Sunday, 2 December 2012

Plans for the winter

In December I usually take some time out from cycling. The weather is bad, the days are short, the traffic gets worse and I’m normally pretty busy doing other things. This year I also need to give my right knee a rest and start planning for the next 70 climbs so December will be a busy month.

December is also the month when I spend hours in the garage getting angry and shouting at tools and bicycle components as I attempt to service and upgrade my bikes. This year will be no different with my Cross Check needing a bit of a rebuild and the Uncle John needing a few tweaks to it’s setup. I haven’t quite got the riding position sorted out yet and I feel a bit cramped when going down hill. The Cross Check I feel more stretched out, more in control and just more confident all round.

I’m also going to be spending some time putting yet another bike together. This bike is going to be rather focussed in it’s form and purpose and I’m building it purely for winter training. Normally I’d spend the winter slogging through the bad weather on my old Thorn touring bike. This winter I’ll be riding a fixed gear bike. Don’t worry, I’m not about to buy skinny jeans and grow some dubious facial hair and then spend my time hanging round trendy coffee shops. I’m building a fixie because over the course of the last few months I’ve grown rather fond of the lower end of my bikes gears. I know from riding a single speed mountain bike that having only one gear on my bike will force me to attack every hill I come to and a fixed gear should also help me smooth out my pedalling a little bit; I’ve tried every technique under the sun to get up the hills more efficiently this year with a result that I sometimes spend too much time deciding how I want to pedal rather than just getting on with the job of riding up hill. Training on a fixed gear will hopefully get my top end power back; I’m not sure whereabouts I lost it but I don’t seem to have the kick I need on the steeper sections at the moment.

I was also persuaded to build a fixed gear bike by the fact On One were knocking them out at a stupidly low price on their website a while back. For £149 I managed to buy a Macinato frame and fork. First impressions of the frame are that the quality is pretty good. The welds are neat and the frame is quite lightweight. The fork is actually heavier that the frame and the paint on both is OK in terms of quality although it does look like a paint sprayed over bare metal finish which will no doubt look a bit tired after some hard use.

The Macinato is very good looking for such a cheap frame

The bike is being built to a budget that befit’s the low price of the frame. Most of the components are already lying around in the garage. All I need to add to the pile is a drive train and a back wheel. My local bike shop will be building the back wheel for me. I’m not sure whether the owner of the shop was horrified or impressed when I told him I was intending to build a fixed gear bike for riding around North Devon. I didn’t dare tell him I’m intending to take it over Exmoor at some point. I haven't ridden a fixed gear bike before so the first couple of rides could be interesting.

A sure sign my winter riding is going to be hard

Anyway, that’s my plans with regard to the garage. I’ve also decided to start planning next years rides early and there is now an improbably large map of the UK on my wall. Time to get out the marker pens and sticky labels…

Friday, 30 November 2012

Toys Hill

Well, here it is, footage of my last climb of 2012. The days are getting shorter and the weather is getting worse so it is time for a break in my attempt on the 100 greatest climbs. It was always my intention to spread the climbs out over an extended period but I was hoping to have completed around 40 of the hills by this point. Knee problems earlier in the year and some just plain disastrous trips to Wales have put a dent in my plans but no bother, there is always 2013. Besides, the first 30 climbs have highlighted some areas where I need to do some work so hopefully next year will see a stronger and more organised me take on the remaining 70 hills.

On the 17th November I took on 3 hills and the last one I rode before heading home was Toys Hill in Kent. It is a fairly tough climb with the gradient eventually ramping up to 18%. After setting up in the car park at the top of the hill I had a rough descent to the bottom. The road surface is very heavily pock marked with pot holes and broken tarmac in places and despite running 28mm tyres the alloy frame and fork on the Uncle John were really giving me a pounding on the way down. My faithful old Surly Cross Check may be a bit heavier and less efficient on the steep ascents but there are times when I miss not bringing it with me and this was one of them; it just seems to smooth out the rough stuff a little better.

Anyway, after bouncing my way to the bottom of the climb it was time to stick on the helmet cam, fire up Ass Cam and see what I could do on the way back up to the car. Toys Hill starts with a long gradual ramp up in gradient and for a brief period I was in the big ring. My top gear riding didn’t last long and before I knew it I was starting to gradually work my way down through the gears. Still, it was nice to have one climb where I didn’t start in bottom gear.

The strangely disappointing Toys Hill car park. You expect a view after the pain the climb puts you through...
One thing I wasn’t expecting to suffer with on this climb was the heat. Despite it being November and the weather at the start of the day being foggy and cold the day had turned into quite a mild one. About half way up the climb I realised that overshoes, winter gloves etc would be a hindrance and, sure enough I started to slowly overheat. The eagle eyed amongst you will notice that half way into the video footage my gloves disappear. I also ended up unzipping everything that could be legally unzipped and taking off my shades. The heat rising from the collar of my jacket caused them to mist up and seeing where I was going was actually quite useful.

As the gradient ramped up I started to slow and flag a bit. By the time I reached the final 18% ramp I was locked in bottom gear and grimly spinning my way to the top willing the hill to end. The last couple of hundred metres weren’t pleasant and I faded quite badly but I did eventually make it back to the car and that was it, climb number 30 complete. It is nice to finish the year on a round number. Depending on how the weather behaves over the next couple of months it is likely to be late February before I climb back on the Uncle John and start riding uphill slowly again. That’s not to say that I won’t be doing any riding in the meantime. In fact I have quite a few related projects to get cracking with that will hopefully make next years final 70 climbs a bit more manageable. You’ll have to stay tuned for further details…

Monday, 26 November 2012

South East Adventures

Finally an update. I’m still sorting out the video for my climb up Toys Hill but as it will be my final climb of 2012 it is probably fitting that it has it’s own blog update.

Never ride up steep hills after skipping lunch

On the 16th November I used a day off work to travel to West Sussex. After a couple of less than satisfactory attempts to tackle the climbs of South Wales I had the target of ticking off another 4 climbs and bringing my end of year total to 30.

I had a few things to do in the morning and as a result it was late morning before I was able to set off for the climb at Steyning Bostal. By the time I had navigated my way to the top of the climb it was getting quite late in the afternoon and the light was starting to fade. The visibility wasn’t helped by an autumnal fog that had started to settle on higher ground.

I was really hungry by the time I got parked up at the top of Steyning Bostal. I had a flask of soup with me and I knew from past experience that the contents of the flask would be on the verge of turning from luke warm to tepid. With the fading light being a real issue, I had stupidly taken small LED flashing lights with me, I decided it was best to crack on with the climb and at least do it with some light. Besides riding up a climb with a full stomach is probably worse than riding up with an empty one.

The top of Steyning Bostal is quite flat and I had a chance to warm up nicely before reaching the bottom, setting up the cameras and going for it.

The road up from Steyning has two stretches of 17% gradients but the rest of the hill is pretty easy going. You essentially ride up two big steps and there is even a pretty flat stretch in the middle of the hill. The first 17% step passed by without too much trouble and I decided to spin an easy gear on the flat section before the next in order to save energy. It is just as well that I did because as I started on the second step up in gradient my energy levels plummeted and I began to regret skipping lunch. Yep, the dreaded bonk hit me and it became a fight to maintain forward motion. I was reduced to gently pushing bottom gear around as I waited for my body to recover and find some energy from somewhere. Thankfully the second 17% section isn’t too long and before I knew it I was on the easier upper slopes, feeling slightly better, and able to push a bigger through the increasing gloom back to my car. By the time I reached the car my worst fears were confirmed as I found myself faced with a flask of tepid soup. Still, I was starving hungry at that point so it got eaten. There seems to be a fair bit of belching in the video footage of this ride. Not sure why but I blame it on being hungry.

