Friday, 18 November 2016

The Rake

My first 100 climbs focussed trip for a couple of years had to have a statement climb in it, you know; one of those climbs that is well known for its fierceness. I wasn't too sure if I would have the legs for it but The Rake in Ramsbottom seemed a safe bet. It has been used in the past as a national hill climb course and is famed for having a very long handrail bolted to the wall that borders the steepest section of road so that knackered walkers have something with which to pull themselves uphill. Hopefully I wouldn't find myself in a position where I need it.

After a rubbish nights sleep in a Travelshack it was only a 15 minute drive to Ramsbottom. The town itself didn't really leave much of an impression apart from seeming very busy, even though it was pretty early on a Saturday morning. It seems a prosperous little town but a bit scruffy. The parking was at least free which is always a welcome bonus. Coming from North Devon where the cost of parking can sometimes be more than the value of your shopping I made doubly sure by asking a confused looking parking warden that the car park I was using was indeed free.

Anyway, once parked up it was time to see if I could still get into the groove and get the bike, the cameras and myself set up and ready to go in a short space of time. I guess I must have some sort of latent muscle memory because within about 5 minutes I was rattling across some cobbles towards the start of the climb with no idea of how I managed to be on the bike and moving forwards.

The Rake is kind of in three parts. The first section takes you up a straight bit of road to the pub which sits on a left hand uphill bend. The pub is a well known spectator spot when the hill is being raced up. This first section is steep but not too difficult. It was a bit hard to get my cold legs turning over but I was pretty pleased with how it went. Once past the pub (thankfully there were no beer drinkers to heckle me at 8am in the morning) the gradient eased off a bit. I wasn't able to coax any more speed out of my legs but it was a chance to catch my breath before the final steepest part of the climb.

All the best climbs have their own warning signs

I was surprised at how busy the climb was, both in terms of parking and the traffic. Taking on the climb later in the day could have resulted in a few holdups. After a brief bit of spinning on the easier middle section the final turn off up The Rake proper came into view along with a couple of signs displaying the 25% gradient sign and a warning not to tackle the road in snow as you turn right into Rawsons Rake. Adjusting to the gradient took my breath away at first but if I'm being totally honest it didn't feel like a proper 25% slope. I've ridden plenty of them by now and this one didn't seem too bad. I'd like to think I'm fitter and wiser as a cyclist and so better able to cope with the steep stuff but in truth I think the climb is only 25% for a short section past the initial warning signs. Thats not to say it was easy; I managed to winch myself up the final section but only at a slow pace but, I still don't think it is as fearsome a gradient as the signs suggest. I didn't even really notice the hand rail until I was nearing the top and not once did I feel the need to grab hold of it

Once the top of the hill appeared the slope eased very quickly and it all felt like a bit of an anticlimax. It all seemed to be over very quickly. The ride back down was at least fun but I didn't really feel like I had taken on a great adversary and escaped with only a few minor scrapes. It was just a bit steep at the top and then over. Maybe I'm being more critical these days.

After packing the bike away it was off to Sabden to ride the Nick of Pendle which proved to be a more entertaining ride with a bit of random road rage thrown in. More on that to come.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Back In The Saddle

Its happened; after a year or so of failing to find the time to ride my bike, let alone complete my quest to ride all of the hundred greatest cycling climbs, I finally managed to bump start my efforts back into life.

After a Friday afternoon spent stuck in traffic (I'm convinced our motorway network is fundamentally broken) I found myself in the not exactly inspiring Chadderton on the outskirts of Oldham. After spending six hours in the car I was pretty knackered (I am out of practice afterall) but I had the comfort of a Travelshack and a cheap burger from a dodgy local takeaway to look forward to before riding two climbs the following day.

Like every Travelshack I've ever stayed in I had an appalling nights sleep. Why do they always crank the heating up to blast furnace levels? Surely the staff should know that if you walk into a room and your eyeballs instantly dry up the heating is probably on too high. Despite turning the heating in the room completely off I still woke up feeling drier than a mummies armpit the next morning. The ferocity of the heating was matched only by the volume of the police cars that seem to patrol the area in packs, at high speed, with their sirens on. I can only assume Oldham was on fire, or being invaded by aliens judging from the level of frenzied police activity. Maybe it was just a normal Friday night in Oldham. I didn't intend to find out; I had a nights sleep to try and salvage.

You know you're on a cycling trip when this is the view from bed...

The next morning I was up before it was light and heading to Ramsbottom to ride the infamous climb called The Rake. There will be a more detailed update complete with my legendary bad camera work to follow so I won't go into too much depth here apart from saying that I managed to complete the climb and it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Ramsbottom didn't inspire me all that much though. Its a town that seems to be completely surrounded by urban motorways and the whole area struck me as pretty grim.

