Friday, 31 May 2013

Moel Arthur and Horseshoe Pass

Moel Arthur

After riding the Penbarra climb I headed into Mold with my dad and the dog for a spot of lunch. Mold turned out to be a nice little town and the sausage and egg sandwich I had, whilst not considered ideal from a sports nutrition point of view, was lovely.

Whilst strolling around Mold it was apparent that the calf muscle I wrenched on The Shelf was going to be an issue as it felt quite tight but as I was so close to the Moel Arthur climb, and bad weather was forecast for the afternoon, I decided it was best to press on and see how the riding went.

Finding the start of the climb is made much easier if you look on the map for the ancient hill fort and then just head downhill from there. The little lanes in the area all look the same and it is very easy to get confused as to where the start of the ride is otherwise. The hill fort marks the top of the climb and has a small car park.

The descent down to the start of the climb was interesting to say the least. The narrow road is very badly surfaced with huge potholes and crumbling bits of asphalt all over the place. At least going up my slow speed would enable me to miss them more easily.

The first part of the climb is fairly gentle and it is only when you get to the mid section that things start to get serious. The road ramps up to 20% and the surface of the road also gets worse. I'll be honest and say I struggled on this climb. My leg was worrying me and I really don't like it when the road reaches 20% or more. A 20% gradient is the point at which gravity stops being my friend.

Sheep lurking like trouble making teenagers in the Moel Arthur car park

After huffing and puffing my way up the steepest section I was able to regain a bit of composure on the easing gradient but never really got up to a great speed. I arrived back at the car park to find a number of sheep rubbing themselves all over some poor buggers mini. I've no idea what it meant for the cars paint work and thankfully the arrival of a red faced man on a bike scattered them away from my car.

After packing the bike away at the top of Moel Arthur it was back to the Travelhovel at Wrexham and a rather nice curry from a local takeaway. There was very bad weather forecast for the evening with heavy rain being the main feature. Hopefully it would clear by the morning, along with the pain in my leg.

Horseshoe Pass

After a night of listening to rain battering against the window May the 15th started grey and damp. The rain was still clearing away from North Wales and the drive to the Horseshoe Pass took in quite a few flooded roads. Thankfully the Qubo has pretty good ground clearance and I have zero mechanical sympathy and we made it through the flooded sections at speed and with no real hold ups.

At the top of the pass it was wet and windy and so cold I had to layer up with my winter gear including long fingered gloves and neoprene overshoes. I'm sure in good weather the views are stunning but to me it just looked like a long wet uphill slog lay ahead. Rain eased off as I descended to the start but it became clear that the wind had every intention of hanging around. My left leg also hadn't improved much over night and as I span my way up the first gradients on the lower part of the climb I decided that my time in North Wales was going to finish a little earlier. Fighting into a head wind on the mid section of the climb was quite painful and I figured it was best to rest a wrenched muscle rather than press on and attempt other climbs. I would only have risked giving myself a worse problem to deal with.

Without the persistent wind on the mid section of the climb it would have been a quite pleasant ride. the gradient never gets too steep and on I good day I reckon I could ride up at a decent pace. As it was I wasn't having a good day and it took until I reached the upper section of the pass and had some shelter from the wind before I was able to pick up the pace. It hurt pushing a higher gear around but it was nice to be able to stick some power down. Of course as soon as I reached the final bend in the road before the summit I rode straight back into the wind that had made most of the climb such a misery. Ah well, can't win them all.

Riding into the wind meant this section took forever to complete

It was clear I needed to stop pushing my knackered leg any further and so we decamped to Llangollen for lunch. This is another nice little town and is clearly on the tourist trail. The dog caught the attention of a Japanese tourist who decided that he needed a picture of a miserable looking Cocker Spaniel to complete his holiday snaps and some American tourists in the pub where we stopped for lunch also gave the dog some attention. He was looking much happier by this point as there was food in the pub.

