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When I first moved to High Wycombe, I was still riding around on my old Raleigh Record. Good bike, but not really suited to use in the Chilterns, partly because of the gearing and partly because of my fitness levels. It didn't really get much use and spnt most of its time chained to the railings outside my flat.
Whilst over in Sweden for an Orientering Competition I noticed that almost everyone was riding around on these new-fangled mountain bikes. Back in Wycombe after the event and I spent many afternoons in the LBS, trying to decide on a bike to buy. On the recommendation of the staff, I finally settled on the Saracen Sahara. Although it had a very basic GroupSet, the frame was of excellent quality, and that was the most important thing for me.
For the first year or so, I rode the Sahara around the tracks and hills of the Chilterns. Fitness gradually returned and I found many challenging routes.
Many upgrades followed and the bike is now equipped with a mixture of Shimano Dx/Lx. There's also a Girven Flex-Stem, which takes the buzz out of trail riding, without the weight penalty that comes from front suspension. A Blackburn Rear Mountain Rack and basic Low-Rider Front Rack provide luggage capacity.
Mountain Biking is certainly an exhillerating sport, and teaches very good bike control - often self taught, as you try to figure a way of tackling an obstacle without falling off yet again. All of my slow-speed bike handling was learnt on the Saracen. The MTB also opens up a whole new world of Touring, allowing access to huge areas where a tourer or 'cross bike can't reach.
My one foray into Cycle Sport was though TrailQuest, combining my two sporting passions - cycling and orienteering. I took part in several events, though again my fitness didn't permit me to prgress far in the rankings. TrailQuest was great fun though, and two particular events remain in my memory. One was in the area around Betws-y-Coed in mid Wales. Rather than a successful day from a competition point of view, I think that I came close to last, this was a day of blissful cycling. Warm weather and glorious scenery, and I was in heaven. The other memorable even was the Isle of Wight TrailQuest. An island off the south coast of England, I thought, bound to be flat. Before leaving, I swapped the rear cassette from a wide range climbing block to a narrow range for the flat. Big Mistake. The Isle of Wight is hilly, far hillier than I had imagined. Still, I had a good day and very much enjoyed the cycling that the Island had to offer, despite it being rather harder work that I had imagined!
Unfortunately my Mountain Biking was brought to an end by accident. The orienteering which had introduced me to the Mountain Bike also ended my participation in the sport. I went out on a training run one evening and as I vaulted a gate, my hand slipped and I fell on to the top of the gate. Resulting damage to my C4 vertebra ended any impact sport - as I land, my head is pushed down on to the damaged vertebra, causing me extreme pain down my left arm and leg. For the first six months after the accident even walking caused severe pain, and I ended up in a neck-brace for most of that time. Even now, seven years after the accident, I still can't run on tarmac (though I can now do a little cross-country running) or take a Mountain-Bike off-road. The Saracen has now been converted for road use.
This pretty much means just that I have replaced the knobblies with slicks, and added mud-guards. This has served me well as a commuter bike, though I am going to make further modifications. Principally, this will be a change to drop-bars, and fitting appropriate brakes and shifters. This project is at the bottom of my list though. The rear wheel was pretzelled when a car reversed into it in the car park - never found out who was responsible though or I'd have billed them for the damage. Until I get the wheel replaced, I won't be doing any of the other required work.