I’ve been too busy to post anything this month, due to work and whatnot, but things haven’t been all bad. First of all, the Tour De France came to my town! As you can see this is part of the caravan. I didn’t take any snaps of the riders because I was too busy going “OMG PROS!” and pointing out Andre Greipel (I think all the other recognisable riders were on the other side of the road or going too fast). We decided to watch the race go past on the hilariously-named “Cote De Greetland” which was busy but not insanely packed like Holme Moss. It was an amazing experience, not least because we got to ride our bikes on closed roads over what is normally a three-lane deathtrap of a roundabout. There were massive crowds, many of whom loudly cheered on our slightly surprised six-year old boy, who just happened to be riding his bike along the stage two route of Le Tour in a yellow t-shirt. Pleasing.I have also been riding bikes on my own account, rather less excitingly. It would be rude not to, frankly, as the weather has been insanely beautiful most of the month, and the local trails are dusty and fast (if a little overgrown in places, but then you can’t have everything your own way). My Canyon now seems to be running smoothly, which is good because I’m supposed to be riding the thing in a sort of Enduro-Sportive event next weekend. Here is is reclining alongside a good, no-nonsense, spade-is-a-spade Yorkshire street name sign, midway round what was a rather splendid ride.
Proper, real, honest-to-goodness summer with dusty trails, deep grass, bright sunshine and long, warm evenings. I only had time for just over an hour of riding so I hauled myself up the steepest back-lane out of the village, up to the catchwater, round above Meltham, and down Wessenden as fast as possible, holding my teeth closed in a fixed grin to avoid inhaling mayflies. Hardly anyone else was out, just the odd dog-walker. Lots of birds, though, catching all the insects; I saw a couple of curlews and a pheasant.
I rode down the steps on the west side of Butterley dam for a change, they’re a bit less brutal than the set on the east and don’t have a steep flight at the bottom. The trick is relaxing into a rhythm, keeping your weight back, and not grabbing so much brake that your wheels start to slip or your forks dive.
More paving on the packhorse road, the National Trust have now completely trashed one of the best bits of this trail, filling in what was an entertaining winding groove with rubble, and laying massive stone flags over the top. The section of path in the foreground here was a bit rough and rutted and was in need of a bit of work, but the stretch in the distance, where you can see all the stone bags, was to my mind a lovely bit of stable singletrack, and it is now gone forever.
This isn’t my biggest gripe with what they’ve done, though. By paving over the preferred line for mountain bikers instead of putting the flags off to one side, they have missed a massive opportunity to reduce conflict between users; indeed, they’ve actually increased the chance of conflict arising. To ride over these flags comfortably and avoid the sensation of having your fillings rattled loose you need to maintain a higher speed than was necessary or desirable before they were laid. Riders are now going to be covering these sections much faster, and the flags demarcate the path as a very definite single-file strip, so they’re going to be flying down the hill straight towards anyone coming up it. Walkers are going to freak out about “out of control” cyclists on these paths, and I can almost see the foam-flecked letters to the local rag already.
Wilf and I went to play on the indoor BMX track at the National Cycling Centre yesterday. It was brilliant fun! That there is Wilf riding the rhythm section, which he pretty much had down by the end, even on a bike that was a bit on the big side for him. We’re going back again next week, I can’t wait.
An unexpected beautiful day coincided with an unexpected morning off family duties yesterday, and it wasn’t difficult to decide what to do. It was quiet for a sunny bank holiday weekend, and the few walkers I did encounter were mostly in a summery mood, happy to let me past and haul their dogs out of the way. After a familiar start I headed into a small wood which, I had heard, was the site of some digging activity. Sure enough, in between the bluebells I found gap jumps, hips and drops, clearly well used and well cared for. The features were a bit big for me to be confident trying them on my own, so I rode past, but I’ll be dragging some mates out here for a play as soon as possible.On the other side of the wood I emerged onto a long, quiet track which will serve nicely to link up a few sections that otherwise require long, boring tarmac drags; the morning’s explorations had been very successful. I moved back to familiar trails with the drop down Back Lane into the Holme valley, a good kilometre of entertaining, rocky singletrack without another soul in sight. I picked my way through the busy traffic in the middle of Holmfirth, and then hauled myself up the sharp kick of Rotcher onto Cartworth Moor. Next came the fast, rocky fun of flying down Ramsden Road, only slowing once for a family making their way up. Ramsden Road often has a convoy of 4x4s climbing up it, tearing the track apart, but it was quiet this morning with just three or four other cyclists and the aforementioned walkers, so I got to let go of the brakes and see how fast I could make myself go.
