Roads to Ride

Roads to Ride

Solo Ride – May Day, Monday 1st May, 2017        

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                 76 km / 47 miles with 1,243 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                         3 hours 18 minutes

Average Speed:                                23.1 km/h

Temperature:                                   13°C

Weather in a word or two:          Cool

may day

profile may day

And now for something a bit different …

All the chatter about the south of the river being like Mordor and covered in dark, impenetrable clouds that my club mates fear to penetrate, had only served to remind me just how much I enjoy the challenge of riding there and so I decided to scratch the itch.

May Day, Bank Holiday Monday seemed to provide the perfect opportunity. There was of course a club run available, but since these tend to consume pretty much a full day and the family were struggling to remember what I looked like, an early start and early return from a solo ride under Sauron’s baleful eye seemed like a good compromise.

It also meant I didn’t feel the need to provide any blerg commentary and reportage but would give me something else to write about should I unexpectedly and inexplicably feel the urge. I guess I did.

I was up early and on the road by 8:15, dropping down the Heinous Hill and then swinging around to put the River Derwent on my left as I began to head south-west, directly up its valley.

I was off into the Land of the Prince Bishops (which sounds slightly more appealing than Mordor) and beginning what Strava notes as my longest ever climb – around 25km in length with an altitude gain of 440 metres.

Although it rises fairly relentlessly all the way, the first part of the route is very much about gentle, almost unnoticeable climbing with only a few relatively gentle humps and bumps to warm up the legs and get the blood flowing.

A sharp right at Shotley Bridge soon changes all that and here the serious stuff begins. A short, swoop over the hump-backed bridge provides a little momentum for the start of the long climb of Burnmill Bank.

It’s not enough.

Momentum quickly evaporates around the first corner and the road starts to rise and just goes on and on, up through the delightfully named hamlet of Snod’s Edge.

This is about the halfway point of the climb, which totals around 4.5km in length at a 5% average gradient. Strava has it flagged as a 3rd category climb.

I had no idea how Strava categorise their climbs – so I looked it up. Apparently it’s based on the official UCI system, but whereas the UCI may take into account the severity of the preceding route when classifying climbs for races, the Strava categorisation is wholly objective and is based on multiplying the length of the climb (in metres) with the grade of the climb in percent. If the resulting number is greater than 8,000 and the grade is 3% or higher, then the climb is categorised. The categories are then:

HC          >80,000

Cat 1      >64,000

Cat 2      >32,000

Cat 3      >16,000

Cat 4      > 8,000

This would imply a Cat 3 climb is twice as hard as a Cat 4, but of course it doesn’t always work like this.

The road surface on Burnmill Bank is reasonable and most of the way it cuts through woods which provides shelter as well as a bit of colour and variety. It wasn’t long before I was encouraged to stop and strip off gloves and arm warmers.

Traffic was fairly light this early in the morning (to be fair, it usually is up here) and the verges were the playground for lots of very young and excitable rabbits, many of whom seemingly hadn’t seen a cyclist before and tended to sit up and watch me ride by, rather than bolting for cover.

Cresting the top, the trees fall away to either side and you’re presented with the first look at Weardale and the North Pennines in all their beautifully bleak and exposed glory.

Scuttling across the busy main road, leads you onto an exhilarating and fast descent down toward the source of the Derwent river and its namesake reservoir – often speckled with the bright sails of dinghy’s but looking flat, grey and empty today.

The road drags and climbs a little past the reservoir, before you reach Edmunbyers, then if you follow the road around to the left a swooping descent leads you across a jarring, juddering cattle grid. This is the gateway to moors where you can look up and up  … and up some more, along the route you’re about to take.


I pass and greet a group of mountain-bikers as I rattle and thrum across the cattle-grid. They’re all well wrapped up against the weather, rain jackets and tights and boots and I feel slightly under-dressed.

I start climbing, round a few hairpins and then the wide road stretches out, relatively straight and upwards, lined by snow poles running up either side, like an extreme minimalist’s idea of a grand boulevard.

