If it involves pedalling then I'm probably into it…
January 15, 2018Posted by on
There’s nothing quite like a big ride. Whether it’s a long slog on the mountain bike or a road cycling epic, you just can’t beat the feeling of a full day out on the bike. My mate Jay recently mentioned having less positive feelings in the days after the ride. You could call it a hangover, whilst drug users might call it a come down. Whatever you call it, there is some logic that after having created loads of adrenaline and endorphins, there’s going to be an equal and opposite affect.
And after Saturday’s big day out on the mountain bike, which went on so long that I finished in the dark, I think I’ve still got the come down. I’ve felt lethargic, irritable, I’ve had aches and pains – a real bad case of the cycling come down.
But as anyone with a hangover knows, after three drinks you feel ok again. Well, it seems to be the same with cycling. The first three miles is the ‘hair of the dog’ and then you’re back in the game.
And if that’s a sign of dependence then I’m a hopeless addict, but I’m way too far gone to quit now… When can I get my next fix?
January 2, 2018Posted by on
I’ve realized that I now have ten years worth of cycling activity stored as GPS data. Every ride recorded and stored for me to revisit. I can ponder the route and time taken, the average speed and even the temperature and heart rate in more recent years.
There’s plenty to reflect on (and not just that I’m a sad obsessive hoarder of data). When I got my first Garmin 205 GPS computer back in 2008, I was a single man in the grip of the exciting new hobby of mountain biking. I’d yet to rediscover the joys of road cycling, but it was just around the corner. Fast forward ten years and I’m a married man with five bikes. My wife’s got two, so it’s just as well that we’ve bought a house with a garage.
I didn’t anticipate any of that ten years ago, but it’s fair to say that bikes are now an even bigger part of my life than they were back then. Ten years ago I was a disgruntled teacher and manager at a college, living for the buzz of the weekend ride to stock up on good vibes to carry me through another week of work. Along the way I’ve ditched the drudgery of the college and now make most of my living from bikes, as a cycle tour leader, guide, instructor and bike mechanic – who’d have thought it?
But of course the great thing about having all this data is to be able to chart the journey. I can marvel at how much further I now ride each year compared to 2008. Thanks to the joys of Strava I can also see whether I’m getting any faster up the hills. I sometimes ride a route from years ago ‘full-gas’ to prove that age isn’t slowing me down. How many years this pathetic practice will work for I have no idea, as eventually I’ll have to acknowledge the effects of aging and ‘just enjoy the ride’. Will that be a bad thing? Probably not.
Who knows what kind of riding I’ll be doing in 2028. Hopefully I’ll still be riding bikes, but will I have succumbed to an eBike? I’m hoping not, but it’s nice to know the option’s there should health circumstances dictate. Maybe we’ll all be riding hover bikes by then? Of course, all that’s assuming that the motivation’s still there, but what if I lost interest in riding bikes? Years of teaching music eventually put me off ever working in the music industry again, so what if all this bike related work will ultimately have a similar effect? At this point I just can’t see it happening as riding a bike has proved to be the answer to all life’s problems, if at least temporarily. But who knows, maybe I’ll have retrained as an accountant and taken up badminton by 2028. We’ll just have to wait and see.
December 11, 2017Posted by on
You might think that having not posted on here for eight months would mean that I’ve not been up to anything interesting. Yet in a year with more ups and downs than a good bike ride, nothing could be further from the truth. So what am I doing breaking my silence on here by banging on about a pair of pants? Well, they’re good trousers and they’ve resolved an awkward cycling problem for me. So there.
If you need some trousers that you can look smart and professional in, whilst still clocking up some serious commuter miles, you may have found yourself on the hunt for ‘The ultimate commuter trousers’. I’ve been riding in and out of Manchester for the last three winters in some Endura Humvee trousers, which whilst looking great, just aren’t actually comfy to ride in. Which is a bit rubbish considering that they’re made by a cycling brand for, er, cycling in. I know some people who get on fine with them but they just weren’t working for me, down below, if you know what I mean…
Far comfier to ride in are my Rab walking trousers. The material’s light and stretchy with good waterproofing. But being designed for walking and not cycling, the fit round the lower leg is way too flappy. The hunt continued.
