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!!

Friday, 16 May 2014


I seem to have dropped my mileage somewhat over the last month. This is partly due to the weather but also because my weekend rides have been mountain biking which tend to be shorter in distance if not time. I have been commuting to work though which is 13 miles each way, quite easy to build up some base mileage.

However last week added another reason. I was riding home from work along the canal when an unlatched gate swung in to my path. I was only a bike length or so away from the gate and had no chance to stop and hit it end on. The bike impaled itself on the gate whilst I took an early bath. I remember thinking either just before or as I was entering the water "It's not very deep!". The bottom of the canal had a few rocks so I got a few bruises but since I hadn't made contact with the tow path surface I'd no gravel rash.

When I got out of the canal my bike was still entangled in the gate. The handlebars were crumpled on the left side and the rear brake lever was at a funny angle. A quick test and the rear wheel didn't move so I loosened the back brake off and tried again, still no movement. More loosening and still the bike wouldn't roll, looking round somehow I'd missed the rather buckled front wheel! There was no way it was rideable.

It was only when ringing Cath that I noticed blood dripping (I wonder if iPhones have a blood sensor as well as a moisture sensor?), I'd managed to bash my chin on the rocks in the canal. It's the nature of things like this that a lot of the niggles take time to appear, especially when you are older, and some of the sprains are still making themselves felt several days later.

The initial pain points are getting better (chin excepted) and the bike is at the doctor's - fortunately I've a spare front wheel for this bike but I'll need to rebuild the one that took the impact, hopefully the frame hasn't been damaged and it's just the handlebars that need replacing.

Was speed a factor? In this instance, no, I checked my GPS trace on Strava (useful for something other than willy waving for once) and at the point of impact I was doing 20Kmh (12mph) which is hardly speeding. I'd just slowed down to pass a pedestrian, who incidentally completely ignored me, not even asking if I was OK.

Hopefully my bike will be back in the next day or two and I'll get back commuting. Got a Munro compleation weekend coming up - not me I hasten to add, I've got 230 to go.

Sunday, 11 May 2014


Just about catching up with the backlog. As mentioned in the last post an aim for the bank holiday weekend was the Bowderdale circuit in the Howgills . It is reckoned to be one of, if not, the best pieces of singletrack in England (note that is is England, not the UK as Scotland has several contenders for this crown).

We'd thought of doing this on the Sunday but spent that day trying out demo bikes with the new (to mountain biking) wheel sizes as I'd never ridden any of them. Suffice to say that a 29er hardtail is looking increasingly attractive - I didn't see much difference between 650b and 26inch to justify the different wheel size. As it turned out we got the better weather by delaying things till the Monday.

No matter how you look at it, you have to get to the summit of the highest point in the Howgills, The Calf at 676 metres. The Howgills are fairly unusual in that there are a number of bridleways leading across them and to summits. The first of these is Winder and the route up this is a beast. It begins with a stony track leading directly uphill to the open fell, I managed about two-thirds of this before running out of steam. From the fell gate (the last one for some twelve kilometres) onwards the way was grassy but steep. It was fairly dry after the recent dry spell but a steep section near the top saw a bit of wheelspin so it was a push for that bit and for another short steep section just before the summit.

Near the top of the long climb to the summit of Winder

It was a then a grassy blast down to the col between Winder and Arant Haw before another long climb, fortunately this was at an easier angle so was all rideable. The track then turned rocky and dropped down to the col before Calders, the climb up this was definitely push mode being both loose and steep. From the top of Calders to the summit of The Calf is a good stony track and apart from a short battle with some severe side wind was OK.

On the rocky track between Arant Haw and Calders.

There were a couple of mountain bikers on the summit but with the wind it was no place to hang around so we headed off across the plateau. As the gradient began to increase, I stopped to drop my seat - if this was to be technical then I wanted to have more control and movement options. Cath had no such worries having a dropper seat-post.

The track cuts across a steep hillside and in places you really don't want to fall off as you'd slide a long way. The upper section is perhaps the most sustained in terms of difficulty, there are short technical sections lower down, but with a good choice of line and avoiding the deepest channels it's all rideable, even for an old wimp like me. Cath had her shin whacked by one of her pedals so since we were out of the wind we had a quick stop for something to eat and to let the ouch factor subside. Then it was onwards and downwards.

On the initial drop in to the head of Bowderdale.

The next couple of kilometres of track could be seen ahead, hugging the fellside, often just above the beck in the valley bottom. Mostly it was steady riding whilst trying to avoid pedal strike which might send you tubling down the bank, occasionally there would be a rockier section to slow things down. The only really technical parts were where small becks crossed the track and there'd be a small re-entrant to swing in and out of, since these came at you pretty quickly they'd need the odd dab or two or maybe a dismount if you hadn't carried any momentum.

