Up The Buttress

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(a fellow ‘rider’ tackles the cobbled climb)

Ride 400 metres up a street, how hard can that be? Very as it turned out when the street in question is insanely steep and cobbled.  Saturday saw me and Rob (@chasinsheepMTB) head over to Hebden Bridge for the Up The Buttress challenge, a timed hill climb up the steepest ‘road’ in the town.  Now anyone who has ridden over in that valley knows that it is steep sided and makes for challenging riding, whether that be on or off road but this street took things to a whole other level.  I don’t know how steep it is but people milling about the registration tent were saying it varied from 1 in 3 to 1 in 5.  We had no chance to think much about it as after paying our fee we were lining up ready to roll, I had no idea what I was facing as you could only see the start of it from where we were to set off and that looked like a wall.

There was much talk of tyres and tyre pressure and what was the ‘best’ style of bike to get up it.  There were all sorts, hardtails, full suspension, blinged out cross bikes, old clunkers and one dude having a crack while attempting to tow his daughter in a trailer !  All ages were present and it had a feel of a really inclusive event – young or old, good or bad just have a go which exactly as I like it and it should be and everyone no matter the ability was cheered, encouraged and cowbelled up the slope.  To add to the air of inclusiveness anyone who got to the top, no matter how you did it, got entered into a prize draw and there were some amazing prizes including a bike from Orange !

As I got ready to go Chipps from the Singletrack crew felt my tyres, “any good?” says I, “you’ll see” was his reply with a knowing look in his eye.  Oh dear.  I didn’t bother thinking about trying to charge into the bottom of the slope, I thought I’ll just roll to it in bottom gear and then spin away.  I’ve recently ridden up some very steep stuff so I thought I’d be OK but I’d not factored the slippery cobbles into my equation.  As the wall hit and I started to peddle I thought to myself, yep I can do this and inched up the steepest part of the hill but then just before a lip across the path all my wheels were spinning like something out of the road runner cartoon and I ground to a halt.  Jumped off and pushed for a bit then tried to get going again which was a lot harder than it should have been as just could not get any purchase.  Finally got moving and felt OK (well that I was not going to die anyway) and plodded slowly along until the inevitable spinning of wheels hit again and I ground to a halt again.  I seemed to be now standing on glass as I was actually struggling to stand still but I could not get the wheels to get any grip so resorted to pushing up the hill in a comedy slip / sliding about fashion.  As I neared the top the shouts of encouragement rained down but I could not have moved any faster if Genghis Khan’s Mongol hordes had been behind me.

Crossing the line I realised that at least there were some others who had slipped about, Rob however had no problems right tyre choice and running at an insanely low pressure meant he didn’t slip once, that and he’s a great rider of course.  We encouraged a few riders up, got our breath back and then headed down the road to the pub for a few beers before going back to see the winners receive their fantastic prizes – a massive cobble a la Paris-Roubaix and see what our lucky numbers got us in the raffle.  Rob got a bottle of beer whereas I got a fantastic Timothy Taylor’s cycling jersey.  Sometimes it pays to be the snail.

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What’s in a (Trail) Name ?

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How do you know where you are?  An obvious question perhaps but sometimes finding an answer is not as easy.  Can you remember what it was like when you first started venturing out of the house on your own, you slowly got to know your local area both by the buildings and the places where you would play.  It was easy to say going to the park or the field (the field for me was where we played football, rugby and cricket next to the school) and then on the way to the river there was the old barn field (it had an old barn in it).  We had places like Jenkins field, even though it might have been a long time since anyone called Jenkins had lived in the farm that owned the field.  As you start to venture further afield which for me was on a road bike (or a racer as they were known back then) farms became quite key landmarks to navigate with using the good old OS map.