The air seems still and quiet out here, the silence only occasionally disturbed by a few bleating lambs and the haunting whoop-whoop-whorree of some long-beaked, moorland birds. Curlews perhaps? I’m no ornithologist, so it’s just a guess.

The incline is constant, but fairly steady and I settle down to spinning my way upwards.  Distinctive features slowly emerge ahead and reaching and then passing them at least gives me some measure of progress.

In this way a road sign, the entrance to a dirt track, a passing place, an up-rooted cats-eye and a strangely shaped heathery hummock  all gain significance as they’re encountered and put behind me.

One undistinguishable lump by the side of the road coalesces into the bloated body of a dead sheep, flat on its back, legs sticking stiffly up in the air like a massive dead fly, then this too is passed by.

Ahead the road appears to disappear over a low crest, but reaching this point reveals it continues still, upwards and onwards, but now clinging to the wide bowl of the fell as it sweeps gently around the landscape. Off to the left somewhere, the Waskerley Reservoir apparently lies in a hidden dip. I’ve not seen it yet.

As the road straightens, it also flattens slightly and I start to pass other cyclists heading in the opposite direction. A sign announces I’m 5½ mile from Stanhope and within striking distance of the stiff climb of Crawleyside. This is featured in Simon Warren’s 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs, 6,190m long with average 4% and max of 20% in sections and he rates it 7/10.

I’ve ridden it a couple of times, but don’t find it especially challenging or particularly engaging, so it’s not on the menu today. Instead, I’m taking a right hand junction Google Maps has revealed to loop around and then descend down Meadow’s Edge, to Bale Hill and on to Blanchland.

As I take the right hand turn, the previously unnoticeable wind suddenly makes itself felt, it’s fairly strong and gusty and carries a distinctively chill edge. I stop briefly to reclaim arm warmers and gloves from my back pocket and then press on.

The road reaches its peak, topping out at about 545 metres above sea level, and then starts to slowly descend as I press on through a somewhat destabilising cross-headwind. Sweeping round, I’m heading more or less due north now, the descent steepens and I pick up speed.

Ahead, the road surface looks newly laid, unblemished and feels as smooth as glass. I can clearly see there are no cars and I find myself whooping and swooping round the curves, tucked in tight and able to safely use the full width of the road.

I notice signs proclaiming 15% and 20% ramps as I whip past downhill, passing another lone cyclist going in the opposite direction and attempting what looks like a shorter but harder way up to the top. Then I’m through another, much gentler cattle grid and descending on suddenly much rougher roads through Baybridge and on to Blanchland.

I stop in Blanchland for a much deserved cereal bar and guzzle from my bottle, saluting several small groups of cyclists as they swing past, while I begin plotting a route home. Either way I need to climb out of the village, going left and up a 20% plus climb out toward Slaley and along the top of the fells, or right, to a clamber out and trace the edge of the reservoir, followed by a longer, but less sharp climb out of the valley again.

The right hand route is more scenic and less exposed, so that’s the way I head, passing through Edmunbyers again, before climbing back up to Burnmill Bank.

I’m soon racing through Snod’s Edge again and trying to build up enough speed to carry me down a sudden dip and up the stinging climb on the other side. Naturally I don’t make it  and there’s a bout of  undignified out of the saddle grunting and gurning as I try to keep the big ring turning over.

Back into the Derwent Valley, I retrace my route, but this time in the opposite direction and it’s all encouragingly, slightly downhill. I tuck in, ramp things up and I’m soon clipping along at a fairly respectable 20 mph plus.

At Hamsterly I sweep left and then right  and I’m onto the final climb of the day, the 4th category hill up to Burnopfield.  From the top, it’s a short skip down Fellside Road and I’m home – only around 47 miles covered, but packed with over 1,200 metres of climbing. I can’t help feeling there’s plenty more good roads to ride and climbs to find out here in the Mordor badlands.

Seeing my ride posted on Strava, the BFG wondered how much my legs were burning and I truthfully told him I was fine. Well, that was until Mrs SLJ pressed me into fulfilling my familial commitments with a walk down to my parents house and back again. I can honestly say this proved a much more taxing exercise than my morning ride.