The fading light was a bit of a concern on this hill

My overnight halt for the night was a Travelodge at Hickstead about 10 miles out of Brighton. I chose it mainly for the free parking and the close proximity to Ditchling Beacon which I would be riding first thing the next morning. Oh yes, it was also cheap.

Before settling into the joyless embrace of a Travelodge room I first had to deal with a receptionist who was apparently so bored with her job and life in general that I don’t think she could even be bothered to draw breath as she spoke to me. It was only later in the evening when I wheeled a bicycle past her in the hotel corridor that I managed to gain any kind of reaction from her and even then I suspect she couldn’t really be bothered to object.

Travelodge; not a great place to stay but at least it offered secure bike storage for the night

The Travelodge was a fairly grim example of the chain. Unloading stuff from the car was enlivened by a young Eastern European chap trying to stop his doped up girlfriend from wandering off into traffic and my nights sleep was disturbed first by numerous stag and hen do’s stopping to visit the onsite Burger King and then, much later in the evening at about 2am, by somebody doing slow laps of the car park in an ageing Renault Clio with a blown exhaust. Lets just say it was a relief when I left in the morning.

Time to revisit an old foe

November 17th saw me up early and loading the car as the sun was struggling to rise. West Sussex had turned foggy overnight and I wasn’t sure what sort of conditions I would have to face on Ditchling Beacon. As it turned out only the very top was affected by fog and strong winds. The lower part of the climb was nicely sheltered at and for the first time that day I found myself overheating in my cold weather gear. I needed plenty of warm layers at the top but on the way up I got decidedly warmer than I was expecting.

This wasn’t my first time up Ditchling Beacon. About 8 years ago I took part in the London to Brighton bike ride. I didn’t enjoy Ditchling the first time around; there were thousands of people wobbling all over the road and after being brought to a halt one to many times I eventually gave up trying to get any forward momentum going and pushed my bike up most of the climb. I was quite gutted at the time at having to walk up such an iconic  climb so it was good to see that first thing on a Saturday morning I could enjoy a cyclist free hill. Whilst I was a bit slower than I hoped to be it was quite an easy climb. OK, so I huffed and puffed my way up it but the pedals were going round easily enough.

As I’d driven up to the car park at the top before riding to the bottom I passed two mountain bikers making their way up. One was flailing away in bottom gear and the other had been reduced to pushing his bike up. I was satisfied that I wasn’t quite as slow as them.

Apparently the South Downs are lovely and offer impressive views...
Bring on The Wall

From Ditchling Beacon I headed over to Forest Row and the ride up Kidds Hill, also known by the more sinister name of The Wall. The fog that had spoilt the view nearer the coast wasn’t present at Kidds Hill but the views from the car park at the top weren’t much to write home about. The climb itself wasn’t too long but having the steepest part of it stretched out in a straight line with all of the gradient on display was a bit off putting. I settled into my usual rhythm of starting gently to get warmed up and then eventually clicking my way down through the gears. It wasn’t a spectacular performance although I did have the pleasure of holding up a tractor that was unable to get past me because of the traffic going down the hill. I live in a rural area so I considered it payback for all the times I’ve been late for meetings.

Just as on Ditchling the cold conditions at the top of the climb were countered by milder conditions on the way up. The Wall is quite a sheltered climb and at the half way point my shades steamed up completely. As I was on the dead straight section of the climb at this point I considered it a bonus as it hid the gradient from me.

Once back at the car park at the top of the climb it was time to stick the bike back in the car, reset the sat nav and head over to the final climb I would be riding for 2012, Toys Hill. It transpired that Toys Hill wasn’t going to be childs play and I was rather glad after completing it that it was the 30th and final climb of the year. That story can wait for another update. To be continued...

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Quick Update - 30 climbs now complete

I’m waiting until I’ve edited the videos before posting a full update but this weekend I spent a night away in West Sussex so I could complete 4 of the remaining climbs and get my total up to 30 before I take a break for the winter.

On Friday afternoon, and racing the fading light I managed to bag Steyning Bostal. It was actually quite a nice climb and was quite straightforward to ride. I rode it after 4 ½ hours in the car and I was pretty pleased with how well it went. The climb reaches 17% in a couple of places but the steeper sections of gradient are essentially two steps and the sections of climb in between them were relatively easy going.

After a slightly disturbed night in a Travelodge outside Brighton (more details to follow with the full update) I spent the Saturday morning riding Ditchling Beacon, The Wall and Toys Hill. Ditchling Beacon was pretty foggy at the top but the climb was far less fearsome than I remember it from my London to Brighton ride a few years ago.

Ahh, the glamour of taking on the 100 Greatest Climbs; yet another Travelodge room and video editing to be done

The Wall was short, steep and over with fairly quickly. Nice little climb though, if a little daunting when you can see its entire length stretching out in front of you. After completing the Wall it was onto Toys Hill. My knee was starting to feel at its limits by the time I reached the final climb (tendonitis) and whilst I would like to be witty and say that Toys Hill was childs play I suffered on the final steep ramp up to the finish. Still, it is done and I am now 30% of the way through the 100 climbs. Time to rest my knee, get some solid training in and begin planning my spring campaign.

I’m busy editing the videos and should have them all done and uploaded by the weekend. I’ll make sure they are accompanied by a full write up. I don’t like the piecemeal way I’ve been doing the recent updates so words, pictures and videos will all be published together this time. Watch this space.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Jiggers Bank

This ride didn't go quite as planned. I had managed to schedule my ride up out of the Ironbridge Gorge on the same day that a 2 week road closure for road repairs started. I was able to ride the first part of the climb but just before the 10% gradient kicked in I had to change the route I followed.

In the 100 Climbs book Simon Warren mentions an alternative route out of the Gorge and I felt I should take that and avoid a wasted trip. It proved to be a much steeper route to take, although the gradient was only steep (about 17%) for a few hundred metres.

I've no doubt I'll be back in the Ironbridge area at some point next year but for now my alternative route will have to make do as ride number 26. On the positive side the weather was perfect and Ironbridge is an attractive place to suffer on an up hill bike ride.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Weston Hill - The Video

I've finally managed to get round to editing and uploading the footage from this climb. Not much to say over what I have already written about it really. Weston Hill should have been a straight forward and relatively easy climb. What I hadn't factored in was that I didn't have the right mindset on the day and without the correct focus I got my pacing wrong and the hill became a struggle.

When taking on the 100 climbs there are a lot of factors to consider. These include finding the climbs (not always as easy as it should be), finding somewhere to park, getting the bike put together, warming up and, in my case at least, sorting out stuff like cameras. Sometimes taking care of that lot (which can come after several hours in a car) means it is easy for you to forget that the reason you are parked in a windswept layby in the middle of nowhere swearing at a stiff wheel quick release is to ride up a hill. I will need to make sure in future that I spend a bit more time making sure I'm properly focussed on the task at hand.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Weston Hill and Jiggers Bank

Weston Hill - Note to self; concentrate in future!

Thanks to being too busy towards the end of last week and over the weekend I have still to edit the video together for Weston Hill. It’s on the way but in the meantime I thought I would give a slightly more detailed write up.

I managed to tack Weston Hill onto a business trip. I had a bit of spare time before a meeting to take on the climb and so it seemed like an ideal opportunity. The climb isn’t rated as one of the worst but does ramp up to a 20% gradient toward the end.

I managed to get parked in a lay by near the top of the hill and was greeted by an audience of suspicious dog walkers who were clearly not used to men stopping their car and emerging clad in lycra. Or then maybe they are, I wasn’t going to ask.

