9 classic ways to ruin a ride

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All rides are good, yes? The half hour early winter spin after work before darkness falls. The four hour epic in driving rain. The race where you finish last. Every ride has something to be said for it, even if it’s only on reflection once the extremities have been warmed and the injuries dressed. Well, yes, it’s probably true. But there are some things that can ruin a ride and make it pretty hard to see the good without some very heavily rose tinted specs. Here’s our top ride ruiners:

The Physical

Itchy Head
Your riding up a technical climb. You cannot stop, as to do so would mean you would never get going again, and you’d have to push the rest of the way. You can only ride one handed long enough to have a brief scrabble at your helmet. Your gloved fingers won’t fit through the air vents – you can get close, but not there. Your bug mesh prevents access to the spot. Your head stops itching as you reach the top, so you set off down the descent, at which point your head starts to itch again. You are clinging on with both hands, there is no question of a spare one to scratch with. You need to concentrate on the descent but goddammit you can’t concentrate with that itch on your head. Surely there is a midge trapped in your helmet? Or maybe it’s nits? Now your whole head is itching, you brake, stop, rip off your helmet at SCRATCH. Blessed relief. Only now your Strava segment time is ruined. Your replace your helmet. Just above your right ear there’s a tickle.

itchy head
Can’t…quite…get it.

Too hot
You’re sweating. Everywhere. Your face is beetroot red and there’s someone pointing a camera at you. Your glasses keep sliding down as they lose traction on the salty slick of your nose. You wriggle and contort your back in an effort to create airflow. You pour water through the vents in your helmet, but this only means you have less to quench your parched body. Your head aches. Your clammy hands slip on the grips. All you can think about is water. Cool, clear, water. All that is around is dust. Or a murky rainbow slicked fetid bog. You wonder, just a sip…would it really harm you…?

Dry puddle
Too damn hot

Too cold
It starts with your index fingers. Stuck out, covering the brakes, away from the companionship of your other fingers, they start to chill. Then your thumb, isolated under the bars. Then your big toe, your nose, your ears, all your fingers, both feet. A creeping cold that starts as a chill, becomes a tingling ache, then eventually, as all waterproofing in your socks is overwhelmed, becomes a sharp agonising pain. Sleet penetrates through cracks in your Goretex armour – wrists, necklines, ankles. Turning to snow, it sits on your arms, signalling the start of not just cold extremities, but cold limbs. You pedal desperately towards civilisation and warmth, heavy legs stiffening, sluggish, demanding fuel that your cold hands are unable to provide. As your core temperature starts to drop, you realise that the ride has become a matter of survival, not just pride. Finally, you drop off the hills, make it indoors, and begin a fumbling desperate battle to remove the cold, wet, heavy layers that coat you.

Are you sure this is fun?

The Mechanical

Noisy brakes
They work. They stop you when you squeeze the levers. The wheels go round without discernable additional effort. But there is a singing. Like a finger round a wine glass, only at a pitch that makes your ears wince. You try stopping suddenly, repeatedly. You ride through deep puddles, you brake continuously but gently. Nothing stops it, until finally you hit deep, gritty mud – at which point the singing is replaced by nail on a blackboard grinding.

Worn pads

Badly indexed gears
Clickety tickety clickety tick click tick click. Not the pleasing, regular sound of Hope hubs, but the chaotic chatter of gears which won’t quite settle. Will they hold if you stand to grind up a climb, or jump, ship the chain and send your intimates on a date with the top tube? Clickety clickety crunch. Down three cogs at once. Back up one tick tickety tick. Fixing them requires patience and a workstand, neither of which are available, so you pedal on. Clickety tick.

