Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Blast From The TDF Past

I write a music blog so I shouldn't be surprised how music can transport you to another world or in this case another time. Hearing this music from the Channel Four days of the Tour de France instantly took me back to the time when, for three weeks, Roseanne, Blossom and Mork and Mindy were displaced from our screens (much to my sister's annoyance) and instead we got a glimpse into the greatest bike ride on earth/ At the time it was dominated by the mainland European's but my favourite was a plucky American by the name of Greg Lemond. As I rooted for him some Spanish guy had the cheek to come in and dominate the Tour. Miguel Indurain I will never forgive you for ruining my childhood. See, it's all come flooding back. You can download the track at

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Way of the Roses Day 3: York to Bridlington

"No Dad I can't talk I'm going around a roundabout... well we're meeting you at the end, wherever that is"

Day 3 started like all the other days, stuffing our faces with as much food as possible and then watch Neil pump up his rear tyre as the slow puncture took effect overnight. The weather was still holding and we were hoping we could race ahead of it all the way to Bridlington. We knew we had a pretty flat day ahead of us with only a small bump in the middle of the day.

We pushed on, wanting to get the miles done as quickly as possible but sadly it wasn't quite the easy ride of the previous afternoon. Every so many miles we'd turn in to a head wind and suddenly we found it sapping our legs. While Spanners pushed on as he had done the whole trip my legs were having none of it and groaned every time I tried to raise the tempo. Taking my turn at the front of the Pannier Train in to another wonderful patch of headwind I pushed through through the pain, leaving myself empty as the others had no problem holding my wheel.

All morning it went on like that. A quick stop at Judson's Wine Bar in Pocklington didn't make me feel any better as Rich tucked in to a pint of his favourite bitter - it wasn't even lunch time yet, even Chef questioned him so it must have been early! I was hoping a cranberry juice would free my radicals or whatever it is that it's supposed to do.

Sadly setting off I discovered that it hadn't rejuvenated me and the pint certainly hadn't slowed Rich down. There's nothing worse than being at the back on a bike ride, everyone is pulling away from you while waiting for you at the same time. They're wanting to make progress and you're just struggling to turn the pedals. Jukebox kept me company but as soon as the road started to rise I just went backwards. We've been doing this long enough to know that everyone has a bad day now and again but it doesn't help when you're at the back and everyone is being so polite about it.

As we hit the hill to Huggate I just wanted to get off and walk but the road was barely rising, it would have been painfully slow and embarrassing. Jukebox kept dropping back to keep me going and as the pint hit Rich's bladder and they took a comfort break I pushed on up the hill with Jukebox. Reaching the top of the hill I actually dropped Jukebox which is not the polite thing to do when he's been waiting for you all morning but once you're in a rhythm you can't stop. Thankfully it was then downhill to Hutton Cranswick, where we stopped for lunch.

When I read Aron Ralston describe cutting his hand off in Between a Rock and A Hard Place, he said about the first pool of water he came across as being the best tasting water. He later went back to look at the water and it was the murkiest, dank water he'd seen - I think it even had a dead bird in it. Well Hutton Cranswick was like that for me. To stop for one hour and have a picnic by a pond was the best relief for me.

We basically raided the local Spar shop and had some baguettes, crisps and fizzy drinks but seemingly that was all I needed. We set off again and I was a changed man or more accurately my legs were like new. Suddenly I could keep the other guys wheels. I felt like a bit of a fraud, suddenly I could go up what little hills there were in a flash. I could have kept riding all the day. We hit the last few bumps and I raced up them past Rich who laughed and told me to piss off, I wasn't sure if that was because he'd been waiting for me all day or that his legs were now feeling three days effort but it certainly felt better being within earshot of the other guys. I'd been so preoccupied with my own woes I never thought any of the others could have been suffering. Yet Jon had mentioned aches and pains from carrying his luggage in a rucksack rather than panniers and Neil had certainly had a hard first day. Maybe I wasn't the only one.