I eventually stumbled across a Scottish brand called Keela. They make several items of cycle clothing, including the Roadrunner trousers that they designed for cycling emergency services staff. These are the trousers that have changed my life, or at least the hours I spend commuting. Smart, comfortable and without a hint of testicular constriction, with these pants on I can enjoy the commute again. And I got them cheaper than both the Endura cycling trousers and the Rab walking trousers. Result.
So now the Rab’s have gone back to being walking trousers, whilst the Endura’s have found a new role as the workshop pants. Order is once again restored in the wardrobe of the over-enthusiastic cyclist. As you were.
April 11, 2017Posted by on
Long time readers will know that I’m a big fan of the Pennine Bridleway. A long distance mountain bike route along the lumpy spine of England is one of the best ideas ever and such is my love of the PBW that I’ve launched my own tour of the route! It’s the first tour under the Peak Pedalling banner, which is the professional arm to these ramblings… Even though it’s the first Peak Pedalling tour, I’m drawing on five years of MTB and road tour guiding experience to make sure everyone has a good time.
So here’s your chance to conquer the Pennines! We’ll look after all the logistics so all you have to do is to enjoy pedalling your favourite mountain bike for four days. The first tour’s happening in September 2017, with numbers are limited to a cosy eight. There’s more dates planned for 2018, including a five day option.
More details at the Peak Pedalling website
April 3, 2017Posted by on
People who know me or follow me on Strava may have noticed some pretty big walks going on recently. Whilst I’ve always enjoyed a good hike round the hills, there’s been a specific motive behind all this recent leg work. As well as developing my own cycling company Peak Pedalling and freelancing for other cycling companies, I’ve recently been working towards my Mountain Leader Award. This is the industry standard qualification that covers you to take individuals and groups out in mountainous terrain in the UK – whilst keeping them safe and hopefully giving them an enjoyable day out!
And so here I am reflecting on what has been the most intense course I’ve ever been on: six days of training by Jules Barrett and his colleagues at Adventure Unlimited. I’ve always been pretty handy with an OS map, but learning the skills to locate any specific point in a wild and often featureless environment to the nearest few meters has taken the subject to a whole new level. Add in driving rain, low visibility and a 10 kilo rucksack and things get trickier still. And that’s even before we ascended the 902 meter peak of Bow Fell at night, standing on the rocky summit in total darkness (and more rain) before correctly finding the safe route down. Wild camping, multiple river crossing techniques, emergency procedures – it’s been a busy week but with a fantastic group of people.
It wasn’t all about the practical skills though, because a mountain leader needs an exhaustive supply of information about the local environment to inform, educate and entertain clients with. In addition to being somewhat of an outdoor ninja, Jules revealed himself to be a comprehensive authority on many subjects including geology, meteorology and different species of moss. All part of the mountain leader job!
So it seems that I’ve got a huge amount of practicing to do before my 5 day assessment in spring 2018. New subjects such as emergency rope use need to become second nature and my navigation needs to be so slick that I can chat merrily to a group about volcanic rock formations without them even realising that I’m counting my paces in order to cover a specific distance within +/- 10%. Yep, there’s a lot going on.
The other major learning point for me was that mid-range cycling jackets and budget waterproof trousers are not up to the job of trekking round the hills in the rain for days on end…
Thanks to Charlie for being the only one of us organised enough to take photos!
January 18, 2017Posted by on
Everyone’s heard of Lands End to John O Groat’s and it’s on the bucket list for most UK amateur cyclists. Over the last few years of guiding with Peak Tours we’ve had people from all over the world come to ride the length of our fine land and we’re suitably proud to have them here. However, there’s an alternative ‘end to end’ route of Britain and even in the depths of this dark UK winter, I still have fond memories of guiding on it last August.
Despite guiding ten LEJOG tours, I was a rookie on the Dover to Cape Wrath route, though my partners in crime knew the tour well. It’s fair to say that I’d been looking forward to it, not just for the change of scenery, but because of its reputation as being an even better route than LEJOG.
