Back in 2015, despite having very little long-distance cycling experience under my belt, I decided to enter the 1200km Paris-Brest-Paris Audax (PBP) without really knowing what I was letting myself in for.
Although I’d been dabbling with audax for a couple of years, I’d always limited myself to 200km events. I was regularly cycling with my club at weekends and had completed some longish cycle tours around Europe but I was getting a little bit bored of not having a focus to my training. I’m very goal oriented and if I don’t have something to work towards I can lose motivation easily, so I was in the right frame of mind to take on a bigger challenge.
When I turned up at my first 200km audax of the year in February 2015, someone asked me if I was riding it as a ‘PBP qualifer’. I nearly choked on my pre-ride cuppa and said, “don’t be daft! 1200km? I’ve never ridden more than 200k in one go.”
But that throwaway conversation planted a little seed in my head. These people didn’t really look any different to me and they weren’t riding any faster than I was. If they thought that they were up to riding 1200km in 90 hours, then why couldn’t I?
The following day, I took a look at the PBP registration site, found out what date I could register with my 200 from the previous year and made my decision to have a crack at it. The rest, as they say, is history. I discovered that I enjoy this crazy world of riding my bike a very long way and was pleasantly surprised to find out that my body, and mind, were capable of operating on a lot less sleep I’d ever imagined possible.
I entered the 90-hour category, along with my friend Andy who accompanied me all the way, and we finished in 88 hours and 15 minutes. At that time, it was absolutely the hardest thing I’d ever done in my life and it’s still up there to be honest. During the final 200km I managed to injure my left leg so badly that I could barely walk for two weeks afterwards but, despite all that, I knew immediately that I wanted to do it all again in four years time.
So, Four years on, and four years older, that’s exactly what I’m doing.
To be honest, I’m not too phased by those extra four years. A couple of years ago, when Julie and I were training for the Transcontinental Race, I began to panic a bit about age-related loss of fitness so I signed up for regular, high-intensity, indoor interval sessions with a coach. These sessions, a couple of times a week, have definitely helped with my overall average speed. So even though I am four years older, and although I’m on the wrong side of 45 to be making massive gains, I’m still managing to knock out a slightly faster overall riding speed than I was back in 2015.
Along with older, one thing I most definitely am is wiser. I now understand how my body will feel at different times throughout the distance and I know myself well enough to know that there’ll be some high highs and some low lows and, importantly, that both of those states – and everything in between – are temporary. My coming to terms with the range of emotional states I go through on a long ride, and developing the resilience to push on through the darker moments, has been a positive learning experience and one that I’ve been able to carry forward to help with situations in my everyday life and improve my overall mental health.
In short, I feel like I’m ready for it, physically and mentally.
So far my 2019, along with every other PBP hopeful, has been all about the qualifying rides. In order to take part in PBP all riders must complete a series of 200, 300, 400 and 600km rides in an allotted time window between January and June.
To make my PBP journey as enjoyable and memorable as possible I decided that, rather than sticking to the local events that I’ve ridden before, I would try to choose qualifying rides that I’d not previously entered, in unfamiliar locations. This has ended up being a really good decision as I’ve discovered new areas to ride all across the UK from the highlands of Scotland to the New Forest. I’ve discovered new routes that I’ll be able to use again and I’ve met lots of lovely people, many of which I hope to see again in Paris.
Most of these roads weren’t so new to me but I was just really keen on getting my qualifers started, so picked an early January event organised by my club, VC167. It’s a flat course from Darlington to York and back that follows main roads and A1 service roads, all of which get gritted in bad weather, hence the name
The weather was pretty benign for the time of year and the wind wasn’t very strong. I got in with a fast group on the way back, managed to more or less hang on until the finish and ended up riding my fastest 200 of the year. We were back for 5.15pm – this never happens to me!
Almost all of the 3 Down was uncharted territory for me. Starting in Chalfont St. Peter the route took us through the Chilterns, Buckinhgamshire and Hampshire, along country lanes and through pretty thatch-roofed villages down to the New Forest and back again. The controls were on the outward leg were really well organised – we even had our very own barista at the control in Stockbridge.
The weather was sunny and mild for March but a strong north-westerly wind made the open expanse of the New forest pretty tough-going for the first few kilometres of the return leg. I’d never visited the New Forest before and it was a real treat to pedal past the wild ponies just hanging out at the side of the road and experience a very different landscape to that of the North.
The route back took us through more thatched villages and quiet lanes before nightfall. It’s always a bit of a trade-off with winter audaxes because once it’s dark the best option is a straightforward, main road route to follow but that can often mean more traffic. This route had a good mix of main roads and quieter lanes around the back of Slough to guide us back to the finish.
I’m already thinking of ways to modify this route slightly to turn it into a ferry port trip from Sheffield.
Without a doubt one of the most beautiful audaxes I’ve ever ridden, but also the coldest! Thankfully I was pretty well-prepared as I’d packed my full puffer jacket and an extra long-sleeved top just in case I got stuck somewhere remote. These roads weren’t all new to me as I’ve been to the north coast of Scotland many times, but it is one of my most favourite places on the planet and the opportunity to cram almost all of it into one ride was too good to miss.
Although I knew other people riding, I’d decided to ride this one solo as I wanted to ride it at my own pace and stop to take photographs whenever I wanted without holding anyone else up. During the day the sun shone and I had to resist the temptation to stop at every photo opportunity but as the sun set the temperature plummeted to well below zero.
All of the controls were spaced just the right distance apart but the final control at Ullapool Yacht Club was an absolute lifesaver – beans and cheese on toast has never tasted so good! Lots of very cold and tired riders were huddled into one small room trying to warm up just enough to brave the road up and over toward Inverness and on to the finish in Dingwall.
My tyres turned white as they picked up a layer of frost from the road during the 15km descent down to Garve and, despite wearing three pairs of gloves, I had to duck into a public toilet at Rogie Falls just to try and get some blood back into my fingertips so that I could change gear properly. After the long, freezing descent, the final couple of short climbs back over to the finish warmed me up a little but I was still really glad to make it back to the community centre where I promptly fell asleep at the dining table until we had to leave at 8.30am.
Andy Berne’s new event was the qualifier that I’d been looking forward to the most. I love riding the deserted Border roads and have done a couple of 400s in the area previously, but I’d not done any riding in Galloway so the 100km loop in the middle of the ride would be new territory for me and I was looking forward to some spectacular forest and moorland scenery.
The weather had other ideas though and by the time I’d reached the Borders and climbed up and over the Grey Mare’s Tail the mist had settled in and skies darkened with the promise of rain. I missed the first bout of heavy rain while grabbing a couple of hours sleep at Lockerbie truck stop and managed to make it all the way to Dumfries before getting a proper soaking.
The rain continued to come down heavy for most of Sunday morning, so when I found a bunch of my clubmates taking shelter in a cafe at New Galloway I joined them and we spent a good hour drinking coffee and putting off the inevitable.
The section from New Galloway back to Dumfries on remote moorland roads should have been the most stunning part of the ride, and the part that I was really looking forward to, but the mist was so low and thick that we didn’t get to see very much of it at all, in fact we could barely see each other. All I remember is a set of challenging little climbs and a long descent that took up a lot of concentration due to the wet conditions.
As we travelled back east the weather improved with every kilometre and once I left Dumfries for the second time that day the sun was out and the arm warmers were off.
We were all a little worried about making the cut thanks to our earlier extra-long coffee stop but, once back over the border, we were blessed with a tailwind for the whole of the length of the Military Road, making this arrow-straight, tarmac roller coaster an absolute joy to ride.
By the time we reached the final pull (or pulls) over the Ryals we’d made up our lost time and our flagging spirits were well and truly revived.
This is one that I’m just going to have to come back and ride again because I still want to see that 100km loop in the middle.
As well as the above qualifiers I also entered a reserve audax of every distance as a back-up, just in case something went wrong, and I’ve ended up riding all but one of those too. It’s been a really good experience to ride a couple of extra longer-distance events in different conditions and have to opportunity to try out different food and sleep strategies without the added pressure of needing to finish.
Now, between July and August, the important thing is to keep up the distance and maintain the endurance base that I’ve steadily built back up over the past six months while trying to ensure that I stay injury-free and don’t overdo it. Let’s see how that goes – fingers crossed!
Probably the most beautiful audax I’ve ever ridden and definitely the coldest to date. Temperatures dropped to -4c through the night and going fast downhill was agony on the face, hands and feet. But the roads were completely empty and the steady ups and downs of the overnight section provided a focus to get me through the darkness.
When I told people that I was going to take part in this year’s Happy Days Rough Ride for the Homeless and sleep rough for three nights quite a few of my friends said, “Well, don’t you like doing that sort of thing anyway?”
A fair comment, I suppose. As a seasoned audaxer and bike packer, I’ve slept in some pretty weird places with my bike, from bus shelters to bank ATM booths, carrying all of the kit I need along with me.But the big difference is that I’m usually doing it in the summer months when the nights are warm and dry enough to sleep outdoors with lightweight kit.
Sleeping out in February in a town centre is a whole different ball game. If it’s not freezing then it’s probably going to be wet and cold. But the whole point of Rough Ride is to experience life out on the streets in winter – a tough challenge that’s worthy of the donations that I’m asking people to give in order to raise money for the Happy Days homeless charity.
I have to say that I was very apprehensive in the weeks leading up to it.I feel the cold when I sleep outside, even in summer I often find that I’ll still need to wear all of my clothes and use a silk liner inside my sleeping bag and bivy bag, especially when my core temperature drops which always seems to happen at around three or four in the morning. What if I just couldn’t do it? Especially after I’d told everyone that I would be out for three nights. I didn’t want to take people’s money and then not be able to keep up my end of the bargain.
The plan for this year’s Rough Ride was for a group of riders to set off from the Happy Days Cafe in Sowerby Bridge and travel in an anticlockwise loop around the north of England, riding first to York, then up to South Shields, across to Carlisle, down to Morecambe, and finally back to Sowerby Bridge. Every night, once the riders reached their destination, they would be sleeping rough somewhere in the town centre.On the final night, back in Sowerby Bridge, riders would be joined by friends and supporters of the Happy Days charity for a homecoming celebration and big community sleep out at the local cricket club.
This is the second year that the Happy Days Rough Ride for the Homeless has taken place. It’s organised by Michael Collins who manages the Happy Days Bike Shop and Cafe in Sowerby Bridge. The Happy Days charity provides support and shelter to get people off the streets, provides them with accommodation and gives them training and skills to help get their lives back on track. You can find out more about the great work they do on their website: http://www.happydaysuk.org.
Michael set off from the Happy Days Cafe, along with fellow riders Darren Speight and Steve Marsden, last Monday morning with five big days in the saddle and five rough sleeps ahead of them.I didn’t have enough holiday allowance left to be able to join in for the whole week, so instead had made a plan to catch the train up to Carlisle with my bike after work on Wednesday and join the lads on their last three rough sleeps and two days riding. We were also joined in Carlisle by two more riders, Jay Hemingway and Paul Mellon, so three became six.
