Sunday, 7 December 2014

Er, hello. Its been a very long time since my last blog update. Sorry about that but I have been genuinely very busy in the last couple of months. After tackling the remaining climbs in Yorkshire at the end of June I set up my own business and its safe to say that going self employed has sucked up a lot of what would have normally been spare time that I could spend cycling.

I'm still cycling and still focused on completing the remaining 21 climbs from the little black book of pain. It had been my intention to tackle a few climbs in the Lake District before the end of the year but training courses, a viral infection and the pressing need to attract and retain customers mean that even my weekends have been taken up with work. With the end of 2014 not far away I've decided that trying to squeeze in any more trips right now would be fruitless; I simply don't have the form (have I ever?) to make a decent fist of things right now and work is taking up a lot of my time. I think a decent plan is to wait until mid February and then, weather permitting, head up to the Lakes for a couple of days of ice cold hill climbing. I hate hot weather so the timing would suit me and hopefully the situation at work at that point in the year will allow me to take off a long weekend.

I've been so busy recently that even my compulsive bike building has had to take a back seat. Buying equipment and stocks for my new business has taken over from buying bike frames and components. I have however had to rebuild the Uncle John as the bottom bracket bearing and then the chain decided that they had both had enough of hauling my fat carcass around and promptly failed. My beloved Surly Cross Check is still largely in pieces and now that the mucky winter weather is here I don't intend to build it up fully until next spring; I don't want to build up a bling looking bike and then proceed to ruin it on crappy salted roads. Its going to have a pampered existence as a fair weather bike; I think its earned it. My Karate Monkey and single speed road bike are doing their best as winter training tools and at some point are going to need a good clean. If I get the chance the Karate Monkey may be taken apart and cannibalised to provide bits for a rebuild of my old touring bike and my Singular Swift. 

Anyway, that will do for now as an update. I'm intending to keep cycling through the next couple of months and hoping to build some decent form for early next year. A recent virus has really hit me hard and left me struggling on any form of gradient but I'm gradually getting back to normal and my new job is thankfully a nice active one so I;m not likely to settle into a sedentary existence just yet. In fact I may have lost a little bit of weight which can only help when the road starts going up.

Ta ta for now. I'll be back.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Shibden Wall

Ahh, Shibden Wall, a legendary climb amongst British Cyclists. I have to be honest, I was actually looking forward to riding this cobbled suffer fest. I knew it would be a rough ride and I'd reach the top in pain but its one of the climbs in the 100 Climbs little black book of pain that has always stood out for me.

I woke up at dawn on the 22nd June to find that my left knee had miraculously stopped hurting and was actually bending properly again. Bouyed up by this positive development (and after falling asleep the night before with my knee feeling like it was broken I could only be positive) I piled into the car and set off for Shibden Wall. I reached Lee Lane (the official street name of Shidben Wall) by about 8am. If you're trying to find Lee Lane and struggling to get your sat nav to recognise it I recommend heading for the Shibden Mill Inn which will bring you to the bottom of Lee Lane.

I parked at the bottom as I didn't want to subject my over worked Fiat to the horrors of the cobbles which meant I was riding the climb blind. This did give me a few problems with pacing as it meant I didn't know how long the steep, cobble free, section at the base of the climb was. I was feeling relatively fresh and probably spent a bit too much energy on this lower section of the climb. As I rounded the final bend on the smooth(ish) surface I felt a little bit excited as the cobbles came into view. The other cobbled climbs in the book are tough but, in the case of Constitution Hill and Michealgate the cobbles are fairly ordered and in good condition. The gradient and bouncing as you ride over the surfaces of both make them a tough ride but they are rather civilised for cobbled climbs. Swiss Hill is a challenge because the cobbles are more uneven and there are a few rutted sections but it is a relatively short climb and the variations in gradient mean it isn't as tough as Shibden Wall.

When the pavement has steps built into it you know you're in for a tough ride

Shibden Wall is something else. You reach the cobbles with a steep start already making your legs burn and then you hit some horribly uneven cobbles on a very steep section of road. Its basically a daft piece of road and I couldn't help but laugh as the first few metres rolled under my wheels. Just as the cobbles start to give you blurred vision what must be the work hairpin bend in the UK bounces its way into view; its horrendously steep with some really uneven cobbles and the only way to ride it is to take the widest line possible. Not having had the chance to drive the hill before riding it I was hoping that the hairpin from hell might indicate that things were about to get better. Sadly not. The cobbles got worse, the gaps between them wider and the steep stuff just kept appearing. In fact the section that follows is probably the hardest part of the climb as the gradient stays steep and the quality of the cobbles in some areas is appalling. What I could believe was how many houses there are on the hill. I can only assume the local residents have gotten used to the blurred vision they must have from having to drive up and down the cobbles every day. Thankfully the road was quiet as I tackled it relatively early on a Sunday morning; my slow speed weaving could have caused problems with approaching traffic otherwise.

