Sunday, 14 December 2014

Wet Feet

A slight change of direction. This blog started out as a way to ease the boredom and to record my recovery from a climbing accident. It moved on to bits of climbing and then in the last fifteen months or so, the lead up to and recovery from a total hip replacement. So to (belatedly) avoid becoming stale the focus is shifting to individual facets of my general activities rather than a blow by blow account of the activities themselves.

Most sports require gear and the participants in those sports tend to accumulate and compare gear. Now these aren't gear reviews with their "this only weighs xxx grammes" and "You can really feel the extra strength in ...", they are reviews about gear. While makes and models might be mentioned, that's more to stress a particular point than praise or damn the kit.

On Saturday we were in Ambleside for a group ride over in to Langdale and round Tarn Hows and Loughrigg - here's the Strava trace. At this time of year you have to take whatever weather gets thrown (literally) at you. Cath had been in Manchester for the week on a course so I drove up to meet her at Windermere station. I was on time but the connecting train wasn't so she was an hour late. The weather was horrible, driving rain at just above freezing, the UK speciality. On the way back from the pub the skies had cleared and the pavements were already icing over.

Crinkle Crags and Bowfell from Waterhead

The morning dawn crisp and clear with the temperature well below zero. The car park was patchy black ice - lovely. We set off at roughly the designated time and managed to stay upright and by the top of the first climb it was snowing. Over the course of the next few hours we road through snow, slush and water and by the time we got back all seventeen of us had very cold and wet feet. The YHA drying room was a popular location to get changed!

We'd all got a variety of shoe/sock combinations from dedicated mountain biking shoes to full on hiking boots; wool socks to Sealskinz; some had overshoes. So basically nothing had worked or rather coped with the conditions.

The mountain biking industry is dominated by North America - not surprising really since it's the largest market - so a damp corner of north western Europe is not going to figure highly in the design of products. I'm reminded of a conference call we once had with a supplier of safety sensors (who were based in Israel):

Us: The sensor's fine except for one point, the casing doesn't protect it from horizontal rain.

A moment's silence ...

Supplier: You don't get horizontal rain.

Us (in a resigned voice): Oh yes you do.

In a country where the limited rain falls straight down why would you even think that it could come at you from any direction. In a similar manner much of US designed kit is designed for dry dusty conditions, consequently it struggles in UK conditions.

I was wearing Sealskinz inside Merrill walking shoes - in my switch to flat pedals I haven't got round to purchasing a cycling specific flat shoe - which I thought would stand up to the conditions. Obviously not. I'd used a similar setup when training for my Bob Graham Round, on one occasion we started from Wasdale in rain, climbed through sleet to above the snow line then spent the day climbing and descending through the freezing level and yet still had dry feet. Something was obviously different.

What I think caused the difference was that my running shoes have little to no padding and they are designed to let water out rather than keep water out. Newcomers to fell running often ask about waterproof shoes thinking they would be ideal. If the shoe is "waterproof" then if you get water inside the shoe it has no means of escape. In the case of walking shoes and MTB shoes it then soaks the padding from the inside. Now rather than being damp, the foot is continuously immersed in water.

So ...

What should work is a lightweight shoe that is oversized to allow loose fitting socks so as not to restrict circulation, mesh outer so that water can get out. Something similar to a fell running shoe but with a flat sole that can engage with the pins on flat pedals. Add either a loose fitting overboot or a gaiter to keep wind chill down.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Mirky, mucky riding

I managed to use up some of my holiday allowance last week. We were going to have a few days away but Cath had managed to double book a couple of events so we ended up just having one night away. I'd never visited Chatsworth House so we planned on a couple of rides in the area along with a look round the house and gardens.

I'd got a new rear tyre the previous weekend and was running it tubeless. At the top of the first hill I got the feeling that the tyre was a bit soft and as soon as we went off road I felt a thud. Out with the pump to put some air in. Unfortunately unscrewing the pump from the valve also unscrewed the valve insert, resulting in a completely flat tyre! With no way to inflate the tyre Cath nipped back to get the car and we headed for Chatsworth House.

The following day was again overcast and we did a loop starting from Calver and in to an area of the Peak I'd never visited before, partly because there's no crags in it. Unfortunately quite a bit of the ride had been "sanitised" so what had been an interesting descent was now little more than a blast on old road planings. There was one good bit along a rooty-rocky track to a ford but after that there wasn't much until the traverse above Baslow Edge which while not technical at least wasn't road.

Saturday was another grey overcast day and Cath was leading the club ride so I decided to have a blast along the Pennine Bridleway down to Widdop and back. The lane down from the house is really muddy at the moment and I managed to fall off within 50 metres - oops! Everything went much better after that but it was pretty muddy getting to Wycoller. I thought I might have problems getting up the fields out of Wycoller but I managed to get a decent line with some traction. The next couple of kilometres are the most technical of this part of the way and there's quite a bit of avoiding rocks, slots and holes. Before too long the surface improves and then it's a blast down in to Thursden (I saw the only other biker all day on this part).

The climb on the road over to Widdop felt hard with the slight headwind and also slightly worrying in the fog with drivers not switching their lights on so you didn't see them until they were a few metres away, it was a relief to turn off and cross the dam and start the climb up Gorple Gate. This was as hard as ever though the top part isn't as loose as it used to be. The traverse round to the gate is wet and gritty then it's the blast down the track to rejoin the PBW. Up, big down, big up and a big down get me back to Thursden and then it's back home the same way out with a cafe stop at Wycoller. I was so muddy when I got home that I needed to rinse my clothes twice before putting them in the washing machine.

Sunday was actually a nice day, Cath suggested a route out of the VP Dales MTB guide. I'd done most of the tracks before but nearly all of them in the opposite direction. The one track I hadn't done was the descent down in to Littondale. Most tracks in the Dales are rocky so are pretty much all-weather and all year round so apart from the odd big puddle there's no real problem in most of the first part of the ride. The descent in to Littondale is damp though and being both steep and either grass or limestone means that we need to take care not to let the front wheel wash out.

A bit of a bite to eat at the bottom and then it's road work to get to Arncliffe Cote and the big climb of the day. The bottom of this is again wet grass over limestone and it's basically a push as it's too steep to gain traction in these conditions. Further up we can ride more and more but it's heavy going. We get passed by a group of lads who've ridden over from Hetton and who are the first mountain bikers we've seen all day. Once on top there's a chill wind and there's no hanging around but it's a blast anyway down to Street Gate.

All that's left is the climb up to the Settle Loop and then follow this back towards Langcliffe. It's not all downhill though and there's a few short climbs before the final drop down to the road where I happen to bump in to someone I worked with at my last workplace so after a quick chat it's the final climb up the road before dropping back down to Stainforth on the Pennine Bridleway.

A total of 90Km mostly off-road for the weekend which does feel like hard work.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

A Milestone and err, something else

On the commute home last night I clocked up 10, 000 Kilometres for the year to date. Well, this is the distance I've logged via Strava, the actual distance will be a bit more as most rides from home are started and stopped about a kilometre away. I've also climbed 133,000 metres of ascent and taken 340 rides to do it. Given that January and February were basically washouts in terms of activity due to recovering from my hip replacement (a year ago this coming Tuesday as it happens) it's not bad.

So what of the something else? Well last night was a pretty awful night and as I was descending the lane down to the house I began to realise that the brakes weren't slowing me down! I wasn't getting faster but I certainly wasn't slowing down, I was probably doing between 15 & 20Kmh. Our lane is about 25% and there's virtually no flat ground before the house.

