Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Whiteleaf - Thats the South East finished

Whiteleaf was the second climb I tackled on the 8th July. After riding up Mott Street I took about 2 hours getting to Whiteleaf. I got held up on the M25 and by the time I cleared that the school run traffic held me up some more.

Whiteleaf is a strange little climb. It is steep but isn’t too long and there isn’t anything particularly distinctive about it. I felt I could have been cycling uphill anywhere in the country. Even the car park at the top didn’t have any views. There is meant to be a chalk hill carving close to the hill but I couldn’t see the damn thing despite trying.

Another climb and another car park that could be anywhere in the UK

Anyway, back to the climb. It starts off with a fairly easy gradient and the steep stuff doesn’t really kick in for real until you tackle a steep right hand bend. I had been lulled into a false sense of security by the easier lower part of the slope and attempted to carry too high a gear onto the steep section. That’s the reason why the video footage of this climb suddenly gets very slow and the breathing very laboured!


Once I’d managed to clatter down into a lower gear it was just a case of spinning my way up to the junction that marks the top of the climb and that’s kind of all I have to say about Whiteleaf. It was the final climb I had to ride in the South East and I guess I was hoping for something more dramatic or exciting to close off the region. Instead I got a low speed ride up a fairly dull piece of road.

Still, the positive thing is I was back on the road and heading home nice and early and got back to glorious Devon by mid afternoon. I would then have 2 days off before heading back to North Wales to finish off the climbs I had to postpone because of a pulled calf muscle. I’ve started editing the footage for the three Welsh climbs and they are certainly more…interesting but sadly for all of the wrong reasons. Watch this space.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Mott Street

Monday the 8th July started early; it was 6.30am when I pulled out of the car park in fact as I wanted to get Mott Street and Whiteleaf ridden and be back on the road heading home before lunchtime. This was partly because I was keen to escape the South East (I used to live there and now greatly prefer the less crowded and generally more chilled out South West) and partly to avoid cooking in the hot weather which had been forecast for later in the day. After suffering in the heat on the relatively short climb of Swains Lane (and an admittedly very long drive in a hot car) I had spent most of the night that followed trying to cool down.

None of the South Eastern climbs are too far from signs of urban sprawl

My early start meant that the short drive to Mott Street from my overnight stop was nice and cool and by 7.15, after parking up and setting up the bike, I was rolling along to the start of the climb in the sort of conditions I like. Getting out of bed at a stupid time in the morning had been worth it. The only real problem I faced was that the sun was still quite low in the sky and I had trouble seeing where I was going on a couple of the corners.

Mott Street is an odd little climb. It never gets too steep and the steepest section is actually quite short. The road to start with is pretty flat and it is only after it has been gradually ramping up in gradient that the steepest section of the road homes into view. Even then the road never hits more than a 12% gradient and because of the gentle ramp up in steepness I was able to keep the bike in a fairly high gear (well for me anyway) for most of the climb. I only changed down once I was on the 12% section and by the time I had finished clattering about with my gears it was time to change back up again for the final, less steep, section of the climb. In fact, I was a bit surprised to have the climb over and done with so quickly. It all seemed to be a bit of an anti climax but then it did give me plenty of time to get across to the climb at Whiteleaf.


Sunday, 21 July 2013

Swains Lane

This update is a bit late. Sorry about that but I’ve been busy with work and, after a truly grueling time finishing off the Welsh climbs, I have struggled to find the energy or time to sit down and start working through the footage.

On the 7th of July I started a week off work by driving up to ‘that there London’ to ride Swains Lane. The plan was simple really; spend the Sunday and Monday finishing off the South Eastern climbs and then on the Thursday and Friday finally lay the remaining climbs in Wales to rest.

The drive up to London from North Devon went OK but the weather was very dry and hot and marked the start of a heat wave that is still in place as I write this. I have no idea what the temperature was on the 7th of July (figures from the Wimbledon final suggest it was nearly 30oC in the shade and as much as 45oC in direct sunlight) but I do know that a 4 ½ hour drive in an un-airconditioned car was a fairly sticky affair and when I finally managed to park up near to the start of the climb the water I had in the car felt and tasted like it hadn’t long been boiled in a kettle! Needless to say I was feeling a bit washed out by the time I got the bike together and started riding to the bottom of Swains Lane. I don’t generally ride well in very hot conditions and as the week went on the weather was set to get hotter.

