In our wordy web feature, Greville Kelly ponders his first mountain biking love and muses that now he’s grown up and times have moved on, it might be time to let go. Grab yourself a cup of tea and have a read…
When to let go of a loved one? This is the question I am currently facing. The loved one in question is a 1990 Canonndale 400, my first proper investment into mountain biking. I remember that first test ride, a quick cycle up the main road outside Steve Thornhill Cycles in Birmingham. At that time she was a beautiful, rigid mountain bike in black, complete with cutting edge Suntour under bar shifters and the fattest downtube I had ever seen on a bike.
My first few ventures out were to the local canals and bridleways around Birmingham, trips to Cannock Chase (including one of the early Cannock Chase Classic MTB races) and a never to be forgotten mountain bike trip to Cadair Idris, Wales with my 6th form college, including waterfall shower facilities and far too much beer than is good for any 17year old away from home. In those early days hours were spent polishing, cleaning, replacing bearings in creaky bottom brackets and fitting solid steel bar ends (I couldn’t afford the titanium ones), flex stems and an investment in super light MA 40 rim set with XT hubs from Dorridge Cycles.
During the 1990’s the bike traveled to University with me, surviving being chained to radiators in dodgy student dwellings and the threat of being sold to raise money for the next month’s rent. In the late 1990’s we went suspended, with a set of Marzocchi Z5s and the luxury of an investment in V-brakes to replace the old faithful Shimano XT cantilevers and Suntour Energiser rear brake (how did that magic work?).
As with all good things, they have to come to an end, and I may be at that point now. In 2003 the bike was ‘retired’ to the parent in-laws apartment in Spain, near to Garraf Parc Del Natural, south of Barcelona. Retirement had come about due to the arrival of a new steel hardtail sporting 27 gears so I thought that the old Cannondale would be useful to have on hand when I visited Spain each year. In Spain, my Cannondale no longer needs to worry about mud, muck or water, however the rocky trails can prove to be testing and a little painful for its rider due to that aluminium frame doing little in the way of shock absorption!
For the last two years things have begun to slip, probably a bit like dementia, and memories slipping. However in the case of the bike it has been the rear wheel, which as soon as you put to much torque through the pedals, slips from the frame, despite the QR skewer being as tight as a….well tight thing.
On my most recent ride, the final descent along one of Spain’s infamous unadapted roads, (which makes chapel gate in Edale look like a canal footpath ride) my rear wheel pinched flat, the rim bent, the rear brake gave up through the v-brake spring jumping out and breaking its fixing and to top it all off the rear wheel slipped out on my final ascent, through the little woodsy rocky section near to base.
So do I carry on trying to keep this love affair alive? Just to complicate matters before my last ride (as if by fate) I even promised my five year old, “one day son, this will be yours!” However, when I look at the bike, its angles are so head down, bum up, it frame is as forgiving a Puritan Priest, and the steering is more nervous and twitchy than your average Britain’s Got Talent wannabe. So why would I want to carry on….well it’s the letting go bit that is difficult, how can I with all our history?
Maybe I can find a new rear replacement gear hanger for this 20 year old model which will stop the rear wheel coming out of the drop outs, a new rear wheel will fix the broken rim, and new rear brake will sort out the final piece, however the ride will be no better, and after spending a few hundred more pounds will I have just put off the inevitable? Letting go of your first MTB love is not easy….I think I’ll go and ponder some more, before being tempted by that new hard tail from the LBS in Villanova, which would probably be twice as good in biking terms, but only a fraction of the bike my Cannondale F400 is….was?