Monday, 10 October 2016

Bear Bones 200

Mid Wales isn't somewhere you associate with lots of bridleways and mountain biking but look around and there's quite a number of bridleways, lanes and ancient rights of way that can be linked together. Every year this is what Stuart Wright does creating a route of around 200Km and invites others to ride it. The route changes from year to year and it's one of only two UK ITTs not to have a fixed route, the Yorkshire Dales 200 is the other.

It should be noted that Stuart's idea of a bike route and that of others don't necessarily align!

Expect interesting terrain.

So it was that on an October Sunday morning he emailed a GPX file to everyone who had signed up. I loaded it in to a suitable mapping web site and the disection began. Even though I haven't done much in Mid-Wales there were a few bits I had visited on the winter ride and Bearstock but these amounted to maybe 10% of the route, more investigation was required. Already there were murmurings on interweb forums, those in the know proffered digital nods and winks.

Tracing along the route in a photo website didn't reveal anything untoward but then the photographers were more interested in dilapidated old pieces of farm machinery than TPM (Tussocks Per Mile). Stuart mentioned a general slowing down might be expected after the halfway point. There was talk of a fast first half with the second half taking twice as long. A cruel finish was being spoken of.

More questions were forthcoming on the forum: where were the resupply points? What about pubs? What are the opening hours of the chippy in Knighton? Oh, hang on - the Sunday Co-op hours are different aren't they? Plans formed and disolved in equal measure.

Like many rural areas Mid-Wales has suffered from the tyranny of the motor car, village shops and services have closed as people  became more mobile and retail chains became the norm. More interweb searching leads to the conclusion that the only viable resupply points are Knighton at 100Km and Llanidloes at 160Km, the latter coming after some of the "slowing down". Most would be able to use Knighton but depending on strategy and pace Llanidloes might be shut.

Generally on events like this time is "made" by not losing time. My "steady away" pace is about 14kmh and at that sort of speed five minutes in a shop getting resupplied equates to just over 1Km, too many stops adds up. The countryside isn't a trail centre and there are often gates to contend with. These range from smooth and bike friendly to "it's better to lift the bike over" but if you weren't concentrating then each can take a minute to negotiate. A 14kmh pace would mean getting to Knighton in around 7hrs. Someone noted that there was 90Km of road on the route but a look at the map confirmed it wasn't all flat and most of it was in the first half. A possible strategy was emerging.

Aim for Knighton and refuel there. The next target would be to get to Llanidloes before the Co-op or Spar shut which would mean 7hrs for the 60Km (it would get dark about halfway through this section), however I'd take on enough supplies to ensure that I didn't rely on getting there in time. Once at Llanidloes there was about 10Km of easier riding until I got on to a section I'd done before, that would get me to the "sting in the tail". Depending on time and how I felt after Llanidloes I'd either bivy if feeling tired or ride through to the finish. I didn't want to commit to doing one or the other. Then came the news that a community cafe in Bwlch y Sarnau was going to stay open through the night for riders doing the event! ByS is at 140Km so a handy spot meaning that getting to Llanidloes wasn't the make or break it could have been.

The bike was set up with this in mind: seat pack with bivy gear and two stem cells with food. Although I try not to use a backpack this time it made sense as I could carry water in it and not using a frame bag or water bottles would mean that the main triangle was clear so carrying the bike would be easier should there be any serious hike-a-bike. The bike and luggage weighed 14Kg with 3kg or so on my back.

Saturday morning and there's a nervous group of cyclists loitering in and around Llanbrynmair Community Centre. Inside Stuart and Dee are serving up tea and breakfast. There isn't a group start, you can set off any time between 0800 and 1000. This has the advantage that you aren't immediately in "race" mode trying to keep up with others and overdo it early on as it's likely you'll set off on your own. The choice really is about whether to start early to make the most of the daylight or start later and have some riders ahead of you to act as "targets" to pull you along.

Cath's away early on to make the most of the daylight, I wait a while getting more food and drink inside me before starting at 0855. The first few Km are road but generally uphill until a turn left and things steepen. Eventually the gradient eases and forestry tracks lead to and from the high point. Once on the road again it's mostly downhill for the next half hour or so but even the uphill bits aren't hard. The fast riders are already going past with alarming ease. At Llandinam the next bit of hard work starts in earnest, there's 400m of height to gain in the next few Km with a nice muddy traversing bridleway to make things interesting. I catch Cath on the first really steep climb, all but the strongest are walking.

For those of you who have only ever seen his back, this is what Stuart "it's not a race" Cowperthwaite looks like.

As the day goes on I begin to catch up the early riders and more of the faster riders pass me. Sometime I'm riding with company with a bit of chatter then the elastic snaps and I'm on my own again. The route is quite easy to follow with just the occasional check of the GPS to make sure. The early morning clag clears and it's a bright if not sunny day and just the right temperature for riding.

On the outward leg.

There's a few squiggles in the route where you are riding along a ridgeline only to drop into the valley before climbing back up on to the ridge. At the last of these climbs we have a strange encounter with a local resident.

"You can't go up here, it's not a right of way."

"The map says it's a bridleway."

"Yes. So it's for horses. Bicycles aren't allowed."

"Err, a bridleway is for horses and pedal cycles. It's just motorised vehicles that aren't allowed."

"Is it? Well I never knew that!"

A bit more dealing with moaning then it's on with the climb. Eventually this climb becomes a push until the angle eases and we roll through fields to Bucknell Woods. At some point on here my GPS bounces out of its mount but fortunately it's also on a leash so it's a moment's work to remount it. A blast down the fire-road to a tight bend then a little working out where we are meant to go gets us on to a great bit of singletrack flowing down through beech and oak trees. All too soon we are on the road and it's a steady few Km to Knighton. I sip the last of my water from the Camelbak. I get to Knighton in 6hrs45 so just inside my projected pace.

Knighton cafe stop.

There's quite a gaggle (dunno what the collective noun for a group of bikepackers is) of riders in the Spar and at a cafe across the road. Just what the staff thought of twenty muddy cyclists suddenly turning up goodness knows. I think we cleaned them out of bottled water! A few bites to eat, refill the water, drink the rest then on my way.

Another rider, Richard, leaves at the same time as me, we'd been riding together for a while earlier on but he'd pressed on ahead about 20Km earlier. The first big climb out of Knighton and we both decide to walk, I can feel a small twinge of cramp but nothing that a bit of walking can't deal with. We walk a bit further than the gradient dictated then it was back on the bikes and keep on rolling.

Up, down, gates, lanes, tracks. It was all nice flowing riding. The route then pulled on to moorland and everything opened up with great views over the Mid-Wales countryside. I was now about a minute behind Richard, he was always in sight but I was basically riding alone. The riding was quick with just the occasional ditch that had you thinking "Can I ride through it?" Some you could, others looked a little too much. I like riding through heather moorland, you get a feeling of floating on a sea of purple and it's nearly always well draining so doesn't get too boggy for most of the year. All too soon I'm blasting down the descent off the moor and in to Llanbister. The light's now starting to fade so on with the rear light as there's a little bit of road work then it's more up.

