Saturday, 28 April 2012

Oh dear, that doesn't feel good...

Some days things just aren't destined to go your way. It doesn't matter how well prepared you are life throws you a curve ball and your plans fall apart. Today was a day like that. It was my intention to tackle the four climbs on Dartmoor starting with Rundlestone. About a mile and a half into the ride my right knee packed up. I've had a wonky knee ever since a car accident when I was 18 left me with a knee the size of a football and lots of deep bruising to the soft tissue surrounding the joint. It hasn't been the same since and every now and then I'll get an ache or even a sharp pain through it. A bit of rest usually lets it clear up. If it occurs when I'm out cycling I can usually change the cadence of my pedalling or shift my position about a bit to take the strain off. I always use clipless pedals with lots of lateral float as a result and normally get by OK.

Today however was different. No matter what I tried the pain wouldn't go away and only got worse and I started going slower and slower as a result. I knew I was going slowly when an elderly gent on a heavy looking hybrid caught up with me. He at least had the good grace to complain about the strengthening head wind as he passed and then dropped me on the climb. I continued climbing for another mile or so but trying to pedal uphill with my left leg doing most of the work into a strong head wind meets my definition of stupid and, in order to avoid completely knackering my knee, I felt I should stop. A macho all out push to the summit would have been a dramatic and possibly more satisfying tactic to follow but I still have quite a few rides to tackle and I'd rather live to ride another day. Annoyingly I was probably quite close to the to top when I bailed. I say probably as the weather had started to turn and low cloud obscured the higher ground so it was a job to tell how far I still had to go.

The descent back down to Tavistock where I'd left the car confirmed that the day was one where nothing was going to go my way when my chain unshipped itself at about 35 – 40 miles an hour. I can only assume my bike handling skills are better than I previously thought as I was somehow able to avoid face planting in heavy traffic.

I won't say that I'm gutted or devastated by the failure to complete the rides I had planned because I'm not. Dartmoor isn't going anywhere and I'll be back to finish the job in the near future. I'll probably spend the next two weeks resting my knee and doing a few light rides and finish off Dartmoor on the 12th May. It is more annoying than anything else as it will knock my timetable for taking on the rides in the Midlands and Wales out of whack.

On a more positive note Rundlestone should, on a good day, be a decent ride and hopefully I'll have better weather when I go back. I've also learnt that the organic food and hemp loving residents of Tavistock drive like savages as they race to complete their Saturday morning shop so I'll make sure that I start the ride very early next time.

The third sign my day was not going to go as planned came as I drove home to North Devon. I got stuck behind a tractor. A tractor towing another tractor. If nothing else it did help redefine my idea of what slow really is...

I'll be back Dartmoor.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Exmoor Forest, far easier than I thought it would be...

I've driven down the road into Lynmouth many times over the years and I've even walked up it to watch the Tour of Britain go by but up until now I've never cycled up it. The roads round that part of Devon are steep enough to give my car grief and on a busy summers day the smell of the sea is usually overpowered by the odour of burnt clutch and ruined brakes.

Even though Lynmouth is in a particularly steep part of North Devon the route was only graded as a 3/10 and I was pleasantly surprised that the initial part of the ride was pretty easy going. The ride up the valley road early in the morning was really picturesque and the sound of my efforts was drowned out by the River Lyn and bird song. I was even able to use something other than bottom gear.

Once I turned off the main road however the climb got steeper as it climbed through the last part of the forest. At one point I was starting to think that the gradient was never going to slacken off but after two steep hairpin bends I slowly climbed onto the edge of Exmoor. Once up on the top the views really opened up and I was able to stop wheezing like a 60 a day smoker, get into a higher gear and rattle along at a fair old pace. I didn't hang around too long up the top however as I could see storm clouds gathering and the temperature dropped. Its probably a ride I'll do again however as it was a great feeling being up on Exmoor and I was sorely tempted to keep following the road for a few more miles.

                                                     The view was rather good up top

The ride back down to the car was lumpy to say the least. On the way up I'd been moving slowly enough not to notice the rough road surface. On the descent I was bounced all over the road. The footage of that part of the ride is punctuated by the sound of me swearing and swerving all over the place. Not good viewing.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

A weekend off...