Because Swains Lane is located in a very popular and busy area of London I ended up parking halfway down Highgate West Hill. It would at least give me a chance to get warmed up on my way to the hill I intended to ride. One thing I didn’t realise before starting to ride down Swains Lane to the start is that the upper section is one way only. Thankfully there weren’t too many cars or cyclists travelling up it as I sped down. Could have been messy otherwise.

Swains Lane is a fairly short ride and the lower flattish section is through what I can only imagine is a very expensive area of housing. As the road starts to pass by Highgate Cemetery the gradient slowly ramps up before entering into a shaded single track section where the 20% slope lurks. This steep section isn’t very long and it would have been nice to attack it flat out and dispatch the climb with a bit of style. Unfortunately I had started the ride feeling drained and it was all too easy to choose a low gear and spin my way up. It is not a stylish approach to riding and has no panache but as I seem to lack either quality in other areas of my life it worked just fine on a day where I just wanted to finish the climb and find a cold drink. After much hot huffing and puffing at low speed I emerged back out into the sunlight at the top of the climb.

Once back in the car it was time to head to my overnight stop where I think I consumed about 3 litres of ice cold drinks over the course of the evening. My next ride would be up Mott Street and I decided that the only way to tackle it without the heat being a major limiting factor would be to ride it as early in the morning as I possibly could. The footage of that climb will be on the blog shortly.

Time to take a break for the summer

The six climbs I completed over the course of the week are the last ones I will be riding until September. In September I will make a start on the remaining 33 climbs by riding the Scottish hills, which is something I’m looking forward to doing. In the meantime the school summer holidays are now upon us and I don’t fancy having to deal with busy roads, over priced accommodation or the heat. In fact the heat was to be a major and unpleasant feature of the rides in Wales; By the time I got to Bwlch-y-Groes on the 12th July a heat wave warning was about to be put in place across several parts of the UK and I suffered badly in the conditions. Lets just say that the footage from the three Welsh climbs I tackled isn’t pretty viewing and leave it at that for now. Over the next week or so all of the climbs will be appearing on the blog and on you tube so stayed tuned…

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Bryn Du

I initially intended to ride Bryn Du last year. Unfortunately my trip to take on the climb, along with a few others, coincided with me coming down with a cold. By the time I managed to get to the climb I was running quite a high temperature and I decided, quite rightly, that I would have trouble making it down the climb safely, let alone be able to ride back up it.

As a result of all this it wasn't until the 27th June I got to ride it, on the same morning as tackling Constitution Hill. Thankfully I was in good shape when the time came to finally ride it.


Bryn Du is a climb of two halves. The first part is made up of a pretty much dead straight 14% section of road that climbs from the centre of Aberdare. This section of the climb is horrible. There are parked cars obstructing the road an lots of traffic to deal with. By the time I reached the right hand bend that marks the start of the quieter section of the road I was already feeling knackered from the constant weaving in and out of parked cars and changes in speed. It is a shame as the rest of the ride is actually pretty nice with some stunning views and impressive hairpin bends.

After leaving the traffic of Aberdare the gradient eases and you find yourself on a tree lined section of road. I was still trying to get myself back to a decent pace at this point and so took it a little slower than I would have preferred. After a while the trees thin out and then the climb gets really interesting; the hairpin bends are all quite close to one another and never too steep to make them difficult to negotiate. The views that open up on the upper section of the road are brilliant, especially on a clear day. I probably spent a bit too much time looking at the views when I should have been trying to speed up a bit but I did at least managed to start working up through the gears on the final drive to the top. I have to say that to give the Welsh credit where it is due they can really put together a great mountain road.

Seconds after this picture was taken at the top of Bryn Du the Uncle John took a tumble. Only it's paint and my pride were damaged.

