Sunday, 19 April 2009

Blocking some miles.. a true student of pain.

... 250 miles already ridden.. been on my bike for 23 hours and Rich (Holland) tells me that he read somewhere that to be a cyclist is to be a 'student of pain'..

Reflecting on this statement it is clearly true... i was told not long after i started cycling that it never gets any easier.. so now i am a student of pain with the knowledge that it is only gonna get worse!!

About 6 months after i started riding again after a 10 year break i decided that i wanted to ride the classic C2C whitehaven to Tynemouth route as i had done it in my early teens over 2 days.. so as i had done it in 2 days i decided that i wanted to do it in one day or 11hrs 45minutes as it turned out.. it was done new years day 2007 and was as i remember it the toughest day i had ever done on a bike..

So over 2 years on when i was invited to join a one day C2C crossing again i looked at how i could go the extra mile as i am a student of pain i need to go a little further in my endeavours and do the research... i love the idea of riding not involving a car.. Door to Door outings.. public transport is acceptable as you can switch off and enjoy the ride.. so why don't i just ride from Manchester to Whitehaven.. only 140 miles.. but instead of wasting a day off why don't i just set off after work and ride through the night.. meet them and keep on going to Tynemouth... only 280 mile day.. all sounded perfectly feasible so i called it, anyone that knows me will know that if i call something then i will do it a hang up from my days of bmx street riding where the law states that if you call out a trick then you have to give it a go whether it be stairs or a rail etc.

I checked out the route and it all looked easy enough, told Mark (Forgy) my coach what i was gonna do so training was worked around, i spoke to James at GENESIS and a Vapour Cyclo Cross bike was sent out for me to use, fitted with a seat post mounted rack the bike would be perfect for the latter part of the ride and the on/off road nature of the C2C route...

Nothing left but to pack up and get going.. i packed an ALPKIT dry bag with my Jeanius jeans, Filet and endura merino jersey so i could rock some 'rider chic' for my train ride home...

7pm Friday night.. time to get moving...

The route was to go through Manchester and pick up the A6 which would take me up through Preston, Lancaster then i would turn off on the A590 and head through the southern lake district and pop out at Whitehaven.
I stopped every few hours or so had a little to eat and then got moving.. nothing more glamorous than eating in a bus stop or shut petrol station at 1am in the morning.. travelling at this time though these places gives another view on life as other 'normal' people sleep..

The journey was pretty uneventful apart from getting buzzed by a coach on a dual carriageway.. i swear it brushed me as it went past it was so close... the dullness of the riding didn't aid the speed of the journey as i was almost falling asleep on the bike i was so disinterested in what was happening around me. Mostly flat for the first 4-5 hours when i cut inland and headed across the southern lakes to Whitehaven the riding got somewhat hillier and i was in the lowest gear and having to get used to a new out of the saddle riding method as the weight of the bag on the back exaggerated every swing of the bike side to side..

I made it to the bed and breakfast the other guys were staying in and after some faffing managed to climb into a spare bed to warm up for 30 minutes.. then a hearty breakfast was had and we were back riding by 6.30am heading for Tynemouth after the customary dipping of wheels in the sea..

The first few miles are false flat.. looks flat but its a draggy uphill.... i was feeling it difficult to keep a moderate pace as my brain and legs had switched off after the long first part of this ride.. by the time we got to the first proper climb up and over Whinlatter forest i was feeling slow and getting dropped out of the back of our group of 4.. i really only had one pace and couldn't seem to get on top of my gear so laboured every climb.
After a second breakfast in Keswick we climbed out to Penrith with more slow climbing although i was starting to feel a little better.. in Penrith we stopped for more water and pick up some more food... this set the tone for the day as unlike all other times i had ridden this route the sun was out and it was hot so keeping hydrated was up at the top of the list of the things to do that day.

Every climb i was dreading from past experience turned out to be a little bit shorter or easier than i had imagined and by the time we got to Hartside Pass i decided to stick to the road climb as i had planned to take a break and push up the off road section... the climb went great and i felt very strong the more it went on.. Gary (Knowles) had gone off up the road strongly as his road bike left him with a big gear to push.. i manged to slowly catch him back up and even managed to get out of the bottom gear i had spent all the other climbs in and shift it up a couple of cogs getting out of the saddle periodically to raise the tempo and get on top of the gear... topping out at Hartside Cafe the sun was out in full force and lighting up the valley below looking out towards the lake district.. these are the views that keep you going when your stuck at work these are the mental images that see you through the day.