I still like riding bikes and using maps but when it comes to mountain biking, especially riding locally then there are other ways to navigate and that is Trail Names.  Anyone who rides regularly with others will have local names for where they ride, names that you won’t find on any map with stories behind them.  Often when you are out you will know where you are (in a particular wood for example) but you won’t really know where you are as in where is this wood geographically and it’s here that trail names come into there own.  You need to find a way to describe where you are going, let’s head to ….. or where you are meeting up or where you have been and how brilliant / rubbish you rode a particular section which is what trail names give you, they are the framework to provide the narrative for your ride.  The names will cover all different parts of your ride off road, could be a long flowy bit of single track, a particular feature or just a corner.

The names grow up organically, often due to some incident or other and they are tribal in nature, so what we might call something another crew will call in something completely different.  I’m not a strava user (and am fiercely anti it really) but what it is doing is codifying sections so that slowly everyone will know sections by one name which I personally feel is a shame as I like the hyper localism of trail names.  Stava might also prevent the changing of trail names as well, currently names evolve as either riders change, different things happen, superstition takes over etc all of which creates a language of features that only we know.  As you start to ride with a crew slowly you will learn the routes, features and names and it becomes a right of passage until you never know something might get named after you.

Here’s a few of our local ones but I’d be interested in your favourites as well and how they came about.

  • Last Drag – we often end our rides here.  It’s just an incline across a field but it is a drag
  • Travelator – classic starting point to many of our rides.  It’s just ribbon of mud leading to a steep bank into the woods but like the travelator from the Gladiator TV show, when it’s wet and muddy you can feel like you are going backwards pretty quickly
  • Puddle Duck – Possibly one of the best sections of trail in the area, multiple lines snake off the puddle duck through the woods.  A place where all will be tested no matter what their ability.  Tiz a bit of a beast to ride up though and named after a particular person from Garage Bikes who doesn’t like it.  This trail name is a classic in that lots of people ride it but most will know it as something completely different.
  • Leon’s Leap – A corner on the puddle duck, Leon overshot it and took to the sky
  • The Spa – When you are leaving the woods with the puddle duck in it there is The Spa.  Just the muddiest, squelchiest little section.  It never drains and is muddy in summer, in winter it requires fatbike like tyres to get through it.  You will put your foot down and the mud will ooze into your shoes / boots.  Some would pay good money to be covered in mud – hence The Spa
  • Better Climb Than Descent – Narrow and a little bit technical but not too technical so all can ride it, however it’s better to go up it.  Going down it’s got thorns, barb wire fence, dog walkers etc making it a potential problem
  • 5D – (Daz & Deano’s Death Defying Descent) – Bones and bikes broken but they did defy death
  • Pinball Run – For me a local route that terrifies me. Very fast (if you want it to be) descent, steep at the top and bits of rock all over the place, get your line wrong and you will be pinged about like a ball in a pinball machine
  • Jesus Ain’t Got Shit on Me – One of the best names, the reality is just a mud bank across a reservoir but hit it when the water level is just so and you will appear to riding on water never mind walking
  • Collarbone Corner – yep you can all guess what happened to someone here
  • Lynne’s Drop – very steep section off one of the local trails discovered by Lynne
  • The Death Star Run – another great name, we’ve all seen Star Wars with Luke using the force to storm his way down the trench to destroy the death star.  This is our mountain bike equivalent, hit this at warp speed and you will need the force to guide you through
  • Dog Shit Flavoured Treacle – just a drag up a field, however the field is surround by houses so dog owners use the field, it also gets very muddy in winter and pedalling is like riding through treacle
  • Wiggly Wiggly – classic wiggly ride through trees in another wood
  • Knife Edge – a parallel route to wiggly wiggle but is raised with a gulley on one side and a long drop on the other so you ride exposed
  • Blood Lane – or Warren’s Lane (which is what most know it as) or The Destroyer.  On Strava this will be Warren’s Lane but it used to be known as the Destroyer as it did exactly that to bikes and bodies, superstition took hold and it changed to The Delight as it is anything but.  I know it as Blood lane or Bloody lane as it is where the blood drained away from a civil war battlefield that is at the top.