Once out of the fields there's more moorland tracks but by the time I drop to a road that crosses the ridge I definitely need the front light. Through a farmyard and up again. Away to the east there are lights descending the previous block of moorland. I catch my erstwhile companion who's taking a short break and I get the good line down to the next farm. From here to the cafe is forestry tracks and tarmac lanes. The forestry is mainly uphill though and drags somewhat.

The long descent into Bwlch y Sarnau chills me and I need to put my spare clothes on once inside (I've been riding in just a short sleeved top to this point), Richard arrives a few minutes later. A pot of tea and a bowl of soup for starters. That all goes down nicely. I'm looking at the cake. Hmm. Maybe a refill of tea first. Finally I give in and have a piece of coffee cake. Richard heads off, I won't see him again until the end, as it turns out I don't see any other riders once I leave the cafe. More riders arrive at regular intervals but eventually after nearly an hour I decide I'd better make a move and after refilling my Camelbak head out.

Belinda, an absolute star.

The chill air is a shock and the first few hundred metres is downhill so no chance of warming up. Turn left and along a track, this turns muddy then mucky when it passes a silage feed cage for cattle - riding through 20cm of slurry isn't nice! I aim for the next few puddles to clean things up. Getting to Llanidloes is mainly road though quite a bit of up and down. The 20Km takes me 1hr20 and I ride through town just as the Co-op is closing. I've no need of restocking though. I do need to stop to get more stones out of my shoes. I take the opportunity to text Cath that I'm feeling good and will probably push on to the finish in one go. While I'm sat there a bloke in drag passes me - "Charity pub crawl mate". "Ah".

The next climb is another steep one and I'm walking it. Once it eases I'm back on the bike and making good time. The road turns to track but it's easy going. Most of the gates are open on this bit and when I reach the next lane and head down the hill I'm on terrain I've done before. From here through Hafran Forest to Staylittle is familiar. Somewhere on one of the forestry tracks I'm told there was someone kipping by the side of the track but I didn't see them. As I blast down the road out of the forest my back light dies - shouldn't be a problem as there's no traffic and not much road left anyway.

The climb out of Staylittle to Dylife is a drag, just the wrong angle for me at this time and I walk quite a bit of it. As I drop down to the pub I see a couple of sets of lights near the top of the climb on the other side. Just 15Km to go. As I start the climb I take on more food, just walking along getting energy in. Then I lose the line. There's no tyre tracks on the other side of the gate but I can't see where anyone has gone. Eventually by dint of lifting the bike up and shining the light around I spot a faint track but I have to carry the bike up the banking to get to it.

This is the start of the sting in the tale. The next 2Km to the top of the ridge is a push, carry, push again, look for gate through fence, keep pushing. On the ridge there's a track, easy going. I can still see the lights of the two riders in front of me. But why are they up there and I'm heading downhill? I stop and check the GPS, yes this is right. I keep descending until eventually I come to a stream and the uphill starts again.

A clean bike is a happy bike.

I'm tired now and as I ride along I periodically check the GPS (the screen is off by default to save batteries). Damn! I've overshot the turning. I turn back and head up the only track. After a couple of hundred metres I check again. I'm on the wrong track. Back down to the fire road. I wander back and forth trying to find the track that matches the line on the GPS screen but there isn't one. Cursing I start climbing the only track again. I reach a gate - keep going I'll figure it out when I get out of this damn wood.

On top of the ridge, I'm on the right line again!? How? Never mind, this bit's a blast. Keep going and watch out for the left turn where the bridleway drops to the road. Except I don't see one. After overshooting I retrace my steps. No track, what's going on? Never mind I'll chuck the bike over the fence and wing it. On the other side of the fence is another track! Just beyond that is the track descending in to the dark. This is steep but I don't care, just ride and keep going.

Cross the road and the next bridleway is a push - the forestry has been felled and it's unrideable. Out of the woods and the route traverses a grassy hillside. I keep getting lost, losing height and having to push my way back up hill. Eventually I get on to the final bridleway but it's only rideable in bits, there's gorse and old stone walls in the way. Finally it's rideable and it's all downhill.

With the bright lights of Llanbrynmair ahead it's full steam ahead. Then I lose concentration, catch the edge of a rut and I'm airborne. No damage done but I take the rest of the descent a bit more circumspectly.

I roll back into the community centre at 0348 for an overall time of 18hrs53mins, good enough for a black badge. The fastest time was 15hrs09mins.

I done gone and got me one of these!!

After a couple of hours' kip (and being woken by some lovelorn teenage girl sobbing and shouting for her boyfriend) it's time to get up and start spotting the incoming riders. Cath arrives, she had a great first day getting 150Km in to the route but a bit of a 'mare on the second day.

Cath finishing

What have I done to her!

Overall I think I got just about everything right, possibly my best ITT to date:

  • I ate well but still had some food in reserve;
  • I drank properly, I ran out of water just before Knighton so perfect timing, refilled there and at Bwlch y Sarnau which did me to the finish;
  • I only got the occasional twinge of cramp but didn't need to get off and walk to sort it out.

The Strava bit or it didn't happen:

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Iceland Pt 1

We come from the land of ice and snow,
From the midnight sun,
Where the hot springs glow.
Immigrant Song, Led Zeppelin

When Robert Plant wrote the above on a plane back from Reykjavik he missed out "weird", "wacky", "jaw dropping" or any other myriad terms you can pull from a thesaurus that apply to Iceland. Given the war like tone of the rest of the song, it's ironic that Iceland is one of the few countries in the world that doesn't have to go to war to increase the size of its territory, nature just keeps going: "Here, have some more".

Coloured landscape at Landmannalaugar

They should really hand out jaw straps at the exit to Keflavik airport, all those cliched phrases about the place are true, the locals must have a phrase for "tourist standing open mouthed at something". The landscape looks as if they got hold of H R Giger and Salvador Dali and just let them get on with it. Cobalt blue pools? Check! Blood red streams? Not a problem. Rainbow coloured scree? Did that before breakfast! Vast lava fields that can be used as Mordor? Of course!

There's something else that will make your jaw drop - the prices. Coming from the UK where everything is driven by pricing as low as possible Iceland is a shock, typically add 50% to UK prices as your starting point. Surprisingly one of the few things that isn't expensive is fuel which is around 10% above the prices you'd pay at an urban filling station in the UK. For nine days touring around the SE of the country and covering nearly a thousand kilometres we used just £50 of fuel.

The harshness of the landscape and the relatively isolated location do mean that Icelanders have their own take on things: a 3 metre wingspan eagle and a Massey Ferguson 135 tractor as garden ornaments? In the same garden BTW. Then again they did have a geothermal vent steaming away in their back garden.

If the landscape is totally over the top then the weather is more than a match. The weather forecast on the other hand takes British understatement to extremes: a gentle breeze translates as "hoolie" for the northerners among us or "A woman rang in to say a hurricane is on the way" for the southerners.

