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

by Antony de Heveningham 17

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 🙂

Comments (17)

  1. Genuine lols for some of those, especially no.10.

  2. After a pub stop on the West Highland Way, I thought I’d show off to my mate how my bunny hopping was coming along. Stuffed a hop in the pub carpark, took a nasty pedal slap to the shin and started swearing loudly in front of a young family enjoying their pub lunch. Not my proudest biking moment and still my worst biking injury to date. Finished the ride with one leg matching the red of my frame, as blood continued to pour from the craters left by the pedal pins.

  3. Not being familiar with the tubeless thread I’ll have to offer my own (possibly near identical) tubeless failure.

    Attempting to get a very reluctant tyre to seat on a friends wheel, I aimed to over inflate it a bit in the hope it would stay pressurised long enough to seal.

    I could hear air escaping and the pressure gauge steadfastly held at about 35 psi. So I pumped more, a lot more.

    A lot of exertion later I discovered the pressure gauge was faulty unfortunately this was as I lent forward, pushed down on the pump and put my head towards the tyre to see if I could spot the leak.

    The tyre failed, catastrophically, split from its bead and exploded loudly. It was like I imagine being flash-banged would be.

    My vision went black, I temporarily lost the use of my hearing, my friend who was holding the wheel suffered similarly.

    His relatively new Easton haven wheel was ruined, the rim buckled, somehow the spokes held but in so doing appeared to have transferred so much force to the hub they bent it, collapsing the nds bearing and bending the hub to the point at which the through axle would no longer go through all the way from either end.

    When I regained the power of sight my friend was spattered head to toe in tiny spots of white goo, and I discovered that high pressure latex solution isn’t good for the lenses of glasses, one of which was now permeated with the stuff, thankfully it wasn’t my eyes.

    The shed had an out line of me stenciled against it in fine white mist. It’s amazing the coverage you can get with a small amount of aerosolled liquid, though I will say it wasn’t very thick or consistent.

    As my friend and I mouthed variations on “thank you for that it was a most pleasant experience, let’s do it again” at one another (I assume there were real words words but I couldn’t hear my own voice let alone anything else over the ringing in my ears for about an hour, a ringing which took a week to fade) his next door neighbour emerged from the house and (possibly) wordlessly (possibly not) began to try and shake very runny dog faeces from a rug where it appears his pride and joy failed to hold onto it’s bowls when the wheel/tyre combo exploded.

    Thanks to a very understanding bike shop (no way we were getting away with a jra) the wheel was eventually replaced under warranty when Easton couldn’t explain how the rim failure [clearly run into a kerb*] had busted the hub and gave in.

    I needed new glasses but on the upside never have to tubeless my friends wheels again.

  4. Feeling gung ho on the last few hundred metres of a downhill trail in Les Deux, and another rider suddenly gets right on my back. I think “I can outrun him”, quickly lose both pedals simultaneously, smash my balls into my saddle, and collapse onto the grass inside a corner.

    The guy behind tears by like a god, and I spend the next five minutes on my knees, clutching at my crotch, groaning and doing a thumbs up to every passing rider who asks “Ça va?”

  5. Trying to make up a 50m gap to the riders in front on one jump…..

    Surrey Hills, 48lb Marin Quake and people in front whilst being on a err team building afternoon with work!

    So I hit a rather large hump on the trail (Park Life) trying to gain on the youngsters in front. It went very wrong from the off resulting in being spat over the bars and getting bounced through the brambles before coming to a rest about 20ft down the bank.

    I had enough time to think “that was close” before the Quake arrived. It broke it’s fall by landing pedal first right where your ham string joins your bum. I still feel this years later when its cold.

    I was also very scratched on the arms and back from the brambles, which my mate helped me with spray on plaster back at the car park. I attempted to chase him round the car park hobbling like a deranged zombie with blood oozing out of my arms as the spray on plaster did its best to sterilize the grazes with pain.

  6. Thanks for the laughs. I love the sport, but hate the testosterone that seems to fuel the machismo and trolls on the forum.

    It all started with a small slip on a Glentress night ride in Magic Mushroom that knocked my pads round my leg. Couldn’t be bothered to sort it but then went wide on the northshore in the next section to find that wet un-chicken wired northshore is quite slippy, but that the remaining chicken wired part is quite abrasive. Particularly interfacing with newly exposed skin. Not the worst injury but bled profusely for the hour and a half home before getting infected.

    Still a great night ride!

    If you’re not crashing, you’re not trying hard enough. Well – that’s my excuse…

  7. Dangeourbrain

    I sat down to my lunch break and after reading the article I started reading your post. It reduced me to an incoherent state of laughter and I had to take about ten minutes time out before I was any use again.
    Lovely story.
    Singletrack……..give that man a column of his own!!! At once!

  8. Damn you Singletrack! I am supposed to be revising for an exam.
    Love the stories but love the explanation for an epic ride because the map blew away.