Finally reaching the top brought a brief moment of joy before the realisation set in that I would have to ride back down the climb to get to my car. With visions of me bouncing out of control at high speed I did the only sensible thing and took to the pavement for the first part of the climb. This ran out about halfway down the climb and I was forced onto the cobbles which left me with a headache and sore hands. Even the rough tarmac on the lower section of the climb was a relief to ride on.

Its as if somebody decided the hill wasn't tough enough to get up so they added a steep
hairpin and covered the damn thing in cobbles.

Getting back to the car I felt quite pleased with myself for having taken on Shibden Wall and surviving the experience. Feeling pleased with myself lasted for approximately one minute as on firing it up my sat nav decided the only way to go home would involve driving up the cobbled nightmare I'd just experienced on the bike. The hill seemed even worse in a car despite having suspension and soft fat tyres and twice on the same day I felt a deep sense of relief when the ski slope and smooth tarmac at the top of the hill came into view.

Whats Next?

Shibden Wall may well be the last of the 100 climbs that I tackle for a while. Recent changes in jobs and a new career direction have resulted in me being self employed. I like working for myself but, as anyone who is self employed will tell you, it isn't easy and my spare time is very limited (which is the main reason why this blog update is so overdue). I'm still getting out on my bike, it is afterall helping to keep me sane, but I'm unlikely to be able to take loads of time off for biking adventures in the near future. In fact I still haven't finished the bling and slightly retro rebuild of my Surly Cross Check. Its propped up across my office from me as I type this looking very sad and only partially built waiting for me to lavish the care and attention on it that it deserves.

I will return to the 100 climbs as I can't turn my back on them having come so far. If all goes well with the business I may be able to arrange a brutal short weekend in November to tackle some of the Lake District climbs but that does rely on work going well and the weather not turning too nasty too soon. All I can say is watch this space...

Sunday, 31 August 2014

How not to ride up The Stang

I'm sure these updates are getting later and later. Still, part of the reason was that editing the footage for my ride up The Stang brought back some painful memories. Halfway up the very steepest section of Fleet Moss earlier in the day I had felt a bit of a twinge from my left knee. I was able to ignore it but come the climb up Oxnop Scar I was well aware that all was not well and was in a bit of pain. By the time I climbed onto the bike at the top of The Stang ready for my descent to the bottom it was clear I was going to have a hard time. Put simply my knee was agony. I was experiencing a hot, sharp, gritty sort of pain behind my knee cap and even getting to the bottom of the climb was unpleasant. Still, I was there so there was no point in not riding the climb. Besides, by the time I reached the bottom the only way to get back to my car was to ride back up to the top. Never let it be said that I can't be hard on myself.

The first part of The Stang is the hardest although I don't think it gets much steeper than about 14%. I decided to just grit my teeth and tackle this part of the climb in the highest gear I could just to get it over with and to give myself space to recover and spin along on the lesser gradients further up. It turned out I couldn't push a particularly big gear or go too fast but at least I got it out of the way and could focus on the impending sufferfest on the rest of the climb.

At least the road signs were welcoming

There isn't much I can say thats positive about my experience on the rest of the climb. It hurt, a lot. I was also very slow. That isn't so unusual but I was aware of the fact that I was actually feeling OK but my knees weren't willing to play ball. There is thankfully a descent halfway up this climb which took the pressure off very briefly but then it was back to grinding slowly up the rest of the climb. Probably fair to say I didn't enjoy myself all that much. Being passed by another cyclist who seemed to be flying along on the big ring didn't help my morale.

It was a real relief to get back to the car. I was nearing the end of my tether during the final part of the climb; I couldn't go any faster but I just needed to get off the bike and give my knee some respite from the constant effort of pedalling. My drive back to the Travel Hovel at Scotch Corner as a bit uncomfortable and if I'm being honest I spent most of the night worrying about my bloody knee. Even lying in bed I had a hot throbbing pain coming from behind the knee cap. Seeing as I had to tackle the fearsome Shibden Wall the following morning it didn't bode well. In fact as I write this I've got two sore knees. One of the joys of getting older I guess.

Anyway, stay tuned to see how I got on with Shibden Wall. Will I make it up the steep cobbled gradients? Will my bike shake itself to pieces? Will my knees finally explode? You'll have to come back to find out.  

Monday, 18 August 2014

Oxnop Scar - Better late than never

God, I'm getting later and later with these blog posts. Sorry about that, all will become clear before long and no, I haven't given up on the 100 Climbs just been stupidly busy with other things in my life.