We also had a support van, driven by Clint Gumery, and although Clint didn’t ride with us every day, he was still a very important part of the team and slept rough with us every night. Although we were carrying the majority of our kit with us on the bikes every day, we all had extra spare sleeping kit and dry clothes in the van just in case we needed it. We also had some rolls of silver roof insulation stuff that had been donated for us to put down on the floor under our bivy bags.
The Happy Days team had arranged a place for us to change and shower and lock up our bikes in each destination, along with suggestions for places to sleep. Although some of you might be thinking that having all this extra support is a bit of a cop-out, I think that it makes sense to be sure we had everything we needed to help us complete the challenge rather than being unable to complete it due to being unprepared, becoming ill due to bad conditions, or having our bikes and kit stolen.
I’d been keeping up with the lads’ progress over the first two days via social media and although the weather had been dry, the night-time temperatures on both nights had been around freezing. Steve had been regularly posting up live feeds on Facebook and by the morning of the third day he looked absolutely shattered.
By the time Jay, Paul and myself caught up with them in Carlisle on Wednesday evening all three of them were really starting to feel the effects of the their first three days. Their ride over from South Shields to Carlisle had been a long, tough 100 miles for them. Some of the route was on off-road cycle paths and long stretches had been covered in snow and ice so they’d been forced to walk large parts of it. By the time they rolled into town it was already after dark.
Our ‘accommodation’ in Carlisle was a car park on the outskirts of town with a big gate that we could pull across for safety. After leaving our bikes and kit in the van, we walked into the town centre and grabbed a pizza for dinner. Amazingly my friend Rodger, who lives in Carlisle, managed to track us down while we were eating (I guess Carlisle’s not that big, but still…) and brought us a flask of coffee for the night ahead. This would be the first of many lovely gestures of help and support that we received over the next few days.
After pizza we occupied ourselves in the pub until just after midnight in an effort to keep indoors for as long as we could. The lads had a couple of pints each but I really didn’t want to drink anything as I was concerned that I’d have to get out of my bivy in the middle of the night for a wee in a car park! Of course, we were all very aware that spending the night in the pub is a luxury that not many homeless people would be able to enjoy and over the course of our few of days together our conversation often drifted back to how lucky we all were to have enough money to be able to find places to get out of the cold and wet.
By midnight we were back at the car park where we set up our beds for the night. It was definitely warmer than the two previous nights but some rain had been forecast between 3am and 5am. Michael, Jay and Paul found a small undercover area next to some parked cars but it was too close to the gate for my liking, I preferred to be tucked away out of sight where passers-by wouldn’t be able to see us. I set my kit up around the corner along with Clint, Darren and Steve. We didn’t have any cover but were close to the wall of a building and out of sight. It was hard to get off to sleep as, even with earplugs in, the traffic from the road rumbled through the night.
As predicted, I was woken by the pitter-patter of rain around 4am. The rain sounded very loud inside my bivy, even louder than inside a tent, probably because my ear was pressed up against it. To prevent the water getting in, I tried to close up the opening of my bivy with limited success and realised that the hood of my sleeping bag was getting pretty damp so shuffled further down inside and tried to close it up a bit more. I pulled my woolly hat over my ears and eyes and attempted to go back to sleep.
Half an hour later I was still awake. Big drops of water were falling on to me from the guttering of the building that I was sleeping up against and I knew I had to get out and move. Steve was also awake and had decided to go muscle his way onto the bit of covered space around the corner. That all seemed a bit too much like hard work to me, I just wanted to get back inside my bivy as quickly as possible so I shook as much water off as I could, shuffled all my kit a couple of metres away from the building and climbed back in.
When I finally emerged from my bivy around 6.30am the rain had stopped. Just Darren and I were left out in the rain as the others had jumped ship to the covered area near the gate. The foil insulation that I’d been lying on was soaked through and my bivy was sat in a little puddle. My hat and the hood of my sleeping bag were pretty wet from where my bivy had been left slightly open but I wasn’t feeling cold and the inside of my sleeping bag was dry.Thankfully, despite the puddle, the base of my bivy was watertight and the moisture that I could feel on the outside of my sleeping bag had been caused by condensation from breathing inside it all night rather than water getting in.
After getting packed up we laid all of our wet kit out over the van seats to dry and headed off into town to find a place for breakfast. While eating we compared as many different weather apps as we could find, looking for blue skies and a tailwind, but it wasn’t looking too promising so we resigned ourselves to getting on with it. After a good feed and many cups of coffee we were good to get on the road to Morecambe. Just as we were leaving the cafe we were approached again by someone who’d heard about what we were doing and wanted to make a donation.
The route from Carlisle to Morecambe was around 70 miles avoiding the main roads and instead of taking the predictable route over Shap, we headed further east into the Lake District, skirted the edge of Ullswater and headed up and over Kirkstone Pass.
Michael, Steve and Darren already had three days riding in their legs so I was pretty happy that the pace wasn’t too high, but when Jay and Paul got on the front with their fresh legs requests to take half a mile off were soon forthcoming from the back. We all knew that we’d have to tackle Kirkstone Pass at our own pace and agreed to regroup in the very conveniently placed pub at the summit. Paul and Darren shot off ahead while the rest of us took it at a more sedate pace. It was a bit steeper than I remembered but we were helped to the top by a tailwind for the last 300 or so metres. We also caught up with Clint at the top and decided, as we’d already completed half the day’s distance, that it would be a good place to stop for lunch.
After lunch the route bypassed Windermere, heading south east on a beautiful single-track, gated road that eventually led us out on to country lanes and down to the edge of the Kent Estuary. We’d made good time and didn’t want to arrive in Morecambe too early so we took a detour to Arnside for an afternoon stop.
While the lads headed off to the pub I rode down to Arnside Promenade to take some photos of the sun setting across Morecambe bay but the wind was so strong that when I tried to prop my bike up against the railings it kept getting blown over. After a few attempts I gave up, bough a slice of cake and went to join the lads in the pub.
Happy Days had made arrangements for us to get showered and changed in the cricket club at Heysham, a couple of miles down the coast from Morecambe, but the groundskeeper wouldn’t be coming to open up for us until 7.30pm so we had no need to rush.
The final part of the route took us close to RSPB Leighton Moss which is well known for its starling murmurations. We weren’t aware of any of this while we were pedalling through but we arrived at just the right time of dusk to catch one in full flow. It was a pretty spectacular sight so we pulled over to watch. A few of us had a go at filming it on our phones but it was pretty hard to capture the scale and movement, there were so many birds and it was moving so quickly.
We managed to hit the roads leading into Morecambe just in time for rush hour so the last few miles were pretty unpleasant but we got our heads down and got on with it, arriving in town around 6.45pm. After our obligatory photo shoot on the prom next to Eric’s statue we pedalled the last couple of miles along the seafront to Heysham where we met up with Clint and the van.
The weather had really started to come in and rain was forecast overnight so we hoped that the cricket club would have some kind of a pavilion where we’d be able to get some cover for the night. When we arrived everything was still locked up and we couldn’t get hold of the groundskeeper so we headed to the nearest pub to take shelter while we figured out how to get hold of him.
We were all pretty concerned about how rough the night ahead was looking weatherwise, with 50mph winds and heavy rain forecast. We even contemplated whether or not we could get away with sleeping in the pub’s covered smoking area after everyone had gone home for the night.
While Michael and Clint tried to get more information about the night’s arrangements the rest of us settled into the pub and ordered dinner. It had already started to rain and none of us were eager to get back outside. The pub’s clientele were quite smart and obviously not used to seeing people wandering around it in full cycling kit on a Thursday evening. We had to run the gauntlet of some very funny stares every time one of us went to the toilet which was located right at the other end of the pub to where we were sitting.
Eventually we managed to get in touch with the groundskeeper, who admitted that he’d forgotten we were coming, but nevertheless made us welcome when we arrived. Unfortunately the covered pavilion that we’d been hoping for didn’t materialise, but we were able to stay in the clubhouse until it closed at 11.30pm. Once locked up we wouldn’t be able to gain entry again until the groundskeeper returned at 7.30am the following morning.
We looked around the site for places to get a bit of shelter from the rain but they were few and far between. Our bikes were locked away in a metal container but once they were all in there was no room left to accommodate any bodies. Looking for somewhere to keep dry must be a situation that homeless people regularly find themselves in when the weather turns bad.
There was a small amount of space in the shed where the lawn mower was kept but not enough for all of us and the strong smell of petrol was overpowering. Jay resigned himself to a night outside in the rain and set up his bivy on a wooden bench next to the clubhouse. While the rest of us were trying to figure out just how many of us could fit in the lawnmower shed, Michael went back into the village in search of anything with a bit of shelter – if all else failed we could always try sneaking back into the pub’s covered smoking area after kicking-out time.
A few minutes later he was back with news of a concrete covered area with a tiled floor in front of an old toilet block. It sounded pretty good to me, and far more preferable to being shoehorned into the stinky lawn mower shed, so I bundled up my sleep kit and made my way across the car park while Michael went to rescue an already soggy Jay from the bench.
There were two covered platforms so Michael and I took one while Jay had the other. The tiled floor was already wet but we still had some silver insulation roll left to put underneath our bivys. The wind was blowing some rain inside but this was much better than being totally exposed.
Just as I was settling down I realised how visible we were. I’d been so concerned with just finding anywhere covered to get out of the wind and rain that it was only now that I was starting to relax and take in my surroundings. We were literally no more than 10 metres from the road through the village, set back in a little park area. We were pretty invisible right now in the dark but as soon as it started to get light we would be very much on-show and we wouldn’t be able to get access to the clubhouse, or our bikes, until the groundskeeper came back to open up at 7.30am.
I tried to push the thoughts out of my head and reassure myself that it would all be fine. I was very thankful that Michael and Jay were both close by if anyone were to disturb us in the night.
The rain pitter-pattered on the outside of my bivy once again and it felt a lot colder than the night before. My sleep was interrupted by bouts of a cramp-like sensation in my quads, a feeling that I’d not experienced before, and although there was very little I could do about it wrapped up in my bivy bag, I certainly wasn’t about to get out of it so I tried to massage the pain away.
I woke around 6.30am to discover that Jay was no longer with us. People were now starting to walk and cycle to work and a few dog walkers walked directly past us. It was still dark enough for them not to have to make eye contact with me which I was relieved about. After attempting to take a few photos in the dark, with an hour still to kill before the groundskeeper arrived, I buried my head back in my bivy – there was no way I was getting up yet as I had nowhere to go and it was still lashing it down and blowing a gale.
I must’ve drifted back off to sleep because when I awoke again it was 7.50am and bright daylight. Michael was still asleep so I gave him a nudge and we packed up our kit and legged it back across the car park to the cricket club. It seems that I’d had a better night’s sleep than I thought because I’d managed to sleep through all the good stuff. Turns out that Jay left us in the early hours because he got bothered by a fox sniffing around and decided to jump ship to the lawnmower shed. While he was making his way across the car park he was chased by a police officer who was out looking for a woman who’d gone missing from the village. After describing the woman to Jay the officer’s parting shot was, “Take care if you see her, she’s carrying a blade!” Not exactly what you want to hear when you’re sleeping outside.
