Pre Christmas Ride

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For one reason or another I’ve not been able to get out mountain biking for a while but was determined to try and get a pre Christmas ride in somewhere, all the shopping was done yesterday so my good friend PB (in the fetching bandana above !) was up for sneaking up into the Dales.  My general approach is that once we decide to ride then ride we do no matter what the weather, there are many times when you look out of your window in the morning and it does not look good but if you can force yourself out then I find that I almost always have a good time.  Now to say we’ve been seeing a bit of rain lately would be somewhat of an understatement so picking somewhere that might give us some good riding without sinking into a bog proved a challenge but a plan was hatched.

The roads were empty and the sky’s leaden but it was not rain that was going to be the problem today but the gale force winds that were moving the car as we headed up into Dales.  It felt great to think of everyone battling after the sprouts in the supermarkets while we got kitted up ready to ride, getting some very quizzical look from the few people around.  Once we’d cycled out of the village unsurprisingly we didn’t come across a soul, the trails were ours.

The only snag being the Wind and that was Wind with a capital W.  I’ve never tried to ride in anything quite as strong and inching my way uphill was made very tough.  I had my head almost down on the risers in an attempt to cut through it but the wind was actually gripping the visor of my helmet making it tricky to even look straight ahead and the water streaming out of my eyes added to the general torrent of water cascading off the hillsides.  The trickiest bit though was trying to keep the line you were going to ride, time after time as you approached the line you had picked the wind would simply blow you somewhere else.  At one point as I picked my way through one section a gust literally blew me off my bike, luckily onto a soft landing.  Once PB realised I was OK he simply stood there laughing as there I was on my back, my pack making me look like the Beetle from Metamorphosis as I thrashed around trying to right myself.  However once moving again I was really proud that despite a couple of bits where for both of us the wind was simply too strong to ride I made it up to the top, strangely riding as well as I’ve done for a long time.  Even PB was complementary of my riding and strength so I knew something was going well.

Before we could get to the main downhill stretch there were a few small undulations before a ford crossing and a stretch along the top.  By this time you had to actually lean your bike over as if cornering to simply ride in a straight line and the small downhills had to be pedaled down otherwise you would come to a stop.  Strange but exhilarating.  Of course on the top we had to stop for the obligatory pre Christmas mince pie.  My decent riding continued as I rode the downhill stretch as well as I ever have done, not bunny hopping, but timing the approach to objects in the trail well enough to pop my front wheel up and over and trying to keep my grip loose to let the bike skittle freely over the rocks and stones, something I always struggle with but there was definite improvement today.

No one else was crackers to be out on the tops today but we both felt totally buzzing by the effort to get up there and savage beauty of the Dales in all it’s windswept beauty as we barreled along.  So so glad we made it out, it’s always worth the effort.  Mud-splattered and ruddy faced we got some pretty strange looks as we enjoyed our post ride pint.  I couldn’t capture the gale force winds but hope that photos give a flavour of the raw beauty we experienced today.  Can’t wait for the post Christmas ride now, hope it’s as much fun.

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Forbidden Corner

Wow we all went to Forbidden Corner today I don’t want to review it as it will give the game away, but if you have never been then you must go as it is a total wonder.  I would not take very young kids but 7 to 70 is fine.  It’s basically a folly but wow what a folly, surprises at every turn, a treasure hunt, a maze, a labyrinth, surrealism, gothic, it truly is a remarkable place.  Lots and lots of surprises which makes you think what’s around the corner !  I can’t wait to go again.  Hopefully the pictures will give a flavour without giving the game away.


Gate Post Fastenings !

Now I never thought that when this blog got up and running I’d be writing something about gates – I’m not sure whether it’s a good thing in that I feel free to write about whatever I like or it’s detailing my slow descent into madness.  Either way I’ve become a bit fascinated by them.  When I’m not pootling in and out to work then the Snail is to be found out on the bridleways of the Dales whenever possible.  The dry stone walling that crisscrosses mile upon mile is almost like another wonder of the world to me, the scale of it is incredible.  I’m not sure whether to be a dry stone waller is the most zen occupation in the world or one of staggering frustration but last time I was out riding I came across one fixing a section and stopped for a chat, he seemed pretty zen to me.  As you can see from the photo above the walls often create beautiful natural channels for us on bikes to take advantage of but of course at either end there will be a gate separating the various sections, each one acting as a portal to the next piece of riding.

