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.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Peak District Adventure - Part One

On the 11th June I loaded my bike, my dad and the dog into the car and headed up to the Peak District for a couple of days of hill climbing action. My intention was to tick off seven climbs in two days. I only managed to tackle six in the end (more of which later) but all in all I’m quite pleased with how things went. Despite being June the weather was dry and my legs and bike managed to keep going long enough to get the job done.

The little black book of pain has quite a few climbs in Derbyshire and it made sense to base myself just outside Matlock in a Travelodge over a couple of days and take on as many of the climbs as I could. On the first day just over 80 miles of driving got me to the base of 4 separate climbs. If you want to minimise fatigue cutting down on the driving involved between climbs is a great way to do it.

                        When mutilple climbs fit onto the same map you know you're onto a winner

After driving up on the 11th and getting no sleep (sharing a room with a homesick Cocker Spaniel will do that) my first climb was Monsal Head on the 12th June.

Climbing HQ for the next couple of days with an apparently very interesting bin. The beer is purely for medicinal purposes...

Monsal Head is only a short climb and proved a good warm up for the day ahead. It isn’t too hard a climb being rated only a 3/10 and is over very quickly. After spending some time putting my bike together on a car park (some swearing and cursing was involved) I coasted down the hill and got stuck in after a brief warm up.

                                                      Pedalling slowly uphill since 2012

I think it is fair to say that Malcolm Elliott’s time of 1m 14.2 is safe but I span my way up fairly easily and found I had an audience of bikers (of the motorised kind) and hikers as I crested the top of the climb. Not sure what they made of the panting cyclist gurning his way up the hill at 2 mph but I had achieved what I needed to, slung the bike back in the car and set the sat nav for Castleton and Winnats Pass.

My crap nav has a very idiosyncratic way of finding a suitable route, especially in rural areas, and the journey to Castleton took in some very steep and narrow roads (including a few that Simon Warren may want to consider if he ever writes a third 100 Climbs book). At one point it tried to direct me into a quarry but despite creeping down some very steep single track roads we eventually got to the foot of the climb. Castleton itself is a busy tourist hub for the Peak District and Winnats Pass proved easy to find once there. It rises up impressively over the town and from a distance looks quite daunting. I drove up the pass to scope it out before parking up and it is as impressive as it’s name suggests. It is also a busy tourist route which is a bit of a nuisance as you constantly have to deal with confused tourists weaving past you as they try to find a pub/ shop/ public toilet.

                                                  Starting the climb up Winnats Pass

The gradient stays fairly constant at about 14% all of the way up but the fantastic surroundings help take your mind off the challenge ahead. Having had the chance to drive up and down the pass before parking up I knew exactly what to expect and how many sweeping corners there were to negotiate before reaching the top. I won’t say it was an easy climb because it wasn’t (in fact it is deserving of it’s 8/10 rating) but it took me far less time than I thought it would (about 15 minutes) and I felt quite positive about the two climbs I had to take on in the afternoon.

                            I can now take this bike apart and put it back together with my eyes closed

After a quick breather at the top the descent back to the car was great fun but I came very close to overcooking it on one of the bends which shook off any complacency.

After having lunch in Castleton (a place full of pubs, tea rooms and gift shops and seemingly nothing else) it was onto the climb at Curbar Edge. I have learnt that a 6/10 rating for a climb is one to be treated with caution and as I drove up to the top of Curbar Edge it became clear that this would be a tough little climb. The gradient starts off relatively steep and doesn’t really back off all of the way up. To finish off the climb has a few sharpish turns at the top where the road steepens before easing off at the summit. Getting to the foot of the climb from the top was fun but getting back up took a fair bit longer that I expected it too. Curbar Edge is a very popular place with ramblers and at one point I had visions of pensioners with walking poles and red socks striding past me as I wheezed up in bottom gear. Thankfully it didn’t quite come to that but I felt the effort of getting to the top far more than I had done at Winnats Pass. As there was an ice cream van at the top I felt I should celebrate with a 99 flake. The dog also needed a walk and a stroll along the ‘edge’ proved a good way of warming down after another gurnfest. The edge is actually a very prominent rock formation along the top of a valley and is well worth a look.

