Saturday, July 26, 2003

A cycling post of all things

The other day on the TdF coverage I heard about a ride that's happening on the 17th of August. It's called "Phil and Friends" and is 100 or 150 kilometres up and down some hills in the Sheffield area of the north of England. Details can be found on the CTC website. I decided two things...that I'd like to enter it and that I'd better find out if I was in any sort of shape to do it.

Over the past few weeks I've gone out on a few 20 to 40k rides round the country lanes nearby but I thought I'd better step it up a notch. I planned a loop from Northallerton (10 minutes on the train from Darlington) using our "White Rose" maps. These maps are to be used at the start of the Big Trip to get us from Stockton-on-Tees to Hull.

On Thursday morning I got up, got the train and was at Northallerton by 10am. The planned route would take me up onto the North York Moors in a 60-70k loop and would be a good test of my fitness. The first were undulating with a few low gear climbs (one naively noted as "killer hill" on the train ticket where I was keeping notes) and these hills were enough to get me into the King Of the Mountains mindset. In fact, I could almost here the excitable commentators willing me up the 1st Category climb that can found near Upsall. The short ups were followed by short downs from Kirby Knowle to Kepwick and I was starting to feel there was nothing the roads could throw at me that my biscuit-fuelled legs couldn't handle.

Just after Kepwick I made the first map reading blunder. I was faced with a sign that read "Unsuitable for motor vehicles" pointing left and "Stilton" pointing right. I had a moment's hesitatation before barrelling down the steep hill towards the home of cheese before I smelt something was up. (Cheese lovers insert joke here.) A quick look at the map confirmed I'd gone the wrong way and had to battle back to regain my lost altitude. Perhaps a lesson to be learnt here in pre- or post-decision map referencing. The reason the road was unsuitable for motor vehicles was not down to quality or width but the fact that it resembled a tarmac'ed staircase and it lead directly to t'moors. It was steep. In fact it was so steep I had to get up onto the pedals in my bottom gear (that's 26 on the front, 34 on the back gear ratio fans) and honk on some of the steeper sections. Mercifully these only lasted for 30 or 40 yards at time but even that takes a while to do at such speeds. I can't say exactly what speed as my cycle computer had actually assumed I'd stopped as the wheels were turning so slowly. Everyone's a critic. I was grateful for the absence of cars as I was able to make full use of the road as I wobbled my way to the top. Sadly, the top in this instance was a gate half way up the climb. The first half had been a tree-lined road but the moors started to open up after the gate. I hadn't seen anyone since the road went up but I met a rambler on this section. Luckily he was heading down as I don't think my brain could've handled being overtaken by a pedestrian. Still, I rode it all and got my reward as the road levelled out to reveal the stark beauty of Thimbleby Moor.

Once again I diverted from the map although I didn't realise this until a reached a crossroads which was nowhere near where I thought I was but actually on the route. I'd gone a shorter distance but across rocky paths instead of surfaced roads. Ten minutes later I was at Sutton Bank, a North York Moors visitor centre with hot tea in one had and a jam sarnie in the other. I'd actually eaten a couple of the others on route to preserve the Tour de France vibe.

The ride down Sutton Bank made me grateful that I gone clockwise round the loop as I was doubtful that I could have safely climbed this hill with the combination of steep gradient, traffic and blind corners. The road from here on in stayed sensible and the hills I'd seen as killers in the first hour were now taken comfortably in a lowish gear.

I reached Kirby Knowle for the homeward section with the speedo showing an average speed of 19.5km/h and my legs feeling like they had a bit left in them. I decided to see if I could get up to 20km/h so I slipped onto the big ring and pushed the speed up. Bizzarre, soul-destroying things then started to happen... The average speed would be creep up to 19.7, my current speed would be around 25 but then suddenly the average would drop back to 19.5 and the slow upward creep would begin again. This happened a few times and after having 19.9 cruelly taken from me for a third time I decided to change the display to current speed and distance. You'll be excited to learn I finished the ride with the following numbers :-

Distance : 68.51km
Time : 3:23.22
Average : 20.2km/h
Top speed : 58.5km/h