  9. I was on my Trail Cycle Leader assessment, keen to impress. Without checking or thinking clearly, I watched the rest of the candidates get off to walk the stepping stones of the stream crossing. I arrived in at a keen speed, only to find out that green slimed limestone underwater has less friction than a shaved seal in an olive oil dressing… Cue a massive front wheel washout and sudden stop as the water depended. A snorkel would have helped as I dived below the surface, still clipped in of course…

  10. Learning to ride with my new Shimano clip-less peddles. Went round a sandy corner, went turtle, still clipped in, perfect inverted riding position, in front of an entire class of school girls on a class outing. Cue much sniggering.

  11. Some years ago a group of friends and I decided to take on the Afan Monster 100km challenge. All was well until about 5km in I spotted a camera and decided to pull off the world’s most impressive bunny hop in the effort to get a great photo. Inevitably it went wrong and ended up with me completely mashing up my rear wheel. The resulting faff meant that the whole group reached the final cut off point too late to complete the ride. Although they’ve never said as much I know that deep down inside my riding buddies on that day blame me for that (and rightly so) and, as the event was never run again, none of us ever got the opportunity to complete the route.

    I learnt two valuable lessons that day. Never show off for the camera and never utter the immortal line “watch this” before attempting to pull off demonstrations of mountain biking skill (or lack of)!

  12. – Tightening a disc brake onto my new fork’s IS tab when……CLICK aaaand the IS tab’s snapped.
    – Set off from Arundel along the SDW at 10am. Got to Jack and Jill at 2pm and turned around. Realised it was going to get dark at 4pm and I was really tired. Rode for a long time in total darkness by myself, constantly alarmed by owls.
    – Stopped for a guy who had snapped a chain and lent him my chain tool. Rode on. Realised he’d re-joined the chain without fitting it to the bike. Did not turn around. Years of guilt.
    – Got off train with Xtracycle, camping gear and wife at Aviemore to ride to Loch Morlich. Constantly surprised by persistent upwards gradient as Cairngorm grew closer.
    – Asked “is it roll-able?”. Believed affirmative answer. Concussion. Repeat semi-annually.
    – Megavalanche qualification run, well-positioned in the 6th row on the grid. Got into the first corner to find that a guy trying to get past had his handlebar wedged under the chest-piece of my body armour. Let the keen guys come through and carried on at my own pace.
    – Gorrick 6-hour enduro. Very, very tired after the first lap. Sat and watched for a bit. Went home.
    – Hit the North solo on a singlespeed. Powered to top of hill, encouraged by attractive and cheerful lady marshal. Cramped so hard I fell over and lay alternately giggling and screaming.
    – Bought a Trek VRX200 because it was reduced to 50% in Evans. Expensive mistake. Gittish thing.
    – Scouting The Slab on Avon Gorge by myself from the top. Rather wet. Spent about 10 minutes trying not to fall off a cliff and die. Corpse would never have been found. Idiotic.

  13. 1. Drive to the trails, go to pump up front tyre, and can’t undo the presta valve. It’s glued up with sealant and I’ve got nothing to grip it or bodge it, and don’t want to break the bead seal to put a tube in. Go home instead.
    2. Find out that both spare tubes are punctured from the last time I came out 6 months ago. I end up cutting the best tube and knotting both ends.
    3. Hear a strange noise from the chain on commute home. Think: “hmmm, don’t want that to break, I’ve not got my chain tool. I’d better test that it’s ok”. Stand on the pedals and sprint. Chain breaks as predicted. I nearly die. And then have to walk home.

  14. I don’t think I can top some of these.

    Bravo, fellow losers 😉

  15. 1. Mate decided a jump was too much. Without even scoping the landing point I hit it as fast as I could… turns out there wasn’t any. Landed in between a tree and fence post with very little wiggle room. Made a lovely nipple flap in my tee and could now see the tendons in my thumb.
    2. When to Nantmwar quarry to watch some DH racing, when we arrive it had been cancelled. Decided to do the route. On second go my bro said ‘see ya at the bottom’. First drop off I saw him and his bike go down and then just his bike come back up cartwheeling. When I got to him with no helmet, concussion, broken shoulder and cuts that appeared to cover his whole body his first concern was “is the bike OK”. I had to change gear for him as we drove home.

  16. Due to get married next Saturday , so nipped out on the spesh for a local loop , coming down repton shrubs , yep sun very low can’t see a bloody thing on a great bit of single track… Face planted .. Cut my big nose .. (Why is it always my nose that gets it) ps probs an improvement on my looks . 🙁
    Hmm well my good lady hasn’t killed me yet but banned me of my bike for a week… Or until the big day next week !!!!

  17. 3 (?) years ago, i was asked by a race commissaire-type-person to ‘retire’ before a race had even started. Apparently i’m so crap and slow that i was considered an inconvenience to the other riders…

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