As the valley swung round there was yet more of the same streching out ahead. There were some damp sections but nothing too awkward and occasionally the track had completely washed out for a metre or two so a quick carry was needed. Finally the valley opened out and the track began to climb slightly getting easier as it did so. A short grassy downhill section and we reached the fell gate after seven kilometres of pretty intense riding.

In the middle section of Bowderdale

The next section through Weasdale and Ravenstonedale is a bit of an anti-climax being either fields or tarmac but there's no real alternative then it was a matter of finding the road leading back to Adamthwaite. Unfortunately the wind was now fully in our faces and it was hard work gaining the road's high point.

There's actually three bridleways leading from here towards Cautley but the recommended one heads towards Murthwaite then Narthwaite (all three rejoin at this farm) via some technical work through the woods at the bottom of the hill. The track to Cautley was easier and eventually lead towards the fall before cutting across the river via a narrow bridge which is just rideable if you have narrow bars.

Heading towards Cautley Spout

The bridleway from here to Fawcett Bank is a milder version of the track down Bowderdale, but with a lot of gates. We were both a little tired by now and eventually it showed with Cath taking a tumble from a section that earlier in the day she'd have had no problem with. A few bruises and damaged ego was the result.

Eventually the track gave way to tarmac and the Sedbergh town sign appeared. Bikes stowed in the car, it was time for some cake!

The best singletrack in England? I don't know about that not having done them all but it is certainly very very good, maybe some of the Lakes circuits are better. You need to be fit though as there's seven kilometres of it, and that's without considering the climb to get there. Definitely worth doing. By conincidence, Mountain Bike Rider magazine has a piece this month on long sections of singletrack and this ride is the top one.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

I seem to be running behind a bit with what I've been up to. This blog is about a mountain bike ride that I'd read about a while ago on UK Climbing but hadn't got round to doing it.

Rather than go S to N we decided to get the train to Garsdale and ride back home. Slightly more committing in that you can't decide to cut the journey short so easily. In order to get back home on bridleways we had a different route planned once we got to Horton in Ribblesdale heading via Mastiles Lane, Airton and Gargrave. We actually only decided to head out at about 9:30 on Good Friday and had missed the early train so had to get the 11:20 which meant that we only got to Garsdale after midday. Good planning!

The day felt like the first day of spring, actually it was pretty hot (we forgot sunscreen - oops!), and with recent dry weather the trails were drier than I expected. It was only going through fords where we got wet.

An unfortunate side effect of setting off from Garsdale is that the first bit is climbing the Coal Road. This is one of the steepest roads in the Dales (it's actually steeper coming up from the Dent side) so was quite a shock to the system. I'd done it before on the Etape du Dales but it was Cath's first time on it. Once at the summit the route leaves the tarmac and head off on a track that contours round the side of Great Knoutberry Hill, it's not flat but there are no real climbs on it. Some great views though. Eventually the track drops down to the head of Arten Gill before a short steep pull up on to Wold Fell. The descent from here to the road is long and fast.

On the bridleway above Dent station

The next bit from Newby Head to Cam High Road was new to both of us. It's a long steady climb with one short steep bit. At times you feel like you are heading in the wrong direction but eventually we reached the road head at the top. This was the highest point of the ride. From here it is pretty much all downhill to Horton, the first bit follows the old Roman Road before cutting off at Cam End to head towards Ling Gill. Just after here at Old Ing, the official route goes down to the Ribble to cross that by a new bridge before heading over Sulber Nick. We cut eastwards to join the track over from Oughtershaw. A bit of up and down then it was a long blast in to Horton, though the section with large rocks was somewhat slower. Time for a cafe break.

Descending the Cam Road, Ribblehead viaduct ahead

After a bit of road from Horton to Helwith Bridge it was back on to bridleways and a big climb up Moor Head Lane. A little loose but all rideable if you chose your line. The only way from here to Mastiles is on the road which begins with a steep descent in to and climb back out of Tongue Gill. We were both tiring at this point having been in the sun for most of the afternoon. Mastiles is much pleasanter these days now that off-roaders have been restricted from (mis)using it, apart from the crossing of Goredale Beck even all of this was dry.

The climb up from Helwith Bridge.

There's a cut through to Lee Gate farm though we had to stop to disentangle a ewe from the wire fence - she'd got really stuck with each horn through two different squares. The climb up to Weets Top was the last hard climb of the day (well off-road) then we just had a long blast down in to Calton. I'd never been down this track having always come up it, the top bit is good fun though.

A little more road to get to Airton then bridleway down to Bell Busk and then over to Gargrave. By now we were both pretty tired so rather than our original plan of going round by a longer route on the canal bank to get to Elslack we took the road and then headed up hill and home.

Reaching Weets Top

Well worth doing, especially if you get such good weather as we had. There's the section north to Kirkby Stephen to do now:-) There's a full set of images on my website. Next up is what is meant to be the best singletrack in England - Bowderdale in the Howgills.