I spend a lot of time riding on my own. Partly because I like it that way – no pressure to perform, or conform, just me and my pedals tapping away to my own rhythm. There’s also a chunk of logistics involved with riding with other people. You have to agree a time, and a place, and then you all have to manage to be free at that time, and get to that place, with all that you need in functioning order. Quite often that is simply more than I can manage. My ride planning tends to go more along the lines of ‘the kids are in bed/at a party/watching a film, there is food in the house, there are clean clothes in the cupboards, I am not ill, quick, ride!’.
But amongst all this snatched riding, I have managed to get an almost regular ride with some Dads from school. To be honest, they’re very regular, it’s me that forgets it’s Wednesday, or has tired legs, or hasn’t eaten in time. The only time they don’t ride is if there is a football match on – and then they’ll ride Thursday instead. Proper dedicated.
The Dads’ ride, plus me. A bunch of guys who are more interested in the pedalling and being out there than they are the bikes they are on. Which is probably just as well – from time to time we swap around so they can have a go on whatever I’m testing, and one of them has what I have decided is the Worst Bike I Have Ever Ridden. I’m not going to tell you what it is, but it weighs as much as the moon and as far as I can tell has very few functioning parts. But since its owner is quite a keen road cyclist who likes a good hill, we’re happy to have him lugging the equivalent of a caravan behind him. The point being here, these guys know almost nothing about bikes. They don’t care about bikes as gadgets or things to be tweaked and tuned. They just want to ride them.
And so we ride. They’re a good match – they like to pedal. Since they don’t know or care about their bikes, there’s no faffing about with saddle heights and tyre pressures and shock settings. We just go. Anything anyone lacks in fitness is made up for in stubbornness, so we all get to the tops of the hills at about the same time. We all moan about the same amount when there’s another hill, or it starts to rain.
I started riding with the Dads as a way to get out a bit more in the winter – I don’t like to ride alone in the dark, so a bit of pedalling along some fairly dull doubletrack was better than not getting out at all. With their aim being to get out there and pedal, they weren’t seeking out descents, or technical trails, or anything much really. They were just riding, often on trails not much rougher than my pub bike could handle. The first time I suggested we try a little singletrack, we headed down through a wooded valley, me leading the way, and a group of fully grown men giggling and whooping behind me. They loved it, and over the months I’ve shown them more and more routes and trails – nothing bonkers, but certainly in the mountain biking territory rather than gravel riding.
Last night, with local trails running dry, we tackled the classic local descent of Pecket Well. It’s a rocky packhorse trail, with washed out bits, leaf mould/mud bits, lumpy rocky step downs, and enough obstacles to make it a proper challenge. Add to that it’s long enough to get your thighs trembling by the end. Oh, and one of the Dads was on a dodgy set of pedals that only released his foot if he yanked really hard – so hard it threatened to rip apart his recently glued together shoe. I wasn’t sure we’d make it, and a bit of me feared I’d be in trouble with the Mums if I caused anyone to spanner themselves.
Down we went, me taking it steady, trying to take lines which didn’t require too much weighting of the bike, or reliance on suspension. A quick check over my shoulder and they were still there. Bump bump, a shout to keep to here, or not there, a short series of steps and we popped out at the other end, all in one piece. We’d all made it, and we were all grinning.
I’ve done that descent more times than I can count, but last night’s is up there with the best. We weren’t fast, we weren’t stylish, but we made it, and we had fun.
The Dads’ ride is a simple pleasure in my week. While I think they might have more fun – or at least less discomfort – if they had better bikes, or better tuned bikes, there’s a bit of me that doesn’t want them to enter the world of upgrades. I like the focus on the activity, not the kit. But most of all I like the joy. Taking pleasure in the joy of others turns out to be a Buddhist thing called ‘mudita’. I recommend it. Go out there and get yourself some riding mates, preferably ones with crap bikes.