Sunday, 28 April 2013

Return to the Midlands - Part Two

Terrace Hill

I rode two hills on the 15th April. After riding up Michaelgate and having a break for lunch it was back into the car and on to the climb at Terrace Hill. After about 40 minutes of driving and one wrong turn I was at the top of the hill and preparing to ride down to make the start of the ascent. Unfortunately my legs just didn’t feel in the mood to party after a long day spent driving and I knew that Terrace Hill, the only 1 out of 10 hill in the book, was going to give me a kicking before I had even started.

Even flat roads eventually go uphill. The slightly eerie approach to Terrace Hill

I’ve found before that long intervals spent in the car between climbs translate into rubbish riding. Shuttling between closely spaced hills isn’t too much of a problem but after a lengthy period of time I guess your body figures you are done for the day and decides to wind things down. I knew whilst planning the day that travelling to Lincoln and then into the wilds of Leicestershire was going to be pushing things a bit and so it proved.

Terrace Hill starts off innocently enough and the first part of the climb is a gentle ramp up from a flat road. As soon as the gradient started to bite however I rapidly found myself clattering down through the gears in an effort to keep going. I can honestly say that on my regular training rides in North Devon I’d crank up a gradient like Terrace Hill in a fairly high gear and dismiss it as nothing more than a speed bump. For all the go I had in my legs it may as well been a 25 % slope as I found making progress hard work.

All I can say about this climb was that I’m glad it was over and the following day I was feeling in much better shape for a trip into Cheshire.

Swiss Hill

The plan was to tackle the Cat and Fiddle before lunch then head over to Alderly Edge to take on Swiss Hill. The 16th April however was windy, hellishly windy, and as my little Fiat was being buffeted all over the road I decided to take on Swiss Hill first and see if conditions improved before returning to the Cat and Fiddle.

Swiss Hill is a bit of an oddity, as you approach it you have the uneasy feeling that you are about to cycle up somebody’s badly maintained driveway. It is tucked away in a relatively affluent area of Alderley Edge and I couldn’t help but be amused at what the residents of Swiss Hill must think of Simon Warren now that he has placed their sleepy little cobbled road on a list of iconic British road climbs.

The hill itself is mercifully short as the cobbles are far rougher than the ones I had encountered the previous day in Lincoln. The road is also quite narrow and I dread to think what it would be like tackling it in wet weather. As on Michaelgate my natural tendency to remain in the saddle and spin a lower gear when the road heads up seemed to help keep things under control over the cobbles. The further up I went the more I got bounced all over the place however which impacted on my ability to keep the pace up. In other words I got slower. Not really a surprise.

The gradient slackened off a bit before the final short stretch of tarmac which leads to the top of the climb. The top was partially blocked by a Cheshire Chariot (Range Rover) which rather blunted the finale to the climb. Having to squeeze past a large car does take the shine off a little. Of course with a climb like Swiss Hill you can’t really claimed to have tackled it without making it back down to the bottom again. In an attempt to keep my bike in once piece I decided to take the road down fairly gently which, with the constant jarring from the cobbles, ended up with me having hands like claws and cramp in one leg by the time I got back to the car. That’ll teach me to go easily; it seems you have to attacked the cobbled descents as hard as the cobbled climbs. On uploading the video YouTube pointed out that the footage was shaky and asked if I would like the problem corrected. Couldn’t help but think that would be missing the point somehow…

After packing everything back into the car it was time to head back to the Cat and Fiddle where the wind was still blowing a gale. With the Cat and Fiddle climb being such a long one, and one I’m looking forward to riding, I decided to ride it another day. There are a host of climbs still to be completed in the area and I’d rather take on the A537 on a calmer day; it would have been a miserable slog in the windy conditions (something that I was due to learn all about on Holme Moss a couple of days later). On stopping at the Cat and Fiddle pub for lunch I got a demonstration of how strong the wind was when I found it was difficult to even get my car door open. All of the wooden picnic benches at the back of the pub were rocking in the gusts as if to dissuade me further. With so many of the North West climbs still to ride it isn’t as though I won’t be back up that way again and I‘d rather wait for a better opportunity.

Time for a bit of a breather

Any cycling challenge requires a robust approach to hydration.