Anyway, casting my mind all the way back to the 21st June the third climb of the day I tackled was Oxnop Scar. The climb was swarming with touring cyclists as I drove up to the top to find a suitable place to park the car (there weren't many options if you are thinking of taking the same approach). Given that the climb starts with a series of 25% hairpin bends I had to admire their tenacity at trying to get up the climb with full panniers. As I was soon to discover the initial hairpins, with their rough surface demand respect. Once on the bike at the bottom I did have the feeling that I was about to attempt to ride up a wall. The day, which had started quite chilly was heating up quite nicely and its fair to say I got fairly warm tackling the first part of the slope. At the speed I was doing there was no cooling breeze.

The view from the top. I was fast down and a hell of a lot slower getting back up

Once past the first few bends the climb eases off in terms of gradient and changes in character quite dramatically; it becomes a nice rolling ride along the edge of the hill with lots of gentle climbs and descents to enjoy. In the little black book of pain Simon Warren talks about using this section to push hard and get a good time to the top. Two climbs into the day and with my left and right knees both starting to grumble a bit I decided to enjoy the view and use the gentler sections to save some energy for the final ramp up to the finish. As a result the mid section of the climb took a while to ride but as it was a nice day and the road was quiet I wasn't complaining and it was good to enjoy the scenery with no traffic noise to mar the moment.

After a lot of gentle undulations the character of the hill changed again with the impressive rock formation of Oxnop Scar coming into view. From this point the view became more restrictive and the road started to steepen through the increasingly bleak terrain as I slowly winched my way up to the top. Not much more to say about this one really; I enjoyed the ride but was pretty slow so its hardly my most dramatic effort to date.

That'll be the Scar of Oxnop fame then...much bigger and more impressive in real life

It was a relief to get to the top as my left knee was really starting to get sore towards the top. Its ususally my wonky right knee that gives me grief but it was performing pretty much as expected. I still had one more climb to do and the pain eminating from behind my left knee cap suggested that spending a morning spinning increasingly low gears up long steep climbs had found my knees limit of endurance. Getting into the car was a bit painful and knowing that I still had The Stang to ride before calling it quits for the day was slightly troubling. That video is still being edited but stay tuned if you are a fan of ultra slow uphill riding as it was a sufferfest from start to finish.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Fleet Moss

After completing the climb up to the top of Buttertubs Pass it was still quite early in the day and time for breakfast. I drove down into the village of Hawes and tried to find a shop that hadn't only just opened and actually had properly stocked shelves. Don't get me wrong, Hawes is a lovely little place with a lot of shops but I seemed to get there before they were all open. I settled on a couple of pork pies, and a slice of chocolate cake. Hardly a great breakfast but it was at least full of sugar and carbs.

For the energetic 100 climbs rider there is always the option to combine Buttertubs Pass and Fleet Moss into one ride as they are so close together. In fact the climbs I rode on the 21st June are all very close together so it would be very easy to plan an epic day out on the bike bagging climbs. 

Hawes was busy getting busy for the Grand Depart of the Tour de France which was due to take place on the first weekend in July and the place was full of colourful banners, bunting and seemingly every conceivable variation on using the bicycle as street art. It was great to see.

The climb up Fleet Moss, as with so many I ride, started with a descent. The top part of Fleet Moss is a almost dead straight 20% ramp. Riding down it from where I had parked the car was as thrilling as it was dicey; the road surface is a bit rough in places and even my ever capable Uncle John was getting bounced all over the road. Not sure how fast I was going as I no longer ride with a bike computer; the speed I do uphill is so slow its depressing to see it displayed and when going downhill I reckon if you have time to look at a little screen on the handlebars you clearly aren't going fast enough.

You have the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere at the top of Fleet Moss

Once at the bottom of the climb the first section on the way back up was a 17% gradient ramp up from the valley bottom. It is only a short uphill section and once you reach the top of it you are greeted by a nice rolling bit of road that tracks the edge of the valley. The day was starting to warm up nicely and it was a really pleasant bit of road to cycle along. This easy section goes on for about a mile but before long you are greeted by the site of the 20% section of road stretching out ahead of you over the landscape. Got to hand it to the road builders of Yorkshire, they don't bother with pansy hairpin bends; they just build their roads straight up and over anything that gets in their way!

At this point in the climb I stopped briefly to activate Ass Cam TM before tackling the really steep stuff. At this point I was passed by a couple of cycle tourists enthusiastically trying to spin their pannier laden bikes up. As the gradient got steeper they started to get slower and then eventually decided that pushing their heavy bikes was the only way to get up the climb. This presented me with a problem. As regular readers of this blog will know I'm pretty damn slow on the really steep stuff and once I hit bottom gear things get even slower. There was no way in hell I was going to risk getting passed by a couple of cycle tourists once I had passed them ( I really do ride that slowly) so I had no choice but to keep the bike in a higher gear than usual and keep on cranking the pedals round. It wasn't pleasant and sent my ever fragile right knee into a painful spasm but there was a point of pride to defend. I did manage to keep a decent gap over the tourists behind me but I got slower and slower as I ground out the pedal revs. The slackening of the gradient at the top of the 20% section was very welcome and I found the rest of the climb pretty straight forward from that point on. The top of the climb feels very bleak in comparison to the lower slopes but the two final bends aren't anything too taxing and I had a fairly easy ride back to the car.