It took us quite a long time to get ourselves sorted and packed up that morning. The groundskeeper kept the cups of tea and coffee flowing in the clubhouse and none of us were in a hurry to get on the road despite having another 70 miles to ride back to Sowerby Bridge.The cafe that we’d hoped to go to for breakfast was closed so we ended up back in the posh pub where they put on a good spread for us while we stared out of the windows at the rain pouring down.
It was 10am before we managed to drag ourselves back onto the bikes.Our route took us back through Morecambe, along the start of the Way of the Roses cycle route and into Lancaster where we crossed the river Lune and picked up the gravel track to Glasson Dock. The track was flooded in places and we realised just how much rain had come down overnight. By the time we’d made it to the cafe at the end of the track we were all soaked through, especially Paul who was riding without mudguards.
We pulled in at the Cafe d’ Lune for a quick toilet break. We weren’t going to stop for coffee as we’d not really pedalled far enough and were already behind schedule, but as we got chatting to the staff about what we were doing they offered us coffee on the house and gave us a donation. Another lovely gesture made by people we’d never met before.
Back out on the road we got our heads down and tried to make up some time. We were hoping for a Westerly to blow us back across the Pennines but the wind was coming more from the south. Darren, who was by far the strongest rider, stayed on the front for most of the morning.We were all doing ok on the flat but as soon as we hit an incline I was quickly off the back and struggled to get back on.
As the morning went on the rain stopped and by the time we’d reached Longridge for lunch the sun was shining and we were all way too hot. Instead of a cafe stop we decided to try and save time by going to a garage with a supermarket, although I’m not really sure how much time we saved in the end as there was a lot of faffing and kit removal going on.
Terrain-wise, we’d had it fairly easy so far but we all knew that there were a few lumps to get over to before we’d be back in Yorkshire. We’d made up time so decided to have another cafe stop in Padiham and we were all in good spirits despite being tired. Despite the big climb to come, we knew that we’d be back in Sowerby Bridge before dark.
The final climb of the the day was a familiar one to me. The Long Causeway climbs up from Cliviger, across the moors behind Todmorden and over to Hebden Bridge. It’s a route that I ride fairly regularly as it’s not too far from where my dad lives. Despite the climb up, it’s still far more preferable to pedalling through Todmorden on the valley’s busy A-road. It’s an exposed route on the calmest of days but with Friday’s strong winds it was incredibly tough to keep the bike steady.
Every time I cycled past a gap in the wall I was blown into the side of the road. Occasionally the road bent around to the north and we’d get the benefit of a tailwind for a short time but mostly it was a long slog into a strong crosswind. We all rode across the causeway at our own pace. Darren and Paul were somewhere out in front and out of sight even before the half way point, me and Jay were somewhere in the middle with Michael and Steve not too far behind.
We regrouped just before the start of the descent. There are a couple of routes that descend back down into the valley, but the most direct – and most unpleasant, as far as I’m concerned – is Mytholm Steeps. I’d prefer to pedal the extra four miles into Hebden Bridge than ride down this horrible hill. It’s very steep (Veloviewer reckons 31% at its steepest), twisty and sections can often be a bit slippery as it’s hidden in the trees. It’s also a bit of a rat run so you’ve usually got a car right up your backside too. I don’t think I’ve ever managed it in one go as I always have to stop for a little breather and release my white knuckles from their vice-like grip around my brake levers, and today was no exception – in fact I stopped three times.
The lads were very patiently waiting for me at the junction in the valley. From here we hopped on to the canal for the final few miles back to Happy Days. With probably less than a mile to go on what had, up to now, been a mechanical-free trip, Jay’s chain came off and got jammed behind his cassette. We had to remove the wheel to free it but less than five minutes later it happened again. I didn’t need much of an excuse to get off and push up the 20% slope that leads off the canal into Sowerby so I kept Jay company while we both pushed up.
Minutes later we were at the Happy Days Cafe, all in one piece, more or less, to be greeted by family and friends, cups of coffee, plenty of beer, pasta and treacle pudding. We’d made it back and now all we had left to complete our fundraiser was one final rough sleep, but with the winds picking up and Storm Eric on the way, it looked like we going to be heading for the roughest of rough sleeps.
After a good feed at the shop we made our way over to Sowerby Cricket Club for a bit of a do before the big Sleepout. Here we said our goodbyes to Steve as he needed to get home for his wedding anniversary, and I think he was certainly looking forward to a good kip in his own bed. The remaining five of us would be joined by family, friends, supporters and staff from Happy Days for our final night under the stars.
Although the party was a great homecoming, we were all pretty tired, and despite the storm warning, I was glad when 11pm rolled around and I could finally get my head down. Tonight’s communal sleeping area, with its covered gazebo roof and huge plastic groundsheet, was positively luxurious compared to my previous two nights’ locations.
All of the spaces in the centre were full so I got my kit set up in the corner, popped my earplugs in and got hunkered down for the night. Jay and Paul were also on the edge, only half under the covered area, while Michael and Darren went off to sleep around the other side of the building as Darren’s young daughters were sleeping out in the van so he needed to be close by.
As the night went on the gale really picked up and the gazebo groaned under the strain. It sounded like it might get blown across the pitch at any moment. I just snuggled further into my bivy and listened to the wind howl. I was dry for the first time in three nights so this felt like a huge result. The large plastic groundsheet had been lifted up by the wind and was flapping around on the outside of my bivy. At one point it felt like the wind might actually lift me off the ground but I was still nice and warm inside my sleeping bag and was determined to see out the night.
At around 6.30am I heard a few voices and figured people around me were starting to make a move. I didn’t really have anywhere to go though as my bike was locked up in the cafe and I wouldn’t be able to get in until after 9am, so I rolled over and stayed put. By now the plastic sheeting was flapping around all over the place and enveloping me inside it so I thought I’d better stick my head out of my bivy to see what was happening. Turns out I was the last person left out there!
Everyone who’d been sleeping under the gazebo had abandoned their sleeping bags and taken refuge in the cricket club’s changing rooms. Jay was up and about trying to search through the carnage for his inflatable pillow which must’ve blown away in the night. I was a bit surprised that I was the only person still camped out and we joked that the plastic sheeting was now only being held down by my weight.
Despite feeling knackered, I was really pleased with myself. I’d felt that I had a duty to all of the people who’d sponsored me to see it through and not find excuses to wimp out so I was very happy that I’d managed to stick it out.
I dragged myself and my sleep kit into the changing rooms to join the others and grab a cuppa. Jay and Paul had both brought their bikes with them to the cricket club so were getting packed up so they could head off home early. Paul had a long drive back down south ahead of him and needed to get on the road. Michael and Darren were still sleeping out around the other side of the building out of the wind. Michael had managed to find a spot in a doorway with a bit of cover but Darren was completely soaked as he’d just been sleeping out next to the van and had no shelter from the rain all night.
So that was it, all done and dusted. We’d made it though our final rough sleep and could look forward to a night back in our own beds. Between us we’d managed to raise over £5000 for Happy Days and all had an experience that we wouldn’t forget in a hurry.
Throughout the three days I’d been taking photos whenever I had the opportunity and sharing our Rough Ride on social media was important to me. I wanted to document as much of the experience as I could and keep people at home regularly informed of how we were doing and where we were sleeping, so as well as taking photos during our rides, every night I took photos of our ‘accommodation’ and another every morning when I woke up.
A couple of people on social media accused us of looking like we were all enjoying it all a bit too much. So, did I enjoy the experience? Well, yes, I did.
I was cold, wet and sleep-deprived for three days but I wasn’t alone and that’s really what got me through it. The seven of us were all in it together and sharing an experience like this really helps you to just get on with it. We instantly got on well, had a great camaraderie and developed a great bond between us all in a very short space of time. Each night we sat in the pub delaying the onset of another cold, wet sleep but knowing that we weren’t alone made it easier to get out there and do it.
After taking this challenge I can honestly say that anyone who thinks that sleeping rough is a ‘lifestyle choice’ really needs their head examined. As I’d joined the lads half way though, I’d only had to suffer being outside for three nights but that was enough to give me a taste of how hard it would be to have no choice but to do this every night. We had each other, plenty of cash for food, good kit and lovely bikes to ride, outside support and people back home spurring us on. We also had warm beds and loved ones to go back to. For us the experience was temporary – we had a way out.
So, if you think what we’ve just done sounds hard and not something you’d like to try, spare a thought for those who have no choice and no hope. In the 21st century it is shocking to think that in a country like Britain, on any given night, between 4,000 and 5,000 people bed down on the streets – a figure that has almost doubled since 2010.
Our fundraising efforts will help Happy Days to make a very small, but important, dent in that number. so if you’ve not sponsored us already, please do now: https://localgiving.org/fundraising/angela-happy-days-homeless-rough-ride/
Earlier this year Kinesis UK launched their new endurance road bike, the ‘RTD’ – Race The Distance – with the endurance racer in mind.
The RTD is designed for repeated days in the saddle, providing all-day comfort without compromising on handling and speed. I was lucky enough to get my hands on one in late September and I’ve been racking up the miles on it ever since.
I didn’t want to rush to review this bike, I wanted to take some time to try it out on a few long rides in a variety of conditions and really get to know it before I committed pen to paper – or whatever the digital equivalent is – and I’ve recently crossed the 1000 km marker, so I now feel qualified to share my views with you.
Now I know that you’re probably thinking that because I’m a Kinesis brand Ambassador, I have to only say good things about the RTD. But If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t ride it, so the fact that I’ve ridden over 1000 km on it in just a few months at the ‘back-end’ of the year ought to tell you something. I’ve done long days in the saddle in all weathers, I’ve ridden it fully-loaded with bikepacking kit and also taken it out on the Sunday club run with just a water bottle added.
I’ve completed a number of 200 km-plus rides on it now, mainly in wet conditions, and have to say that I’ve really fallen in love with this bike. I never thought I’d find a bike as comfortable as my Racelight TK3 to ride over long-distances but the RTD is everything that my Racelight is and a lot more besides.
The RTD’s lightweight Scandium alloy frame is designed for riders just like me who spend long days on the bike, often with luggage attached. Kinesis have spent a lot of time developing their Scandium tubing, using a method of production that allows them to create lighter tubes and more intricate shapes, resulting in a lighter and stiffer frameset.
The RTD’s frame geometry has been tweaked to make it slightly more laid back than the Racelight, in order to provide all-day comfort, but not so relaxed that it compromises on speed. The scandium frame is accompanied by the new Columbus Futura fork, a lightweight, 12 mm thru-axle, carbon monocoque fork that provides masses of clearance for a road bike, allowing up to 34c tyres, which is also drilled to take a full mudguard.
