I have only gone off road twice prior. The first was in 2015 and landed me in hospital with a bad concussion. The second was a short gentle ride with my wife along the rail corridor months after the accident. Since then I stopped for two reasons – safety (due to my lack of technical skills) and convenience. Fast forward five years, I decided to give off road riding a try again – opting for something easy while reminding myself to take things slow and play safe. I waited for 24 hours of dry weather to avoid a messy ride. Christmas was the perfect day.
The route was simple. I started from Ten Mile Junction, took the rail corridor and then gave Zhenghua’s trail a shot. If I found it manageable, I would give Mandai T15 a shot. The rail corridor section was relatively easy. I actually preferred the grassy areas compared to established lines because the former provided me with more grip. The rockier areas were a concern as my Crux slipped a bit. But there was nothing that some acceleration and a ready outstretched leg could not fix. I was quite pumped after finishing the first section. It was a psychological barrier broken and the start of gaining confidence.
I went further and Zhenghua was very different. It felt like an actual trail. Cycling in a forest is an interesting experience, being close to nature is refreshing. I had a mountain biker go ahead of me and I followed him from the distance. I decided to dismount at some descents because I did not have the confidence, which was partly affected by the memory of my first crash (a sharp descent at Bukit Timah nature reserve). It was at these points that I realised my shoes were not cutting it for trails. I use a pair of Sidi Dragons and they were having trouble gripping the dirt. I was sliding around a bit while walking, and had my Crux and its grippier 38mm tires to stabilise me. Zhenghua was a really fun stretch.
I decided to give T15 a look before deciding to stop because it looked a fair bit daunting, and I did not have the time to complete it given a scheduled Christmas dinner. So I turned and ended the ride. It was a lot of fun and I would do it again.
But I would make two changes. First, my shoes. I need something that does SPD, can perform well with flat pedals where needed, and can grip the dirt well when walking. Second, my pedals. A pure SPD is asking a bit much of a complete newbie. I need to unclip a fair bit and having a SPD/flat pedal hybrid will help in those moments.
I am really glad to add a mix of fun into my rides and also using my Crux to its potential. The post ride washup is still a bit of an inconvenience but I reckon its something I will learn to deal with quickly. I guess this is also my “one more thing” for 2020. I hope I will have time for some off road rides in 2021!