I think I must be related to a cat! You know how cats will go up things but don't like coming down? You see cats get stuck up trees because they shoot up there and then get scared to come down. Well, I'm a bit like that. Always have been. I'm always much more confident going uphill than going downhill. Whether on a bike or in a car, I'll ride or drive faster and much more confidently going uphill than going down. I think it's a gravity thing. Going uphill it seems like gravity is your friend; coming downhill it feels like it's your enemy! Even back in my trail-riding days; I'd tackle almost anything uphill, but point me down a steep hill and I was very tentative.
Well I got into a cat-up-a-tree situation a while ago, which, in the interests of giving you a laugh at my stupidity, I'll tell you about.
One of the things I like to do when I'm riding out in the country is to explore back-roads; turn into some little minor road and just ride along, seeing where it ends up. And this is what I did on this particular occasion.
The road was narrow bitumen, really not much more than one-lane wide. And it went uphill quite steeply. That was fine, but then the bitumen stopped and it turned to gravel. Hey, I'm an old trail-rider, this is no problem! Then the gravel road turned into a dirt track, strewn with loose stones. Slight concern now, but nothing an old trail-rider can't handle! But of course I wasn't on a trail-bike, I was on a mid-size sports-tourer! My confidence was starting to wane now, and I was thinking more seriously on the subject of keeping bikes to their appropriate roads, but there wasn't' an easy place to turn around, so I kept going.
Suddenly the track, now covered in a blanket of blue-metal type rocks, got even steeper and ended at a closed gate! I stopped, grabbed a handful of front brake and put both feet on the ground. Stupid! Of course, the bike just started sliding backwards with it's front wheel locked!
I managed to coax my right leg off the ground and onto the back brake pedal. Okay, now I'm stopped. And now I have to turn around. This was tricky. Power it forward a bit, then let it run back a bit, doing a kind of 5-point turn on the narrow track. But it starts getting a bit scary when you're pointed across a steep track like this; the left side seemed so close to the ground my elbow was going to touch it, while the right side seemed like a 10-foot drop! Eventually I got it turned around.
Now I'm pointed back down the hill; on a track that is steep and covered in loose dirt and small rocks. Oh yes, and there just happens to be a steep bank on one side, and a big drop on the other side! Now of course, logic would dictate that if I rode fairly effortlessly up to this point, I should be able to ride just as effortlessly back down again. But cats up a tree don't think that logically! (It's the gravity thing, remember!).
I eased it down to a spot where the track got a little less steep. Then I started it up, let it roll and let out the clutch. Instant panic! Normal road gearing meant that, even at idling speed, the motor was propelling the bike forward much too fast on this treacherous surface. So I did the natural thing; I planted both feet on the ground and grabbed the front brake! Stupid! Of course the front wheel just locked-up and skidded sideways. I pulled the clutch and heaved up on the bars. If it had been a trail-bike I could have saved it easily. If it had been a Harley it would have been on it's side on the ground. Being somewhere inbetween meant it was a struggle, and for a few panic-stricken seconds it could have gone either way, but I managed to get it upright and stopped.
Okay, now think! Calm those shaking nerves and draw on all that trail-riding experience. How did I handle going down difficult sections on the trail-bike? Brave and capable trail-riders will ride over anything with both feet up, but "cat-like" riders take a different approach. Turn off the engine, lean the bike slightly to the left, put my trembling right foot on the brake pedal, apply gentle pressure to the front brake, and walk it down in neutral. After a little distance of paddling along like this I got up enough courage to put both feet back up on the pegs and let it coast down in neutral, still holding the speed to walking-pace with gentle pressure on both front and rear brakes.
Once I got down to where the track became more solid, and a little less steep, I started it up and rode it back down in much more normal fashion. Soon I was back on the bitumen and heading back to civilisation. I was relieved to be back on a road where I was confident and in control; the cat was back down from the tree! And I was also chiding myself for being so stupid! Stupid for taking a road-bike into what was much more appropriate for a light-weight with knobby tyres, and then doing so many stupid things when I was there!
Now if you want to have a laugh at a couple of other stupid things I've done, click here.
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