I’ve been riding my TK3 since 2013 for all of my long-distance events and audaxes and have always been very comfortable on it but during TCR no.5, on some of the sketchier road surfaces that we encountered, I felt limited by its inability to fit a wider tyre, especially with a mudguard fitted. This limitation became even more apparent to me earlier this year when I purchased my Tripster ATR which I primarily bought for riding gravel but, because of the ability to fit a wider tyre, I ended up touring on last year with 40c slicks fitted. However, despite a comfortable and really fun trip, it lacked the responsiveness of a road bike on the tarmac.
For me, the RTD is the perfect solution – a light frame with endurance racing bike geometry, which is like a supercharged, updated version of my TK3, but with the capability to take a much wider tyre, providing a more comfortable ride and the versatility to tackle less-than-perfect road surfaces and the odd bit of gravel when required. I’ve found that it handles well on descents, feels light and responsive when climbing, accelerating and cornering. It feels very stable too, even when loaded up with bags – the perfect bike to ride endurance races like The Transcontinental Race on, which is exactly what Kinesis set out to create.
I’m currently riding my RTD with a 30c tyre and Kinesis Fend-Off full mudguards which is a great combination for a winter road set-up. I recently rode an audax in bad weather that featured a 1.5 km section of rough, puddle-filled, cinder track and while quite a few of my fellow riders stuttered and struggled along on their 25mm tyres, I just breezed on through on the RTD, soaking up the lumps and bumps of the rough surface without getting covered in mud – I might have been a little smug about it at the time.
I opted for a flared handlebar as I’ve has an issue with being able get down on the drops with a bar bag fitted on a conventional handlebar. The Ritchey Evomax bars are a good fit for me. I like a wide bar for stability and the flare enables me to get down onto the drops even when I have my large 14 litre bar bag fitted.
Aesthetics are important too and the attention to detail is another stand-out feature of the RTD for me. That striking monochrome paint job isn’t just eye-catching, it’s also functional. All the of black and striped areas are frame bag contact points, which allows me to protect the frame against rub with as much tape as I need without spoiling the overall look of the bike, whether the bags are on or off. The internal cable routing guides the cables through the head tube rather than the down tube which gives an overall cleaner look, and ensures that cables don’t hinder fitting bags to the frame. The frame also features three bottle mounts – essential on hot summer days in locations where amenities are sparse.
The RTD can be configured to run mechanically or with DI2, with a 1x or 2x set-up. I’ve gone for a Shimano Ultegra R8000 mechanical 11-speed drivetrain with a semi-compact chainset (52-36) and an 11-32 cassette. I chose to stay mechanical mainly because it’s one less thing to worry about needing to charge up if I’m riding in the middle of nowhere and get caught out, but that’s purely down to personal choice.
It’s also the first time that I’ve had hydraulic disc brakes on a road bike. Prior to riding the RTD, I’d often argue that I couldn’t see really see the need for disc brakes on a road bike, but I’m definitely a convert now. The Ultegra hydraulic disc brakes have great stopping power and modulation, especially in bad conditions. I’d describe myself as a nervous descender and a little too heavy on the brake, but on the RTD I’m definitely improving. My hands no longer feel like they’re about to seize up at the bottom of every long hill and I feel much more in control of the bike. This has given me the confidence to build up more speed on the descents and attack the corners.
Fitting good quality tyres also helps. The Challenge Strada Bianca tyres are, as you can probably tell by the name, made for the gravel roads of Italy but I have found them to be fast, lightweight and grippy on the road – a great all-round tyre that rolls really well and are comfortable too, so they’ll be staying on the bike for the rest of the winter and beyond. They’re hand-made and I have to admit that they’re not the easiest tyre to fit as they’re almost flat when they arrive in the box – it took three of us in the workshop to wrestle them on. However, they feature a puncture protection strip which has been doing it’s job very well so far, so I can’t tell you yet how easy they are to get on and off after being sat on the rim for a while but I’m hoping that they’ll have stretched a bit by now.
If I’m totally honest, when my RTD arrived, I didn’t see myself riding this shiny, new bike throughout the winter months. I expected to do a couple of 200km audaxes on it just to see how it handled, then put it away until the spring and carry on riding all of my winter miles on my beloved old Racelight TK3 but I’m afraid that since I took delivery of the RTD my TK3 has been steadily gathering dust in the hall. In short, I’m hooked.
Aside from aiming to qualify for Paris-Brest-Paris, I’ve not made any further plans for my long-distance adventures in 2019, but you can be sure that wherever my plans take me, I’ll definitely be riding my RTD.
The Kinesis Race The Distance is available as a frameset and forks from your local Kinesis UK dealer or online through the Kinesis UK website. However, a bike is very much the sum of its parts, so here’s a breakdown of my RTD’s spec:
It feels really good to be able to write that down and finally feel a sense of achievement after what has been a bit of a difficult year for me on the bike.
2017 was always going to be a tough year to follow and somewhere along the way this year I lost my mojo. After Normandicat back in May, despite riding a strong 600 in the same month, I felt disappointed and without another big event to work towards, started to lose my focus. I’ve suffered a few minor bouts of illness, put on a bit of weight and struggled through most of my training sessions, watching my FTP steadily decline and my power-to-weight ratio plummet over the summer.
In turn, that’s all had a negative effect on how I feel when I’m on the bike. Still, it would be unfair to say that I haven’t had some great adventures on my bike this year. I’ve worked as a cycle tour guide in Scotland, ridden in the Alps and had a really memorable experience managing Control Point Three in Poland on this year’s Transcontinental Race. I’ve visited some fantastic places and met some lovely people but, from a personal goals point of view, 2018 hasn’t felt great at all up until now. Thankfully, throughout this year’s ups and downs, I’ve had my Randonnee Round the Year attempt ticking along in the background and now that it’s complete, I’m so glad that I stuck with it.
Randonnée Round the Year (RRtY) is an Audax UK award that requires you to ride at least a 200km audax event in every month of the year for 12 successive months. The events can be organised audaxes, perms (a set route that you can ride any time of the year) or DIYs (routes that you create yourself). You can start RRtY in any month you choose but if you miss a month you have to start all over again.
I started my first RRtY in September 2015. That year had been all about Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) and focusing on getting the qualifying rides done, so once PBP was over I felt like I needed something to fill the void and give me something new to focus on. It requires a level of commitment to keep riding all year round and I find it a good way to keep motivated to ride during the winter months when it’s all too easy to find an excuse to hide indoors.
Starting out in September means that I get all of those ‘tough’ winter ones, where I always end up finishing in the dark, out of the way early, leaving me with (hopefully) progressively better weather and lighter evenings ahead. Surprisingly, I find that the summer ones are harder to accomplish, usually because there’s so much more going on. Holidays, social life, weekend work and other cycling events all conspire to fill my weekends and often leave me with very little time to fit a 200km audax in from May to August.
I ended up missing out on last Year’s RRtY because I didn’t log a ride during August, even though I rode over 200km a day on plenty of days during the Transcontinental Race. I just forgot to register one of those days as a DIY 200 before I set off, so none of them counted towards it. I won’t make that mistake again.
My RRtYs are usually a mixture of organised events and DIYs, although I do prefer to take part in an organised event if I can. Being able to ride a given route with others, in a part of the UK that I don’t know very well, is one of the main things that appeals to me about audaxing and what keeps it interesting.
DIYs are my back-up when I can’t manage to fit an organised event in. It is possible to ride the same route more than once in the same 12-month block so I have a little collection of DIY routes plotted that start and finish in Sheffield if there’s nothing on the Audax calendar that works for me.
I still submit all of my DIY rides the old-fashioned way with a pre-validated route and receipt-based controls, because I don’t trust the reliability of my GPS devices enough to complete a DIY by GPS. I’ve had a few epic device fails on organised audaxes over the years and had to resort to using the route sheet and a couple of pages pulled out of a road atlas to get me round. Don’t get me wrong, when they work, GPS devices are fantastic and have really opened up the world of audaxing to a new generation of riders but I’m not prepared to take the risk of just recording the ride on my GPS unit on a DIY when I really need to prove that I’ve done it.
If you’re looking for a long-term challenge, a way to keep riding through the winter months, or just a way keep up motivation levels, Randonnée Round the Year might be worth considering. It’s given me a long-term goal to work towards and a reason to keep getting back on the bike in what would otherwise have been a disappointing year. It’s also turned out to be quite a social affair I’ve managed to encourage a few of my riding buddies to have a go at it too.
2019 is PBP year so that will keep me well and truly focused from next January. But for now, to keep ticking over, I’ve decided to do it all over again. Last weekend I embarked on what will hopefully be my third successful attempt at Randonnée Round the Year with ‘Dave’s Dales Tour Plus’, probably one the prettiest 200km audaxes around the Yorkshire Dales.
If the north-west coastline of Scotland could be guaranteed good weather we’d have probably ruined the place by building holiday homes and condos galore but, thanks to those fierce prevailing weather fronts that come straight in off the Atlantic, coupled with the annual midge invasion, its golden beaches remain wild and beautiful and often deserted.
But if you’re lucky enough to be up there before the midge season starts and when the sun is shining – and it is always more luck than planning – the Scottish Highlands and Islands surely have to be one of the most breathtaking landscapes in the world.
Last week I worked as a tour guide for Pedal Nation Cycling Holidays on one of their North Coast 500 trips. We were incredibly fortunate to have a rare easterly wind all week, keeping the rain away and the sun shining for the majority of the holiday.
The holiday ran for nine days with seven days of cycling. I accompanied the riders on three of those days and drove the support vehicle for the rest. The group got on well together, were great company and helped to make my job an easy one.
This gave me the opportunity to take lots of photographs of the landscape looking its best so, rather than writing a day-to-day account of our week, I’m going to let the photographs tell the story…
Day One – Inverness to Lochcarron: 103 km
Day Two – Lochcarron to Gairloch via Bealach Na Ba: 127 km
When I enter a long-distance audax or cycling event, although I believe that I am completely capable of making it to the finish, I’m still aware that there are many things that can happen along the way that could prevent me from finishing.
In my preparation I try to mitigate the risk as much as possible. I make sure that my route is nailed down, kit is well-tested, bike is prepped and, if possible, I try to come up with a few ‘plan-B’ scenarios in advance, just in case, as I know mistakes are more likely to occur when I’m tired. I also have a stubborn streak that will often keep me pushing on through to find a way through situations when others may choose to call it a day, but sometimes things just don’t go according to plan and despite all the preparation, those plan B’s just don’t quite cut it. A few simple mistakes can soon stack up and cost you your ride.
This was the situation that Julie and I found ourselves in earlier this month when we took part in the Normandicat as a pair – A 900(ish) km ‘free-route’ cycling event that circumnavigates the region of Normandy in France. Riders plot their own route, which must take in nine checkpoints that are situated throughout the region. The event starts in Saint Vigor le Grand, just outside Bayeux, at 10 pm on a Wednesday evening. From there riders may travel in either a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction, taking in all of the checkpoints, to arrive back at the start by Saturday at 8pm – a 70-hour time limit.