Once at the top of the climb the usual faffing about and putting the bike away for the long journey home began. It was here that I managed to remove some paint from the Uncle John; a slight gust of wind caught it when it was propped up against a kerb and I was helpless to do anything but watch as it gracefully slid down the kerb scraping the paint of the non drive side seat stay. I took that as my cue to leave, chucked the bike in the car before anymore harm could come to it and headed back to North Devon.

Oh yes, there is a mistake in the video. It says 27th July at the start instead of 27th June. I haven't discovered time trial but I am a bad typist.

Constitution Hill

After riding the Black Mountain climb it was off to Swansea for the night. I would be riding up Constitution Hill the next morning and after booking into the Premier Inn where I was staying I decided to walk across Swansea to figure out where the climb was. It was a hot evening and after wandering around the Mount Pleasant area and up and down various hills I failed to find it. It was only after buying a street map in a petrol station that I realised I had gotten to within 50 metres of the start of the climb. Oh well, I at least knew where to go in the morning, it was just a shame I had an overly tiring time finding it.

The early morning view from my room in the Premier Inn was quite something

I was quite impressed by Swansea; the place I was staying in was right on the water front and for a £41 a night hotel room offered some pretty smart views. I decided that I would get up early and try and complete the climb by no later than 6.30 the next morning. The weather was going to be hot later in the day and I also wanted to avoid dealing with any traffic.


June the 27th started at 5.30am for me. After staggering around half asleep I finally managed to get the bike put together in the hotel car park and have a leisurely ride through Swansea to the foot of Constitution Hill. Riding through a city in the early hours is great fun as one way traffic restrictions and foot paths all become irrelevant thanks to the absence of other people.

Constitution Hill looks a brute as you approach it. I thought for a minute somebody had thrown a load of cobbles at a wall but no, it was definitely a street and one where I would need to ride against the flow of traffic. This was another reason I wanted to do the climb early in the morning; the only other people on the hill were joggers having as hard a time getting to the top as I was about to have.

Normally when tackling a cobbled climb I’ll try to hit the base with a bit of speed and then spin a low gear as fast as I can to maintain momentum and skim over the cobbles. I got my approach wrong with Constitution Hill and didn’t carry anywhere near enough speed onto it. Straight away I found myself being bounced all over the place by the cobbles and that made it hard to pick up ay extra speed. In short I was locked into a bumpy low speed battle with the road surface and struggled all of the way up. I briefly broke with etiquette and took to the smoother paving at the edge of the road to try and pick up some speed but that didn’t work and my progress to the top was slow and unpleasant. It was a blessed relief to finally reach the tarmac covered road at the top which marks the end of the climb. Sadly I then decided to ride back down the hill to make my way back across Swansea. It was, perhaps unsurprisingly, far worse an experience than riding up the damn thing. I had to spend five minutes checking that various components on my bike weren’t about to fall off once I reached the bottom.

Moments later the Mount Pleasant area of Swansea was woken up to the sound of a fat man complaining loudly about the inadequacy of cobbles as a material for road construction


Before heading back to the hotel and breakfast I decided to have a ride around Swansea’s docks. It was a nice clear morning and still early and it was a good way to wind down from the bruising experience of Constitution Hill before heading to Aberdare and the Bryn Du ride. In the clear early morning sun Swansea was looking good and a bike is the ideal way to explore a city.

After seeing the harbour wall from my hotel room I just had to go and have a play on it with the bike.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Black Mountain

After suffering from a helmet camera meltdown on the Devil's Staircase I drove to the Black Mountain climb worried that the same thing could happen again. Thankfully a switch of battery and memory card and checking everything was turning on and off properly a few times seemed to clear the glitch.

The Black Mountain climb is the sort of ride I have always felt suited me but have never been able to fully back up that theory with a decent ride. The weather, my fitness and injuries have always stopped me performing as well as I would like on the medium length climbs that feature a moderate gradient.

Thankfully today the stars were in alignment and after a tyre screeching drive up to the top (the road was very quiet and the bends have nice open apexes) it was time for a speedy descent down to the start.