YTD Totals: 2,557 km / 1,589 miles with 27,868 metres of climbing


The Inaugural Sneaky Pete Memorial Ride

The Inaugural Sneaky Pete Memorial Ride

Cyclone Sportive: Ride C, Saturday 18th June, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  179 km / 111 miles with 2,477 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          7 hours 59 minutes

Average Speed:                                23.9 km/h

Cyclone Distance:                            90 miles

Cyclone Time:                                   6 hours 7 minutes

Group size:                                         10 riders and 5,200 others

Temperature:                                    15°C

Weather in a word or two:          Cool, grey and dry.

Cyclone C Route
The 90 Mile Cyclone C Ride

Untitled 1
Ride Profile

The Waffle:

So for the 10th year running the Cyclone Festival of Cycling has rolled around again and for this anniversary edition it features a brand new, 90-mile “challenge ride” encompassing a handful of well-known local climbs including the Gibbet and the Ryals. Having participated in the event for the past 6 years this seemed like the ideal time to step up from my usual 64-mile route and try something new – what could possibly go wrong?

I had everything planned, laid out and prepared the night before. I’d pre-selected my kit based on the expected weather forecast, filled a bottle with drink and collected a small hoard of energy bars and gels to fuel the ride. The bike was thoroughly checked, fully lubed, waxed and polished, with the tyres inflated to optimum pressures. It had even spent the night cosseted indoors in the spare room, ready for a quick and effortless departure in the morning.

The timing chip was fixed to my helmet and the event number firmly secured to my handlebars in a suitable, appropriate, visual and aesthetically pleasing manner. I wouldn’t usually mention such a small thing but, from the evidence of other riders it seems that attaching the number in the right way and in the right place is a bit of a dark art and slightly more challenging than rocket science. People reported seeing them on seat-stays and seat posts, under saddles, hanging from the top tubes like sleeping bats and sticking up from handlebars like some kind of improvised motorcycle windshield.

G-Dawg had his number tightly wrapped around his head tube, but he claimed this was simply to negate aerodynamic drag. He’d also scrupulously prepared for the event by making sure his inner ring was actually in proper working order and by fitting a single bottle cage to the seat tube. As a measure of just how intensive and careful his preparations had been he’d actually test-ridden last week’s club run with the bottle cage on, although without a corresponding bottle. For this ride he would actually be going “the full Monty” and carrying a bottle too, which I can only assume had some form of G-Dawg liquid refreshment inside – kryptonite, concentrated bat blood, red diesel or something similar.


The weather Saturday morning wasn’t good, but would do, unremittingly grey and surprisingly chilly, though thankfully the wind was fairly light. I tipped down the hill to start my nine-hour round trip and began making my way to the start point, Kingston Park, the exposed and windswept home of the Newcastle Falcons rugby team.

I picked up another rider just after crossing the river and had a brief chat about our respective planned rides. Hearing I was off to  ride the Cyclone, he asked if I was turning left somewhere up ahead and I answered with a vague yes, without giving his question too much thought.

What he’d actually meant was would I be turning immediate next left. He did. I didn’t and as he pushed across my line I bounced off him and went down. Hard. Or, in the immortal words of Dabman, “I came down like a sack of spuds.” (Where are you Dabman? I miss your unfailing cheerfulness in the face of catastrophic injury and broken bones.)

I took the brunt of the impact on all the sticky-out bits down the right side – shoulder, elbow, hand, hip, knee and ankle. Ooph! The elbow and knuckles of my pinkie showed the most damage with dramatic splotches of blood, but the hip was the sorest. Luckily though the bike seemed totally unscathed other than a little scuffing of the bar tape. A lucky escape.



My fellow cyclist helped me up, retrieved my bottle and apologised, even though it wasn’t his fault. We parted, as he finally got to turn left unimpeded and I pressed on vowing to pay more attention to what people were asking me when riding alongside. Everything was a bit sore, but I guessed since I’d be constantly riding, there’d be absolutely no chance of anything stiffening up for the next few hours or so.