Pretty much every stretch of road in Yorkshire seemed to have cyclists on it, a lot of them tacking the hills with a full touring set up complete with panniers. 

I had to chuckle once I got back to the car and started putting the bike away; the two people on tourers crested the top of the hill and said 'well done' to me. They're the ones who hauled panniers up the climb and yet they were telling me well done. I of course told them well done and said I hoped that they had a decent days riding ahead. My next challenge was the climb up Oxnop Scar and my right knee clearly hadn't appreciated my efforts to push a bigger gear up Fleet Moss so I would have to take it easy.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Cote du Buttertubs

For reasons that will become clearer in a later post my 100 climbs riding is going to be put on hold for a couple of months. However, I wanted to take a break from it all knowing that I had been able to tick off a few more climbs. With that in mind I took a short break over the weekend of the 21st June, which was also handily the longest day, to finally lay the last five climbs in Yorkshire to rest.

I drove up on Friday the 20th with the intention of riding four climbs on the Saturday. The fact it was the weekend of the longest day would give me the chance to start off early when the weather conditions were cool and hopefully get the first four climbs done by mid afternoon. After that I would have a chance to recover, have an early night and then take on the fourth climb, the fearsome Shibden Wall on the way home on Sunday morning.

My accommodation for the weekend would be the Travel Hovel TM at Scotch Corner. It is a very handily located place to stay if you are trying to take on the North Yorkshire climbs on a budget although not the best accommodation in some ways. The journey up on the Friday should have taken  no more than six hours. Because of road works and various accidents it ended up taking eight hours. After spending too much time stuck in a car in hot weather I was still able to get up at 5.30am the next day and get myself sorted in enough time to be at the top of Buttertubs Pass for about 7.30 on the Saturday morning. It was a bit breezy and cool up at the top which suited me just fine. I've never gone too well in really hot weather so it was nice to find my trip up North had taken me away from the stifling heat of the South of England.

When the Tour de France comes through this road will probably be ten deep with cycling fans

Driving to the top of Buttertubs from the Travel Shack was really interesting as I was able to cover a bit of the 1st stage of this years Tour de France route. For 100 Climbs fans it is important to note that while le Tour does take in Buttertubs the route in the little black book of pain will actually be the descent that the riders take on; they will be riding up Buttertubs from the village of Hawes. It will be a nice fast and tight descent and the roads that it will spit them out onto once they reach the bottom are tight, undulating and potentially quite dangerous for a peloton of over 180 riders. My prediction for the 1st stage of the 2014 Tour de France? Crashes, and sadly probably quite a few. The off camber 90 degree bend at the bottom of Buttertubs will be an interesting test for the peloton.

Hopefully when Chris Froome and his rivals start the descent of Buttertubs they won’t be half asleep as I was. Halfway down there is a steep (25% gradient) hairpin bend. The Tour organisers had already put up warning signs to alert the Tour riders of its presence. Needless to say in my half asleep state I came close to overcooking it and ploughing through a dry stone wall. Its actually quite a fun descent and I’m looking forward to seeing how the pro’s take it on.

The climb up Buttertubs starts with a gradient of around 14%. After a bit of a slog to get going it eases off a bit and the bulk of Buttertubs can be seen ahead of you, as can the road stretching onwards and upwards. The 25% gradient hairpin bends seem a long way away from you when you start this climb and whilst they aren’t as fearsome as you might think they will be, you will have expended a lot of energy by the time you reach them. This does make the kick up in gradient a bit nastier to deal with so its important to leave something in the tank on the early slops. Make sure you look left as you crest the left hand hairpin bend as the view of where you’ve just come from is great.

I had picked a beautiful day for my trip to Yorkshire

Buttertubs has a fun fast element to it. Well, OK, it actually has a nice fast downhill section a little further along from the hairpin bends. I found it a welcome break from slogging uphill and it let me recover a bit before the final slog up the last significant ramp up in gradient before the final cruise along the top to the final cattle grid. It also allows you to take in a great view of the surrounding countryside.

Overall I quite liked Buttertubs Pass. I was a bit tired when I started it but by taking it nice and easy it was a fairly enjoyable ride and a good start to my day of hill climbing. After packing the bike away it was time to head off into nearby Hawes to grab some breakfast and then take on Fleet Moss.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Tan Hill: Better Late than Never

Wow, it has been a while since my last update. Sorry about that; been rather busy with all sorts of other things recently. Ironically this video has been edited for a while.