I've checked and I failed to take any nice photos of Weston Hill so here is a shot of the layby where I parked. Got some funny looks for taking this photo from the local dog walkers.

After sticking the bike together I rolled off down the hill only having to return two minutes later as I realised I had left my gloves in the car. I think I was so pleased to be tackling my 25th climb that I forgot to focus on the task at hand. In fact I know I did. After I slithered down the cold wet descent and trying a half hearted warm up on the residential roads at the bottom I took off up the hill in a fairly half hearted way. I really didn’t have my head on straight and managed to forget every bit of my meagre climbing technique. What I needed to be doing was starting the hill at a decent pace and getting ready to get out of the saddle for the final couple of hundred metres and attack the final steep section of hill flat out. Instead what I managed to do was start feeling cold and slowly spin my way to the top. It wasn’t my finest performance on a bike and after a lot of heavy traffic(who were no doubt really impressed by the fat bloke wobbling up the hill at 2 mph) I was glad to get back to the car. Still, Weston Hill does mark the quarter way point in my attempt on the 100 greatest climbs. I just need to make sure I have my mind firmly on the job for the remaining 75 as this was the first climb where I’ve lost focus and the impact was noticeable.

After a flask of soup and the now familiar ritual of getting changed in a motorway services toilet (there is never enough elbow room) I went onto my meeting where I am pleased to say I was a bit more with it.

Jiggers Bank - Not entirely what I was expecting

This was meant to be another ride tacked onto the end of a meeting. A rare meeting fairly early in the day in West Bromwich meant I would have time to make a detour on the way home to Ironbride and take on the rather jauntily named Jiggers Bank. The traffic reports on the radio on the way up suggested that Jiggers Bank had been blocked, either by a broken down vehicle or an accident. As these reports were really early in the morning and I wasn’t set to get to Ironbridge until early afternoon I wasn’t too concerned.

I was looking forward to riding Jiggers Bank, the length and gradient both suit my riding style well and I was hoping to be a bit more focussed ans aggressive on the climb than I had been on Weston Hill. With that in mind I’ll leave it to your imagination as to the amount of swearing that took place when I arrived in Ironbridge to find that Jiggers Bank was not blocked. Oh no, it was shut, to all traffic, for two weeks, for essential road works.

Today Jiggers Bank ended here so I turned left and went up a different route. Peeved looking workmen stopping any traffic from going uphill are  just out of shot. 

Once the anger had died down I felt pretty gutted. The weather was perfect, the roads were quiet (but then they were shut) and I was really up for the ride. In the end I decided to ride as far as I could up Jiggers Bank and then take a detour that Simon Warren refers to in the little black book of pain. It takes you along Derby Road up to the top of the ridge. It was steep and very narrow in places but as I’d driven all that way I was determined to get my bike out of the car. It would have been far more satisfying to take on the road I was intending to ride but I guess that will have to wait until next year. Until that point arrives my detour up Derby Road will have to count as ride twenty six. It was a damn site more steep than Jiggers Bank and took me to a bridge over the A road that Jiggers Bank would have led me to so I feel fairly justified in this. Don’t worry though, Derby Road is only a stand in 26th hill climb until the real thing can be ticked off the list next year.

Where Jiggers Bank starts to climb away from the traffic lights I had to turn left up Darby Road. It was steeper, a similar length and gained roughly the same amount of height (click to enlarge).

A really important lesson was learnt today and it is a simple one; always check the Highways Agency website when planning rides up steep hills. It is something I will be doing for every stretch of road from now on as a closed road can result in a wasted journey. Today’s ride was stuck on the end of a business trip so wasn’t a total waste of time but it so easily could have been if I had travelled such a long distance just to take on a hill.

Ah well, you live and learn. Videos for Weston Hill (finally) and Jiggers Bank/ my own little detour will follow on soon.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Weston Hill

I feel quite pleased with myself tonight. I have finally managed to complete the South West climbs and I am now a quarter of a way through the 100 climbs. Ok, if I'm being honest I was hoping to have knocked off a few more of the climbs by now and my ride up Weston Hill was hardly impressive but it is at least done.

A full write up and video will follow at the weekend but the headlines are; it was cold, it was wet and I was slow. The descent to the start of the climb was also quite sketchy on the wet roads and interesting to say the least. Weston Hill has a 20% gradient at the top so by the time you reach the bottom of the hill you find yourself desperately trying to scrub off the excess speed. I think I scared the hell out of a chap on an expensive Pinarello road bike who was about to pull out of a side road when a portly fool in an eye ball searing yellow waterproof jacket came steaming down the hill at high speed. Lets just say I'm optimised for gravity and I love going fast.

I tried to take a picturesque shot from the top of Weston Hill and failed.  

Anyway, its been a very long day, and at one point I had to wash and get changed in a motorway services before going on to a meeting which is never a good experience, and I have another full day of meetings again tomorrow so I'll leave a proper write up for when I'm more awake.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Upcoming Rides

One of the joys of my job, and there currently aren't that many, is that I get to travel around a fair bit. This is handy when taking on the 100 climbs as occasionally an opportunity arises that allows me to mix business with a bit of pleasure. Well, I say pleasure, I actually mean sweating and gurning my way up some god awful piece of tarmac after rushing to or from a meeting.

Anyway, by this time next week I'm hoping to have ticked off another couple of climbs. This Thursday I'm hoping that a meeting in Somerset will give me enough time to finally complete the South West climbs and tackle Weston Hill. My previous attempt to combine riding this hill with a meeting failed when my crap nav took me to it via the longest possible route and I simply ran out of time. Hopefully this time around knowing where the climb is, and having figured out another faster route to it, I can complete it in plenty of time to get changed, have a bit of lunch and get to my meeting. It is a climb that finishes with a 20% flourish so I may be rather red faced and out of breath by the time I get to work but thats all part of the challenge.

A few days after Weston Hill I'm hoping to ride Jiggers Bank. I have a meeting in the West Midlands and as I'm travelling all that way from North Devon it seems daft not to try and knock off at least one of the outstanding climbs in the Midlands. I was tempted to be adventurous and take on The Burway but I would be faced with riding it after a hideously early start, several hours of driving and at least 2 hours of being sat in meetings. Jiggers Bank seemed a more sensible option, especially when you consider that it is a 3/10 rated climb as opposed to the 9/10 Burway.

Thats the plan for the next week or so. Hopefully I'll be able to take a bit of time off work before the end of November and have a 2 day trip to the South East. I was hoping to have knocked off at least 40 of the 100 climbs by the end of the year. Knee problems in Devon and a couple of less than successful trips to Wales have really impacted on my planned schedule to hit that number so I'm intending to try and reach the target of at least 30 climbs by the end of November. At the moment being able to achieve this relies partly on my meetings in Somerset and the West Midlands not being cancelled so fingers crossed it all works out.

A few thoughts on the Uncle John

I feel a bit sorry for my Uncle John. I built it up with the idea that it would be the ideal bike for riding up big hills and, after a rushed build, I've largely not been in the best of shape to get the best out of it. Over the last couple of weeks I've got the cold that hit me in Wales out of my system and have been able to put some proper miles on the bike.

My initial impression that it is more responsive that my faithful Surly Cross Check seems to be correct although I think the Cross Check is more stable through fast down hill bends. I'm still fiddling with the riding position on the Uncle John so there might be a few things I can tweak to improve my position on the bike which may help a bit with the handling.