Making my way across from Yateholm to Digley the roads started to get busy, with trains of motorcyclists and the odd roadie coughing in their wake. The climb up the other side of the valley, Springs Road, had a smattering grumpier walkers, proper red-socks intent on messing with their map cases and walking poles, and I had to turn the politeness up considerably to get a couple of them to acknowledge my presence and allow me to pass. Or perhaps it was because the morning was turning into midday, and the early morning good humour had evaporated in the glare of the sun and pre-lunchtime hunger. Whatever the reason, I was wavering in my intentions for the next section of ride, a cheeky stretch of footpath, usually quiet but likely to be busy on a sunny bank-holiday weekend. My indecision led to disaster. I changed my mind repeatedly on the way down Wessenden, finally deciding to go for it at the last possible moment. Unfortunately, my choice to turn left coincided with my front wheel being in a gravely, off-camber rain gully, the tyre lost traction and I crashed to the ground. A nearby dog-walker completely ignored me. I got up, dusted myself off, noted that the blood coming from my knee wasn’t flowing too copiously, and decided, on reflection, that I should probably call it a day. Insult to injury as I rolled back into the village: a strange grinding noise that had grown worse as the ride progressed turned out to be a collapsed pedal bearing. In spite of a frustrating ending, though, it was a brilliant ride overall, and I hope summer this year throws a few more days like this our way.
Fantastic weather the other evening. Shorts and short sleeves until past nine o’clock, dry and dusty underwheel, the only negative was a puncture on the final descent. It happened on one of the new waterbars that the National Trust has installed with special razor-sharp edges on them. Still, it sealed itself in a minute or two and the ride was brilliant otherwise. I think it’s time to put the summer tyres back on the Soul and maybe move the singlespeed to the back of the pile of bikes. It has served me well through winter, but I’m looking forward to some drier, warmer riding for the next few months.
During the evenings for the past week or so the back lanes and tracks have been covered in toads. It is toad mating season, and additionally this delightful fog that’s been hanging about is making everything nice and soggy, encouraging them to get it on right out in the open. This makes the usually boring bits at the very end of my rides into an exciting, frog-dodging obstacle course. As far as I’m aware I haven’t squished any on my bike, although there are a lot of unfortunate dead amphibians lying about along the busier tarmacked roads, clearly crushed by motorised vehicles. I feel an affinity for these knobbly creatures, and a sympathy for the dead ones: they head out of an evening to have fun on quiet lanes, bothering no-one, but in doing so run the risk of meeting a grisly fate under the wheels of a car or van. Poor toads.
A day off and another mountain bike ride. The Packhorse Road has been further “improved” by the National Trust, there are more flagstones across the boggy section at the top, and the first stream crossing now has a stone bridge and flags up most of the subsequent short climb. It means that the entire descent is now easily cleanable, even on a rigid singlespeed. It’s still well worth riding, but I remain skeptical, as they clearly haven’t finished meddling with it, there are lots of stones lying by the side of the path ready to put in place. I used to enjoy the challenge of the scrabbly ruts and drops around the top brook, which is now being turned into a boring, bouncy grind. I suspect they are ultimately going to pave the entire thing top to bottom, which will be a real shame.
Onto the towpath by the little bit of singletrack at the top of the road. These brake pads aren’t bedded in yet, they’re honking like geese. Unscheduled stop to retrieve and refit front mudguard. The little path down on the riverbank. That rooty bit seems much easier than last time. Out into the next village, past the Friday night drinkers as fast as possible. Up the hill, away from civilisation. Quiet roads tonight, must be the fog. Roundabout backlanes to the fun river crossing. Bedding in the brakes on the way down. A new gate. They’ve still not fixed the latch on the old one, so you can bash it open with your front wheel and ride through. Over the stream, up the slabby bit, across the rutty, rocky bit, lovely. Down the edge and past the secret house on the corner. Up the enormous hill. Stop at the gate to catch my breath. Keep going up the enormous hill. Get off and push up the enormous hill. Very foggy at the top. Cross the road to the rutted quarry track. Nearly bin it in a rut. Incredibly foggy, can hardly see, keep having to wipe my specs. Drop out of the fog and this track is really quite nice on the singlespeed. Back up the hill on tarmac. A tailwind up the Isle Of Skye road, that never happens. Back into dense fog, ride right on the verge just in case when a car comes up behind. The incongruous smell of chipfat from a farmer’s old Landrover running on biodiesel. Nearly miss my turning in the fog. Drop down the valley, wet but fast, hop a few new rain ruts hiding in the murk. Home, shower, beer.