You wait for it. You pine for it. You – even the confirmed non believers amongst us – might pray for it. Meteorological spring is not mountain bike spring – there’s something rather less precise, rather more mystic about the bringer of the dry line. Earth hardening to the stimulus of longer days and suckling vegetation. A little less rainfall, a little more sunshine. Not everywhere because dark places trap brackish water in a gloom rarely lifted before high summer.
We British spring riders are realists. We may be chasing the dragon through swoopy singletrack but our peripheral vision bombards optic nerves with leafless trees, bud-less vegetation and a landscape stained brown by endless winter. We’re not looking for top tubes burnished with sun flecked dust or mountain biker tans from elbows to wrists – no right now we’ll settle for riding all day without returning home with mud stuffed into every orifice and trying to find the cash to finance a new drive train.
Oh but it’s good enough. The week before some bureaucrat ratchets the British Summertime switch, we’re away at 9am under skies differentiated from summer by 8/8ths clouds and leaking a little bit of dampness. No matter, the previous ten days were conspicuous by the absence of rain and while temperatures struggled to break into double figures, we knew it’d be close to good. Maybe better.
Better indeed. Everything dry or thereabouts. No easier than slogging through sloppy mud because sideways energy is displaced by heavier pedal strokes rewarded with grippy momentum in the chosen direction of travel. Two hours later we arrive at the designated bacon stop where through the winter our bikes shared a common slithery brown paint finish and were barely individually distinguishable. Now the colours pop with merely a few flecks of dust yet to be dried.
Quick stop as while the conditions were summer, the wind was still properly wintry. Every new trail is viewed with suspicion; is this the one where the hub deep mud still lingers? It would appear not; there’s a singular joy in pushing a tyre into the dirt knowing – just knowing – it’s going to compress to a suction gripping demon before following your unweight at the apex with a push of its own firing your giggling self into the next corner. Sure in winter, catching the slide, synchronising a muddy foot stomp with a desperate counter-steer has a certain amount of technical merit, but it’s nothing compared to bouncing between corners and straight-lining a messy root section that’d be odds on to leave you hanging upside down in spikey branch just two weeks before.
Riding trails that were desperate just a month ago reaffirms the tired idiom that to appreciate the good times, you need to be repeatably beaten senseless with the shitty stuff. Everything feels fast, feels easy, feels like it might be like this for a few months. Sure there’ll be rain filled weekends where those winter skills will need dusting off. And planned trips away where the weather goes with challenging rather than sun-burning. But that’s okay, because it’s an aboration, an outlier, a pull away from the norm.
Soon we’ll be riding under blue skies on baked trails as therapy for more than three months of ‘get used to it, it’ll be like this next week as well. And the one after that. After which it might just be a little bit worse’. I’ve removed my hateful mudguard, I’ve racked the winter hardtail, I’ve dug out gear not layered with waterproof fabrics. Such precipitate action in early spring may of course trigger monsoons, hails of trout, 2012 all over again. Sorry, but I don’t care – I need spring to be here, now. Haven’t we suffered enough already?
Sitting in the pub cradling a beer, imagined some hours before as our epic ride first cracked 50km and then 75, I watched the twilight leeching the light from a perfect day and I didn’t care. Nothing was separating me from talking bollocks with my best friends and getting another round in. We had lights and the joy of knowing soon we won’t need them.
I’m done with Winter. Now is my favourite season. Bluebells, long evening rides, warm winds, vegetation on speed, dry trails, good friends. Mountain biking and Spring. What’s not to love?