of what it feels like to be able to beat him up hills. It’s great fun, but I’ve let it slip over the winter. Anyway, this isn’t just my story – we’ve all got those old rivalries with good friends, and if nothing else gives you that warm feeling, being able to hear the sound of their panting getting further and further away is enough to motivate anyone to get out and train.The grand finale: Mud
Now, every motivational speech needs a big crescendo; a peak of motivational prowess. But then again if you’re a speech expert and you’ve read the last thousand words you’ll also know that my speech-writing skills are unspeakably bad, so don’t expect anything. I’ll give it a shot, though. Without further ado, the Pillar of Mud, and learning to love its sloppy, messy goodness.
There is a great deal of irony in the way mountain bikers fear mud. Living in the Northern Hemisphere, we’re bound to get at least six months of it (more in the UK), and yet it stumps so many of us. Here is my battle cry to you: Learn to love the mud! The daunting prospect of this rallying point isn’t as bad a Shakespeare (the old pessimist) would make out – firstly, how about trying a set of flat pedals with some 5:10 shoes (the grippiest going)? Those off-camber sections won’t be nearly as terrifying. Next, invest in some good mud tyres (Specialized Storm 2.0 is my current favourite). It’s not like riding on dry ground, but it’s not too far removed. Within a few rides, the mud will seem thoroughly appealing – learning to slide through the corners and tackle the steep sections at pace is so much fun. Flat pedals just give you that confidence that many people struggle to find on clips.The final finale
So here, fellowship of the Headset and the Bottom Bracket, we arrive. Our destiny is in our hands. Do we crumble – as others have around us – and become the fair-weather rider? Or do we find a way around it? Do we submit to the pressure, or overcome the trial? If we join together and conquer it, crowned in victory, we can feel… smug.
I leave you, having written this most ridiculous of articles, with my adaptation of the crescendo-end (crescendo-endo?) of the excerpt from the speech at the top. I say adaptation, I mean crude adulteration and general ruining. Anyway, print it off and stick it on your fridge as a heartening cry for the world to see.
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that rides his bike with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That rode with us upon this winter day.