After lunch it was time to head back to Wrexham, pack up and go home. It was an earlier departure than I had hoped for but it was the right decision to make. I took a couple of days off from riding the bike and have kept the rides relatively light. I've got a trip to Yorkshire coming up soon and even though my calf muscle still isn't a hundred percent I'm pretty confident that with a bit more rest it will be up to the task.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013


The ride up Penbarra was my second of the day and tackling it soon after riding The Shelf I felt pretty keyed up for it. A short drive to the climb meant I didn't cool down too much.

The base of the hill was easy enough to find but as we drove up to the top my little Fiat Qubo started to struggle with the increasing gradient. The mid point of the climb is marked by a 25% section with a steep hairpin bend. As I coaxed the car round in 1st gear it dawned on me I would probably have similar problems on the bike.

The descent down to the start from a car park at the top was a fast and fun ride and then the hard work started. The lower slopes are pretty steep and you only get one bit of respite just after a junction about a 1/4 of the way up where the gradient eases for a bit. After that it just gets steeper and steeper. I decided to take a slow and steady approach to this hill as the mid section was going to require a lot of effort. Just after passing the junction in the road I also noticed that the calf muscle I strained on The Shelf was starting to feel a bit tight. This gave me a further incentive to keep things slow as I didn't want to completely knacker it.

Approaching the steep hairpin bend I was determined not to get my approach wrong. I took a wide line in to reduce the effect of the gradient which, although not very pretty, meant I could get round without grinding to a halt with the steepness of the slope The inner part of the hairpin is ludicrously steep but thankfully there was no traffic coming down the hill to baulk my progress like I experienced on the Riber climb in Matlock.

The final drag up to the finish proved to be just that; a drag for my tired feeling legs

Once past the hairpin the gradient starts to ease off for the final section of the hill. At this point I was starting to flag a bit and the final ramp up to the car part at the summit seemed to take forever; I guess I used up my reserves of energy on the steeper lower slopes and my calf muscle at this point was starting to feel like I needed to get off the bike and rest it. Sadly once at the top the dog was in need of a walk and a chance to befoul the Welsh countryside and a trek round the top of the hill followed.

 The top of Penbarra

 After loading the dog and the bike back into the car it was off to Mold for lunch before heading back into the depths of the countryside to tackle the Moel Arthur climb. The weather was set to be quite bad overnight and I wanted to get the Moel Arthur climb out of the way on dry roads. I suppose I should get a move on a edit the video for Moel Arthur.

I am a fool

Time for a quick update on the video editing. After writing this blog post it dawned on me that I have managed to edit, encode and upload the video for Penbarra and The Shelf with the wrong bloody dates on them. I actually tackled both climbs on the 14th of MAY, not April. This I find very annoying as I can tell I will now have to edit both videos again and then encode them to HD and THEN upload the damn things to Youtube all over again as getting little things wrong like that really annoys me. I'm off to bang my head against a wall...

Thursday, 23 May 2013

The Shelf

The 14th April started bright and dry with only a light wind which meant it was going to be a good day for riding up steep hills. Sadly despite having a map, the little black book of pain and a sat nav it still seemed to take ages to find the start of the climb up The Shelf. Even now as I type this I’m not sure I found the right road; it was only after driving up and down a series of identical looking lanes that I noticed a few cyclists using the same bit of road that I thought would be the right one. Only then was I fairly sure I was in the right place. To be honest The Shelf is a bit of a back lane bimble followed by a fairly gradual climb round the edge of a valley and it was the sheer number of little lanes that had me confused.

Reassured by the sight of other cyclists, and in a darkening mood as I had seemingly wasted a decent part of the morning, I made my way to what I thought was the start and started my ride back to the top. It was difficult finding somewhere to park and I ended up leaving the car on a rough bit of land just before the gradient starts to kick up a bit.