This is a shot from one of the lower car parks as the car park at the top doesn't share the same fantastic views

After spending longer than usual making sure both cameras were working as desired it was time to see if I could make it back up to the top in decent shape. I'm pleased to say that I did; holding onto a higher gear than normal I settled in to a fairly comfortable pace on the lower part of the climb and the only limiting factor was the fact that I was getting hotter the further up I rode. It was quite a muggy afternoon and by the time I reached the first car park I was sorely tempted to take a pit stop for an ice cream. Not to eat you understand but to smear over my head. I'm sure I've said it before on this blog but whoever felt polystyrene was a suitable material for cycle helmets needs a good slap.

The gradient slowly ramps up until the wide and open hairpin bend and then starts to slowly ease. By the time I was on the upper part of the climb I was able to get back up to a decent pace and roll across the summit feeling pretty satisfied with my efforts. I know I'll never be the fastest person to take on the 100 climbs but it is nice to finish a climb without feeling like you've just gone wheel to wheel with an angry gorilla and lost.
After the Black Mountain it was off to Swansea for the night where I had a date with Constitution Hill
After packing my stuff away it was off to Swansea for the night as early the next morning I was planning to ride Constitution Hill and Bryn Du. Fortunately it was a pretty quick drive there which after a long day at the wheel was a welcome relief. I suppose I had better get a shift on and edit the videos...

Helmet Camera Disaster on the Devil's Staircase - Ass Cam saves the day

The 26th June saw me leaving North Devon early for a drive up mid Wales. The next couple of days would see me tackling 4 climbs with the first being the Devil’s Staircase. The drive to the climb itself was something else with the roads getting narrower and more remote before you reach the final run in to the base of the climb. At this point the road is single track and hugs the lower part of a rugged valley. It was a very enjoyable drive and very picturesque. The two logging trucks I met coming the other way when heading to the next climb also meant I got to fully appreciate just how narrow the road is.

The Devil’s Staircase itself is partially hidden in the trees but as you approach it you do catch a glimpse of an impossibly steep looking stretch of road. I drove up the climb in an attempt to find somewhere to park and as soon as I hit the lower slopes I was left in no doubt about the challenge ahead. This road is steep and the two tight hairpin bends, both scarred from the undersides of cars, are pretty fearsome. My underpowered little Fiat Qubo got as much of a workout as I would soon be experiencing. Once at the top I realised I’d be better off parking at the base of the climb and met a car trying to come up the climb as I was descending. I did the decent thing and stopped to let the other driver up. Once they managed to stop wheel spinning like a nutter as they attempted the mother of all hill starts they did finally inch past me but it was another hint that I was about to have a tough ride up.

After being in the car for a few hours I decided to warm up by riding back along the valley before turning and going at the hill as fast and in as high a gear as I dared. As soon as I crossed the cattle grid and on the lower section of the climb I very quickly started losing any speed that I had and after a brief and futile effort to maintain momentum by climbing out of the saddle I was soon sat down and winching myself up in bottom gear.


Once past the two steep hairpin bends the gradient relents a little but not enough to make the climb easy and it was a slow speed crawl all the way to the top. I thankfully only met one car coming down the hill whilst I was inching up it and it was on the upper section of the slope so I didn’t have to stop to let them past. The climb is relatively short and I managed to get up it in fairly decent shape. In fact I was pleased with myself for keeping going, albeit slowly, on the toughest sections. Feeling pleased with myself lasted right up to the moment when I tried to turn off my helmet camera. Put simply it wouldn’t turn off. It had lit up all of its little lights and beeped as it should when I started it recording at the base of the hill but something had clearly gone wrong. The only way I could shut the damn thing off was to rip the battery out and hope for the best. Unfortunately I was to discover in my hotel room later that day when I was able to get my laptop out and check the memory card that nothing had been recorded. The only footage I was able to save was that from Ass Cam. This is the sole reason why the accompanying video for this ride is made up of backwards facing shots. On the plus side you don’t have a soundtrack made up of me wheezing my way up the climb.

I managed to get a grainy stills shot out of my helmet camera. The valley below can just be seen in the distance.
Inexplicably the helmet camera then proceeded to work flawlessly for the rest of the trip but with six more rides coming up in the next couple of weeks I’m going to need to check it is functioning properly with more care. After cautiously descending back to my car it was on to the next climb of the day at Black Mountain. I have far better footage of that ride…