Although we took the bikes (see the next post) this was as much a general holiday as a biking one, there's a lot to see. A day and a bit seeing the sights in Reykjavik is enough city for us rural folk. We managed to see most of the museums, some traditional and a bit staid/boring but others were really interesting like the Viking long house that was preserved "underneath" a modern building. Eating out at night was fine, if expensive, though we probably dropped in to the "tourists out of their depth" on the first night. On the second night I remembered seeing a small restaurant as we'd walked in to town and it was much better. It's worth noting that although the restaurants are pricey the food is very, very good 

The next day after our first trip to a thermal baths we head out of town (although it's the capital, Reykjavik is little bigger than a British provincial town) towards Thingvellir, the world's first parliament. When we get there the car park is packed plus there's four coaches, as a result the first viewpoint is packed. As we walk further along there are fewer and fewer people. By the time we get back to the car the car park is almost empty. With the weather being poor we decide not to go for a ride but to continue along "The Golden Circle" tourist bit. It turns out that we are following a "wave" of tourists, we get to each attraction just as most of them are about to leave.

Strokkur letting off steam

Next up is Geysir the eponymous, err, geysir. Due to geological activity it is regarded as dormant these days and only the smaller Strokkur performs on a regular basis. The eruptions are all very sudden and it's a bit hit and miss getting a shot. The final stop is GullFoss which is simply stunning, even several hundred other tourists can't detract from the spectacle.

We camp in the area for a couple of nights doing a ride (again, see next post) before heading towards the centre of the island stopping at the rebuilt viking long house at Stong. 

Inside the reconstructed long house at Stong.

A short walk behind this reveals a fantastic set of waterfalls. This is something that we've not really expected, sure there are the well known falls like Gullfoss, Dettifoss and Skogarfoss but there are countless others which whilst not having the sheer size and impact of the main tourist oriented falls are nevertheless just as impressive or beautiful.

After more jaw dropping, stop the car and take a photo, vistas we arrive at Landmannalaugar. This is one of the main hiking centres in Iceland (it's the starting point for the Laugevegur Trail, reckoned to be one of the best trails in the world) and is known for the multi-coloured mountains and its hot springs. The name translates as "community hot springs". 

The campsite at Landmannalaugar

The campsite is a little "firm" and we have to pitch the tent using rocks rather than pegs. Iceland is as close to being a cashless society, even here in what might be described as "The middle of nowhere" you can pay for the campsite using your debit card. The site attendant suggests we only pay for one night in case we change our minds. The weather is, hmm, bracing.

In the morning we prevaricate for a while, decide not to go for a bike ride but go for a walk instead. We do a combination of three trails and come to the conclusion that we'd have struggled to stay on our bikes in the wind. Deciding to cut our losses we head out of the area that afternoon and head down to Skogarfoss on the coast.

Skogarfoss is one of the posterchildren of Icelandic waterfalls, plainly visible from Route 1 it's a simple walk to the base. Even better is that the campsite is all of 100 metres away, though the constant noise through the night takes a bit of getting used to.

The big waterfall you can walk behind

Like this.

At the top of Skogarfoss
Just along the coast is a turning to a low lying glacier. Low lying as in 50 metres a.s.l. What is shocking is the amount that it has receded in the last twenty years - nearly a kilometre.

Heading back west towards Reykjavik we stop in the Hveragerthi area. More hot springs (this area is known for them) and then increasingly bad weather means we chicken out of camping for our next to last night so find a hotel which is very nice.

Our last day is taken up trying to stay dry interspersed with a visit to a geothermal power station and the Blue Lagoon thermal baths - yes it's really tacky and touristy but I suppose it's got to be done. Then it's back to the airport to drop off the hire car and check in at the hotel. We pack the bikes in to their bags in the foyer, grab a meal, arrange a 5am alarm call and we are done.

And what's with the horses?

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Yorkshire Dales 200, the 2016 edition

Skipton's that way mate.

"So where are you heading?"


"But, ..., you're going the wrong way!"

"Well ..."

So begins yet more explaining another round of madness instigated by the chief sadist, Stuart. To be honest I'm not sure who's madder, Stuart for coming up with these routes or us for heading out on them. Whatever, the resulting stares tend to be one of either incredulity or pity. I don't know which is worse.

Getting ready before the off

That morning nineteen of us had left Stuart's shop under bright sunshine. Actually eighteen, Emma was late, as usual. From the off the pace was lively and even before we had pulled out of the estate a group of five had a gap of a hundred metres. No point in me being there I'd just blow up, take it steady. Except that the pace wasn't steady, it was brisk and before long we've hauled in one of the five. A few kilometres later and we haul in another. "That's Mike". Now I'm worried, an ex-racer he normally leaves me standing, I'm going too fast.

At the top of the first off-road I decide to ease off and Mike slowly increases the gap between us. His place is taken by a couple of local lads out for a short ride. We leap-frog each other taking turns to open gates until our routes part. Now alone I head over the moor until a nature break and a drink allow another two riders to join me. For a while we are caught up in the Trailquest that is part of Malham show but soon we split, they are much faster than ourselves. On the descent to Arncliffe Cote there's a rider fixing his bike, it's Mike. "Hit a rock and punctured!" He'll pass me later.

Descending to Arncliffe Cote

I wait at the bottom gate for one of the two riders to catch up and we ride on up the dale. I've descended but not climbed the next bit of off-road and I stop at the bottom to get some food in me and a bit of drink. I think I might be walking this as it's quite steep, the other rider is on a CX bike and is already walking. Somehow I manage to keep going, it isn't that bad and by the time I'm at the first gate the other guy isn't in sight. By the next gate I stop to take a shot of some ponies and still no sign of him so I press on.

At the end of the track I surprise a roadie who thought for a moment I'd caught him up riding along the road! We chat for a while then he carries on to Stainforth as I turn right towards Penyghent and the descent of Long Lane. There's no-one in sight now and I push on towards Feizor.

Near the top of the track is a pile of cartons with water, bananas and packets of crisps put out by the trail faeries - one of the riders behind lives here. I see a rider dropping off the road, must be Mike catching me up. I grab a banana and head over to the cafe at Feizor. Coffee and a toasted tea-cake ordered, it's not Mike but Stuart that pulls up. "Care to join me for a coffee sir?", "Don't mind if I do."

Lunch at Feizor

The two riders who'd caught me earlier turn up and order a larger meal then the rider who we'd overtaken earlier rode through without stopping. "Four ahead of us" says Stuart. He's first away and a couple of minutes later I'm off. Except for a short meeting with Stuart again I won't see another rider in the event until I finish.

The first narrow BW has been strimmed so there's no dancing around avoiding nettles and briars. Not so the second and as I get to the clapper bridge I have to wait for a walker to reel in his extendable dog lead and then wait for his wife to dawdle across the bridge: "Only enough room for one way traffic love.". The next clapper bridge is one I've not ridden in this direction before and there's a slab missing which makes it interesting.

