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.