the dan milner photography blog: tales of an adventuring photo chimp

September 25, 2009

Another Last Word

Filed under: bike — danmilner @ 1:05 pm

I’ve just been sorting the finishing content for my new website (be patient, it’s almost ready) and while browsing some of the content of the old and now very outdated one, I came across this little feature I wrote back in 1996 for Mountain Bike World magazine’s Last Word page. Re-reading it, I thought this is as relevent now as it was then… so I thought I’d re-share it with you. No matter how much suspension we plump ourselves with, some things in mountain biking never change, thankfully.

No matter how fast you are., there’s always someone faster it seems, which is fine, unless it’s your best riding mate.

As soon as I put the phone down I was starting to regret it. “Yeah, sure, come up for the weekend, we’ll get a ride in” l’d blabbed, not pausing to think of the consequences. What had I said? I stared at the still-warm telephone as my mind conjured up the image of my riding buddy slipping off into the distance leaving my wheezing body by the wayside, discarded by the trail side like a half-eaten sandwich. Panic coursed my veins. I reached for the telephone once more. Should I ring him straight back? Surely it’d be better to weasel my way out of it now, rather than drag the poor guy all the way across the country under false pretences. But what excuse? I could try the “Got to go in for lung surgery” once again, but it was getting a little worn. But hey ho, what was I worried about? It was only a ride.

Mere weeks earlier l’d returned from a year hauling over-stuffed panniers through the Southern Hemisphere. Surely all those nights spent out under the stars, whole days battling the winds of Patagonia and enduring my companion’s camp cooking had put me in good stead for anything. I looked down at the pair of scrawny pins poking out from beneath my exhuberantly tailored shorts. I was fit wasn’t l? And what the hell did it matter? We were just two mates sharing a ride together, each at their own pace, right? Nothing to worry about. Potter along, weave around a bit of singletrack, fall off a couple of times and then back home for a cuppa and a slice of battenburg. It was just a ride. But depsite this simple fact, I felt increasingly anxious at the weekend’s approach.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t like riding with the bloke; we buzz together. Every rut, drop-off and bouncy descent brings another wry smile of mutual bliss, We’ve been nipping off into the undergrowth to crunch gears together for eternity. We’ve chased each other through a potted history of racing, hurled support and abuse at each other from the saddle, even accepted each other’s kit hand-me-downs. We get on great. There’s no posturing, no attitude, just an easy-going familiarity, like pulling on those old track mitts that you always meant to throw out but never did because you doubted that a new pair would ever be so comfortable. Riding with this guy rules, Hell, if he hadn’t already started a family, l’d have married him myself. But still, in those hours preceding a ride, laying awake in a cold sweat, I can never quite remove that image from my troubled mind – the one of me lying gibbering on the trail as he dances on the pedals off into the horizon. I readied myself for the weekend, punctuating my chain lube schedule to practice deep-breathing techniques. At least my bike was up to it: a good few pounds in decent componentry lighter than the ageing machine I knew he’d be bringing. His set up was distinctly old school – complete with a gel saddle and a fork/hub combo that set new standards in flexibility, Not a riser bar in sight. Fathering kids had put paid to upgrades, he’d assured me. Those CNC’d must-haves would just have to wait. I felt reassured. After all, what you’re riding on had to count for something.

Saturday came. He turned up, not with the elderly Cannondale but with an even more antideluvian Palisades, all clumsy plastic levers, Bio-Pace and rigid forks. Noticing my look of bewilderment, he muttered something about the stem on the other bike feeling wrong. My worries dissolved and we headed off and hammered every trail I could remember. We got lost, snagged Lycra in the undergrowth, fell off and more. We stopped to natter, catch up on the news, compare sweat flow and wheeziness. We buzzed off each other, and that meant more than hitting the right shift at the right time, than bombing that descent, than, er… struggling to keep him in sight on the climbs. Winging along those trails I was soon left chasing the rear carrier so provocatively left adorning his “street machine” as it disappeared around one bend then the next, The guy had turned up to ride on a clunker.

But he still whipped my ass.


OK, so it's not 1996, more like 1990, but it adds some colour doesn't it, especially all those day-glo rigid forks. Our Bristol crew, Forest of Dean, 1990

OK, so it's not 1996, more like 1990, but it adds some colour doesn't it, especially all those day-glo rigid forks. Our Bristol crew, Forest of Dean, 1990



  1. love that photo!! oakley wraparounds… class!!

    Comment by katieyak — October 2, 2009 @ 10:51 am

    • Indeed. And rigid forks, pedals with toeclips, seat packs to carry our trail tools, lycra-covered Vetta helmets… and lycra.

      Comment by danmilner — October 29, 2009 @ 8:27 pm

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