I'm in limestone country now and the heat of the day is making itself felt. I keep seeing Stuart about five minutes ahead of me which at the pace we are going is a kilometre or slightly further, no way I can catch him without going in to the red. Ride my own ride. Soon I'm heading round to Ling Gill and then up on to Cam Road. I ride for a while with a couple of guys touring on the northern part of the Pennine Bridleway: "I'm from Surrey, not quite so hilly down there!". Eventually it's time to move on and I take the descent down to Newby Head. I'm counting down the big climbs left, one is just in front of me and I take it steady knowing that it's basically downhill after this to the next refreshment stop.

Traversing Great Knoutberry Hill

Low gear, a bit of food and I'm dropping down to the top of Arten Gill. I walk the short climb up from the gate to start the traverse round to the Coal Road. This is an old cart track but one strip is hard packed singletrack and it's brilliant fun to blast along. A dog walker takes care of the last gate before the tarmac and then it's a blast downhill. I get to The Moorcock Inn just as Stuart is leaving, he'll gain time on me from here to the end as I take extra stops.

A drink of orange and some crisps then I'm on my way again and across the border in to Cumbria. I'm not sure where the bridleway back over towards Hawes leaves the road but it turns out not to be hard to find.

What looks from the map as being a hard climb turns out to be anything but and I just sit and spin until I get to "The Water Cut" a piece of art installed on the moorland next to the PBW. This is one of the few sections of the route I've not ridden before, Cath and I had ridden part way along from the Hawes end before turning and dropping down the PBW back to the Moorcock.
The Water Cut (with attention seeking bike in front)

Hell Gill looks an interesting limestone gorge, at least it's bridged unlike the other becks which provide a variety of entertainment in their crossing. (Cath bivvied at the Water Cut and there was heavy rain overnight, where I was crossing ankle deep water she had to deal with thigh and waist deep crossings.) Finally I'm back on familiar ground, it's still uphill but the angle eases. Finally I'm at the high point but there's no easing as the track soon drops steeply through old quarry workings then straight down the nose of the fell. I just manage to spot and count five tracks in the wet grass, I'm sixth on the road(trail).

Soon enough I'm on the road and heading in to Hawes. There's a big queue outside the chippy so it's the cafe and a coffee and panini - cheese, tomato and pesto, it turns out not to sit too well on my stomach. The plan is to be away by 1800 and it's a minute before that when I set off. There's a bit of drizzle falling but not enough to justify putting on my jacket as I'll overheat.

The only times I've done this climb have been on a road bike so it's a matter of just keep plodding along until I plunge down the descent to Semer Water and up the other side. This is the penultimate climb and the only other bit I've not done before. A bit of cramp forces me to walk short sections until once again I'm on familiar territory and an easing in the angle. Even with a headwind it's a quick blast across the top and down to Kidstones and time for a quick bite. It's now 1925, with luck I'll be starting the final climb in just over an hour.

There's 20Km of road before then plus a little detour around the back of Swinden Quarry and it becomes properly dark while I'm on that. Just the last climb to do now, no way I'm riding it my legs are too tired. Just before the top I put on my waterproof, better to do it now than in the wind. In the mirk I can't see the holes in the track and keep dropping in them so walk a section until the track improves. The beck is a bit deep so detour that and push on through the rocky section until I arrive at the sleepers across the boggiest section, just track now.

Push on in to the wind, even when the angle eases I still have to work at it then finally each pedal stroke gains more ground and I begin to move up through the gears. Suddenly everything goes black as I drop out of the cloud and my light isn't being reflected off the water droplets. The downside is that it's beginning to rain quite heavily. I know that I'm turning to be with the wind shortly so it's not a concern. Just the last track down to Halton East to negotiate and it's a bit muddy then it's just road.

As I get in to Embsay the heavens open, I really wouldn't want to be riding in the other direction it's bad enough going with the flow. Through town and there's no-one about, up the ramp by the station and in to the finishing straight. I pull up outside Stuart's workshop at 2225 It's taken 14hrs25mins, I'd an optimistic target of 14hrs so pretty pleased with that. The first rider back managed 12hrs5mins.

Here's the Strava bit ...

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Wheels and Tyres

One of the great things about bikes is that they are very adaptable machines. Swap out a couple of components or add something like bikepacking bags or racks and panniers and you get a "different" bike. Traditionally one of the easiest ways to get a different "feeling" bike was to change the wheels and/or tyres. In fact many quality road bikes come with fairly cheap wheels on the assumption that the purchaser will immediately swap them out for their favourite, a bit like installing a new kitchen when you move into a new house (if you are posh).

In recent years there's been a plethora of new sizes and variations. One of these is 27.5+, AKA 650b+. These "plus" sized tyres are roughly halfway between a traditional trail tyre and fat bike tyres with widths somewhere in the 2.8" - 3.2" region. The idea is to give some of the benefits of a fat tyre without the drawbacks. In order to use these tyres a wider rim is required. As ever with something "new" there isn't a huge choice when it comes to either rims or tyres but this is slowly changing. By a happy coincidence the overall diameter of a 27.5+ wheel and tyre combo is close to that of a normal 29er wheel and tyre which means that many 29er frames can run with the plus sizes, the limiting factor is the width of the tyre since the frames and forks weren't designed with them in mind. Again this is changing, the Mk2 Solaris for example has slightly wider chainstays to allow for the plus tyres though the Mk1 (which I have) is compatible if a little "close".

Until recently if you wanted to go "plus" then the only real option was to build your own wheels using one of the rims available but Alpkit now sell a set of 650b+ wheels called the Rumpus for the bargain sum of £199. Definitely worth a punt.

One of the problems with plus tyres is figuring out if your rim/tyre combination will fit in your frame or forks, some 2.8" tyres come up wider than tyres marked as 3.0" for example, generally unless someone has actually tried the combination you are looking at using and has come up with figures then it's just a guess. After some searching around I settled on a couple of WTB tyres: a Bridger 3.0" for the front and a 2.8" Trailblazer for the rear. I knew that the Trailblazer was likely to fit as it's the tyre that Cy at Cotic used when trying out plus tyres on a similar width rim to the Rumpus (45mm) but the Bridger was a bit of a punt as I hadn't come across anyone using it with my forks.

First impressions of the Rumpus wheels: sturdy but not that heavy given that they've obviously been built to a price. Front and rear were set up for 15mm axles whereas I have a 9mm QR on the rear so had to swap out the provided axle converters which is pretty easy. It's worth noting that the QR converter on the drive side does not have the flats for a cone spanner to work with which may make converting the other way a little tricky as it is a threaded interface.

Running tyres in tubeless mode means using an air-tight rim tape to prevent air loss. Finding 45mm wide tape isn't easy(!) In the end I took the Gorilla Tape option, this is a cheaper method than the branded tapes (which are just generic industry tapes repackaged) but potentially a bit messy as it has contact adhesive on one side but since I've no intent of changing tyres on a regular basis this shouldn't be a problem. The rims are quite shallow so I only needed a single wrap of tape.