Now firstly they act as a good point to take on fluid, get breath back, check the map to see how lost we are, eat and chat a bit but I’ve found myself wondering as I approach the gate what it will be like as the variety is amazing.  Some are new and securely fastened others creaking wonders that look as though they have been there since Heathcliffe was wandering the moors.  There is then the issue of how they are fastened (if they are at all), some with a nail and a chain, some bits of string, others padlocked and of course my favourites are the ones you can operate one handed while the other wheels your bike through the gap and that self lock shut with a good push.  There are also the lethal guillotine ones which we treat with the upmost respect after one slammed shut on PB which for a moment had me thinking we were going to be hunting for fingers.

They are a simple everyday item used by farmers to control livestock and access to their land but each one is slightly different to the last and I find myself drawn to this beautiful slice of mundanity.  There are of course times when I’m cursing as the gate is locked shut or there is some other barrier that has long replaced the gate which then involves some hilarious scrambling of the Snail and Bike but I guess that’s something that you get used to if you ride off road and the bright side is it might help me get prepared for next seasons cyclocross.

Squelchy Ride and Lessons Learned

So it’s not been a great summer of riding for me, mostly due to a back problem which has necessitated lots of physio and exercises to try and get me moving pain free.  I seem to be slowly on the way to recovery and have been gradually easing back into riding to work but today saw the first venture off road to see how it would stand up.  Of course I knew that conditions might be a tad tricky under foot with the amount of rain we’ve been having but it would have been nice if the alarm had woken me to reveal a crisp bright autumn day instead a drizzly pea souper.  However we set off driving in the dark and began pedaling into Nidderdale at first light – I say light but as you can see from the photo above there was not much light knocking about, dark, dank and Wuthering Heights like.

Now one of the issues for me about bikes is the need to have some rudimentary mechanical skills to keep them in good working order and clean and this is especially true for me as I use one bike for both commuting and mountain biking and I just swap the tyres out depending on what I’m riding.  The problem is that the bike gets some hammer and my cleaning and mechanical skills leave something to be desired so despite me doing some preparation the day before, as evidenced in the photo below, the front mech has not worked for about a year and I’m starting to develop chain slip.

The result of this lack of skill (and my inherent laziness of course) was that as soon as we hit the first incline that required the granny ring it became unrideable due to the chain slip which was much worse that I thought.  So there is a big lesson for me here that I need to take more care of my bike, I need to learn more skills and really understand how all the parts work so that I can ensure that the bike is ready to roll every ride, no annoying little squeaks or rattles so that even if the Snail is riding the bike will not let me down.  I can of course also save up some pennies and get some more bikes.

Once I was off the steep stuff I encountered some more tough conditions that created more chain slip and that was MUD !  Now if you ride in Yorkshire you are going to encounter mud but I can’t recall hitting anything quite as deep and squelchy as the stuff we attempted to negotiate today, sometimes successfully and others not although I did not lose my shoe in the gloop unlike my riding buddy.

Despite all the mud we did also find some lovely single track through the woods as well.  The rain and general dampness had the muffling effect similar to snow, there was nothing you could hear apart from your breath, the squelch of the tyres and of course various squeaks and rattles from my bike !

One thing that is great about early morning riding in poor weather is that you will generally have the whole place to yourself and we didn’t see any bikes and I think were only passed by one car on the roads linking the various tracks.  This peacefulness makes the rain forgettable for me but also turns the landscape into something that is quite eerie but which I find very beautiful in it’s dankness.

As well as the mechanical lessons that need to be learnt the other thing that you learn in riding in these conditions is improved bike handling skills, I’m not sure I mastered them as I slipped and slithered my way around the hillside and I did get deposited into the heather on occasion but I’m sure that I improved a bit out there today.

The final run back to the car had us grinning from ear to ear reminding ourselves that it is always good to venture out, even if you know it’s going to squelch.

Only down side to the ride was that I managed to leave my gloves on the roof of the car so a new pair of faithfuls are required !

A Dry Ride ?

