Afan Trail Centre in the sunshine
As I mentioned in my last blog post, The Full-Moto (TFM) and I recently went to Wales for a couple of days, the first at Afan trail centre and the second at Bike Park Wales. It was the toughest test yet for the bike and it has given me plenty to think about. With its new, lightweight wheels and fork, the few rides that I’d managed to get-in on my local trails before the trip had shown that the bike had become even more playful, being extra-keen to hop, skip and dance its way between the trees. I was chuffed. And I had high hopes for the Welsh trip.
Having ridden a rigid bike with far more cross-country orientated intentions in rocky Wales before, I knew that the tracks could be pretty brutal without the protection of some suspension. But with the geometry of TFM combined with its new, svelte figure, I was confident that this time it would be different. I was wrong and the aftermath has given me a great deal to ponder.
Back in June 2017 I wrote in the blog about my love of being all-consumed and fully-immersed in the task of threading a bike down some singletrack (The Ultimate Currency). This is sometimes referred to as achieving ‘flow’, with the concept first being proposed by a psychologist named Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. He stated that:
“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
There’s something deeply fulfilling about being completely focused on the here-and-now. I once read that flow can be described as the complete opposite of multi-tasking (single-tasking?), which I thought was a nice way of describing it. And the TFM is the ultimate bike, in combination with my abilities, for achieving flow on my local trails on the North Downs and Surrey Hills in southeast England.
I believe that this inter-connected triumvirate of bike, trail and rider represents the perfect combination for maximising my enjoyment. It is therefore pretty obvious that if any one of these three is changed too drastically, then this house of cards will be destabilised. Essentially, in Wales I went beyond the limits of what TFM and myself could ride and still achieve flow. Because, while a ride needs to be challenging enough to require your full concentration, it shouldn’t be so hard that all you’re really trying to do is get to the end of it in one piece.
To be clear, this is not the same as having the necessary skill to simply clear a section of trail – everything that I rode over the weekend in Wales was within my humble abilities. But the rockiness meant that, at times, it was all I could do to hold on to the handlebars, which, ultimately, became quite a frustrating experience and one that all but eliminated any chance of achieving that all-important flow. However, it was one that taught me an important lesson. As much as I love my bike, I can’t expect it to be the perfect tool for every occasion.
It took me a while to accept this, initially preferring to believe that I’d simply lost my mojo in Wales. One of the guys that I was riding with, who I normally think of as a challenging, upper benchmark against which to judge myself, was simply riding off into the distance at Afan. Thoughts quickly turned to me being too old and that a relatively limited amount of time on the mountain bike in the last couple of years meant that I’d lost much of my ability. Thankfully, the upper sections of the blue runs at Bike Park Wales on the second day, with their sculpted, sinuous berms, helped to reform the perfect flow-triangle and with much excitement (and relief) I realised that all was not lost!
The drive home was spent considering my options. Initially, I thought that the answer was to buy a few, select components for TFM that I could swap-out with the bike’s standard set-up for these rockier rides – expanding the bikes reach into tougher terrain. Top of the list would be a suspension fork. But, as was pointed out to me on that journey home, I pretty much have all of the parts in my shed already to build a mongrel of a second bike, dedicated to these conditions. Essentially, a bike that creates a new flow-triangle when the trails get tougher. Pretty obvious really. So, I’ll be spending a few nights in the shed with the Allen keys in order to cobble something together, which I’m sure I will then be refining over the coming months. I shall report back with my findings!