The Rake was followed by a short drive along yet more grim stretches of motorway to the more rural setting of Sabden where I got to ride the Nick of Pendle. Not viewed as being as tough a climb as The Rake it still looked pretty fearsome, especially when viewed from the road that heads into Sabden across the other side of the valley, but once again I didn't find it too bad to ride. Sure, I was never going to set a fast time but I'm fairly happy with my latest efforts; they bode well for my more concentrated efforts to tick off the remaining 19 climbs (yes, I'm slowly getting there) next year. My recent training seems have been worthwhile and I actually have some vestige of form to develop over the winter months.

I still have a few more summits to aim for but the weekend was encouraging

I have the hell of video editing to reacquaint myself with but hopefully in a week or so I should have the videos completed and up on the site. Don't worry, despite me being happy with my riding they will still come complete with their normal sound track of me wheezing as the scenery wobbles past very slowly. Watch this space.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

The Revenant

Ok ok, I'm not quite back from the dead but it feels like this blog is.

It finally had to happen; I'm back in the hill climbing game. Well I say game, I'm about to start hurting myself in public, which in the minds of many non-cyclists would count as self harming, but I'm strangely looking forward to it.

I suppose I should explain about the vast expanse of time that has passed between this and my last blog post. I was working for myself and quite frankly that took up all of my time and money. If cycling is an obsession self employment leads to an even more all consuming one. Quite simply I had no room for anything other than work, and finding work. Cycling, whilst still a passion of mine, had to take a back seat and any spare time was eaten up by work. After two years of self employment I was starting to realise that without taking huge financial risks I would face real problems in growing my business to a point where I could have a decent life outside of work again. I was good at what I did but struggling to get the big break through I felt I needed. Plus, my social life, my hobbies and everything else that was important to me was being shoved ever further into the back ground.

At the start of 2016 I made the decision to seek out full time employment again. I've learned a hell of a lot by working for myself and don't regret any of the time spent trying to build my own business but that first free weekend when I started a new job working for somebody else, when I had no work commitments and all the time I wanted to ride my bike...boy was that ever sweet. Suffice to say I've found another job and I'm working hard to get my cycling back on track, if I ever was on track in the first place. 

One thing I need to tackle is the 21 remaining hill climbs. I dusted off the little black book of pain the other day and vowed to never let it get dusty again. I've built a new bike and have planned a trip away to bag at least a couple of climbs before the year is out. I don't intend to try and complete the remaining climbs this year; autumn is too close for that as well as the prospect of appalling weather in the hills, but I feel I do need to kick things off and test my form ahead of an all out effort early next year. Watch this space for news on the climbs I decide to tackle.

New approach, new bike. Sort of.

About a year and a half ago I bought a cheap frame and fork from Planet X. I liked the idea of a lightish road frame with decent tyre clearances and disc brake compatibility. What I ended up buying was a London Road frameset from a production run that has achieved notoriety for poor tolerances and build quality. My frame certainly ain't too pretty up close but I decided to persevere with it. My plan was to finally call time on my beloved Surly Karate Monkey frame and use its parts on the new frame. It would make for a cheap and quick build. 

           Yep, thats apparently a bottom bracket thread...brute force won out in the end

Well, it was a cheap build but a wonky bottom bracket thread and seat tube like a clowns pocket made for a fair bit of swearing during the process. I'm still working to resolve the seat tube issues but the speed and responsiveness of the frame makes up for it. I'm not intending to use this bike for the 100 climbs. My faithful old Uncle John is still in my mind the best tool for the job but the London Road is growing on me. I even like climbing the steep stuff with flat handle bars. Time will tell if it ever gets to be ridden very slowly up a steep hill somewhere in the North of England but with a few tweaks it will make a good spare/ standby bike.

Over exposure hides the cheapness

My hill climbing efforts will restart this month with The Rake and Nick of Pendle being the climbs I've decided to test the water with. As ever I'm under prepared and probably not in the right form but what the hell, I've got to get going somehow. Now, where did I leave my charger for the helmet cam?  

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Normal service will be resumed shortly

Wow, has it really been that long since my last post? More importantly has it really been that long since I last rode up a steep hill festooned with tiny video cameras?

Sadly it has; the reality of being self employed is that I haven't had the time or money to to get out into the wilds of the UK and finish off the remaining 21 climbs...yet. The business has been growing but my bank balance hasn't been and my diary has been even more squeezed by I'm working on bagging a few more climbs very soon. Its too early to say just when I'll be doing and what climbs they will be but rest assured I'm trying to make it happen before the summer. I have been out training, although not as much as I would like but the power is still there. Just need to work on the fitness but then when have I not had to?

Keep tuned folks; very soon there will be more footage of the British countryside rolling slowly past to a soundtrack of wheezing and occasional swearing.