We lunched at Hartside and soaked up some sun.. and drank lots of fluid.. we then put on a few layers and got ready for the flat out long downhill towards Garrigill... the descent flashed by quickly and we were all too soon faced by the climb out of Garrigill towards nenthead... this is the climb i had dreaded all day.. it is like hitting a wall and i was soon forced to pushing for the first section. Another flat out downhill got us to Nenthead, at this point we waited for Rob (Sharrock) as he had climbed on ahead and we feared he had take a wrong turn.. while we waited we sunk an energy gel with caffeine to fire us up the next 3 climbs.. they worked well and we crested the climb before the descent to allenheads easily.. well Rich still looked happy at the top...

At Allenheads there is only one serious climb left.. it starts on the road with short and steep climbing.. then you descend on the road and then start the long off road climb... again we were reduced to a push.. with Gary on road tyres we decided to climb directly out onto the road and follow it to the start of the waskerley way.. the waskerley way is a flat out bridleway... this section of trail saw our first puncture of the day.. this trail was followed all the way to Consett.. Consett saw our first navigational problem as we had been blindly following the C2C route markers.. after cruising around the streets Rich asked for directions which came good and we were onto the Derwent valley Trail.

With time getting on it had gone from dusk to dark and Gary had a very limited light and Rob had ...well.. no light at all. A few miles in Gary hit a brick on the trail and we saw puncture number 2.

At this time i just wanted to get the job done so we took to the road and took turns on the front to pick the pace up and it wasn't long until we were in sight of Tynemouth and the finish... quick call to my brother secured a lift to my parents house via a well earned burger..

I had been riding for 27 hours.. covered 280 miles.. to date the biggest ride i have completed.. but then i am a student of pain and i guess it won't be long before the next 'lesson' is planned.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

A match made for adventure

From the offset of my new sponsorship with Genesis it was always going to be an unconventional approach to running a team of riders… without a race bike in the lineup it is obvious that Genesis Bikes are looking elsewhere when they draw inspiration for their machines… this inspiration comes from good honest riding.. long trails.. getting out there and enjoying whatever we can find.. wether that be an hour down the park on a cheeky bit of singletrack or days trekking new ground experiencing new trails and new sights..

The only usual interruption in a good days riding is the need for accommodation… this factor limits the range of most rides but what if you carried all your gear with you.. enough anyway to crash under a tree or bush for the night and knock up some hot food… this is the ideal… but Genesis don’t make sleeping bags or superlight cooking gear.. however ALPKIT do

The idea was formed or the Genesis team to become yes a team of endurance racers that can place at any event but also a group of likeminded people always looking to see what and where can be ridden next so logic dictates that another sponsor be brought in to help with the gear required to go for longer trips on the bike… as a brand Genesis are small, this allows constant adaption and change as riding demands change.. to maintain this approach a similarly styled company needed to be found to form a great union..

Alpkit fitted the bill…

they produce quality goods.. that not only perform but look great.. they operate at a level that see’s them up there with the big guys of outdoor equipment winning the awards but operating on a scale that allows personal contact with the people they support and an ability to stay fresh with the product line.

After an intial exchange of emails it was clear that Jim at Alpkit was the kind of person and the kind of company that would work well with Genesis in forming this team.. the first meeting at the Outdoors show went great and also gave me chance to check out the product I had been eyeing up online for a number of weeks… within 2 weeks of the show my spare room is now homage to the Alpkit brand.. I have Sleeping bags, Dry bags, Bivvi Bags, sleeping mats… even a titanium spork!!! ( it’s a spoon/fork.. its made out of titanium I was sold).. 

many an hour has been trying out this new gear in the front room and strapping various parts to my trainer bike to see how it will all attach to a bike..

Well now I have all my kit ( almost.. just a tent to find).. I have a lot of planned destinations to air it all… sure I have said this a million times before its gonna be a great year..

Check out to see the kit the team will be using

Thanks again James ( and Jim (

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Brownbacks Racing – Lee Quarry

I have lost count of the number of forum threads I have read about people complaining that racing mountain bikes in the Uk seems to be focused very much in the south when it comes to venue selection… well people have sat up and took notice and it seems that riders have taken matters into their own hands and started putting on events in the north.. Especially it seems in the North West.

This style of small rider organised races is nothing new.. its how mountain bike racing started… it’s the cornerstone of rider development in the road scene and now it seems to be the future of racing.. a strong statement as people are always banging on about the ‘future of the sport’ .. but it is.. riders know what riders want and local races cater for the masses to have a go when they may not want to travel 100’s of miles to do a national event.

I have to admit I’m a useless cross country racer as I’m usually just getting warmed up and into my stride and the race is over but when these things are on your doorstep its rude not to go and give some support.