I began to run through my options: run in to the back of the car - from personal experience I know that bodies tend to come off worse in such collisions; run in to the house - even less likely to result in a positive outcome; make a sharp right over a very slippery cattle grid in to the yard - any fall would be on to my operated hip and there were all the slots to lose an arm or leg in. The only remaining option was to carry on down the lane by the side of the house and hope that when the tarmac ended the mud would slow me down.

I managed about fifteen metres before my increasingly comical swervings saw me off, fortunately I landed on my left side and didn't land on any of the various rocks that stick out of the ground. Apart from a bruise and a slightly pulled muscle in my leg I got away with no injuries. There was one broken spoke on the bike and the brake lever on the left side had been knocked round a bit.

So why had the brakes failed? They are Avid BB7 disk brakes and have been pretty reliable but I think they have somehow loosened themselves off during my commutes as the canal bank is pretty jarring at times, I've checked them this morning and was able to turn in the adjustment pads so that the brakes worked. It was probably a combination of the gradient and the rain, on lesser slopes I have been able to stop. I'll have to keep an eye on them to ensure it doesn't happen again.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Bonfire Night

After a couple of failed attempts to get out for a night ride this week we finally managed to get our act together to head out on Wednesday night which just so happened to be Bonfire Night. In recent years it seems that bad weather has plagued this traditional celebration of home-grown terrorism but with clear skies and a near-full moon it looked like it was going to be worth getting out.

Our earlier ineptitude reasserted itself as we were parking the car at Threshfield - Cath wondered if she'd put her cycling shoes in the car. Of course she hadn't so since she was using flat pedals I suggested that she use the Crocs she was wearing (other hippy plastic shoes are available). It seemed to work so off we set, twitching occasionally when a particularly loud firework detonated nearby.

With the clear skies it was pretty cold and it was with some reluctance that we rode past a large bonfire at the bottom of the lane leading on to Boss Moor. My hands still hadn't warmed up by the time I reached the top though a minute or two's rest allowed the warmth to return. The bridleway over the moor was resurfaced a few years ago and old railway sleepers put in to span drainage ditches and frost was already beginning to form on these - the cold air can attack from all sides so they cool quicker.

At Bordley Lane we had a choice: down towards Kilnsey and up Mastiles Lane (the opposite way to how we'd ridden last time up here) or head up the lane, on to Mastiles Lane and round to Lee Gate Farm before heading back to Bordley then southwards towards Hetton before getting back on to Boss Moor. Cath didn't fancy the climb up Mastiles so up the road it was.

The moon was so bright that we kept thinking that there was a car behind us, understandable on a road but we kept thinking it when off-road as well! At the drop down to the end of the road we cut right and climbed steadily to Mastiles Gate then left and along the open lane until we could cut left through the fields to Lee Gate. Things were a lot muddier than the last time we were up here and it was with relief that we got on to the hard surface of the bridleway back to Bordley farm.

Going past Bordley was a little tricky as there's no option but to go through the farmyard and wake the dogs up but we did the best we could. Getting across the beck below the farm meant that we both had wet feet to some extent - not good in the temperature at the time. The track down past Lainger House is fast, well once the sheep get out of the way, and there's just a short steep pull on tarmac until the next bridleway cuts left over Boss Moor.

Soon we are at the top of the initial track and the tricky part is making sure to hit the wooden water bars square on as they are now pretty frosty. I'm thinking I'm struggling to see and it's a while before I realise that the light on the handlebar has come loose and is pointing nearly straight down - oops!

The bonfire is nearly out as we pass it again but it's still pumping out plenty of heat and we grab a minute of warmth before coasting down to the car. The bikes are filthy and I grab a rag out of the car to wipe the worst of it off but it's all frozen to the frame! Cleaning will have to wait. It's now ten o'clock, time to get something to eat.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Night Rides

The evenings are definitely drawing in now that we are past the autumn equinox which leads to a quandary: hit the turbo or sort out the lights and head outside.

Actually it's not so much a quandary as when to actually start night rides, there's still some light at around 1830 - 1900 so unless you wait for an hour or so you end up with half the ride in daylight and half in the dark. Riding in the dusk is either quite risky if you are on the roads (drivers are even less aware of what's going on) or hard work off road since you don't get the benefits from your bike lights and the natural light isn't quite enough.

Last week I nipped out for a quick blast round the local bridleways to check that the lights worked after a summer's holiday. This Thursday Cath was going to go for a road ride but the weather looked a bit iffy with a strong breeze and showers blasting through so I persuaded her to go mountain biking instead.

The loop over to Earby that I'd discovered a few weeks ago was going to be ideal and hopefully the recent rains hadn't turned things to gloop. The initial road section was done in the twilight so by the time we turned on to the bridleway it was just about dark. The first field had cows in but they weren't interested in these strange creatures moving among them. The bridleway was firm and straightforward and soon we were on the lane leading down to Earby.

The climb was steady, one thing about biking in the dark is that you only see a small part of what's ahead because of the limit of the lights but this means that you just take everything as it comes, there's no looking up and seeing another 400 metres of climbing to dishearten you. Once off the lane and on to the moor it was going to be a case of seeing how boggy things were: generally not too bad but keeping off bare earth was the key to keeping forward momentum.

A bit more road leading back to the top road. "Road back home?" asked Cath, "Straight on, it should be firm". Again the lack of a view ahead meant that you just got on with the climb. At the summit I made Cath look round and take in the view, it was one I'd see a lot a few years ago as this was my turning point when I did night runs after we got the Hope headlights.

We took the descent steadily, dismounting for the sleepers crossing ditches - no point in taking a flyer. Rather bizarrely we passed a couple of tents pitched for the night, presumably they were bemused by a pair of bikes trundling past. Down at the road we decided to skip the last off-road section as it does get very boggy and headed home on the road.

One point we realised is that just having a light on the handlebars isn't quite enough - it lights where the bike is pointing but often you need to look in a different direction so having a light on your helmet adds an extra dimension. A bit of internet searching and a light was ordered (all of £20 including mount and posting) and arrived this morning so we'll see how it works on the next ride.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

MTB Endurance - sort of

Most mountain bike rides are pretty short, last week's ride in the Lakes for example was just 37Km for example, they feel a bit more intense as the terrain isn't conducive to rolling along but that of course is part of the attraction. With Cath away riding on the Seven Stanes I'd free rein in getting out for a longer ride.

The Pennine Bridleway passes quite close to us so I worked out a route that picked that up and headed north in to the Dales then back via other trails. Most of the outbound route would be new to me but the way back was on known trails, we'd actually done most of them when riding the route back from Garsdale Head earlier in the year.

The morning was foggy, really foggy and some of the early road sections up above the house were quite worrying but once I was on the trail leading down to Earby the visibility improved and the stress level reduced. A bit of main road along to Sough and the start of the PBW part of the ride.

Climbing almost immediately on steep grass felt hard work, I still hadn't warmed up, but once that was over the trail followed hard packed ginnels and lanes to gain the edge of Barnoldswick. The climb up from the main road was a bit of a shocker - I'd expected a steady ascent but it began with cobbles at 20%. Fortunately the angle soon eased and I climbed steadily to cross round to the road leading to the top of Weets. All this was new to me, but the route was easy to follow for the moment, the tarmac gave way to an old track dropping down towards Gisburn. This was quite wet and muddy and I was filthy by the time I gained the roads in the valley bottom.

The next section hadn't made much sense when I had looked at it on the map as it looped in and around Gisburn Park (which is a rather grand looking stately pile) but by dint of following the most obvious way I didn't get lost even though I didn't really have much clue where I was! From here to Paythorne was a bit frustrating as there were quite a few gates to negotiate. The gates continued all the way until just short of Long Preston. This was probably the hardest section as even though it was flat(ish), riding over pastureland is much harder work than you might realise, it was relief to get on to the climb out of Long Preston.

