I am lucky, I have a job, a home, a loving partner and I own bicycles. I’m even luckier in that my best friend sent me a bike to test for him here in the British winter. Andy is the owner of Penhale Bicycle Co. a new kid on the block getting ready to launch his products on the world, but not until everything has been tested and perfected. This man’s attention to detail sets him out from the rest, chat to him for a few minutes and you know just how passionate he is about bikes. If Andy is going to put his name to a product, you know it’s going to be something worth having.
Andy sent me a prototype of his first bike since going it alone. The “B’Stard” its one tough little cookie, I should know after all the abuse I’ve given it since it arrived in December. I rode it across Dartmoor, through peat bogs, over rocks, in rivers, through hail storms, at trail centres, I rode it up Holm Moss hill to watch Le Tour de France (and I hammered it back down!) I even rode it on the Dartmoor Classic (the long route), I rode it until I could ride no more; I rode it until I dropped. This little steel hardtail put the joy of riding back into my life and put a big grin on my face. We talked about all the rides we always wanted to do but never got around to before Andy left the UK to go live in California, that was when I lost my best ever riding buddy, eventually a plan got hatched, we would take a little trip together....
After months of emails, banging ideas back and forth across the Atlantic (some of the ideas were frankly insane, and might well have killed us) the time to leave finally came. I dismantled my B’Stard and lovingly packed it into my bike bag along with all the bikepacking kit I would need. I was lucky as Andy had promised to supply a lot of the basic camping equipment required to help me keep to the checked bag limit for my flight. An overnight bus journey from Plymouth to London’s Heathrow Airport (via what seemed like a stop at every small village on the way) marked the start of my trip. Keeping below the 23kg checked luggage limit meant my bike travelled for free while I lugged a very heavy rucksack with barely enough room for my essentials as a carry-on. I took very few clothes as I needed room for my camera gear, I had decided in advance to buy clothes when I arrived. After a change of planes in Chicago, a beer and a burrito I was finally on my flight to Southern California.
The approach into John Wayne Airport gave me my first view of the landscape I would be riding, over the coming weeks. The sun was setting, leaving long shadows on the canyons below, that first glimpse showed me just how different the riding would be. It was dry and it looked dry, there were no green hills. This was going to be nothing like the Dartmoor I’m used to riding. Jagged zigzag canyons unfurled below the plane as it banked and started its final decent.
Andy and his wife Jenn picked me up from the airport. We drove for a while; I sat in a daze, tired from forty hours of travelling before Andy announced “we need beer and food”. The Yardhouse at Rancho Santa Margarita provided both; this was to be my first taste of American ale to say I was skeptical would be a massive understatement, my pompous English pride told me quite clearly that the only place in the world for good ale was England. After looking through the seemingly endless list of ales, one stood out. As I’ve been testing a Penhale Bicycle Co. “B’Stard” for the last ten months, I decided the only beer to try was “Arrogant Bastard” from the Stones Brewery. I was not disappointed. Ok so I’ll admit it, Americans can make ale.
The next morning we unpacked and built my bike, I was nervous about getting it damaged during the flight over. The bike bag, one of Chain Reaction Cycles own brand had performed well, the B’Stard emerged unscathed. Andy suggested we start off easy with a ride around one of his local trails; this was so I could acclimatize to the heat. It was 20°C when I left England; it was now 40°C here in Southern California, 10°c hotter than any riding I’d ever done. The first thing that hit me was the surface; the trails were just lose sand. My Ardent’s were just not up to it, I found myself sliding uncontrollably through every lose corner until the inevitable dumping in the dirt. I just could not keep up with him. I had to back off the pace a bit, not such a bad thing. The heat was intense, after only around 6 miles I was drenched in sweat and romping through my camelback. I was concerned now that I had bitten off more than I could chew.