The Bridger comes up about 12mm less in diameter than a Bontrager XR4 on a Hope XC rim. The Trailblazer is about 23mm less overall diameter, again on a Hope XC rim. The front weighs 2805g (with disk rotor) compared to the Bontrager XR4/Hope combo weighing 1960g, it does add noticeable weight to the front of the bike. The Trailblazer weighs 2580g (inc rotor but not the cassette). I checked the Bridger in the forks and there's a couple of mm clearance to either side. Something to note is that with the rims being approximately 40mm less in diameter means that the widest part of the wheel may not be at the same point as with a 29er. The widths were as follows:

The XR4 (@ 25psi) measured 59mm at the tread
The XR3 (@ 27psi) measured 56mm at the tread.

Given the quoted sizes this difference isn't too far from what's expected and are spot on (to within 0.5mm) of the stated width.

The Bridger (@12psi) is 74mm at the tread, the sidewall is very roughly the same, possibly slightly less.

The Trailblazer (@13psi) is 69mm at the sidewall and 58mm at the tread.

So despite being quoted as a 2.8" tyre, the Trailblazer is only 2mm bigger than the XR3 and is narrower at the tread than the XR4! Of course it's a lot bigger in volume.

Bridger 3.0" on left, Bontrager XR4 2.35" on right

The smaller diameters of the wheels has two effects. Firstly the gearing is slightly lower by about 4% which is roughly half of the difference between two gears. Secondly, the bottom bracket is lower: take the average radius difference of the above values: Front radius difference = 12/2 = 6; rear = 23/2 = 11.5. So each axle is lowered by that amount. With the BB being halfway between these it's roughly halfway between the two: (6 + 11.5)/2 = 7.75mm, call it 8mm.

Cost of the whole caboodle:

Rumpus Wheels     £200
650b+ tyres       £ 95
Disk rotors       £ 33
Valves            £  9
Rim tape          £  4
Total             £341

So what difference does it make to the bike? Is it faster, slower, more or less responsive? The only way to find out is to ride it so I came up with a loop with a variety of surfaces and plenty of climbing and descent that should give me an idea of what to expect. First though I needed a baseline so headed round it one afternoon. Whereas many wheel/tyre comparisons concern themselves purely with speed I was more concerned with overall efficiency so wore my HRM and logged that data as well as speed. On subsequent loops I'd try and keep my heart rate similar so that I'd see if the wheels really did make a difference.

So using Strava as the comparison tool and wearing a HRM so that there's a second metric to compare other than just speed this was the ride using the 29er wheels -

There was a strong SouthWesterly and due to recent heavy rain the ground was wet with lying water but underneath the surface dampness it was pretty solid, not muddy at all. I think most of the PRs are due to being on my own rather than in a group and having to wait at gates etc. I didn't really push it - at most times I would have been able to hold a conversation, but equally I wasn't dawdling.

With the new wheels fitted I headed out again. I'd had the bank holiday weekend to get a little familiar with them but I wouldn't say I'm completely up to speed with them, though ... In the intervening eleven days things have dried out completely, now rather than compliant damp turf you had rock hard ridged soil. This time the wind was from the NE so into my face on the early climbs. Again I was keeping things at about the same perceived level of exertion and the HR figures bear this out, some are slightly higher some a little lower. This is the B+ ride

and I'm somewhat shocked to get so many PRs. Remember that the B+ wheels and tyres make the bike over 1.5Kg heavier.

I expected it on one or two segments - "Boss Moor techy climb" for example is ideal for fatter tyres being stony with a few larger loose rocks lying on the surface leading to a rutted section for example. On the Mastiles Lane climb it was just a case of sitting down and spinning your legs, very little back wheel spin/slip. On the descent from Weets Top there is a very short and steep climb up from a beck, slightly loose, I have never managed to get up it. This time it just wasn't a problem (the parade of cows and their calves heading up the track shortly after was a different matter). There is a similar loose section at the start of the last climb which since it got washed out I've never managed but again nearly got it. So the grip is amazing - keep your weight just forward of the back wheel and so long as you can pedal you'll get up things.

The tyres make the bike feel "plush" for want of a better word - on ground where with normal tyres you would get a lot of high frequency chatter it's just all smoothed out. Some of the descents that normally have my eyeballs shaking in their sockets were silky smooth.

So if those are the positives, what are the negatives? Well on the descent from the top of Mastiles I hit a rollercoaster of bumps and hollows and the undamped suspension of the rear tyre set me pogoing and threatened to bounce me over the front. This made me a bit wary on some of the similar stuff later on. The little bit of road on the ride was again hard work - the largest section had the wind on my back and it felt harder than riding in to the wind on the 29er wheels. A few days later Cath and I went out for a bivvy ride, part of the ride out was along a gently rolling road. Whereas normally I'm having to coast a bit to let her keep in touch that night I had to pedal quite hard just to keep up.

Another area where they aren't as precise as normal tyres is in mud - you get a weird combination of wallowing and twitchiness, you just have to make sure you are putting pressure on the front of the bike otherwise the front wheel has a mind of its own.

It's early days. I haven't got the pressures dialed in yet, particularly the rear tyre, and when you are running at 12-15psi just one psi up or down can make a big difference. I think that for routes/rides that are predominantly off-road and composed of tracks of packed hardcore or a little rougher then they are well worth considering. For any route with a significant amount of road normal tyres would be preferable.

One thing to watch out for is the new gear "halo effect", basically being ultra keen because you are using new gear. Since I needed to get used to the tyres I ran with them for a few weeks before revisiting the loop. I also needed to get the pressure sorted, at the values in use on these large volume tyres a single PSI change can have a massive impact on handling. The starting point for standard MTB tubeless tyres is (weight in stone x 2) then subtract 1 for the front and add 2 for the rear. For me this is about right, certainly for the back tyre. For plus tyres the advice seems to be "just try pressures until you're happy", but generally start at 15psi and keep dropping 1psi until it feels wrong.

What's important to note about these "results" is that they are specific to me and how I ride that bike so they may not be applicable to anyone else.

Since writing the majority of the above I've fitted rigid carbon forks to the bike. With standard 29er wheels there's quite a bit of chatter but the "plushness" of the plus sized tyres mentioned earlier is a distinct advantage and I've not really noticed the rigid forks on subsequent rides but this might be that I've also adjusted my riding technique to handle the forks better. I used the Plus tyres on the Peak 200 last week and only really had a problem with those sections that had a thin layer of mud overlying harder substrate where you just get a wallowing effect, other than that they were fine.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Peak 200

"What the ..." I stare disbelievingly at the seat harness, where there should be a bright yellow dry bag containing my bivy kit there is nothing. At some point in the last couple of Km it has come adrift. It's half past midnight and I've been riding since ten the previous morning. Nothing for it but to hide the bike in the nettles and walk back along the route hoping that I find it.

The Peak 200 ( a slight misnomer since it's actually 230Km) has the dubious honour of having had no finishers from group starts. Just five of us had thrown our hats in to the ring for this year's edition. With heavy rain forecast for Saturday I wasn't even sure about starting but loaded the car up anyway, by Saturday morning the forecast was for rain clearing by midday. Off to Edale it was then.