The latest in the line of local races in the North west is the Brownbacks organised Lee Quarry series…. A multiple event race series with races lasting 1.5 - 2 hours .. events spread out over the year and categories split by a basic scheme allowing everyone to have a fair crack at doing well…
Check out the site at for more info

The LEE Quarry trail itself is like riding a big off road bmx track.. you got steep short climbs.. a long climb.. flowy technical singletrack.. in a short loop so there is something for everyone.. I was there last night and enjoyed the mountain bike playground it is.. have to admit that myself and Mr Tottle spent too much time riding along half buried logs in the skills area trying to discover some hidden trials talents.. mine is still hidden presumed non existent..
I will stick to endurance racing :)

Hopefully will blog the event when I have ridden or spectated it

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

The Third Installment

Being friends with Richard Rothwell is a double edged sword... on the one hand I get to draw from years of riding experience, depth of knowledge when it comes to great spots to ride, I get to know someone who is always up for big days of riding.. The flipside to this positive is the negative that he’s faster and lighter than me which means I invariably whilst getting all these positives get a kicking on the bike…

Richard this year has only 2 real goals.. one of which is to complete the off road C2C route… St Bees to Robin Hoods Bay in 24 hours.. Over the winter I stupidly have volunteered now on 3 occasions to go and recce ride sections of this challenging route..

The third installment was at the weekend… Saturday was Shap to Reeth taking in the Dales and then Sunday was Osmotherly to Robin Hoods Bay attacking the Moors...
I went expecting long days of riding... it’s what I came for... training but disguised in a way that you actually enjoy doing it.

The weather was best described as ‘changeable’ for the first installment and the riding a typical mix of steady climbing and average descending... in fact I remember little about the first day apart from the start of the weekends map reading confusions always ending up in an extra climb or two.. There was a few stand out downhills which were rocky enough to be challenging but not enough to slow you to picking your way through... I do remember the section before the road to Tan Hill as it is vague.. Very vague. There is a sign post on the road which points back towards the direction you come from indicating a bridleway is there somewhere but like me and Richard I guess it really doesn’t know where it is… just a big open space of moorland with wet peat to soak your feet when you’re not paying attention.

The second installment was started in absolutely glorious weather… this was first ride of year wearing short sleeves and no gloves.. a mile marker indicating good dry weather may be just round the corner. A little different from the day before we saw some forest to start the day but only on a very wide bridleway... then more confusion on the route which gave us another long climb to turn round at top and then descend.

This section of the route I think shows the creator’s lack of enthusiasm after winding his way from the lakes as it seemed that we slogged up very steep climbs to be greeted with heavily rutted unrideable descents or just plain old road descents.

Whilst on the top of the moors the views were stunning as we smashed along the wide rough bridleways.. at this point we were unaware of the total distance for the day that had to be covered.. I took a nice fall on almost flat as I really wasn’t feeling inspired by what I was riding plus I had made a schoolboy error of wearing knackered old shorts for such a long day and I was very very uncomfortable.

After another navigational error we consulted a walker who informed us of where he was heading.. I instantly remembered the name of the place from the route card we had used that morning to plot the days riding… we had been riding for near 4 hours and we still had 45 miles to go!!!

I have to admit I lost all interest at this point facing such a long day of what wasn’t the best riding and knowing it was going to be very late when I got home.. I think Richard sensed my mood and cunningly coaxed me on blindly ignoring the mammoth distance still left to cover over the slow going ground we were on.

The Recce was going to have to be partially abandoned at a set point then we would bee line for Robin Hoods Bay on minor roads... not before we unnecessarily climbed a 33% road climb… the bravest thing I have ever seen occurred as in my ever increasing bad mood Richard still asked if we could descend to the bottom and find the trail we should have been on… you are a very brave man Richard :)

With a few more road climbs under our belt we managed to reach Robin Hoods Bay and the car just as we were losing light… a ride just short of 8 hours giving us a 14 hour weekend total of mostly off road and untold amount of climbing… if this doesn’t get me race ready I’m not sure what will.

Thanks Richard for another kicking. :)

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Whinlatter Challenge – Taking a Knife to a Gun Fight

When I first heard about singlespeed riding like most people I reacted with the ‘what’s the point??’ attitude.. why limit in my view then where and what you could ride.. surely you were just limiting the fun??