Here’s the basics: starting at Dover in the south east of England, the tour moves North West through Kent and Essex, past Cambridge, through the Peak District and the Yorkshire Dales and up into Scotland. Then the fun really begins as the route makes use of ferries to take you across the Isle of Aaron, back to the mainland, onto the Isle of Skye and then off over the iconic Skye bridge back to the mainland. There’s then still several days of the most staggering scenery you never realized the UK even had, as you follow the West coast through Torridon and Ullapool and up to Durness. The Tour finishes with a passenger ferry over the river to finish the last 15 miles off-road to Cape Wrath, the most North Westerly point of mainland Britain.
At least half the group was made up of previous Peak Tours customers who were back for more. Some of the newbies to Peak Tours had booked the D2CW specifically because of the Scottish section of the route. They had a definite sense of smug anticipation about the second week: an English Munro bagger was pretty excited about the mountains we’d be passing, whilst a Scotsman assured me that West was definitely best. I suspected that it would be spectacular, though to be honest I’d underestimated just how beautiful the West coast of Scotland would be. Yes the riding can be tough, but cresting every hill brought fresh views of giant lochs and mountains. Everything is bigger up there. Imagine the Lake District on steroids and you’re halfway there. White sandy beaches, sightings of seals and dolphins and some incredibly quiet roads. Cycling heaven.
I confess that in my excitement for Scotland, I’d almost discounted the English part of the tour, which was a mistake. The Peak District section was well known to me and the Yorkshire Dales picked some great roads I hadn’t ridden before, but even as a die hard Northerner I had to admit that the route through Kent and Cambridge was picturesque. Honestly, it’s all good!
Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond our control the last 15 miles to Cape Wrath itself proved inaccessible to us on the crucial day. But even with Dover to Cape Wrath rechristened as ‘Dover to Durness’ it was still an amazing two-week tour. Obviously perfect weather helped, as did a great group of riders and not forgetting Nigel and Johnny with whom it was a genuine pleasure to work with.
I came home and immediately put my name down to lead the two 2017 tours – hopefully see you there!
December 8, 2016Posted by on
If I’m honest with myself, I’ve been struggling with my motivation recently. That’s not to say that I haven’t enjoyed getting out in the hills when I have got on the bike (that never happens), but it’s taken a lot of mental arse-kicking to get me out of the door. Compared to the average couch dweller I’m still in good shape, but by my own standards I feel worn out. It’s been a big year though, with plenty of bike related work and fun and then my wedding in October, so it’s not surprising that I’m knackered really.
Things got worse last week when I came off the bike riding home down an unlit cycle path covered in leaves. I hurt my thumb badly enough to get it x-rayed and even though there’s nothing broken, subsequent attempts at riding have failed miserably.
Oh well I thought, I’ll head out for a run instead – anything to slow the progress of my expanding waistline. The run felt good but the cold winter air aggravated my chest and brought back the annoying cough* that I’d nearly got rid of. It was during a coughing fit that I then pulled a muscle somewhere in my chest and I now feel like I’ve been literally stabbed in the back.
So here I am, running as badly as a cheap Windows PC and grinding to a frustrating halt. With my hardware and software malfunctioning, there’s only one thing to do: I’m going to hit shut-down and then reboot myself in a couple of weeks. I’ll get out for some hill walking instead (safe mode?) but nothing that’s going to get me out of breath or cause me any more injuries. There’s another purpose to the walking, which I’ll reveal at a later date.
Even the pro cyclists have an off-season when they let themselves go and leave the bike alone for a while. I think it should do me some good as well. Some time off the bike will give my body a rest and then I’ll miss the cycling and be gagging to get back on the bike again. Hopefully I’ll still be able to fit into my cycling kit when I do get back on the bike…
* My wife has made particular reference to my cough being annoying.
November 12, 2016Posted by on
Every man suffers from a lack of performance at some point in his life. Maybe it’s brought on by tiredness or stress, or maybe it’s to do with the head? And so it was for me yesterday when I set out on a ride, only to find that my legs could barely turn the pedals (what else did you think I was on about?)
I just wasn’t expecting it though: I’d cleared the day of commitments, spent ages planning the ultimate route, even the weather gods had granted me a dry sunny day. I’d eaten well the night before, got a decent night’s sleep and had the bike and kit prepped and ready to roll. So why was I struggling to even get to the end of my road?