Overall not a bad bike but still needs a bit of tweaking

The Uncle John is certainly a fairly stiff bike and it climbs well, especially during out of the saddle efforts. In fact I've been experiencing a bit of brake rub when really pushing the bike on hard climbs so maybe my wheels are being shown up by the stiffer frame. On the other hand I do seem to be getting up certain local climbs I know well a bit quicker that I do on the Cross Check so I can live with a bit of brake rub.

The build quality of the frame is pretty good although I'm already starting to lose paint off the bottom of the down tube thanks to a few stones being flicked up by the front tyre. The Kinesis fork on the other hand still looks like it is fresh out of the box and is probably stiffer than the frame it is attached to. I have to admit I've not made a particularly comfortable bike and the cheap saddle I bought creaks more than I do and will need to be replaced at some point.

I'm still experiencing a few grumbles with the rear derailleurs indexing but I'm prepared to live with that for the time being as I'll probably be repositioning the shift levers in December when I take a break from riding and I'll sort out the shifting then. The good thing about running bar end shifters is that I can set them to friction shifting mode if the indexing gets really out. The bad thing about them is I've managed to position them in such a way that hard climbing out of the saddle can sometimes result in me changing gear with my knees which is awkward and frequently painful. This will be sorted out by angling the shifters out a little which will help keep them out of my way.

Anyway, thats all for now. Next stop Weston Hill

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

I think I'm Jinxed when it comes to Wales

Its true, I think I am. Twice now I've attempted to get a decent number of the Welsh climbs knocked off and on both occasions I have failed to achieve my goal. I think the South Eastern climbs are a better bet for the remainder of the year, especially as the winter weather starts to arrive, so Wales can now wait until next spring. Some of the Welsh hills are very exposed and the lanes of Surrey and Sussex sound a much better bet.

After sitting looking at the footage for a week I've finally edited together a couple of videos on my efforts to climb The Bwlch and Llangynidr Mountain. The thought of editing footage with a soundtrack of me feeling ill was perhaps unsurprisingly something I put off for as long as possible!

I am pleased to announce that these new videos mark the return of Ass Cam TM . I still need to figure out the best mounting for it but I couldn't resist including a few shots. Sadly it doesn't shoot in widescreen but it at least doesn't have an impossible to remove, and incorrect, timestamp showing on screen like the previous model did.

My ride up Llangynidr didn't take in the full climb. I had managed to complete most of the climb on my last attempt and I was feeling so awful that the final mile was more than enough of a challenge. It didn't have a particularly steep gradient but trying to ride up it with a temperature very nearly finished me off. I'm either stubborn or stupid, can't decide which at the moment.

More than a week on from shooting the footage I'm still feeling the after effects of the cold I attemped to burn off whilst riding up big hills. For the first few days after my latest Welsh adventure I felt very fatigued and not up to much at all. I have managed to get back out on the bike since but trying to ride while ill has obviously pushed me a bit too far into the red and it is only now that I feel I've got the power back in my legs. That'll teach me to push on when I know I should really be resting up.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Wales - Take Two

I think I must have some form of allergy when it comes to the Welsh hills. The first attempt I made was marred by a spectacular lack of form and a need to cut the rides short in the face of a truly awful weather front moving in. This time around my legs were going just fine but the rest of me stopped working.

The Bwlch

My plan was simple; leave home before sun up on a Saturday morning, get to Wales, ride The Bwlch, Bryn Du and then finish off Llangynidr Mountain before heading home. The get up before dawn part worked but annoyingly a cold I had been trying to keep at bay all week finally flourished with a vengeance. First thing Saturday morning I had a scratchy throat and a bit of a dodgy tummy. By the time I reached Price Town to start the first climb I was feeling very unwell. Nevertheless, I still stupidly thought I could push through it and burn off the cold in the process. Oh how wrong was I.

The first part of the climb up The Bwlch is very steep but mercifully short before turning into a long drag past some forestry plantations. Even though the gradient on this part isn’t too fierce I was starting to struggle. My legs felt fine but there was no power to back up that feeling, my stomach was churning unpleasantly and my throat was red hot. I stopped briefly at the road side in an attempt to let it pass and man up. I didn’t really have any choice as my car was parked up the top. When I finally got going again I didn’t feel any better but did seem able to at least get my legs turning in a regular way, albeit slowly.

                        Got to hand it to the Welsh, they know how to build spectacular roads

I was really annoyed at this point as The Bwlch is a lovely climb and the sort of ride that would normally suit me really well. The view as you climb up from the valley opens out and the final section of the ride has some truly spectacular views down the valley and across the neighbouring hills. For me however the ride up was turning into a death march. Where I should have been clicking up into a decent high gear on the final slope I was only able to click up a couple and limp forlornly across the yellow line I assume somebody from a local club has painted across the road to mark the summit. I think I spent most of the ride looking at the tarmac just in front of my wheel and willing the climb to end. Not a pleasant experience.

As I sat in the car after loading my bike back in I had to consider re-evaluating my options. My cold was getting worse and the climb up Bryn Du is a bit of a brute. The first climb had also taken so long to complete it was already nearly midday and I still had a bit of driving to do.

Bryn Du

Not much to say about this climb as I decided it would be sensible to postpone until such a time when I think I can actually ride it. It’s a pretty spectacular hill with a tough gradient that doesn’t really ease off all the way to the top. The further up the climb you get the more interesting the road becomes with a series of tight hairpin bends. As I sat in the car park at the top with my temperature slowly rising and my voice packing up I sensibly decided that even riding down to the bottom of the climb would be a challenge. I just wasn’t feeling very sharp and I could see myself miscalculating a hairpin and launching my bike, with me attached, off the road and into the centre of Aberdare. The road was also covered in water after several days of heavy rain and getting the braking just right going into some of the corners would be critical. Sometimes you have to be honest with yourself and my gut feeling was I was going to be entering into a whole world of hurt attempting the climb. Two local cyclist winched their way up to the summit whilst I sat in the car and the fact it took them a full fifteen minutes to recover sealed the deal for me. They were pushing very similar gearing to me and both looked like they had just had a particularly hard time of it.

Llangynidr Mountain - The Return

Despite ducking out of the ride up Bryn Du I was determined to finish off the climb up Llangynidr Mountain. I’m either very stubborn or stupid (probably both) but I figured it wasn’t that big an ask to ride the final stretch of road which was just under a mile. The drive there was slow because of the Saturday afternoon traffic and I arrived at the top not feeling particularly perky. Stepping out of the car into a big puddle didn’t do my mood a lot of good either. Any way, after dodging the obligatory suicidal Welsh sheep I managed to slowly wobble my way up the final part of the climb. It feels satisfying having laid that particular climb to rest but I was feeling totally screwed by the time I got back to the car. It was time to call it quits and head home.

                                             Finally, the view from the top of Llangynidr


My drive home wasn’t the most pleasant I’ve ever had and by the time I went to bed on Saturday night my temperature was peaking. As I type this my bike is still in the car as I don’t have the energy to stick it back in the garage yet. I am feeling over the worst of the cold and my throat at least no longer hurts but I have a wonderful headache and a total lack of energy. When I can retrieve my camera bag from the dark corner where I dropped it last night I’ll stick up some still photos and start editing the videos. Suffice to say they will be even slower than usual!

                   The whole of the mountain to choose from and I park in a giant puddle...

I’m thinking that I should leave the remainder of the Welsh hills for the time being. I just don’t seem to have any luck when it comes to riding them and I think it would be wise to get some form and confidence back by focussing on another region. Wales can wait until Spring. I may decide to tackle some of the South Eastern climbs before the bad winter weather sets in. Not sure yet, but watch this space.