We had a fairly reasonable (and by our standards remarkably organised) group meet at the start, where we also picked up Szell, the Red Max, the Monkey Butler Boy and one of the Monkey Butler Boy’s contemporaries, who seemed to be wearing a hijab under his Kask helmet. They were all off to do the 65 mile ride, but would tag along with us until the routes split.

There were then around a dozen or so of us lined up for the 90-mile ride including G-Dawg, Sneaky Pete, Captain Black, Cushty, Mini Miss, Big Dunc, Guido and Caracol.

We pushed off to start our great adventure and I immediately found myself leading out with Sneaky Pete, who was a bit worried to be on the front so early. I suggested we only had to do a couple of miles in the lead to earn  wheel-sucking rights for the rest of the ride, but I don’t think he was too convinced and he soon slipped back to be replaced by the Red Max.


Max suggested the entire event was a sore trial to him as the roads were packed with other cyclists, or “chase bait” that would in normal circumstances trip his proximity sensor and like a loopy Labrador chasing cars, see the engagement of an all-out-pursuit mode.  Paternal responsibilities and a growing maturity may perhaps have tempered once rabid inclinations, but even as I write this I can hear and exact facsimile of his voice in my head and it’s saying “Never!”

He needn’t have worried too much though, as the Monkey Butler Boy was intent on proving that the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree, bounding onwards in an explosion of youthful enthusiasm with his hajib wearing side-kick and ruthlessly hunting down anything that moved on the road ahead.

Keeping an eye on the errant weavers we were forced to over-take every few metres, Max noted how they seemed to ride like fish, flexing his hand left and right, in a perfect imitation of a trout trying to swim upstream. I’d already had a too-close, dumb encounter with another experienced cyclist though – so wasn’t really in a position to take the moral high ground.

As we passed through the first feed-station I was chatting to Szell and knew he was doing the 65-mile ride. I told him that Red Max and the kids were likely to stop, thinking he might appreciate a bit of company on his route, but this seemed only to upset him.

“What are you implying?” he demanded to know, spluttering in what I took to be mock outrage, although I couldn’t be too certain and would learn a little later how just thin-skinned and easily offended some male cyclists can be. I grinned and rode on.



The first serious climb, up Ritton Bank presaged a filling-rattling crossing of the ford at Forestburn Gate. I’d been warned of how bad the surface was by Sneaky Pete and scrubbed off enough speed to negotiate the passage safely.   A couple of of unsuspecting riders in front of me weren’t so lucky – one pulled up with a pinch puncture, while the other stood ruefully spinning his front wheel and trying to decide how much damage he’d unwittingly inflicted on his shiny carbon clincher.

We were now out onto the moors and struggling to find any section of road that was horizontal. We re-grouped and then splintered again and a small bunch of us pushed on while the others waited for a back marker.

The constant rising and falling finally led us to the Bilsmoor Climb, 2kms at a 7% average gradient, maxing out at 15% , every metre of it loathed and very roundly cursed by G-Dawg for its relentlessness. I actually enjoyed the climb, finding a decent rhythm from the start and spinning up with G-Dawg in tow, as we rode in pursuit of Caracol and Captain Black who’d forged on ahead.

Half way up the climb we found Another Engine chugging steadily upwards and we exchanged a few words wherein he claimed the C-Ride was his idea. I don’t know if Sneaky Pete was aware of this and now I’m wondering if we shouldn’t be naming this the Another Engine Memorial Ride. Not that any of it matters of course, as OGL is always going to claim it was his idea all along.

There was then an exhilarating and fast drop into Elsdon where I hit my maximum speed for the day – a heady 43 mph. A quick stop at the feed-station to replenish supplies and we started the Gibbet climb which would lead to the route’s highest elevation at 258 metres.

This is a 3.3km climb at an average of 5% but with an initial ramp of almost 20%. It features in the first 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs book where, somewhat surprisingly the steepest section is only listed as 10%. Either the book, or my Strava is plain wrong. Either way, it’s hard.

