Sunday, 29 December 2013

So that was 2013

Its traditional, well for me anyway, to give cycling a miss during December. It is always a busy time of year and with the low sun, short days, bad weather and the psychotic pre-Christmas/ New Years Eve behaviour of most car drivers I find it is best to hang the bike up and focus on other things. I’ve also had a professional exam to study for which was major focus for me so cycling had to take a back seat anyway.

My last ride of the year was on the 30th November and was a chance for me to take the single speed out for a spin along the Tarka Trail and generally take it easy. After riding up numerous steep bits of Britain in the last few months it was nice to take in some flat terrain for once. Taking my single speed road bike out for a run along a trail strewn with fallen branches wasn’t without its challenges, especially as it only has 25mm wide tyres. By the end of the ride I had smashed the back wheel nicely out of true.

 
Final ride of the year and the weather was perfect


In other news I have purchased yet another action/ sports/ rugged/ strap to your bike camera that isn’t a Gro Pro. My favourite bargain shop Lidl was selling a 1080p HD sports video camera for only £90 and it was too good a deal to miss out on. First impressions of the camera are good and I intend using it for lots of unusual camera angles and time delay filming when I return to the remaining climbs next year. I had intended Ass CamTM to be used in all sorts of different positions on the bike but for some reason I couldn’t find the right sort of mounting brackets. My Lidl camera should hopefully be a bit more adaptable although it is no lightweight and quite bulky.


 
New toy. I've been very impressed with it so far.


My main goal for next year is pretty obvious; to finally finish off the 100 climbs. I had a great start to the year and some very productive trips away but, frustratingly, September marked a point when the wheels started to come off. My trip to Scotland didn’t exactly end well and from then on dealing with the fall out from my redundancy and searching for a new job took up a lot of the time and energy I had intended to devote towards finishing off the remaining 31 climbs. I was hoping to have them all finished by now but never mind, far worse things can happen and I’m intending to start wheezing and swearing my way up the first of the remaining hills by the end of January (weather permitting). I’ll get there in the end, just a little later than planned.

After seeing off the remaining climbs I’m tempted to give the Single Speed UK Championships a bash in September. I have no intention of being even vaguely competitive (in fact I think that sort of thing is actively discouraged) but it will be a good laugh and will be a post 100 climbs goal to aim for. It is also a good excuse to bling up my Singular Swift which has been languishing in pieces in the garage for a few months.

My first training ride in 2014 will be on New Years day, at dawn, most likely on a single speed road bike and almost certainly with a raging hangover. After nearly a month off the bike I‘m counting down the days…

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Return to Jiggers Bank

Just over a year ago I attempted to ride Jiggers Bank on the way back from a meeting in the Midlands. Because of extensive road works that had only just started on the day I tried to ride the climb (timing never has been one of my strong points) I was unable to ride the ‘official’ 100 climbs route. The road out of the gorge has suffered from a few land slips in recent years and a lot of work was needed to stabilise the banks that loom over the road on the upper part of the hill out of Ironbridge.

 
Regulation photo of bike in front of local landmark


A trip to a trade show in early November gave me the opportunity to have another crack at Jiggers Bank and actually ride the whole hill. Last time around I had to take the alternative and steeper route out of Ironbridge and whilst it was a good challenge it did annoy me that I hadn’t taken the proper route.

Exactly a year to the day ( I didn’t plan it that way) after I first attempted to ride the road out of Ironbridge I found myself back in the town and trying to warm up after a 4 hour drive up in the car. After a brief spin around a car park I thought it was better to just get on with things and start riding uphill. I knew that the lower part of the climb has a gentle gradient and was able to make decent progress even with cold legs. I got stopped at the traffic lights a third of the way up the hill and once underway found myself riding the section of the climb I wasn’t able to last year. The gradient isn’t too bad and the road signs suggest the average gradient is around 8%. I got a bit slower towards the top, mainly because I wanted to get a good look at the work that had been done to stabilise the banks, but generally found the ride quite easy. It is only ranked as a 3/10 and is more a pleasant uphill meander than a serious hill climb. I had toyed with the idea of taking my single speed up the hill and would have been forced into riding faster if I did. If I’m ever in the area again I may well do just that, it isn’t a hill that requires gears.



 
 
After reaching the top it was time for a fast descent back into Ironbridge, a place that looks very pretty but always seems very quiet whenever I’ve been there. After spinning along the river for a closer look it was back into the car and off to a my overnight stop before a trade show the following day, job done at last.
 
End of the Road (well for 2013)

After suffering a collapse in form in September it has been hard to find the energy and time to tackle the remaining climbs in 2013. An over ambitious schedule for tackling the Scottish climbs combined with the stress and activity that surrounds being made redundant meant that my energy levels took a serious dive and it wasn’t until October that I was starting to ride the bike with anything resembling good form. Job hunting and trying to set up my own business have also taken up a lot of my time and, frustratingly, just as I’ve started riding well the time left to complete everything in 2013 or even just get a couple more rides completed has ebbed away.
Don’t worry, I’m not through with the 100 climbs. It just seems that, for me at least, the best time to make any progress tackling them is at the start of the year. I’m back to riding well again and so in late January I’ll be back on the road ticking off the remaining climbs. I’ll be back.



Saturday, 26 October 2013

Back with a vengeance/ bang/ whimper (delete as appropriate)

 After returning from an ultimately unsuccessful trip to Scotland I was determined to keep banging out the miles in training. I had a vague notion to do a couple of long weekends in the North of England and after writing my last blog post I decided not to sit around feeling sorry for myself but to try and get back on top of the situation. The thing is my body really wasn’t too keen on that idea. My legs were feeling increasingly stiff and tired after training rides and whilst the motivation has been there the body has been distinctly lacking. I think after such a busy and at times stressful year something in the back of my mind decided it was time to go into shut down mode and have a break. I must admit I’ve been going flat out with studying and writing job applications since being made redundant and it feels like my body has decided a change of pace is needed.

To further complicate things I’ve been feeling a under the weather which has knocked my form back even further. It all started with a tooth breaking and needing to be removed. Having a tooth pulled is unpleasant enough (trust me, having a burly Australian elbow deep in your mouth apparently removing a tooth with the same sort of force I normally reserve for removing car wheel nuts is not something I would recommend) but what followed afterwards really knocked me back. Once the anaesthetic wore off I was in agony for a couple of days. I was sort of expecting that but what I wasn’t expecting was that three nights of badly disturbed sleep because of the pain would combine with the fatigue I was already suffering from and leave me open to a viral infection. I guess it left my body’s defences run too low to fight off infection and the virus found itself pushing at a open door. This wasn’t a normal ‘feel bad for two days and then get back into the swing of things’ virus but a ‘niggle away in the background and sap your strength for more than a week’ sort of virus. Riding with any kind of purpose was out of the question.


 
Feeling unwell has meant I've had to train on relatively flat routes. Using the worlds heaviest bike (AKA the Thorn Sherpa) has compensated for the lack of steep stuff.


After about a week of feeling under the weather I managed to get out for a few training rides thinking that I was over the worst of it but the going was tough with my legs reluctant to turn the pedals; even a short ride left me feeling totally wiped out and the hills were pure, slow speed, agony. Cue a further week off the bike and, despite having lost of whatever meagre form I had, I‘m now feeling back to full health and back to riding with some form of purpose.
 