On the second of March I woke to find my car frosted over on another cold Northern morning. It was my plan to ride the Tan Hill climb then head home. Getting to the climb was an adventure in itself as my route took me over the tops of the moors and I encountered a lot of icy roads. At one point I had to inch my way up a series of tight hairpins that were covered in ice. Thankfully my little Fiat doesn’t have much power but plenty of grip and taking it easy on the throttle ensured I got up and down most of the icy bits with no drama.

Tan Hill was mile after mile of roads like this. I got bored, guess I missed having some hairpin bends to grind up slowly

As I got closer to the start of the climb I realised I was driving down the climb known as The Stang. I was briefly tempted to ride this climb instead of the one up Tan Hill as it would mean spending less time being frozen to my bike. The layer of ice on the steeper lower slopes soon put me off and I decided that the relatively gentle gradients of Tan Hill would be an easier bet in the conditions.

This would probably be a lovely view on a nice day. On an overcast cold day it was just big, bleak and slightly depressing

The day before had started cold but turned into a beautiful day with clear blue skies. The weather on the second was cold gray and overcast with a strong chance of rain. The conditions couldn’t have been more different. Nor could the climb; all of the rides the day before had taken place on clearly identifiable hills. The ride up to Tan Hill is essentially a ride up over the moors until you reach the top and it was hard to believe I was on the right bit of road right up until I crested a slight rise and saw the Tan Hill Inn. The road just gently climbed for mile after mile with no discernible end in sight.

Getting out of the car I was struck by just how much colder it was at the top and I spent most of the descent trying not to get too cold. It was a long descent and I quickly realised that I was probably going to get bored on the way back up. Apart from a few 10% ramps the climb is very gentle with moor land views all around. On a spring or summer day it would be a pleasant uphill meander. On a grey bitterly cold day in early March it was all rather uninspiring. I think that’s why it has taken me so long to post this blog update; I was just bored by the whole experience of riding up Tan Hill. My mood wasn’t helped by the fact that the icy cold wind turned one half of my face numb, or by the sudden deterioration in the weather as I reached the top. I was pleased to just get back into my car, turn the heating to the max and start heading home.

Messed up Plans

It had been my intention to have ridden a few more climbs by this point in the year. Since my last trip up North to tick of some climbs I’ve been very busy with work and driving some massive mileages during the week. Its left me feeling unwilling to get into a car and spend hours driving up and down the motorway network at the weekends. I cancelled one trip at the last minute when I realised I was just too knackered to make the journey, let alone ride the climbs.

 Don’t worry, I fully intend to complete the 100 climbs, its just that I haven’t had the energy or motivation to throw myself into completing the challenge in the last month or so. There are a few things on the horizon that should hopefully help me regain the energy and time to start crossing some more climbs of the list. I’m actually in decent condition for the steep challenges that await, I just need to free up the time. My venerable old Surly Cross Check is about 50% rebuilt in its new bling guise and it may even make a comeback for some of the remaining rides. I love my Uncle John but there is something about the way the Surly handles that makes me want to put it through its paces in the mountains again.

Watch this space…

Monday, 28 April 2014

Carlton Bank

Wow, I really am falling behind with these updates. Sorry about that. Normal service will be resumed very soon. In fact I’m planning another couple of climbs in the near future so it had better be. Carlton Bank was my fourth climb of the day on the 1st of March and I was starting to feel a little ragged by the time I got there. The area around the climb was very busy. The nice winter weather had brought out a load of hill walkers and people interested in visiting the restaurant at the top of the hill. Parking was tight and I imagine that during the height of summer getting parked at all is a bit of a challenge. The descent was awful, truly awful. The top of the hill is surfaced with very badly pock marked tarmac and it was one of those rides where I was glad I kitted out the Uncle John with heavy wheels and fat tyres. I’ll pick reliability over speed any day of the week. After a bone shaking and filling loosening descent it was time to turn around, fire up the cameras and start to spin my way slowly to the top.


I struggled badly on this climb. I’d unbelievably covered almost 100 miles of driving up until that point in the day and I was just frankly knackered. My petrol station sports refuelling strategy wasn’t entirely working out (turns out Chicken on a Stick is the ideal example of empty calories) and my right knee also started grumbling as the road ramped up in steepness after the initial easy gradient. Everything slowed to a crawl as I progressed up the climb. This slow speed did have its advantages as my tired weaving about helped me to avoid the potholes that scar the top of the climb.

The view from the top of Carlton Bank

As I winched my way past the top of the climb I was congratulated for my efforts by a couple who had driven by me as I neared the top. They seemed very impressed by my riding as they put on their walking boots. All I could manage in return was some oxygen starved gibberish but their kind words were appreciated. After what felt like an epic day both in the car and on the bike it was back to my Travelhovel and some proper refuelling. I don’t usually touch alcohol on my trips away but the lure of a cold beer was too strong to resist.