I live in relatively big city, even within which there is some great riding, but am really blessed in that in a little over an hours drive you can find yourself in the picture above which gives me the perfect opportunity to clear the mind, breath the air and enjoy the simple pleasure that is cross country riding.  Now unlike many cyclists I don’t own a vast collection of bikes and have never had to use either of the following forumlae for calculating whether or not I have too many bikes (n+1 where n=the number of bikes you currently own) or (s-1 where s=the number of bikes you own at which point your partner will leave you).  I have but the one trusty stead, a battered hardtail with lockout front forks, which I use for all my riding – in the week to work and on the weekends off road simply swapping the tyres between each type of ride.  This means that I really need to clean and maintain my bike better than I do and it’s definitely something that I need to be much much better at.  While I put the pennies aside and save up for some more bikes I dream of an inspector gadget like button on the bars that I can press that would turn my bike into whatever was suitable for the riding I was doing, oh and while I’m at it I’d also like a rider superpower button that could turn my riding into a highly skilled style for the relevant terrain instead of my normal bumbling efforts.  So Saturday night saw me getting the bike ready for off road duties by putting the nobblies on.

Since the last weekend ride in scorching sunshine it has been bucketing it down in almost biblical fashion so I was expecting to get severely wet on the ride but despite this we had all decided that whatever the weather we would ride so it was a great surprise to wake up and find it not actually raining.  We’d done a bit of careful planning to try and find a route that would not be too boggy and after a gentle warm up with a few miles on the tarmac the first climb took us up on to a lovely well drained grassy moorland with incredible panoramic views and clouds that throughout looked pretty threatening.

The climbing although long was not unduly tough and when it plateaued out there was some great riding along the top, most of which was fairly dry as the water had run off into the swollen rivers of the valley below.  It did however leave some great fun fords that needed crossing.

This led to a fantastic descent down that was perfect for me, not too fast, rocky or technical but plenty to keep your eye on and your wits about you.  We’re all fairly old school riders and don’t have any fancy GPS kit so it necessitates getting the old map out and all standing around trying to work out where we are which is always fairly hilarious as we sort of know but are never quite sure.

Once we’d worked our way off the mountain and back towards civilisation I spied this unusual sign and then crept nervously closer to watch the bees working before quickly saddling up and heading off again.

Back at the village we set off from, we sat outside a cafe marvelling that we’d got round the whole morning’s ride without a drop of rain falling which hardly seemed possible given the week we have had and as I type this the rain is pelting down again on the roof.  We also got chatting to some roadies (there were plenty out today whereas we only saw 3 other mtbers) as I definitely fancy doing some road riding (once I get the bike) but how to fit it all in seems a problem.  One of them had an interesting weather based way of deciding what he rides – wet then mtb, dry then road.  Food for thought there and also good to see that roadies and mtbers can hold a civil conversation in the same cafe !  Of course no matter what you ride it’s imperative to replace the lost fluids.

So I went out expecting the worst but this turned out to be one of the best routes we’ve done for a while and is a good one to have up the sleeve as I reckon it’s rideable in almost any weather.  Right best go and change my tyres ready for the commute tomorrow.

The Perfect Ride

So in the recent heat haze managed to get out up into the Dales and head for my favourite ride.  Now I’ve done this ride a few times before and a couple of things always happen 1) at some point of the ride, usually the most exposed section on the tops it hails, sleets and blows a gail 2) we get lost on the top unable to find the route down 3) I fail to ride the open sided slate bridges over the rivers.  As we set off early both of us were unclear which we route we were going to take but realising the glorious weather we’d be having both of us were keen to see if we could crack the route.

I’ve mentioned previously that I have real problems riding anything that’s raised up off the ground and know that at some point I really want to crack these bridges and having ridden one up in the incredible ride in the Cheviots I was slightly more optimistic this time round.  The snag as always was going to be getting onto the bridges as, for me, there is a significant step up that I’m not good at bouncing my wheel up.  This means that I can’t hit the bridge at any speed so am often starting from a standing start and wobbling precariously towards the edge.  It was clearly going to be a warm one as it was around 70 degrees in the car park at 8.45am and I congratulated myself on remembering to bring the suncream and as we set off up the first steep rocky climb things felt good and I climbed it without problem (something that I often struggle with).  Luckily my camelback had developed a significant drip that was leaking water down my front which after the initial annoyance kept me beautifully cool but with the thought in my head that I might run out of water which would not be good.

As we approached the first bridge my mate wheelied up and onto it beautifully and whizzed across, I of course bottled it and decided to take the water route through (above) which looked incredibly inviting.  Gorgeous single track then brought us out into the tiny hamlet of Feizor with a lovely little coffee shop/ cafe.  I pondered the economics of this place as it is basically on a road to nowhere in a very quite place that can only cater for cyclists and walkers.  Is there enough to keep them going ?  I certainly hope so and we stopped for an excellent early morning coffee.