Time to stop moping about…


Its just as well I’m finally back on the bike because at the start of November I’m going to be getting back into the 100 climbs frame of mind. I’m attending an exhibition in the Midlands and I intend to use the opportunity of being just over an hour away to finally ride up Jiggers Bank in Ironbridge the correct way. It has always bugged me that a road closure last year forced me to ride an alternative, albeit steeper, route. I intend to put that situation right. If my legs are turning the pedals more smoothly I may even do it on my fixie but I’ll wait and see nearer the time if that is a sensible idea. In fact I know now it isn’t a sensible idea but something just makes me want to try it on at least one of the climbs. And yes, I will be checking the Highways Agency website before attempting it this time. Not making that mistake again.

This book, like me, is looking and feeling a bit battered but I'm not finished with it yet


Before the year is out I also want to ride the Cat and Fiddle and Shibden Wall. For some reason I have the urge to tick those two climbs off the list before the end of the year and so, weather and potential work commitments permitting, I’ve roughly planned out the mother of all overnight hill bagging raids. It is a stupid idea for many reasons, not least because of the mileage involved for just two climbs and I suspect a steep cobbled climb in winter conditions will be difficult to drive up, let alone ride up. In fact the Cat and Fiddle in bad weather won’t be much fun either. The thing is they could be the last two climbs I have the time and energy to complete in 2013 and as I was hoping to have finished all of the remaining climbs by the end of November I feel I need to see the year out with a last big stupid road trip style hurrah before restarting again in January. My plans for the Autumn have gone completely off the rails and I stand no chance of completing the 100 climbs within the timescale I was originally aiming for but that doesn’t mean I can’t be stubborn and keep chipping away a the climbs that remain. I may even break my rule of not riding through December. Watch this space…

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Scotland - Well that didn't quite go as planned...

I’d been really looking forward to taking on the Scottish climbs. I’d booked up the accommodation back in June and spent more time that usual on some proper training rides over the summer. I like Scotland and as it is about five years since I was last there I was keen to get back. It is a shame then that things didn’t work out as planned.

The week got off to a bad start with the first storm of the Autumn rolling in across Scotland and the North of England. The weather was OK on the Saturday as I drove up but the weather was set to take a dramatic turn the next day and sure enough it was very wet and very windy on Sunday morning.

I travelled up with my Dad and the dog on the Saturday and the overnight stop was at Dumfries Travelodge. Like a lot of Travelodges these days the front of the site was dominated by the ruin of an old Little Chef. The Travelodge itself had recently been ‘upgraded’. This upgrade means that the sofa bed in each room has been replaced by two small chairs and a double bed with slide out additional mattresses underneath it. It didn’t ensure a decent nights sleep.
 

 
Travelodge...a crap nights sleep guaranteed
 
 

There were some interesting vehicles parked up outside the Travelodge that night as the Tour of Britain was due to start in Scotland the next day. Some of the peripheral staff and a few people working for the sponsors were staying the night which at least meant mine wasn’t the only bicycle to be wheeled through reception that night.

The weather was biblical on the first day of planned riding. The target for the day was meant to be the Mennock Pass but with gale force winds, torrential rain and lack of visible road surface thanks to the water pouring down the hillsides it just wasn’t meant to be. The road through the pass looks brilliant and the length of the climb and the gradients look just right for me. Sadly I’d left my canoe and aqualung at home as that was the sort of kit I’d have needed to navigate it safely. Riding from the top the bottom and then back up again would have ruined me for the rest of the week and would likely have done more harm than good so I decided to re-plan the return journey at the end of the week and hope for better weather in a few days time. Seriously, Noah would have been stumped over what to do so bad was the weather.

After visiting some family the overnight stop on the Sunday was in the Dumbarton Travelodge, yet another tired and faded old building with the rotting hulk of a former Little Chef in front of it. At least this place had a decent second bed in the room as another night camping wasn’t something I relished the idea of . The next day would see me ride the Rest and Be Thankful climb although I wasn’t too hopeful about the weather.

Rest and be Thankful

According to the weather forecast the Monday would see an improvement in the weather conditions. I’m not entirely sure it did as I was pretty sure that the stuff coming sideways out of the sky was rain, and cold rain at that.

 
Individual rain drops just out of shot


After the usual sat nav confusion and trying to match up the tiny map in the 100 climbs book with the road atlas I had found the car park that marked the end of the climb and had to start the unenviable task of setting up my bike in the pouring rain. That alone was enough to leave me chilled to the bone so it was with a fair bit of reluctance that I descended to the start of the climb.

Having already postponing the Mennock Pass climb I couldn’t afford to pass up on this one whatever the weather so I just had to grit my teeth and get on with it. I was feeling pretty cold and wet and miserable before I’d even covered a quarter of the distance of the descent and my mood was darkened further by a pair of rude drivers. I made the effort to pull over and slow down to let a couple of cars pass near the top of the climb and was disappointed to see that I didn’t get the customary thank you wave from them. Its only a small thing but in bad weather a bit of courtesy for the wet cyclist who has just let you pass on a narrow bit of road isn’t too much to ask. I guess because I was already feeling so lousy this wound me up more than it should do and I decided to retaliate by attempting to pass them back. Not the smartest move in the book but buzzing the back bumper of a Volvo as the driver tries to safely navigate a series of steep and waterlogged down hill bends did cheer me up a bit, especially the way they sped off as soon as the road straightened out a bit in an attempt to get shot of the idiot on the bike who kept trying to pass them. 




Of course as soon as I got to the bottom and I was faced with having to ride back up my good mood started to fade. Put simply I was frozen and my legs were having trouble just turning the pedals. The majority of the climb isn’t really that steep but I very quickly found myself clattering down through the gears as I didn’t have the power to push a decent gear with cold legs. I’m quite sure I was cycling through some stunning scenery but all I could focus on was the road and the front tyre of the bike. I found the climb a real slog although the 16% bends near the top didn’t seem to be too much hassle. I think by the time I reached them I viewed it as a good chance to up my cadence and warm up a bit. The whole climb is a bit of a rain soaked blur with no real stand out points which is a bit of a shame given the surroundings.


 
The cold and wet view from the Rest and be Thankful carpark


After getting changed in a windswept and still very wet car park it was time to give the dog a quick walk before driving to Perth for the third Travelodge in as many days. The Travelodge in Perth is the old Isle of Skye Hotel which has obviously been bought up and, er, downgraded into a typical Travelodge. One standout feature though is the size of the rooms. The room we were shown to had a large bay window that formed a bit of a sun trap and was ideal for drying my damp cycling kit in.

It was however a bit of a disappointment then to find that the room didn’t have a sofa bed, or even a bed that slid out from underneath the double bed. I had to go to reception and ask for a solution which took the form of a folding camp style bed. This was actually a fairly comfortable option, well it was right up until the moment it decided to collapse at one end at about 6am. I got up, reassembled it and managed another hours sleep before the bed decided it really was time I got up by collapsing again.


The Cairnwell

Leaving Perth on the 17th I had about an hours drive to the top of the climb. The weather was still pretty cold and although the rain had largely cleared there was the chance of the odd heavy shower. Sure enough, as I drove along the valley from the Spittal of Glenshee I could see dark clouds looming over the mountains ahead.