When it comes to recovery drinks I just don't do isotonic

My back and shoulders were aching by the end of the evening which was a sure sign I’d had to really wrestle the bike uphill. The next day I had intended to tick off two climbs but realising that my legs weren’t performing as I had hoped, and that I had a long drive home to deal with, I decided that I should only tackle one climb on the Sunday. It would be a longish one mind you; Tan Hill. More to follow.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Boltby Bank

Firstly I must apologise for the delay between my last blog post and this one. Since my last posting I have had a very positive change on the job front and my retraining and career change ambitions have paid off. I started a new job a couple of weeks ago and not only has it kept me off my bike as I settle into it but I’ve also been a bit too preoccupied to focus on editing videos. I’m more on top of the situation now and starting to restructure my training so hopefully I’ll be a bit more punctual in future.

My third climb of the day on the 1st March was up Boltby Bank. It wasn’t too far to drive from White Horse Bank so I was able to arrive at the top with my legs still feeling warm from my last ride. I think it is fair to call Boltby Bank a true pig of a climb. The mid section is pretty straight and just tracks right up the hill with a nasty little sting in its tail as it goes through a couple of tight bends before levelling off at the top.

I knew I was going to have a hard time as I drove to the top when I passed a pretty capable looking cyclist who was having a hard time. By the time I’d parked up, got my bike and cameras set up he still hadn’t appeared. In fact I was just about to set off down the hill when he arrived and asked if I had a map so he could check out a suitable route to White Horse Bank. I got the distinct impression he was keen to avoid too many significant hills after what he had just been through. When somebody who looks fitter than you is clearly having a hard time you just know it is not going to be a good day. Suffice to say it didn’t fill me with confidence.

The descent to the bottom was over quickly and without drama and the first section of the climb is actually pretty easy going. The gradient isn’t too severe to start with but after a couple of corners you are pitched onto an almost dead straight section of road that promises nothing but pain and low speed gear spinning. I really suffered on this nasty mid section of the climb; I just didn’t seem to be able to respond to the gradient and crawled up it. The final two bends are by far the steepest part of the climb but knowing that they were so close to the summit gave me the motivation to keep grinding out my low speed cadence and reach the end of the climb. 

The top of Boltby Bank is marked by a cross roads which is also a national cycleway junction and there were plenty of cyclists in evidence. Some were riding mud splattered moutain bikes, others were on the latest light weight carbon road bikes and there was a nice convivial atmosphere. However, by the time I got back to my car none of that really concerned me as I was starving hungry. I had started off pretty early in the morning and had eaten only a minimal breakfast. It was time to break out the emergency rations which came in the shape of a truly hideous, but none the less compelling, snack food I had discovered at a motorway services. 

Mmmm, see the chicken flesh lollipop glisten in the sun

It is a well known fact that all of the most unusual and exciting food products are found at road side shops these days (does it show I drive a lot for a living?) and so when I saw something advertising itself as ‘Chicken on a Stick’ I felt a grim fascination to try it out. I figured it would at least be low in fat (that’s what the wrapper said) and high in some form of animal protein and so in my feeble mind would be the ideal fuel for my bike riding adventures.

All I can say is that you know there is no hope for mankind when you can buy what is effectively a chicken flesh lollipop masquerading as a low fat snack at a motorway services. It looked awful, didn’t taste great and was so shiny it confused my cameras auto focus. I naturally ate two before heading off towards the fourth and final climb of the day at Carlton Bank.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

White Horse Bank

White Horse Bank was the second climb I tackled on the 1st March. After painfully winching myself up Rosedale Chimney I had a 40 odd minute drive to the climb at White Horse Bank. Just long enough for me to cool down and for the sun to burn off any lingering traces of frost.

The climb at White Horse Bank makes for a fairly intense descent. It is tight and narrow with lots of sharp bends and, in places,  a pretty rough road surface. I parked about a third of the way down the climb at a big car park where a lot of dog walkers and family groups were parking up before going for a stroll through what seems to be a very popular forest park. Be warned, on a nice sunny day the road up White Horse Bank can get very busy which only highlights how tight it is in places.

 The car park is directly underneath the so-called white horse which was created by a local man keen for Yorkshire to have a White Horse of its own to rival those of the South West. The white horse in question is crap. Thankfully it is below the end of a gliding clubs runway and on a sunny day you are treated every few minutes to a plane taking off at full throttle as it tows a glider into the air. This is far more impressive than the chalk decapitated pig/ dishevelled dog/ white horse but I wasn’t able to get my camera out quickly enough to photograph a plane. Sadly the white horse was going nowhere and I felt duty bound to take a photo.

