Today was a first. First time I’d ever gone out on a mountain bike. I’ve been looking at MTB options, partly because I’ve been wondering about changing my touring strategy to include more off road excursions, and whether a trailer was a better load carrying option to panniers. It strikes me that if on rougher terrain, you’d have problems with breaking racks due to weight and vibration. I’ve been looking into the BOB Yak/Ibex and the Extrawheel as possible trailer options (two-wheeled trailers just won’t cut it on rough trails). Also, a mountain bike would be a good second bike anyway, and usable by Mel should she ever find the time to start cycling! I hired a bike from Exmoor Cycle Hire, £14 for the day which didn’t seem unreasonable, but of course the bikes are cheap and cheerful and I wondered if it would survive the day.
But this was a fun ride, really enjoyable. I nearly came a cropper right at the start as I tried to negotiate a steep wooded footpath to link onto a bridleway. It had sharp switchbacks in it, and as I tried and failed to keep momentum around the corner I stalled, then tried to put my foot down on the slope I’d just come up. Some frantic scrabbling kept me and the bike together. The run out over North Hill was much more like I’d expected it to be. Gentle gradient and good views over the Bristol Channel. The weather was trying to put a dampener on it, but only very brief showers and no need to reach for the waterproof.
A steep and technical descent down to Bossington which I took relatively slowly as I tried to avoid the rocks strewn all over the path. Next came a little road work as I made my way towards Horner. I decided to take the track into Horner Wood, except I realised later that it was a wrong turn and so I’d deviated from my intended route. I stopped by a footbridge over the stream to get my bearings and take a quick snack, and worked out a plan to get back on track. A signpost on the other side of the bridge was marked ‘Granny’s Ride’, so I though this should be straightforward. I think ‘Granny’ must have been on a mountain goat, because the ascent was so steep it was unrideable. I had to push the bike up this for about 1/4 mile, easily a 1:4 gradient, and narrowly avoided being spammed by 3 mountain bikers coming down. I then took another wrong turn which was leading back the way I’d come, so had to double back to continue along the original path until I came out at Cloud Farm. Further roadwork got me back onto my original intended track.
I headed into Wooton Courtnay, thinking that there was a pub there, but alas not, and it was now past lunch time. I headed into Timberscombe next to try there. The pub was open but no longer doing food, so I settled for a Tribute and a bag of crisps. Rested and lubricated, I set off into the woods and along part of the Coleridge Way which we’d walked last year, and as I tried so make a slow descent of a rocky section, the front wheel stalled against a rock, the back wheel came up vertically, and I had no choice but to dismount. Fortunately I was going slowly, and could see it coming, so deftly leapt over the handlebars and skipped off down the track leaving the bike to fall into a heap in the middle of the track. No damage to me, but on righting the bike, the back wheel was being reluctant to go around. On closer inspection, one of the brake blocks seemed to be rubbing, but I couldn’t figure out initially why. I tried readjusting the block as it appeared to be rubbing against the tire, but still it was tight on the rim. The wheel appeared true, but I flicked open the quick release and it clonked back into alignment. The QR was actually quite loose, and the thump onto the ground must have cause it to shift in the dropouts. I tightened the QR and did it back up, and all was back to normal.
A little further on I rejoined the A39 and dropped down through Dunster, and then headed back towards Minehead. As I passed the turn to Dunster Beach I thought I would have time to take a ride along the beach, or the shore path at least. I started off ok on the beach but quickly the sand got too loose to get any traction, and so I had to deviate onto the footpath. Not really meant to be there but going by the tyre tracks, I wasn’t the first. I scooted along the edge of the golf club, and then had to dismount again for the last stretch down onto the road as again the sand on the path was too loose. A little toddle along the sea front, and then back to the hire shop. Not sure that the guy was used to getting bikes back in such a muddy (and sandy) condition, but he didn’t seem to fussed. At least it all held together and came back in one piece. I did point out that it would be helpful if the QR’s were done up properly, but didn’t mention how I’d discovered it! There was noticeable chain slippage on the 4th sprocket of the cassette, which probably just goes to show that most people stick it in one gear and toddle back and forth along the sea front.
So a great day out, much harder terrain that I’d really intended to cover, and not the sort of thing that I’d want to cover as part of a loaded tour. I’d need to do slightly better planning and find a slightly more well travelled route, even if trying to avoid tarmac. The hardtail setup seemed to work well, full-suspension would really only seem to be of value if making quick descents over rough ground, and are probably not entirely compatible with towing a trailer. But I will make some more enquiries before coming to a conclusion. Not to mention that you probably don’t want to be making quick descents over rough ground with a trailer following, unless it tries to overtake or flatten you should you take a tumble!