Fuelled and more suncream applied we were up onto the second steep climb which brings you out onto fantastic views of Pen Y Ghent

After swooping down off here there is a very short road section to catch your breath and get some water in before a fantastic section of single track that swoops along before you get to the next bridge.  The tracks were fast, flowing and firm after all the hot weather and made for fantastic riding.

As I’m riding this, part of my brain is aware of the next bridge coming up and whether I can finally manage to ride one.  In the photo below I’m sure it looks easy to many people particularly as it looks as though you can ride straight onto it, which you could if you were going the other way.  Unfortunately again from the direction I’m going you have to hop quite a bit to get up onto it so if you get your line wrong you are in the drink.  I couldn’t hop it but I did finally ride it from a standing start !  Go me !

Next step is to somehow ride both of these straight through including somehow getting up onto them.  Small steps but I’m getting there.  From here it is a fairly hefty slog up to the high point of the ride which incredibly we managed to so without getting lost and the view from the top cannot really be done justice but what a place.

The drop down from here is an incredible run until you hit the rocks, which I always struggle with but today I seemed to be riding so well I managed to pick my way through all of them clipped in with no dab downs, something I’ve never managed before.  It’s difficult to describe the high that we were both feeling through this ride grinning from ear to ear with the euphoria of it all, the route and riding, friendships, sunshine all coming together in a perfect moment.  The final part of the descent has the below warning on it (with the ominous helmet peak) which I take seriously having heard of someone who had to be airlifted off it having had their handlebars go through their rib cage.  Steady as she goes had us safely back in the car park and enjoying the fruits of our labours both agreeing that it was simply the best ride we had done.  We’re sure to ride up there again in a few months so anyone who fancies riding it with us next time let me know.

Clear the mind ride


So my plan yesterday was fairly simple, it was ride day so head out into the dales, hope the weather was good, pick a good route and ride with friends followed by some sofa action and watching the Tour of Flanders.  The only snag being that when the alarm went off at 6 I had only had 3 hours kip as I’d got in somewhat late from a fancy dress party where me (as Hunter S Thompson) had perhaps lived up to my character’s personality a bit too closely.  Great party though.  Tough start to a Sunday.

However it was ride day so I got my sorry carcass out of bed and packed my gear ready for riding !  Incredibly despite the amazing summer weather we have been having it was -1 on the journey up and 0.5 when we started riding which had me questioning the decision to leave the longs behind.  The 3 of us layered up as best we good and got pedalling, and remarkably I felt ok and as the cobwebs started to fall away I wondered whether this is the way to ride, fuelled on champagne, fine food and no sleep.  Despite the early morning chill the sun was bouncing off the nearby hills as we put in a couple of easy miles before turning off the road.

First up was the farmyard paths heading upwards toward the more remote tracks.  As it’s spring classic season on the pro circuit and I was going to be watching the Flanders later I couldn’t help but think that Yorkshire has it’s own version.  As you can see by the photo below if you take the middle cobbled path we are in Flanders territory or take the side options and it’s Strade Bianchi but as I was on a mountain bike it was no problem.


Once off these tracks the route properly starts becoming off road, we were now warmed up despite the air still being relatively cold but it was perfect conditions.  The dry week previously meant that despite some give on the grassland tracks they were totally smooth and rideable whereas this section can often end up with you simply plunging into the mud.

After swooping across the tracks along the moorland tops there was a very steep climb up to the summit below.  Incredibly I was feeling better and better as we were riding and nothing like the hell that I gone through on last weeks ride up in Northumberland legs were strong and I got up the finally climb no problem.  In fact I was riding as well as I’ve ever done.

Where’s North from ere !!! The trusty steeds take a breather before the turn for home.

All downhill from here, an exhilarating trail that winds and whoops it’s way back to the valley floor and the flow was with me, all the forces seemed to coalesce and enable me to ride this section better than I’ve done.

Fortunately the end of the run deposited us outside one of the best pubs in Yorkshire and if it’s good enough for Coogan and Brydon then it was definitely good enough for us.

Topped up the champagne with a breakfast of nuts and the black stuff before heading home to watch Boonen rock it over in Belgium (we had more fun though!)


A totally perfect Sunday and perfect ride.  The air, light, great company, perfect conditions, magic route put me into some weird zen like state, clearing the mind like nothing else I know can do.  So champers and no sleep is clearly the way forward.