The weather at the top of the Glenshee ski centre was freezing and less than inviting. After struggling into all of the warmest cycling gear that I had with me it was time to descend to the Spittal of Glenshee to begin my customary grind back up to the top. The descent began with a wide open downhill corner with a 12% gradient. A long straight’sh 12% descent is usually an excuse to ignore the brakes, switch off my brain and go for a personal land speed record. On the Cairnwell however I hadn’t long left the car park before I was being buffeted by a squally shower and I was very quickly being blown all over the road and chilled to the core. It was a relief to get to the valley and out of the wind to try and warm up before heading back up to the top.





As soon as I started climbing back up through the valley I knew I was going to suffer. The early part of this ride is actually relatively flat as the road tracks along the valley but I had absolutely no power. No matter what I tried I just couldn’t seem to get my legs turning with any real purpose and after forcing my pace up for a short while I just started to drift towards a lower speed and gear. I didn’t seem to have anything in the tank. What was more off putting was the fact that I hadn’t even reached the main steep section of the climb that was slowly looming out of the grey conditions before me; the 12% final ramp up to the top. I think it is fair to say I wasn’t havening a good day on the bike.

It was halfway up this 12% ramp that I had a sort of depressing epiphany; I was not going to start going any better on the climbs anytime soon. My form had disappeared completely and after creeping up to the top of this climb and swearing at various bits of cycling kit as I tried to get changed with numb hands I had another hour and a half drive to the next climb ahead of me where I would, almost certainly, make a pigs ear out of trying to ride uphill for the second time in one day. This would be followed by a miserable drive to Inverness and yet another bloody Travelhovel and another day failing to ride well and wasting the opportunity to enjoy the Scottish climbs. Bugger it I thought, time to bail out, figure out what went wrong and go home, which is exactly what I did. For whatever reason I had become locked into a cycle of increasing crapness after a poor start to the trip and the only way to break it was step away from the situation, regroup and come back stronger.


As soon as I reached the car at the top I informed my dad we would be going home. Whatever was affecting me wasn’t going to be helped by another night of rushed food and disturbed sleep in a Travelshack and the weather forecast for the rest of the week wasn’t looking too peachy either. There then followed a ten and a half hour drive back to Devon with frequent stops for the ever miserable dog to empty his increasingly upset bowels over various service station forecourts.
 
 
  
This is my happy face


Little Freddie is getting too old to like travelling and I’ve honestly never seen a dog look as happy as he did when we rolled up to the front door at midnight. He rushed into the back garden, peed all over it, ate everything we gave him and then promptly went to sleep. I kind of knew then I’d made the right decision.

Next steps

As I write this my legs still feel a bit rubbish and even though I’ve been out for a few training rides I still feel a bit below par. I’m still not sure if it was fatigue or even some sort of bug that sapped all of my strength and energy in Scotland but I think it may be my last big road trip of the year. What with travelling for work and the various trips away to try and complete the 100 climbs I’ve just had enough of slogging up and down the motorways this year. As I drove up to Scotland on the Saturday I noted the road signs for the Lake District on the M6 and instead of feeling enthusiastic about driving up to tackle the remaining climbs in the North of England I just felt sort of weary. Just to complicate things further I was also made redundant a couple of weeks ago and my main focus right now needs to be on sorting out some form of work. I have a few things in the mix but getting myself sorted is undoubtedly going to take up a lot of time and energy over the next couple of weeks. Quite simply I seem to be running out of steam and options for completing the 100 climbs this year which is disappointing and frustrating. Hopefully I will have the chance to tick off another couple of climbs before the year is done.

My initial plan when I started out last year was to complete all 100 climbs in one and a half years. Whilst I may get a chance to tackle one or two more hills before the end of the year I think it is only sensible to extend my timescale by another six months. I certainly think that when I return to Scotland I’ll be taking a different approach to the travelling and accommodation arrangements. Having to repack the car every morning, change accommodation every night and drive hundreds of miles in between all of this AND having to cycle up steep bits of countryside just isn’t sensible, not for me at any rate.



Thursday, 12 September 2013

Bit of an update


After my bruising experience finishing off the Welsh climbs I decided it was time to take a break for a few weeks. The school summer holidays are always a very busy time of year and travelling to various parts of the country can be time consuming and accommodation is always difficult and expensive to get hold of. The way I see it the best thing to do is to spend July and August training and preparing for the autumn.

I now have only 33 of the 100 climbs still to complete and my autumn campaign will be starting very soon with a trip to Scotland. I’m looking forward to taking on the Scottish climbs and a summer of decent training rides will hopefully have whipped me into the sort of shape needed to do them justice. We’ll see. I’ll need to be in good shape as I’ll be heading to the Lake District at some point in October to take on the climbs up there and there are some pretty scary bits of road to ride up. I’ve certainly been feeling a bit stronger on the bike lately but the real test of my fitness will, as ever, come when I get out of the car after several hours of driving at the top of some wind blasted hill top and attempt cycle up a famous hill climb. I very much doubt I’ll be noticeably faster but I will hopefully be a little fresher at the end of the longer climbs.

A few technical changes

I’ve also used the time since my trip to Wales to get the bike set up for the challenges ahead. One of the most significant changes to the bike has seen me re-enter the 21st century and have STI shifter and brake levers fitted as a replacement for the bar end shifters I have been using up until now. The reason behind this change is quite simple; bar end shifters are nice and light, reliable and simple to repair when away from home. They do however restrict my ability to climb up steep bits of road out of the saddle as they stick out of the end of the handle bars. Changing gear with my knee is painful and very inconvenient and I’ve noticed recently that I’m now tending to attack the steeper sections on some of the climbs with a bit more force and want to get out of the saddle more. STI shifters leave the ends of the handle bars uncluttered and arguably look better. The ever helpful chaps at Cycles Scuderia fitted the shifters and also installed some Problem Solvers Travel Agents for me. These are beautifully machined pulleys that enable STI brake levers with a very low amount of cable pull to operate V-brakes. I’ve never been a fan of cantilever bakes and have always preferred V brakes as I find them easier to fiddle with.

 
These work astonishingly well and they are very nicely made.


The Travel Agents work brilliantly and I’ve suffered no loss of braking following the change of brake levers. Eagle eyed viewers of my videos will notice that I had the new levers fitted before my recent trips to Wales and apart from the odd messed up gear changes I’m getting on well with them (user error and lack of practice). Having the new levers fitted was also a good excuse to finally cut the steerer tube down to a more aesthetically pleasing length, and thanks to the guys at the bike shop the Uncle John now has properly fitted bar tape, not stuff that looks like it was fitted by a drunk monkey.


No your eyes aren't deceiving you; That is a cut down steerer and properly applied bar tape (I didn't do the bar tape)


In other news my faithful Surly Cross Check, the bike I first used when starting out on the 100 climbs, has finally been stripped down and re-sprayed ahead of a complete rebuild. It was starting to look pretty tatty so I took it to Argos Cycles in Bristol who did an excellent job of turning it from a dull scuffed black to a bright metallic green. Argos Cycles is a fascinating place and there was a fantastic array of old steel frames hanging from the wall, all of them with recently applied and flawless paintwork.


The Cross Check starts its transformation from battered old hack to bling gentlemans cruiser



I’m very much looking forward to rebuilding it with lots of shiny bits and, after 6 years of abuse and hard work, allowing it to have a gentler next few years as a bike for use on summer day trips.

