Bespoken Word – surely this sodden winter of MTB discontent can’t last much longer?

Rider after a muddy crash
(Image credit: Polaris Bike Wear)

Ostara (Eostre,) Holi, Ramadan, Passover, Nowruz, Songkran, Easter: Whatever your religion, people have been celebrating the change from the dark, wet, dieback months of winter to the brighter, warmer, first green shoots of spring. If – like me – the closest thing to religion is celebrating the earth by weaving between its trees, climbing to its summits, playing on its descents, and sucking in as much sweet air as possible, it’s a really important time of year too. Especially in the UK where clocks go forward to give us an extra hour of daylight to play in before we need LEDs for laughs.

Wet rider on a trail

I know our climate is what gives us all the greenery of summer, but surely we've had enough water to last us for months now? (Image credit: Polaris Bike Wear)

Speaking of the UK, the dark months have been even longer and wetter than normal. According to the Met Office, we had 29 percent more rain across the three winter months than the long-term average. There were more named storms than normal too. In fact, Storm Jocelyn in January was only the second time we’ve ever got to J in the angry weather alphabet during winter. 

The weather – particularly in February, which was the warmest ever recorded in England and Wales since 1884 –  has been milder too. This sounds like a good thing until you realize that means less bright (we were down ten percent on sunshine) and frosty days to dry out the trails a bit. Or perhaps more significantly, harden the ground up enough so that tires drummed and rolled rather than squelched and dragged. AKA, those wonderful ‘free’ days when skies are as bright as your eyes and you finish dusty and grinning at the gift you’ve been given.

But no, this winter has been all about clean-ups that have been so long that I started not riding just because I couldn’t face the aftermath. The grinding attrition, rusted chain by the time you drove home, component wear autopsy, gritty, low key sickening sorting of sodden, filthy kit and pre-clean and then re-cleaning of bike, clothes, shoes, and however you transport your bike or where you store it. And when did drag myself out of the door, I’ve been sliding around at walking pace where you know you can go warp speed in summer. Stumbling from feature to feature, frankly sick of it all after months of thinking it surely has to get better soon. Wondering why you bothered as you scroll through footage ruined by a lens covered in filth, or kit pictures too dirty for a website with a large US readership to stomach. And while one of the two snowy rides I had was a blissful sleigh ride, the other was already turning to hypothermic slush by the end. And to be honest, my riding mojo did actually curl up and quietly die for several weeks afterward.

A group of winter riders

The second snowy ride of this winter was a lot of fun. Until it really wasn't...... (Image credit: GuyKesTV)

But surely things have to get better soon? Even if the predominantly south-westerly sourced weather that’s continued the miserable mud fest right through March stays the same, every bud on every branch will become a leaf that needs filling with water. Puddles literally becoming trees as they suck the essentials of growth out of the ground.  While every day as far as my forecasting app can see has rain icons on it, most of them also have sun for a couple of hours. Ironically as I sit here writing this moan about the unrelenting, foot-rotting misery of the past few months ‘there’s enough blue to make a sailor's trousers’ – as my nan would say – visible in the Velux above my head. 

Well there was, but it’s thick cloud again now and the tire choice I’m thinking about for tonight is whether to run the grippy trail front my Epic 8 Evo long-termer came with or go for a full mud. I’m not worried that the waterproof onesie reviews I’ve still got to write up after a winter of extensive use are going to be irrelevant either. Because we all remember those all too frequent sodden summer sessions and Augusts that feel more like autumn. And even though I worked through several winters in actual trenches as an archaeologist, the only time I’ve ever got actual trench foot was July nine years ago.

And somehow those wet, filthy days when it’s supposed to be warm and dry are even worse than winter psychologically. But let’s not think about that. Let’s hope that fitting a Hill Billy tire up front and uploading those Leatt waterproof reviews triggers the weather to turn from temperate to tropical just to spite me.

Rider jumping into summer

This kind of image seems like unrealistic religious iconography right now (Image credit: Polaris Bike Wear)

Whatever happens, what I am promising myself though is that if things ever do dry up and hippo dirt turns into hero dirt, I’m going to make the absolute most of it. Because however much #life will always try and get in the way, winters like this make me realize the value of those fast, grippy trails and clean bike finishes more than ever. Not just while they're happening, but for how much those memories can fill your heart with the love of riding, building the feel-good fat that'll feed our passion through the hard days of winter. 

So let’s hope we get enough sun this weekend to recharge our solar stoke batteries and lift us out of limp mode for the year ahead, as it feels like I've never needed that more right now.

Guy Kesteven

Guy has been working on Bike Perfect since we launched in 2019. Hatched in Yorkshire he's been hardened by riding round it in all weathers since he was a kid. He spent a few years working in bike shops and warehouses before starting writing and testing for bike mags in 1996. Since then he’s written several million words about several thousand test bikes and a ridiculous amount of riding gear. To make sure he rarely sleeps and to fund his custom tandem habit, he’s also penned a handful of bike-related books and talks to a GoPro for YouTube, too.

Current rides: Cervelo ZFS-5, Forbidden Druid V2, Specialized Chisel, custom Nicolai enduro tandem, Landescape/Swallow custom gravel tandem

Height: 180cm

Weight: 69kg