Sheep, Peaks and Pearl Jam: A Biking Adventure

Written by Ed Ashcroft

You know what sucks? Bars that sell 2/3 pints instead of actual pints. Yeah fine, sometimes a full pint is too much, I understand that – BUT – if you give me 2/3 of a drink I expect to pay 2/3 of the price, and no amount of bare concrete walls or graffiti clad toilet cubicles will make me okay with the concept of paying more for less.

But you know what really sucks? Having your bike stolen.

Recently, my pride and joy, a Ragley Piglet hardtail, was taken from me far too soon. Friends have described the bike as ‘a bit of a dog’ and ‘nearly too broken to be usable’ but they’re all wrong, blinded by their own poor taste. It was the perfect machine, it was mine, I built it, and now it’s gone.

The little shits who stole my wonder-machine could not have timed it better; days before the theft I had booked a weekend in the Peak District to explore the area and get in as much riding as I could. Naturally I was heartbroken. The insurance company increasingly looked like they had no intention of giving me any sort of compensation in the week leading up to the trip so I made the hard decision of booking a rental bike.

When choosing what bike to rent for the weekend I had simple criteria: it must be better than my stolen bike and preferably worth more than my car, a rusting 1991 Toyota Corolla with a football-size hole in the boot. The bike I ended up choosing (a Trek Remedy) was in a different league to my old bike, and pleasingly worth nearly three times the value of my car.

So I set off to the Peaks from the flatlands of Norfolk, filled with trepidation for what was to come. What if I didn’t like the bike? What if I couldn’t get over my old machine? What if the hills were too big? What if I bunked with a diehard fan of Pearl Jam at the Youth Hostel who aggressively tries to force a Pearl Jam concert ticket on me? It’s happened before.

Arriving in Bamford to pick up my rental, I was met by the owner of the shop, James. Our conversation quickly descended into the kind of nerdy bike chat that all proper bike people really enjoy… Yes, I would like to know about your compression settings. And yes, I would like to talk about the best Magic Mary compound for 26” wheels. And yes, I would like to discuss the best colour for flat pedals (purple, obviously). James was incredibly helpful and I ended up renting his own personal bike. He had modified it to suit his tastes – and, my word, what exquisite tastes they were. The spec on this bike compared to my old stead was fairly night and day. My old bike didn’t even have a dropper and the gears were limited to a measly 9 speeds – so this bike was a real treat for me.

As someone whose family holidays were ‘character-building’ rather than relaxing, I have spent a fair amount of time in English youth hostels. This one was no different: a beautiful building in an incredible location with just enough creature comforts to take your mind off the smell.

Now, I don’t have the best sense of direction. I’m not talking getting lost in the supermarket, but if I’m driving through an unfamiliar city I am prone to bouts of aggressively turning down the music in blind panic. So when I set out for my first ride in the Peaks, I did expect to have some difficulty navigating… Fast forward about 40 minutes: I was walking straight up Lose Hill, climbing over barbed wire fences with the bike on my shoulders, thinking to myself ‘this can’t be the bridleway’. And indeed it wasn’t. I had carried my bike up a sheep path, and was subsequently knackered from the ordeal. At least the views gave me a way of passing the time while the ache in my legs subsided.

I was briefly distracted by the beauty of my surroundings but the creeping darkness and dropping temperatures reminded me that I better get somewhere more hospitable before I ran out of biscuits… so I set off down hill towards Hollins Cross. I hadn’t ridden a full suspension bike before and my first experience was somewhat alarming. You see, I was used to the solid rear end of my Ragley rattling my feet off the pedals as a warning sign that things might be getting too dangerous – but on a full suspension bike the speed just increases until you’re going so fast you let out a little panic-squeak and have to stop to regain some sense of control. Once I got used to this sensation I couldn’t help grinning when riding the Remedy. It devours terrain like I devour pick’n’mix – with speed and grace. My first proper descent on the bike took me down from Hollins Cross in the direction of Ollerbrook Booth. The trail had rocks and ruts in equal measure and was so nice, I rode it twice.

After a night’s sleep interrupted only by the snores of a thousand men at the youth hostel, I set out to ride Cut Gate, a legendary trail that regularly features in top ten rankings of the UK’s best routes . Unfornately the start of Cut Gate was approximately 20 Km from my hostel and involved two steep climbs and some very rocky descents. Unperturbed by this knowledge and my own lack of physical fitness, I set off into the hills. The first climb was fine(ish). I could hear my heartbeat in my head, yeah, sure, but I wasn’t sick – and that’s what counts. The descent was pretty intense: the rocky paths were surrounded by thick woodland that blocked out a good deal of the limited sunlight. The rocks were coming at such a pace all you could do was lean back and brace your body for the impact. Quite frankly, it’s a miracle I didn’t have a huge accident; I think the bike had some part to play in this.

Riding back over Cut Gate going towards Edale I had serious problems: my legs were fairing up alright but the same could not be said for my backside. I’m a firm believer that most saddles will suit most riders, given some ‘breaking in’ time for the latter’s posterior. In my excitement to ride I had forgotten this harsh reality of big days in the saddle and was subsequently paying the price – imagine someone gently lowering themselves into a boiling hot bath, accompanied by the same noises – every time I sat down. Rocks and roots that were once barely a passing thought had become serious obstacles that required thought and preparation.

Despite the incredible pain in my arse I pressed on. My cheery attitude from the first half of the ride had completely disappeared, replaced by a grumpy bastard that sneered at ramblers and sighed at the sight of the sluggish thick mud of peat bogs. For much of the ride back to Edale I was in limp mode, just trying to get myself back in one piece, intensely regretting how foolish I had been that morning. Eventually, I returned to my hostel, broken by the ride and in desperate need of some Haribo and a shower. After putting my bike in the storage locker I retreated to my room, walking like I’d pooed myself, beer in hand.

While devouring a huge burger from the Rambler Inn in Edale, I had some time to reflect on my old bike and the day’s accomplishments. Sure, the rental was technically better in every single way – but it wasn’t my bike. The ride and the views were stunning, but they were muted by my knowledge of my old bike and the bastards who stole it.

Looking to the future it’s undoubtable that I’m going to invest in a fancy full mountain bike very soon, provided the insurance company sorts their shit out. I’d like to thank everyone who helped me out along the way: the staff at Edale YHA, Bike Garage, and especially my trusty 1991 Toyota Corolla, which ran out of oil halfway home but kept going regardless, a true hero.

So what did I learn from this adventure? Don’t get your bike stolen before a trip, it puts a real downer on things – also – if you’re going to get your bike stolen, don’t mourn its loss for too long. Rent a bike and get out there: any time on a bike is a good time.

Fuck bike thieves, long live bikes.

All photos courtesy of Ed Ashcroft

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