Something to keep you interested

I have never been happy about the fact that my last video of the summer was of me suffering badly on the climb up Bwlch-y-Groes. It isn’t a particularly great watch so ahead of the videos from Scotland I thought I’d post something a little faster. I really enjoyed the Black Mountain climb in Mid Wales and the descent from the top down to the start was even better. The video doesn’t show me riding at my fastest ( I was still getting used to the new brake set up and slightly changed riding position) but hopefully it will whet your appetite for the Scottish footage that I hope to be editing very soon.
 



 

Right that's all for now. Scotland awaits.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Wales - turns out it is quite steep

After riding the Road to Hell on Thursday the 11th July I overnighter just outside Mold with the plan of driving to Harlech the next day. Mold wasn’t an ideal location but as it was the middle of July I was having trouble finding anywhere that was convenient and not stupidly expensive. The heat didn’t really drop overnight by all that much and when I got going at 6.30am on the 12th the temperature was already into the low twenties. After having a hard time in the heat at the start of the week when I finished off the South Eastern climbs I had kept an eye on the weather forecasts and was rather depressed to see that my time in Wales was to coincide with a heat wave. The Road to Hell had been a struggle and the fact I was due to be climbing Bwlch-y-Groes just as the high temperatures were really kicking in did make me a bit nervous. Still, at least the first climb of the day would be the relatively short Ffordd Penllech in Harlech; its only just over 300 metres long how hard could it be?

Ffordd Penllech

My drive from Mold to Harlech was fantastic. I had the roads largely to myself and the views from the car as I travelled across North Wales were amazing. It would have been nice to stop and take a few photos but I wanted to get on the climb in Harlech out of the way and be back on the road by 8.30. I wanted to be on the Bwlch-y-Groes climb before the temperatures got too high. That did mean that I had to make one attempt at Ffordd Penllech and then get straight back on the road. I also had a long journey back to Devon to factor into the equation. Harlech is a fairly small place and it was easy enough to find the climb.


As you wheeze up the steep stuff don't forget to look at the pretty castle

After parking up in a public car park it was time for my date with destiny to see if I could tackle a 40% gradient. Yep, you read that right, a 40% gradient. Its actually less of a road and more like a waterfall that has been covered with asphalt. I managed to get to Harlech before 8am and this gave me a bit of a dilemma. You see when I rode the Devil’s Staircase a few weeks previously the heavy braking on the steep descent back to the car left my brakes pretty much fried and the front brake has developed an awful howling noise when its applied. It isn’t a big deal and I’ve probably just glazed the pads. The thing is I could see myself waking up the whole of Harlech with my howling brakes and so I decided to walk down the climb to the start to avoid making too much noise. This turned out to be a less than bright idea as walking down a 40% gradient in stiff soled cycling shoes whilst holding onto a bike turned out to be a bit slippery. When I reached the steepest part of the climb I needed to use the aforementioned howling brakes to slow the bike, and myself, down. Walking down it seems wasn’t the best course of action after all and the good people of Harlech were woken up by a loud braking noise despite my best efforts! Never before has walking down a hill involved so much fuss.


 Not a sign you see everyday. Thankfully
 
The worst part of the Ffordd Penllech climb is the tight right hand hairpin. You reach it early on in the climb and the 40% gradient has to be seen to be believed. I had a chance to have a good look at is as despite monstering bottom gear up the first part of the slope I ran into a small problem called gravity. I’m not exactly a lightweight chap and whilst I can crank out a fair bit of power it turns out my power to weight ratio is pretty appalling. As I reached the hairpin my momentum started to fade and I got the distinct impression I would soon be rolling backwards down the hill I had just winched my way up unless I hurriedly got off the bike. This lead to my second problem, namely trying to get going again on a stupidly steep piece of road from a standing start. The hairpin bend is so steep at its apex that I was more worried about falling down it than not being able to get the pedals turning. Once I finally started inching my way back up the hill I ran into problem number three; Ffordd Penllech is a one way street and to ride it you need to go against the flow of traffic. It is also a very narrow piece of road so I was less than happy when a 4X4 appeared just before another steep uphill right hand bend. This meant another stop and restart but thankfully I was able to complete the rest of the climb with no further hold-ups. The gradient does back off from 40% but it remains steep all the way to the top and I was at walking pace and gasping for breath before the top.




 I think Ffordd Penllech is a climb that would reward multiple attempts as you would be able to figure out the right points to put the hammer down and how to pace yourself up what is a tricky climb to ride well. Unfortunately I had a schedule to keep to and it was back to the car and back on the road. Bwlch-y-Groes awaited.

Bwlch-y-Groes

The drive to this climb from Harlech took in yet more fantastic scenery and I took a route which involved driving over the brilliant little toll bridge at Penmaenpool.

 
Not my photo but it really is a lovely old bridge and it only costs 60p to drive across

The Bwlch-y-Groes pass is in the middle of what feels like nowhere and it was 10am when I finally saw the thin sliver of road clinging to the side of a mountain appear through the trees. Bwlch-y-Groes is narrow and steep and my little Fiat didn’t get out of 2nd gear the whole way up the climb. Its actually a brilliant bit of road with a real sense of exposure the further up you travel. That sense of exposure was highlighted on the descent down to the start of the climb by bike. I wasn’t worried about the front brake making a howling noise on this bit of road; it gave me the reassurance I needed that it was working. This is one bit of road that needs to be treated with respect, whichever direction you are travelling on it.

It was once I got to the bottom of the climb things started to unravel for me. Despite getting to it as early as I could the heat was intense and there was no shelter from the sun once on the main part of the climb. My roll along the valley to the hairpin bend was hampered by an appalling road surface. Across the UK the different regional branches of the Highways Agency seem to think a decent road repair can be achieved simply by splashing a layer of tar over the existing pock marker road surface and then throwing a layer of loose chippings over the top. I noticed on the drive from Harlech that the Welsh Highways Agency workers seem to be fond of applying as thick a layer of chippings as possible. I drove through one town that had a road surface that wouldn’t have been out of place on a rally stage. Sadly, the idiots had been let loose on the lower valley road leading to Bwlch-y-Groes and the warm up ride I was hoping for was a bit of a slog. You can hear my wheels crunching along on this surface on the video footage of the climb. Somebody had even thought it was a good idea to take the loose chippings all the way up to the apex of the steep hairpin bend leading onto the climb. It was more through luck than judgement that I was able to survive the descent and I had to take cautious line through this bend on the way back up.

Once past the stupid road surface I was on the climb proper and already starting to suffer in the heat. There was no shelter from the intense sunlight and with the temperature already at least in the high twenties I knew this was going to be a hard ride made harder by the conditions. I really don’t go well in hot weather and the further up I went the harder I found it to keep cool. By the time I reached the halfway point I was feeling totally done in and just had to stop and pour some water over my head in an attempt to regulate my temperature. It was at this point that I noticed the entire mountainside seemed to be buzzing with horseflies.

Every time my pace dropped or I dared to stop and pour water over my head great clouds of the damn things would descend and start biting lumps out of me. The nearer I got to the top of the climb the more unwell I started to feel in the heat and the last thing I needed to be doing was expending energy and making myself hotter by flapping my arms around in a vain attempt to get rid of the horseflies. I ended up being bitten 17 times. Watch carefully on the video and you’ll even see the bloody things buzzing around the camera. I know it sounds like I’m making a big deal about the heat but I was starting to realise that when the Met Office starts issuing heat wave warning fat chaps like me should probably try to avoid riding up steep mountain roads in Wales.