As we headed in to Bridlington, Neil regaled us about his childhood holidays in Bridlington. I asked him if it had changed much and he said he didn't know as he was mainly by the seafront and it was a long time ago (one of the reasons Neil gave for his difficult first day was that he was the oldest in the group - I have 8 years on him) and then going around another roundabout someone in the team asked "are we going the right way". All of a sudden the penny had dropped, were we just following cycle route signs and no longer heading for the end of the Way of the Roses? Luckily we were fine and within seconds were heading to the seafront. Just as my Dad rings wanting to know where to meet us. As I explained we'd meet him at the end of the route, he pointed out there wasn't anything telling him where the end was.

Well we found it and eventually so did my Dad, the sign may say 170 miles but with a detour to Earby ours clocked in at 200, dead on. I can say that it was my favourite and the best C2C yet. The weather, the route, everything was perfect. What next? Well we could have ridden this one on a road bike so maybe next time we'll all have drop-handle bikes - or will we be dusting off the same two wheelers having not ridden them for a year? Probably the later but you never know.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Way of the Roses Day 2: Earby to York

And at that moment Spanners knew our Coast To Coast ride was over

We've been fairly lucky on our expeditions so far - expeditions is probably making us sound more intrepid than we are but still over all the miles we've covered we've not had many mechanical failures. Chef got a flat as we dipped our back wheels in at the end of our first C2C and his panniers fell apart early on that same trip but they were easily overcome and we've not really had any big problems. Not until Day 2 of the Coast to Coast, a beast of a day. Hilly in the morning and miles and miles to cover in the afternoon. In fact this was due to be our longest ever day in the saddle with 80 miles to cover.

As the route skirted Grassington we headed up and down the rolling hills. At our level of cycling (truly amateur) your ability to get up hills is often dependent on you hitting the right gear at the right time. Myself and Spanners came down a short decline and both tried to hit the hill at the same time. I smugly went pass Rich as he shouted "balls" as his gears and chain clunked and clicked as he tried to find any gear he could. The clunk and click turned to a crunch as Rich ground to halt and shouted a lot worse than balls.

I assumed his chain had come off and kept pedaling for 200 yards. Then it became clear that it was more than just a slipped chain. His chain had snapped, a brake in the chain that Rich knew he couldn't fix. Despite his Spanners nickname, he'd trimmed down on the amount of tools, nuts, bolts and general weight he'd carried with this time. Yet this didn't matter as he'd never carried anything to fix a broken chain with him in the past and certainly hadn't got anything now.

At this point he knew there was nothing he could do. Even if he could push to Grassington or we could ride there, get supplies and get back it would still put us back hours that we didn't have to spare. Neil and Jon were not long behind and soon took in the grave situation. "I've got the tool to fix the chain" said Spanners "but I don't have a spare link". "Oh I've got one of those" said Jon. Well we thought Spanners was going to make love to him there and then, from desperation to elation in five minutes Spanners was happy as anything as he set to work on fixing his stead.

Happy as a pig in mud or a biker with chain muck on his hands Spanners set off with his bike back in full working order. The pace had been steady all morning, knowing that we had a fairly bumpy morning, a big climb before Pately Bridge and then lunch after medium climb out of Pately Bridge it was going to be flat all the way to York.

The climb before Pately Bridge certainly didn't disappoint and this time the whole team were up to the challenge. It's amazing what a days cycling in your legs can do for you. While the legs felt yesterdays work they also had more to give and we all pushed on, keen to get a photo at the highest point of the route.

We stopped at each point that seemed the summit, ready for that much sought after photo. We remembered from our early plans that Nidderdale was a point of reference so we had our picture there. Was that it? Nope.

Surely Highpoint View, a farm, was the highest point?

Each corner we came around there was another short incline, nothing testing, just frustrating as we tried to have that photo to celebrate the metres we'd climbed since we left Morecambe and sea level. In the end we never got that photo, as we crested what turned out to be the top of the hill there wasn't anywhere to stop and we were already thinking of lunch - or I was, as I became known as "Stomach".