So none of those names will mean much apart from to us, the locals who ride them but new names crop up all the time.  Last night we were out riding and after going through a fence gap had to ride up a very steep lane, no run up just a standing start in the lowest gear you have (the granny ring) so that lane is now Grab a Granny

See you all at the top of Blood lane before we attack Wiggly Wiggly then head over to play on the Puddle Duck before taking a dip in the Spa

 

 

 

My Grand Depart

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A bit like Alice in Wonderland, I emerged blinking back into the world wondering if the surrealness and madcap antics of the Grand Depart had been real and reflecting back on one of the most incredible experiences.  When Yorkshire won the right to host the depart I was of course hugely excited but after going to the launch event I was worried that we would mess it up as that was a truly dreadful event.  Fortunately everyone involved clearly bucked their ideas up after that and put on a truly stunning Grand Depart.

Running the Yorkshire Festival in the build up was I think key to creating such a great atmosphere as it got all sorts of creative people and enterprises doing stuff linked to the tour who may otherwise never have got involved. The result was a huge range of art and cultural activities across the region, big and small, high art to utter madcap which helped the region raise a collective eyebrow and take an interest in what was coming over the horizon.  The Festival also, in my view, acted as a catalyst to all sorts of other events as communities got well and truly into the spirit of it all.  The result was that countless individual acts, which on their own would have been meaningless, became part of a huge patchwork quilt of yellow, green and polka dot covering the whole of the county.  A perfect example of this was the knitted yellow jersey put on the Black Prince statue in Leeds that had been knitted by 70, 80 and 90 year olds that you can read the lovely story of here.

Thursday night saw the team presentation.  I did not buy a ticket for this in the arena and was pretty miffed that the organisers had taken this approach instead of the normal free show so I decided to use the money that I would have spent on a ticket for a train fare to London on the Monday.  However there was no real need to go to the presentation as the teams did a presentation ride through the city centre, the huge crowds that lined the route giving a flavour of what to expect of the the next few days.  Some of the riders looked a bit bemused by it all but most were smiling, acknowledging the crowds and interacting, with Ion Izagirre high fiving my daughter as he road past.

I took the Friday and Monday off work, determined to soak up the atmosphere and take in as much as I could and of course to see each of the three stages taking place in the UK.  The sun had been shinning all week prior to the start but there were numerous glances at the forecasts as rain was expected on the weekend (which if it had materialised would have certainly changed the whole vibe of the event).  I mooched about on the Friday, took in the Yorkshire bike show and marvelling at the vast media empire that was swinging into action and loving all the different accents I was starting to hear around town.  It was fun catching up on tweets and glimpses of the teams riding around the area, included the lovely touch by Giant-Shimano who organised a tweet up ride in North Leeds.  It’s amazing how the nature of social media has changed the game enabling me to catch up on all that was going on while supping on a pint of Magic Spanner at a pop up bar in the old police cells.

Saturday I wanted to see the start in Leeds, but even though I knew a lot of people would be coming into town I was still taken aback by the sheer volume of people, the whole city centre was heaving and people were standing 5 deep from about 8.30 in the morning.  I was lucky in that an organisation that I know were based right on the bottom of the Headrow in a perfect spot and so I found myself hanging out of the second floor window ready for the start (see photo at the top).  The crackle of noise that swept down with the riders will live with me for a long time, the riders looked pretty startled I thought by the sheer volume of people and noise that greeted the roll out.

Sunday I’d decided to head out as early as possible on the first train to Mytholmroyd and walk up Cragg Vale (the longest continuous climb in England).  There was again a huge sea of people and another fantastic atmosphere as thousands of people walked and cycled up the hill chatting and smiling with the local residents who were getting set up outside their houses, parties getting started and kids selling drinks, home made buns and loom bands on the roadside.  This time I managed to see the breakaway and of course the peloton sweep through treating the long drag as if it was a flat road.

