Technical Difficulties: “Houston, we have a problem.”

May 15, 2015

Antony’s in a confessional mood. And he’s got plenty to confess to…

Mountain biking’s fairly tricky, as recreational activities go. We face all manner of challenges, starting with finding somewhere to ride (much easier now than when I first started, but still awkward if, for example, you’re a resident of Leamington Spa). There’s the whole bewildering and financially ouchy business of buying a bike and attendant kit (has the wheel size question been solved yet?). And there is what actually happens when you get out on the trail, to be confronted by obstreperous terrain, changeable weather, uncontrollable sweating, pointy undergrowth, and a UK rights of way map that resembles a small plate of spaghetti distributed by several hundred pounds of high explosive.


With such an array of obstacles laid out before us, you’d think that there would be a healthy respect for those who have failed but tried. But mountain biking is a male-dominated sport – and purporting to be infallible, while ripping the wee-wee out of anyone who isn’t, is often our gender’s best approximation of social interaction. Instead, all too often we self-edit, and pretend that we’ve never done anything stupid, ever, lest we follow that bloke who exploded a tubeless tyre over himself into the halls of internet legend. In the online panopticon of shame, all mechanical jobs are dispatched with surgical efficiency, and all our rides are “epic” because they were meant to be, rather than because the map blew away.

This is a shame, as there are many benefits to sharing our mistakes. There’s the cathartic effect of writing them down. There’s the distribution of knowledge that could help others avoid the same pitfalls. Above all, like every human activity, mountain biking needs humility, and the realisation that, even though we fancy ourselves gods among countryside users, we pedal with feet of miry clay.

ian bailey, sanny
There are definitely more enjoyable ways of getting a facial.

Here, then, are ten of the most embarrassing things that have happened to me while mountain biking. Please join in with your own below.

10 of the most embarrassing things that have happened to me while mountain biking

1. Winning most improved rider prize at a timed practice day on a local (and very muddy) downhill track. I achieved this amazing feat on my last run, simply by riding the entire track without stopping or dismounting at any point.

2. Crashing in the qualifier of the Megavalanche and tearing the only bit of my flesh that wasn’t covered in body armour, which happened to be my love handle. After a painful, miserable bumpy ride down a black run to the medical centre for some stitches and some bonus liposuction, the impassive female doctor assured me that it was “un petit blessure” and “you will be able to race as normal tomorrow”. Thanks, but no thanks.

3. Seeing my current ‘best’ bike in a Facebook post from a mainstream mountain bike magazine that asked “Who used to ride one of these back in the day?”

4. Being so confused at the start of a 12-hour race that I went out and did the first lap at the same time as another member of my team. Then discovering what I’d done when I arrived back at the pit area, and proceeding to use some loud and highly undignified language in front of all the other riders preparing to go out, the juniors waiting to start their race, and the race organiser.

5. Getting hopelessly lost when riding a classic Torridon loop, to the point where we were considering fording a savage, boulder-filled river and climbing up a cliff on the other side, before realising we’d just failed to read the GPS correctly. Having picked up the wide and obvious track we were supposed to be on, we did the rest of the 20-mile loop, which involved a fair bit of pushing and a surprisingly gentle grassy downhill. Later that evening we realised we’d ridden the whole route backwards.

6. Making the three-hour round trip to the Forest of Dean with a mate who had packed wheel bags in his car, without realising they didn’t contain any wheels. He refused to hire a bike from the centre there, so we just drove home again. To be fair this is more like one of his most embarrassing moments, but I’m ashamed I didn’t just go riding and make him sit in the café reading back issues of Dirt.

7. Telling the manager of a local park that reports of irresponsible use by mountain bikers were “anecdotal”, just before a train of five riders charged through the protected woodland we were walking through. Thanks, fellow mountain bikers. You do make it hard for me to love you sometimes.

8. Attempting to rebuild my back wheel two days before a race, but not being able to get any tension in the spokes. It turned out that I’d been so thoroughly bewildered by the multi-coloured toothpick factory explosion diagrams on Sheldon Brown’s website that I was lacing the wheel up two cross rather than three cross. I eventually gave up and took it to the local bike shop, who booked the job in as “Stupid Antony’s stupid wheel”.

9. Trying to keep up with a rider ten years my senior, my bars clipped a tree and I fell into a massive puddle. Something sharp in the bottom stabbed an inch-deep hole in my elbow, which promptly got infected and needed a week in hospital to sort out. This was back in the days before mobile internet, and I refused to pay extra for a telly, so I spent seven days with a tiny bandage on my arm, lying in a ward full of people whose limbs were held together by metal exoskeletons, feeling like a complete fraud, and dodging irate phone calls from a boss who viewed a mountain biking injury in the same light as if I’d hurt myself riding a space hopper.

10. Attempting to jump my first ever double at a local spot built on an old coal tip, face planting into some jet black dirt, very hard indeed, and having to ride home looking like a dazed Papa Lazarou. Then going back to the same spot a few weeks later and breaking my wrist.

Come on then – we know you’ve got plenty of these to share. The one that makes us laugh the hardest wins a T-shirt 🙂

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