My final climb of the day was the one up to Rowsley Bar. This is another 6/10 and seemed worse than the climb up to Curbar Edge. The gradient is steep from the off and gets steeper with a series of nasty hairpin bends to tackle at the very top. The road is also very busy with a pretty poor road surface. After a bit of a struggle to find somewhere suitable to park at the top I rode down to the foot of the climb. It proved to be a pretty sketchy descent as the road surface at the hairpins is even worse on a bike than it appears in a car. Combine a bad road surface and a lot of water running down the road and the result was a locked up back wheel on more than one occasion. The locals seem to treat the road like a rally special stage and weren’t taking any prisoners through the hairpins and as I result I wasn‘t looking forward to the top of the climb on my way back up.

Previously I’ve only managed three climbs in one day and Rowsley Bar was almost a climb to far for me. It had afterall been a long day in the car with some uphill bike riding thrown in for good measure. As soon as I got going on the lower slopes I knew I was going to have a hard time. The climb just seems relentless and I struggled to get comfortable on the bike. The video footage probably doesn’t show it too well but it seemed like every few seconds there was an impatient motorist trying to squeeze past. I actually found Rowsley Bar quite an unpleasant experience because of the traffic and the attitude of some of the motorists. The hairpins at the top were the particularly sour icing on the hill shaped cake. I managed the first two albeit very slowly but as I tried to find my rhythm and a decent surface to cycle on I ran out of steam tackling the third. This was bad, very bad. There seemed to be a never ending flow of traffic to deal with and a blind uphill corner with water streaming over it’s surface. I did eventually get going again but it was a stressful and difficult process and trying to find traction was a struggle. I was incredibly glad to reach the upper part of the slope, knock the bike up a gear or two. Still, with Rowsley Bar done I had finished climb 15 and could look forward to (if look forward is the right phrase) a Little Chef dinner and another night in an over heated Travelodge room before day two.

To be continued...


Friday, 1 June 2012

Crowcombe 1 - Fat idiot on bike...1/2 (well I made it up to the top)

A business meeting that I knew would finish quite late in the day gave me the opportunity to tackle Crowcombe. The time I got out of the meeting meant I would hit the climb very late in the day but as it has been so sunny and warm recently I was hoping it would mean the temperature would be slightly lower.

I decided to warm up for the climb by parking up on Quantock Common and riding along and then down to the start of the climb. I’d spent all day in meetings or in the car and it worked out to be a good plan.

Quantock Common itself is a lovely place and it looked fantastic in the early evening sun. There were even a couple of friendly horses grazing where I parked the car. The youngest of the two horses was especially friendly and found my handle bar tape to be very interesting and, quite possibly, a nice light snack. I had to very gently but firmly direct the horse in question back to the patch of grass it was munching before I'd turned up.

My experience with a bike eating horse over I started the descent of Crowcombe back to the start and was instantly hit by how steep the climb is. It is a 25% gradient for most of the way up and I achieved some pretty astonishing speeds on the way down. I lost count of the number of escape roads I went hurtling past. It didn’t bode well for my climb back up.

A quick turnaround at the base of the hill followed and I started what turned out to be a very painful grind up to the top. The first quarter of the climb isn’t too bad. It is steep but bearable and fairly shaded but you soon hit the 25% gradient section, which is most of it, the trees providing shade thin out and you find yourself on a stretch of road that just heads straight up. There are seemingly no changes in gradient or any significant corners to ease off on. I have to admit I struggled. Any gradient below 20% I have always found you can back off for a bit if the going gets tough before reapplying the power. With a 25% gradient there is no such luxury, you have to keep pressing on. If you stop you know you’ll have to expend a huge amount of effort to get going again. At one point I did stop, rather stupidly on a very narrow section of the road which made my zig zagging efforts to get going no doubt look rather comical. This climb is in the book as an 8/10 but I reckon it is up there with the likes of Porlock and Dunkery as it is just so relentless in the way it climbs up onto the Quantocks.

I can’t say I enjoyed Crowcombe. The surroundings are lovely but I have never been as pleased on one of these rides as I was when I saw the sign warning motorists of the cattle grid at the top which marks the end of the climb. Still, that’s 11 rides now in the bag, only 89 to go.