...well not so much a weekend off, more a chance to regroup, sort out a few bike related jobs and get a couple of training rides in.

After riding Challacombe last week the Cross Check needs a good strip down and general clean up. Its amazing how such a short ride in the hills in bad weather can knacker a bikes drive train and brakes so I need to spend some quality time in the garage swearing at tools and bicycle components in order to get it fighting fit for the next lot of rides.

The time table I'm working to means that the Exmoor Forest climb is the next one up to be tackled on the 21st April. Following that I'm aiming to tick off the Rundlestone, Dartmeet, Widdecombe and Haytor Vale climbs on the 28th and then have a day at the sea side and tick off the Salcombe Hill climb in Sidmouth on the 5th May.

That little lot will mark the end of the climbs nearest to me and I can start focussing my attention on the climbs further North and in Wales. Some of the Welsh climbs look particularly fearsome so I'm not sure I'm looking forward to them. I've been out on my extremely heavy touring bike on some steep rides in a half arsed attempt to prepare.

My recent planning hasn't just been focussed on which climbs to tackle next. There is the small matter of sorting out my Bianchi so it is ready to be pressed into service. Seeing as it is quite literally just a frame and fork at the moment there is a fair bit of sorting out needed. I've got about 75% of the components needed to get it built up and my local bike shop is helping me locate a suitable headset. Hopefully it will be ready by the 5th May.

The Bianchi will be a lighter and faster bike that my trusty Surly Cross Check and hopefully easier to fit into the back of my car. I recently bought a Fiat Qubo which is a great little car to use as bicycle transport. The rear seats come out completely and as the photo below shows I can fit a whole bike in there quite easily.

         When you are tired and worn out not having to dismantle a bike to transport it is a real boon

However, with the Cross Check in the car I lose most of the luggage space so I've looked into the options for fitting an internal rack which will support the bike with the front wheel off. The Bianchi will have a much shorter wheel base and would suit this option really well. I could also avoid the problem of a loose bike banging around in the back. The sound of a car interior and bicycle being scratched simultaneously isn't a pleasant one and bungy cords are only so effective at stopping this from happening.

There are a few manufacturers who sell internal bike racks that allow you to secure your bike upright in the boot of a car. These however are usually sold  at ridiculously high prices so using a cheap fork clamp bought off the internet and a couple of bits of old fence post I found in the shed (yes, really) I made my own and saved a lot of money in the process. I've yet to try it out properly but it seems to do the trick. No doubt I'll get a chance to find out next weekend.

                           A bit of sanding, drilling and not too much swearing produced this

It will need to be prettied up a little bit but when I stuck the bike on it in the driveway it didn't fall over so I would consider my DIY efforts a success. I've never been keen on the idea of my bike being strapped to the outside of a moving car which is why I've gone down this route.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Challacombe - A wet morning in North Devon

As the Challacombe ride is fairly close to me and the weather was going to be bad on the day I planned to ride it I decided to do it on its own and leave the Exmoor Forest ride for a drier day. It is just as well I did as the weather was appalling and even getting my bike out of the car was a damp experience. I doubt trying to fit two rides into such a wet day would have been a sensible idea.

I arrived in Woolacombe to park up and get the ride going quite early in the morning. The relatively early hour and the terrible weather meant the place was pretty much deserted. For a bank holiday Monday that's quite a rarity. A couple of locals were out walking their rather fed up looking dogs but that was about it.

Getting the bike out of the car and sticking on my cycling shoes and helmet were enough to get me soaked so I was feeling quite cold by the time I got going. Knowing that the weather was going to be wet I only took my helmet camera with me. I suspect my Chinese knock off camera (a.k.a. Ass Cam) is about as water proof as a tea bag so I left it at home.

The lower part of the climb was quite straight forward. The climb is rated 6/10 as although it hits gradients of 25% in places it is only fairly short at about a mile in length. I was planning to ride to Mortehoe and back to get warmed up for it but the weather meant that such an effort would have been pointless so I just got stuck straight into it. As I rode through a lot of standing water at the foot of the climb I did briefly question the reasoning behind removing my bikes mudguards. I'll say no more on the matter but experienced cyclists will know why I had every motivation to get the ride over and done with and change into some dry clothes.