I then met a few guys riding them.. was still not convinced but had a spare geared bike.. had a need for a very cheap to run bike as I was about to go back to Uni and couldn’t afford the maintenance costs of running a geared bike over winter.. so with a big pile of parts left on the workshop floor of TSW Cycles a fully rigid singlespeed was created.
I rode this bike allot…. I used it for training, big days riding in the peaks and on a few occasions to some success racing… I discovered that it wasn’t just a ‘niche’ item in the bike collection but a great way of hassle free riding… I wouldn’t say it the ‘Purest’ form of riding or any crap like that as I am happiest when I’m just riding.. Doesn’t matter what I’m riding.

With this in mind I asked for a singlespeed to be one of the 2 bikes I get from my sponsors Genesis… I upgraded my IO with some personal choices and to make it a little cross compatible in terms of parts with my Altitude for racing... the IO has been my bike of choice for racing so far and so when Whinlatter Challenge was announced I didn’t hesitate to sign up to ride singlespeed for the advertised 30 mile race.
With the entry list detailing those riding singlespeed it was clear to see that it wasn’t the weapon of choice with SS riders only accounting for a small fraction of the large field of 400+ riders..

Whinlatter forest is typified by long, long, long fireroad climbing and technical descending… in short to take a fully rigid singlespeed to this race was a likened to bringing a knife to a gun fight.
The Saturday before the race myself and Grace travelled to the Lakes to be greeted with overcast weather on the brink of snow... Staying with Richard’s (Rothwell) dad in Keswick was a god send saving valuable money needed for rest of year... John (Rothwell) kindly let us stay and made us feel very welcome again.

After coffee in Keswick it was decided that a walk to finish off the day and also register for the race which was open for a few hours on the Saturday was a good idea… Grace, Richard, his wife Charlotte and myself had a short walk at Whinlatter as flakes of snow fell… it looked as though it was going to be a cold race in the trees

Charlotte cooked a fantastic bean chili for Saturday’s dinner and an early ish night was had…
Sunday morning I awoke to Sunshine!!! Clear blue skies… with much confusion I breakfasted and got ready... Periodically checking the skies for tell tale signs of poorer weather approaching but the skies remained steadfast in there clear blue appearance.
When we got there the place was full to the brim of riders.. an amazing turnout of 400 plus for a first year event just proving the popularity of this format of event and further more justifying that the BCF should be looking more into promoting and supporting this community of riders… there are riders outside of Velodromes

With a quick warm up we were on the start line and nicely near the front…. I spotted another friend ready to start… another Richard.. Holland this time… first race for him and weather as being very kind to us all with the continued sunshine...
I looked around at the other bikes near the front and as suspected I was 26 gears short of everyone else I could see... oh well nothing to do but enjoy myself… I scheduled this race to be a hard effort concentrating on descending well... it was easily gonna be the hard part anyway.
The start went okay… I eased into the gear sitting in the top 15 riders at the front.. Rothwell just in front and trying not to work myself too hard with a long way to go and little chance of rest..
The starting climb was epic... Described as 4km long and this was easily believable… by the top I was really having to stand on the pedals the turn the 32X16 gearing... but still maintained a steady pace and let the other riders get on with their race.
As predicted the course was extremely unfriendly to those with only one cog… the climbs were very long and just outside the gearing so I was struggling to get on top of the ratio... the descents were rocky but manageable if attacked at speed on the rigid forks… a few people were already sidelined with pinch flats.. I hit a rock very hard and was surprised when the tyre stayed up but this was only as the wheel had shifted in the frame... ( note: tightened and check wheels before every race) not a great issue as the inbuilt tensioner’s on the IO frame kept it ride able till I could complete the lengthy lap and retrieve a suitable tool from Grace to fix it… bottle change and fix went easy and I was out on second lap..

I didn’t have the energy to muscle the big climbs second time around so was reduced to a brisk walk which to be fair wasn’t much slower than the people around me… there was always a brief moment of joy as a rider caught me up... followed by deep dissatisfaction when they realized I was riding singlespeed.. I suppose it like knocking down a man with no arms... it’s no real achievement… made worse that when the gradient on the climbs allowed and I could ride I regained a lot of places... Must be soul destroying to be passed on a climb by a singlespeed rider…

Its not just the climbs that time is lost when you’re not geared as there was a lot of flat out lengthy descents and a healthy section of road where all you could do was spin your legs or tuck for speed..

The finish came in 3 hours 59minutes…. 36 miles …. 54th place and 1st singlespeed rider... I was 40 minutes behind Rothwell in 7th Place and about 30 minutes in front of Holland in his first race after he took a decent sized fall on his 2nd lap.
Overall I had a great day… one of best races I have ever done… course was exceptional in my opinion and I am itching to have a go next year with gears

My legs felt good and strong... looking forward to getting the Altitude set up for Wildboar 24 and seeing what I can do