Monthly Archives: April 2013

Brian Robinson Challenge Ride 2013

Rider 312 peruses the route card.
Rider 312 peruses the route card.

Any cyclist familiar with the terrain of the Huddersfield area will be able to see that the route of the Brian Robinson Challenge hits quite a few noticeable bumps on the way round. At 75 miles with 2,500 metres of climbing the 2013 route is about the hardest road ride I’ve attempted since I was a teenager. Add to that a hefty buffeting from a lively sou’wester that really picked up speed over the tops, and last Sunday’s loop was quite a proposition. The previous year’s outing was rerouted away from the biggest hills due to adverse weather conditions, and I was told by one rider that this year’s wind was just as bad (it lacked the torrential rain of 2012, so the organisers kept the route unchanged).

After being officially started by Brian Robinson himself (and some bloke in a ceremonial chain), several hundred riders rolled the couple of miles to the bottom of the first climb, Wessenden Head Road. It was a pleasant change to ride most of this hill in the shelter of a bunch, normally it’s just me on my own battling it out on a local loop. The sharp left at the top put the wind firmly behind us and the blast down into Holmfirth was excitingly rapid. Holme Moss was as difficult as you’d expect under the conditions. It was hard going all the way up until a tiny respite from the blustery gale below the crest of the hill, before we were almost blown backwards out of Derbyshire at the top. Here I am in an official event photo – I look like I’m throwing the bike about a little bit, but I’m actually just leaning into the wind to avoid falling off:

Note the seasoned roadie sheltering behind the clueless newbie rider.
Note the seasoned roadie sheltering from the hurricane-force headwind behind the clueless newbie rider.

I barely noticed Woodhead Pass after the last two little numbers, particularly with the gale behind us, and the roads down to Clayton West shot by in another tailwind-propelled blur. The next section of the ride over the undulating grimness of Emley and Grange Moor pointed us back towards the elements and weaved its way in fits and starts around the top of Huddersfield, towards the main spine of the Pennines and the relentless slog over the A640, head on into the wind. Here I befriended a big chap who looked like he knew what he was doing, but made the mistake of trying to share pulls on the front up past Nont Sarah’s. My legs weren’t as good as I had thought, and I clung on for as long as I could, but blew up shortly before the summit, and had to make my solitary way up and over at a much slower rate. After descending to Delph tagged onto the back of another group, I twiddled back over Standedge at a snail’s pace. Dragging myself past home was a bit of a wrench, but I felt a bit better up the last climb out of Marsden and I almost sprinted the last few kilometres to the finish. Clocking in at 5 hours 40 minutes officially (5h37 on the GPS, there was a queue) I was knackered, but pleased at getting back well inside the six hour target I had set myself. Apparently the fastest guy got round in four hours, solo. Incredible.

This was the first ‘sportive’ type ride I’ve ever done on the road; it was fun to ride out in a really big group for the first time in a couple of decades (I’m not in a club or anything like that). The marshalling was good, the course is certainly challenging, and the atmosphere was friendly. Very enjoyable, I’ll probably be back next year (but I hope it’s a bit less blowy).

New Build

Wine, music, bike bits and tools, ingredients for a relaxing evening in.
Wine, music, bike bits and tools, ingredients for a relaxing evening in.

Last week the joiner who has taken over our entire house of late was off sick, so I temporarily reclaimed the garage and built up the new Mk 3 Soul frame I’ve had stashed in a box for the past couple of months. Friday was the shake-down ride, and I headed out to do a figure-of-eight over towards Windy Hill and back via Readycon Dean and the Packhorse Trail into Marsden.

New Old Soul. New frame, seatpost and drivetrain, old wheels, brakes and whatnot.
New Old Soul. New frame, seatpost and drivetrain, old wheels, forks, brakes and whatnot.

This bike is brilliant. I would happily have stuck with my old Mk 2 Soul if I had had to, it was the best bike I’ve ever owned, but when Cotic released the new version with a Reverb-sized seat tube (and in That Green) I was hit with terminal upgraditis. I know it’s a terrible indulgence, but I honestly didn’t stand a chance. Anyway, the new one rides as well as the old one (that is: very well indeed), but with the added benefit of an uppy-downy post that works better than my old X-Fusion Hi-Lo, and with a shiny new 2×10 XT transmission. It’s brilliant. If I could only have one bike, this would be it.

There’s been some resurfacing work done on Windy Hill and whilst I’m no expert I suspect it’s not quite up to the required standard for a bridleway, given that they’ve basically just dropped a demolished building on it. There’s loads of broken glass in the mixed rubble and bricks, which is really not good for bikes or horses; having ridden over a few hundred metres of it before taking a closer look, I can now say with some authority that Hans Dampfs are impressively puncture resistant. The work has been reported to Rochdale council, let’s see what happens.

IMG_20130426_101737 IMG_20130426_101742

Snowdon & Penmachno

A Cotic Soul, Yesterday
A Cotic Soul, yesterday

Andy, Ben, Bob, Gareth, Mark, Rick and I rode up and down Snowdon yesterday morning via the Llanberis path. The weather was spectacular, blue skies, almost no wind, I’ve never seen the Welsh mountains looking so friendly. The few small patches of snow and ice were no problem, and most of the hundreds of walkers who started to appear towards the end of the descent were friendly and happy to let us past.