London beckoned on Monday and it was strange really as after the huge party across Yorkshire I arrived in the capital to no visible sign that the tour was going to be in town.  This time I headed out a little bit and was fortunate to see the two strong breakaway on their last legs before the peloton steam through at full tilt, the sprint trains getting organised.  Quite incredible to see the speed at which they were riding.

After each day I watched the stage on the tele and marvelled at how brilliant it all looked.  There is of course a reason that Yorkshire looked so amazingly green as we get a good chunk of rain up here but the rain held off until London, if fact the sun shone brilliantly across the weekend and Yorkshire came out to party.  My abiding memory was that I’ve never seen so many people with a smile on their face and enjoying themselves.  A truly memorable and magic weekend.

 

Bicyclism

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I’m a cyclist but I’m also a pedestrian, driver and passenger (car, bus, plane, train, ferry) but I don’t define myself by any of these modes of transportation in particular as there is something that combines them all – I’m a human being.  There is a problem however in that some cyclists and drivers seem to have forgotten that the people they are sharing the space with are in fact other human beings and instead see them as bloody cyclists or bloody van drivers etc.  As we are all human beings we are all connected, the person driving that van might be driving important medical supplies to a hospital where the cyclist is the surgeon about to use those supplies in a life saving operation for the daughter of the lady in the mini who has got up a bit too late and has not had time to do her make up so is putting it on at the lights.  If via our interactions we could see each other as human beings I’m convinced that the world (and the roads I ride on in particular) would be a safer place.

You see I’m not a cyclist, I’m a son, father, brother, lover – I’m all of these things and so are you and all of us.  If I could ask for one thing as I ride it would be that, simply to be seen as a human being.

When I ride my bikes I’m doing one of two things – getting from A to B for some reason (usually to or from work) or having some fun – sometimes I even have fun riding from A to B, but at no time am I trying to inconvenience or cause anyone else a problem.  A couple of weeks ago on my way into work the cyclist in front of me ended up under a car that hadn’t seen him.  I don’t know if he survived but I fear that he didn’t.  He was going to work but will probably never get that opportunity again.  How will his family feel and how will that driver wailing by the side of the road ever recover?  All sorts of hopes and fears flashed through my head as I struggled to hold back my own tears while cycling on to work.  We are humans we are all connected.

These thoughts and others occurred to me again when I went to see the Bicyclism exhibition at Leeds Museum which celebrates the human side of cycling.  Yes some people put lycra on to ride their bikes, they are still human beings, other people of all ages, colours, shapes and sizes ride all sorts of bikes for all sorts of reasons.  The exhibition celebrates this with a mixture of portraits of Leeds people and their bikes taken by Casey Orr together with a collection of self portraits of Leeds people and there bikes across the ages that you can also view via the online gallery.  The exhibition is also supported by a lovely Bicyclism newspaper featuring pictures, quotes and a lovely essay on bikes and cycling by Boff Whalley.

The strange thing for me looking round the exhibition was that the theme of connectivity came through as I knew some of the people whose pictures have been taken, some actually but some just through seeing them ride their bikes.  The pink beardy guy at the top rides on my commute route and boy can he ride, he’s so smooth and effortlessly quick and he regularly flies past me.  The other thing that struck me was how similar all this was to an idea I’ve been mulling in my head called Leeds Rides – getting people in Leeds to photograph themselves riding and uploading to a gallery or using twitter and tagging everything #LeedsRides my idea was that it would help to show the breadth of people who ride in the city and by implication would show the connectivity that exists and most importantly – We Are All Human

Photo Credit: All photos by Casey Orr

 

Bike Story

 

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I make no apologies that at the moment this blog is having it’s fair share of bike related posts because as well as my riding and the Tour hitting town in a little over a week’s time there are literally stacks of art and cultural bike related events happening using the tour as a catalyst – there are 48 events in Leeds over the next week alone.  Alongside the headline Yorkshire Festival stuff there are all sorts of other smaller events taking place.  This is never going to happen again here so I’m determined to make the most of it.