Heading down in to Pately Bridge is some ride, I certainly wouldn't want to do it in wet conditions. I seem to remember in a blur Neil and Jon missing a corner and having to adjust as they came down. It is unbelievably steep and I couple only tip my hat/helmet as I saw riders at the bottom setting off to climb it.

Arriving at Pately Bridge we hunted down the local chippy and tucked in to protein and carbs washed down with energy water. Well that's what we told our bodies as we enjoyed a deep fried feast. I later found out that my Grandad used to go cycling with the owner of the chippy years and years ago. There are only hills out of the place as far as I can work out so they must have had some good cycling miles in their legs.

After the short climb out of Pately Bridge we were on to the promised flat heading to East Yorkshire. Having had constant climbing since we left the seaside we were enjoying the flat for a change and soon were in Team Pannier train mode. Slip streaming each other in a long line, getting the miles in the bag while the weather was on our side.

The weather had been fantastic so far and watching forecasts we could see there was a bad weather front chasing us, we needed to keep moving. For now though even the wind was behind us and we sat comfortably at higher speeds than we ever used to travel at. With less weight on our bikes and an understanding of what's involved we were able to tick off those miles comfortably. You wouldn't have thought it was going to be our furthest day in the saddle.

There wasn't much else to tell from that point onward, we simply churned through the miles and in really good time we arrived at York. Well that's how it seems now looking back on it but as the picture above shows we were a bit tired when we hit Ripon for a quick ice cream / banana stop. Getting in to York was easy. We even found the Purple Palace easily after brief directions from a bus driver. The Premier Inn was just next to the route and that felt really comforting after the detour of the day before. After depositing our bikes in the rooms and a quick change we were out in the neighbouring pub with a taxi ordered to take us in to town.

Quite why Neil was kissing Jon's head I have no idea, maybe it was in celebration of completing 80 miles, maybe it was finding a great spot in the sun to have a beer or maybe it was for convincing me and my stomach to put off food for one more beer. It was a late night by the time we'd finished our Chinese banquet and got our taxi home but the hardest two days were done and it was due to be pretty flat in to Bridlington the next day.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Way of the Roses Day 1: Morecambe to Earby

"That Hill Can F*$k Off"
Not my words but as the "all the gear no idea" lycra clad cyclist spouted his venom as he reached the brow of the hill I couldn't help but agree with the sentiment. We'd just climbed the steepest part of, what we would later find out to be a category three climb. Using the same classification that they use in the tour that makes it the fourth toughest type of climb in the world ever! "Is that all" was our response as we'd just climbed what felt like a sheer cliff face.

Earlier that day it had been a now customary send off by putting our back tyres in the sea at beautiful Morecambe. An easy, traffic free ride led us out of Morecambe and in to Lancaster and to an historic waterfront where, and I have this on high authority, Spanners once went jogging. It's true I tell you, of the two times in his life he's taken to pounding the streets, one was along the same path we were now powering along.

Team Pannier had come a long way since our first C2C venture in 2009 and so has cycling. On our first trip we came across a couple of organised charity groups and a few true bike nutters but that was about it. Now bikes were everywhere and you could tell, the locals seemed bored welcoming us."Oh here's another group who think they're the first in the world to do this trip" - they didn't say it but you could see it in their eyes. We'd meet other cyclists and say we're on the Way of the Roses, they'd look at us gone out and say "we are too" as in, why the hell do you think I'm up this big hill in the middle of nowhere.

Coming in to Clapham (Clapham, Lancashire, not the Clapham district in London) we soon realised the true popularity of the route. We pulled up to New Inn, a pub overlooking the river. Spying a perfect spot we parked the bike as Spanners went to recon the food situation. Coming back he declared the landlord was a grumpy bugger (or some other similar rave review of his hospitality) and we decided to try the cafe yards down the road. Seeing cyclists waiting outside for food we were informed they were overrun and so we tried the next place along, cycling really has taken off and taken over the cafes!

Clapham's a picturesque place and the cafe was perfect. Pie and peas for the northern lads, plus real ale on tap for those who wanted it - for the record I stuck to a Gay-2-O. We were ready and loaded and hoping our food had settled by the time we hit, erm Settle.