The bridleway over to Settle was really quite nice, you are on the very edge of the Craven Gap so have a great view over to the Forest of Bowland and the Southern Pennines, or you would if the weather was clear. A blast down in to Settle and time for some food. I'd been on the go for just over three hours.

The climb out of Settle is hard work on a recently filled stomach but soon I was descending back down to Stainforth and a section on tarmac up to Helwith Bridge. This was my turning point and from here on I was on tracks I'd ridden before and knew that they were fast going.

First though was the little matter of a big climb back up on to the tops. This was a long loose track fortunately with a few easy bits to get your breath back. There were a couple of bikers coming down (only saw six MTB riders all day and not many more roadies) so a quick hello and it was onwards and upwards. The next bit was on road and possibly had the steepest climb of the day out of Tongue Gill then it was on to Malham Tarn and an ice cream.

From here on the end was in sight (for most of the time) or would have been if it hadn't been so mirky. On to Mastiles Lane then cut through to the short steep climb up to Weets Top. The last time I was here it was blowing a hoolie and you had to pedal to keep moving downhill. No such problems today and the descent towards Calton was a blast.

By the time I got to Gargrave I was in need of more refreshment so a quick trip to the Co-op was in order. The next few miles were easy in that I followed the Leeds-Liverpool canal for a while before roads and old railway line lead back to Earby. All that was left was the climb back over Pinhaw. I stopped the GPS with 104Km of riding done in 6hr45. I don't think I'd have liked to have done much more with my current level of fitness but it was good to find out what a long distance ride feels like. 

I think a hardtail is best for longer rides like this - lighter and less faff, but against that is the constant minor bumping of the saddle against your backside, non-technical tracks seem to be worst for this. This for me is the only real downside of hardtails vs full-sussers: you tend to be out of the saddle for the bigger bumps so don't notice them as much.

No photos as it was such a mirky day.

I just went for a steady spin over to Clitheroe and back on the Sunday to get some of the tiredness out of my legs.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Tour de Coniston

Following on from the last posting about mountain biking in the Peak District I've also done very little in the Lakes. Although I grew up there I didn't take up mountain biking until some time after I moved away (to North Wales) so I've only done maybe four or five days of riding in the area. Whereas the Peak ride was before my skills session, this was the week after so hopefully I'd be able to put things in to practice.

With good weather forecast for the weekend it looked like it was worth heading over. As it happened the Saturday was pretty poor weather wise and we didn't get out at all, apart from a quick drive up on to Pinhaw to watch the Lancaster bombers fly by which was cancelled because of the bad weather. So an early start on Sunday morning saw us heading up the A65 through the morning fog hoping that we didn't collide with any of the idiots driving without lights.

Our intended route was a tour of Coniston Water and took in two of the classic Lakeland descents: Walna Scar Road and Parkamoor. I'd found it on the PedalNorth site () as one of the harder routes. Parking up at Blawith (pronounced Blah'th) it was still pretty cold so I decided on a full jacket rather than a simple short sleeved jersey - big mistake!

On Blawith Common with Caw and the Coniston fells on the skyline

The route headed west over Blawith Common towards Green Moor before cutting north towards Torver. We'd done a few of the trails on here some years ago in April. Now though the bracken was fully grown and the stony singletrack felt hemmed in. Even on this first easy section I was beginning to warm up, about the only benefit of the long sleeves of my jacket was not being scratched by the bracken. At the first high point of the day I was waiting for Cath and noticed a fox running away through the bracken, you quite often see them early in the morning before the numbers of walkers and bikers increases. The first descent was fast and ended with a great splash through a ford - no dry feet today then.

Making a splash!

The next bit we'd done before and was basically a traverse bashing through bracken to reach a steepish vehicle track. Not technical but you did need a bit of oomph to get up it. From the top there's a great view of the Coniston fells as well as a view in profile of the next big climb up to Torver Common. The descent is fast and rocky and leads to a small tarmac lane before we cut across to the main road and head back on ourselves to find the start of the bridleway.

The climb is steep from the first gate and becomes indistinct after a short while whereas the footpath is more pronounced but steeper forcing a push. Eventually we figure out we've gone wrong and get back on the track. It's a long climb but again is about lung and leg power rather than anything technical like rock steps. By the time the angle eases we are a long way above the road we've just left. The last bit to the next road is much easier.

Climbing up towards Torver Common

Then it's in to the first of the wooded sections and even on the fireroad it feels distinctly claustrophobic in comparison to what we've done so far. There's a couple of bridleways that cut corners and these provide a technical interlude. The described route takes you to Stephenson Ground then follows the west side of the wonderfully named River Lickle towards Walna Scar however Cath had done this before and reckoned it was a bit much as a climb so we stayed in the woods and followed the fireroad to Natty Bridge.

Snaking ahead on the fellside was a ribbon of hardcore, obviously some path "improvements" had taken place but it looked distinctly out of character. Fortunately it ended at the top of the slope, unfortunately it didn't provide a way across the first boggy section. A bit of walking and we were soon back on terra firma and heading along a great piece of easy singletrack that contours the western side of White Pike. In front was a magnificent panorama of the upper Duddon and Esk valleys, the skyline consisting of the Scafell range round to Bowfell and Crinkle Crags.

On the bridleway above Dunnerdale with the Scafells, Esk Pike, Bowfell and Crinkle Crags forming a magnificent backdrop.

Heading down to the old mine workings.

After another boggy interlude the track sped us easily through the old mine workings to the Walna Scar Road. This is now shut to motorised vehicles and was resurfaced about ten years ago. It's still steep though. I make it a short way before having to get off and push again but it's only for a short distance before the angle drops enough to make it rideable. Well, just about, it probably took more energy to ride than push. Even so I couldn't ride the last steep section to the col.

Cath on the last bit of the climb up Walna Scar

There was quite a breeze on the col so for once I was glad for my jacket. Cath arrived a few minutes later. As we were grabbing a bite to eat and admiring the view a mountain biker came up from the Coniston side, surprisingly he was the first person we'd seen since setting off. A bit of a chat about the state of the track on our respective descents and we were ready to roll.

The first couple of hundred metres of track was smooth and fast and I began to wonder if the tales of the trail being sanitised were true. Then it began to get rocky, not excessively so but it was obvious that the elements had been at work. As the track steepened there began a set of zig-zags and it was a case of taking a line that used the widest radius turn for each even if that meant heading through some rocky territory. A temporary respite from the hairpins only lead to a steeper section of open bedrock, fortunately there was a good run-out so it was a case of look ahead and let the bike run and do its stuff.

Cath descending Walna Scar. Grizedale Forest and Parkamoor just beyond Coniston Water.

A rock strewn channel followed by more hairpin bends (this time with attendant walkers) and the angle eased and the surface dramatically improved down to the old packhorse bridge over the outflow from Goat's Water. Below this the track surface was loose rocks again and I knew there were two "rock gates" coming up. The first was straightforward being just a simple double step that you could take at any reasonable speed. However there was a walker coming up who then stopped in the gap. "There's another cyclist coming down" I shouted to him so he promptly moved to the middle of the gap! I repeated the warning and he suddenly realised what I was saying and moved to the side just in time for Cath to come through. The second rock gate was a get off and walk but it was easy after that and a long easy descent threading our way through the walkers to Coniston.

Time for a cafe stop and some well deserved grub! It was also really warm so off with the jacket for the rest of the ride. The next mile or two was easy being on the roads round the head of the lake but having "memorised" the route description I wasn't sure just where the bridleway leading in to Grizedale forest left the road and it was just off the edge of our map! We managed to get the right one and began the climb. Pushing at first until the angle eased we took guesses at which track to take all of which proved correct and it wasn't long before we were on the ridge.