The first part of the ride is a bit of a meander through the back lanes just South of Ruthin and reminded me a lot of my training routes in North Devon. I did notice however that there was a fair bit of traffic using the lanes and had to stop a couple of times to let people past. On one of the early uphill stretches I decided to let a very patient farmer with a trailer full of livestock past and, in a seemingly innocent manoeuvre managed to injure myself. As I repositioned myself to get going again I had my right foot clipped into the pedal and was balancing myself with my left foot. Somehow I managed to over extend my left leg as I pushed off and felt a twinge of pain through my left calf muscle. I didn’t think much of it at the time but that calf muscle was to see me heading home the following day a bit earlier than intended.

Any way, after a bit of a wander along the back lanes I finally reached the part of the climb which I guess is where the climb gets it’s ‘Shelf’ name from; a section of road that curves gently around the edge of a hill with some lovely views to the right down the valley. Well, I say the views were lovely but I was more fascinated by the sheer number of grit bits I was seeing by the road side. Seriously, somebody in the local council had obviously blown the budget on them during the winter months. There are no prizes on offer but see if you can spot all of the bright yellow little blighters in the video. I lost count after a while.

The final slope was steep but not tremendously difficult and I can’t help but think that there must be some more interesting climbs in the area. The Shelf isn’t a ride that blew me away and after all of the hassle I had finding the damn thing I was glad to see the back of it.

After winching myself to the top of ‘Grit Bin Alley’ it was time to freewheel back to the car and move onto the climb at Penbarra. I wanted to get a move on as the weather was meant to be taking a turn for the worst later in the day and I also wanted to ride the Moel Arthur climb before finishing for the day. Stay tuned for details on how I got on.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

The Burway

With a week booked off work I thought it was high time to make inroads into sorting out the North Wales climbs. On the way up to Wrexham, which was to be my base for a couple of days, it made sense to tackle the Burway. Because of the location of the climb it seemed more sensible to tackle it on the way to North Wales although doing so would mean trying to ride up a very difficult climb after about 4 hours of being sat in the car. This approach has never worked out too successfully for me in the past but I couldn't think of when I would next be passing Church Stretton so just had to go for it.

The views from the top were superb. Just a shame they would soon disappear in low cloud and rain

The climb up The Burway starts in the heart of Church Stretton and doesn’t muck about with the road ramping up straight away. The drive up to the top revealed some amazing views from the very exposed section of road and although there was a bit of a stiff breeze the sun was out and it was relatively pleasant weather. That was due to change however and the wind was blowing in a series of nasty showers.

The only warm up I got was on the descent (which was great fun and very fast) and so I started the climb on pretty cold legs. Reaching the first really steep part of the climb as I crossed the cattle grid near the bottom I struggled to get on top of the gear I was pushing. Just as I found some semblance of rhythm and started to get my breathing under control the weather took a very rapid and dramatic turn for the worst. First rain started falling, then the wind picked up and then, just to add insult to injury, it started to hail. The exposed nature of the road meant that there was no hiding place from the awful weather conditions and I had to plough on into a bitingly cold head wind. I did pause briefly on the climb and considered finding somewhere to shelter from the rain and hail but there was nowhere to hide so within a very short space of time I was soaked through and freezing cold. I’m sure I’ve felt more miserable on a bike but right now I’m struggling to remember just when that was.

As ever the Blogger software is playing up so you will need to click on the link below or use the video bar to the right to see the ride footage:


What should have been a difficult but relatively short bike ride became a truly nasty experience. I had parked my car at the top of the climb and reaching that became my sole focus. All hopes of making a decent fist at climbing the Burway were forgotten as I just tried to survive and keep the pedals turning. I was barely able to get above walking pace for a lot of the climb as the cold and the wind sapped all of my energy.

As I reached the easier upper section of the climb the rain and hail started to fade out but the wind still stayed strong so despite being in bright sunshine as I reached the top I wasn’t able to warm up until I was back in the car with the heater on full blast.