Friday, 5 October 2012

New Toy

When I first started out on this challenge to ride all of the 100 greatest cycling climbs I had two little video cameras. One mounts on my helmet and the other used to be attached to the seat pack on my bike. Sadly the rearward facing camera that I knew as Ass Cam TM was a cheap Chinese knock off of a well known design and a few rides in the poor little thing fried itself whilst charging up. I was upset by this; firstly because it represented 30 quid down the toilet and secondly because it made my poorly edited videos slightly more interesting. Multiple camera angles are always a good thing and a rearward facing camera is good for showing the gradient on the steeper climbs.

After much searching I have found a suitable replacement. It is actually the offical version of the camera the makers of Ass Cam ripped off. It has a much more solid feel to it and hopefully a battery that won't commit hari kari when being changed. Even better it came with a funky water proof case so it looks like a Go Pro that has shrunk in the wash.

Coming soon to a windswept hillside near you

The new camera gets its first airing this weekend when I return to Wales. When I get more used to it and figure out a suitable mounting I'm hoping to experiment with a range of different camera angles. Initial tests show it has better picture quality to the camera it is replacing although it isn't HD quality. Better still it comes with a manual that was written by somebody who actually understands English and the microscopic buttons have labels.

Hopefully by the end of this weekend I'll have some interesting footage to post.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Llangynidr Mountain

Not sure what to say about this climb really. For whatever reason I just failed to do a good job once the road started going up. I'd had a long day and was feeling low on power all day but I'm not sure why.

As soon as I started turning the pedals I knew I was going to suffer on this hill and it proved to be the case. It was quite a frustrating experience as the surroundings were spectacular and the weather was perfect. At least I wasn't having a hard time in the pouring rain.

When I first started out on this quest to take on all 100 climbs I took on Porlock as the very first one knowing that it would expose any weaknesses I had. I thought it would be a valuable learning experience and it was. I was hoping by the time I reached a climb like Llangynidr I would have learnt most of the lessons I needed to. I guess in my favour I was able to keep plugging on and managed to trudge my way up most of the climb but I'm still annoyed as I should have done better. Starting to cramp up at the halfway point didn't help. I guess some days you are the pigeon and on others you are the statue. On Llangynidr I was most definitely the statue.

A couple of training rides since my experience on Llangynidr have shown that I do have the horsepower to go better so I'm putting this hill down as a blip. I'm never going to be the quickest rider on the steeper stuff but I should be able to just keep motoring on.

I'm hoping to return to Wales very soon once the weather clears to tackle another two of the climbs. When I do I'll return to Llangynidr to finish what I started; hopefully without a bad case of cramp to ruin my day. The really annoying thing is I still haven't got a clue about how to pronounce it...

Sunday, 30 September 2012

The Tumble and Rhigos

Well, here it is, the footage from The Tumble. Not my fastest or smoothest performance on a hill. I struggled to settle into a decent pace on this climb and also went from freezing cold at the start to boiling hot which can't have helped. Still, the cold clear weather did help with the views from the top; The Tumble proved a particularly spectacular place to suffer on a bike.

I found Rhigos a much more straightforward climb. I had a chance to warm up before tackling it and whilst the long straight drag that forms the first part of this climb was a bit soul destroying and boring (I never thought I would find one of the 100 climbs boring) it did at least allow me to settle into a steady pace. I was still lacking some horsepower on this climb for some reason though so it won't rank as one of the fastest attempts ever made. Still, its another climb ticked off the list.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Wild Weekend in Wales

It was a simple plan, take a long weekend off, book into some cheap accommodation in South Wales and knock off 7 of the Welsh climbs over the course of 3 days. Sadly it didn’t work out entirely to plan. The main culprit for this was the weather. Through out the course of the week leading up to my long weekend in South Wales the weather forecast for the weekend was getting steadily worse. The remnants of a tropical storm were predicted to hit the South West of England and then Wales on the Sunday. I knew I would have a clear day on Saturday but wasn’t too sure what to expect on the Sunday. I was prepared to put up with getting a bit damp but when the forecasts from Friday onward started mentioning heavy downpours and gale force winds I began to think a waterproof jacket and a bit of determination wouldn’t quite be enough to ensure I achieved my goals.

During the course of Saturday the weather forecast for Sunday and Monday got steadily worse. I was intending to take on the Black Mountain climb on Sunday and riding up an exposed 7km climb in gale force winds and sideways rain seemed like a pretty foolish way to try and up my tally of climbs. I had learnt on the climbs I rode on the day before that the Welsh climbs are in pretty exposed locations and, with this knowledge I decided that the common sense approach was the best one to adopt and I headed home on the Sunday morning. The rain I encountered on the way home vindicated my decision and as I write this some parts of North Wales and the North of England are still suffering from flooding. Still I was able to tick off a couple of climbs on the Saturday and I have a cunning plan for completing the others that still remain in South Wales.

The Tumble

The first climb of the day on Saturday was The Tumble. Simon Warren describes The Tumble as a much feared climb and as I revved the hell out of my Fiat to reach the top I could see his point. There are a couple of tight corners on the lower slopes that mark an increase in gradient and it isn’t until you near the top of the climb that the gradient eases.

Parking up at the top I got my newly built Uncle John out of the car, saddled up and hurtled down the road to begin the climb. As I managed to get to the bottom in one piece I figured I had indeed put it together properly. Rather pleasingly it seems to handle quite nicely although I still reckon my trusty Cross Check feels more secure through the fast bends.

I made one mistake on this climb and it was this: I got my choice of clothing wrong. It was a simple mistake but I figured that as I would undoubtedly get really hot on the way up I would be better off keeping my layers thin and lightweight. What I didn’t factor in was just how cold I would get descending to the start. It was still relatively early in the morning and there had been a light frost the night before. By the time I’d reached the bottom of the climb I was frozen and as a result started the climb cold. In fact I was struggling to feel my fingers by the time I was ready to get going and trying to get my legs turning wasn’t much fun. The first couple of minutes of footage I shot with my helmet camera is even slightly blurry as the damn thing misted up as the heat rising from the vents in my bike helmet cleared the condensation that had formed on the lens.

Despite the maximum gradient being only 10% (‘only’ he says, a sure sign I know more about gradients than I should) I just couldn’t get into a decent rhythm. Lets just say I struggled on this climb. I ended up being much slower than I wanted to be on the lower wooded section and by the time I reached the exposed upper slopes I just felt totally buggered. When I wasn’t boiling in my own sweat I was freezing cold. Not getting my temperature under control meant that my pacing was too varied and I ended up wobbling up parts of the climb like a tired drunk and then trying to up the pace on the upper slopes without much success.

The stunning view from the top of The Tumble was only marginally spoiled by some pillock parking a bike in front of it

On the plus side the views from the top were fantastic and reaching the top of the climb brought with it a real sense of having achieved something. Albeit slowly.

Having suffered more than I expected to on The Tumble I figured I should pick a slightly easier climb for my next ride of the day. I took the dog for a short work whilst I mulled it over. I was planning to do Llangynidr Mountain next but Rhigos seemed like a better option for riding myself into some kind of form. It would be a bit of a drive to get to Rhigos but I needed to get some confidence back.


Despite being a bit slow on the way up I really enjoyed this climb. I was still a bit rattled by my poor performance on The Tumble and so the prospect of a long gradual climb followed by a couple of sharp uphill hairpins quite appealed. I figured I would be able to sort my riding out and get into a more controlled rhythm than I had been able to on the first climb of the day.