I had the following day off before a big day out in Yorkshire. I was after all meant to be on holiday and I figured my dad and the dog would appreciate a day doing touristy things. One of the things on the agenda was a trip to Bakewell which turned out to be a strangely sterile place. The Bakewell slices we had were very nice but apart from an amusing sign for a sausage seller there wasn’t much that stuck in the mind. The dog was also treated to a walk around the grounds of the Chatsworth estate (well it was his birthday) and then a trip to the village pub in the evening (which he didn’t seem to enjoy quite so much).

Worryingly I wasn't the only person taking photos of this sign. Mind you, coffee and sausages are two of my most favourite things...
After a day resting and drinking and not doing much else it was off to Yorkshire for three climbs and, unfortunately, more windy conditions. More of that to follow…

Monday, 22 April 2013

Return to the Midlands

The march to complete the remaining climbs out of the hundred continues and last week I had a week booked off work so I could tackle some more. The plan was simple; drive to Derbyshire, stay in holiday cottage in the heart of the Peak District and take on several of the remaining climbs in the Midlands region and a few from Yorkshire. I even had a trip over the border into Cheshire.


After a seemingly never ending drive up on the Saturday to Stanton in Peak just outside Matlock my first challenge of the week was to take on the climb up to Riber Castle on the Sunday morning. It was a climb I put off when I was in the area last year and I’m pleased I did. It is a tough climb with a rating of 9/10 and I feel I returned to it with more experience of the steep stuff and a lighter more responsive bike. The last time I was in Matlock I had also just struggled up Bank Road which is a climb steep enough to put you off riding anything else on the same day.

Riber Castle really is quite a long way up - I'm glad I only saw it from this angle after completing the climb

After parking halfway up the climb it was time to descend to the bottom and start the long grind to the top. It is by no means one of the longest climbs but the really tough gradients don’t come until the very end and you have a chance to get into your stride as the climb builds over the course of a long drag up through suburban streets.

The weather was good and I felt pretty decent as I started the climb. I wasn’t going to be setting any records but I felt comfortable and was nicely warmed up by the time I reached the first fearsome hairpin that marks the start of Riber Road. In the 100 climbs book Simon Warren states that speeding up and swinging wide is the best way to tackle this first bend and to keep your momentum up. The road is so steep at this first corner the pavement has been replaced with steps and so I was going to need as much speed going into it as possible. As I accelerated I felt my front wheel lift which was a bit unnerving and just as I got the bike back in shape and I started to swing wide I encountered something that Mr Warren states is a risk on this climb; an oncoming car trying to use the bit of road yo have just swung onto. Put simply I was on the wrong side of the road and had to almost fall sideways to get out of the way. It was entirely my fault but does go to show that slow and steady on some of the busier climbs may sometimes be the best way. After uttering the odd swear word it was time to remount and stagger on up the increasing gradient.

With each hair pin bend the road seems to get steeper and by the time the top homed into view I was going flat out but covering the ground very slowly. Actually that’s how I finish on most of the steeper climbs. After reaching the top it was time to descend back to the car and somehow the tight, steep hair pin bends were even worse on the way down. It felt good to have finally ridden the Riber climb and not experienced the sort of difficulty on the steep bits I was expecting.

Riber was to be the only climb I tackled on the Sunday as I had a big day out planned for the Monday during which I would take on Michaelgate in Lincoln and Terrace Hill.


Michaelgate must be one of the shortest climbs in the book and is located in the heart of Lincoln. The drive to Lincoln was relatively straightforward but trying to get parked and find the climb itself proved to be time consuming. First off my crapnav had a bit of a meltdown and seemed convinced that Lincoln didn’t have any decent parking near the centre of the city.

Lincoln Castle, apparently built to repel people trying to find somewhere to park

Once I did finally locate a car park I then had to try and find the climb. My dad was intending to try and film me as a reached to top of the climb but after dragging the dog around the centre of Lincoln for twenty minutes I decided I would go off on my bike, find the climb and then ring him with directions on how to find it. It was quite a hot day and it didn’t seem fair to lead them both on a wild goose chase (quick tip: go to the cathedral, find Steep Hill from there and Michaelgate can be found halfway down). Needless to say this didn’t work and I managed to find the climb and ride it before being able to get through to my dad on his mobile. Because of this I had nowhere to leave my shoes and camera kit and ended up having to ride the climb with a courier bag loaded with stuff slung over my shoulder. In truth this wasn’t much of a hindrance as the climb is very short. Being a cobbled climb it is also very bouncy but my riding style of staying in the saddle and spinning a low gear seems to work quite well on this type of climb. In fact when I tried to stand on the pedals to inject a bit more pace I nearly got bounced to a halt.