I started from the back and gradually hauled myself up to G-Dawg and Captain Black as we crested the climb. Stopping only to note that the eponymous gibbet has now been restored to its rightful place, Captain Black engaged his turbo and lined us out as he smashed it down a rolling but incessantly downward pointing road toward Wallington, while G-Dawg and I clung to his rear wheel.


More climbing followed as we crested a series of rolling roads, drawing inexorably toward the final challenge of the Ryals looming some way ahead. At some point a weasel chased a young rabbit across the road in front of us, fully intent on its prey and not even seeming to notice or care about the whirring wheels it had to dart around in pursuit of its dinner. Then G-Dawg was emptying his bottle to lighten the load and I knew the final climb was coming.

I had a quick word with Captain Black and dropped off the back of the group, content on taking the climb at my own pace and needing to engage in my own version of weight reduction behind a nearby hedge. Relieved and somewhat lightened I pressed onwards and just like everyone else, seem to slow almost to a standstill as we crept toward where the first ramp of the Ryals was louring over us.

The Ryal’s are 1.7km long at an average gradient of 6% topping out at 15% on the first ramp and featured in Another 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs. With 80 plus miles in the legs and plenty of climbing already completed, this was just a case of getting to the top, while trying to pick my way around the wobblers, weaver and walkers. It wasn’t smooth and it wasn’t elegant, but it got me up and I was soon pressing on toward the last feed station at Stamfordham.

Just as I entered the village I recognised the blur of Ovis riding past in his ever-present blue and yellow kit and he slowed for a brief chat. He’d apparently being doing the 100-mile route for the umpteenth time, but had somehow become lost. Now he didn’t know if he’d ridden a longer or shorter way around and at that stage was probably past caring and just happy to be back on track. As one cruel commentator jibed, he was perhaps unique in being the only person who could possibly get lost while following hundreds of other cyclists along a route with big black directional arrows at every junction.

I was reunited with Caracol, G-Dawg and Captain Black at the Stamfordham feed station and set out to ride the rest of the way with them, when my plans were curtailed by my mobile ringing and vibrating incessantly in my back pocket. I stopped to take the call and found myself on my own again, but being somewhat leg weary I wasn’t too disappointed as I entered the last 10 miles at my own pace.


I was making good progress when I found myself blocked behind a quartet of riders from another local club, two massively powerful-looking big blokes towing along two female companions and in the process taking up most of the road. The trouble was that they couldn’t climb and at every rise the pace dropped away horribly.

I had a chat with one of the girls and she asked if I wanted to be past, even relaying the fact that people were queuing up behind them forward, but failing to elicit any movement from the front pair. I told her I was happy just to sit in a while and asked if she’d enjoyed the ride. She said she hadn’t really and I wondered if it was perhaps because of the company she was keeping…

At the next small hill, I skipped up the outside and smartly away before dropping down the other side, freewheeling and easing toward the sharp left hand turn that I knew was coming up. At this point the quartet powered past me in madcap pursuit, before braking sharply and sweeping dangerously wide around the bend. Another hill and I was able to slide past them again, only to find the two blokes had seemingly taken this as an affront to their manhood and were so intent on getting ahead of me that they’d abandoned their companions and seemingly all sense of self-preservation too.

I let them pass and stalked them for a while as we entered the last few mile. They then pulled a truly stupid stunt, forcing their way down the outside of a queue of traffic stopped by a red light at some roadworks, before cutting into the line and making an instant enemy of every driver there – a truly sterling job of fostering driver-cyclist relations and mutual respect. I eased back at that point and let them get well clear, entering a state of almost zen-like inner calm as I made the last turn, heard the electronic chirrup of the timing gate and crossed the line to a smattering of applause and “Well done’s!”

Re-emerging from picking up my goody back I found the sun had finally broken through and I was going to have the best part of the day to ride home in. Oh well, better late than never. I quite enjoyed my extended day in the saddle despite everything, but have to admit I’m really looking forward to getting back to a “normal” club run next week.

