Lockdown living getting to you? If you're one of the lucky one with nearby trails, here are ten practical ideas from 'Trailfinder General' Benji Haworth to help spice up your local loop.
Even if I wasn’t living in the Covid era, there are always times when I get bored with riding the same old local trails over and over. Here’s a bunch of useful – and free – things that I try every now and then to put a fresh twist on things.
1. Time trial it
Starting with the obvious, time it. The whole thing. Not just the section that you enjoy the most – or that most plays to your abilities. Leave that to the macho Strava ‘racers’. And no pausing the timer during your rests either. Time the whole enchilada. Why? Because. One thing I bet it’ll show you is that you can extend your local loop significantly further than you think given a limited time frame. Your local loop arguably only feels boring and limiting because you’re taking far too long to get round the relatively modest mileage.
It can be hard to turn your brain off from your worries when riding your local trails. Mainly because you know the tracks inside out and can pretty much ride them on autopilot; they don’t require your full attention. This is how your stressy thoughts keep on butting in. What to do? Try focussing on the noise your tyres are making along the terrain. Try holding your breath for six pedal strokes, then exhaling for six pedal strokes. Stop, get off your bike and walk a section instead. Not only will that help with mindfulness, it may reveal a new way of riding the section that you’d thought about as you bludgeon your way over for it for the hundrenth time.
3. Go and have a look up THAT bit
I do this a lot. I mean, a LOT. And the result is usually either a dead-end or deadly dull. But every now and then a bit of speculative nosing about results in another cool little patch to integrate in my local loop’s quilt. If you know what I mean. Don’t just keep riding past that intriguing little deer track exit. Go check it out. You really don’t have anything to lose.
4. Ride a loop backwards You will have heard this one before and – very sensibly – ignored it. The only thing that you will learn from doing your trails backwards is that you do them that correct way for a reason! But… er, hang on… No, actually… just don’t do this. Unless you live somewhere pancake flat.
4. Ruin your suspension
Don’t change your suspension pressures. What I’m talking about here is extreme knob twiddling. This is knob twiddling with purpose though. Dial all your rebound dials to maximum. Go and ride a kilometre. Dial all your rebound dials to minimum. Go ride a kilometre. The goal here? To finally understand how damping changes your bike’s behaviour. Chances are you’ll learn something completely unexpected and wholly counter-intuitive. Let’s be honest here, you’ve never really set your suspension up properly have you? Let alone actually understood any suspension theory. This ‘suspension ruining’ will show you that is really is worth learning and trying out some stuff.
5. Try riding switch
On a descent obviously. What does ‘riding switch’ mean? Leading with your non-usual foot. Most folk have a foot that they prefer to be at the front when freewheeling. Like all the best people in the world, I lead with my right foot. This means I can struggle on right hand switchbacks. Practising riding with your back foot forward is a great refresher and skills honer.
6. Ride a section chainless
NB: simply not-pedalling is not the same! To do this succesully you will need to take some Powerlink pliers with you on the ride; everyone knows that chain quick-links are impossible to actually open with bare hands. Once you’ve removed your chain (and carefully folded it up into a ziplock bag without tying it in knots) the first thing you will feel is: “THIS IS REALLY ODD FEELING”. This will swiftly be followed by “why do I brake so much, so pointlessly, so… annoyingly?” Some folk will claim that you can feel your suspension work more effectively without a chain quasi-throttling it. I’m not so sure it’s that noticeable. Sometimes the suspension feels worse to me! By far the most significant thing is that you now stay off the brakes more, brake better and make more of an effort to generate speed from the shape of terrain. All lessons well worth learning.
7. Pick a bridleway or byway on a map you’ve never ridden and go and find it
It will vary on where you live, but where I live the secret weapon of the Trailfinder General’s arsenal are ‘white roads’. These don’t have the easy-to-spot coloured dashes on Ordnance Survey mapping. They look just like minor roads. Because in terms of rights-of-way, that’s what they are. Yet, ‘white road’ status does not mean car-friendly. It doesn’t even seem to mean wider-than-footpath. White roads can be skinny tracks of techno delight. Dig out your old local maps and give them a once over with fresh ‘white road’-hunting eyes.
8. Spend a whole hour trying to learn a trick
I never do this. I know, I know… Do as I say, not as I do. Nevertheless, in the link above are a bunch of handy skills that are well worth mastering (or at least getting not-rubbish at).
9. Trail maintenance
Clearing drainage. Tidy up over-exuberant foliage. De-berm spots that don’t need them. Pick up some litter. Stop and actually report flytipping instead of just shaking your head and riding on. Make a difference.
Deathgripping is not covering the brake levers. Having all your fingers wrapped around your grips. Brave downhill racers do this when they get a case of brake-itis (grabbing the brakes even when you know you shouldn’t). And it works. It’s also incredibly dangerous. But there is much merit in a milder version of this madness: just deathgrip the front brake. Stop riding with a finger resting on the front brake lever. Stop it. Just cover the rear brake. Half deathgripping is much safer, far less scary and 90% as effective as full-on deathgripping. It’s particularly worthwhile to do on stop-starty trail-centre-y type trails. By just covering/using the rear brake you will be less stiff, more flowy, less achey, faster, comfier, happier, sexier, wealtheir and healthier. Well, certainly some of those attributes anyway.