Breathtaking in it's crapness

The descent down to the start of the climb was quite bumpy and on starting my climb back up I seemed to be lacking any form of rhythm.  The lower part of White Horse Bank isn’t too steep but I just couldn’t get the pedals turning with any form of conviction. It was probably a combination of struggling on Rosedale Chimney and then having to drive for 40 minutes. Whatever it was it took me until about halfway up before I finally settled into a riding pace that I was happy with. It was sadly a very slow one but it would have to do.


The hill itself is actually quite pleasant; in between the increasingly steep corners the gradient backs off a bit and, for an on form cyclist, these straighter sections represent a chance to build momentum for the next steep uphill bend. I didn’t really feel comfortable until near the top and by then I was on the steepest part and by default going slowly. Once finally at the top I had a bit of a cruise along on the flat road that runs alongside the gliding club before turning back to the car and heading off to Boltby Bank which wasn’t far away.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Fear and Loathing on Rosedale Chimney

After driving up the day before and spending the night in a Travelhovel I got up early, scraped the ice from the windscreen of my car and set out across Yorkshire to get to Rosedale Abbey. It had always been my plan to get to the ‘Chimney’ first and get the toughest climb out of the way while I was still fresh and before the road got too busy. I managed to get to Rosedale for just after 8am. Driving up and down  the climb to check it out I felt quite chuffed with myself when I saw that the road was indeed nice and empty. I felt slightly less chuffed when it became clear that there was ice and frost on certain parts of the climb.

It was a beautiful morning in North Yorkshire ruined only by my wheezing and cursing as I struggled uphill

The temperate the night before had been into the minus’s and I had gotten to the climb so early that it hadn’t had a chance to properly thaw. The slippery stuff was only present in randomly distributed patches but after one or two slippery moments my bottle went on the way down; Rosedale Chimney is too steep a climb to be practicing my bike handling skills. Mind you it also proved to be a bit steep to walk on when covered in bits of ice and wearing stiff soled cycling shoes. I stopped at one point to see just how much traction my tyres would have on the frosty sections and it proved to be worryingly little. The descent to the start was tense to say the least. Its strange really as the sun was out and it was shaping up to be a beautiful day but in the patches of shade where the heat of the sun hadn’t had a chance to burn off the frost it was damn scary.

Cyclists dismount? Yeah right...oh hang on, is that ice?!?

Rosedale Chimney is a climb that starts steep and doesn’t ease off. As you reach the White Horse Farm Inn about a third of the way up it dawns on you that this is a climb that doesn’t give you any chance to ease yourself into the effort of getting up it. There is a bit of a slackening off in the gradient as you approach the cattle grid about a third of a way up but this is basically one nasty bit of road from start to finish.

That ain't water but it's more slippery cousin

The two hairpins halfway up Rosedale Chimney aren’t actually the worst part of the climb. It may be just me in fact I quite like hairpin bends; they give you a clear visual point of reference to aim at and an opportunity to alter your pace. Yes, the Rosedale Chimney bends are steep but the short straightish section of road that follows them is what really does the damage. After tackling the lower section of slope that passes the White Horse Farm Inn and then pushing on past the two hairpins you are then faced with a simply nasty section of road that just seems to continue the worst gradients of the hairpins but with none of their charm. By the time you reach it you are guaranteed to be on the limit and quite frankly I struggled badly on this little bit of the climb. Having to dodge the patches of shade which where helping the frost to persist only added to the joy of the whole painful experience.

It will come to no surprise to anyone who reads this blog on a semi regular basis that I was probably the slowest moving person in North Yorkshire by the time I reached the upper section of Rosedale Chimney. The gradient does vary a little as you get closer to the top but not enough for you to ease up and have a chance to recover. It was a blessed relief to finally reach the top and be able to stick the bike back in the car. Unfortunately my work for the day was far from over and I had three other climbs to tick off the list before the day was out. Next stop was White Horse Bank.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

On the road again...

The winter storms seem to have started to lose their grip on the UK so its about time I got back on the bike and started getting to grips with the remaining climbs. Last year ended badly for several reasons and this had the knock on effect of me not completing all 100 climbs by the end of 2013.  Missing a significant goal like that was really devastating but my personal situation meant that I had to focus on both job hunting and studying for an important exam. I've since taken and passed the exam and a new career beckons so time to sort out the bike riding bits of my life before I get too busy.

So, 2014 is here and it is finally time to get this challenge out of the way once and for all. Because I’m trying to start a business time, and money, are going to be tight as the year progresses and I, hopefully, get busy. Because of time constraints the remaining English climbs are going to be tackled in a series of fairly brutal long weekends.  First up is a return to Yorkshire including a first time trip to the infamous Rosedale Chimney, apparently the steepest road in the UK. Can't say I'm looking forward to that one, although the adventure of getting back in the car and visiting stupidly steep bits of road with my bike is something I'm looking forward to steeping back into.