In to Grizedale Forest. Coniston Water, Coniston and the Coniston Fells behind.

Again the feeling of claustrophobia returned along with pure guesswork as to which track to take. Luckily some mountain bikers appeared and gave us directions, well "Keep going on this track to the sharp left bend then go straight ahead at the sign". About a mile later the sharp bend appears and we bear off on the old singletrack to emerge from the forest high above Coniston Water with fantastic views.

On The Park leading to Parkamoor.

The track to the old farmstead at Parkamoor was fast and not too bumpy. This must have been an amazing place to live. There's a short pull up to gain the start of the descent down to High Nibthwaite though to begin with the track traverses the fellside undulating in and out of the various small becks. "It gets rocky" says Cath and soon we come to the first of the rocky sections, somehow I manage to get a good line through this and roll out the other side. Cath had come to a halt but went back and gave it another go.

On the descent to High Nibthwaite.

The next rocky section was a walk though watching videos of this we should have taken a sneaky line off to the side, ah well, next time. More traversing of the fellside led to the longest rocky section, 100 metres at most, in three parts I got the first and third but messed the line on the middle bit. Things started to get faster and soon we were in to the bottom hairpins which began to get steeper. Before I'd chance to drop my seat I was rattling over rock steps trying not to brake and also not let the bike buck me off. Finally we are at the gate. All that's left is to follow the road and cross back over to our starting point.

Only 37Km or so, this felt like a big day out, including all the food and navigation stops we were out for about 6 3/4 hours but knowing where to go would cut quite a bit of this out, six hours is probably a reasonable time.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Peak District Wanderings

I've done quite a lot of rock climbing in the Peak District though it isn't my favourite area. In addition getting there always feels like hard work, the roads from us go cross country and it's hard to avoid large towns without even more shenanigans. I've not done a lot of biking in the area either, a few routes round Hayfield, the lower part of the Pennine Bridleway and a day around Edale. That's it.

So on the Bank Holiday Saturday a couple of weeks ago we headed down to Castleton in the Hope Valley to do some riding. Arriving in the car park just to before 10 it was surprising to see so many empty spaces (it wasn't exactly heaving when we got back either).

First up it was the old road up Mam Tor. This was shut in 1979 when the council finally gave up trying to keep it open due to the landslips continually pushing it down the hill. It's a steady climb enlivened by the traverse of the worst of the landslips. The road climb continued round to the back of Mam Tor.

There's an easy bridleway leading from the nick to the ridge line above Hollins Cross, the blast down to the cross is slowed by walker's blithely walking across the path without looking. There's a couple of descents leading down to Edale from here, actually we've used one as an ascent in the past so that one's out. Cath isn't too confident about the other. It begins by following the line of an old collapsed wall before a grassy section leads to a gate.

Descending from Hollins Cross to Edale

From here there's really only one line so you have to take whatever it gives you. There's a few drop-offs and occasional large rocks which are only just avoidable. After a sweeping left hander it becomes a lot easier and the drop down to the farm isn't too bad.

A bit of road work and Cath suddenly cuts in to a gap in the hedge, "Nearly missed it", a narrow bridleway leads round the back of a farm before opening up as a broad track heading up to the ridge. It's easy climbing before a short drop in to Jaggers Clough. We have to wait a while for a group of horse riders to pass by. It's just as well as the next climb looks steep and loose, "It goes on for a long while" says Cath. After a false start getting across the beck, clattering my shin on a pedal in the process, I start to climb.

As the gradient steepens the surface becomes looser and forward momentum slowly fades. I spy a cleaner line out to the right and I'm able to keep moving. Just as I thought that I was going to have to walk I see the angle begin to ease, a bit more effort and the worst is done. There's still a long way to the top though and it requires choosing the line well in advance. A gate gives some respite but the lane beyond is a lot easier and soon the summit at Hope Cross is gained.

Climbing up to Blackley Clough

There's several ways down from here, from right to left: the Roman road leading past Hope Cross itself and then back down in to Edale; straight on through the woods down the descent known as The Beast; left up a long steady climb before the descent past Blackley Clough, known locally as Potato Alley.

Left it is. The climb is easy, especially after what we've just done, then there's a short drop to a ford and a gate before the track traverses round the moor and begins to drop. As the gradient increases so does the size of the stones making up the bed of the track (it's called Potato Alley as that's the size of the stones but I'm sure some were the size of turnips!) Now I don't really get on with loose, rocky descents but the Peak is full of them so ... The technique is actually simply but you have to force yourself to do it: keep a good speed going and keep the weight on the front wheel.

The start of the descent from Blackley Clough

The steepest part of the descent. This is Potato Alley!

Well I'm sure that the local cognoscenti would say that I went too slowly but I got down in one piece and with just one dab so not too bad for me.

Across the A57 and another long climb up to Lockerwood Farm then another of the classic Peak descents: Gores Farm. This isn't as loose and rocky but again you have to keep moving as momentum is your friend, though I did get overtaken (at speed) by a local!

A bit of road around Derwent reservoir before our next climb up to Derwent Edge, this takes the form of a line of gritstone slabs set in to the field. They are like a ramp test slowly getting steeper the further you climb. Eventually, lungs bursting, we have to dismount about 100 metres short of the old farm above Grindle Clough. The next section after the beck is all but unrideable going uphill so it's hike a bike time until the gradient and surface roughness ease a little and we can ride to the next gate where the track leads to the open moor.

The last climb, reaching the ridgeline of Whinstone Lee Tor.

Easier riding leads to a steepening before the last wall so a bit more walking. Then the track traverses the edge just above the wall and we make good progress to Whinstone Lee Tor. From here it's a long traversing descent to Cutthroat Bridge. Normally this is boggy but the summer's dry weather is still holding out and our tyres hardly make a mark. The last hundred metres to the bridge is increasingly rocky and I have to make just one dab which I'm well pleased with. I wait a few minutes for Cath wondering where she's got to.

Dropping down to Cutthroat Bridge

Worried I work my way back up the track. No sign. "She went off down that track" say a couple of walkers. Somehow I'd managed to miss a major track junction! Pushing on I could see her heading back towards me, Oops! The descent was another Peak rock fest, just keep moving as fast as you can to keep control. The track ends suddenly and without warning on the A57 next to the Ladybower Inn. Time for a drink.

All that's left is a ramble through lanes and along old railway tracks to get back to Castleton. For a bank holiday in the Peak District we'd hardly seen anyone, with the exception of Hollins Cross we probably saw more mountain bikers than walkers. Not a big route, about 37Km but a lot of up and down and a lot of terrain that made you think.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Never Too Old To Learn

I think I must have been in my mid thirties when I first rode a mountain bike so definitely a late-comer to the sport and the techniques required. You might think that it's just riding a bike but it differs from riding on the road in that road biking is more about efficient transfer of power to the wheels and the bike set-up, body position, etc., is all aimed at that one goal whereas mountain biking is as much about weight transfer and pressure as efficiency. It's more like skiing than road biking.

I got the feeling that my ability on a mountain bike had plateaued: I could get down most descents but didn't feel "in control" if obstacles came thick and fast. Cath had been on a skills course earlier in the year and reckoned it was a day well spent. After a bit of looking around I settled on Great Rock run by Ed Oxley. As much as anything it was that the course was run at Gisburn Forest so fairly local and I knew most of the trails so it would be a case of riding them better rather than thinking about what was ahead. At my age the fewer the uncertainties when learning the better! So course (Stop Crashing - level 1) was booked.

The night before I had a sudden thought: I didn't know the meeting place or time! There are three possible locations at Gisburn, a quick email with the hope that the response would arrive before I left in the morning. In the event the response was sent before I set off but I didn't receive it in time so I checked all three spots arriving about five minutes late (I'd had to go back for my wallet about ten minutes in to my journey as well). A quick assemble of my bike, payment of the car park fee and I was good to go.

