Monday, 5 June 2017

Cat and Fiddle, better late than never

Its taken a while to get this ride written up and the video sorted. Both my work and home life have kept me pretty busy recently and I guess I've struggled with the energy and focus to get it all sorted.

A few years ago when ticking off some of the climbs in the Peak District and the North West I tried to ride the Cat and Fiddle. It was the middle of the week and late in the morning as I drove from Buxton to the Cat and Fiddle pub and the weather was appalling. It was over cast and astonishingly windy. As I pulled into the pub car park I struggled to open the car door and all I could see was a seemingly endless stream of lorries thundering along the road. I pretty much decided then and there that riding the Cat and Fiddle that particular day was a no no and that moving on to ride Swiss Hill was a better plan. I did stop for lunch in the pub first though.

Of course, I still had to ride the Cat and Fiddle at some point and I reasoned that because of its location and length, and traffic levels, I would be better served doing it as part of an overnight trip; drive up on a Saturday, ride it first thing on the Sunday and then drive home again. Simple, right?

On the 18th March I drove up to Macclesfield ahead of riding the Cat and Fiddle. My aborted attempt a few years ago wasn't entirely a waste of time as I found out at the time that there is a Travelodge at the base of the climb. I was a bit disappointed to find out that the annual fair was in town and that the car park in front of the hotel was full of brightly lit, noisy spinning fair ground rides with crowds of local chavs getting drunk and nauseous. Thankfully everything was quiet by 10pm as I had feared I wouldn't get any sleep.

Cycling nerds can insert their own jokes about well known Italian bike brands and 
furniture warehouses

Because I was several floors up and there were so many people wandering the streets of Macclesfield that night I was reluctant to keep my bike in the car and so took it into my room. Nothing unusual there but come 6.30am the next morning when I was ready to leave and tackle the climb I couldn't resist going for a quick spin along the 4th floor corridor. Lets face it, I've spent enough time in hotels with nothing but a bike for company that it was bound to happen at some point and besides it was genuinely the quickest way to the lift. I'm thinking of a companion series of hotel bike rides to complement my remaining 100 climbs efforts; Moutain bike in a Premier Inn anyone? Fat bike in a Best Western? The possibilities are endless.

We all knew this was going to happen eventually...

The first part of the ride up the Cat and Fiddle isn't as bad as it looks, more of a long gentle drag out of the edge of town. I started off at an easy (slow) pace as I knew it would be a long climb and I couldn't see much of the top of the moors from my travehovel room window because of low cloud. I figured it was best to take a measured approach and leave something in the tank. It soon became clear to me that taking it easy was going to be necessary because despite the overcast morning I was starting to overheat pretty rapidly. My shades steamed up and I was soon unzipping everything I could get away with. On such a long climb its easy for the temperature to rise, especially if you are tapping away at a steady but slow pace like I was.

It isn't every day you get a hotel room with a view of the next days climb

About halfway up the climb the temperature started to drop as I slowly moved away from the suburbs and into the more rural sections of the road. The more remote things started to feel the chillier it got and the stronger the wind became. The gradient on this climb never becomes too taxing and once you get to the half way point you also start to encounter the odd down hill section which offers a bit of relief from the constant uphill efforts. Unfortunately the wind also started to pick up around this point and the downhills weren't as much of an enjoyable coast as they could be. In fact it got much colder and windier and the final big ramp up to the summit became a bit of a slog as I turned a corner and got hit full in the face by a vicious cross wind. The visibility also took a major downward turn with low cloud sweeping across the road. Even though the pub that marks the summit wasn't far away I had to lean into the wind to make it there. The pub is shut these days but seeing as how on both occasions I've been there you would have needed beer glasses made of solid lead to stop them flying across the beer garden its perhaps not that surprising. There was a group of local club cyclists catching their breath in the car park when I got there. They had passed me on the way up and I'm not sure who was the daftest; them for continuing across the top of the hills in the poor visibility and high winds or me for trying to make my way back down to Macclesfield with a biting cross wind.

After a quick stop to catch my breath it was time to venture out into the growing murk and head, seemingly sideways back down to the bottom. The first couple of miles heading back down involved a lot of leaning at crazy angles into the wind whilst trying to navigate fast down hill corners. It wasn't a relaxing coast back down the Macclesfield and by the time I got back to the Travelshack I was knackered and cold. I had hoped for a triumphant downhill sweep back to the hotel but instead had a nervy wind blasted tooth loosening clatter back down to the bottom. Once at the bottom I did decide to put my bike back in the car though rather than taking it for a farewell spin around the hotel reception; it was a bit dirty by then.