YTD Totals: 3,460 km / 2,150 miles with 34,137 metres of climbing

Puttin’ on the Ritz…

Virgin Money Cyclone Challenge – Ride B, 20th June, 2015

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                     137km/85 miles with 1,590 metres of climbing

Cyclone Ride:                                      103km/64 miles with 1,217 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                            5 hours 19 minutes

Cyclone Time:                                       3 hours 41 minutes

Group size:                                           7 of us enjoying ourselves amidst 1,600 happy cyclists.

Weather in a word or two:               Cool. Light rain.

Ride Profile
Ride Profile

The Waffle:

The Cyclone Weekend (or to give it its full name the Virgin Money Cyclone Festival of Cycling) marks about the only time of the year when we take a break from our regular weekend club runs. Most of our riders participate in one or other of the Saturday rides, and the club organise and marshal the elite riders the following day when the women’s Curlew Cup and men’s Beaumont Trophy serve the pro teams as a warm up for next week’s National Championship.

This was my 6th Cyclone in succession; although slightly different as for the first time as I decided to ride to and from the event.

It was distinctly cool at the start where we hung around shooting the breeze and hoping everyone was going to show on time. Just as a matter of principle we managed to see and then lose around half a dozen club mates, including a few who disappeared into the darkened bowels of the rugby stadium to sign on, never to emerge.

By a minor miracle eight of us managed to stick together long enough to reach the start line as a group. I was surprised to see one of our up and coming, super-fast and immeasurably strong youngsters Bez hanging around at the start as only the 100 mile route could in any way be deemed remotely a challenge for him. He explained that he wasn’t allowed to ride the longer route as he wasn’t old enough. I assume this is either some stipulation in the event’s insurance, or a more plausible explanation is that it’s something his dad, The Prof, fabricated so he didn’t have to ride with his son and get his ass royally kicked. Again.

Bez did have the consolation of hearing one wide-eyed youngster declare that he had “the coolest bike ever seen” before we rolled over the start line and he roared off into the drizzle, presumably to complete the circuit twice over, lap everyone and prove a point.

We were then left as a compact group of G-Dawg, The Red Max and his Monkey Butler son, Sneaky Pete, Taffy Steve and Tri-Boy, another super strong, super-talented youngster.
At the first, completely innocuous corner we watched one rider in front skid out and slide helplessly across the road. He sat up immediately with seemingly nothing damaged except his pride, but it was a decent reminder we were amongst some fairly sketchy riders and road weavers, with all the reflexes and co-ordination of narcoleptic sloths on diazepam.

I'm constantly amazed by what you can find on the Internet, but who would have though "sloths on bikes" would return so many hits!
I’m constantly amazed by what you can find on the Internet, but who would have thought “sloths on bikes” would return so many hits. What’s wrong with you people?

Having started relatively late there was already a constant stream of amblers and gamblers to negotiate, of all ages, shapes and sizes and on all sorts of bikes; fantastically niche super-expensive, all singing, all dancing, all carbon stealth machines painstakingly crafted by blind Italian artisans, steel vintage road bikes, mountain bikes, city bikes, hybrid bikes, a Raleigh Chopper (a Raleigh Chopper!), tandems and everything in-between. Special mention has to go to the guy on the hand-bike, a truly impressive feat and an utterly brutal exercise to haul himself over all the hills.

The first ramps leading to the climb to the feed station at Nunnykirk saw the Monkey Butler Boy, pushing hard to try and hang onto the wheels. This was his first step up to the bigger league of the B Ride having graduated from the 33 mile ride with flying colours. Having completed the Coast-to-Coast I didn’t think the distance was going to be a problem but the pace was likely to see him blow. Sense prevailed (presumably a first for The Red Max?) and they dropped back to continue in what I assume was a slightly less frenetic manner.

It was on the climb proper up to the Nunnykirk feed-station that we saw the first of the Walking Dead, stumbling and sliding as the gradient got the better of them and clambered off to push their bike uphill. This is never a good sign as the route climbs rather unremittingly upwards from this point on. For G-Dawg this hill was also something of a personal epiphany as he remembered his bike did actually come supplied with an inner ring, and luckily it hadn’t atrophied, withered and dropped-off from lack of use. Truth be told I would have been amazed hadn’t worked as its pretty much still in newly-forged, factory fresh and pristine condition, having had little to no use.

