Steve Anderson

Mountain biking on the South Downs

July 2009

I may have mentioned in the ‘Blurb page’ that I have rediscovered my bicycle. This rediscovery has led to a frankly slightly mad enthusiasm for roaming the hills and dales of the South downs. A facet of my personality which I have noticed in the past allows small fixations to creep into my life, and you guessed it, mountain biking is the latest. Having become an enthusiast the next move is to buy a better bike and all of the relevant apparel which converts the ordinary civilian into a Martian - chump hybrid. “All the gear and no idea” echoes through my head when I am in one of my more perceptive moods. One observation has just occurred to me, namely when you spend hard earned funds on the latest lightest bike that technology can provide, you then need to weigh it down with high tech and weighty insurance approved security systems, which rather defeats the object, don’t you think?

So having donned the prerequisite clobber its off to the hills, before having actually got to a steep or dangerous bit I stopped to check my directions in the middle of a small wood and forgot that my feet were clipped onto the pedals via the de rigueur cycling shoes and over went the new bike, followed a fraction of a second later by its proud new owner. I reconnected with my pride and joy via the left breast to handle bar end method, which left me somewhat winded, and over the next few hours gave me the look of someone who has been subdued by a close range rubber bullet.

There are a number of dangers which my new sport embraces, apart from running the gauntlet of the British road network and its metal clad gladiators just to get to the vertical bits, the south downs on the south side are composed of  tropical primordial ‘fruits de mer’ which has compressed over the millennia and moved north to form the chalky substrate of the south downs. This chalk is a delight unless wet. When in a moist condition it turns in the blink of an eye into a skating rink, which can cause havoc with even the knobbliest of bike tires, reducing traction to a lottery at best and  heavy bruising or even a green stick fracture a distinct possibility. This is of course assuming you have managed to cycle through the likelihood of a mid life heart attack. Two of the hills which I struggle up have ominous local names like ‘dead sheep hill’ and ‘cardiac hill’, and having talked to a couple of long term fans of the sport, these represent a dimple on the flank of some of the uphill climbs available in Wales or Scotland, not to mention the Himalayas!

The North side of the downs is more clay based which with the application of some of the moisture for which this country is justifiably famous, becomes a thick soup that provides a sticky covering for the new bike and rider alike. The down side of this is that according to the manuals, the pride and joy needs to be cleaned to perfection after each ride. A process which can often take longer than the ride its self. Dampening the ardor of even the most fixated new rider.

One side effect of all of this is that modest improvements in physical fitness are accidentally arrived at, and in my case a loss of weight. Well not weight exactly, but fat to be more precise as muscle weighs more than fat apparently, although all of this is very transient, after a week off due to bad weather also known as a British summer, cardiac hill defeated me rather depressingly. One plus side is that having been up the appointed hill and through the mud a pint of foaming, lard inducing bitter has been justified in the ‘Anchor Bleu’ our local hostelry, on the way home.

Oh well I cant put it off any longer, the climate outside my window is in the wise words of Jeeves “exceptionally clement”, and writing about it is not going to get me up the hill, where's my hat, gloves, shoes, shorts (not lycra), rehydration system, tool kit, lock, pump, puncture kit etc!

I'm batting for an ideology which has been burgled by someone else. (Boris Johnson)