On the first section Ed checked out our positioning on the bike - we all sat too far back apparently, so we had a discussion about what we were doing and why and a demonstration of what we should be doing - in effect letting the bike pivot around us so that our centre of gravity was always above or slightly behind the bottom bracket. On to the next skill.

Trackstands. Now I've tried these before and I'm shakey like a shakey thing stood on jelly. I happened to be the guinea pig: my stance was wrong! Bum stuck out behind and bent over the bars, it was a struggle. With a firm push to get my body straighter it became easier. Working in pairs, there were eight on the course, we spent a while either practicing or acting as steadier. Most showed progress, some managing a reasonable while.

The rest of the day followed the same pattern: find a section of trail to isolate a particular skill; watch Ed demonstrate it and detail why he did things that way then take turns in trying it ourselves. Even something as basic and simple as cornering was disected and explained how to be more efficient. Ed's view was that a lot of problems people have stem from language, where people are describing the consequence of an action rather than the initiator: "get your weight back" being a good example, your weight goes back as a result of letting the bike pivot around you. I think most of us took a fall at some point - mine was a comedy 1MPH scenario, unfortunately on to solid rock - ouch! But in general we were never far out of our comfort zone.

Some people criticise skills courses saying that you can learn the skills just by riding. However in biking quite a few skills are counter-intuitive and without tips and tricks being pointed out to you, you could spend a lot of time and energy doing something or everything wrong. It's the nature of physical skills that you aren't going to perfect them in ten minutes, you need to build up muscle memory so that it becomes instinctive, second nature if you will, for some things this will take weeks or months of repeated practice. As mentioned above riding on trails is similar to skiing: you are weighting and unweighting the bike/skis to generate a better interaction with the surface beneath you; the use of momentum, balance and weighting/unweighting to smooth out the trail. Also similar is the (mis)use of language in skiing: "Bend ze knees!" isn't how you turn but is the result of pushing your weight forward and turning your hips in to the bend to initiate the turn.

Was it worth it? Well I didn't leave a better rider than at the start of the day but I now know how to become better. There's a level 2 part of the course which is run on the following day but I need a few weeks (months?) getting the current ideas working for me. 

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Bike and Hike

Well, Saturday was a first for me, I rode to the summit of my first Lakeland Fell! Actually I managed four.

With just twelve fells in Wainwright's list to do I noticed that those in the Northern Fells section had bridleways or vehicle tracks passing close to their summits but getting to the actual summits would be a little bit cheeky. Plan on!

An early start meant that I was the first car at Latrigg car park which was ideal as I didn't want to be annoying walkers by biking past them. I'd only ever been to this car park when running this leg of the Bob Graham so it was a bit odd to be starting off from here. One thing - it was bloomin' freezing! After the warm weather of the past month or two you really felt it. It was also blowing a hoolie, on with a long sleeved thermal. I wasn't sure where the path up Latrigg went - there were several wide trimmed areas through the grass but then I noticed a gravel path that had been put in for disabled access to the viewing point. Looked good to me. Five minutes later I'm on the rather non-descript summit, a quick look at the view (which is very nice) and then blast back across the grass to the car park.

There's a bridleway up Skiddaw, it's just rather steep on it's way up Jenkin Hill. I managed all of 100 metres before I reckoned it was just as easy to push. About halfway up there's a footpath that cuts off right, most people won't notice this as it's only faint, and heads up to the col to the west of Lonscale Fell. More pushing up this before I can finally ride again for the last few hundred metres to the summit. With the cloud down there's little to see so it's payback time!

Back down to the col is wide and grassy so little problem, the footpath is slightly harder as it traverses a slope so occasionally has slipped away leaving an off-camber surface, then it's on to the main track. Basically this is as fast as skill, nerves and the number of walkers allows. It's not particularly technical, well it isn't technical at all, the only real difficulty is not focussing on the loose rocks. Today there's very few walkers but a strong side wind that constantly threatens to push my front wheel to the left. Even with my cautious descending it's just four minutes to the bottom of the hill (from the summit of Lonscale Fell it was eleven minutes).  Part one done.

The next two fells were Carrock Fell and High Pike which lay in the north eastern part of the group so a drive round past Mungrisedale was needed. A quick bite to eat and then I was away. A bit of road work first since I'd parked at the wrong sharp bend in the road but not a problem. Then turn left and head up on a bridleway following an old mining track. This was right in to the wind so was quite hard work.

Even harder work was the climb up to the col: the first bit was just a steep push but the remainder should have been rideable but for the wind. After a hundred metres or so I resorted to pushing. Despite the recent rains the summit ridge was still quite firm so I made good time until I got to about two hundred metres from the summit of Carrock Fell when it became too rocky and much easier to continue on foot.

Carrock Fell is unusual in the Lake District as it's the only one composed of Gabbro and is the only one with an ancient hill fort on its summit. Today though I could hardly stand up in the wind so it was back to the bike and press on.

Now it was much harder riding as I was heading straight in to the wind. At one point as I headed towards the track contouring High Pike I was blown to a standstill, a bit of pushing required for a hundred metres or so. Riding up the path to the summit I was having to aim the bike windwards and lean in to the wind so that I had a chance of staying on the path. Once again the summit was wild and no place to hang around. There were two paths ahead, I figured the right hand one was the one I needed and so it proved.

Lovely and grassy, just worn in enough to give bite to my tyres, I had to stop once out of the wind to clean my glasses as the rain and steam meant I couldn't really see where I was going. Then it was downward to the contouring track. I knew that I had to leave this at some point to pick up the upper part of the track I'd used on the outward leg. For once it was quite obvious and after dropping over some of the old spoil heaps I was on the track.

Nowhere technical it was just a blast with the occasional slowing down for a tight corner or a section of loose stones. Without realising it I was soon on the outward leg as I began to recognise features I'd passed before. For a track that I'd thought was only slightly uphill on the outward leg it seemed rather steeper and I was going at a decent speed. Just ten minutes after leaving the summit of High Pike I was at the road (that included the stop to clear my glasses), average speed of around 22mph!

All in all an interesting experience. It's hard work getting up on to the tops when you've 12Kg of bike to push/carry but once you are up there then provided it's firm underfoot it's great going and of course the descents are just a hoot especially since you aren't putting any strain on your knees. It's just a shame that out of two and a half hours on the go there was just 20 minutes of descent.

So, another book completed. Just two books to do now with eight fells remaining, six in the Central Fells and two in the Southern.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Local Investigation

We've lived in our current house for nearly thirteen years yet there are still things just a couple of kilometres away that we've never investigated.

I'd been looking on a map at the route of a recently opened section of the Pennine Bridleway which goes quite close to us when I saw a couple of bridleways that I hadn't noticed before. It looked like they'd make a short loop, both started from the same point on one road but I've been past that point many times both in a car and on a bike and never realised there were bridleways there. So, last night, having biked back from work and with lovely skies I reckoned we should have an investigation.

There was a bit of road to get there from the house but soon we were turning down what to all intents and purposes looked like a track to a farm, no signs or any indication that there was a right of way. We decided to do the loop clockwise so headed left through a field. The track was a typical farm track of two ruts so you had to choose one or the other. Both had lots of nettles and thistles!

Eventually we got to a gate and the fun began. A really fast, well surfaced track and singletrack followed the wall downhill. It did however feel quite rough but I put that down to the speed we were going. Another gate and now the track is walled on both sides and it soon joins a larger track. Turn right and down to another gate. At this point I notice that my front fork is locked out - I'd forgotten to reset it after the road section so no wonder the track had felt rough!