You get to know your body well after years of cycling, with every local road and trail becoming a benchmark to gauge your fitness and well-being. I didn’t need Strava or a heart rate monitor to tell me that something wasn’t right today though. My legs felt heavy and every bone in my body just ached. It’s happened before over the years and I’ve found that there are three options available at this point:
- Turn around and go home in a sulk
- Finish the planned route at any cost
- Cut it short and try not to get too annoyed
The first option is the emotional response and your body will thank you for turning round, but the feeling of wasting the day whilst sulking on the couch is a real morale crusher. I’ve tried the second option before but it took ages to recover from and probably kept me off the bike for longer afterwards. It’s also best not to be hurtling down hills if you’re not on top form…
I opted for the third choice this time. My planned 40 mile off-road epic quickly got cut down to just over 10 miles of the lamest mountain biking I’ve ever done. I struggled up the hills, pushing up an easy local trail for the first time ever. But the weather and fresh air were great and I’d still got some kind of riding in, certainly enough to justify getting changed and heading out of the door in the first place. If anything, it made me realize just how fit I am when I am on form.
Thinking back, there were tell tale signs before I’d even set off. I didn’t exactly jump out of bed in the morning. I then had that extra cup of tea whilst slumped back on the couch, dressed and ready to go but stalling the start. It seems that my body and subconscious mind knew what was going on way before I did.
I don’t know the science and I’m certainly no doctor, but I’m probably just knackered. Simple as that. It’s been a busy year, busier than most considering I got married four weeks ago so I probably just need to take it easy for a few days. Them hills aren’t going anywhere I suppose…
May 12, 2016Posted by on
The emotive sound of clanging cowbells and cheering crowds. It was almost loud enough to drown out the screaming coming from my legs as I crested yet another Lakeland pass. Yep, I was riding the Fred Whitton Challenge again. Friends and long term readers will know of my ongoing goal to get round in under seven hours. Would this be the year when everything fell into place?
My training had been substantial. A huge amount of riding and running during the spring had got my weight down to an all time low, with a recent visit to Tenerife to finish off the preparation. The truth was though, I just wasn’t feeling super-motivated leading up to the event. I wasn’t sure whether it was general fatigue or a touch of over-training, or maybe I just wasn’t up for these kinds of events anymore. Touring commitments had prevented me entering any events last year and it was all feeling unfamiliar.
The weather can play a huge role in the Fred. After several years of dangerously cold, wet and windy conditions, everyone had been praying for fine spring weather and it looked like our prayers had been answered. I set off feeling good and my Garmin was telling me that I was saving time on every section of the course. The weather was also presenting the Lake District in all it’s stunning glory, with Ullswater still and misty like a giant water colour painting to my right. No time to stop for photos though.
Some cycling snobs turn their noses up at paying to ride an event on open roads, pointing out that you can turn up and ride the route any time you want. That’s true, but you can’t put a price on the crowds who turn out to cheer everyone on, regardless of whether they know you or not. It really is part of the local calendar now and unlike many modern sportives, all the profits go to charity. Everyone’s a winner.
By 85 miles, I was way in front of my previous best and totally on pace to achieve the sub-seven. And that’s exactly when it all started to unravel. Despite filling both water bottles at the feed stop five miles ago, I’d been playing catch up with my hydration, and now I’d nearly emptied both bottles again. Worse, my right leg started cramping – a worrying sensation as you make your way towards Hard Knott pass. That warm weather I’d been praying for was taking it’s toll on me, and to make matters worse, a hot headwind was blowing hard as the route headed inland from the coast. I’m not great in the heat (thats’ growing up in Northern England for you) and as we approached ‘the big one’ the temperature was up to 25ºc and I really wasn’t feeling great.
Hard Knott pass is never easy, even when you’re fresh. I definitely wasn’t feeling fresh, but having done it ten times before I knew I just had to dig in, ignore the pain and get it done. The first half of the climb was probably the worst 10 minutes I’ve ever spent on a bike. Both quads were now cramping every time I got out of the saddle, but with gradients over 25% there wasn’t really any alternative. I was pleased to survive the first ramps and get to the middle section where the gradients ease off to just plain ‘steep’. I was in trouble though, with diminishing control of my legs and the road about to rear up to 30% again.