I turn in Hope towards Edale and the first spots of rain hit the windscreen, by Edale it's heavy.

Javi, myself and Mark. Yep, that's the group start sorted!


There's a van in the car park with a bike leant against it and a large beard sticking out from a hoodie fussing around it. I wander over and introduce myself. The beard hides a big smile. It would turn out that we were the group.

Having seen him ride off in to the mist on Cut Gate whilst I was dealing with a minor mechanical I thought that would be the last I would see of him but he has a bad patch near Hayfield so we end up riding together for most of the first day.

"Have you seen a rider with a big beard on a singlespeed?" I ask two bikers at the top of the descent into Birch Vale. "Ah, yes. He's about ten minutes ahead. We rode with him for a while, could only just keep up, he's a bit determined." Then I notice that they are on e-bikes.

Climbing out of Roych Clough Javi treats me to a masterclass in line choice, ... , well riding a bike really. There's little that stops him.

We have been riding down Long Dale for five minutes followed by a large herd of inquisitive heifers and finally come to the escape gate. As I'm opening it I turn round and see Javi hoist his bike above his head and run towards the cows and shout ... "Boo!"


The rain of recent weeks hasn't been kind to the trails in the southern Peak. My drivetrain is making horrible noises and seems to have picked up a kilo of mud and grass (Gratton Dale). On getting home and getting the bike out of the car it felt very heavy even though I'd removed the front wheel. A good half hour of cleaning and it still felt heavy - the cassette was completely full of clay that wouldn't shift with the hose and so required a full strip down and about an hour's work to get clean.


Surprisingly there aren't a lot of resupply points on the route. I don't know the area well enough that I could nip off-route to get to a tap or spring. Consequently I didn't have enough water, especially come nightfall. Javi did ask about whether the rivers were safe to drink from but a reasonable rule is not to drink from water with habitation upstream and in a densely populated area like the Peak that's not easy. With the heavy rain on Saturday morning all the becks in the Dark Peak were brown with peaty runoff, those dropping off Bleaklow were particularly impressive.

I wander back through the darkness scanning the track from side to side for the bag. I know it can be no further back than Froggatt Pinnacle since that is where I'd originally intended to stop and had taken the bag off but obviously not refastened everything properly. As I get to the moor gate it's there in the middle of the track. Just a long trudge back to the bike and sort myself out for the bivy.

The elastic had finally snapped between Javi and myself, I was always intending to bivy whereas he was aiming to ride through so with a handshake we part on the track above Froggatt and his light disappears in to the distance. Up to that point I'd surprised myself keeping pace with him but then I didn't have 550 miles of the Highland Trail in my legs which has got to take a while to get over. 

Mark heading towards Lockerbrook, rather damp.

After Cut Gate I'd ridden steadily in to the strong head wind, some restocking in Gamesley near Glossop: "Big tyres mate - do you ride on mountains with them?", "Err, yes, that's kind of the point". 

Much of the Western section was the Pennine Bridleway which I'd done once in the opposite direction. I meet up again with Javi at Chinley Head - "had a bad patch a while ago" and we ride together across the transition to The White Peak. I feel cramp coming on as we climb out of one of the small dales but manage to suppress it and I have little problem thereafter. At one point we have to make a detour to avoid a large herd of cows being led in to milk. We miss the correct way out of Chee Dale so end up with some road climbing.

We turn on to The High Peak Trail and suddenly the wind is on our backs: "Hooray! Easy going!". A few Km later and there's a pub, it's 1930 and we need food. With no reservation they make room for two filthy mountain bikers and we tuck in to a mammoth fish pie and chips.

Javi tucking into a well deserved fish pie and chips

More easy riding along the High Peak Trail before we meet the cattle in Long Dale and the mud and rocks of Gratton Dale

The morning's preparations are as much about getting mud and grass out of the drivetrain as anything until the midges win out so it's on with the show. Some nice singletrack, a bit of road, more singletrack until I'm dropping down to Fox House and then the Burbage Valley. Halfway up this I spy a pipe with clean water pouring out of it so take the chance to rehydrate. A minute or two won't make any difference to my time.

I miss the turning for a bridleway and find myself over a kilometre further downhill than I need to be. Even on the climb back up I fail to locate it so go the long way round by road. Stanage Causeway is new to me, on a bike anyway, the last time I was here was walking back to the car after a rock climbing accident that resulted in a broken wrist and a dislocated elbow.

Things begin to go wrong once over the top of Stanage, my GPS has "lost" the map so I've no idea where the route now goes. I cut left and eventually end up on the A57 but not at the point I should be. I know some of the route to the finish but nowhere near all of it so decide to ride what I know. Crossing Ladybower Dam I meet Paul who had seen us off and he turns round to ride back with me at least as far as Hope Cross. Apparently Javi isn't too far ahead though I've cut a couple of loops out by this point so not really a fair indication.

I'm flagging, lack of water and food have had their toll and I'm struggling to walk and push my bike up The Beast. Once at the top I head down the Roman Road while Paul heads more directly to Edale. It's all I can do to keep moving on the road and I eventually roll back to the finish just under 24hrs after setting off.

After a bit of hanging around and consumption of drink and food from the cafe I have to leave so don't get chance to see Javi get back in a time of 25hrs30, the first finisher from a group start.

It's a tough route, I think it would be quite a bit easier after a reasonably long dry spell, it would also be easier earlier in the year when the nettles, thorns and grass aren't so big. Must come back.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Yorkshire Dales 300

There's a bike outside the shed, I push at the door and a voice says "There's three of us in here", "Any room?", "Maybe". The three are laid out lengthways in the shed but there's space to lie down across the opposite end.

Bivy bag out, strip, get into dry clothes and into the bivy. It's 0045 I've been up since 0300 yesterday and riding since 0800. I'm knackered.

Some pre-start nerves showing.

The second running of the Yorkshire Dales 300 ITT was proving to be a little harder than last year's affair, an extra twenty kilometres of mainly off-road riding at the start meant that getting to resupply points before they shut meant pushing hard.

I'm mostly on my own, occasionally I'm with another rider but generally there's no-one else in sight so I'm left to ride at my own pace conscious of the middle 'T' - time. A rider passes me descending in to Coverdale but he's too strong for me to keep pace with and the elastic snaps. Soon after my gears begin making an awful noise which no amount of fettling will deal with. It's only after riding through a deep puddle that the noise stops and the penny drops - the chain needs oiling. A cheeky request at a Buckden cafe and the chain gets a healthy dose of 3-in-1 oil which does for the rest of the ride.

The weekend's forecast had changed almost daily, the latest had given showers in the afternoon. Heading up from Kidstones the first of them passed over, not too heavy but you definitely needed cover. A few more showers in and around Castle Bolton then on the top of Harkerside Moor a big shower hit. With only descending to do I'm getting cold.