 .

I started to get quite worried about how overheated I was starting to feel and once I was eventually past the steepest part of the climb I found a small wall to sit on to and poured the last of my water over my head before attempting the final short ramp up to the car park. This inevitably involved more swearing at horseflies

 
The view from the top of Bwlch-y-Groes. Millions of horseflies just out of shot


The ride up Bwlch-y-Groes was probably the worst I have ever suffered on a bike. When I did finally inch my way up the final slope into the car park I felt totally ruined and it was a couple of hours before I was able to properly cool down. The following day, which was even hotter, would see heatstroke claim the lives of three soldiers on a training exercise in the Brecon Beacons and highlighted just how stupid I had been taking on such a fearsome climb in such hot conditions. I’m not some super fit light weight hill climbing genius; I’m an overweight bloke on a bike who should know better. I bumped into another 100 climbs rider at the top of the climb. I was too wasted to catch his name but if he ever reads this good luck with the rest of the climbs.

With the school summer holidays now in full swing I have been able to spend the last few weeks since my trip to North Wales resting up and training for the final 33 climbs. I don’t see the attraction in trying to travel and bag climbs at the height of the school summer holiday season as everywhere will be too busy and the roads will be too clogged. Next stop will be Scotland. Lets hope it’s a bit cooler when I get there.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

The Road To Hell


It has taken me a bit of a while to get around to editing the footage for the Welsh climbs I completed in July. I've been busy with work and stuff at home but one of the main reasons for the delay is that I just needed a break from the 100 climbs stuff after getting back from Wales. I took on the remaining three Welsh climbs at the start of heat wave which really left me suffering and in truth I haven't been in a hurry to edit the footage.

Still, I've started the editing process now and the stuff I filmed doesn't look too bad so maybe I should look back on my time in Wales a bit more favourably. On the 11th July I drove up to Denbigh to ride the worryingly named Road to Hell. I originally intended to take on this climb a month or so earlier but a pulled calf muscle that left me struggling on the Horseshoe Pass meant that I felt it was more sensible to wait until I was back in decent shape before finishing off the Welsh climbs. Driving up to Denbigh seemed to take forever in the increasingly hot weather and after about 5 1/2 hours in a sweltering car I rolled into the car park at the nature reserve at the top of the climb.

 

This is a long climb and the descent was a decent ride in itself. In the 100 climbs book Simon Warren mentions that halfway up the climb there is a longish and fast descent. This of course translated into a short sharp little climb half way down to the start so I was able to get a warm up before starting my climb back up to the top. Not that I needed a warm up. Even though I didn't get to the climb until early evening the heat of the day hadn't abated. Working up a sweat on a descent was a first for me.

The first part of the climb is a pleasant enough meander along the lanes out of Denbigh and it isn't until you reach a couple of hairpin bends that the climb proper begins. The first mile or so of the following section is gentle enough with the gradient only ramping up slightly. After a significant period of gently climbing narrow lanes however the real challenge of the climb rears up in front of you; a long 17% gradient section that starts with some vicious bends. I was already feeling rubbish before I reached this point in the climb and it ended up being a painful slow speed crawl to the top of this section of the climb. A long drive in the car followed by a hot and long uphill bike ride are a less than ideal combination and it was a relief to have a nice downhill to coast down after suffering on the toughest part of the climb. It helped me to cool off a little.

 
It may be called the Road to Hell but the nature reserve at the top is very pretty
 
After negotiating the toughest part of the climb I had to try and keep my momentum up on the undulating upper slopes. The gradient isn't severe but I was fading badly in the heat and managed to get through all of the water I had by the time the more open uphill sweep of road to the summit finally appeared. The last couple of hundred metres was an excruciatingly slow crawl to the top and I was extremely glad to finally roll back into the car park. It was a sign that I would be able to very shortly drive along at high speed with all of the windows open as I drove to my overnight stop. The following day I had the joy of taking on Ffordd Penllech and Bwlch-y-Groes and cooling down before taking on those two climbs was going to be crucial...

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Whiteleaf - Thats the South East finished

Whiteleaf was the second climb I tackled on the 8th July. After riding up Mott Street I took about 2 hours getting to Whiteleaf. I got held up on the M25 and by the time I cleared that the school run traffic held me up some more.

Whiteleaf is a strange little climb. It is steep but isn’t too long and there isn’t anything particularly distinctive about it. I felt I could have been cycling uphill anywhere in the country. Even the car park at the top didn’t have any views. There is meant to be a chalk hill carving close to the hill but I couldn’t see the damn thing despite trying.

 
Another climb and another car park that could be anywhere in the UK

Anyway, back to the climb. It starts off with a fairly easy gradient and the steep stuff doesn’t really kick in for real until you tackle a steep right hand bend. I had been lulled into a false sense of security by the easier lower part of the slope and attempted to carry too high a gear onto the steep section. That’s the reason why the video footage of this climb suddenly gets very slow and the breathing very laboured!
 


 

Once I’d managed to clatter down into a lower gear it was just a case of spinning my way up to the junction that marks the top of the climb and that’s kind of all I have to say about Whiteleaf. It was the final climb I had to ride in the South East and I guess I was hoping for something more dramatic or exciting to close off the region. Instead I got a low speed ride up a fairly dull piece of road.

Still, the positive thing is I was back on the road and heading home nice and early and got back to glorious Devon by mid afternoon. I would then have 2 days off before heading back to North Wales to finish off the climbs I had to postpone because of a pulled calf muscle. I’ve started editing the footage for the three Welsh climbs and they are certainly more…interesting but sadly for all of the wrong reasons. Watch this space.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Mott Street

Monday the 8th July started early; it was 6.30am when I pulled out of the car park in fact as I wanted to get Mott Street and Whiteleaf ridden and be back on the road heading home before lunchtime. This was partly because I was keen to escape the South East (I used to live there and now greatly prefer the less crowded and generally more chilled out South West) and partly to avoid cooking in the hot weather which had been forecast for later in the day. After suffering in the heat on the relatively short climb of Swains Lane (and an admittedly very long drive in a hot car) I had spent most of the night that followed trying to cool down.


 
None of the South Eastern climbs are too far from signs of urban sprawl


My early start meant that the short drive to Mott Street from my overnight stop was nice and cool and by 7.15, after parking up and setting up the bike, I was rolling along to the start of the climb in the sort of conditions I like. Getting out of bed at a stupid time in the morning had been worth it. The only real problem I faced was that the sun was still quite low in the sky and I had trouble seeing where I was going on a couple of the corners.



 
 
 
 
Mott Street is an odd little climb. It never gets too steep and the steepest section is actually quite short. The road to start with is pretty flat and it is only after it has been gradually ramping up in gradient that the steepest section of the road homes into view. Even then the road never hits more than a 12% gradient and because of the gentle ramp up in steepness I was able to keep the bike in a fairly high gear (well for me anyway) for most of the climb. I only changed down once I was on the 12% section and by the time I had finished clattering about with my gears it was time to change back up again for the final, less steep, section of the climb. In fact, I was a bit surprised to have the climb over and done with so quickly. It all seemed to be a bit of an anti climax but then it did give me plenty of time to get across to the climb at Whiteleaf.