On the whole I really like the Cat and Fiddle. 6am on a cold Sunday morning in March probably isn't the best time to ride it but I love the way the climb takes you from the middle of Macclesfield, past the suburbs and into the wilds of the moors above. You get a real feeling of going on a journey with this ride instead of just grinding your way up to the top of a wind blasted peak. Its a climb I'd like to do again, a bit faster and in better weather, but this ride will have to do for now. Its certainly one I'd recommend. I will be back.

Oh yes, I'm off the North Eastery shortly. I've got five climbs and well over 1200 miles to try and knock out in 3 days. Good job I enjoy this sort of thing.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Nick of Pendle

I did this ride in October last year on the same morning as I rode up The Rake. Not sure why it has taken me so long to do this write up. After tackling the Rake I bought some food for the drive back home and then programmed Sabden into my Sat Nav. It only took about 20 minutes to get there and it was pleasing to see the built up urban sprawl and urban motorways around Ramsbottom turn to a softer more rural setting.

As you drop down into Sabden at one side of the valley you see the Nick of Pendle making its way up the other side of the valley. It looks pretty fearsome from a distance but it didn't prove to be quite so savage up close and personal. I parked up at the top and made my way downhill with my highspeed down hill coasting having to make do as a warmup. On a cold day in October I perhaps unsurprisingly started the hill stone cold and took it gentle to start with.

Near the top of the climb. A rare bend in the road.

The first part of the hill is dead straight and there are a lot parked cars to deal with. I wouldn't recommend trying this climb during a busy part of the day as the road up it is a major traffic route. My climb was in fact interupted by a couple of motorists arguing about who had right of way. It didn't last long and didn't result in any violence so I was on my way fairly quickly. Sadly that was the only really exciting part about the climb. It isn't particularly rewarding to climb. 

Once you leave the outskirts of Sabden it gets more open and the gradient eases,which it nice, but this climb didn't really enthuse me to try my best; its just a ride up a relatively straight bit of road and as a result I got a bit bored and backed off. I very slowly spun my way up to the top, tried to take in the view on what was a bit of grey day, got in the car and went home.

I even found the summit a little underwhelming.

I can imagine having the Nick of Pendle right on your doorstep would be great for training and it must have some dedicated fans but I was a bit unmoved by the whole thing. Ah well, another hill ticked off the list and you won't have to wait too long before you get to read my write up of the Cat and Fiddle 'cos I've just ridden it and its a great bit of road to tackle. Watch this space.

Friday, 18 November 2016

The Rake

My first 100 climbs focussed trip for a couple of years had to have a statement climb in it, you know; one of those climbs that is well known for its fierceness. I wasn't too sure if I would have the legs for it but The Rake in Ramsbottom seemed a safe bet. It has been used in the past as a national hill climb course and is famed for having a very long handrail bolted to the wall that borders the steepest section of road so that knackered walkers have something with which to pull themselves uphill. Hopefully I wouldn't find myself in a position where I need it.

After a rubbish nights sleep in a Travelshack it was only a 15 minute drive to Ramsbottom. The town itself didn't really leave much of an impression apart from seeming very busy, even though it was pretty early on a Saturday morning. It seems a prosperous little town but a bit scruffy. The parking was at least free which is always a welcome bonus. Coming from North Devon where the cost of parking can sometimes be more than the value of your shopping I made doubly sure by asking a confused looking parking warden that the car park I was using was indeed free.

Anyway, once parked up it was time to see if I could still get into the groove and get the bike, the cameras and myself set up and ready to go in a short space of time. I guess I must have some sort of latent muscle memory because within about 5 minutes I was rattling across some cobbles towards the start of the climb with no idea of how I managed to be on the bike and moving forwards.

The Rake is kind of in three parts. The first section takes you up a straight bit of road to the pub which sits on a left hand uphill bend. The pub is a well known spectator spot when the hill is being raced up. This first section is steep but not too difficult. It was a bit hard to get my cold legs turning over but I was pretty pleased with how it went. Once past the pub (thankfully there were no beer drinkers to heckle me at 8am in the morning) the gradient eased off a bit. I wasn't able to coax any more speed out of my legs but it was a chance to catch my breath before the final steepest part of the climb.