This climb started, like most of them do, with a long descent from the car at the top before heading back up. What is great about Rhigos is that the long straight section of road that makes up the bottom of the climb allows you hit maximum speed and push a big gear around without having to slow down for any corners. I arrived at the bottom full of adrenalin and raring to go. Well, raring to go once I’d had a pee. All this cold weather high speed riding had left me feeling a bit desperate so a quick pedal into the industrial estate at the foot of the climb and some furtive peeing up the side of a building was necessary before starting my ride up to the top. There is something very eerie about an industrial estate on a quiet Saturday afternoon and even though all of the units were closed for the weekend I still found myself looking over my shoulder as I took a leak. The start for this climb is also far from picturesque, made slightly less so than the puddle I left behind.

                              It looks like a very long way to the bottom from here...and it was

There is something about a long straight uphill road that some riders would find off putting. I actually quite enjoyed it as I was able to get into a decent rhythm and, even though I still seemed to be lacking horsepower, I made good progress up the lower half of the slope. As the climb gets steeper you are treated to an amazing view of a dramatic cliff face before entering a couple of hairpin bends. It was at this point of the ride I had to deal with some road works. They didn’t really hold me up too much and offered me the chance of a traffic free lane to ride in as I cheekily took to the coned off section of road. I tried my best to man up and push a bigger gear but my speed for the day seemed to be set at ‘Low’ so I just span my way up to the upper portion of the climb before selecting a more suitable gear and pushing on to the car.

Another great view spoilt by some idiot with a bike

All in all I kind of enjoyed Rhigos. I had managed to control my pacing a little better than on the Tumble but I was still concerned that I didn’t seem able to get my speed up. I like to view bottom gear as being a bail out gear, not my default setting, but I was struggling to do without it. I was hoping that things would pick up after some lunch. I was planning to tackle Llagyndir Mountain as the last ride of the day and the write up in the little black book of pain suggested I was going to be riding into a whole world of hurt if I didn’t get my approach right.

Llangynidr Mountain

I’m not sure what happened on this climb. It is a steep brute of an uphill ride and I was still feeling a bit spent from my efforts of the morning which undoubtedly played its part in me not performing at a level that meets even my meagre standards. But, with the weather being so clear it was foolish not to give it a go even though I was a bit concerned that this would be one climb too many on a day that had already featured a lot of driving about.

After a hurried lunch at the bottom I had left the car, my dad and the dog in a car park near the top of the climb and took a warp speed descent to the start of the climb. You know you are facing up to a long climb when you arrive at the bottom with hands like claws after having to apply the brakes so many times on the way down. After unclamping my hands from the brake levers I selected what I thought was an appropriate gear and got stuck in. I was a bit apprehensive as Llagynidr Mountain is an impressive place with equally impressive gradients there was no point in hanging about. I was however worried that my lack of pace was going to be a factor and unfortunately it did.

                                            A majestic view that concealed a world of pain

After about half a mile in the middle chain ring and a mid size sprocket I just sort of slowed to a crawl. Before I knew it I was clicking down into bottom gear and struggling to keep on top of even that. I have low gears on my bike; I know my limitations and try to work around them but when you feel yourself struggling to keep on top of a 28: 34 combo you know you’re in for a long and painful uphill climb. I would like to say I rode through this bad spell but it appeared to be in place for the whole of the climb and I painfully spun my way up the hill.

As I finally reached the first of the tight hairpins after what felt like a life time of slow uphill riding I didn’t so much blow up but shattered. My comedically slow riding ground to a halt as I started cramping up and every pedal stroke became agony. Rolling to a halt with only the impressive view and some very unimpressed sheep for company I realised that my riding for the day was effectively over. I’d lost my mojo in a big way and there was no chance I was going to get it back in a hurry. I got going again but only because cycling uphill with cramp is less awkward than trying to walk uphill in stiff soled cycling shoes. If it is possible to cycle with a limp I’m pretty sure that was what I did on that bit of road. As I passed the last hairpin and emerged onto the slightly easier gradient of the upper slopes I should have been clicking up a few gears before hitting the final hard part of the climb. Instead I was desperately hoping that the bike fairies had secretly fitted a mega low gear that I had not yet discovered. I was wasn’t just pedalling squares at this point I was pedalling rectangles, triangles and every other geometric shape that came to mind in an attempt to keep myself moving forwards. Lets just say it wasn’t pretty.

The really soul destroying thing was that as I reached the car park I knew I still had some more riding to do but every muscle in my legs was screaming at me to stop and, rather dejectedly, I did. I was just knackered and drained and in pain. I’m not happy about it but I could see no option but to climb off as I was in no fit state to complete the final sharp uphill section to the finish.

                                                        A slope too far...I shall return

As I took the dog for a brief walk in an attempt to get my legs working I was able to appreciate the stunning views from the top. It was just a shame I’d put myself through hell in order to admire them. The dog seemed quite unconcerned about the pain and suffering that had just been played out on the steep road and seemed more concerned with trying to eat sheep droppings but then he had been cooped up in my car for some time and probably thought I was a massive idiot by the time I came limping back to the car.

As I appeared red faced and broken back at the car his first thought was undoubtedly "Finally now we can go eat"

I can’t say that I’ve completed the climb up Llagynidr Mountain. I’ve ridden it but not reached the very top and so, like the Terminator, I’ll be back.

The footage of the climbs will follow on shortly. It is taking a while to edit them but watch this space

Monday, 10 September 2012

The Autumn Campaign Begins

Well sort of. I’ve been offline for a while but now I’m back and getting stuck in to the preparations for my second stage in tackling the 100 climbs. Taking the summer off was initially motivated by my desire to avoid having to deal with tourist traffic and hot weather. In the end I managed to avoid one of the wettest British summers on record. The traffic volumes would undoubtedly have been lower because of the weather but I’m not sad to have avoided constant sideways rain whilst trying to pedal up steep hills. All in all I think my move to spend my summer getting some training rides in and building up a new bike was the correct one.

So, what have I been doing? Well, there has obviously been the obligatory cycling up hills in a vain attempt to make the hills of South Wales, which I’ll be tackling in a couple of weeks, feel flatter. My training hasn’t been helped by the appalling weather, and after a while cleaning my bike almost daily got to be tedious, but I’m scaling some of the local climbs faster and in higher gears than I have previously so it hasn’t all been bad. I’ve even done the odd training loop on my mountain bike in a half baked attempt at strength training. Not sure what the people of North Devon made of the portly red faced bloke riding very enthusiastically but ultimately very slowly uphill on knobbly tyres but I think I can feel the benefit.

Apart from dodging the rain I’ve been busy swearing at things in the garage as I attempted to build a new bike that would be a bit lighter and more responsive for the rest of the remaining climbs. Initially I was going to rebuild my old Bianchi but the finished product fell down in a few areas. After years of riding with V brakes and disc brakes I found road bike calliper brakes just don’t impress me any more. I’ve got used to being able to almost stand a bike on it’s nose when slowing down. I’ve also got used to the advantages that fatter tyres can offer; mainly a more secure feeling of grip in damp conditions and better ride comfort on rough roads. Most of the climbs I’ll be tackling are in fairly exposed areas and in the 20 climbs I’ve ridden so far I’ve experienced a range of different road conditions, most of them rough. I also had a problem getting my desired gearing choice to work on the Bianchi and ended up with a chain line from hell that I couldn’t resolve. Because of these issues I decided to settle on a cyclo-cross frame as the basis of my new bike. I could fit big brakes, as many gears as I want and use fatter tyres than a road bike frame will allow.

After much head scratching I bought an Uncle John frame from Planet X and teamed it up with a Kinesis CX Disc fork. Both of these give me the option of running disc brakes if I want to in the future but for now I’ll be using Vs and the wheels off my Surly Cross Check. I’ve fitted it with my usual combination of mountain bike gears as even I’m aware that my summer of training won’t have left me so fit that I can fly up hills in top gear; I’m a low gear spinner and probably always will be.

