A word to the wise: if you’re going to ride a bike, don’t try riding on shingle. Even if it’s firmly packed shingle, as it is on the spit out to Hurst Castle and lighthouse, just don’t. It is murderously hard work … and then the wind gets up for the homeward trip.

Riding on that stuff is something far, far worse than just a grind. It is soul-sapping stuff; it can break a sane person’s spirit. Grown men weep and policemen turn in their badges. Hurst Castle’s worth visiting; the sea there when it’s being whipped up is bracing … but walking there and back is very sensible.

Hurst Lighthouse

Take my advice – walk to here.

When It All Gets Too Crowded

New Forest Woodland

Boring bosky dells – and other delights to ride by

To the New Forest for a holiday with, naturally, the intention that some days should include some cycling. I think I’d read somewhere that there are 100 miles of cycle trail in the national park and so we went equipped for some off-road riding.

We found plenty of trails … we found woods and we found heath. What we – Charli and I – also found was that it was all terrifically controlled and, well, tame.

Now, neither of us are tough off-road riders willing to risk life and limb in the pursuit of speed and ‘getting some air’ or whatever it is that braver people than me say when they’ve both wheels off the ground: I’m old and wise enough to know how much falling off hurts. I might be fat but I don’t bounce like I used to.

However, the New Forest trails are at the other extreme. I can see their appeal for riders who want a quiet traffic-free pootle-about and I’m not knocking that. I can see that it must be a horrifically busy area peak season and so managing the riders to prevent erosion is probably very necessary. But it is all just a bit boring as a result.

A sobering through is that, given the way the population is increasing, it’s probably a glimpse of the future – especially if you add in to the equation our increasingly risk-averse culture.

Be Thankful

Both rides yesterday and the day before were of the ‘good to be out’ but ‘boy, is it yukky out there’ variety.

Both were short-ish, partially off-road excursions in the territory between Caversham and Henley. Both times, I came back mud be-splattered with a bike caked in the particularly finely textured gloop you seem to only get after it’s been frozen. I don’t know if the freezing and thawing process somehow breaks mud down more.

After today’s excursion I did wash the bike down and as I was sprucing it up it crossed my mind how well it had kept working despite all the abuse it was enduring, and how little I appreciated its reliability.

Mud-covered bike parts

Somehow, it just keeps working

It’s like a lot of things – when they’re working they’re ignored: things mechanical, things electrical, things biological – not least your body. Now, 50+, it’s getting harder to ignore my body. I’d be lying if I denied having more aches and pains – niggles, but frequent niggles where there once weren’t any.

Presumably, things will continue to deteriorate. Possibly, there comes a point when the deterioration is so bad that it’s unpleasant enough to want it all to cease. Prior to that, be thankful for what does work.


It’s another year. What are we celebrating? That we’re still here? That the past year’s now gone – done and dusted and good riddance? That we’ve another year that we’re looking forward to?

Party balloons on a pole.


It would be interesting to know what people feel en masse – an accurate snapshot of how many people are happy to see the back of what was for them a bad year in the hope the next one will be better; how many people are looking at the coming year with dread; how many people really don’t give a damn either way and see it as just another date in the diary … and so on. I don’t know what I’d wager would be the outcome.

If there’s one thing I learned – and heard articulated in the last year – it’s that negativity is all too often just low blood sugar and tiredness. It’s been a long and busy year that’s hurtled by and I’m too tired to make a sensible judgement about how I feel about the last year and the coming year right now, certainly too tired for positivism.

Today’s was a short ride largely on-road, but on an off-road bike because the conditions under-wheel are a long way from good. I know it’s been equally yuk during winters before but nevertheless, on the day, it’s hard to imagine how the countryside is ever going to dry out and nature look anything like attractive again. Which, I guess, might just be testament to how poor my imagination is.

Wet Leaves, Mud, Low Sun And Darkness (Just For Cyclists)

A while back I wrote some tips for novices, for riding in the wet. These proved popular so herewith a few more Autumn-inspired thoughts in a similar vein:

  • The sun can be very low – and blinding. If you’re riding in to the sun and having trouble seeing, bear in mind that drivers might be coming up behind you and struggling to see too – and that includes spotting that small-profile bike and rider combo in front of them. If it’s really bad, get off and walk on the path.
  • Darkness sneaks up – quickly. On a dull Autumn day, you can need full night lights by mid afternoon. Don’t get caught out with thoughts of “dusk isn’t until 5” or whatever.
  • Leaves look lovely. They are also quite lethal if you come across them in the wrong place – the classic being a leaf-strewn corner. Sliding on leaves isn’t fun. All you can do is think about where you’re riding – if it’s tree-lined be a bit more careful about what might be around the corner.
  • Mud is evil. A coating of mud on a road is as slippery as anything – snow or ice included. There’s plenty of mud around this time of year. Around here at least, there currently seems to be plenty of farm activity that involves mud-bespattered tractors driving down lanes with all the obvious consequences, but it’s by no means solely caused by tractors.
A sheen of wet mud on a road

Mud: slippery for the unwary

If you’re riding an off-road bike off-road, with the right, deep-treaded tyres, then mud and leaves aren’t so much of an issue – though a thick build-up of leaves on hard pack, particularly, can still catch you out.

If you’re riding on-road with hard narrow tyres, caution is advised. I have read that tread on road bike tyres is nonsense and that seemed to make sense: the logic goes that road tyre tread is all about dispersing water to prevent aqua-planing and bikes will never go fast enough to aqua-plane. Thus, you’re better off with no tread to maximize the amount of ‘rubber’ that’s in contact with the road, as that’s what will give you grip. Knobbly bits on road tyres won’t help with muds, leaves or anything else – so don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll be OK.

The King Of Shangri-la Has Gone Mountain Biking

Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the Druk Gyalpo (Dragon King), also known as K4, abdicated a while ago, and now spends his time mountain biking.

He was the King of Bhutan, where happiness is the most important factor in the development of the nation.

This is a man who knows how to life live. The lesson’s there to be learned.