We’d plotted a route just over 900km and planned to travel in a clockwise direction. Usually during this type of event we would have chosen to bivy, but as it was still early May and considering the lousy track weather we’d had with the weather so far this year, we decided to sleep indoors in 24-hour access motels. The limited locations of this type of hotel along our chosen route dictated what our daily distances would be.
Travelling clockwise also involved catching an early-morning ferry across the Seine to reach our first chosen control at Jumieges Abbey. As the ferry didn’t run during the night we’d planned to cycle 73 km into the first night and have a few hours sleep at Deauville, arriving at the ferry early Saturday morning. This broke down the remainder of our journey into 350 km on the Thursday, 300 km on the Friday and 188km on the final day.
We’d planned to have around three hours sleep per night and if we stuck to our usual 20 kmph average we’d make it back for the finisher’s meal with a couple of hours to spare.
All went well on our first night. We had a tailwind and made really good progress, arriving in Deauville an hour ahead of hour schedule at 1am. We decided that we’d make the most of the hour gained by having an extra 30 minutes sleep and set off 30 minutes earlier than planned on Thursday morning.
Waking up to light rain on Saturday morning made us feel justified in our decision to stay in hotels rather than bivy. First priority of the day was breakfast. Julie had planned out a list of potential food stops along our route in advance, however when we were
making our plans we hadn’t realised that the Thursday was bank holiday in France. Thankfully, the boulangerie that we had listed 30 km into the ride opened at 7 am, as planned, and we arrived shortly after. The baker and his assistant certainly didn’t seem to be too happy about being open so early on a bank holiday and netted us with grumpy faces. The supermarkets on our list, however, were all closed until after lunch so we had to take it easy with the remainder of our ride snacks until we could find one that was open.
The roads were very quiet with it being a bank holiday and again we arrived at the ferry ahead of our predicted schedule. Upon arrival we bumped into another pair of riders
from Belgium. They’d bivied in the woods close to the river but hadn’t slept very well due to the cold and damp conditions throughout night. We boarded the ferry together and chatted about out prospective routes and plans. They were planning on visiting the checkpoints in the same order as us so we expected to be seeing more of each other throughout the rest of the day.
The Abbey at Jumièges was our first checkpoint. As we weren’t wearing trackers, we validated our arrival by taking a photo and posting it on social media with the hashtag #normandicat and our pairs race number ’26’. This was a nice way of doing it as enabled us to follow the whereabouts and progress of all of the riders from our phones really easily.
Using the phone for social media uses up the power more quickly but I have an Igaro D1 USB charger attached to my Dynamo so I can charge up my phone during the day as I’m riding along. In order to keep the wires connected to the dynamo my quick release skewer needs to be done up super-tight and unfortunately it hadn’t been done up quite tight enough and the wires had been put under strain. I thought I’d noticed it just in time as my light cable wires were still connected but when I started to charge my phone nothing happened and I realised that the charger cable wires had snapped free from the connector block. I had a back-up charger with me and, as the light was still working (more important than the phone), I didn’t really want to have a go at fixing it until I could be certain that could do it somewhere where I could see what I was doing properly.
We weren’t the only ones having power problems. Our friend V, who was taking part as a solo rider, had also posted upon social media that her dynamo had also failed leaving her with no lights, so she’d had to stop riding as soon as it was dark on the first night and bivy until it was light enough to ride, although she’d had very little actual sleep, so she was behind her schedule and in need of a bike shop.
Julie and I had a second breakfast in a creperie near the Abbey and the discussed the consequences of my knackered charging lead. When we are bivying Julie usually brings along a big power bank that we can use alongside my Igaro to charge our Garmins and other devices for a few days at a time away from a plug-in power source. However seeing as we weren’t bivying and this event was only 70 hours in duration we’d decided not to bring it this time. Now that my dynamo charger had failed, we weren’t sure how long my small back-up charger would last so we decided to just go down to using one Garmin between us instead of one each as we usually do, in order to save its power for later as we expected to be riding for around 20 hours on the first full day.
Undeterred and with a plan we headed off to our second control 66km to the north of our current location, near Neufchatel. The sun was shining now and the day was shaping up to be a hot one. We were keeping our eyes peeled for an open supermarket along the route and were due to pass through a village with a few shops around 30 km away. I’d been struggling to get all of my gears for most of the morning and wondered if I’d somehow managed to give my rear mech a bit of a knock getting it in and out of the hotel earlier – bikes and hotel room doors are never a good combination. Thankfully there were only a few short hills on an otherwise flattish route so I wasn’t really having to change gear that much and decided I’d just wait until we stopped for food and take a look then.
The village of Quincampoix came good on the supermarket front so we decided to have an early lunch and stock-up on ride snacks here for the rest of the day just in case we weren’t so lucky later on. Julie went into the supermarket while I stayed outside to take a look at my gears. The mech looked pretty straight so I figured that the problem lay somewhere with the cable. I pulled on it, immediately felt it go slack in my hand and realised that the cable had snapped. The cable end was stuck in the shifter and I couldn’t get it out, so even though I had a spare cable with me, I couldn’t fit the new one without first removing the end of the old one.
I was pretty annoyed as this was the second time that this had happened to me in the space of a year and this was a new shifter, but I was also annoyed with myself because I’d not bothered to fit new cables before the event. They were last changed back in January and, as I’d not ridden as much as usual this year due to the lousy weather, I’d assumed they’d be ok.
I was concentrating so much on my own situation that I didn’t notice Julie dropping further and further behind. Julie had slowed down as she’d been feeling pretty sick since we’d stopped for lunch. My speed was very erratic as I was making the most of the flat sections then slowing down every time I had to grind up a hill, so I wasn’t the greatest riding partner, yo-yoing along the road as I sped up and slowed down.
We arrived at checkpoint two, took our photo and tried giving the bike shop a call to let them know we were coming. No answer. That meant that they were probably shut – it was a bank holiday after all. I still felt pretty strong at this stage and was beginning to wonder if it would be possible for me to complete the event with just my two gears. Other people complete these events on single-speeds so why couldn’t I have a go? Normandy isn’t that hilly and we were still making good time at this point. I was feeling positive.
Given that nobody had picked up the phone at the bike shop we decided not to take a detour there and just head straight over to checkpoint three at Lyons La Foret, 60 km to the south. In the afternoon heat we were getting low on water and all of the shops and restaurants were closed in the villages we were riding through. We were just about giving up hope of finding any water when we rode past a football pitch with a little clubhouse. We sneaked through the clubhouse gate hoping that we’d find an outside tap and we were in luck!
With our hydration issues solved we pressed on to checkpoint three. As we got closer to our destination the road started getting a little more undulating and I was beginning to find it hard work as my legs were starting to tire from pushing bigger gear. Julie was still suffering and kept dropping back so we were both releived to arrive in the pretty little village of Lyons La Foret around 4pm and find everything open. The main square was full of people and most of the shops and cafes were busy. There was even a bike hire shop but unfortunately the guy working there didn’t have any tools and couldn’t really help me.
We bumped into a few other competitors including the pair of Belgian riders we’d met earlier that morning. As we chatted about my gearing situation and possible makeshift solutions, we noticed that my rear mech’s barrel adjuster was missing. In my haste to remove the old cable and housing I’d forgotten to screw my barrel adjuster in tightly and it must’ve jiggled out as I’d been riding along – I felt like a right idiot for forgetting to check such a fundamental thing. I can put it down to tiredness and frustration but I still should have taken more care.
We had a longer than planed stop in Lyons-La-foret as the cafe owner offered to let us plug in our devices to charge them up for a while. I was beginning to doubt whether my legs had the ability to pedal a further 160 km to our booked accommodation in Alencon with my limited gear options as my knees were starting to feel a little sore. But after a rest, a sandwich and two coffees I felt ok to get back on the bike, physically at least, if not mentally.
Once those feelings of doubt started to creep in, it was the beginning of the end and I couldn’t talk myself back into a positive frame of mind. Two hours later, after struggling up a hill on quite a busy main road around 30km south of Rouen, we pulled into a petrol station forecourt to have a breather and I told Julie that I didn’t think I could continue.
Knowing when to make that very difficult call to scratch during an event – and being happy with your decision to do so – is a very personal experience. Except that when you’re competing as pair you’re not just making that decision for yourself – you also have your race partner to consider.
Julie didn’t put up much of a fight. She was still feeling sick despite our long rest at Lyons-La-Foret and as we’d only been using one Garmin on my bike for most of the day, without a route to follow she was also feeling pretty demotivated. She’d been keeping quiet about how she’d been feeling because of my determination to keep going, and because she knew the feeling would probably pass, but now that she didn’t have to keep going I think she was happy that I’d made the decision for both of us.
So at around 7pm, only 21 hours after setting off and with around a quarter of the distance covered, we officially scratched from the race. We cycled back toward the outskirts of Rouen to find a hotel, take stock of the days events and think about what we should do for the remainder of our trip now that we were no longer racing.
That night in the hotel was difficult for me. As I played the day’s events over and over in my mind I was annoyed at myself for not replacing the cables before the race and for not winding my barrel adjuster in enough once the cable had snapped. I was also angry at myself for giving in and not pushing on further, for doubting my own ability to continue. Other people ride events like this on single-speed bikes, why couldn’t I? But the decision had been made and it was pointless beating myself up over it. The most important thing was that we were both safe and well.
As Julie and I talked it through I think we both realised that that the biggest mistake we’d made was underestimating the race itself. We’d both made the assumption that a three-day race would somehow be easier than a longer event but in many respects a shorter race is tougher as there’s much less wriggle room if something goes wrong and less of a chance to make up the lost time.
I have to believe that I made the right decision to scratch. We went on to get my bike fixed the next day at a brilliant bike shop in Rouen – massive thanks to Quinten for sorting out my trapped gear cable and finding a spare barrel adjuster for my rear mech. What a star! I guess if we’d have continued trying to race we wouldn’t have visited that great little shop and I could’ve spent the remainder of our trip riding around with two gears and sore legs. Instead we made our way back to Bayeaux at a much more leisurely pace with a full complement of gears and much happier knees.
The following day we rode out to what would have been our final control at St. Vaast and had lunch at the seaside before heading back to attend the finisher’s dinner despite not ‘finishing’. That turned out to be a great morale-boosting decision for us both as we discovered that we weren’t the only competitors to have scratched and it was reassuring to chat with other riders who were experiencing the same emotions that we were feeling.
Despite not finishing the Normandicat I still really enjoyed the part of the race that we managed to complete. The event organiser, Xavier, and his army of volunteers who made sure we were all looked after and well fed, should be proud of what they have created. The event took us through some of the loveliest parts of Normandy and the checkpoints that Xavier has chosen are quirky and interesting. It’s just a shame that we only got the chance to visit half of them.
I hope to be back again next year to see the other half and finish what we started – complete with new cables. That’s one mistake I won’t make again in a hurry.
