Wheels of for­tune

A moun­tain-bik­ing weekend in the Scot­tish Bor­ders yields some sur­pris­ing re­sults

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Britain & Ireland - TOM FORDYCE GUARDIAN NEWS & LIFE ME­DIA LTD

GET­TING away from it all. Asun­tan. Ex­peri- enc­ing a new cul­ture. All th­ese are valid rea­sons for tak­ing a trip. This was some­thing dif­fer­ent: to re­solve an end­less ar­gu­ment with my part­ner.

It al­ways started the same way. I would go away moun­tain-bik­ing and my girl­friend would ask why she hadn’t been in­vited. I would ex­plain that, since she didn’t ride a bike, there was no point. She would then claim that she could ride a moun­tain bike per­fectly well; she just hadn’t tried it yet.

Cer­tain ding-dongs can be strangely en­joy­able, but this one wasn’t. Af­ter its fourth ap­pear­ance in less than a year, it was time to seek pro­fes­sional help, in the guise of a weekend for cy­cling cou­ples at Bri­tain’s finest moun­tain-bik­ing trail cen­tre. One-on-one in­ten­sive coach­ing dur­ing the day, a bou­tique ho­tel to re­lax in at night and lunch to­gether on the hills in be­tween.

If by Sun­day we can ride the same tough trails to­gether, I will con­cede de­feat.

Barely have we ar­rived at Glen­tress, in the ver­dant rolling hills 45 min­utes south of Ed­in­burgh, than my girl­friend con­cedes her first spec­tac­u­lar own goal. ‘‘Are th­ese the brakes?’’ she asks the in­struc­tor, Andy, point­ing at the 27 gears on her Kona Hard­tail bike.

Andy has been moun­tain-bik­ing for 17 years, but seems un­fazed by her gaffe. Within an hour of her climb­ing on a moun­tain bike for the first time in her life, he has Sarah up and ped­alling.

It’s pleas­ant stuff — a gen­tle wind­ing loop through stands of ash and Scots pine and past banks of pur­ple fox­gloves. Un­for­tu­nately, it ap­pears to have given Sarah a false sense of her nascent abil­i­ties.

‘‘What would you do,’’ she asks the next morn­ing, ‘ ‘ if you were rid­ing along and sud­denly I did a mas­sive jump right over your head?’’

I send her off to join another in­struc­tor, Davie, at the skills loop. While she poo­tles round the be­gin­ners’ green runs, Andy takes me on to the tougher blues and reds that wind around the hills above the River Tweed. At Glen­tress, there’s ev­ery­thing from flat gravel paths to mon­strous drop-offs and jumps. No mat­ter what your level of ex­pe­ri­ence, there’s a trail for you.

In my head, I am ready to take some se­ri­ous Bor­ders air. It is some­what chas­ten­ing, then, to be told by Andy that I barely pos­sess the tech­nique for a ba­sic bunny hop. ‘‘You’re full of bad habits,’’ he says. ‘‘You’re rid­ing as if you’re on a road. It should all start with the at­tack po­si­tion — use your up­per body, get your el­bows out, make your arms work as part of the sus­pen­sion.’’

Down be­low us, a se­ries of rocks jut out to form an un­even stair­way. Usu­ally, I’d launch my­self with min­i­mum con­trol and max­i­mum prob­a­bil­ity of stack­ing it half­way down, then edge down with brakes locked on while blood dripped from my fresh wounds. Andy shakes his head. ‘‘You’ve got to stop reach­ing for the panic levers. Once you get to the com­mit­ment point, the brakes aren’t go­ing to do you any good. Stick to the death grip: 90 per cent of ac­ci­dents on drop-offs are from brak­ing.’’

To keep the sta­tis­tics tidy, I then demon­strate some of the other 10 per cent of things that can go wrong. By the time we at­tempt to ride a ‘‘skinny’’ (a nar­row wooden beam) pur­ple welts are bloom­ing on my knees and shins. I man­age two more spec­tac­u­lar tum­bles be­fore Sarah ar­rives for lunch.

‘ ‘ Davie says I’m a nat­u­ral,’’ she says cheer­fully. ‘‘By the look of your knees, I’d say you’re not.’’

I dab at my wounds and con­sider telling her about my plans to ride Brit­ney Spears. That’s not as ou­tra­geous as it sounds — it’s merely a sec­tion of trail so good you al­ways want to hit it one more time — but the risk of trig­ger­ing a rather dif­fer­ent at­tack po­si­tion and death grip is sim­ply too great.

In any case, there is the de­scent of Spooky Wood to take on. But when a sig­nif­i­cant er­ror in my rac­ing line ends with a wooden bridge be­ing re­ar­ranged at an al­to­gether more di­ag­o­nal an­gle, Andy sug­gests that enough claret has been spilled for one day.

‘‘So then,’’ says my girl­friend, over a hearty din­ner at the Sun­flower restau­rant in Pee­bles. ‘‘To­tal crashes from you: five. To­tal from me: none. Who’s the bet­ter moun­tain­biker now?’’

I de­cide to con­tinue my tour of the Spey­side sin­gle malts. The whisky has a pleas­antly numb­ing ef­fect on my war wounds. mb7.com visitbri­tain.com

Tom Fordyce and his part­ner, Sarah

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