As I hit the 25% section of the climb I found out what many other cyclists have found out before me: cold muscles don't like steep hills. I had to adopt the dreaded zig zag strategy to get up the hill as it helped to lessen the gradient to a certain extent. The wind was blowing a fair bit at this point however so I felt more like a sailor trying to tack a sailing boat than a cyclist. Thankfully I only encountered one car as zig zagging all over the road is likely to get messy if the traffic is heavy. It did at least get me to the top albeit in a less than graceful and composed fashion.

The top of the climb didn't bring with it the sense of achievement I was hoping for, probably because I couldn't see much (a combination of water on my glasses and low cloud). All I wanted to do was get back down the hill fast and into a warm car. The descent was interesting to say the least with a lot of standing water to ride through and rapidly disintegrating brake pads to deal with.

The next ride I tackle will be the last one in North Devon. Then I'll make start on the South Devon climbs which will involve taking on several on the same day. After Challacombe my bike needs some serious TLC and I may be forced to finally clean it. Hopefully by the start of May I'll have cleared the South West climbs and be ready to move onto Wales.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Cheddar Gorge...going downhill

I thought I would stick the following video up just because I have the footage and I enjoyed the descent as much as I enjoyed going up through the gorge. Besides it is another chance to take a look at the scenary. I'm really glad I decided to do Cheddar Gorge on its own. It is a very special place and I suspect I'll be back to ride it again at some point in the future.

I'm not sure if my camera is totally happy when it comes to recording footage at speed. The jarring of rough road surfaces seems to make it a little jumpy and the footage tends to look either faster or slower than it was in real life. Either way rest assured there were a couple of bends in the middle of the gorge where I very nearly overcooked it by carrying too much speed into the corners. You can make out the scrubbing noise of my brakes working overtime in a few spots if you listen carefully.

Getting to Cheddar early definitely paid of as coming back through the gorge and having to dodge tourists later in the day would have been tricky. As it was my progress back to the car park was hampered by a pair of idiots in a camper van who were more engrossed in reading their map than getting out of the way of traffic.

My next ride up will be Challacombe Hill in North Devon. I'm using the fact I live in North Devon to my advantage and picking off the local climbs one by one. Towards the end of the month I'll have to start travelling around a bit more and taking on multiple climbs in one day. Hopefully by May I'll be able to start the Welsh climbs.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Cheddar Gorge

I decided to tackle Cheddar Gorge as my third ride out of the hundred. After grinding my way up the monstrous climbs of Porlock Hill and Dunkery Beacon I fancied a change of pace. Cheddar Gorge is rated as a 3/10 by Simon Warren and I was hoping for a relatively easy ride.

After getting up stupidly early (5.30am on a Saturday morning, not recommended) I got to Cheddar just after 8am (I only live about 80 miles away but I'm very slow moving first thing in the morning)  and found the road through the gorge totally free of tourist traffic. Even the car parks that line the gorge were empty. Given that Cheddar can be a bit tacky when the tourist season is in full swing (although I do approve of shops selling only cider) it was nice to ride through the place at a time when it was quiet. It does pay to get up early it seems, especially as the place was starting to get busier when I rolled back down the road back into Cheddar about 20 or so minutes later.

The climb started off pretty easily past the crappy faux ski resort buildings at the base of the climb and, apart from a couple of 16% hairpin bends about a 3rd of the way up, the gradient was pretty gentle all the way up. As you reach the top of the gorge the gradient lessens and the terrain opens up after passing through a wooded section and it is easy to start building up some speed. The only real problem I encountered was the reckless driving of some local delivery drivers. It is easy to forget that such a picturesque route is actually on a major road and the gorge has to deal with a lot of traffic.

There were plenty of other cyclists out on the roads. No doubt some of them were there to tick Cheddar off their own 100 climbs list. It was a pretty drama free affair and I had trouble editing the video together as there is only so much interest you can generate by showing endless scenes of cliffs slowly rolling by! I say slowly as I have wanted to ride Cheddar Gorge for a while and so took my time on the way up in order to take in all of the views. It really feels like a very special place to cycle through.

Don't worry. Normal service will be resumed on the 9th April when I take on Challacombe in North Devon. That hits 25% in places which I'm quickly realising is my least favourite of all the gradients. Expect slow cycling, heavy breathing and occasional swearing.