Sometimes the best way to learn a new skill is to just throw yourself in at the deep end and figure it out along the way and that’s exactly what I did last Saturday at the Dirty Reiver.
At the start of the year I compiled my list of goals for the year ahead, one of which was getting to grips with gravel. In order to help me achieve my goals I like a challenge to work towards so, way back in January, entering the Reiver seemed like just the ticket.
If you’re wondering what I’m on about, The Dirty Reiver is a 200km gravel ride that takes place in and around Kielder Forest, Northumberland. The route traverses a mixture of surfaces, including a little bit of tarmac and hard-packed trail, but it’s mainly comprised of the gravel tracks and fire access roads that criss-cross the huge forested area that spans the English and Scottish border. There’s also a shorter event, The Dirty 130, but I don’t generally do things by halves – if I can ride 130km of the stuff then I can ride 200 – so I got myself entered for the big one. With four whole months to train for it what could possibly go wrong?
I figured I’d need a bit of moral support for this one as I knew I’d probably be a bit out of my depth skills-wise. And anyway, these kinds of challenges are always much more fun when shared so I convinced a few of my workmates, who are all way more accomplished at riding off-road than me, to enter it too. Teamwork can be a great motivator and I’d be able to share my endurance knowledge with them while they helped my out with my technique.
So the four-month plan was to get myself sorted with a gravel bike and for ‘Team ReCycle’ to get out into the Peak together for plenty of pre-event practise but thanks to the great British weather things didn’t quite turn out the way I’d hoped. Despite having a lovely new Kinesis Tripster AT to play out on, courtesy of the lads at Tony Butterworth’s Cycles, I didn’t get out for any of those team practice rides we’d planned and by the end of March I was feeling thoroughly undertrained and underskilled. I knew that my road endurance training would see me through the distance without any problem even though riding 200km on-road is certainly way easier than the same distance off.
I finally managed to fit in my one and only off-road practise ride during the first week in April at Cannock Chase in a bid to shake down the bike set-up, but it was a wet and muddy day and l lost a bit of confidence on the downhill sections. Instead of letting the bike do the work for me and rolling over the loose ground I kept putting my foot down and, on a few occasions, had to get off altogether and push. It knew it was all in my head and that I needed to force myself to be a bit braver, go a little faster and trust the bike more but it was easier said than done.
Fast forward to Saturday morning – over 600 riders massed at the start line for a 7.30am kick-off. To say I was nervous would be a huge understatement, I was flipping terrified of being completely rubbish, holding the lads up and having to push my bike all the way around the course. My three teammates, Ed, Dave and Sam, just couldn’t get their heads around my anxiety. To them I’m accomplished endurance rider who pedals 1000’s of kilometres a year. They were all worried about completing the 200 km distance but that was the least of my worries – just staying upright was my main goal of the day.
We’d decided that we were going to ride as a team and try not to take it too seriously. The name of the game was to get around together and have fun. Although we’d all planned to ride the full distance, if we didn’t meet the 130km cut-off we weren’t going to beat ourselves up about it too much. We were pretty much the last to leave the start line – we were even given a two-minute warning to get going – but we were soon catching up with riders on the first climb. I was trying to hold back because I knew that they’d all come flying past me again on the way back down.
I found those first couple of rocky descents to be the most technically challenging of the whole ride. I had to put my foot down once or twice but I made sure that I kept over to the left so that the faster riders had plenty of room to come through. Thankfully I wasn’t the only dodgy descender, someone behind me got off and pushed and seeing that made me feel like maybe I wasn’t so out of my depth after all.
Despite being a chilly morning first-thing – our tents had ice on them when we woke up – after a couple of climbs we were all overheating and had to stop and peel a few layers off. The forecast had predicted a warm, sunny day so it was hard to dress appropriately and we’d all packed way too many clothes into our frame bags, alongside tubes of suncream. We were prepared for all eventualities!
After those first rocky descents the terrain became much more gravelly and easier for me to negotiate. The lads were all much faster at descending and I was worried about being left behind so I couldn’t stop to think about it too much. I just had to trust the bike and, sure enough, as I picked up speed my big tyres rolled over all the lumps and bumps. I started to realise that speed is my friend and let the bike go a bit more.
During the first 50km we were faffing about a bit, not really concentrating on the route much, soaking up the forest views while chatting away. So it wasn’t too surprising that we managed to get ourselves completely off-route for a kilometre or so. A marshal’s pick-up truck passed us travelling in the opposite direction and the driver asked us if we were happy with the way we were going. I replied with a cheery “yes, thanks!” and we carried on pedalling but a further 200 metres or so down the road I turned to Sam and said, “hang on a minute, that was a weird question to ask us if we’re going the right way. Do you think we might’ve gone wrong?”
My Garmin said that we were ‘off-course’ but we were still following the breadcrumb trail on the screen so I assumed it was just doing one of those temperamental things that Garmins do. I thought I’d better check again so I quickly u-turned, pedalled back to the pick-up and asked the marshal whether he’d asked us that because he thought we might be going the wrong way.
“Yes,” he replied, “There’s a loop on this part of the course and you’ve missed the turning!”.
I’m not sure why he didn’t just tell us we’d gone the wrong way in the first place, but we now had a bit of catching up to do in order to get back on the course, passing all the riders that we’d already passed at least once that morning.
Around 30 km I bumped into TCR buddy of mine, V, along the route. It was lovely to see her and we had a bit of a catch-up while pedalling along, both having a moan about how undertrained we were feeling. We were riding on wide, rolling fire roads and there weren’t many other riders around us so we could ride together side by side for while but the lads were already leaving me behind again so I had to press on. I was playing catch-up again, riding a little bit faster and growing ever more confident as I thought less about what I was doing in an effort to keep up and get back on their wheels.
It took us four hours to ride the first 50 km to the first feed station and I think we were all a bit surprised how long it had taken us, even with our little detour. We’d all pretty much decided that we were going to try to make the 130km cut-off in time to complete the full 200 which meant that we had to start pedalling a bit quicker so after a few snacks, a good old cup of tea and a refill of water bottles we were on our way again. The day was really hotting up so all the clothes were coming off and the suncream was going on. Out poor little frame bags were full to bursting.
Along the next section of the route we had to cross a ford. Dave rode through it first but fell off just before he got across to the other side. Sam and Ed didn’t really fare much better so I ended up bottling it completely and just paddling my way through. I figured it would be better to just have two wet feet rather than a whole wet body!
There were quite a few tarmacked sections during the next 50 km as the route left the forest and headed out over moorland bridleways and country lanes so we made really good time, arriving at the second feed station by 1.30pm. At this pace we knew we’d easily make it to the 130km marker before the cut-off time of 5.30pm so we could afford to spend a little more time here. I hung out in the shade inside the Alpkit teepee wringing out my soggy socks while stuffing my face with sandwiches and little pots of chilli and rice.
The section between between feed stops two and three took us back into the forest and was actually part of NCN Route 10, the Reivers Cycle Route. If I’d accidentally stumbled across this route on my road bike I certainly wouldn’t have thanked the NCN route planners much as it was really rough gravel and quite hard-going even with 40c tyres. We criss-crossed over the border into Scotland and back a couple of times and the tall trees provided us with a bit of much-needed shade from the hot afternoon sun.
My Fizik Luna X5 saddle is actually an MTB saddle and it really came into its own on this section of the course. I could feel it flexing underneath me as I bounced around on the uneven surface. I’m so used to grinding out long hours in the saddle on the road that I’d not really thought through how much more dynamic the upper body is when riding on rough surfaces. My whole body was feeling much more fatigued than it would usually feel at this distance.
By now the temperature had risen over 20 degrees and the heat was taking its toll on me. I was struggling a bit and could feel a headache coming on, a tell-tale sign of dehydration. It was a shortsighted move on my part to only bring one water bottle on the ride but usually at this time of year I’d be just fine on a long ride with one bottle with the chance to refill it every 50km. By 120km I had almost drunk the contents of my bottle and still had another 30 km to the final feed station. Thankfully Dave had some spare water that he shared with me to keep me going.
Our hot, bouncy, water-rationed afternoon was given a much-needed morale booster courtesy of the awesome Bananaman. His cheering, cowbell-ringing, high-fiving, all-round encouragement really lifted our spirits and pushed us on to feed stop number three and my favourite of the day. Alongside the usual crisps, sweets and flapjacks, Pannier.cc were providing cheesy potatoes and freshly aeropressed coffee. I wanted to stay there forever and helped myself to two rounds of potatoes and three cups of strong coffee.
By the time we were back on the trail we were all sufficiently wired on coffee to push on for the final 55km. Mentally, I found the 20kms after the final feed station the hardest of the whole ride. This section was really undulating with climbs that just kept on coming. We were right in the heart of the dense forest so there was nothing to look at but gravel and tall conifers as we climbed and descended to find more yet gravel and more trees around every bend.
In hindsight I think I had way too much air in my tyres but I was too worried about puncturing to stop and deflate them a little. The gravelly surface had become quite corrugated in places and my forearms were throbbing as I tried to pull on the brakes while descending, so just stopped braking, which actually made everything feel better. By 150km I was descending much faster and feeling much more confident. Most of the descents on the fire roads had wide, long run-outs so I had enough time to slow down before making a turn and It felt like I was finally getting to grips with this gravel stuff.
Just as I was reaching maximum gravel / conifer saturation point, the view opened up and Kielder Water appeared in front of us. The sun was starting to go down and the light over the reservoir was just breathtaking. It was all that we needed to give us that lift in spirits for final push to the finish. There were so many beautiful photo opportunities as we wound our way around the water’s edge but I had to resist the urge to keep stopping.
We descended onto the waterside trail which was full of ups and downs, twists and turns, that kept us on our toes and our speed in check. We’d keep seeing the odd tyre tracks skidding out into the trees on the bends where riders before us had been travelling too fast and lost it. We emerged from the trees and crossed the dam wall, pausing for a moment to capture the evening light across the water before heading back into the trees again and around the other side of the reservoir.
A few kilometres from the finish we found ourselves back on that stretch of road that we’d already ridden once, so much earlier in the day, before the marshall had turned us around. A little stretch of tarmac was a welcome relief to my poor, throbbing forearms but before long we were back on the gravel again, this time heading in the right direction, and back into the forest for the final time.
We emerged from the trees, rounded a bend and suddenly realised we were pedalling back up the short climb to Kielder castle, trying hard to sprint up on heavy, tired legs but not really succeeding as there was nothing left in them. We were greeted by cheers, cowbells and a very welcome bottle of beer, crossing the line just after 8.30pm with an official time of 12 hours and 52 minutes. I was just glad we’d make it back before dark!
I was super-happy with myself for keeping up with the lads, overcoming my fear of descending, staying upright for 200km and actually riding all of the course rather than pushing my bike around it as I initially feared I might have to.
