Category Archives: Cycling UK
Ever heard “It never rains but it pours”?
Well, if there’s a 50/50 chance it is going to rain, 9 times out of 10 it will…….
A dozen cyclists turned up at the coffee stop in Cambourne, all of them believing that it would be a rain-free morning, some not even carrying a rain-top (how daring is that?), and we sat outside under the veranda, wrapped up in supplied blankets, soaked to the skin, sipping our coffees and nibbling at toasted teacakes.
Enough to send a shiver up the spine……
Repaying a kindness frequently broadens horizons and opens up new paths. On my trek through Japan last year, I was hosted by several generous members of the cycling confraternity, one of whom was Taka from Toyama, a large town on the Sea of Japan coastline. On the promised day, I arrived in Toyama not only fighting a ferocious headwind, but also battling with a torrential downpour and, to boot, it was after dark. All the ingredients for getting lost looking for an address amongst the 40,000 inhabitants. Knowing I was somewhere near to where Taka lived, I took refuge in a restaurant, rang him, and he jumped on his bike and came to the rescue. Fifteen minutes later, I found myself entering his extraordinary home, built entirely of wood to an ancient design, and thawing out beneath a steaming shower.
Yesterday, we welcomed Taka to our home in Cambridgeshire, at the beginning of his 5 month tour of five countries in Europe. He had endured several days of unseasonably cold, wet weather, and had to battle a headwind out of London to get here. Like for like, we had each apologised for our respective country’s appalling weather, opened our doors wide to extend a warm welcome to the unfortunate traveller, and provided a evening of friendship and good food to make up for the hardships. In our respective farewells, we had each accompanied the other en route to the next destination. I said farewell to Taka in Geddington, standing in front of the famous Eleanor Cross.
It’s called “fellowship of the road”.
A near minor mishap on the final ride of the year. Riding on a shared cycle-path with walkers, the quick release on my front brake popped out as I was going down hill, right in the direction of a couple of walkers at the bottom. Fortunately remedial action meant they weren’t in danger, but it was a heart-stopping experience for me at least.
It couldn’t have been a more perfect day for closing off the year: bright sunshine, fresh breeze, coffee and cakes at the house of some cycling friends, along with a crowd of other like-minded roadies. A great way to finish off the year.
Sharpening the pencil and doing the sums, I worked out the bottom line for the annual mileage in 2015. After hitting a personal best in 2014, I promised myself to keep the miles down to a more reasonable 10,000 this year, and only just overstepped the mark with 10,597 miles/17,053kms.
Steve Abraham, who has only done 63,616 miles this year…….eat your heart out!
Cambourne is one of those new breed of town, built in the last 10 years, to accommodate the expanding population in these parts. I’ve watched it grow from a cluster of houses, to getting its own supermarket and schools, and now it’s rapidly heading towards 10,000 in population. Of course, a town of that size is going to have cafés, and one in particular has become a favourite with our mid-week group, called Green’s.
With many people now on holiday in the run-up to Christmas, the place was overflowing with customers, so this bunch of cycling reprobates had to sit outside…..albeit in the bright sunshine. How we suffer……
Our mid-week group, which likes to call itself ‘The Slugs’ (possibly some reference to the average age?) was boosted by a younger contingent yesterday because of the holiday, with a resulting boost in the average speed (damn it!). We must remember to ban these ‘juniors’ in future……
On a beautiful sunny ‘spring’ morning (winter solstice, in fact!), Jenny insisted on a tandem ride……now it would have been churlish of me to say ‘no’, wouldn’t it?
I was given a musette by my local bike shop as a ‘freebie’ one day, and I never realised how useful a bit of kit it would be. For those who don’t already know, a musette in the world of cycling is the small shoulder bag used in elite road races for handing out food to riders as they fly past.
On my long cycle treks, I keep one rolled up (the size of a tennis ball) and use it for buying food to carry to a camping spot. For everyday use, I use it for carrying anything from books to food and drink.
Today, I was able to wrap a 50 mile ride around doing some of the inevitable Christmas shopping, thus lightening the burden of the experience a little, and going to one of our delightful small local market towns, which seldom ever sees the mad frenzy of the Christmas rush. I can’t imagine the ugliness of shopping fever ever hitting the quiet, restrained streets of Oundle…..
As I worked my way around the streets, dozens of cars were parked in every available space (and places with no spaces), tailgates wide open, suitcases, sports bags and musical instruments being piled into the back……and yes, term was finishing for Oundle School, and there was an eagerness in the air for making a quick exit, and getting back home.
I thought wistfully back to my own teaching experiences of term coming down……and alas, they are becoming ever more distant memories. Oh dear………
The meteorologists told us we had said ‘goodbye’ to autumn 9 days ago, but thermometers around the country hadn’t been informed reliably of the event. From unseasonably warm humid days, today we were gaspingly plunged into the gloriously cool and sunny clime we are used to this time of year. It was perfect……..
……with a late autumn ride on a gloriously sunny day, with golden foliage clinging to the trees against the odds. I’d like to claim a headwind out, and tailwind home….but the reality was very different. It always is. Who would want it to be simple and straightforward anyway?