Just moments before taking this picture that distant bank of cloud had been making my life a misery

All in all riding The Burway proved to be what some may term a ‘character building’ experience. Thankfully I would be a bit luckier with the weather over the following couple of days but my time in North Wales didn’t entirely to plan. More on that later.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Mow Cop

On the final day of my trip to Derbyshire I decided to drive home via Mow Cop. It was only about an hour away from Stanton in the Peak where we were staying and close to the motorway so it made sense to tackle it on the way home. The scenery as we travelled across Staffordshire was lovely so it was quite a pleasant drive.

On arriving at Mow Cop I have to say the steepness of the climb was pretty breath taking to behold. It isn’t as if I haven’t seen a 25% gradient before but when framed by houses and pavements the slope seemed to be all the more impressive. I can only assume the people living in the area have their handbrakes checked regularly.

The impressive looking Mow Cop Folly. I tried to focus on reaching this and not thinking about the gradient. Reach this and you are at the very top. 

I parked at Mow Cop folly which has a decent sized car park and the dog was taken for a short walk whilst I set the bike up. After battling against a strong head wind on Holme Moss the previous day I was feeling a bit stiff and sore. It had proved to be a really draining experience and whilst I felt full of energy it became all too clear as I freewheeled to the bottom of the climb that my legs weren’t at their best and I realised at that point I was going to have a hard time getting back up to the top. Whilst driving up and down the hill to check it out a couple of local club cyclists were riding up Mow Cop. One was clearly well in control of the situation and got to the top surprisingly quickly. His riding buddy however took about five more minutes to catch up with him and as he rolled to a stop to catch his breath at the top it was clear from the look on his face that he hadn’t enjoyed the experience. I suspected I would be slower still.

Mow Cop is a climb that has a well deserved reputation. After crossing over the railway line at the bottom of the hill the gradient slowly ramps up and doesn‘t give you a chance to ease off. The lower part of the hill isn’t particularly steep but my legs just weren’t turning too easily and I quickly found myself battling my own fatigue more than the gradient. The further up I climbed the harder I found it to keep on top of even a low gear as the gradient increased. The sight of the 25% ramp up past the Cheshire View Inn didn’t do much to help with my motivation. It is really quite an impressive site as the road suddenly steps up in severity. I can imagine a few drunks have literally rolled down the hill after a night out at the pub. After a few days of doing OK on the climbs it was inevitable that I was going to have a bad day at some point and today was the day for suffering.

The video for this climb can be found at the top of the Video Bar on the right of the screen. For some reason Blogger has suffered a bit of a temporary meltdown when it comes to uploading videos. As soon as the glitch with the software gets resolved I'll imbed the video but for now you'll need to access it either from the video bar or through Youtube where my channel is called Cyclinguphillslowly (it seemed a fitting and accurate name!). You could of course just click on the link below:

Mow Cop Video

As I winched my way up to the Cheshire View Inn I thought I would back off for a moment before trying to accelerate onto the hardest part of the hill in an attempt to up my speed. Pushing such a low gear (rest assured, I was in bottom) however meant that a sharp kick through the pedals succeeded only in throwing my chain off. Cue the slowest bicycle crash in history as my bike came to a shuddering halt and then tried to roll backwards down the hill. After disentangling myself from the rear derailleur (I have no idea how but my right leg got jammed in it as I tried to stop myself falling over)I dragged my bike to the side of the road and spent a minute or two sticking the chain back on a making sure it wasn’t going to come off again. If one good thing came of it I did at least have a bit of a breather before remounting and finishing off the climb but I think it is fair to say my heart wasn’t in it by that point. I just didn’t have the pace to make a good fist of the steepest section and pedalled myself to a standstill. This then presented me with the new problem of trying to get going on a 25% gradient. After a lot of swearing and weaving all over the road I did manage it and was able to slowly winch myself up to the top of the hill and then back to the car park.

This is what the 100 Climbs will do to your car

On reflection my trip to the Peak District had been a fairly productive one and it was good to get some more the climbs ticked off. It was just a shame Mow Cop didn’t work out as smoothly as I had hoped.

