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Roadie visits the Dark Side

Roadie visits the Dark Side

Planet X staff member and self-confessed roadie, Michael Hobson, recently took a ride to the Dark Side, i.e. The Peaks on a Whippet. Our XC racer makes an ideal transition bike for those more used to 23mm tyres, but the challenges of off-road riding still present themselves. Michael got off lightly with a cut inside ear; we're still not sure how he did that.

Not many people get to use a carbon-fibre XC race machine the first ever time they go mountain-biking, but that's exactly what I did when I borrowed an On-One X9 Whippet from work last weekend. Just one of the perks of working for Planet X and On-One!

I'm a roadie by trade and until now I hadn't ridden a mountain bike at all apart from a bit of messing around on tow paths with my family as a child. The most off-road action I usually see these days is traversing a small, rocky patch of brownfield land on my commute. But despite that, a colleague of mine wants me to ride in his team for the Bristol Bike Fest enduro event in the Summer, so I thought I should at least give MTB a go before turning him down flat. It's not usually easy to take up a new sport as gear-heavy as mountain biking at the drop of a hat but I found a bright yellow test Whippet in my size just waiting to be taken out of the racking at work. I didn't have any MTB clothes, so roadie gear would have to do; I just slipped on a baggy pair of board shorts over the top in an attempt to fit in. Flat pedals and an old pair of skate shoes dealt with the pedalling side of things. I was ready to go.

Initial impressions were good. The bike is light - not far off the weight of my winter road bike - so that helped ease the transition. The Whippet's XC geometry also helped. I'm used to being low and stretched forwards on my road bike, so the Whippet's nice long top tube kept my position a bit more familiar than many MTB frames would. It was still unmistakably different, but didn't feel weird. After fiddling with the saddle for a bit, we were on our way out to the Peak District. I can't remember the last time I'd ridden on flat pedals and the lack of efficiency pained my roadie sensibilities while we were still on the road. I'd be thankful for them on the trails though!

We headed into the hills via Endcliffe Park, which extends right into the countryside and allows for an almost entirely off-road journey into the National Park. Our route took in two significant climbs, steep in parts, technical in others and both at one point. This was one bit I knew how to do! I only took up cycling after moving to Sheffield from Norfolk three years ago, but in that time I've gone from never having cycled up a proper hill to hills being my favourite bit. This is one skill that transferred directly from the road to the trail, and I edged away from my friends just as I would do on the road. They caught me up on the technical bits where I struggled to find a line and a rhythm, but I got back ahead when it just a matter of pedalling again. One admission though: having a race-designed carbon hardtail certainly played its part since my friends were on alloy full-sus bikes!

The only part of climbing that felt alien was pedalling out of saddle on a flat bar rather on shifter hoods. It was strange swinging my weight around parallel to my hands rather than perpendicular to them like when on the hoods, or in the drops on a road bike; I desperately wanted to be those extra few centimetres over the bike. I'm glad I wasn't though, because the one thing that I was already struggling with was keeping my weight in the right places. The ground was far too wet for the summer tyres I had on so traction was already an issue. I had to make a concerted effort to keep my weight on my rear wheel to avoid spinning out, which is something you only have to think about when climbing real walls on the road. Having my rear wheel slide around when cornering in the mud was also disconcerting: I'm used to total control and total grip at all times and it took some time to feel comfortable without that.

Positioning was even more of a problem on the way back down, and I had to really think about getting low off the back of the saddle and dampening impacts with my thighs. Forgetting to unlock my forks on the first descent certainly didn't help but I had to take it slow regardless. We went down Blacka Moor to get back into Sheffield and I really had to pick my way down one rock at a time. One such rock got the better of me and I flew over my handlebars to get a mouthful of mud and - bizarrely - a cut inside my ear. My friends said of all the mountain biking injuries they've seen over the years, I'm the first person they've seen sustain a cut inside their ear. I've got that accolade at least! Once the steepest, trickiest section was over, there was a nice winding section through the trees which I really enjoyed and threw my rear wheel around with a bit more confidence.

The descent was still a lot of fun, but in a totally different way to the ascent or any part of road biking. What I love about road biking is the zen aspect of it. You don't really have to think about very much at all. Just follow the road and go as fast as you can. In fact, I tend to bury myself so hard that I couldn't think about much else even if I tried. While mountain biking, I had to be much more alert: choosing lines, assessing conditions, spotting hazards, adjusting body position. The adrenaline levels were far higher, but it came at the cost of the warm, glowing cocktail of exhaustion and endorphins that I get from the road. Nonetheless, I had a great day and will definitely do it again. It's been a long time since I was thrown completely out of my comfort zone like I was on that descent and I really relished that. I don't think my pride will let me forget mountain biking until I have bested Blacka Moor. It will probably take a few more tumbles until I do, but I'd definitely like to try. Whether or not I'll be ready to compete in the Summer is another matter!

To buy highly rated the On-One Whippet frame click here.

14 February 2014


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