After a six-thirty start to avoid the crowds as far as possible the ascent took nearly three hours, we were definitely taking it easy and admiring the views. The Isle Of Man was just about visible on the horizon. That bit above Clogwyn station hadn’t got any easier.


We decided to stick to the Llanberis path for the descent rather than doing the Ranger again because we were bringing a few relatively less confident riders (one of whom, realistically, was me – having properly smashed myself up off-road twice in the past six months I determined to take it very easy). I was very happy to get up and down a full-grown mountain without any incident. The Llanberis descent is less challenging than the alternatives, but still has a few sections that can make you think, especially when it’s been freeze-thawed to bits by an extended winter’s worth of ice and snow and rain.


Half an hour or so after leaving the summit we were down, and soon ordering breakfast in Pete’s Eats, the first part of our big day out completed. After refuelling we set off for Penmachno, did a leisurely circuit of loop one. Mostly dry, possibly even dusty in places, the trails were lovely. I’ve not been on a mountain bike in conditions like that for at least a year. We headed off home thoroughly knackered, very happy.


More days like this, please.

FAO Motorists

Hey, drivers! If I’m in the middle of the road on my bike, I’m not there to annoy you. I’m there because it’s the safest place to be. The middle of the lane on a busy road is not a pleasant situation to be in on a bike, so I’d rather not be there, but sometimes I need to be. Here’s some reasons why:

There are parked cars on the side of the road. People in parked cars sometimes open their doors without looking. Have you ever been smacked in the face by a car door at 20mph? It really hurts, and what’s more it makes a right mess of the car. So if I’m riding a few feet away from some parked cars, it’s to avoid causing serious damage to some poor motorist’s doors. Once I’m past the cars, I’ll pull in and off you go.

It’s a narrow road and there’s something coming the other way. If you overtake me now you’re probably not going to have time to get past me without having to pull in to avoid the oncoming car. When you pull in to avoid the oncoming car, you’re going to hit me. Basically I’m sat in front of you to stop you making a royal mess of your bodywork on bits of mangled bike and bone, which I’m sure you’ll agree would put a bit of a crimp in your day.

There’s a big or awkward junction up ahead. If I don’t sit in the middle of the road, other road users are less likely to see me, and when people don’t see cyclists they have a tendency to drive over the top of them, which often leaves them having to sort out all sorts of inconvenient things like scratches, dented bumpers, life-changing permanent injuries and so on. I’m sat out there to make sure I’m seen and to give me room to manoeuvre if someone makes a mistake. Once I get past the junction, I’ll get out of your way as soon as it’s safe.

The side of the road sometimes isn’t safe to ride on. There’s often a strip of mixed gravel, litter, bits of old truck, broken glass and dog crap on the less used edge of some roads. Apart from being unpleasant to ride in and liable to cause punctures, this mixed road-cruft is also an unsafe, loose surface, and I might fall off if I end up in it at speed. If I fall off in front of you, your car might drive over me and that could knock your exhaust off or ding your alloys or something, so by riding out away from all that junk I’m saving you a hefty repair bill. Once I’m past the dodgy bit I’ll get back in my place in the gutter, don’t worry.

I’m going round a blind corner. Cyclists can usually see and hear much better than people in cars, because we’re higher up and we’re not inside a two-ton insulated metal box. That means I can see if there’s a car coming the other way round that bend, a car that would cause you to swerve back into your lane if you tried to pass me, with the result that you’d be picking bits of my horribly crushed body out of your radiator grille for weeks. So I’m sat out here whilst we go round this corner just to ensure that your nice motor doesn’t get disfigured by bits of me and my bike, and once we’re round the bend I’ll get back in my allotted place and wave you on your way with a cheery tug of my forelock, sir.

So, motorists: if you encounter a cyclist sat in the middle of the road, please remember that they are not there to personally piss you off. Please give them chance to get past whatever it is that they need to get past, and wait for them to pull back in before you overtake. It won’t kill you to wait for a few seconds, but if you don’t wait it might kill me. Thanks!

Cragg Vale


Early Sunday morning road ride, cold, crisp and sunny for three hours and only one dickhead driver the whole way round. Then a potter along the canal with Wilf on the BMX, followed by watching the end of a vintage Paris-Roubaix, topped off with a steak and chips for tea. A good day.

Singletrack Film Night

Singletrack put on a mountain biking film night last Thursday. I went to the one they put on last year, and it was sufficiently enjoyable that I dragged a few more cycling mates along this time. It was a similar format to the previous night: two films, one more long-distance adventure-oriented, the other from the glossy jumps-and-drops-and-singletrack genre. There was also beer. Smashing.