After a minor surge in my annual mileage last year, when I bypassed 13,000 miles, I decided to rein back a little this year and have 10,000 miles as my ballpark figure. After all, there is more to do in life than just ride a bike…… (do I hear you mutter ‘heresy’?).
Once over, I thought 10,000 miles would be outside my range. I know several people striving for the same……but here’s a little lesson in life (for me, at least). When you manage to ‘overstep the mark’ and achieve beyond a desired goal (as I did last year), in subsequent years the desired goal becomes strangely achievable…..and with a level of ease.
I was checking my annual mileage for 2015 just today, and discovered I am just 100 miles short of 10,000 miles…..and with a whole month still to go. Take a month off the bike? You have to be kidding……and go kicking tin cans around the village for 4 weeks? The open road still beckons…..and it is insistent.
Today’s ride: a 54km bash just before lunch…..and it helped work up an appetite.
Now that I have your attention…..what does he mean ‘cycling and gaining weight’? Surely, the aerobic exercise of turning pedals is all about losing weight…….. Well, that depends. Let me explain.
Jenny and I used to organise charity cycle rides, sending up to 200 cyclists on any of 6 routes, the longest 100 miles, the shortest just 3 miles for little kiddies. We put on feeding stations at regular intervals that served up a variety of sweet snacks, including cakes, flapjack, chocolate……you know, all those things you shouldn’t eat, but justify them because you are cycling a few miles. I used to brag that we put on the only sportive-like event where riders were guaranteed to put on weight……even the 100 milers!
Well, I headed off this morning looking to gain a few kilos. And sure enough, I gained 4 kilos after about 35 miles. How? Well, the autumnal foraging season had begun, and I set off in earnest down into Bedfordshire, carrying my musette (normally a cyclist’s feedbag used in racing events) aiming to fill it with the fruits of the earth.
My first stop was a walnut tree that I had spied last month. After consulting a few websites, I calculated they would be ripening early September……but not quite yet. The cool August might have delayed them. So they will spend some time on the conservatory windowsill to see if they will burst open.
Then onto a favoured apple picking site, where there are two trees planted on the site where there had been an American War Memorial…..not sure what happened to the memorial
….but a few metres away, in the hedge, I noticed a plum-like fruit…..and decided they were greengages. We did a bit of checking at home, then I braved the tasting and……well, I’m still here
The nett result was that I returned home 4 kilos heavier than when I set off, with the stuffed musette slung behind me. I have to admit, I noticed the extra weight as I climbed the hills….
Back at home, off I went to our local blackberry offerings, and picked about 1.5 kilos. I know I’m a very sad person, but I do take great delight in foraging and, in the words of Richard Mabey, getting my ‘food for free’.
Some of you may enjoy studying the route maps of the rides on my recent trip to Cumbria and the Yorkshire Dales. They make fascinating reading. The relief contours tell you a lot about the terrain. We don’t have any high mountains in this country, but we have hills and gradients that compete with anywhere on the continent.
Continental road engineers mastered the art of levelling out the climbs, by creating the switchback. British road engineers, on the other hand, looked for the shortest route over a hill and built the road accordingly……ie. straight over the top. Hence, we have roads of 20%, 25% and, yes, even 30%. Thank goodness this one over Wrynose and Hardknott Passes was off our route!
We cyclists like to boast and brag about the murderous climbs we’ve conquered, and complain bitterly about the climbs that have conquered us. But we never give in……..
Returning from Cumbria on a psychological (ie. mental) high, with nearly 500 miles covered and 30,000 feet climbed in a week, the body protested vociferously and rapidly succumbed to a chest infection…….what many women mistakenly(?) refer to as ‘man-flu’. Oh dear…..we men are grossly misunderstood……..sometimes.
It took me the best part of a week to shake it off and, when I woke this morning, I said to myself: “This is the day to try those legs, to see if they still function”. So I climbed on my road bike and headed off to a village hall in deepest Northamptonshire, where the local community puts on a simple lunch, and met up with a small bunch of other cycling cronies.
Not only did the legs still work, but they worked surprisingly well, and the chest didn’t heave too much with unpredictable coughing. The pace was a relatively lively 24.2 kph (15 mph), with a north-westerly headwind going out, and plenty of assistance on the homeward.
Moral: if you’re worried about losing fitness through inactivity, a week off the bike doesn’t make such a huge difference. It won’t help you to win races, or improve your PB in time trials, but you’ll still be able to breeze along with the best of them.
Today’s climb over the Pennines would bring my total climbing for the week to 30,000 feet….more than the height of Everest….if ever you could climb Everest on a bike. But would I have the legs to haul myself once more over the backbone of England, to catch my train from Darlington?
In the event, I had little to worry about. The 1400 foot climb from Brough was gradual, perfect for consistent cadence and, the cream on the coffee, I had the wind at my back! So the descent into Bowes was very fast, especially on the 5 mile section of closed road, where I had no trucks to contend with, and had the whole carriageway to myself.
