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Foxy Lady vs Garden Gate

Imagine being able to hire the bike of your dreams, or at least one that was advertised as “a game changer”, that you were curious about. To put it in context, it was also whilst I was desperate to get out on a bike, and get a ride around the Swinley trail centre. It will be about 3 months since I have ridden a bike, and riding at the remodelled Swinley trail centre for the first time in about 3 years. My own bikes were (and still are !) in a shipping container somewhere in transit from overseas. I had planned to ride on my own, but a good mate of mine was now free, and a cunning plan was made to meet up.

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The swinley bike hub trailhead shop opened at 9am (I was there at 8.45am and chomping at the bit). By 9.15 they had very casually managed to get the mondraker foxy out of their bike store. After a very patronising briefing about how strong disc brakes can be and how to use gears and hydraulic seat post etc I was ready. Hold on…..no I wasn’t. The brake levers are touching the handlebars, when I joked “do the brakes had any pads in” I got the response “oh some people like them like that” that and a shrug of the shoulders and I knew I was not going to get anywhere.

How about the fork (fox 34) it had a very slow rebound and the adjuster was stuck. The guy tried to adjust it, failed and I got another shrug of the shoulders. This is pointless less I thought so we headed off for some laps of the new blue and red routes.

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The track was wet and slippery after the rain pouring down the day before. Luckily the tracks were not actually too muddy, as the tracks have well quite designed drainage built in. The weather was actually keeping many people away (including a few of my riding pals), but I personally could not wait to get covered in mud as it had been so long since I had ridden in the wet, or in fact in the UK. The car park was packed, even with the pay & display charging. I would say 70-80% of the cars were owned by mountain bikers. This place is getting pretty popular I thought.

So how was the bike ? Well the new foxy (this was a 2016 Foxy R) has a distinctively long top tube. Even more so in a large size. They call it Forward geometry, and the long top tube is coupled with really short stem (30mm). Its designed for maximum stability on the descents and is considered cutting edge geometry.

There are lots of punchy but relatively short climbs at Swinley. The ride was twitchy on the climbs as expected. Unfortunately, the weight of the bike was very noticeable (approx. 32lb), this thing weighs a tonne, my aching legs confirmed this. For a short travel 140/150mm bike this is heavy, albeit it felt like you could probably give it some hardcore abuse if able to or if you had working brakes :). It certainly did seem stable at speed although I was not to confident to play too much on the jumps. What started off feeling like a garden gate was actually starting to feel ok, overall I found it relatively easy to get to used to .

To add to the poor servicing woes (brakes and fork), the SRAM gears were not well adjusted and I wasn’t getting all 11 gears. This and a sticking Reverb seat post were adding up to being a major distraction – not what you need when trying to have a blast around a great trail. The brakes were just plain dangerous so I ended up adjusting the lever throw on the side of the trail.

I also noticed a fair bit of flex in the frame (around the pivot near the bb), knowing the low level of TLC this bike had received, it could well have been worn bearings.  Overall I think the bike had potential but it was just too heavy for me, and unfortunately too poorly maintained to unleash it’s full potential.

When I gave the bike back I reinforced how poorly serviced the bike was, and the excuse I was given was “it was half term last week, so the bikes get a bit trashed”. That to me would mean that if it happens every school holiday, fleet maintenance could be sufficiently planned, but hey, who am I to tell them how to run a business. To be honest I didn’t really enjoy the bike or the hire experience and I certainly will not be hiring from these guys again. It was however, great to be out again, although I cant wait to get back there on my bike, which is built to my spec, and may even have brake pads installed and working suspension 🙂

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Coming home for a ride……..

So I am just looking at my reflection in the mirror of an airplane toilet. I notice I still have my oakleys on my head and look at the dark polaroid lenses bought to fight off the piercing strength of the Western Australian sunshine. I don’t think I will be needing them where I am heading.

The plane is on its way to London and my family and I are heading back home after almost 3 years out in Aus. There are many very significant uncertainties about our return such as where will I be working, where will we live, what to do about a car etc. As a very keen mountain biker (as well as a growing fondness for road riding), right now my mind is fixed on what lenses I will be needing for UK winter riding. Some may say I have my priorities all wrong. I know my wife does on a regular basis.

Don’t get me wrong, the riding in Australia was epic. Lots of bush, scrubland, a few rugged bike trails, lots of races, I even did a 12 hr enduro at one point but it is just different. It is hot, sweaty and very dusty riding. You ride covered in suncream, and have to plan to be out early or late in the day to avoid the full strength of the sun.  The guys riding there are fit, really fit. XC/Road race fit. Their fitness and training is very admirable, and it was painful to try to keep up with them. So much so I had to build a lightweight xc bike up to give me the slightest chance of staying up with them on the climbs. It almost worked, luckily downhill was never a problem staying at the front 🙂

Everyone I spoke to in Aus about coming home said to me – why on earth would you want to do that ?. I had people at home in the UK telling me not to do it. Winter sucks, they said, the rain has not stopped all month they said.  Whilst I don’t have choice as my contract was up, I was actually really looking forward to getting back to the UK.

Numerous questions were running through my mind. What tyre choice do I need for greasy, sloppy & muddy trails ? how many layers will I need to wear ? Will my reverse mullet xc bike (business at the back end and party at the front) be enough to keep up with my old riding buddies. How soon can I sample the new UK bike park ? These are the seemingly unimportant questions I am asking myself at the moment. The work and domestic situation are 1 million times more important than this obviously.

The berms, jumps and overall smooth flow of a UK trail centre is exactly what I have been missing. That sweet singletrack and the sculpted jumps designed to throw you safely into the air lined up with a smooth transition. I cant wait to ride some of my old haunts such as Swinley forest, Afan bike Park, Dorking hills to name a few.

Above all of this I miss my old riding buddies. Whilst they are not as quick, or race orientated as my Aussie mates, they ride more for fun and the thrills which ultimately is the best reason to ride. The fitness is a positive benefit but it is not the main raison d’etre. They politely wait at a trailhead to chew the cud, rather than racing off to see who can beat their strava time for the next climb. A few hours ride or a long weekend somewhere become an adventure and great catchup. You always come away with a big grin and stories that will last many years albeit covered in mud, wet and mildly frozen to the core.

For 2016 I will mostly be riding for fun, and the thrill of riding bikes with my mates as well as trying to cover them in roost and mud at every opportunity. By the looks of the boggy looking mud in the local park, I may even need to invest in a mudguard and dig the karcher out of storage in preparation 🙂

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