The first film they showed, Where Are You Go, is a deliberately ragged effort, filmed on lo-fi film stock with a rough-and-ready approach to editing and narrative. There is no voiceover or host to guide the audience, the story is told by disconnected snippets of interviews with the various participants in a very laid back bike race from Cairo to Cape Town. There were a few serious competitor-types, heads-down on vaguely road-bike shaped things and aiming to be the fastest overall, but most of the riders were on more comfortable or bizarre articles (including one double-decker effort bodged together in Ethiopia), and ranged in age from adventurous young types out to discover themselves to old retired blokes avoiding having to play golf. Given the subject matter I was worried that this film would be a bit of a Gap Year Nightmare with lots of pompous waffly toss being spouted by pompous waffly tossers, but in reality it turned out to be an idiosyncratic but precisely observed, well executed film of a journey through a huge continent full of amazing stuff that just happened to involve some bikes. Ace, well worth watching.

Where The Trail Ends is right at the other end of the bike-film spectrum: stuffed full of pixel-sharp slow-motion gnar and the shredding thereof. It documents, with super-high frame-rates and ultra-high definition, a quest for novelty on the part of a handful of the usual suspects who are supposedly tired of throwing themselves off bits of Utah. There follows an hour or so of said dudes throwing themselves off bits of China, South America, Nepal and Canada instead, all of which look largely similar to the bits of Utah they were bored of. They end up declaring some hills in China the winners in the Big Piles Of Arid Dirt competition. It’s all very impressive, but desert mountains don’t exactly abound in the UK, and my aerial skills are very limited, so it’s not really relevant to my experience of riding bicycles. It’s also a bit annoying to hear some american moan about how he’s bored of pulling huge tricks on massive, empty hills in sunny, dusty Utah when you’ve squelched your face repeatedly into the mud of the soggiest year ever experienced in the Pennines. There were some entertaining crashes, and crazy people doing ridiculous jumps on bikes is always fun to see, so I’m glad I’ve watched it, but I don’t think I’d bother with it a second time.

One slightly disappointing second film notwithstanding it was a great evening overall, and if Singletrack decide to put another film night on I’ll do my best to be there and support them again.

A Trip To The Park

On The Swing

An unexpectedly temperate break in the recent Siberian weather was an opportunity for a quick pootle down to the park with the boy on his bike. He had not been out on it in weeks due to the ridiculous quantity of March snow massively overstaying its welcome and making everything slippy, sloppy and miserable. The lack of recent riding manifested itself in a pretty spectacular pedal-clip crash on that fast left-hander at the bottom, but after being picked up, dusted down and given a big hug he was back up and pedalling happily. Good lad.

OA Winter Trail Marsden

OA Sprint Checkpoint
Rick at an OA Sprint Checkpoint somewhere near Marsden

If mountain bike orienteering sounds dorky, that’s because it is. You ride your bike around finding numbered checkpoints on a map, aiming to visit as many as possible before returning to base inside a set time limit. Not only do you have to go outside in the cold and wet and pedal a bike around, you also have to use your brain and a modicum of map reading skills to decide on the best route. Serious competitors tape their maps to special boards on their (often interestingly wiggly) handlebars. Triathletes probably think MTB Orienteering is a bit weird. It’s trainspotting on wheels.

Right up my street then, I’m not sure why I’ve never done it before. Organic Adventure organise several series of orienteering-based events, and one of them was in my home village yesterday, starting and finishing at a perfectly good pub and everything. Being both a mountain biker and a massive dork I decided to have a go; it’d be rude not to show up to a bike event on my doorstep. I’ve not done orienteering since I was about fourteen, but I had backup in the form of my teammate Rick who has previously won his category in Polaris or something fearsome like that, so I wasn’t overly worried about messing things up. As it turned out the course was abnormally easy due to the fact that every local track over 300m is still buried under six foot snowdrifts. The organisers were naturally worried about possible yeti attacks so they kept things at a low-level. As far as offroading was concerned we only had to cover about half a mile on a bit of muddy lane, and a bit of rocky, icy riverside path. Everything else was accessible by tarmac, and we’d probably have been faster on road bikes.

It was great fun though, and we bagged all the checkpoints in 1h40 and blasted back to the pub to find out our position. We came second in the team competition… out of two teams. Or last, as it’s more commonly known. But as were only about three minutes off the winners, I’m counting that as a pretty good result for my first go at it. It was a well organised, enjoyable event, Organic Adventure did a great job putting this on, so I think I’ll do my best to make it to some more of their gigs this summer.

A well-earned pint, and some junk.
A well-earned pint, and some MTB orienteering paraphernalia.

At the pub we shared our bike lock with one of the other competitors, a chap called Ian McNabb who had ridden over from Todmorden (a good two hours over a fair chunk of the Pennines) and was just having a quick breather before setting off to ride back again. He’d done over 200 miles the day before so he was taking the easy way home, a mere 30-odd miles or so along dark, icy towpaths and back roads. We boggled a bit, and then asked him if he was mad or what? Apparently he is training for the Tour Divide this summer. The Tour Divide is sort of like the adventure racers’ Tour De France: it’s really long and really difficult to finish, like Le Tour, but it’s also off-road, self-supported, and has more grizzly bears. Best of luck to Ian, I’ll follow his progress with great interest this June.