As I reached the junction with Steep Hill I swung into the side street that leads up to the left and reached the end of climb and a nice smooth tarmac road. After this it was time to retrieve my dad and the dog from a bench near the Cathedral before heading off for some lunch and the drive to Terrace Hill.

If I had just headed here first and worked my way downhill I would have saved a lot of time in finding the climb

Unfortunately the good form I had felt on Riber the day before and on Michaelgate was to vanish when I got to Terrace Hill. Stay tuned for more details...

Sunday, 7 April 2013

When Bicycle Upgrades Go Bad

I blame York’s Hill for the annoying weekend I’ve just had. It has been a weekend where I’ve spent too much time getting angry at simple bicycle components in the garage and not enough time out on my bike. I should explain; when I rode York’s Hill back in February my normally efficient V brakes struggled in the cold, damp, muddy conditions. With a spare set of 29er mountain bike wheels in the garage and some disc brakes that I knew would work with the brake levers I already had on the bike I figured it would take no time at all to transport my Uncle John to modern, largely weather proof and powerful disc brake utopia. It is even something I did to my old Karate Monkey a little while ago and so far the brakes have worked just fine.

Of course thinking that everything will be easy to sort out is usually a sign of impending failure and, as a result, I’ve spent the best part of two days going in round in circles. The first problem arose when I tried to fit new 28mm tyres to a set of 29er rims. I can confirm that they do fit; your hands will be sore for days afterwards but with enough grunting to make a wrestling match look like a silent movie they will fit. Honest.

After reducing my hands to lumps of raw flesh it was time to get going on the disc brakes. The callipers are easy enough to mount and I even managed to get the wheels spinning without fouling the rotors at my first attempt. So far so good I thought, but then came the cabling up. I don’t think it has ever taken anybody nearly a whole day to get a set of cable operated disc brakes working. At least it hasn’t until now. I’ve set up Avid BB7s before and they are good quality brakes but despite using all of my bike maintenance know how I ended up with a front brake that worked but felt spongy and a back brake that didn’t work at all. Well, it did at first until I decided to adjust it at which point it stopped working and the cable clamp started fouling the main calliper body. Oh and I also managed to fray the cable to the point where I needed to drive to Halfords (which was the only place open on a Sunday) to buy a new one. With a new cable inserted I still couldn’t overcome the problem of the cable moving the clamping bolt sufficiently out of position that it kept hitting the main calliper body. I also frayed the replacement cable. Some swearing may have happened at this point. I'm quite sure drawing blood isn't meant to happen either.

This is what a bike maintenance crisis looks like
With the light fading and my chance of a bike ride disappearing fast I did the only thing I could think of; I took off the back disc brake and re-fitted the V brake, along with the old back wheel. I was beginning to think I had lost my mojo when it came to working on bikes but as the whole process to restore things to how they were only took me 20 minutes and ended up with a more powerful brake I must be doing something right. After a quick test ride confirmed that the front disc brake really is quite spongy I have taken the decision to swap the front wheel out and return to a V brake on the front as well.

I suppose some good has come out of the whole tiresome experience. My brakes now have nice new cables and I’ve fitted some sportier, grippier tyres to the bike. On the negative side I have lost most of a weekend and I have run out of time to trim the damn steerer tube to a more aesthetically pleasing length yet again. Looks like I’ll be offending the eyes of cycling purists for some time to come.

Coming Soon

In the near future I’ll be back in the Peak District to finish off the remaining climbs in the Midlands and to make a start on the North Western and Yorkshire climbs. I’d like to say I’m going into the next round of climbs fit and full of enthusiasm but the extended spell of cold weather has slowly sapped my will to get out on the bike and my training rides have started to get shorter as a result. That said I’m getting up the local hills pretty well and training on my fixed gear bike, when it isn’t terrifying me, has given me a bit more kick when it comes to short steep hills. I just wish going back down them again didn’t involve my legs spinning at what feels like 5000 rpm.

My next round of hill climbing fun will involve finally facing up to the fearsome climb that takes you up to Riber Castle. Last time I was in the Matlock area I decided to wait until a future date before I tackled it. My faithful Surly Cross check is a bit sluggish on the really steep stuff and I had just ridden up Bank Road and was feeling pretty empty legged. There will be no excuse this time around. My Uncle John is more responsive and lighter than my Surly and in theory I should be getting better at this hill climbing stuff. Mind you in theory I should have been able to fit new disc brakes… Watch this space for an update soon.