I've been back in the country now for six days, after seven straight of days of charging down wonderfully crafted and sculpted trails in the French and Swiss alps. Each day of those seven, aside from the last, involved scaling the height of Mont Blanc via lifts, to descend the height of Mont Blanc while hanging off the back of a slightly dubious choice of bike. Of the two biking events, not really events but it'll do, that I've taking part in this year: a twelve hour pairs race and a week in the alps, I've been at the opposite ends of the bike choice spectrum. The Erlestoke 12 featured me on my trusty revamped Zesty, lightest tyre combo I had to hand along with the most air the rear shock has ever been stuffed with. Even then it was a fair agricultural choice of weapon, where exactly was my carbon swingarm and my 100gram pedals? Still, a strong finish of 11th (in truth I've more of less forgotten) showed quite clearly that it's far more about the riders than their bikes. The finishers above us were all much fitter, stronger and may even have committed some time to training. The Thursday before that race I think we may have been riding off things at Rogate instead of perfecting our spinning technique. Doing quite well on a bike that was clearly in the top 10% when it came to weight, was to me very much a conformation that I am, at times, quite good on a bike.
So a couple of months later, this time after some training involving riding off stuff, we set off for the bottom right corner of France. This time with the same bike but rolling on by far the heaviest tyres I've ever used, the strongest wheels, the biggest pedals and some enormous disc rotors. And it's the same thing here, but in reverse, riding unsuitable bikes for the opposite reasons. Here the same bike is not agricultural enough, the tyres aren't wide enough and the travel just isn't long enough. But after a few days, taking a look around at everyone else, they're really not that good either. There are people on better bikes struggling to ride the same trails, people on bigger bikes seemingly scared to do the same petite river jumps. So again it seems clear that I am, actually, quite good on a bike.
And now I've been home for a few days and it's time for a quick ride on a Wednesday evening. I haven't bothered to change the setup at all on my bike, the same big tyres, heavy wheels and saggy suspension are still in place. And suddenly it feels like I can't ride, these hills are too steep to ride up, they're not steep enough to ride down, these tyres are too slow, these brakes are too good. I'm actually not that good on a bike.