 



Sunday, 21 July 2013

Swains Lane

This update is a bit late. Sorry about that but I’ve been busy with work and, after a truly grueling time finishing off the Welsh climbs, I have struggled to find the energy or time to sit down and start working through the footage.

On the 7th of July I started a week off work by driving up to ‘that there London’ to ride Swains Lane. The plan was simple really; spend the Sunday and Monday finishing off the South Eastern climbs and then on the Thursday and Friday finally lay the remaining climbs in Wales to rest.

The drive up to London from North Devon went OK but the weather was very dry and hot and marked the start of a heat wave that is still in place as I write this. I have no idea what the temperature was on the 7th of July (figures from the Wimbledon final suggest it was nearly 30oC in the shade and as much as 45oC in direct sunlight) but I do know that a 4 ½ hour drive in an un-airconditioned car was a fairly sticky affair and when I finally managed to park up near to the start of the climb the water I had in the car felt and tasted like it hadn’t long been boiled in a kettle! Needless to say I was feeling a bit washed out by the time I got the bike together and started riding to the bottom of Swains Lane. I don’t generally ride well in very hot conditions and as the week went on the weather was set to get hotter.

Because Swains Lane is located in a very popular and busy area of London I ended up parking halfway down Highgate West Hill. It would at least give me a chance to get warmed up on my way to the hill I intended to ride. One thing I didn’t realise before starting to ride down Swains Lane to the start is that the upper section is one way only. Thankfully there weren’t too many cars or cyclists travelling up it as I sped down. Could have been messy otherwise.




Swains Lane is a fairly short ride and the lower flattish section is through what I can only imagine is a very expensive area of housing. As the road starts to pass by Highgate Cemetery the gradient slowly ramps up before entering into a shaded single track section where the 20% slope lurks. This steep section isn’t very long and it would have been nice to attack it flat out and dispatch the climb with a bit of style. Unfortunately I had started the ride feeling drained and it was all too easy to choose a low gear and spin my way up. It is not a stylish approach to riding and has no panache but as I seem to lack either quality in other areas of my life it worked just fine on a day where I just wanted to finish the climb and find a cold drink. After much hot huffing and puffing at low speed I emerged back out into the sunlight at the top of the climb.

Once back in the car it was time to head to my overnight stop where I think I consumed about 3 litres of ice cold drinks over the course of the evening. My next ride would be up Mott Street and I decided that the only way to tackle it without the heat being a major limiting factor would be to ride it as early in the morning as I possibly could. The footage of that climb will be on the blog shortly.

Time to take a break for the summer

The six climbs I completed over the course of the week are the last ones I will be riding until September. In September I will make a start on the remaining 33 climbs by riding the Scottish hills, which is something I’m looking forward to doing. In the meantime the school summer holidays are now upon us and I don’t fancy having to deal with busy roads, over priced accommodation or the heat. In fact the heat was to be a major and unpleasant feature of the rides in Wales; By the time I got to Bwlch-y-Groes on the 12th July a heat wave warning was about to be put in place across several parts of the UK and I suffered badly in the conditions. Lets just say that the footage from the three Welsh climbs I tackled isn’t pretty viewing and leave it at that for now. Over the next week or so all of the climbs will be appearing on the blog and on you tube so stayed tuned…


Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Bryn Du


I initially intended to ride Bryn Du last year. Unfortunately my trip to take on the climb, along with a few others, coincided with me coming down with a cold. By the time I managed to get to the climb I was running quite a high temperature and I decided, quite rightly, that I would have trouble making it down the climb safely, let alone be able to ride back up it.

As a result of all this it wasn't until the 27th June I got to ride it, on the same morning as tackling Constitution Hill. Thankfully I was in good shape when the time came to finally ride it.


 

Bryn Du is a climb of two halves. The first part is made up of a pretty much dead straight 14% section of road that climbs from the centre of Aberdare. This section of the climb is horrible. There are parked cars obstructing the road an lots of traffic to deal with. By the time I reached the right hand bend that marks the start of the quieter section of the road I was already feeling knackered from the constant weaving in and out of parked cars and changes in speed. It is a shame as the rest of the ride is actually pretty nice with some stunning views and impressive hairpin bends.

After leaving the traffic of Aberdare the gradient eases and you find yourself on a tree lined section of road. I was still trying to get myself back to a decent pace at this point and so took it a little slower than I would have preferred. After a while the trees thin out and then the climb gets really interesting; the hairpin bends are all quite close to one another and never too steep to make them difficult to negotiate. The views that open up on the upper section of the road are brilliant, especially on a clear day. I probably spent a bit too much time looking at the views when I should have been trying to speed up a bit but I did at least managed to start working up through the gears on the final drive to the top. I have to say that to give the Welsh credit where it is due they can really put together a great mountain road.

 
Seconds after this picture was taken at the top of Bryn Du the Uncle John took a tumble. Only it's paint and my pride were damaged.


Once at the top of the climb the usual faffing about and putting the bike away for the long journey home began. It was here that I managed to remove some paint from the Uncle John; a slight gust of wind caught it when it was propped up against a kerb and I was helpless to do anything but watch as it gracefully slid down the kerb scraping the paint of the non drive side seat stay. I took that as my cue to leave, chucked the bike in the car before anymore harm could come to it and headed back to North Devon.

Oh yes, there is a mistake in the video. It says 27th July at the start instead of 27th June. I haven't discovered time trial but I am a bad typist.

Constitution Hill

After riding the Black Mountain climb it was off to Swansea for the night. I would be riding up Constitution Hill the next morning and after booking into the Premier Inn where I was staying I decided to walk across Swansea to figure out where the climb was. It was a hot evening and after wandering around the Mount Pleasant area and up and down various hills I failed to find it. It was only after buying a street map in a petrol station that I realised I had gotten to within 50 metres of the start of the climb. Oh well, I at least knew where to go in the morning, it was just a shame I had an overly tiring time finding it.


 
The early morning view from my room in the Premier Inn was quite something


I was quite impressed by Swansea; the place I was staying in was right on the water front and for a £41 a night hotel room offered some pretty smart views. I decided that I would get up early and try and complete the climb by no later than 6.30 the next morning. The weather was going to be hot later in the day and I also wanted to avoid dealing with any traffic.
 



 
 
 

June the 27th started at 5.30am for me. After staggering around half asleep I finally managed to get the bike put together in the hotel car park and have a leisurely ride through Swansea to the foot of Constitution Hill. Riding through a city in the early hours is great fun as one way traffic restrictions and foot paths all become irrelevant thanks to the absence of other people.

Constitution Hill looks a brute as you approach it. I thought for a minute somebody had thrown a load of cobbles at a wall but no, it was definitely a street and one where I would need to ride against the flow of traffic. This was another reason I wanted to do the climb early in the morning; the only other people on the hill were joggers having as hard a time getting to the top as I was about to have.

Normally when tackling a cobbled climb I’ll try to hit the base with a bit of speed and then spin a low gear as fast as I can to maintain momentum and skim over the cobbles. I got my approach wrong with Constitution Hill and didn’t carry anywhere near enough speed onto it. Straight away I found myself being bounced all over the place by the cobbles and that made it hard to pick up ay extra speed. In short I was locked into a bumpy low speed battle with the road surface and struggled all of the way up. I briefly broke with etiquette and took to the smoother paving at the edge of the road to try and pick up some speed but that didn’t work and my progress to the top was slow and unpleasant. It was a blessed relief to finally reach the tarmac covered road at the top which marks the end of the climb. Sadly I then decided to ride back down the hill to make my way back across Swansea. It was, perhaps unsurprisingly, far worse an experience than riding up the damn thing. I had to spend five minutes checking that various components on my bike weren’t about to fall off once I reached the bottom.