Would I have done anything differently? Well, yes – I should’ve taken two water bottles as you can’t just nip to a shop to fill one up when you’re in the middle of a forest. I should’ve run my tyres at lower pressures to save my throbbing arms and I shouldn’t have taken the distance for granted because 200 km on gravel takes its toll on your whole body way more than the same distance on tarmac.
Having three teammates to keep up with and chase after really gave me a focus and prevented me from over-thinking the descents. I just had to trust in my bike and let it roll – just letting it go made all the difference and my confidence grew with every kilometre. I couldn’t have asked for a better day, a better bike or better company. It is such a well-organised and friendly event and worth every penny of the entry fee.
So If you’re thinking of having a go at a gravel event, or something similar that’s out of your comfort zone, then entering a crazy, long event is certainly one way to do it. You might not have a clue what you’re doing at the start but after 200km, if you’re still standing at the end, then you’ve probably nailed it.
There’s no denying that the weather so far this year has been a bit cruel to us cyclists. I can count the good weather weekends we’ve had so far since January on one hand. So it was with some trepidation that Julie and I pedalled off from Sheffield train station early on Good Friday to get three days of riding in over the Easter weekend.
The plan was to get a few days back-to-back riding in our legs in preparation for the Normandicat race we’ve entered as a pair in May. Despite my training indoors all though the winter at Skyhook and Julie’s month of rebuilding her strength in Spain, the combination of lousy weather and Julie’s broken arm taking much longer to heal than expected means that we are both a long way from where we’d like to be training-wise.
When we originally signed up for Normandicat last November, neither of us thought that we might be pushing it a bit by entering a race in early May. I think that last year’s incredibly mild winter, where we trained outdoors, riding long miles all through the early months of the year, lulled us into a false sense of security.
Although my indoor training sessions have been a huge help in keeping my base fitness maintained over the winter, it simply cannot replicate what your body goes through sat in the saddle for 200 km when it’s three degrees and you’re pushing on into a headwind. I’ve also put few kilos on in weight, which makes absolutely no difference to my power output when I’m sat on a bike indoors, but it sure makes a difference back out on those hills. In short, I’ve gone a bit soft.
To make life a bit easier for ourselves over the weekend we decided to stay in youth hostels rather than camp or bivvy, and had booked up a couple of beds in advance at Arnside and Helmsley. This meant we could carry less stuff on our bikes to reduce the weight a bit. Our three routes were plotted in advance, quite a lot of it on roads that we’d both cycled on previously. As we were both out of practice with sitting in the saddle on consecutive days, we decided to get the biggest day out of the way first and decrease the daily distance over the following two days.
Day One – Sheffield to Arnside: 186 km
So much for packing light! The weather forecast for the Easter weekend was looking pretty changeable, with a bit of everything thrown in, including snow on high ground. This meant that we both had quite a bit of kit with us as we didn’t want to chance getting caught in the middle of the Dales without enough stuff to keep us warm. I like to spread the weight all over the bike so I’d opted for my small seatpost pack and waterproof handlebar pack, with most of my clothing – including four pairs of gloves – on the front and spares, tools and food on the back. Julie just had the one large seatpost pack with everything stuffed in.
We were off just after 7.30am, the first part of the route taking us out of Sheffield via Penistone Road and up over Grenoside to Wortley. The roads were pretty busy considering it was early on a bank holiday morning and we were glad to get off the main roads and start climbing. Getting out of Sheffield in any direction is always a bit of a slog as there’s no escaping those hills but we had all day to cover 180km. No pressure, as long as we made it to Arnside before the pub stopped serving food we’d be just fine.
It’s been a while since either of us have pedalled with a loaded-up bike but we pretty soon settled into a steady, comfortable rhythm – no point in pushing too hard as we had a
long way to go. Our route kept us on mainly quiet roads over to Emley Moor for a quick cafe stop at The Tasting Rooms, then across the hills above Huddersfield before descending into Dewsbury to pick up the Spen Valley Greenway – eight miles of traffic-free tranquility that transports you all the way to Bradford through one of West Yorkshire’s most congested urban corridors. It’s a route I know very well as it’s the one I take to visit my dad who lives in Denholme, which just happens to be around halfway on our route to Arnside, and a good excuse to call in for a cuppa enroute.
We arrived at Dad’s, on schedule, at 12.30, popped the kettle on and a pan soup on the hob. Work commitments and snowy weekends meant I’d not seen my dad since Christmas so it was lovely to catch up with him if only for a flying visit. My dad was a big cyclist when he was younger and still is, but to a much lesser degree, so inevitably our conversation turned to the route we’d be taking over the Dales and which hills we’d be climbing. 45 minutes later we were out of the door, with a huge bar of chocolate each – flat-pack Easter eggs – flying down the hill into Keighley.
Despite the cloudy grey skies that had been with us all day, we’d managed to avoid getting wet and the further west we travelled the more the weather improved. As we pedalled along the Aire valley the day was really brightening up and we had an easterly wind gently pushing us along. North of Gargrave the route started to get a little lumpy again as we headed into the Yorkshire Dales National Park and picked up the Way of the Roses route from Airton to Settle. Travelling east to west it’s a long steady ascent up the back of High Hill Lane, far gentler than the 16% average that rises up out of Settle in the opposite direction.
Neither of us are a fan of steep descents so we both took it fairly easy down the hill into Settle, making the most of the stunning view that had now opened up ahead of us. We passed a couple of cyclists travelling in the opposite direction who had already resorted to pushing up that killer gradient.
A reviving afternoon cuppa and bun at the Old Man Cafe set us up for the last leg of our journey to Arnside. There were no more big hills to worry about but lots of little energy-sapping ups and downs, which never feel easy on tired legs, but the sun was shining and with a tailwind to help us along we made good time.
We left the Way of the Roses route north of Gressingham and pedalled the final 20km to Arnside. The little town is built into the side of a hill on the south bank of the River Kent where it flows out into Morecambe Bay. Our destination for the night, Arnside youth hostel, is situated near the top of the hill so we finished off our first day with one final climb to finish us off. We rolled in a little after 7pm, too late to grab a meal at the hostel but in just time to watch the sunset rather spectacularly over the bay.
We walked into town for a huge plate of fish and chips at the Albion pub but we were both struggling to stay awake and were back at the hostel for 9.30pm. Although we were tired, we were both pretty pleased with how the day had panned out. We’d been lucky with the weather and the tailwind and both of us accepted that Saturday’s ride across the Dales to Helmsley would probably be a different story.
Day Two – Arnside to Helmsley: 160 km
We woke at 6.30am to drizzle and grey skies and polished off a pretty meagre breakfast of packet porridge and day-old bagels that we’d carried with us from home the day before. After a quick photo stop down at the bay we were back on the road for 7.45am, this time pedalling into a headwind – setting the theme for the rest of the day.
We knew that Saturday would be the toughest of our three days as we had a few big climbs across the Dales and would be pushing on into the wind without much of a respite. It was also considerably colder and we were both wearing more layers than the day before. We’d had a conversation earlier in the hostel about whether we’d really need all the spare gear we’d brought with us, but a couple of hours in to the day’s ride we already knew we’d made the right decision.
The morning passed relatively swiftly as we wound our way north east on undulating minor roads, under the M6, and back into the Yorkshire Dales national park. By the time we arrived in Dent at 11am we were both ready for a second breakfast and were pretty thrilled to discover that the cafe we’d chosen, Stone Close, had a lovely log fire on the go to greet us as we walked in. After polishing off two cappucinos and a plate of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs I was as ready as I was ever going to be to tackle the climb up Newby Head Gate.
Even in bad weather the road through Dentdale is very beautiful and the scenery helped to take our minds off the ever-increasing headwind as we made our way up the valley to start the climb at Cowgill. This route is the easiest climb out of Dentdale but becomes more exposed the higher it gets and by the time we reached the junction at Newby Head it was blowing a proper gale.
Once at the top we had a seven mile descent but thanks to the wind we never had the chance to freewheel and had to pedal downhill all the way into Hawes. The rain had set in properly now and low cloud covered the tops of the moors. The plan was to push on through to Leyburn on the eastern edge of the Dales where we’d stop for a late lunch.
We arrived in Leyburn just after 2pm and, cold and wet, dived into the first cafe we saw. Julie was so cold that her hands wouldn’t stop shaking and she had to hug the teapot to steady her hands before attempting to eat the soup and chips we’d ordered. It was really hard work mustering up the enthusiasm to get back out there but we still had 60km to go to Helmsley and needed to get on with it.
After Leyburn we left the Dales and the roads smoothed out across the Vale of York. We were both now riding on roads that we knew well and although the landscape flattened out we didn’t have much shelter from the elements so even on the flat it was still quite tough. At least in the Dales we had the scenery to look at but the vale of York can be a pretty featureless affair when the sun’s not shining so we had very little to take our minds off the wind and rain.
The minor roads were also pretty churned up with mud and potholes so by the time we rolled into Thirsk at 5.30pm we were mud-splattered and feeling pretty sorry for ourselves. Every time we ride through Thirsk we always seem to find ourselves in Tesco and today was no exception. The security guard took pity on us and let us stand under the heaters by the doors to thaw out a bit. Julie was shaking again and put on every item of clothing on that she’d brought with her while I swapped my very soggy gloves for two pairs of dry ones.
There’s a sting in the tale when you approach Helmsley from the east as you have no choice but to climb up to get there. There are two choices, Sutton Bank or Wass Bank, both a grind, especially at the end of a long journey, but Wass Bank is the easier and quieter of the two traffic-wise. I’m really not sure how we both made it up there without pushing to be honest, especially at the top where it steepens to 16% – it’s safe to say that neither of us will be posting any QOMs from today’s ride.
The long, straight descent into Helmsley was a welcome relief to us both despite us both having to pedal downhill for the second time today, this time with added sleet. We arrived at the Hostel soggy, muddy and cold to the core. After dumping most of our kit in the drying room we had to hide under the duvets in our dorm for a good 15 minutes to try to thaw out before even attempting to think about food.
Neither of us fancied the idea of leaving the hostel in search of dinner but after a fruitless search for a local takeaway with a delivery service (all collection only – I’m sure there’s a business opportunity to be had there), we had to reluctantly venture back outside. Neither of us fancied the pub so we and headed over to the local Italian, only to find that the restaurant was fully booked for the rest of the night so we ended up with our takeaway after all.
Day Three – Helmsley to Sheffield: 165 km
Our ride home should’ve been a fairly straightforward ride of around 140km. As it was a bank holiday Sunday we’d decided to avoid going through York, which is the most direct route, and instead planned to stay east through Pocklington and down to Howden before crossing the River Ouse at Boothferry Bridge. However, thanks to a Garmin failure and my lousy memory, things didn’t turn out quite according to plan.
With less kilometres to cover, we decided to have a later start and order a cooked breakfast at the hostel. The forecast looked like more of what we’d experienced on Saturday but with a strong north-easterly wind we were looking forward to having a tailwind all the way home.