Rough then smooth tarmac led down in to the neighbouring village and it was then a matter of finding the track back uphill. It turned out to be a long steady climb, it wouldn't make a good descent so we'd chosen the right direction. The bridleway leading back to our starting point didn't look that good (will have to investigate later) so we carried on the one we were currently on. This led to a house, just before this there was a gate leading on to the moor and a continuation track.

With all the dry weather this track was really pleasant and soon we had rejoined the road at the top of the hill. We could hear other cyclists and as we crested a brow we could see them heading off on what is technically a footpath, though I have seen tyre tracks on there before. We decided to follow as it would avoid a long road detour.

The group had stopped at the summit, they were effectively doing the same loop as we were but had started from the neighbouring village. Cath happened to know one of them. After a few minutes chat and spotting deer (as you do) it was time for the descent. I've run up this way and it can be boggy but now it was dry and firm and we could zoom along. All too soon we were back at the road. Ahead was a footpath that has been upgraded to bridleway so along that and up one final hill then it was back down the road to home.

So quite a good little loop to find on our doorstep. I think it will stand up to wet weather use, maybe not the boggy section on the way back up, and it is not overly technical so will do for night rides in winter. Result!

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Red Kite Central

Many centuries ago the Red Kite was a common sight in both town and country, an opportunistic scavenger rather than predator due to its light build though it can take small prey. Despite this it was classed as vermin with a price on its head and numbers fell. With sporting estates on the rise in the 18th and 19th centuries they were the subject of further persecution and by the end of the 19th century the bird was extinct in England and Scotland. Wales has probably always been the main centre of their distribution: the Welsh for Kite is "barcud" and it's a common part of the names of natural features in the same way that there are over fifty Raven Crags in the Lake District.

By the 1930s there only an estimated 20 birds left in mid Wales. In a rather bizarre twist landowners and gamekeepers realising that the bird was about to become extinct began to protect it. By the 1970s numbers had slowly risen and a genetic survey of all the known birds suggested that they were all descended from a single breeding female, a very lucky escape. In an effort to increase bloodline, numbers and spread birds were introduced from the continent so that today there are several populations around the country though mid Wales is still the heartland of its distribution.

The kite is a pretty large bird, there aren't many UK birds that are larger, a grown adult has about the same wingspan of a heron, about 1.8m, so they are quite impressive to view close up. Rhaeadr is home to the Red Kite Centre where food is put out daily for them, let's just say that if you visit and don't see a kite then you really aren't looking as they are as common as crows in the skies.

All this is by way of introducing a long weekend mountain biking in mid Wales! Despite having lived in North Wales for nine years, I'd only ever passed through on my way to Cardiff. I'd not done anything in the area: no biking, no climbing not even any walking though I've a very vague memory of visiting the Elan Valley dams as a kid on a family holiday.

Friday didn't start out too well, we had torrential rain for most of the way down and this didn't really give up until mid-afternoon. Taking advantage of this we nipped out on one of the shorter rides in the Wales MTB guidebook, the Claerwen Valley loop. For the supposed grade (easy) this was pretty tough and there were several sections where we needed to walk and hike a bike. Hopefully this wasn't a sign of things to come.

Riding towards the Claerwen dam. A few "wet" sections ahead.

Pulling up through the bracken on the first climb out of Rhaeadr.

Saturday morning dawned with yet more rain though it was forecast to clear up during the day. By about 1100 we couldn't put it off any longer so headed down in to the town of Rhaeadr to do a loop on the hills between there and the Elan Valley. By the time we'd got a mile out of town it was boiling so off with the waterproofs and in to the first climb of the day. Again this was graded blue but required a bit of walking over rock steps. After a river crossing (interesting) and a road climb there was more uphill, made interesting by the local habit of removing sign posts.

Once on the top of the hill there was a really pleasant track heading over towards the Elan reservoirs before a cut back towards an ascent graded black in the book and described as "ten minutes of pushing". Oh Dear. Three minutes of riding and about 30 seconds of pushing later and it's done. Hmm, I haven't got that much better in the space of three kilometres. The next descent was a cracker, good track interspersed with rocky steps, unfortunately over all too quickly.

Beginning the descent down Y Gurn.

What followed was twenty minutes of hike-a-bike, yep - another blue graded ascent. After a (ahem) slight detour we found the main descent of the day down to the Elan Valley. Graded black it wasn't that bad apart from a couple of short sections maybe twenty metres in total.

Descending to the Elan Valley.
A short section on the road then we followed the Elan Valley trail to gain the upper reservoir from where a long red graded climb led back on to the moor tops. Nowhere difficult, it was just a matter of keeping the pedals turning. An easy, lovely descent, a bit of road then a long ridge led back to Rhaeadr.

One of the classic pieces of single track is the Doethie Valley. One problem: it really is the middle of nowhere. Even from close by it takes over an hour to drive to the start of the ride at Llyn Brianne. There's a lot of fire road to start but then things start with a vengeance with the climb up from Soar y Mynedd. Several signs indicating that the "road"(it's an unclassified country road) is closed along with locked gates aren't encouraging.

Descending to Soar y Mynydd

There was no way I was good enough to climb the track on the bike so it's push time. Eventually the angle eases and it's back on the bike and the descent on the other side shows why it's shut with 2 metre deep gullies running for hundreds of metres. Then it's a left turn and the track down the Afon Doethie begins.

Starting down the Afon Doethie amongst the bracken

Due to us riding this later in the year the bracken was in full growth and in many points it was more akin to skiing in deep powder although a strange green snow and you just had to trust that the track was still there beneath your wheels. Some people (strange people) moan that there's boggy bits and horror of horrors, gates that mean the ride isn't that good but this is a track that happens to be rideable by bike rather than designed with bikes in mind.

At one point we lose the track completely, there's no indication in the bracken as to it's whereabouts and we eventually stumble back on line. About halfway down the valley, Cath takes a potentially nasty tumble, managing to fall at one of the few points where the enclosing bracken wouldn't cushion your fall. Proceeding at an easier pace the riding still requires attention as there's an ever present drop to the stream to the right.
There's a lot of this!
There's a short rocky section which we walk as a fall here would have interesting consequences but it's the only really difficult part of the ride. Slowly the ride becomes gentler then we are in to fields and then a farmyard. All that's left is a long steady pull back up to the reservoir. 

One of the best singletracks in the UK? I'm not sure about that but I'd like to ride it earlier in the year when the bracken isn't so high.

For our last day we headed east for a ride on our way home. To the north of New Radnor is a small group of steep sided hills - the Radnor Forest. Now mainly clear of woodland they are splendidly isolated and there's great views from the tops.

The route started with one of the steepest roads I've ever ridden, it must have been 25% for nearly a kilometre, it was a struggle to keep moving whilst keeping the front wheel on the deck. Even when the tarmac ended the grass track was still steep. You've guessed - the guidebook gave it blue!

Great views from the summit plateau.

After another steep climb that I was sure I was going to have to walk but managed not to there was a bit of forestry fire road then it was out on to the plateau. The guidebook's boggy section was nearly dry thanks to the previous dry weather then it's a great descent before another steep ascent. This was all rideable and led back on to the plateau towards the curiously named Three Riggles. 

Contouring round the Three Riggles

This was another singletrack contouring round a steep valley but considerably easier than the Afon Doethie. All that was left was the final descent which was a blast down an old cart track with the fence bounding a firing range on our left.

Starting the final descent.
So, all in all a nice little break. Some good riding and some great riding. There's a few rides  still to do and I'd like to do the Afon Doethie again without the bracken.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Le Tour de France

Well it's finally come and gone. Wow!

