Death of a Mountain Bike

As you may have noticed from a few of my previous posts, despite the fact that I am a confirmed roadie, I have been toying with mountain biking as an acceptable pastime to brighten up the long winter months…I remain not quite completely convinced of it’s merits but I’m prepared to persist. A couple of weeks ago, however, it tried to kill me!

Some mates and me had gone out for an easy hour and a half – nothing major, just a sociable lung-stretcher in and around our local hills. As a mountain biking non-mountain biker I am still at the stage of borrowing an old bike from a friend, having not yet bitten the bullet and maxxed out the credit card to buy a bike I neither love, nor even understand. My friend is the patient type, but it’s only a matter of time before he berates me for my tight-fisted nature and shames me into doing the decent thing (which is fine for him…he doesn’t have to explain the purchase to my wife).

Anyway, the route homeward from our little ride takes us through the local park, which has a particularly grand Victorian monument as it’s centre-piece – a large 3 or 4 story domed structure, surrounded by fountains and grand, sweeping granite steps, like a smaller version of the ones which Sly Stallone runs up triumphantly in the Rocky movie.

So, of course, when we head back this way the game is to circle the monument and then dare each other to ride down the steps – it’s dark remember, so the steps are dramatically lit, which looks great, but plays havoc with your sense of perspective.

Ashton Memorial - would you ride down these steps in the dark? (Photo: Luke Addison - Flickr CC)
Ashton Memorial – would you ride down these steps in the dark?
(Photo: Luke Addison – Flickr CC)

For an experienced mountain biker this obstacle provides a spot of amusement and distraction, but nothing too major; everyone circles, eggs each other on, then we all sweep down the steps with the minimum of fuss and drama…except that i’m a novice, and so every time I swung around and aimed my bike at the steps, some unseen force (cowardice?) compelled me to grab the brakes and bail out.

After three attempts, and my friends already down the steps and half way home, I decide to cut my losses (much to the derision of my companions) and go down the easy way via grass bank and smooth tarmac path (I am a novice after all). On this long way around I notice a strange, spongy, wobbly sensation from the back of the bike…slow down for a second…have a quick look down, and carry on, convinced the adrenaline in my legs is playing tricks with me.

After pulling up twice more – by now my friends are starting to seriously lose faith in my judgement – I insist something is not right, call a halt to proceedings, and jump off the bike. Upon closer investigation beneath a streetlight my fears are proved correct as we can now see that the chainstay has suffered some damage…well, when I say suffered some damage, I mean it has sheared completely and split in two on the chainset side, and is now waggling about disconcertingly.

And so, it becomes clear that what made me grasp the brakes each time I attempted the monument steps was not fear or cowardice as previously thought, but a mysterious and hitherto unknown sixth sense which, not to over-exaggerate, quite simply saved my life. Had I tackled the steps with a snapped chainstay it would have been me who would have been waggling about disconcertingly, not the offending bit of alloy, as I lay sprawled and waiting for the ambulance.

And all this raises two key questions: How many times in the past has this inner early warning system saved my life without me even realising it? And, is mountain biking a sensible winter pastime for a confirmed roadie after all?

Of course, now that the bike I borrow is damaged beyond reasonable repair, unless I put my hand in my pocket and shell out on a mountain bike of my own we may never know.

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