Coming Soon

Of course, getting a further eight climbs out of the way doesn’t mean that I can rest on my laurels. Despite suffering on Mow Cop and having a long drive back home afterwards I was back on my bike the next day and have kept on top of my riding since. I have a busy couple of months ahead of me and my next stop will be North Wales. Then I’ll be off to Yorkshire before returning to Wales to finish off the remaining rides in the South.

To make my fixed gear bike easier to live with on longer training rides I’ve fitted a freewheel to the flip flop hub and it has been a revelation. In fact it is the bike I’ve been riding the most on my recent training rides and I’ve found that I’m now holding onto the higher gears a bit longer on certain gradients. Hopefully that bodes well for the future rides.

Time for an upgrade in the saddle department
I’ve also decided to change the saddle on the Uncle John. I’ve fitted a San Maro Concor Super Corsa. It looks quite retro but feels better to sit on when the road goes up as it’s shape gives me more of a perch to push against. The old saddle was flat and quite unsupportive and also creaked like hell which was always off putting so it was time for a change. I’ve only been out on the Concor a few times and I may find I don’t get on with it long term but my initial impressions of it are good. Hopefully I won’t find out halfway up the Horseshoe Pass that I’ve actually bought a leather covered razor blade.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Day Trip to Yorkshire

OK, maybe the term day trip isn’t quite right. A day trip suggests taking in the sights and relaxing. My idea of a day trip at the moment is driving long distances and then virtually flaying myself alive trying to ride up steep bits of road. As my base for the week in the Peak District was close to Yorkshire and I was running out of nearby hills to tackle I decided that a hop across the border from Derbyshire into Yorkshire would be a good idea. The plan was to take on three climbs in one day and then return back to the holiday let for the, by now standard, beer, wine and ready meals (I don’t do sports nutrition).

The drive to the first climb of the day; Pea Royd Lane in Stocksbridge, took me up Rowsley Bar. I was last on the climb during my last trip to the Midlands and I’m pleased to say that the awful hairpins at the top have been resurfaced. I remember all too well locking up my back wheel on the way down to the start of Rowsley Bar and being grateful that my Surly Cross Check handles so sweetly as it could well have ended in tears.

Sadly Rowsley Bar was the only decent bit of tarmac I encountered on the journey up North. I knew the North of England had experienced a far worse winter than the South West but the state of the roads was astonishing. Even in a jacked up 4X4 I’d have struggled to make fast and comfortable progress. My little Fiat Qubo was bounced all over the road and I’m convinced my fuel economy was so good only because I spent most of the drive to Stocksbridge airborne. Yorkshire also looked liked it was still locked deep in the grip of winter as there were no leaves on the trees and not natural colours apart from brown. The odd snow drift lingered in the deepest lanes as well.

Pea Royd Lane

You get to the climb at Pea Royd Lane from the centre of Stocksbridge. The climb actually starts on Huntshelf Road near the big works before turning right onto what feels like a vertical (actually about 20% ) gradient that leads to a bridge over the A616. To give you an indication of just how steep things are going to get I was treated to the sight of a Mercedes Sprinter spinning its wheels as the driver approached Pea Royd Lane in the wrong gear and had to change down in order to prevent himself rolling backwards. It didn’t bode well but as this was my first climb of the day I didn’t actually feel too bad on the first really steep bit of the climb. After crossing the A616 the gradient eased slightly and I was able to get my breath back before the next big push up to and around a nasty left hand hairpin bend. I’d love to say I stormed up this climb but in truth I did my normal trick of finding a nice low gear and trying to just hang on until the end. Pea Royd Lane didn’t however prove to be the really tough climb I expected it to be. Sure, it was steep, but the really steep section wasn’t that long. The one thing that did affect me however was the wind. The further up I climbed the more exposed I became and that was something that would sadly become a theme for the day.