Now, to prove the perverse mentality of some cyclists, I was asked why I hadn’t caught a train to Penrith (instead of to Darlington). The latter, after all, is 70 miles away, and on the other side of the Pennines….lost for a meaningful answer, I simply said that I had thought Penrith station might have been axed under the Beeching cuts of the 1960s…….
It was a superb day to cross the country, with stunning views from the tops of the hills, this remarkable ‘kodak moment’ with the ancient castle at Barnard Castle, an encounter with the earthworks of a Bragantian fortification, said to be the base for Catherine of Bragantia,
and the fascinating story behind this toll suspension bridge built in 1830 over the Tees.
A perfect conclusion to a week and 475 miles of cycling…..in what might be argued to be the most beautiful corner of the British Isles.
The pounding of hills and the ‘storming’ of passes draw heavily on the physical energy bank. After five successive days of serious climbing, bagging over 23,000 feet of climbing, a shorter, more gentle ride was called for…..so I headed off NE following the upper flanks of the Eden Valley, and discovered that these parts will be ‘en fete’ when the Tour of Britain comes through Cumbria in September
….and as I turned off the route to check out an ancient druid stone circle (Long Meg and her daughters), I met up with a group of Hertfordshire riders who were following the same route
41 miles of gentle climbing and fast descending, with views of the northern Dales on my right, made a perfect antidote to the severe stuff of previous days.
So tomorrow is pack-up and move-on time, and make my way back over the Pennines to Darlington for my train back home. And despite what the weather is doing in the south, we are promised sunshine all day……in this the wettest region of England…..can you believe it?
How can you climb a pass ‘the wrong way’? Good question….but we did….so let me explain.
All the routes at the Birthday Rides have been mapped out by local club riders, who know the roads and, more importantly, know the cafes. We can use written route notes, paper maps, or gpx files on cycling satnavs. I used the latter, and I set off with Alex (from Shropshire) on the 40 mile approach to the pass, via Buttermere, only to see before us the enormity of the whole climb (here you can see Alex in the early stages)
…..but added to that, (and we knew this was going to happen) we had a fierce headwind, with gusts of up to 50-60mph. It blew us both completely off the bikes on the ascent, Alex to re-mount twice and complete the climb, I couldn’t re-mount, so had to walk the final quarter of the ascent (damn it!).
Look carefully and you will make out the sign announcing its incline of 25% (1 in 4).
We could, of course, have done the route in reverse and ‘enjoyed’ a wind-assisted climb, still horrendously tough, but with nature’s support. Why didn’t we?
I wish I knew……the perversity of free will, perhaps? The greater simplicity of following a route as laid out by the route designer? Whatever the reason, we paid the price……..
….but we enjoyed the views of Crummock Water
….and Derwent Water.
Some prices are worth paying…..
Distance: 73 miles. Climbing: over 6000 feet.
After 6000 feet of climbing yesterday, and with the promise of heavy rain from 1pm today, I decided a swift morning ride down to the Solway Firth, with a lot of flat riding, would be the order of the day.
So along with two new riding companions, Tony and Deryk from Cheltenham, we zoomed down to the coast, to the western end of Hadrian’s Wall
where variously, walkers and cyclists, were heading off to follow the length of the Wall….to Wallsend, of course, but probably not the 1050 miles to Rome.
Serendipitously, we had chosen the route that turned out to be rain-free…..when we got back to base (after 70 miles and 3500 feet of climbing) we heard the horror stories of rides elsewhere. Such is the weather round these parts.
But as I pen these words, the campsite outside is under a deluge, and I fear the worse for my little lightweight tent…..and my prospects for the night. Watch this space for the next episode…..
….which took us into the heart of the Lake District, along the length of Thirlmere
up the 25% climb of Red Bank outside Grasmere
winding our way over Little Langdale
another 25% monster, and the ‘dessert’ was the iconic haul up the Struggle
which deposited us outside the Kirkstone Pass Inn, shrouded in mist, and the beginning of the scarily fast descent to Patterdale.
The mileage today, some 70 miles, is largely immaterial compared to the 6000 feet of climbing. And my Garmin tells me I expended over 4000 calories in the process……some serious eating now needs to be done!
A 2 hour train ride dropped me and the bike in Darlington, with the prospect of a 70 mile crossing of the Pennines, the range of hills running the length of northern England, linking north with south, but separating east from west. It was a homecoming to the county of my birth…..and as I had always suspected, there was blue blood running through my veins…..
…..land of the prince bishops.
Barnard Castle is a jewel in the crown, with its stunning Bowes Museum, a huge attraction both because of its location, as well as its content
Then as I laboured along the unavoidable A66, the long-awaited summit was announced by the border crossing into Cumbria
…..running close to the highest pub in England, at Tan Hill, and no mistake about what the terrain holds in store….
…..but to my relief, the next ten miles were a glorious descent into Brough. I had caught good weather crossing the backbone of England….in bad weather, it can be a bitter experience.
But then I have to re-cross it in a few days time to catch my homeward train……..