The build wasn’t without its problems and the bottom bracket shell needed facing by my local bike shop to an extent that they’ve never seen before (it was on the wonk so much you could see it). I’m also struggling with a headset that is either too tight or too loose and I suspect a new headset will be needed at some point if I can‘t get the current one running smoothly. In addition to this the lovely metallic blue paint only needs you to look at it and it will chip. God only knows what being slung in and out of the car over the coming months will do to it. I’ve learned to live with the fact the wonky bar tape and an uncut steerer tube is the signature mark of all the bikes I build. Actually the alloy used on the Kinesis fork is so thick I’d probably need an angle grinder to shorten the damn thing and I’m not sure my neighbours could take the swearing. Apart from a few niggles I am happy with the bike. It feels faster than my Cross Check and it is a hell of a lot lighter. I can’t necessarily say the same about me but a lighter bike is at least a start.

Not a traditional road bike but surprisingly effective

My faithful Surly Cross Check is still going strong but the lighter stiffer ride offered by the Uncle John means the Surly will be relegated to being my spare bike. Besides the Cross Check needs a complete respray after three years of hard use which I’ll probably sort out over the winter.

The new bike will be getting a full workout in a couple of weeks when I spend a long weekend taking on seven of the Welsh climbs. I’m aiming to do no more than three climbs a day in order to limit the fatigue that builds up by the need to travel between the climbs. My trip to the Peak District also taught me that if I try four climbs in one day I’ll end up grovelling up every single climb the following day and now that I’m having to travel to increasingly far flung locations to take on the climbs I can’t risk not being able to complete the targeted climbs. More to follow on my Welsh adventures.


Sunday, 29 July 2012

The summer holidays are here…time for a break

Well, that isn’t strictly true; the summer holidays are here for everybody with children at school and to avoid hassle with overly busy roads, long delays in traffic and finding accommodation I’m putting the hill climbing on hold until September. Travelling between the hills is time consuming, and sometimes stressful, enough and I could do without adding to that by having to deal with tourist traffic. I’m also entering a phase in this challenge when I will need to spend several days away from home in order to tick of the climbs in different parts of the UK now that I have pretty much finished the South West. Finding somewhere to stay at the height of the tourist season will be difficult, and pricey, so I think it is better to spend August preparing for the next phase of my 100 climbs challenge and be ready to start making progress again in the autumn. That isn’t to say that I’ll be taking it easy on the beach with a beer in the meantime. In fact August is going to be a pretty busy month as I prepare to take on the climbs in Wales.

From September I’m intending to start taking on the 80 of the remaining climbs region by region with Wales as the first target. The planning has started and I’m already past the stage of plotting out where the climbs are and the route to follow. I’m going to start with the climbs in South Wales on one trip and then return to Wales to tackle the climbs in the North. Some of the Welsh climbs are pretty fearsome combining steep gradients with some pretty lengthy sections of road. Suffice to say I’ll be doing some fairly serious training rides during August in an attempt to prepare. I’ll probably still end up wheezing my way to the top of every Welsh climb in bottom gear at one mile an hour but at least I’ll be well prepared!

One thing you need when taking on the 100 climbs is a lot of maps. Just as well I like looking at them.

As well as spending a lot of time grinding my way up the steepest hills North Devon can offer for training I’ve got a new bike to build. It was my intention to use my old Bianchi road bike as a lightweight hill climbing machine. Unfortunately the build has been problematic and I’ve ended up with a bike I’m not overly happy with. Using my Surly Cross Check for the first 20 climbs has taught me a lot about the sort of bike I’m happy with in the hills and I’ve made the decision to strip the Bianchi down and use most of the components on it to build up something completely different based on a frame and fork I picked up cheap off the interweb. More details will be released soon but I think I’ve made the right call. The Cross Check will be kept as a spare bike. In fact it is three years since I first built it up and the poor thing is looking and feeling rather tired. At some point in the next few weeks I’m going to give it a complete overhaul and maybe even finally get around to cutting down the steerer tube to an aesthetically pleasing length.

I need to get some new kit sorted out over the summer as well. One of the most important things I need to sort out is a replacement for Ass Cam which sadly died only a few rides into the 100 climbs. Having a rearward facing camera is really good for showing the gradient on the climbs and also makes my slow moving videos slightly more interesting. I’ve found a camera I think will do the job but I’ll need to spend some time testing it and getting the mounting on the bike right. Perhaps unsurprisingly camera makers don’t make seat post mounts and some improvisation will be required.

Anyway, after a productive weekend getting in some useful training rides I’m off to undo all the good work with a couple of beers…

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Dover's Hill

I was hoping that this would be a write up of how I ticked Weston Hill and Dover’s Hill off the list within 24 hours of each other. Unfortunately my plans to ride Weston Hill in Bath didn’t quite work out.

The plan was simple, I had a couple of days meetings in Oxfordshire planned and I would take on Weston Hill on my way to the first and then Dover’s Hill the following day after my meetings finished. My day started well enough and I left the house nice and early but my journey into Bath took longer than was ideal and the closer I got the slower I went. By the time I got to the foot of Weston Hill time was against me and it was clear that I wouldn’t have time to complete the ride, find somewhere to get changed and then get to my meeting. Work had to come first so I had to abort. The good thing is I got to scope out the climb, find a decent place to park near the top. I also thankfully found a quicker route to get to the climb for when I have the time to go back.

Dover’s Hill was a lot more straightforward. After a day sat on my backside in meetings I only had to drive about thirty miles, do the climb and then go home. Of course that was the theory. My first main problem after leaving work was finding somewhere to get changed. I was on a tight schedule so decided that it would be more time efficient to get as close to the climb as possible before getting changed in a lay by. Changing out of office attire into cycling gear requires a certain amount of nakedness and finding a quiet lay by was difficult. I had to get changed using the door mirrors to figure out when cars were passing. I also managed to drop a sock in a puddle which was less than ideal. It isn’t an experience I’m looking to repeat anytime soon!

Once I had managed the most stressful change in clothes in history I drove onto Dover’s Hill and after finding it (I naturally drove past it the first time) got parked up and rode down to the start. I’m glad I didn’t wait until getting to the hill before getting changed as it seems Dover’s Hill is a popular spot with early evening dog walkers.

Dover’s Hill is actually quite a pretty little climb out of an attractive Gloucestershire village. Sadly I wasn’t able to fully appreciate it as two days in meetings had left me feeling below par. The legs were working OK and the climb isn’t particularly steep but I huffed and puffed my way to the top like a 60 a day smoker. It probably didn’t help that there had been a heavy shower before I got to Dover’s Hill and as I coasted down to the start I got completely soaked. Despite the now familiar soundtrack of my laboured breathing I actually found the climb pretty easy to complete and it was nice to drive back to Devon knowing that I had completed the 20th climb out of the 100. Driving for three hours in damp cycling shorts isn’t something I intend to repeat but after the earlier hassle of getting changed in public I couldn’t face going through the experience all over again.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Haytor Vale and Salcombe Hill

I thought it was high time I finished off the climbs in Devon and so set off early on Saturday the 30th to take on Haytor Vale and Salcombe Hill. Setting off early is pretty essential when riding on Dartmoor at this time of year as the tourist traffic can get pretty heavy. I prefer to do my uphill suffering without having to dodge caravans.

I parked up at the top of Haytor around 8am and coasted down to the start. It was a good opportunity to scope out the climb and the gradient and I was quite pleased to see that the gradient varied a lot along the length of the climb. This sort of variable longer climb suits me better as I like the chance to ease off on the flatter bits. A longer climb also lets me get a bit more settled into a decent pace.

