Faffing – Is it more than just a waste of time?

Faffing in progress
Faffing in progress – can you identify the faffers in this picture?

Faffing its a mostly British word and if you are not familiar with the expression, get a group of mountain bikers together and you soon will experience a full on faff.

What is it and why does it occur?

Faffing is basically wasting time or the excessive use of time for nonsense activities. You might think that you are doing something worthwhile but honestly it could probably wait or could be left alone altogether. When mountain bikers get together there is a necessary amount of tweaking and fiddling, probably because bikes have just been removed from the back of a car and wheels need to be attached for instance. However, attaching wheels in itself is very straightforward, but the following faff is not necessary. Check that the brakes are working and the chain is aligned and then briefly riding the bike up and down the car park a few times (to test) is permitted, but stop there. As mountain bike technology has improved the opportunity for a little technical faffing has been greatly increased as we adjust shifters and brake levers, check seat posts, lights, GPS, camera etc

The problem with mountain bikers is we do like to talk – so simply fitting a front wheel to use the above example, can take 10 minutes! If one of your ride partners strikes up a conversation about, lets say, your choice of tyres you will soon find that time has passed, you are both still stood there holding a wheel and the other riders are looking at their watches, urging you to stop faffing!

Stealth Faffing
Stealth Faffing – note the lack of any actual problem

Faffing is contagious. While waiting for a fellow biker who is faffing you are likley to find something to faff about yourself. Did I lock the car? Have I got everything in my backpack? and so it continues. Note that your faffing will overlap the previous faffing and then more faffing will occur in a kind of butterfly effect and rapidly you will have all waited around for half an hour for no reason whatsoever. There is a story I once heard that a group of bikers on the Yorkshire moors have been stuck in a “faffing loop” since 2007!

A well organised ride will allow for faffing. A scheduled faff will occur at the beginning of the ride as described above. This should be kept to a minimum and the ride leader should be strict with a set off time, and you should arrive early to allow for your own personal “faff about”. But once you have left the car park you enter unknown faffing territory.

An experienced mountain biker and ride leader will allow time for minor technical faffs when planning a ride but a full-on unscheduled faffing episode by a dozen middle aged men half way up a mountain can be a testing moment! Anything can provoke a faff such as this, a puncture, an off/accident of any type, even a large puddle; anything that can start a discussion or allow a few riders to strike up a conversation.

Types of faffing:

  • Planned faffing – pre-ride permitted, bike tinkering, catching up with friends etc – needs to be nipped in the bud quickly
  • Technical faffing – a puncture or minor technical issue causes the group to stop and a faff can occur around said puncture but it can get out of control
  • Stealth faffing – the ride stops for no known good reason and a faff begins out of nowhere. This is frustrating and very disruptive!
  • Tactical faffing – a rider finds an excuse to fiddle with a loose cleet or badly behaved derailleur to regain breath or take a rest.
  • Unscheduled faffing – an unscheduled faff can follow on from any other type of faffing. (See note above about faffing being contagious and always be aware of faff loops.)

Remember any of the above can occur at anytime and any number of times during a ride. There is a formula that I believe goes something like the total “potential” time spent faffing in minutes (t) equals the number of riders present (n) x the total number of years each have been riding (y) divided by 2 + the amount of rainfall that day in cm(r).

t = (n.y)/(2+r)

Example 10 riders each with an average of 10 years riding, gathered on a dry day is 50 mins of potential faffing time you should be prepared for on top of your scheduled pre-ride faff. Imagine how this can get out of control with some rain!

So is there a value to faffing? Should we schedule more time for faffing? Can it be avoided? I’ll let you decide…

Photos courtesy of the following MB Swindon rides:

If you enjoyed reading this please leave a comment below..

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19 thoughts on “Faffing – Is it more than just a waste of time?

  1. It’s hard to slyly procrastinate at work when i cant stop chuckling it’s just so true! Perosnal faffs: seat post height, bag straps, clothe layers, how many apples do i take??,grr helmet hair!

  2. LOL, while out on a ride last night I had a slight glass/tyre interface incident, imagine my surprise as a wave of stealth fafing broke out around me as I tried to stop all the Stans solution exiting from the slash in my tyre. It’s truly amazing we ever got rolling again!

    Great Blog, loved every moment, and sooooooo true!

  3. This is why group rides are much better when you say meet on a trail and session said trail. That way people can get there at separate times, you don’t have to worry about others but you can still shred, practice, heckle and see your mates too.

    1. Yes that is much more practical but sometimes a bit of a pre ride faff can be entertaining and if there are new riders its helpful to use this time to sus out what they might be like on the ride.

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