Moments later the Mount Pleasant area of Swansea was woken up to the sound of a fat man complaining loudly about the inadequacy of cobbles as a material for road construction

 

Before heading back to the hotel and breakfast I decided to have a ride around Swansea’s docks. It was a nice clear morning and still early and it was a good way to wind down from the bruising experience of Constitution Hill before heading to Aberdare and the Bryn Du ride. In the clear early morning sun Swansea was looking good and a bike is the ideal way to explore a city.

 
After seeing the harbour wall from my hotel room I just had to go and have a play on it with the bike.











Saturday, 6 July 2013

Black Mountain

After suffering from a helmet camera meltdown on the Devil's Staircase I drove to the Black Mountain climb worried that the same thing could happen again. Thankfully a switch of battery and memory card and checking everything was turning on and off properly a few times seemed to clear the glitch.

The Black Mountain climb is the sort of ride I have always felt suited me but have never been able to fully back up that theory with a decent ride. The weather, my fitness and injuries have always stopped me performing as well as I would like on the medium length climbs that feature a moderate gradient.

Thankfully today the stars were in alignment and after a tyre screeching drive up to the top (the road was very quiet and the bends have nice open apexes) it was time for a speedy descent down to the start.

 
This is a shot from one of the lower car parks as the car park at the top doesn't share the same fantastic views


After spending longer than usual making sure both cameras were working as desired it was time to see if I could make it back up to the top in decent shape. I'm pleased to say that I did; holding onto a higher gear than normal I settled in to a fairly comfortable pace on the lower part of the climb and the only limiting factor was the fact that I was getting hotter the further up I rode. It was quite a muggy afternoon and by the time I reached the first car park I was sorely tempted to take a pit stop for an ice cream. Not to eat you understand but to smear over my head. I'm sure I've said it before on this blog but whoever felt polystyrene was a suitable material for cycle helmets needs a good slap.



 
 
The gradient slowly ramps up until the wide and open hairpin bend and then starts to slowly ease. By the time I was on the upper part of the climb I was able to get back up to a decent pace and roll across the summit feeling pretty satisfied with my efforts. I know I'll never be the fastest person to take on the 100 climbs but it is nice to finish a climb without feeling like you've just gone wheel to wheel with an angry gorilla and lost.
 
 
After the Black Mountain it was off to Swansea for the night where I had a date with Constitution Hill
 
After packing my stuff away it was off to Swansea for the night as early the next morning I was planning to ride Constitution Hill and Bryn Du. Fortunately it was a pretty quick drive there which after a long day at the wheel was a welcome relief. I suppose I had better get a shift on and edit the videos...
 



Helmet Camera Disaster on the Devil's Staircase - Ass Cam saves the day


The 26th June saw me leaving North Devon early for a drive up mid Wales. The next couple of days would see me tackling 4 climbs with the first being the Devil’s Staircase. The drive to the climb itself was something else with the roads getting narrower and more remote before you reach the final run in to the base of the climb. At this point the road is single track and hugs the lower part of a rugged valley. It was a very enjoyable drive and very picturesque. The two logging trucks I met coming the other way when heading to the next climb also meant I got to fully appreciate just how narrow the road is.

The Devil’s Staircase itself is partially hidden in the trees but as you approach it you do catch a glimpse of an impossibly steep looking stretch of road. I drove up the climb in an attempt to find somewhere to park and as soon as I hit the lower slopes I was left in no doubt about the challenge ahead. This road is steep and the two tight hairpin bends, both scarred from the undersides of cars, are pretty fearsome. My underpowered little Fiat Qubo got as much of a workout as I would soon be experiencing. Once at the top I realised I’d be better off parking at the base of the climb and met a car trying to come up the climb as I was descending. I did the decent thing and stopped to let the other driver up. Once they managed to stop wheel spinning like a nutter as they attempted the mother of all hill starts they did finally inch past me but it was another hint that I was about to have a tough ride up.

After being in the car for a few hours I decided to warm up by riding back along the valley before turning and going at the hill as fast and in as high a gear as I dared. As soon as I crossed the cattle grid and on the lower section of the climb I very quickly started losing any speed that I had and after a brief and futile effort to maintain momentum by climbing out of the saddle I was soon sat down and winching myself up in bottom gear.




 

Once past the two steep hairpin bends the gradient relents a little but not enough to make the climb easy and it was a slow speed crawl all the way to the top. I thankfully only met one car coming down the hill whilst I was inching up it and it was on the upper section of the slope so I didn’t have to stop to let them past. The climb is relatively short and I managed to get up it in fairly decent shape. In fact I was pleased with myself for keeping going, albeit slowly, on the toughest sections. Feeling pleased with myself lasted right up to the moment when I tried to turn off my helmet camera. Put simply it wouldn’t turn off. It had lit up all of its little lights and beeped as it should when I started it recording at the base of the hill but something had clearly gone wrong. The only way I could shut the damn thing off was to rip the battery out and hope for the best. Unfortunately I was to discover in my hotel room later that day when I was able to get my laptop out and check the memory card that nothing had been recorded. The only footage I was able to save was that from Ass Cam. This is the sole reason why the accompanying video for this ride is made up of backwards facing shots. On the plus side you don’t have a soundtrack made up of me wheezing my way up the climb.

I managed to get a grainy stills shot out of my helmet camera. The valley below can just be seen in the distance.
 
Inexplicably the helmet camera then proceeded to work flawlessly for the rest of the trip but with six more rides coming up in the next couple of weeks I’m going to need to check it is functioning properly with more care. After cautiously descending back to my car it was on to the next climb of the day at Black Mountain. I have far better footage of that ride…

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Halifax Lane

I had been intending to do two climbs in Yorkshire on the 7th June as it was my last full day in the county before travelling home. It was forecast to be another hot day so I was intending to get up really early and try to tick off the Halifax Lane climb before 10am leaving me plenty of time to sort out the Shibden Wall climb before the temperature shot up at mid day cooking me and the dog. Things didn’t quite work out like that.

When I woke up on the morning of the 7th I felt awful. The fatigue of a week on the road trying to tick off climbs had been catching up on me since the day before and my knees ached, I felt exhausted and my legs generally felt stiff and not up to a hard days work. As a consequence we got on the road later than planned and it wasn’t until about 10am that we actually arrived at the village of Luddenden to start the climb.

Luddenden is a curious place. Every road I drove on that lead into the village seemed to be a monstrously steep climb. The road out of the village has a steep hairpin of such ferocity that lorries are banned from it. Whilst scouting out the climb I drove past the turn off that I was meant to take and ended up on a single track road that was half cobbles, half tarmac and featured a hairpin bend of such steepness and tightness I wasn’t such my car would make it. In fact the road was so steep and rough I took some convincing it was actually a road and not some sadists idea of a bike path.






 
 
As a consequence of my poor route finding I started the climb up Halifax Lane not totally convinced I was on the right road or where to turn off. In fact I did end up overshooting the junction I needed to turn left into and it was only a quick call to my ‘support team’ who had access to the little black book that saw me on the right road.