G-Dawg demonstrating his gearing choices.
G-Dawg demonstrating his usual gearing choices.

We stopped for a while to re-fill bottles and catch up with a few familiar faces at the feed station, although Sneaky Pete took a flyer with an airy wave of his hand and a promise to “regroup” further down the road.

I quite enjoy the next section climbing up to Rothley Lakes and beyond, it’s a series of long, drags and sharp descents, but the gradient is never too challenging and if you can get the right rhythm you can pretty much sit and spin away. Feeling good I stalked G-Dawg all the way up the climbs, running just on the inside of the white line on the road as we slid past a long line of strugglers and stragglers.

We were down to two at this point, but finally caught up with Sneaky Pete ambling along and whistling nonchalantly, and we put in another good few miles as a group before I dropped off with a pressing need to irrigate the landscape. Greatly relieved and at least half a kilo lighter I set of in pursuit of the other two.

We hit the rollers before the signature climb of the Ryals, and like a raft bobbing along, lost on the ocean, every time the road reared up ahead of me I caught a tantalising glimpse G-Dawg and Sneaky Pete dropping over the next crest as I tried to close on them.

I took the opportunity add some fuel to the furnace and tried cramming down an energy bar – deviously composed of two parts cardboard to one part silica gel. This immediately sucked all the moisture out of my body and left me with a bad case of cotton wool mouth. I was still struggling to chew and swallow this miraculously expanding, jagged mass of chemically enhanced, artificial protein as I approached the climb.

The Ryals appear like a vertical wall rearing straight upward. Although they feature in Simon Warrens Another 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs, they look much harder than they actually are, and I suspect their fearsome reputation is built around elite races which hurtle up them multiple times to shred legs and cause the maximum amount of pain.

Despite this they will always hurt after the preceding miles of climbing have effectively softened you up and sapped your strength like a flurry of well-placed body blows. The road briefly hits around 20% before levelling and then climbing again, and while the first ramp is quite short, it’s undeniably steep.

I passed a guy with improbable orange-brown legs (##cough## fake tan) at the foot of the Ryals, and started the grind up. He passed inside me wheezing like a train with a broken boiler. As the road levelled I caught and passed Sneaky Pete and we exchanged a few perfunctory words about the dubious parentage of the climb. I then hit the second ramp and cranked it up. Out of the saddle with my front wheel skipping and snaking wildly like the death throes of a decapitated sidewinder, I zipped past Tan Legs and burst through a bunch of startled photographers carefully positioned to catch the agonising grind and toil and suffering of cyclists on the hill.

It will be interesting to see if any of them managed to catch my surprise at suddenly finding myself at the top, or the moment when the pain signals finally reached my brain and convinced it my shin bones had been swapped out for red-hot pokers.

[I so wanted to say I danced, or waltzed up the climb, and that was certainly the image in my mind. In reality it was probably more like the plodding, uncoordinated dance number of Young Frankenstein’s monster. “Burttin’ pondah Wrutzz!!!”]

Puttin' on the Ritz
Puttin’ on the Ritz

Pushing over the top I rolled it onto the big ring and clicked down until I could click no more. Hands on the drops, head down I set off in pursuit of G-Dawg, finally catching up a few miles beyond the climb. A few miles further Sneaky Pete sneaked up on us, sacrificing himself to ride on the front for a short while before finally dropping away.

On the final run in and as we skirted a roundabout alongside another bunch of riders we were almost ploughed into by a texting driver who received a full verbal and graphically suggestive broadside– how she managed to look indignant instead of sheepishly embarrassed I’ll never know. “Typical,” drawled G-Dawg laconically, “60 miles without incident, and we’re nearly killed a few mile from the finish” – before clicking up a gear and lighting the afterburners for home.

With a decent time tucked into my goody bag I set out for home, passing a fellow rider who was struggling with a modest incline, obviously heavily weighed down by his Cyclone swag. I remarked his legs looked tired but he just quipped he was on a pre-programmed warm down. I like it, and yes, I will be using it as an excuse in future.