I get to Dales Bike Centre five minutes after they "have shut" but Stu knows we are coming and is keeping the cafe open a little longer, ace man. I'm surprised to see some of the fast guys just leaving, I didn't think I was that close to the front. Once inside a look at my GPS stats shows why: an average moving speed of 15.5kmh with just 32 minutes of stops. A bit of that will have been dealing with gates, oh and the chat with the farmer at Thornton Rusk. Coffee and soup hit the spot while the rain subsides.

Mike (who would eventually finish third) at Dales Bike Centre cafe. Stu having a giggle.

Heading up Fremington Edge I get a slight spasm - cramp! I don't want a repeat of last year so a different strategy: straight off the bike and walk until I feel better. It just so happens that I'd have been getting off and walking a few metres later anyway and it's the top gate before I begin riding again. It continues like this for the rest of the day, twenty minutes or so riding then a bit of a spasm so walk but at no point am I incapacitated with a full attack.

I can see clearly now the rain has gone!

Mike (the rider who'd passed me in Coverdale) passes me again at top of the descent to Langthwaite and I don't see him again - he rides through the night to finish in third.
About to descend to Langthwaite

Rainbow from Great Pinseat
I carry on over Great Pinseat and am approaching the descent to Gunnerside Gill when another rider catches up with me. This time I find the right line, except it's too hard for me so I walk it all. The ride out along the gill edge is as good as ever and then down to the pub in Gunnerside. It's taken three hours to do the 20Km from Dales Bike Centre to here. A couple of quick pints of orange and water then I'm on my way.

My new companion decides to stop near the top of Buttertubs Pass to have something to eat and it's the last I see of him. The blast down the other side is chilly in the evening temperatures and it's a relief to pedal along to Bainbridge. I see some lights on the climb up the Roman Road, soon it will be my turn.

Despite it being a further distance to this point than last year I feel much fresher but even so there's no way I can ride through the night so I need somewhere to bivy.

It's half four and someone's alarm goes off. It's quite light outside and the four of us make our preparations to get going. No hanging around, the midges see to that. One lad's away then a few minutes later two of us head off. We end up riding the rest of the day together.

Pennine Bridleway bridge over the Ribble.

The climb over Great Wold is a push, the descent on a rigid bike interesting. The last rider from the overnight stop passes us at Ribblehead but stays just within sight until Feizor. Timing now is critical, too quick and the cafe at Feizor won't have opened so take it steady whilst still making progress. Drop off from the limestone plateau and then it's the lovely lanes into Wharfe and around Austwick, I even manage to ride the clapper stone bridge usually it's blocked by walkers. We get to Feizor at 0845 and the cafe doesn't open until nine. A minute later and they've opened! Coffee and full English, good portions too.
Ali and Dave having breakfast in Feizor cafe

The young lad is having saddle problems - the top section has unbonded from the post! While he's finding a workaround we carry on. Climb, descend, climb, descend. Although it doesn't feel like it we are  grinding down the remaining distance. Rewater and an ice-cream in Malham and we are a group of three again and ride together to the end.

The final climb up on to Barden Moor is a walk for all three of us until finally the angle eases and though there is still some climbing to do it's nothing to what's gone before. We enjoy the moorland singletrack then it's just a blast down the estate track to the road, one section of farm track and it's just road to the end.

Once on the road I find some energy in my legs and it's hammer time, push on as fast as possible in to the headwind slowing only for the final hill. There's some sort of fair/concert going on in Skipton High Street so a bit of local knowledge to get round it and we are in the final straight.

We roll into the yard together. "Well done" says Stuart "joint eighth." Final time was 31hrs53 almost three hours quicker than last year.

Anyway, here's the facts and figures ...


Monday, 13 June 2016

Yorkshire Dales 200, 2015 Edition

"If we hear they've found a body of a mountain biker we'll know who it is."

The barman's words were muffled in the mist, I was crossing Foul Moss on the Occupation Road and it did not look good.

The Yorkshire Dales 200 is billed as the little brother of the YD300. I had done the latter as my first ITT last year taking part in the group start. Just ten riders finished. The first running of the YD200 took place in October last year and the route will change each year. As a preparation ride for this year's YD300 it seemed like a good objective.

As ever rides of this nature are useful for learning and I was keen to try out some changes and strategies in several areas:

  1. Ride speed: rather than try and push it all the time I was looking at a steadier pace with fewer and shorter stops. 
  2. Food: this follows on from the first strategy in spend as little time refuelling, don't carry loads. 
  3. Kit: with it being summer I was looking at an ultra-light setup. More later.

5am and being the north of England it's already light, some breakfast then ride down to town to start. The first of the market traders are already setting up their stalls. The route heads through suburbia and the first surprise of the day - a deer trots out from one of the wooded gardens, it's a while before it realises I'm there and heads off up the road in front of me until it finds a way off to safety.

Steady away up the first off-road climb up Sharp Haw then a comedy descent (think 1kmh OTBs) through the heather to regain the main track. The following descent is technical for so early in the morning. Back on familiar tracks from testing out different tyres I become damp from spray from the morning dew. Soon I'm at the foot of the climb up Mastiles Lane. Plug away until I feel that it's more effort to ride than push then on over Malham Moor to Stockdale Lane. Every time I ride down this it seems to change, rough skittery sections over limestone bedrock are no longer where I remember them. It's over all too soon as is the next short section of bridleway and I drop in to Settle. No need to reprovision here, head on over the hill to Stainforth.

Feizor tea rooms.

I roll down the concrete road in to Feizor and the tea rooms. I'd spent an hour here on the YD300 - a full english took half an hour or so but then others on the event rolled in and as I'd not seen anyone for many hours ... Today things were to be much quicker, coffee and a butty, get the water bottles refilled and I'm on my way in just twenty minutes. Points #1 & #2 covered but probably should have asked for the bottles to be filled whilst eating. I'd worked out several schedules with a limited number of stops, the only one that I didn't make was at Horton on the return but that was due to the large number of less salubrious looking visitors and I didn't fancy leaving my bike outside the pub.

It's warm and humid now, oppressive even. Quiet old style bridleways through the valley floor then head up on to Sulber Nick and across the limestone plateau following the Pennine Bridleway back down into the valley and over the river. A pair of Oystercatchers sit on the high point of each parapet of the bridge only rising when my wheels rumble across the bridge's deck. On up past Ling Gill, I rarely ride this track in this direction and it surprises me with its steepness. Then it's down the logging road and along to Ribblehead.

Another stop: a cup of tea and a piece of cake along with a chat with the woman running the tea van. This is the most number of people I'll see all day. An easy section now along tracks to Chapel le Dale then road to Twistleton Scar End and another gaggle of people at the ice cream van, I think of stopping but it's too busy.

Viewpoint above Ingleton, but no time to sit down.

A quick repair to my home made bar extension before climbing out of Kingsdale and round to Ireby via the Turberry Road. It is here that the rain starts. At first it is chilling as I'm heading in to the wind and also downhill but once I turn off the A65 towards Barbon it is much more manageable with it on my back.