I'd never spectated at a Grand Tour before so didn't really know what to expect. The forecasted number of spectators was 2 million over the two opening days (the initial estimate of actual figures as I write this was 2.5 million).

Certainly for the first day's route this was going to be mostly in rural areas so the potential disruption to the normally sleepy Yorkshire Dales was going to be immense. The route itself would be shut to motor traffic from 6am on the day of the race with cyclists being stopped half an hour prior to the publicity caravan coming through a couple of hours prior to the riders. However there were also restrictions on many of the roads leading to the route. If you weren't on a bike then basically the Dales were shut.

For the Saturday, we figured that we'd try to ride as far up Wharfedale as we could, hopefully we'd get close to the summit of Kidstones (or Cote de Cray as the official site has it) which was the first categorised climb of the Tour. Originally the first day was categorised as "flat" which for those of us who ride regularly in the area was a joke. Fortunately the organisers saw sense and categorised three climbs.

Some ten thousand mad Kilnsey their temporary home.

It was a truly weird experience riding up the road from Skipton towards Grassington. Lots of small groups of spectators were already (9am) sat at the side of the road but the truly weird part was the number of cyclists all heading up the Dale like moths being drawn to a flame. At a truly random guess there were about 50 riders a minute going past any particular point. It took until we were nearly at Kettlewell before I realised just how quiet it was. We've become so accustomed to the noise of traffic that it feels truly odd for there not to be any in situations where you'd normally expect it.

Some of the early crowds on Kidstones.

We managed to get up to Kidstones and decided not to head round the last bend but found a place on the bank above the road as it crossed the slope. We could see down the road as far as the pub at Cray so would get a bit of advance warning of what was coming.

The publicity caravan on its way past.

Even after we'd arrived there was a steady stream of cyclists arriving for the next hour to ninety minutes. Every child on a bike coming up the hill received a massive roar, the atmosphere was one of genial expectation. A few Mexican waves and the publicity caravan could be seen coming up the road. This is something that you rarely see on TV coverage but is best described as an bizarre mix of super sized versions of whatever the particular franchise is selling, so you'll get a ten metre bottle of fruit juice or a massive bag of oven chips. Each vehicle has someone throwing out some relevant trinket. I picked up a key fob but there were also cycling caps, inflatable cushions, herb seeds(?) - NO! not that kind of herb!

The king of the mountains needs to go on a diet!

The breakaway going past.

Just a quiet bike ride in the countryside.

The first sign that the cyclists were on their way was a group of five helicopters coming up the Dale. About ten minutes later the breakaway came through to huge roars. Finally the TV helicopter that accompanies the peloton throughout the race could be seen some way below us. In just a couple of minutes the lead car and TV motorbike were attempting to push their way through the crowds and the peloton followed looking remarkably unruffled, none of them were even out of the saddle!
The peloton making the first climb of the tour look very easy.

And that was it. As the hubbub died down the crowd got on their bikes and attempted to ride back down the hill. Eventually we got moving, heading for one of the big screens that were laid on for people to watch the rest of the race.

And so to Sunday. Cath was a Tour Maker so I headed over to Stanbury with the Wiggans clan. After a bit of fuss getting past a rather over-eager policewoman who had decided to shut the road 2 hours early we got ourselves a roadside spot about halfway up the hill - going much further looked as if it was just going to be a big crush.
Look! This is important, you'll just have to wait.
Much of the waiting time was spent chatting to the Police officers "on duty" - "We're only here in case there's a riot" - definitely an easy shift. Lots of the Police motorcyclists were high-fiving the crowd to cheers as they went past. Perhaps one of the only times that a crowd is likely to cheer them.
You mean I've got to ride through that lot?

Once again lots of noise and pzazz as the publicity caravan went through. We could see about a kilometre of the route leading to our position so we'd get plenty of warning of the riders approaching even if we missed the helicopters. This time the lead group of five could be seen circling over Haworth before swooping overhead.

The breakaway passing through some field art.
It wasn't long before the lead riders could be seen across the way, a quick swoop across the dam and then they were steadily climbing past us. Again they looked remarkably nonchalant  on a slope I'd been straining to get up.

The breakaway coming up 

 It wasn't long before the peloton arrived, a lot slower than Saturday so you could make out individuals: Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas of Team Sky passed right by us.

Again, that was it. Once the team cars had passed by there was just the broom wagon and a few Police outriders and the road was clear.

Riding back through Haworth, Crossroads and down to Keighley was bizarre: what would normally be a fraught dance with impatient motorists was now a closed road bike fest. By chance I caught up with Cath as we were riding through the village. Finally home we watched the rest of the stage as it headed to Sheffield.

So was it worth it? Too right! To have one of the biggest sporting event pass within a couple of miles of your house doesn't happen every day. The Tour is an event as much as a bike race and even as a Lancastrian I have to say that Yorkshire got it right. I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

On the Other Side

Regular readers will no doubt have noticed that I've ridden quite a few sportives (timed road rides) over the last few years, this weekend was different - we were the organising club. With the Tour de France coming through Skipton in just five weeks' time there was a desire to have a local event to tie in with it.

Thus the local council and club put together a sportive and recreational ride covering part of the route that Le Tour will take on its first day. Several months of planning, designing and ordering stationary, sorting out the feed stations and supplies for those, getting sponsors on board and many more tasks followed. The numbers signing up for the rides steadily but slowly mounted and with a couple of weeks to go we had a projected entry of around 750. Then things went mad and there was a rush of late entries and we had to limit numbers to 900.

Saturday morning and a few of us turned up to move materials from the council offices up to the event centre at the Auction Mart. With 900 riders plus family members you need quite a large area to cope. The mart also has a cafe so we had on-site catering thrown in. A morning of work and we'd got the basics sorted out: food for the feed stations split up; signs sorted out and put up around the routes; barriers in place. The afternoon shift were getting all 900 envelopes filled with timing chip, food slip and bike number, then sorting them in to alphabetical order ready for the riders to pick up in the morning.

Sunday morning and it's a 5am start! Cath was one of the registration team so needed to get away early whilst I had been assigned two roles: one as part of the start team for the sportive and of "sweeper" also for the sportive ride so didn't need to be there quite so early but even so it was just after 6am when I got on site. The weather looked like it was going to be a scorcher.

We hadn't even got the inflatable start banner up before the first of the riders was on the start line! Come 0800 and we had a big bunch of riders waiting to go. Rather than let everyone go at once and block the roads we were letting groups of 20 or so go every two minutes and it was my job to organise this and check that people had got their numbers on their bikes and timing chips on their helmets - I wasn't being too strict on it being exactly twenty: if there was a group obviously riding together then I let fewer or more through as was expedient. By 0840 just about the whole field had set off so any turning up could just go once they'd had their starter briefing about the ride.

There were three cut-off points for the sportive ride: top of Kidstones(1100), Ribblehead(1400) and Settle(1500) with the timing system at the finish being taken down at 1700. All I had to do (hopefully) was ride until I came across the back markers and ride with them, if they hadn't reached the locations by the cut-off times then I'd to ask them to retire. Due to setting off a little late (40 minutes!) I was ten minutes late in getting to Kidstones where there was a St John's ambulance - the descent from here was the trickiest part of the course, to be told that there'd been an accident, one of the early riders had broken his shoulder.

All this had happened some time earlier so it was time for me to press on and get to the first food stop at Aysgarth. The last rider had left just five minutes or so before I'd arrived so I'd plenty of time to grab something to drink and eat as I'd got over two hours to get to the next cut-off. Despite us setting the riders off as spread out as possible they'd pretty much arrived at this food stop en-masse so they'd been rushed off their feet for about half an hour.