I’ve never pushed up Hard Knott pass before (or any other road climb) but on the next hairpin my legs defiantly let me know that they weren’t up for any more of this abuse. With a spasm so violent that I only just managed to unclip and get off the bike, I frantically tried to stretch them out to get them under control at the side of the road. I’d always been a rider who’d battle through the pushers, proudly riding up the steep ramps whilst taking the cheers of the crowd. Now I was on the side of the road, barely even able to push the bike. I felt sick, dizzy, frustrated, but most of all exhausted. I could feel my sub-seven hour ride disappearing as I pushed my bike to the top with wobbly legs. Despite having kept the calories coming in all day, I felt as weak as a kitten and I was in a mess. There was still Wrynose pass to tackle but it was the same miserable scenario. I could definitely kiss goodbye to my goal.
I limited my losses on the rolling section to the finish, crossing the line with a time of 7h 21m. Though initially gutted, as the evening (and beers) went on I knew I’d still done ok and that I am capable of the sub-seven. My time put me 242nd out of 2100 finishers, which is in the top 12%. Better than last time, though if I’d been able to ride the last two passes like I usually do then I would have been nicely under seven hours.
I’d been telling people that whatever my result, I wasn’t entering again and that I needed to leave this Fred Whitton obsession behind. Who am I kidding?
October 22, 2015Posted by on
After a long summer of guiding cyclists from Lands End to John O Groats, I was ready for a holiday myself. We were off to Andalusia in Southern Spain again, though further up the coast in the region of Almeria this time. The bike chosen to gatecrash this holiday was my Planet X Uncle John, giving me off-road options as well as the usual road miles. It’s not always easy to find route info before you go, so if you’re heading out that way for some cycling here’s three decent rides that I‘d recommend:
The Ruta TransCabrera
This route crosses the Sierra Cabrera range. The South side is off-road, climbing up from Sopalmo to the top (or descending if you’d rather) whilst the North side is a quiet tarmac road with some steep sections. The locals seem to do the gravel road on short travel hard tail mountain bikes, but my ‘Uncle Juan’ was ideal and made the tarmac less tedious.
I’d been really excited about this and it didn’t disappoint. 8 miles of a winding gravel road with stunning views, what’s not to like? I admit that the first mile with its 10% slopes had me worried, but it slackens off to an average of about 5%.
When you finally get to the junction at the top, turn left and left again to tackle a punishing 25% climb to get an amazing view from the 3000ft summit of the range. It’s been freshly tarmacked and feels a bit like Hardknott Pass, which is great if you’re getting a bit homesick. Don’t pinch my Strava KOM though.
Bedar and beyond
Putting the slicks back on, it was time for some road riding. This time I headed inland and once I’d got off the busy (but totally safe) A370 I was climbing past Bedar on a stunning road with superb hairpins before finally dropping down towards El Marchal. I rode on further to get the distance in, but even if you then just climbed back up and descended back past Bedar you’ll have had a decent ride with a proper climb.
Though much of rural Spain is in a state of crumbling decay, these roads are immaculate. Wide, quiet and flawlessly surfaced in that light grey tarmac that the Spanish seem to produce. On a weekday morning I probably saw one car every half hour, if that. It’s almost like the roads are bigger and better than they need to be, but it makes for amazing cycling so I’m not complaining. In fact I’m already scheming when I can get out there again…
El Cortijo Grande / Sierra Cabrera
Heading out through Turre and up towards the little mountain resort of El Cortijo Grande is a road that has become my favourite climb ever. The road takes you up into the hills and apart from a short section that is more like a farm track, the surface is superb. It’s well signed for ‘Sierra Cabrera’ so just sit back and enjoy the views and intricate hairpins. In an hours worth of climbing I saw one car and one man herding his goats. At one point you climb between a few houses in a remote little village then you’re back in the wilderness again. Eventually you approach the junction of the Ruta TransCabrera so you’re obviously obliged to tackle the extra section right to the top. I descended down the Ruta Transcabrera road to Turre to make a loop of it, though this loop in reverse could be equally rewarding.
Get yourselves out there. It’s great riding and the weather’s far better than the UK…