My tiredness and the heat meant I was slow up this climb but I am convinced it is not the hardest road out of the village to ride. I’m not volunteering to test my theory but I did feel that in between the hairpins Halifax Lane is actually not that fearsome a climb. OK, I’m more of a tourist than a competitive hill climber but there seemed to be a wealth of nasty stretches of tarmac in the area.

I had already decided before starting the climb that it would be my last in Yorkshire; I was simply too knackered to put in a decent effort on any more climbs and as I descended back to the car I noted that even my hands were feeling tired after a week of hard braking on steep descents. It was well after lunchtime before we got back to Bradley and it was nice to have an afternoon of not doing much at all and preparing for the journey back to the South West the following day.
 
My next trip is to South Wales as I still have some unfinished business to attend to there. Hopefully I’ll be a bit quicker in getting the videos up and onto the blog.

 


Greenhow Hill

This climb really didn’t go to plan. The idea was to ride Park Rash and then take on Greenhow Hill all before lunch. Unfortunately I took a bit longer riding Park Rash than planned and then, when trying to drive to Pately Bridge I found that the most direct route was closed for road works. That meant a fairly sizeable detour on an already very hot day. I took the decision to break for lunch before reaching Pately Bridge. Having lunch meant I got to the start of the climb fuelled up but the heat had been rising over lunch time and into the early afternoon and in a car without aircon I started my descent feeling very warm. Hot weather had always been my Achilles heel and as soon as I started pedaling back up it was clear I was going to suffer.
 


 
 
 
Greenhow Hill goes up in a series of steps, each one with a gradient slightly less than the one before. I managed to blow a gasket on the first steepest section and never really got on top of the climb. It was only when I reached the upper slopes where the road was more open did I get a chance to cool off a bit but by then the damage was done and I was locked into full on grovel mode. The very top part of the climb has only a very shallow gradient and I did manage to knock the bike up a couple of gears but it was by no means a stunning ride by me.

An old kiln just below the top of Greenhow Hill. I was took knackered to explore the rest of the old industrial site.
 
The drive back to the holiday cottage in Bradley was done with all of the car windows open as fast as I could in order to get some cooler air blowing through the car. I wasn’t worried about just myself; the dog had been having a hard time all day in the heat and really didn’t seem too happy at all.

With an equally hot day forecast for the final day of my trip to Yorkshire and with fatigue potentially becoming an issue I was going to have to give my plans for the following day some careful consideration.


Monday, 24 June 2013

Park Rash

Park Rash was my first climb of the day and as I drove my little Fiat towards it along the single track road that leads to it from Kettlewell the site of the first couple of corners caused a sharp intake of breath. It looks like someone has just draped a strip of tarmac over the hill side. It isn’t quite as savage as it looks once you start to ride it but it is certainly a road that, on appearance alone, makes you nervous. In fact the hairpin bends are probably worse on the descent. As I rode down from the top where I had parked the car I approached the two corners carrying quite a lot of speed. The surface of the road is rough and that, combined with sharp braking, made my back wheel skip all over the road. It certainly woke me up that morning. It also reinforced the point that if hairpin bends look bad going up you need to treat them with a lot of respect on the way down

For me it is a point of honour to try and put in a decent effort when it comes to uphill hairpin bends and I think this was ultimately my undoing. In short I overdid it and seemed to burn through my reserves on the lower slopes of the climb. It meant that I was struggling for most of the ride and at times really found it difficult to lift my pace. A competitive hill climber would have no doubt used the undulating mid section of the climb to increase their speed. I on the other hand found it a brilliant bit of road to go slow on as I attempted to recover from my earlier efforts. It wasn’t my prettiest ride and I suspect my dad and the dog were getting pretty fed up waiting for me at the top, especially as it was shaping up to be another hot day. Once I did hit the final steep ramp up to the summit I had managed to get on top of my pace but that pace was slow and I was only able to winch myself up in a low gear.



 
 
 
Looking back on the experience it is one amazing bit of road. The middle section where you can see the road stretching off to the start of the final climb to the summit is breathtaking. Its just a shame that this climb quite literally took my breath away and I was too busy trying to breath and pedal at the same time to fully appreciate it.
My support team going for a stroll at the top of Park Rash
 
My next climb of the day was to be Greenhow Hill and in the afternoon heat I was about to start suffering far more than I did on Park Rash. More to follow.


Norwood Edge

It seemed such a simple plan; get up early, drive for half an hour from Bradley to the Norwood Edge climb, ride up the hill then be back in time for breakfast and take the rest of the day off. I figured that me, my dad and the dog could do with a day off from slogging around the countryside in hot weather and the nearby town of Skipton looked like an interesting place to spend a few hours

Simple plans however don’t always work out. Firstly I managed to get to Otley OK but my sat nav didn’t recognise the village of Farnley that I was aiming for. It turns out Farnley is more of a little hamlet than a village and whilst it shows up on Maps Tom Tom doesn’t believe it exists and so I went sailing down the road in entirely the wrong direction. I did eventually end up at a reservoir but it was clearly the wrong one. It was time to ditch the crap nav and rely on old fashioned road signs and a road atlas to retrace my steps to the junction I should have turned into. I finally ended up on a road that looked like it was the right one after a frustrating drive down some narrow lanes I could have easily avoided.

Referring to the little black book of pain and its route description confirmed that after a wasted 20 minutes I had indeed found the correct bit of road so I pulled off into a forestry commission car park at the summit of the climb, put the bike together and descended to the start.

The first thing that struck me as I started my ride was how busy the road was. It doesn’t come across in the accompanying video but there were a lot of aggregate trucks thundering up and down Norwood Edge. After a couple of days of riding on quite rural lanes it was a bit of a shock to the system. The second thing that struck me as I started to ride back up to the car was just how much of shock to my system the climb was proving to be. After two decent days on the bike it seems Norwood Edge was the bit of road where my body decided it had earned a break from all this cycling nonsense and no matter how hard I tried it was a struggle to get on top of the gears and establish a decent pace. Thankfully it was the only ride I intended to tackle that day as I was clearly trying to ride a bike with somebody elses legs and whoever they are they had obviously pedalled a bike uphill before.

 




Finding yourself pedalling squares before you have even reached the steep part of a climb is pretty depressing and the ride up Norwood Edge was a joyless grind to the top. As the gradient eased towards the summit I was able to recover a little bit but I really should have been pressing on and riding much harder. I’m fully prepared to admit that I’m not the fastest rider in the world but I had hoped for a better performance on a 5/10 rated climb. Pulling into the little car park at the top I noticed a nice piece of singletrack trail snaking towards the tree line and I thought about how much more fun I could have had riding that instead. Still, I had another of the climbs ticked off the list and the rest of the day to relax so I guess it had been a productive morning after all.

The ride I would rather have done was snaking through the forest. Another time maybe


After getting back to Bradley and having breakfast it was off to Skipton for a wander around and lunch. Skipton is quite a nice town with a prosperous feel to it. The market and shops were really drawing in the crowds and the place seemed to be full of large elderly Northern women in garish clothes picking through the contents of the numerous market stalls. It was actually quite nice to be a tourist for the afternoon and take in the sights of Skipton including a nice lunch outside the Castle Inn. The following day would see me taking on a couple of pretty fierce climbs so the rest was much needed. I could only hope that my legs would decide to start working properly before I took on Park Rash.