By the time I past the slowly decaying hedgehog on Heinous Hill for the 4th time that week I knew I was almost home and hosed, and another ride ticked off.

I trust normal service may be resumed next week…

YTD Totals: 3,023km/ 1,878 miles with 33,599 metres of climbing.

Bitchin’ Climbs#1


Whenever I get the opportunity I like to take in one of the behemoth’s featured in the book “100 Greatest Climbs” to see how much strain I can put my on ancient knees before they explode in a welter of bone, sinew and blood, like a feral alien bursting out John Hurt’s chest cavity.

A recent holiday in Keldy Forest, North Yorkshire saw me travelling with Reg to tackle the fearsome Rosedale Chimney – the climb the recent Tour de of Yorkshire wimped out of.

The books author Simon Warren, who just happens to have competed in National Hill Climbs, helpfully explains his rating system in the book is an amalgamation of gradient, length and the likely hostility of the riding conditions. He concludes, “all the climbs are tough, therefore 1/10 is hard and 10/10 is it’s almost all you can do to keep your bike moving.”

Rosedale Chimney is a 1.4km climb rated 10/10 with gradients reaching 1-in-3, and Simon cheerfully goes on to recount how he snapped his chain “not once, but twice while trying to conquer this vicious stretch of tarmac.” Oh my.

Oh, well…

The top and bottom of Rosedale Chimney.
The top and bottom of Rosedale Chimney. That’s not Reg by the way.

My allotted day arrives and I kiss goodbye to an anxious wife, say a final farewell to the kids, and we’re off. The weather is pleasantly mild and quite bright, but there’s a noticeably stiff breeze whenever the road is exposed.

A 25 kilometre or so loop gets me warmed up, and as I ride along the valley approaching the climb I can look over to the left and see a daunting picture of the road snaking its way up to the top of the North York Moors.

I slow down deliberately, gathering myself and coasting pass the big sign at the bottom of the hill. The road twists and turns a few times then spits me out past the last building and now we’re going resolutely uphill. Out and exposed, with the road clinging precariously to the side of the moors, and the “noticeably stiff breeze” has turned into a capricious, gusting blast that seems to come from all directions at once.

I hit the 33% hairpins and suddenly I’ve run out of gears and my legs are barely moving. I now have an image from a Ted Hughes poem lodged firmly in my brain, and I’ve become a “black-back gull bent like an iron bar slowly.” My mind keeps repeating the line over and over, to the rhythm of my straining, shuddering, agonisingly slow pedal strokes.

The gusting wind has me going from almost a standstill, to skeetering nervously across the road and swerving wildly to avoid running out of tarmac. And upwards, always upwards. A protracted crawling and dragging upwards.

I’m fighting the bike and the incline now, legs and lungs burning, zig-zagging back and forth across the surface and praying there’s no traffic coming the other way. I want to sit on the saddle, but when I try the road is so steep that the front wheel keeps lifting and I’m barely keeping control.

And then slowly, agonisingly I’m past the hard bit, the road straightens out and the climb goes from suicidal to just plain hard. I reach the top and crawl into a gravel strewn lay-by to unclip, breath again and admire the majestic, but rather bleak and threatening views. A quick photo and I turn around for the descent.

It’s only now that I realise my ordeal on the hill isn’t over yet. The sign usefully suggests that “cyclists dismount” and the road seems to drop away into emptiness. I creep down slowly, gingerly, brakes almost full on, knowing if I gather any momentum it’s going to be difficult to reach a controlled stop, uncertain on an unfamiliar road and sketchy surface.

Twice on the way down I have to pull over to the side of the road to shake out and flex my aching fingers back into some semblance of life. Then the incline eases and I can sit back and wheel merrily the rest of the way, off the climb without looking back.

rosedale chimney
That big, isolated bump at around 30km, like the topography flipping you the finger, is Rosedale Chimney. It laughs in the face of aged cyclists.

Well that’s that one ticked off. It was one hell of an experience, but I can honestly say I don’t ever see myself going back for another attempt.