All the best climbs have their own warning signs

I was surprised at how busy the climb was, both in terms of parking and the traffic. Taking on the climb later in the day could have resulted in a few holdups. After a brief bit of spinning on the easier middle section the final turn off up The Rake proper came into view along with a couple of signs displaying the 25% gradient sign and a warning not to tackle the road in snow as you turn right into Rawsons Rake. Adjusting to the gradient took my breath away at first but if I'm being totally honest it didn't feel like a proper 25% slope. I've ridden plenty of them by now and this one didn't seem too bad. I'd like to think I'm fitter and wiser as a cyclist and so better able to cope with the steep stuff but in truth I think the climb is only 25% for a short section past the initial warning signs. Thats not to say it was easy; I managed to winch myself up the final section but only at a slow pace but, I still don't think it is as fearsome a gradient as the signs suggest. I didn't even really notice the hand rail until I was nearing the top and not once did I feel the need to grab hold of it

Once the top of the hill appeared the slope eased very quickly and it all felt like a bit of an anticlimax. It all seemed to be over very quickly. The ride back down was at least fun but I didn't really feel like I had taken on a great adversary and escaped with only a few minor scrapes. It was just a bit steep at the top and then over. Maybe I'm being more critical these days.

After packing the bike away it was off to Sabden to ride the Nick of Pendle which proved to be a more entertaining ride with a bit of random road rage thrown in. More on that to come.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Back In The Saddle

Its happened; after a year or so of failing to find the time to ride my bike, let alone complete my quest to ride all of the hundred greatest cycling climbs, I finally managed to bump start my efforts back into life.

After a Friday afternoon spent stuck in traffic (I'm convinced our motorway network is fundamentally broken) I found myself in the not exactly inspiring Chadderton on the outskirts of Oldham. After spending six hours in the car I was pretty knackered (I am out of practice afterall) but I had the comfort of a Travelshack and a cheap burger from a dodgy local takeaway to look forward to before riding two climbs the following day.

Like every Travelshack I've ever stayed in I had an appalling nights sleep. Why do they always crank the heating up to blast furnace levels? Surely the staff should know that if you walk into a room and your eyeballs instantly dry up the heating is probably on too high. Despite turning the heating in the room completely off I still woke up feeling drier than a mummies armpit the next morning. The ferocity of the heating was matched only by the volume of the police cars that seem to patrol the area in packs, at high speed, with their sirens on. I can only assume Oldham was on fire, or being invaded by aliens judging from the level of frenzied police activity. Maybe it was just a normal Friday night in Oldham. I didn't intend to find out; I had a nights sleep to try and salvage.

You know you're on a cycling trip when this is the view from bed...

The next morning I was up before it was light and heading to Ramsbottom to ride the infamous climb called The Rake. There will be a more detailed update complete with my legendary bad camera work to follow so I won't go into too much depth here apart from saying that I managed to complete the climb and it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Ramsbottom didn't inspire me all that much though. Its a town that seems to be completely surrounded by urban motorways and the whole area struck me as pretty grim.

The Rake was followed by a short drive along yet more grim stretches of motorway to the more rural setting of Sabden where I got to ride the Nick of Pendle. Not viewed as being as tough a climb as The Rake it still looked pretty fearsome, especially when viewed from the road that heads into Sabden across the other side of the valley, but once again I didn't find it too bad to ride. Sure, I was never going to set a fast time but I'm fairly happy with my latest efforts; they bode well for my more concentrated efforts to tick off the remaining 19 climbs (yes, I'm slowly getting there) next year. My recent training seems have been worthwhile and I actually have some vestige of form to develop over the winter months.

I still have a few more summits to aim for but the weekend was encouraging

I have the hell of video editing to reacquaint myself with but hopefully in a week or so I should have the videos completed and up on the site. Don't worry, despite me being happy with my riding they will still come complete with their normal sound track of me wheezing as the scenery wobbles past very slowly. Watch this space.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

The Revenant

Ok ok, I'm not quite back from the dead but it feels like this blog is.

It finally had to happen; I'm back in the hill climbing game. Well I say game, I'm about to start hurting myself in public, which in the minds of many non-cyclists would count as self harming, but I'm strangely looking forward to it.

I suppose I should explain about the vast expanse of time that has passed between this and my last blog post. I was working for myself and quite frankly that took up all of my time and money. If cycling is an obsession self employment leads to an even more all consuming one. Quite simply I had no room for anything other than work, and finding work. Cycling, whilst still a passion of mine, had to take a back seat and any spare time was eaten up by work. After two years of self employment I was starting to realise that without taking huge financial risks I would face real problems in growing my business to a point where I could have a decent life outside of work again. I was good at what I did but struggling to get the big break through I felt I needed. Plus, my social life, my hobbies and everything else that was important to me was being shoved ever further into the back ground.

At the start of 2016 I made the decision to seek out full time employment again. I've learned a hell of a lot by working for myself and don't regret any of the time spent trying to build my own business but that first free weekend when I started a new job working for somebody else, when I had no work commitments and all the time I wanted to ride my bike...boy was that ever sweet. Suffice to say I've found another job and I'm working hard to get my cycling back on track, if I ever was on track in the first place. 