We dodged showers throughout the morning as our route took us through the lumpy landscape of the Howardian Hills and the walled grounds of Castle Howard. The Stray, the impressively arrow-straight road that runs through the estate, provided us with a few decent photo opportunites as well as a couple of run-ins with drivers who just couldn’t resist the temptation to put their foot down on the long, straight drag. The lumps flattened out as we approached Pocklington, our first coffee stop of the day, and thanks to the tailwind we were making great progress.
We’ve both ridden the rest of the route via Howden to Sheffield plenty of times as we often use it on DIY audax routes so when the second half of the route wouldn’t load on to my Garmin we weren’t too worried. However, we should’ve been a little less complacent because on the way out of Howden we missed the left turn to the Boothferry Bridge and continued straight on to Barmby-on-the-Marsh, following the NCN65 cycle route signs.
At Barmby village the road stopped but the cycle route carried on over the barrage bridge where it morphed into a muddy single-track across a field. Just one more reason why NCN cycle routes are never to be trusted! By this point we were already 8km down the road from our missed turn and decided to carry on along the track rather than double-back to Howden.
By the time we’d reached the village of Cliffe I realised that we were heading north up to Selby and in completely the wrong direction. We were trapped on the north side of the Ouse without a bridge to cross but seeing as we’d come this far off-route it seemed pointless to turn around so we decided to carry on up to Selby where we could cross the river, get some lunch and then pick up the road to Snaith, more-or-less back on to our original route. By the time we’d arrive in Snaith we’d added and extra 25km to the day’s distance.
At Snaith there are two options to cross over the M62, both lead to the village of Sykehouse but one route stays on the road while the other slightly shorter route takes in an unpaved stretch of the Trans-Pennine Trail for a couple of kilometres. Now you’d think that we’d have learned our lesson taking shortcuts for the day but this is one that we use a lot in the summer so we were fairly confident that it would be a safe bet – how wrong were we? Thanks to the heavy rainfall the route was very waterlogged and muddy and we kept having to weave around huge puddles. Our slick road tyres had little traction in the mud and it was such hard-going that we decided get off and push for most of it, all the while laughing at our daft decision, unaware of the final surprise waiting for us at the end of the trail.
Towards the end of the route a little humpback bridge flows over the River Went. As soon as we crossed the bridge the trail completely disappeared and we were surrounded by water. The little river had burst it’s banks and the last section of the trail was completely submerged. We couldn’t risk riding through it as we didn’t want to fall off and get completely soaked but neither of us wanted to double-back and retrace our route either as the trail rejoined the road, and dry land, just 50 tantalising metres ahead.
As much as I didn’t really fancy the idea of riding the final 40km home with wet feet, they were already a bit damp from riding in the showers all day, so continuing with our ‘let’s just keep going’ theme of the day, we just got stuck in and waded through it carrying our bikes in one hand and holding on to the bushes with the other – thankfully it was only shin-deep with no surprise ‘Dr.Foster’ moments!
Wet feet aside, we managed the final 40km back to Sheffield without further incident, making it back into town by 7pm, two hours later than planned, a bit tired and very mucky, but both really pleased that we’d got some long-overdue back-to-back days in our legs and another little adventure to remember.
Our rides very rarely go completely to plan but that’s just part of the ‘fun’. I’m glad that we are able to just take it all in our stride and adapt to the situations we find ourselves in. We always have a laugh – and occasionally a little cry – but we always have a story to tell at the end of day. After all, it’s just a bike ride.
On a whim, on a cold January evening, I decided to enter the Dirty Reiver – a 200km ‘gravel’ ride through Kielder Forest that takes place in April – just to have a go at riding something different this year. Then I figured that I probably didn’t have a suitable bike to ride it on. So, in my quest to find said bike I managed to get the opportunity to borrow a Kinesis Tripster AT for a few days last week. The Tripster AT is marketed as an adventure bike, ‘a bike capable of almost all terrains and adventures’. It’s a more affordable, alloy-framed stablemate to Kinesis’ highly successful Titanium-framed Tripster ATR.
The test bike was built up with Upgrade Bikes’ Rival 1 Tripster AT build kit which includes: SRAM Rival 1 x 11 groupset with 40-tooth chainring and 11-36 cassette
TRP Spyre mechanical disc brakes with 160mm rotors Kinesis Crosslight CX Disc wheels with 12mm thru-axle hubs 40c Vee tyres
The main reason for wanting to try out the Tripster AT was to see how it felt off-road on loose surfaces and how well I, personally, could handle the bike in those conditions. Anyone who’s been on a mountain bike ride with me will tell you that I am a proper wuss off-road. I think too much like a roadie who rides everywhere on 23c tyres (Yes! Really! I’m still riding on 23s) and struggle to relax enough to enjoy the experience.
I’m up for a bit of mild off-road now and again though and have ‘accidentally’ done quite a lot of gravel riding over the past couple of years; during a tour of South East Sweden, which is full of great gravel roads, and also while riding the TCR last year (ok, I put 25s on for that). We spent a lot of time on rough roads and gravel but felt quite limited on a road bike with skinny tyres and I wished then that I’d ditched my mudguards and gone for a wider tyre.
The ‘AT’ in Tripster AT stands for All Terrain so, although my main aim was to test the off-road, I wanted to try this bike out on as many different road surfaces as possible to see if it stood up to the claim. After all, we know there’s really no such thing as the one bike that does everything, right?
I liked the way the Tripster AT felt from the very first ride, which was nothing special, just my ride home from work. Although most of Sheffield’s roads have been resurfaced there are still a few notable exceptions that haven’t, including Brown Street through the city centre, which I have to endure twice daily on my commute. Much to the relief of my forearms, the Tripster’s 40c tyres soaked up the lumps and bumps and smoothed out my ride no end.
My Brown Street experience inspired me to take a minor detour on the way home. If the Tripster felt good over Sheffield’s potholes how good would it feel on the cobbles? Outside Park Hill flats there are a couple of short cobbled climbs so I put in a couple of circuits and it didn’t disappoint. Both up and downhill I felt in control and comfortable as the bike rolled over the cobbles with relative ease.
Over the weekend I led a ride for the Sheffield CTC group and took the Tripster along to see how it would feel on a longer road ride compared to my usual winter ride, a Kinesis Racelight TK3. The stack height of the Tripster is higher than my Racelight so I was a little more upright than my usual road riding position but it’s slacker angles make for a comfortable, relaxed position which is great for long days in the saddle. With a full water bottle and my saddle pack fitted it weighed in at just under 11kg, so about a kilo heavier than my usual set-up. I felt some drag when climbing up a couple of the steeper hills and I did get overtaken by a couple of riders who wouldn’t usually take me on a climb but I wasn’t sure whether that was the bike or just me being tired from a fast 60 miler I’d ridden the day before. With a skinnier, slicker tyre fitted I have no doubt that I would’ve climbed as efficiently as I usually do on my Racelight.
I finally got my opportunity to try out the Tripster away from the tarmac on a midweek ride with a couple of friends from work who ride off-road much more often than me. They had a 40-mile circuit figured out around the Peak District with a variety of surfaces taking in Houndkirk Road and the bridleway across Burbage plus some gravel roads and a few farm tracks.
As we rode on to Houndkirk I was pretty nervous and therefore tense, which is not a good state to ride a bike. If you’re not familiar with Houndkirk Road, it’s a rough, wide, byway around three miles long with a few rocky sections. It’s very tame by MTB standards but enough of a challenge for me, especially on a bike with drop bars that felt like a road bike. It took me a while to relax but I soon discovered that this bike, with those lovely, wide 40c tyres, easily rolled over all of the rocks, big and small, and kept me upright. The more the bike rolled, the more relaxed I became. I felt very stable and by the time I’d reached the end of the road I realised that I’d not put my foot down once and I had a huge grin on my face.
The rest of the ride carried on in this fashion as the more I trusted the bike, the more I grew in confidence and I found myself staying on the bike over much tricker terrain than I’d have attempted previously on my Racelight. I have to admit that there were a few steeper off-road downhill sections where I bottled it but that had nothing to do with the bike and everything to do with my own limitations.
This Tripster came with a 1 x 11 Sram Rival drivetrain with a 40 tooth chainring and an 11-36 cassette. I have to say I was a little bit skeptical on how I’d fair with this set-up but the ‘double-tap’ shifting was really easy to get to grips with and on-road the 40 x 36 coped admirably with Sheffield’s hills. Off-road was harder work and I felt like I could’ve done with an extra couple of teeth on the back over anything with a loose surface on gradients over 10% – I did have to get off and push uphill just the once. However, with a long-cage rear mech fitted you’d have the option to fit a 10-42 cassette to get over this problem.
The Tripster’s Crosslight wheelset has 12mm thru-axle hubs and is tubeless-ready but I rode it tubed so I was a little nervous about running low pressures off-road. Unfortunately I suffered two rear-wheel punctures on my two long rides (I was just unlucky – one on-road from a metal shard and one off-road from a thorn) but thanks to the awesome ‘cage lock’ feature on the SRAM rear mech – a magic little button which holds the mech cage in position and creates loads of slack in the chain – getting the rear wheel in and out was super-easy.
One of the real joys of that 1 x 11 set-up revealed itself once I got home from our off-road ride and started cleaning the bike. No front mech to worry about and just a single chainring to get the mud off made the job a whole lot easier and quicker.
If you’re you’re still reading this far, by now you’ll be getting the impression that I have nothing negative to say about the Tripster AT, and I really don’t. Yes, I would’ve like the opportunity to run it tubeless just to see how it felt at lower pressures (and maybe I wouldn’t have had my two punctures) but other than that I loved riding it both on and off-road. I had so much fun that didn’t want to give it back and could easily find a place for this in the stable when finances allow.
There are some great finishing touches to the Tripster that make it stand out from other comparably priced ‘adventure’ bikes on the market. It’s drilled to take full mudguards and rack and there’s an extra set of mounts on the underside of the downtube to fit a third bottle cage. The stylish frame detailing is thanks to the late Mike Hall who worked with Kinesis’ designer to produce bike that looks great either with or without bikepacking bags. You can find out more about Mike’s contribution on the ‘additional info’ tag on the Kinesis’ Tripster AT webpage.
The Tripster AT is a ‘ride everywhere’ bike. If you can only afford to buy one good bike and want to have a go at doing it all then this is the bike for you. It really is a true all-rounder and could finally end the search for that elusive ‘one bike that does everything’. To maximise it’s versatility you could run this bike with two wheelsets in order to cover the majority of your riding from fast commuter or winter road biking to full-on, wide-tyred bikepacking adventures off the beaten track. And it would definitely be my bike of choice if I race the TCR again.
You don’t have to take my word for it – Kinesis have a full range of demo bikes for you to try out through your local dealer. If you’re Sheffield-based, local Kinesis Dealer Tony Butterworth Cycles can arrange for you to have your very own Tripster test ride. Give them a ring on 0114 234 3218 or visit their Facebook page for more information.
Price: Frame and Forkset only: £700 Full bike fitted with Sram Rival 1 build kit: £1700