That’ll be tricky to index…

The Psychological

The Earworm
You’re out on a nice XC ride, plenty of pedalling. You find a rhythm: pedals, heartbeat, breath. It feels good. A steady pulse. Your brain falls into step, and you pedal on in a trance, focusing on move forward, keeping the pace. Gradually, you emerge from this state of semi consciousness, realising that your brain has been ticking over, pedal by pedal, breath by breath, until it matches the beat to a tune stored deep in the folds of your grey matter. It’s not going to be something you knew you knew the words to. It’ll definitely be something you’d turn off if it came on the radio. Boney M. Meatloaf. Yellow Submarine. Now it is established, it will follow you up every climb and down every descent, no matter what the speed of your pedals. Double time, freewheel, it matters not, your brain will perfectly slot the tune into your pedal strokes in a manner that makes you think that maybe you should have been a drummer. Onwards, ever onwards you go. I would do anything for love, yes I would do anything for love…

Bottling it
You see the drop. You stop. You look. You walk it. You roll your bike over it. You look. You walk it again. You push back up, set off. You stop. Back up. Look. Go. No. Get off, push past, remount, and get on your way. But for the rest of the ride there’s that little maggot of annoyance, nibbling at the happy edges of your ride endorphins. You didn’t do it. You should have done it. You bottled it.

Not bottling it on a Great Rock skills day.
Not bottling it on a Great Rock skills day.

The Faffing Friend
Riding with people is usually a good thing: it can make you try harder, go further, find new trails. But sometimes riders appear who don’t seem to appreciate the ‘group dynamic’. While riders of any speed are warmly welcomed on anything short of a race training ride, it’s the bits between the riding that can expand to fill the space. Some riders will pitch up just as everyone is about to leave and proceed to assemble bikes and put shoes on while increasingly chilling friends stand and wait. Others will race to the top of a climb, wait for everyone to catch up ready for the descent and THEN decide they need to inflate shocks, remove clothing, add clothing, eat something, and take a selfie. They look up from their Camelbak re-stuffing operation and wonder why everyone’s looking at them.

Just let me adjust this...
Just let me adjust this…

Airborne creatures
It’s a glorious summer evening, the end of a warm day and sun is going down on the perfect afternoon ride. There’s been a brief shower of warm rain, which has cooled your sweaty back just nicely, the trails are in perfect condition, and everything smells fresh. You drop off the doubletrack and onto a thin trail, wending its way through lush undergrowth. Suddenly clouds of protein fill the sky. Some of theme are static, you ride through them, breath held, emerging the other side to find a few dozen clinging to your front. Some are undercover, hiding in the shade, you ride through them, emerging blind and retching for oxygen. Still more are in motion, swarming out from the undergrowth as you pass on a slow sweaty climb. They buzz around you, attempting to access your body through any available orifice. You breath through pursed lips and pedal harder, hoping to outrun them, but this means you needs to breathe harder. Oxygen debt builds until finally your body forces you to gasp. Four flies that were hovering at the corner of your lips enter your body. One lodges under your tongue, two enter your stomach, and one heads for your lungs. You gag, cough, spit, remember what flies like to eat, and gag again. There was an old lady who swallowed a fly… this is surely the title of a Hitchcock novel, not a nursery rhyme. You are no longer basking in the golden evening glow, but frantically scrabbling for home. The post ride beer garden pint is cancelled. You must get inside, to safety, to strip off your layers and swipe at the bugs trapped inside which are crawling, sucking, chewing on your skin, drinking your sweat, lapping at the very lifeblood of your soul.

What do you think? Has your ride been ruined by any of these? Have we missed any? Or are we wrong, and all rides ARE good (even if it takes a particularly long passage of time and a pair of very rose tinted glasses)?

Author Profile Picture
Hannah Dobson

Managing Editor

I came to Singletrack having decided there must be more to life than meetings. I like all bikes, but especially unusual ones. More than bikes, I like what bikes do. I think that they link people and places; that cycling creates a connection between us and our environment; bikes create communities; deliver freedom; bring joy; and improve fitness. They're environmentally friendly and create friendly environments. I try to write about all these things in the hope that others might discover the joy of bikes too.

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