One thing I need to tackle is the 21 remaining hill climbs. I dusted off the little black book of pain the other day and vowed to never let it get dusty again. I've built a new bike and have planned a trip away to bag at least a couple of climbs before the year is out. I don't intend to try and complete the remaining climbs this year; autumn is too close for that as well as the prospect of appalling weather in the hills, but I feel I do need to kick things off and test my form ahead of an all out effort early next year. Watch this space for news on the climbs I decide to tackle.

New approach, new bike. Sort of.

About a year and a half ago I bought a cheap frame and fork from Planet X. I liked the idea of a lightish road frame with decent tyre clearances and disc brake compatibility. What I ended up buying was a London Road frameset from a production run that has achieved notoriety for poor tolerances and build quality. My frame certainly ain't too pretty up close but I decided to persevere with it. My plan was to finally call time on my beloved Surly Karate Monkey frame and use its parts on the new frame. It would make for a cheap and quick build. 

           Yep, thats apparently a bottom bracket thread...brute force won out in the end

Well, it was a cheap build but a wonky bottom bracket thread and seat tube like a clowns pocket made for a fair bit of swearing during the process. I'm still working to resolve the seat tube issues but the speed and responsiveness of the frame makes up for it. I'm not intending to use this bike for the 100 climbs. My faithful old Uncle John is still in my mind the best tool for the job but the London Road is growing on me. I even like climbing the steep stuff with flat handle bars. Time will tell if it ever gets to be ridden very slowly up a steep hill somewhere in the North of England but with a few tweaks it will make a good spare/ standby bike.

Over exposure hides the cheapness

My hill climbing efforts will restart this month with The Rake and Nick of Pendle being the climbs I've decided to test the water with. As ever I'm under prepared and probably not in the right form but what the hell, I've got to get going somehow. Now, where did I leave my charger for the helmet cam?  

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Normal service will be resumed shortly

Wow, has it really been that long since my last post? More importantly has it really been that long since I last rode up a steep hill festooned with tiny video cameras?

Sadly it has; the reality of being self employed is that I haven't had the time or money to to get out into the wilds of the UK and finish off the remaining 21 climbs...yet. The business has been growing but my bank balance hasn't been and my diary has been even more squeezed by I'm working on bagging a few more climbs very soon. Its too early to say just when I'll be doing and what climbs they will be but rest assured I'm trying to make it happen before the summer. I have been out training, although not as much as I would like but the power is still there. Just need to work on the fitness but then when have I not had to?

Keep tuned folks; very soon there will be more footage of the British countryside rolling slowly past to a soundtrack of wheezing and occasional swearing.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

The Karate Monkey Must Die

Yep, its true. The time has come for me to dismantle my Karate Monkey. It has been a great bike and very adaptable. It has had every set up option under the sun thrown at it since 2010 going from a skinny tyre road bike with flat bars and V brakes to a drop handle bar balloon tyre shod monstercross bike before finally ending up as a heavy duty hybrid/ winter training bike complete with riser bars and bar ends (oh the horror). You can thank/ blame the late great Sheldon Brown for my endless experimenting with the bike as I was inspired by an early Karate Monkey he once built up with two sets of handle bars, brakes and gears (hub and derailleur) just because he could and the frame would allow it. 

Cleaning it would be cheaper than building a new bike but I feel it is time for a change

It has been a fun bike but I need to move on and experiment with a new, lighter and more responsive frame. I've gotten to the point where lugging the heavy old girl up and down the local hills is no longer offering me a training opportunity and, if I'm being honest I want to try something newer and shiny just for a change. If I'm being honest getting back into the garage and swearing at tools again will also have a motivational aspect to it as the pressure of working for myself has taken some of the joy out of cycling.

To this end I've bought a cut price frame from those Northern purveyors of cheapness Planet X; a disc brake compatible road bike frame that will hopefully build up into a versatile all weather machine that can stand in for the Uncle John on some of the harsher hill climbs ahead (the disc brakes will certainly help on some of the climbs). Its a frame with a bad reputation for poor manufacturing tolerances (guesses for the model on the back of a fiver to the usual address) and I may need some help from my LBS in getting it ship shape but that just adds to the fun. To find out what manner of freak machine I build next you'll have to stay tuned as it is still in its box ( I really have been that busy with work recently). The only clue I'll give away is that it will be geared for the steep stuff, probably not too pretty to look at (like most of my bikes) and generally a bit of a mongrel.

Very soon I'll be swearing at the contents of this box in the garage

And yes, the fact I'm heading back into the garage is a sign that I will shortly be heading back into the hills. Normal service, complete with dodgy camera work, will be resumed shortly...