Jackson Bridge

I arrived at the Jackson Bridge climb feeling fairly confident. Whilst I hadn’t exactly romped up Pea Royd Lane I hadn’t suffered as much as I expected to so felt like I still had plenty left in the tank. I also arrived at the climb slightly flustered as it is a difficult one to find. Well, that’s my excuse.

The first part of the climb ramped up very quickly to 20% which thankfully didn’t last long and I was soon able to soft pedal along a flatter section before the second kick up in gradient. The wind that had been a feature on Pea Royd Lane’s upper slopes seemed more pronounced but because of the shelter afforded by the terrain it wasn’t too much of an issue until I got to the final part of the climb.

Quite a view and this wasn't even from the top

I struggled a bit on the second steep part of the climb. I think I dug a bit too deep on the initial steep section and was found wanting when another big gradient loomed into view. It is my own fault as I knew it was there after driving up the hill to find somewhere to park. Thankfully after getting past the second steep section there was a brief dip before the final slope up the farm that marks the top of the climb. By the time I reached the top the wind had obviously picked up a fair bit which blunted my speed a bit. That said I must have been feeling OK as I took the dog for a short walk over the top of the hill once I had descended to the lay by halfway up the climb where I had parked the car. The next climb on the agenda was Holme Moss and with the wind picking up in strength I was a bit worried as to what I would find.

Holme Moss

I was actually looking forward to Holme Moss. On paper it is my sort of climb in terms of length and gradient. With Simon Warren giving it only a 5/10 rating I’m confident I could power my way up it fairly easily on a good day. Only thing is, I didn’t have a good day. I’m not sure just what the wind speed was at the top of Holme Moss but I found it difficult to get my gear out of the back of the car without some of the lighter items blowing away. Some of the gusts must have been at least 40mph which didn’t exactly fill me with confidence. If I hadn’t already postponed the Cat and Fiddle because of strong gusting winds I would have been tempted to pass on Holme Moss and ride it another time. However, missing out climb after climb would have made a mockery of travelling all the way to the Peak District so I decided the only decent thing to do was to man up and go for it.

The sight of this thing taunted me all the way up Holme Moss. I had to hide from the wind behind a car to take this picture
The descent down to the start was, with hindsight, a pretty reckless thing to do. I had a real fight on my hands to control the bike in the strong gusts and I carried a bit too much speed into a couple of the corners. Thankfully the road was relatively quiet and the new tyres proved to be pretty grippy. Once at the bottom I attached my helmet camera (it tends to catch the wind so I took it off for the ride down) and went for it.

Well, I say went for it. I was able to move at a half decent pace for about a ¼ of a mile before I started feeling the effects of the wind. The higher up I climbed the more exposed to the wind I became and the harder it was to make any progress. At times it felt like a giant invisible hand was trying to push me back downhill. For a lot of the climb I was flat out in bottom gear and making very little progress. It was totally dispiriting and exhausting. Riding out of the saddle was a non starter because it was too unstable in the strong gusts of wind so I just had to stay in the saddle and grind my way slowly up the hill. I have no idea how long it took me to reach the top. The ride became a war of attrition and it was one I couldn’t lose as my damn car was parked at the top. As I neared the summit I had to lean into the wind and some of the gusts threatened to wash out the front wheel of my bike. It was miserable.

View from the top of Holme Moss. Out of camera shot is the large rock I had to hold onto.

After reaching the summit I returned to my car and decided the only way to get my gear into the back without it all blowing away was to turn the car around so that it faced into the wind. It turned out to be a smart move as a guy driving a delivery van pulled in, I guess to have his lunch, and wrecked his door as a gust caught it. The crunch of a van door hinge being pushed past its limit was clearly audible across the car park. Loading the car up took longer that it usually does as I felt so drained from riding into the wind. The incessant noise of the wind drove us to a lower car park in an attempt to get away from it before eating lunch and returning to the holiday cottage. It would be the following day when riding Mow Cop that I learnt just how much fighting against the wind had taken out of me…