The ride up to Haytor has two distinct sections. The first is made up of the lower slopes where the majority of the 12% sections lurk. This part of the climb is quite sheltered and there was a lot of water on the road surface from the recent heavy rain. The lower section of the climb I found out is also sheltered from the wind and I was able to make good progress and managed to last a bit longer than I usually do before dropping down into bottom gear. My gears gave me a bit of hassle just after starting off and an unplanned pit stop was required to fiddle around with the front derailleur. It was fairly easy to resolve although I did need to make some further adjustments once I’d reached the top of the climb. Apart from that the only other thing I wasn’t expecting on the way up the climb was encountering wheel spin on a cattle grid. I would like to say it was because I was riding so hard that my back tyre broke traction. In reality the surface of the metal cattle grid was soaking wet. Gave me a bit of a shock though.


The second section of the climb is made up of the upper slopes and is much more exposed. Unfortunately the exposed nature of the climb meant that I had to deal with a nasty head wind which really slowed my progress up the final stretch. I was relieved to get back to the car as the final drag up to the car park at the summit was made far harder than it needed to be by the strengthening wind.

Haytor, looks impressive and sadly so was the strength of the head wind

After a quick breather at the top I loaded the bike into the car and headed off to Sidmouth to complete the final climb in Devon; Salcombe Hill.

Salcombe Hill is quite representative of the sort of climb I dislike. It is sort and steep, reaching a gradient of 20% at the top. The road up to the summit also proved to be very busy and it would seem the residents of Sidmouth don’t care much for cyclists and I grew pretty fed up with not being left much space by passing cars. Despite the steepness of the climb and the idiotic driving of a few motorists the climb was at least sheltered from the wind that had been an unpleasant feature of the top of Haytor Vale.

The gradient steadily ramps up as you ride up Salcombe Hill and perhaps unsurprisingly I got slower and slower the further up I went. Thankfully just as I thought I was about to explode I reached the top of the climb. Salcombe Hill was much shorter than I was expecting it to be and after a brief cool down on the flatter section of road at the top I was able to stick the bike back in the car and get home in time to watch the start of the Tour de France.

Next climb will be Weston Hill in Bath

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Bonus Video - Descending through Winnats Pass

As I'm not doing any rides this weekend I thought I would post up the following video. It is another chance to see the impressive Winnats Pass. It took me far less time to get back down to my car than it did to get to the top although my less than polished descending technique nearly failed me at one point and I came close to overcooking it entering the final left hand bend.

Next weekend I intend to tackle the two remaining climbs in Devon that I have not yet been able to get around to doing. Hopefully by this time next week I'll be busy editing videos of my efforts to climb Haytor Vale and Salcombe Hill. After that I will only have a further two climbs to complete in the South West. Wales will be my focus after I've reached that milestone. The ferocious nature of some of the Welsh Climbs is partly the reason why I wasn't out ticking off more of the 100 climbs this weekend; I'm going to need to up my game considerably and so some more measured training rides were required.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Peak District Adventure - Part Two

Day two of my time in Derbyshire started early, very early. 5.30am early in fact. I planned to do Bank Road and Riber then drive across to the climb at Peaslows before driving home to Devon. Seeing as how Bank Road is in the middle of Matlock and I had a full day planned I reasoned it would be best to see off that climb, and the one up to Riber Castle, before the roads got too busy. Bank Road is after all one of the main streets in Matlock and a steep hill is bad enough without being buzzed by lots of traffic.

In order to make sure I could get up and out of where I was staying with as few delays as possible I built the Cross Check up the night before. That way I could get up, get dressed, wheel the bike out to the car and then onto the first climb of the day. Thankfully every Travelodge room seems to have some dead space in it's layout and I managed to fit the bike into an already crowded room with no bother. Not sure what the receptionist made of a portly bloke wheeling a bike past her desk first thing in the morning but I didn't hang around to find out. I was tempted to ride it out to the car park but thought better of it at the last minute.

                 Very thoughtful of Travelodge to provide a space for a bicycle in every room

My early start meant I was able to get into Matlock and the foot of the first climb just before 6.30am. Bank Road itself is quite an intimidating climb. It is a relatively straight bit of road that just rises up in front of you with a gradient that slowly gets steeper as you get closer to the top. There is no opportunity to ease off and you have  no option but to dig in and get on with it.

It was a bit of a shock to the system starting a climb so early in the morning but I managed to winch my way up to the top in bottom gear without too much trouble. After a lot of driving and hill climbing the day before I actually felt quite fresh. I can only assume I'm either getting slightly better at this hill climbing lark or I was just still half asleep and wasn't fully aware of what I was doing. Either way after the ususal heavy breathing and slow pedalling routine I made it to the top and then descended back to the car with the intention of tackling the climb up to Riber Castle. It was on the road up to Riber I decided to alter my plans for the day.

The climb up to Riber is a steep one and ranked as a 9/10. As my underpowered Fiat struggled up to the top and I woke up half of Matlock by redlining it's puny engine in first gear I realised I wasn't going to be able to do the climb justice. Riber is a brute of a climb. If I was having trouble getting up it in my car I was almost certainly going to have a hard time on the bike. I've got to travel up to the area to complete a few of the other climbs in the book (most notably the Cat and Fiddle) at some point in the future and I was reluctant to tackle Riber knowing that I would in all probability grind to a halt half way up and have to resort to pushing my bike up. The final part of the climb has several savage hairpin bends that I know would have gotten the better of me at my current level of fitness. Stop on the upper section of the climb and the gradient, road surface and narrowness of the climb mean you will in all likelihood be unable to get going again. If I'm going to tackle that climb I want to do it properly and so I decided that Peaslows would be my next and final climb of the day. When I feel fitter and more up to the challenge I shall take on Riber but for now it can wait. No point in making a half arsed attempt when I know I can do better with a bit more training.

This decision to tackle only two climbs meant I was able to get back to the Travelodge at Alfreton, have breakfast, complete my packing and travel across to the climb up Peaslows by just after 10.30. The climb itself was a bit awkward to find, mainly because I relied on my crap nav and not the map, and so I was feeling a bit harassed as I started my descent from the car down to the start. Peaslows has a fairly steady 12% gradient all the way to the top. It is only ranked as a 4/10 but I struggled to get going on it. I was starting to feel a little fatigued by the combination of driving and cycling and it took until half way up the climb before I found any sort of regular rhythm. Just as I started hitting what I consider to be my stride my ride was interrupted by a small dog running out into the road to say hello. It was a very small dog and I was worried I might run it over so I had to stop. I didn't complain too much as a chance for a breather when cycling up a steep hill is always to be appreciated and it didn't take long before the dogs owner carried it away and I could get restarted.

If I'm being totally honest I found Peaslows a bit of a boring climb. The gradient isn't too bad but there isn't anything particularly interesting about the climb. It just drags uphill for longer than seems necessary and you eventually end up next to a rather unassuming reservoir. It wasn't one of my better efforts but it is one more to tick off the list and by the end of my time in Derbyshire I had bagged six climbs and upped my overall total to 17. I felt knackered but fairly happy as I drove back to Devon.

All I need to do now is finish off the rest of the climbs in the South West and then move onto the Welsh climbs. If I'm being honest I'm not looking forward to Wales. Some of the climbs are quite fearsome and I'm going to have to up my game if I'm to do them any justice. Before I even get there however the bike is going to need a bit of TLC. I built it up three years ago and it could do with a partial rebuild. Slinging it in and out of the car on numerous occastions over the last few months hasn't done it any favours either.