Tonight I went along to Bike Story by 509Arts which was an outside show featuring bike stories, our bike stories.  People have been submitting their memories and stories and these were then brought to life by the three actors into a one hour show of history, nostalgia, memories and humour celebrating how bikes have been intertwined in our lives even if you may now no longer ride one.  Most of us can remember learning to ride a bike, those first wobbly moments of freedom with parent or older sibling puffing along beside you encouraging you to keep pedalling while you shouted at them to keep holding on.

This heartfelt moment was of course replayed beautifully but there were many others, from an aid worker borrowing a local kids bike to set a strava king of the mountain time in a war zone, a lonely single man riding around on his tandem after a breakup of his relationship which had initial started after their bikes had been locked to each others, someone who’d lost 16 stone through cycling and wondered if he could ride 100 miles to his girlfriends house, the first British man to complete the Tour de France, bumps and scrapes, a fatality, charging down hills and puffing up them, Christmas presents, Birthday presents, hand me downs were all played out as a revolving patchwork of bikes and memories.

These stories were intertwined with our own which we’d been asked to scribble down and hand in before the show started and I found myself transported back to my early wobbles as one of the older kids in the village had been tasked with getting me riding for ‘Bob a Job Week’ .  I feel very fortunate in that as I cycle most days I’m constantly refreshing the memory bank with new stories some of which, like Monday’s ride, link me straight back through time to my younger self.

All that life is was on display tonight, our hopes and dreams, fears and failures, loves and losses but all told with heartfelt whimsy from the saddle and the moral of the bike story – just keep pedalling.

Ride like when you were a kid

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When I was a kid I used to get in from school and if not going out playing footy or some other sport I’d go for a ride on my bike, this was pre mountain bike days and the whole bmx scene passed my little village by so I’d go out on my ‘racer’ or road bike as they are now know.  I had no particular specialist equipment and just rode my bike on a ten mile loop round the lanes.  I might if I could remember put a puncture kit in my pocket but that was it, can’t ever remember even putting a water bottle in the cage.  Of course this approach changed for longer excursions but for the after school ride it was just get on the bike and go for a ride.

Nowadays I seem to find myself packing as if I’m going on a major expedition when I go out and sometimes the logistics of getting a ride sorted can itself feel like planning a journey to some far flung region of the globe.  I am particularly bad and stuff all sorts into my backpack, just in case, even though I don’t know how to use half of the stuff that’s in there.  To this end I’ve gone to a much smaller pack to restrict what I can take but still seem to carry a lot.

Tonight I decided to ride like I was a kid again, an hour loop on trails as opposed to roads near my house.  The bike may be different but the approach was the same.  I packed nothing, no backpack, no water, no tools, no pump, no kit.  Just mobile (didn’t have them of course when I was a kid) and some cash in case I stopped at a pub.  It felt incredibly liberating and of course if I did have a mechanical I was never more than a couple of miles from the house.  I know this is not the approach to take really but tonight it felt right and I remembered what it was like to be 15 and free.

Morvelo City Cross 3 – Leeds – The Snail races again

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Trumpets, cowbells, cheers, beers, thrills, spills, music, laughter, beards, baldies, fat bikes, thin bikes, mountain bikes, cross bikes, single speeds, bananaman and a werewolf were all present as the third iteration of the Morvelo City Cross concept hit the mean streets of Leeds.  Never mind the Tour de France, Holbeck Urban Village surely hosted the most fun bike racing that Leeds will see this year, all thanks to Emma Osenton and her mighty crew of helpers and sponsors.

As regular readers of this blog and my projectsnail idea will know I’m no racer and have no ambitions to be but I made my debut at City Cross 2 and seeing as City Cross 3 was basically a roll down the hill from my house I thought it would have been rude not to have another go.  This is racing Jim but not as we know it and while there were some very keen bees riding, plenty were there for the fun and I found it a very inclusive, supportive and encouraging event.  Yes I’m way out of my comfort zone doing these events but there are times in your life when you need to do that and in doing so you will be richly rewarded, City Cross delivers on this for me big style.

