Saturday, 24 October 2009

Sportive Trinity

Just done the Tour of the Peak, well, kind of half done it, seeing as by the time I got to the point where the 100-mile and 64-mile routes diverged, I was about as dry as a jellyfish and I just didn't see the point of dragging my dripping tentacles over Strines, Holme Moss and Chunal. So discretion was the best part of riding and I took the easy option.

It's the third big sportive I've done this year after the Whitton - ace and gritty northern - and the Dragon Ride, less ace and with pink accoutrements and the third one I've drifted into with someone else's unwanted place. I phoned Keith afterwards to tell him how he'd done.

Was it lovely? Well, in a wet, windy, slippy sort of way. And I mean slippy, I saw two ambulance-attended stacks, one a mass pile up on a greasy descent, the other a solo effort. Just hoping everyone involved got off lightly, lots of treacherous wet leaves and polished asphalt strewn across the course.

The funny thing is, a year ago I'd have been comedy indignant at the idea of doing an organised mass road ride. What? Me? With a load of roadies. En masse? Hmmm... yes mate, you. But actually the Fred Whitton sort of converted me. There's a real epicness to the Whitton, it's partly the looming prospect of hitting the Hardknott with 90 hilly miles in your legs, partly the ever-present drama of Lakeland scenery and partly a funny, indefinable, northern grimness that seems to colour the whole event.

It's hard. And honest. And beautiful. You can't argue with that.

Thinking about it today and I realised just how much I've improved on a road bike in six short months. Not my doing, I owe it to the long-suffering people I've ridden with, who gently explained why Camelbaks are rubbish on the road. How to overtake people - never look back - and how many bottle cages are allowed.

And the end result? I can ride along and actually look around me without veering helplessly across the road. Gentle gusts of wind no longer scare the beejayzus out of me. I can get on the drops, if not seamlessly, then at least quite smoothly. And I only ever wore those stripey Sugoi arm warmers once...

I'm never going to be effortlessly smooth and fast. And I'm never, ever, going to shave my legs. And I doubt anyone will ever use my name and 'graceful' in the same sentence, when referring to road riding. But I'm a lot better than I was and, more importantly, I ride on the road because I love it. Simple.

And the Tour of the Peak? It would be a lovely ride on a sunny warm day. Or even a dry, crisp, winter's one. Today was neither. But there was a moment dropping down towards Whaley Bridge with the road heaped in russet orange, fallen leaves and the sunlight grated by trees, that made it all worth the wet and the windchill and the sideways-slithering tyres.

Really. Quite. Special.

Sunday, 18 October 2009


Back from a lovely weekend lightpacking in the Lakes. Just a stunning Saturday, proper mind-blowingly beautiful views and all the better for being an autumnal special bonus limited edition. Just walking, talking and enjoying being in the hills. And that's it, apart from a couple of phone pics.


Monday, 12 October 2009

Wasn't expecting that...

Ooops, for a London boy, I seem to have been thoroughly de-urbanised. Hopped a train into Manchester on Sunday morning on a shopping mission for the first time in ages. It's 33 minutes away and a different universe full of shiny things and people, spending their weekend ogling and buying stuff. People who care about their clothes. And look each other up and down for labels. And have started to do that London thing of retreating into themselves because there simply isn't enough space for too many people.

Felt like an alien floating above it all. Light years away from the urban-savvy London kid I used to be, the one who couldn't imagine living anywhere else and missed the buzz when he was away. I've still got the twitching urban danger antennae, the ones that work everywhere from Brixton to Bogota, but where I used to enjoy the edginess of big cities, now I just find them slightly unsettling.

Did you know that there's a clothes shop in Manchester with a glass frontage lined and columned with dozens of old Singer sewing machines? Fantastic. No idea what it's supposed to say, but it looks amazing.

Did the shopping except for the bits where the shop I wanted had gone. Or relocated. Or been absorbed by some other shop. And wandered slowly back to Piccadily in classic Mancunian murk.

There's something lovely about looking up and seeing sun-stroked hills all around you. Dumped the shopping at home, wolfed some carbs then chucked the Rat in the car - which I'd not normally do - and drove over to Ladybower.

Same place, different day...

Just span gently around the reservoirs on semi-slicks. No rushing, no racing, no hammering. Drinking in spectacular views, chatting to folk along the way, washing the morning's claustrophobia out of my head. And feeling lucky.

ps: It's 33 minutes into Manchester and 31 minutes coming back, what happened to the missing two minutes, can I have them back please?

Friday, 9 October 2009


It's fantastic out right now. Enough recent rain to damp down dried-out loose trails and hold them together but not so much that things are draggy and sludgy. The Shooting Cabin is a primo ribbon of white, quarzite sandpaper dotted with currant bun gritstone boulders and improbably fast and grippy.

Crested the climb last night to see folded alp-style summits layered across the skyline in the last of the evening sun and just stood and gawped. No rushing, no hammering, just a steady, smooth cruise into the light then down the not quite legal narrow singletrack that clings to gorse-smothered hillside above Kinder Reservoir then dives down into William Clough with the light dying all the while.

Then lights on and up behind the quarry and onto Chinley Churn. Tired legs still spinning away with a life of their own. Picking through puddles and rocks, following familiar lines under the water, diving directly over the ever-changing rock step then. Stop. Gawp. Huge hanging moon filling the sky like a cartoon still. Breathtaking.

Chilly now with cold hands, colder for being dunked along with the rest of my body in a Jon-sized puddle on top of Middle Moor. Rail the descent, tip-toe through the walk-through garden, then the dive down Highgate Lane into Hayfield, fly in and don't touch the brakes on the narrow singletrack for rushing gorse-lined speed.

All that's left is the trundle back home, salivating tragically at the thought of fish and chips and tea. And the reality is at least as good as the imagining. Summer? It's over-rated...

Friday, 2 October 2009

Summer's last knockings...

Maybe it's not fashionable, but I like autumn. It's honest, you know which way things are going - winter - and you don't kid yourself that you're about to cop a bucket-full of Sierra Nevada sunshine and if you do, well, that's just a bonus.

Which was yesterday all over. Dry, bright and breezy, so popped over to Ladybower and rode Cut Gate out and back in a riot of smooth, fast, grippy singletrack with added bonus rock and rubbleries and that proper big moorland feel that takes your breath and reality away.

Somewhere in the middle of it, I got my technical riding mojo back. The Pace's new shock has, erm, pertened up the rear end nicely, the Pushed Pikes just do, and the new single-ply Minion DHF up front did sterling duty of gripping and pointing as directed. But the bottom line was nothing to do with kit and everything to do with soaring spirits, a grin as wide as the Derwent Valley and the thumping, pattering, rush of gunning a bike hard down an epic, rock-strewn trail.

The conditions are lovely right now. Just enough recent dampness to stick the dusty bits back together and make for proper hero-grip under-wheel traction, but not enough to slow things to a sludgy crawl. There's plenty of rubble on the Mickleden Edge singletrack singing broken crockery style under the wheels. Stay loose and let the bike dance across the looseness, surf the corners and STAY OFF THE BRAKES!

Just catching the looks of walkers as you whisk past, curious spectators to a world they don't quite get and proper satisfying, 'you're mad, you are' expressions.

All the sweeter for being transient and doomed. In a few weeks it'll have reverted to sludge, brooding, belligerent clouds and wind that tries to bend you double and spit you off the trail. Just a distant memory.

And of course, that has a discrete charm all of its own. But that's another story altogether. Watch this space.