Mountain Bike Shenanigans

Lotus Loop
February 28th, 2014

I was born and for a significant portion of my life have lived within a short distance of the headquarters of Lotus Cars. The irony is that I have rarely been there and prior today the only ride was at night on a mountain bike. So today’s ride was about setting the record straight. Back in Norfolk for a long weekend with the Ti Crown Jewel, I headed out rode a big loop around the factory (saw a couple of V6 Exiges and Elises), before getting the ride evidence photo by heading down Potash Lane.

Lotus Cars Head Quarters, Norfolk

The weather was typical of February, just without the snow. Temperatures hovering about 2 degrees, grey and overcast, wet (but not raining) with a northerly wind to remind you that route planning is important to avoid those long exposed roads that the Norfolk landscape offers. I was testing out some new kit, including these Castelli Toe Warmers, which were fine for about an hour and then once waterlogged were pointless. Proper windproof and waterproof overshoes are still needed, but colour co-ordination with socks was appreciated.

Castelli Toe Warmers

The other product getting a first ride were Assos TK.607 S5 Bib Knickers. I’d decided that after 3 pairs of Endura Thermolite equivalents that I’d go back to Assos, in part because I’d not been overly impressed by the last pair from the British firm: the graphics peeled off the legs after the 3rd wash; fabric lost elasticity; and the leg grippers weren’t wonderful and consequently the fabric has an annoying habit of riding up and bunching behind the knees. I’ve put up with them because for the money when mountain biking you are not going to cry if you bin it and put some extra ventilation in them.

I also have a pair of Rapha ones which came through IF when the two firms were working closely on the Cross Bike project. For pretty much the same money, the Assos ones do seem a more technical garment and do offer a better fit for me. The downside – they’re not as warm as either the Endura or Rapha equivalents, but in all other aspects have impressed so far.

A downside to back road riding this time of year, particularly in my part of rural East Anglia, is that the winter has littered the tarmac with assorted detritus and perhaps inevitably I picked up my first puncture on the Independent Fabrication road bike. I managed to get within half a mile of home before having to concede defeat and stop to pump some more air into the front wheel, which was just enough to get home.

Rainbow Ride
February 20th, 2014

Taking a couple of days off at the tail end of the week was an opportunity to explore the area further. This time it was west again out of the city, but rather than an immediate uphill slog it started with a steady ride through the Deerness Valley out to Esh Winning. Winning was a word used to describe striking a coal seam, but the last open cast mines closed here in the 1990s and the landscape has been restored.

From the Herat of the village the road to Cornsay was taken but rather than riding into this colliery settlement, I turned south and began the ascent to Hedley Hill and across the moor. To the west a cracking rainbow lit the valley, it’s rare to see a full one, but the solid headwind and threat of rain encouraged me to press on.

Rainbow Ride

At Tow Law it was time to head for home and wind a mega tailwind it was big ring time all the way. The road to Stanley Crook where I’d stayed in my first week gave some more great views and showed surface mining for coal still in action.

Rainbow Ride

The rest of the ride was on roads I’d driven before, but never in daylight and it’s transformative to see the County in sunshine. Not a bad place to be…

West to the Hills
February 16th, 2014

Day two of riding. West of Durham is up hill though the west Durham Colafields towards the North Pennines. Today it was about doing some climbing and the sun was out. I hadn’t expected uphill into a headwind, but that’s what I had.

Ti Crown Jewel

From the higher elevations there are some good views to be had, this is looking north west above Langley Moor.

Ti Crown Jewel

Lanchester nothing like Manchester, it’s a small, attractive village nestled in the hills. There’s a 1:5 ascent up Peth Bank to wake you up.

Ti Crown Jewel

Burnhope. Pity Me. Killerby. There are some uplifting names for villages. Another 20 or so miles in the bag…

Back to Basics
February 15th, 2014

riding again

From the first ascent I knew I had lost it all. Any hope of having retained any bike-related fitness evaporated from my pores and in the steam from my gasping lungs. This is what it’s like to be starting again from scratch, legs burning, feet feeling like lead, awkward on the bike. Walking, even up and down cardiac hill on a regular basis, doesn’t prepare your body for the task of fighting a road bike (even a featherweight one) against gravity.

It seemed to make perfect sense, choose the road bike. Everything else into storage. The rationale being that skinny wheels were best for covering distance and exploring a new landscape and the villages and towns within it. Over the last six weeks I’ve often thought that the ‘cross bike would have been the better choice, particularly due to the seemingly vast network of disused railway lines, but I keep reminding myself that just means more mess. And so as I once again drop off the big ring to crawl up another incline, I confirm my decision. There was no other option.

The offers are coming in. Once you get settled lets go mountain biking at Hamsterley. Kielder. Into the Dales. I’m missing sliding around corners and bouncing down trails, but today is about grinding out the miles and noting mentally which former pit villages are to be avoided. By and hour and half in my legs give up. The rest is still willing, but ten miles from home and increasingly cold and wet, my legs have hoisted the white flag and are begging for me to stop.

Meanwhile my feet have picked up on the fact that the thick merino socks I was sure I’d packed are absent and that actually race socks and shoes don’t offer suitable protection from the elements. Later they burn and tingle as they get circulation moving back through them under a hot shower. The return to Durham requires use of Google Maps to avoid ending up on dual carriageways and occasionally my legs forget that they’re destroyed and I stomp on the pedals and progress nicely (this is usually downhill) and as I eventually find my way back to my digs there is a strange and somewhat forgotten sense of achievement. Maybe I am still a rider after all.

IMBA: Long Live Long Rides