I always find the road up Wensleydale a bit of a drag and today was no exception, there was also a slight headwind so it was a case of plodding along. The road out of Hawes had just been covered in chippings, "road dressing" being the correct term, and it was hard work keeping traction on the initial steep climb. Halfway up Widdale I caught the back marker up, a lady on a mountain bike. So it's slow down and have a chat encouraging her along.

She'd never ridden more than 40 miles before and she'd got a sore bum! But she was still pushing on. At the top of the climb was another St John's ambulance so a chat with them to let them know I was the sweeper and then it was catch-up on the descent to Ribblehead. We got to Ribblehead with half an hour to spare before the cut-off, the lady had though about retiring there but decided to press on to the food stop at Horton.

By the time we get to Horton she's decided that she'll abandon there and get the train back. The next back marker is also there getting stocked up for the last section. Again I give him a bit of time to get going as I only have to be in Settle by 3pm and it only takes twenty minutes or so to ride. The Horton food stop was supplied by the village and was proper sandwiches, cakes, etc rather than gels and bars. The ladies serving up the food were very appreciative of all the riders and said they'd all been polite and pleasant which is really good to hear.

With the food stop tidying up it was time to get down to Settle. I got there with ten minutes to spare and no sign of the back marker. After a call to event HQ to let them know I'd be on my way it was just the small matter of High Lane. Now the road signs say this is 16% but it's actually over 20% for the first part up out of town and is a real grind (it's harder than the climb out of Langcliffe which is in the 100 top climbs book). It was here that I saw the only abandoned gel wrapper on the entire route, that's one piece of litter from nearly 500 riders.

I caught the back marker up at the top of the steep bit so it was then a case of riding back to the finish at his pace. On the flat he wasn't that slow but any slight uphill was a bit of work. We got to the finish with half an hour to spare and with the rest of the crew cheering us in. Unfortunately we weren't the last home as one rider had taken a wrong turn in Hetton and we'd leap-frogged her in getting to Rylstone, luckily she was a local so knew her way back.

All in all a long day out. Judging from the comments on Twitter (search for LPGD2014) everyone taking part really enjoyed it, we couldn't have asked for better weather

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

New bike

I'd never tried a mountain bike with either 650b or 29inch wheels so wanted to try two bikes that other than the wheel size were as similar as possible. I've been thinking about getting a hardtail for a while, partly to use to get in to remote Munros and partly to have something much simpler to ride than a full suspension MTB.

After some prevaricating (posh word for faffing about) a few weeks ago I arranged to ride a couple of demo bikes at Dales Bike Centre in Swaledale. This was actually the same weekend as we did the Bowderdale loop in the Howgills. We did a couple of rides, one on each wheel size, one up Harkerside and one round Low Moor. One bike that I didn't ride out on the trails but did have a play on in the yard was a Cotic Solaris it was actually Stuart's,  the shop owner's own bike. I didn't see much difference if any between the handling of the 650b wheeled bike and my current bike - it happened that the 650b was a full suss bike rather than a hardtail.

Decision made! It was going to be a 29er. But which one? Two weeks ago it was a wet Saturday so I headed back up to place an order. I was after a simple bike and one of the simpler features I was after was a 1x10 drivetrain, this removes the front derailleur mechanism for a single chainring but has a wider range cassette. I also wanted tubeless tyres and a dropper seat post.

There was really only one frame in the running - the Cotic Solaris, somehow it just felt right. After some discussion we settled on me being suitable for a medium frame, then it was on to all the bits that a bike needs, like wheels and handlebars. Just the matter then of paying a deposit and waiting for the build.

This weekend it was time to pick up the bike. As it happened it was another wet Saturday. Some final fitting out (and for Stuart to take shots of it) and it was time for a ride.

I'd asked for a Hope 40 trex to extend the cassette range even more but even with this I ran out of puff near the top of Fremington Edge. There was a headwind though :-) Once on the moor top it was horizontal rain for the descent to Hurst and the long steady pull up to the top of the descent from Fell Top to Storthwaite Hall. The last time I'd done this (on a full suspension bike) I'd had to walk a couple of sections of rock steps. This time no such problem - it was an absolute hoot blasting down, the only thing slowing me down was not knowing the best lines, oh and the gate halfway down. Rather than head back on the road to Reeth I did the Low Moor loop again as the off-road bit began only about a kilometre from where I'd hit the road at Langthwaite.

Again it was just a blast, the hardest part for me was knowing when to drop the seat as I'd get in to a technical section with the seat up and be concentrating on getting through the difficulties. This will come though.

Back at the shop, it was time to pay. The other staff said that Stuart was lusting after it and was considering converting his own Solaris to 1x10. There's still a little bit of work to do on it as the rear tyre isn't the one specified as there don't seem to be any of that particular model in the country at the moment. I'll get that sorted out when I go back and get the first service done.

So fun time. Cath wanted to do a bit of riding on the Bank Holiday so we decided to head over early to Staveley and do some riding round there. It was before 9am when we got there and there were only a few cars in the park, other mountain bikers by the looks of things. Our planned route was over the Green Quarter to Longsleddale then back via the track up from Sadgill and down to Kentmere before climbing over Garburn Pass and sussing a way back from Troutbeck.

We'd set off on something similar to this last December but the track over to Longsleddale was sheet ice so we'd cut it short. Everything was reasonably dry this time though and good flowing track with the occasional technical section. Slowly the speed picked up as the gradient changed to being generally downhill. Once through a gate it became very steep and fast and increasingly loose and rocky before arriving at a farm. Down the track to the road and up the valley.

Descending to Longsleddale

We got the wrong bridleway leading out of the valley so the first half was a definite push but we rejoined the route at about the point where the angle eased so the rest was mostly rideable if a little hard work. The descend down to Kentmere was fast and only interrupted by a couple of gates. Rather than return to the village by the road we dropped down to the lane used by the fell race which was much more pleasant.

Dropping back down to Kentmere, Garburn Pass visible on the hillside opposite.

Then it was time for Garburn Pass. The lower section is definitely rideable but it gets increasingly rocky and loose, this happens at about the same time as the gradient steepens so unless you are good at track stands and hopping your way up it's hike-a-bike time pretty much all the way to the top. The descent down the other side used to be reasonably technical but it's been "managed" presumably to stop erosion so now it's just a speed blast slowing down to avoid spraying walkers with stones from your wheels.

The lower, easy, part of Garburn Pass

At the top of Garburn Pass

All too soon we are on the road heading towards Ings. Cath checks her GPS and figures out that there's a bridleway leading back on to the common above High House. This turned out to be lovely flowing hard packed track, a few small climbs here and there but apart from the few gates there was little to slow you down.

The ford at the top of the final descent.

Finally after a ford across a beck it was time for the last descent. Known as the Three Rivers (we'd just forded the top one) we'd done it back in December when it was a bit wet. No excuses this time though and we got down in one go, again last time I'd had to walk one or two short sections.

Supposedly Garburn Pass is a classic of the Lakes but I felt it was the most disappointing part of our entire ride, possibly enjoyable on a full downhill rig going west to east, but otherwise it's a push followed by a rather boring wide track. A full set of shots here.

I suppose that the seven years of development in the mountain bike world since I got my last bike show through but it may also just be a better bike. It may be the bigger wheels or that the bike fits me better but I'll go for stuff and I'm far more confident about getting down technical stuff on this bike than I was on the old one. I think the gearing of 30T on the front and 11- 40 on the back is just about right for me. By the time I can't push the dinner plate of the Hope 40T I'm just about ready to push anyway and by the time I'm spinning out on the 11T I'm going fast enough that I want to freewheel. The dropper seatpost makes a big difference in being able to adjust things on the fly.

Overall the new bike is in Spinal Tap territory, the grin factor goes up to ELEVEN!!