So out of Settle we hit the aforementioned hill and we had a new leader striking out in front. All morning I had been chasing Spanners and proving that despite all his training I was able to keep up but now as the moment of truth hit me I realised I was no match. Chef, with his bulldog style just dug in behind Spanners and the two of them left myself and Jukebox trailing in their wake.

We've decided that Team Panniers motto is Never Too Proud To Push but it certainly hurt as my pedals would turn no more and I had to dismount as the two front runners headed off and me and Jukebox put in nearly the same amount of effort to push. As me all met up at the middle point of the hill and we were bored by some guy telling us he'd cycled from Blackpool, the bloke did at least make us smile. His mate pulled up who was training for an Iron Man. Carrying a large bag on his bike the Blackpool bore said "alright Arnie? - We call him Arnie 'cause he's brought Danny DeVito on his back". Sadly smiling at his comment meant he stayed around for another 5 minutes to tell us how good he was.

As was the pattern for the first two days we kept passing the same people, and they kept passing us - including "Mr I Cycled From Blackpool". Fat or thin, male or female, fast or slow it always seemed you were catching each other up as one team waited for another or one faded as the other pushed on.

On our first C2C we finished the hard days (47 miles and 63 miles) late at night, ending up at our accommodation around 21.30. So it was looking positive as in the late afternoon sun (we had awesome weather on day one) we turned off the main Way of the Roses route and headed for our accommodation. Jukebox the man with the least amount of training in him* soon declared he didn't have a mile left in him. We knew we had a bit of a detour to the accommodation but there was a debate as to how much and from where the detour started.

The great thing about national cycle routes is that they are designed to be generally flat or at least they seem to dodge the roller-coaster effect that a more direct route can take. As soon as you leave these routes you realise how they protect you from busy traffic and more importantly unnecessary gradients. Having had the wind behind us for the majority of the day we were now facing a steady climb in to the wind.

That mile Jukebox had in him was used over and over again as our moral was dampened knowing we had to retrace any miles we were now riding. It felt worse than it probably was and soon we were riding toward and hopefully in to Earby waiting for a tell-tale establishment that named itself after the area to know we'd arrived. We wanted a Earby Engineering or an Earby Hairdressers, Anything that told us we were in the right place. I think it was Earby Car Sales that confirmed our location but we were soon seeing the layout I'd sussed out on streetview months before. We ticked off the Co-op hopefully the place to purchase our breakfast, Chilli Pepper, the Indian where we would be having tea and of course the local pub - not to mention the newsagent excellently named Have I Got News 4 You.

Within minutes we were at our destination, Earby YHA. Ditching our gear we hit the pub and the curry house. Myself and Jukebox turning in early as Spanners and Chef took in the Champions League final and a few beers as well I'm sure. Day one done and some good miles ticked off.

* Read least amount as none, his bike hadn't been touched and in fact the back tyre was flat as he dug it out days before we left.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Way of the Roses - The New C2C

Back in May we set off for our next coast to coast challenge, the Way of the Roses. A new route taking us from Morecambe, Lancashire (wrong side of the Pennines, I am a Yorkshireman after all) to Bridlington in wonderful Yorkshire. Along the way we would pass from area of outstanding natural beauty in to national park in to area of outstanding beauty and through the true capital of England, York - I'm not sure even I believe that as I type it. Over the next few posts I will breakdown day by day our expedition but here is a basic outline of what we planned to do:

  • Drive from Sheffield to Morecambe (with a quick stop over in Holmfirth to pick up the driver* and Spanners).
  • Cycle from Morecambe to Earby (Earby slightly off route but all the accommodation was full in Grassington, and Pately Bridge we decided was too far on day one). Staying in the YHA there.
  • Cycle from Earby to York. Staying in a Premier Inn right next to the route and then having a night out in York.
  • Cycle from York to Bridlington where our driver* would be waiting for us to take us home.

*By driver, we mean our Dad's who kindly volunteered / were roped in to helping us.