Answering that age old question of just how many cameras can you charge from one laptop?

The plan for my trip to Yorkshire is fairly simple; drive up on a Friday, take on four climbs on the Saturday and then try and get as many in on the Sunday before I have to head home. Its an ambitious approach, especially as the remaining climbs are all pretty tough ones but it seems to be the most time efficient way of dealing with them. Hopefully I’ll be up to it. The training was going really well in January and then February happened with its strong winds and sideways rain. I lost a fair bit of momentum simply because riding in gale force winds really isn’t actually that safe. Plus I got fed up with cleaning my bikes every couple of days.

Recent training rides have seen me winch my heavy Karate Monkey up and over every steep hill I can find (and through every road surface imaginable including slurry that had washed out of a field over the road; thats a ride I'd rather forget). These rides have been mixed with shorter rides on my single speed in an attempt to build a bit of kick back into my uphill riding.  I’m not entirely sure its worked but as my first hill climb of 2014 is going to be Rosedale Chimney any weaknesses in my preparation will very shortly be exposed. The faithful Uncle John has been cleaned and lubed. The cameras have been charged and my mighty Fiat Qubo has a full tank of get on with it I suppose.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

An update at last

Its been a while since my last update, sorry about that. Things have been rather busy of late and whilst I’ve been getting out on the bike a fair bit I don’t feel that I’ve had much to report back on. 
2014 started as most years do with a dawn bike ride on the 1st January complete with a hangover and the effects of a chronic lack of sleep slowing me down. The next days ride went better and that’s kind of been the pattern ever since; each bike ride has gone better than the one before it and I actually seem to have started a year with some decent form for once. I’ve been fairly flying up the hills (well for me anyway, its all relative) and even when the weather has been a bit mucky I’ve been consistently faster over regular training routes. This bodes well for finishing off the remaining 31 climbs that I didn’t get to complete last year.

New training tool

Since I stripped down my faithful Surly Cross Check and got it resprayed ahead of a rather bling rebuild I’ve been lacking a suitable bike for slogging away on during the winter. My Thorn Sherpa touring bike is in desperate need of a refurb and my single speed Macinato just isn’t flexible enough. Step forward my old Surly Karate Monkey.

Not a traditional winter training road bike but a lot more versatile

Now the Karate Monkey is a 29er mountain bike rather than a road bike but it fits the bill quite well (its tough and can be built with lots of gears). I’ve struggled to come up with a suitable build for the bike ever since I bought the frame. I did run it as a drop handle bar monster cross abomination for a while but could never really get to grips with it. After rooting around in the garage (some of the parts were found rolling around on the garage floor and I seem to remember using the handle bar as a head set removal tool at one point) I’ve come up with a fairly decent heavy duty build that should allow me to use it as a hybrid or a mountain bike. It can also take studded tyres if the rain ever stops and we get a proper winter. The only expensive parts I had to buy to get the Karate Monkey rolling were some Pauls Components Thumbies which allow me to run traditional bar end shifters as old school flat handle bar thumb shifters. I’ve been wanting an excuse to buy some for a while and this seemed to be the perfect opportunity.


  Pauls Thumbies - for when being a luddite is the only option

For the first time since I bought the frame back in 2010 I’m actually looking forward to sticking in the miles on the Karate Monkey and the extra heft should provide some training benefits. Initial rides suggest that I’m going to have a lot of fun with the bike on some interesting all terrain training rides.

In between the floods and awful weather there have been a few decent training days 

The Final 31

Things really didn’t go as planned towards the end of last year. After the wheels came off my attempt to bag the Scottish climbs any plans to tackle the rest of the remaining climbs failed to take shape. A mixture of studying and job hunting got in the way of planning any time away from home and before I knew it 2013 had drawn to a close. I was also feeling pretty exhausted towards the end of what had been a busy and stressful year.

This year has to be the year when I finally close the book on this thing. Depending on whether or not I need to take a re-sit in a technical exam I’m either going to be going to be able to start applying for new jobs at either the end of February or the end of March. I'm going to need to focus on developing my career when I do finally get another job and once things do start moving I’m not going to have much chance to take trips away. As a result normal service will be resumed at the end of February when I start wheezing and cursing my way up some of the steepest roads in Britain before I get too busy.

I’m planning a series of frankly brutal long weekends in the North of England where the target will be to tackle between 8 or 10 rides in the space of a couple of days. Plans like this have never worked out for me before but I don’t have a choice in the matter. I’m not going to have the time for these planned trips not to be successful and so they will need to work. My recent training rides have focussed more on how much I can hurt myself on successive climbs than on honing technique and fitness. Each training ride now features at least 2 steep climbs as a result. The climbs in Scotland will need to be taken on a little later in the Spring when I should hopefully have some more time available to deal with the extra time I‘ll need to spend away from home.