This is another track I've only ever ridden in the opposite direction. That was in winter, now in summer it is nearly completely overgrown and it's jarring work dodging both snagging vegetation at the sides and slippery rocks under wheels. Eventually it debouches on to the road and I spin along towards Barbon and the whine of motors.

It's the annual Barbon Hill Climb event where drivers race their cars up the driveway of Barbon Manor. I drop down to the village and in to the pub, it will be my last chance of food or drink until Horton. The barman informs me that the bridleway that I should be taking is shut because of the event so I'll have to head round by the road instead.

The Occupation Road connects the heads of Barbondale and Kingsdale and dates from the 1850s and was likely in good repair until misuse by 4x4 drivers led the authorities to ban motorised traffic across it. Too late the damage was done. The western half is still reasonably surfaced and is in similar condition to many other Dales' tracks: mostly pitched stone with some sections flooded or washed out. It is once you head east past the head of Flintergill that things turn nasty.

You just have to cross Flow Moss and Foul Moss to get there.

At first it doesn't seem too bad, a little rougher than what's gone before but also more pools and wheel ruts meaning you have to pick a line. There's even long sections of grass to aid progress. What's the fuss about? Then you get to the junction: just turn left and head downhill in to the dale, all will be well. No, no, no, no, that's not where I'm going. To the right is a section rejected as being too rough for a World Cup DH course, except you are going up it, it leads to a gate. All that is missing is a sign: "Abandon all hope ..."

What looks as if it would be a good line shuts down after a few metres and you have to cross the track hoping to find a way there. The ruts are deeper now and only avoided by riding over skull sized rocks, which only serve to push you ever closer towards the pools. Pools, mirky pools with an oily scum, under their surface myriad dark forms flit around, they might be tadpoles but I'm not sure.

Sometimes it's not possible to avoid to ride through them, I feel the back wheel struggling to break free, more effort and the wheel moves forward leaving a rasping sound. Every time you think you can make good progress a slot, rock or hole put paid to that idea.

All the time over your left shoulder across Dentdale is the next climb up and over Great Wold, impossibly far below is a sliver of tarmac connecting what you hope is the end of this track and the start of that one.

By now even the bike is groaning, protesting at the effort but the end is in sight. A few bad line choices requiring a dismount and finally I'm on the renovated last mile. Time to fly!

The Occupation Road does this to a man!

Freewheeling down the road from White Moss I look up at the dark hillside, a black line that cuts across it frowns back.

The climb over Great Wold is a long push today at least until the angle starts to ease. The recent rains haven't reinstated the puddles and bogs here so quick progress is made across the shoulder of Whernside until the start of the descent. This has been washed out many years ago and is basically redundant water bars with rocks randomly strewn around the path. At the point where the Three Peaks path joins a surprise: the path has been refurbished and it's suddenly much easier going. The becks leading off Blea Moor are nearly dry and it's a matter of picking a line and going for it. I get to Ribblehead and the remnants of today's walkers and realise that I've not seen anyone since leaving the pub in Barbon three and a half hours earlier. Three and a half hours for 30Km, 10Km of which was tarmac.

Push on down the road towards Horton, legs working fine, good power, good cadence. At Horton, crowds of "Engerrlaand!" supporters call for a rethink about a quick bite in the pub and I refill my bottles at the tap outside the public toilets before a midge attack forces me on. I'm not that hungry and have enough food with me to see me to the end which is probably about five hours away now. More road then it's the next to last big climb.

Again I decide that wasting energy on trying to clean the steeper sections covered in storm detritus isn't worth it and walk a couple of hundred metres until the track levels out. I continue like this to the top of the hill, walk the steeper bits and ride when it gets easier. It's starting to darken now with approaching night and rain bearing clouds as I drop down to the road disturbing sheep settling down for the night on the track. A bit of road then the next bridleway down to the valley taking care as the light rain is making the limestone slippy. At the bottom I stop to turn on my lights for the long road section down the valley.

Legs still feeling strong I push on, the miles coming easily. I get to Rylstone and the start of the last big climb. A group of fed up looking cows are at the fell gate and need "encouragement" to let me through. At the start of the first steepening it's off and walk again and as I climb my head begins to drop, it's the first time I've really felt weary all day, not sure if it's a blood sugar drop after eating a handful of Jelly Babies a while back or the cumulutive effect of the day's efforts. All light from the day has gone.

When looking at doing the route I wasn't sure whether I'd be able to "ride through" so had packed a lightweight bivy kit consisting of bivy bag; inflatable sleeping mat; down vest; thermal top and midge net. Again this was partly an experiment, use training rides to learn. The down vest is a very old one which weighs more than my sleeping bag! I've a new one on order along with a smaller tapered dry bag. Total weight for the new setup is under 1Kg. Now that I'm so close to the end I decide to press on.

The top of the moor is in the cloud and it's hard to see some of the track so again it's a mixture of riding and pushing, no prizes for pranging at this juncture, eventually I get to a point where I know it's all rideable. The final drag to the summit takes forever, each bend in the track that I think is the last turns out not to be. At some point the pedalling becomes easier then a bigger gear is needed. The nightlife is out including a hedgehog, we probably both wondered what the other was doing up here. Roll down the track with the occasional rise until the access barrier is reached and I know there's only a couple of hundred metres to the road.

Most of the next couple of miles is freewheeling, a bit of a rise here and there, I've decided to miss out the loop over Embsay Crag - "pointless" says Cath - and I'm soon in town. There's the occasional drunken comment from the late night revellers then it's over, 19hrs. Cath is there to meet me with a celebratory beer. She mentions that I don't look particularly tired even though I definitely feel it.

Really pleased with how it went. An ITT is much different from a group start - even if you intend to ride alone there's always someone catching you up or just ahead ready to be caught so there isn't that sense of just being "there". Going at a steadier pace also helped massively as I didn't get even a twinge of cramp which I've suffered from quite a bit in the past, surprisingly I was pushing harder on the pedals later in the ride than at the start. I didn't even get any post ride cramps either. I also had a good riding to stopping ratio, just 1hr40 stopped out of 19hrs some of which will have been opening gates - another side to riding alone where there's no chance of leap-frogging the gate duties.

Not sure if I got the food completely right: Jelly Babies whilst easy to digest do cause a bit of a sugar spike, well they do if you eat a handful at once! I didn't get chance to try out my bivy system so that will have to wait but again everything that I had and used worked as intended. I'd fitted some new tyres (Bontrager XR2 on the front, XR1 on the rear) which are lighter tread than what I'd been using and while they struggled a bit in certain scenarios they are fast rolling and were fine on most of the ground being covered.

Here's the Strava bit :

The pub looks posh, no place for a wet smelly mountain biker, though the porch is filled with wet walking boots and socks, I head inside. "Come in lad, no sort of a day to be outside". I order a soft drink and some crisps.

"Where have you come from?"


"On a bike? That's a fair way on't road."

"Err, I'm on a mountain bike."

"Bloody hell! How are you getting back?"

"Riding", I explain my route. His mood changes,

"Occupation Road eh?"