As I rode down to the event I reflected on my hydration preparation the night before and as I peered through the fog of a hangover realised I might have been a tad too enthusiastic and the thought of a hard physical effort ahead made me feel, well a bit nauseous to be honest.  I was really intrigued however on how the course was going to be laid out as it was in a part of Leeds I know well owing to the cracking nearby pubs and I wondered how Emma was going to shoehorn a race circuit into the streets, alleys, ginnels, cobbles and courtyards that surround them.

Before I knew it I was going to find out as I lined up for the novice race start.  It had been mentioned by my garagebikes colleagues that I had looked terrified before City Cross 2, that was because I was so this time while very nervous I didn’t feel quite as scared – I’d ridden the warm up lap and was confident of getting round.  Whistle goes and we’re off swooping into the main arena, missing the traffic bollard (phew) to the sound of The Smiths (nice one Brant) and as I got into the swing of things I decided to put my race strategy into action.  This was to ride as hard as I could, smile when not grimacing, physically stop every lap for a beer break (yes beer is kindly supplied to riders who want it – and why wouldn’t you?) and to get to the end without being lapped by a fellow garage bikes rider.  There were a good chunk of us in the race all fiercely contesting the #raceyourmates race within a race category which gave a prize to the fastest lap from among your club / mates at any time during any race of the day.

Slow I may be and undoubtedly looked but I was burying myself and legs were screaming after a couple of laps but on the plus side I’d not vomited on the course.  I was wearing my Snail from South Wales shirt in the first race and Brant kindly gave me a shout out on the mic as I rode back into the main section, this happened throughout the day with kind encouragement from him such as ‘come on Ian the bloke in front only has one gear you can catch him’ and other helpful hints while all the time keeping the tunes spinning.

I totally loved the course, it was so weird to ride in this way around areas I know so well and to swoop into courtyards of the Midnight Bell and the Crosskeys with spectators lapping up beers and racing felt amazing.  My weapon of choice for the event was a Kinesis Pro6 kindly lent to me by Sarah (the not so silent partner of garagebikes) and even in my prosaic hands the bike felt fantastically agile and was a joy to ride the event on.  I may not have looked it but I felt like a proper rider out there, leaning into the corners, swooping and flowing, flying off the steps, flicking round the tight bends all the time inches away from the concrete edges.  It felt incredible, I was completely buzzing and it was unlike anything I’ve experienced before.  As I approached the final bend my race objective was in sight, behind me though breathed Chewie, he took the berm whilst I attempted to hold the inside line but Chewie went by me over the top on the line and went on to take the garagebikes race your mates fastest lap time.

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After a short while recovering with a few beers I entered the last chance saloon race for all those knocked out of the earlier motos.  a mighty herd of us set out, this time with me resplendent in full orange garagebikes kit.  This race there were no beer stops so I just had to keep riding as hard as I could until I finished shattered, gasping for air but utterly exhilarated before then taking up the cowbells to cheer on the riders in the finals.  Special mention must go to all who supported the event, I personally recieved lots of shout outs (thanks to Timothy Pulleyn for doing this every lap) and of course my garagebikes mates who supported from the barriers and from within the race itself.  Of course the biggest thanks must go to Emma and all who made it happen.

I’ve tried to describe the race but Timothy Pulleyn (thebrokenline) filmed a lap from the handlebars so strap in and take a ride:

 

Here’s a fab video highlight of the event (however note the amateur nature of the riders failing to stop and enjoy their beer – shocking behaviour).

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proof that I did put some effort in

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I watch all the riders vanish into the distance

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On the charge (ramp)

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The garage bikes crew – top day out and a very handsome devil in model pose

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Remember I mentioned there were fatbikes and Werewolves

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Thanks to the following photographers for the photos on this post:

Joolze Dymond – flickr of garagebikes day out  and official photos from the event to purchase here

Stuart Petch – flickr of day here and website here

Jack Chevell – flickr of day here and website here