Monday, 27 June 2011

My Favourite Bike Rides

I thought I would mention my favourite bike rides. At first I was going to list my favourite bike rides around the UK only, but then I decided to also include a list of some memorable bike rides I've done abroad.

I won’t go into much detail now, but over the course of the months I will do blog entries about the different places, if I haven't done any about them already.

Note that I have included bike rides, rather than bike challenges. Rides to be enjoyed rather than endured! I have therefore excluded all those rides that gave me that quad-busting feeling! I have done quite alot of those in my time, but those will be written about another day!

UK Rides

Lake Coniston, Lake District (Cumbria)
This is a really pleasant loop around the Lake Coniston. It's a quiet lane that runs parallel to the lake, gently undulating and twisting through the forest. It's quite a joy to ride, especially at a leisurely pace. When you're done you can either go into Coniston village or catch the Hawkshead Ferry to Windermere.

Lake Vyrnwy, North Wales
The road around the lake is very pretty. Just follow it round and you have the long lake on one side and woodland on the other. It's quite a popular area so don't expect to have the road to yourself. The day I rode this I was just very happy to be there on easy flat land, as I'd spent the previous couple of hours riding up over Bwlch y Groes!

Blanchland (Co. Durham)
An off-road route which I did from Blanchland, a village within the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, over the moor and through Slaley Forest. There's a short steep climb to get up to the moor at the start of the ride, but once I was up on the moors there was not much climbing to be done. While up there, I had great views of the Derwent Reservoir below. As well as scenic moors there is also forest land with a stream running nearby and areas to stop for a picnic. Along the way you see various monuments and historic buildings which are a reminder of the North Pennine's bygone lead-mining era.

Grassington-Kettlewell-Yockenthwaite (Yorkshire Dales)
This route runs parallel to the B6160 road as a quiet alternative. The B6160 is not a very busy road though. However the lane parallel to it is really tranquil. There's not much going on at all - just trees and farms where you can ride and not think about anything, apart from enjoying the countryside and woodland around. You'll probably meet walkers and cyclists, plus the odd horse. But it's a very quiet, pleasant road and there is nothing challenging about riding this lane. At Kettlewell the route joins the B6160 but it is fairly quiet and the route goes on to Buckden and Yockenthwaite, where the terrain opens out and you get great views of the peaks above, notably Pen y Gent. At Deepdale retrace your route back to Grassington (unless you want to tackle the 25% climb to Fleet Moss). There are a few country pubs and cafes along the way at Buckden, Kettlewell and many back at Grassington.

Hornsea Rail Trail (East Yorkshire)
Cycle paths along disused railway lines are an increasingly common feature around the UK, especially in the North of England. This one leads from Hull right to the coast. The route is very straightforward and easy to follow. It's pan flat and on good quality surface. The first half of the 15-mile route is on tarmac, so fine for road bikes. Later on it is on compact gravel, so better to have more robust tyres. This is a great route for all the family, including beginners. When you get to the end you can reward yourself with fish and chips and ice cream! Oh, and there is a picnic site along the way.

Spa Trail (Lincolnshire)
Another similar path to the one above. This one leads from Horncastle to Woodhall Spa. It's quite picturesque and along the 3-mile route are various modern art sculptures representing aspects of Lincolnshire heritage and wildlife.

Millington Dale (East Yorkshire)
Just outside Pocklington, in the Yorkshire this lovely route goes through what I think is the best part of the Yorkshire Wolds. Passing through a mixture of pasture and woodland there are spectacular views of the moutains around. Riding through the dale is really quiet apart from the sound of the flowing stream nearby. Your only company is the highland cattle that make an appearance at intervals along the way. It's like a mini version of the Pyrenees. From Millington it's a gradual climb, otherwise it's a lovely descent from Huggate. At either end are pubs/cafes to round off a pleasant jaunt.

Ide Hill/Brasted Chart (Kent)
From the village of Brasted, near Westerham take the road that leads up towards Ide Hill Village. This is a gradual climb, though nothing too difficult, especially if taken at a leisurely pace. While riding upwards, enjoy the scenery that Kent has to offer. Once at the top, a park bench and village shop awaits where you find lots of other cyclists having a short break and on a sunny day, bathing in the heat on the village green. Return to Brasted by rolling approximately 100 metres down Ide Hill, taking the first left and riding uphill towards Emmetts Garden. From there turn right and enjoy the lovely descent down Brasted Chart. For another cafe stop turn left and head to Westerham where you can enjoy cycling cafe culture in Kent at it's best.

Box Hill (Surrey)
I can't not mention this one, given that it will feature heavily in the London 2012 Olympics. In the cycling road race the men will ride up it no fewer than 9 times!
To be honest, it's not that onerous a climb when ridden at a steady pace and just once. Even if you don't like hills this hill isn't so bad, and it is probably the best introduction to the Surrey Hills - it is one of the easiest! I like riding up The Zig Zag, as it is known, because it is like doing a mini Alpine climb. After the first two corners you begin to see how far up you have climbed and there's a real feeling of achievement that you have managed to get up so high already. The early part of the climb is scenic but a little exposed, so gets quite warm on a sunny day. As you near the top, the trees form a pleasant shield and it is a blessing to be in the shade. When you turn the final corner and see the car park you know the work is done and a trip to the National Trust tea and cake shop is a just reward for this effort. Fifty metres after the tea shop is a large green space where you can contemplate the panorama around Dorking and the rest of Surrey. To do a loop you could continue on this road through Boxhill Village, turn left at the T-junction towards Headley. Turn left down Tot Hill (Leech Lane), and left again into Lodge Bottom Road. This gives one of the best descents in the area. You barely have to pedal at all! At the end of Lodgebottom lane turn left onto the main road and then left again up the Zig Zag.

Some Foreign Rides
Amalfi Coast, Italy
Col de la Madone/Peillon, France
Col d'Eze/La Turbie
Cloue de Greolieres
Death Road, Bolivia
Sally Gap, Ireland
Gorges de la Nesque, France
Eastern coast road, Mallorca, Spain
Lac du Bourget, Aix les Bains, France

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Urban Cycle Racing in London

It's that time of year when various towns up and down the UK put on circuit races around their main shopping centres. From Jersey to Beverley, Ixworth to Abergavenny all these places provide their share of cycle racing action.

London, the great metropole, doesn't want to miss out on the action either.

With a stage of September's Tour of Britain being held on a circuit around Westminster, and the London 2012 preparation bike race finishing on a route around Buckingham Palace, not to mention the bike racing in the ITU triathlon at Hyde Park there's plenty to look forward to.

In the meantime I was treated to two other urban cycle races in London.
Last Saturday week the Smithfield Nocturne provided a great evening of pedalling action. There were road races for higher and lower category male racers, as well as a women's race.

In the spirit of representing the eclectic mix of cycling done in London there were other competitions - Penny Farthing races, the longest fixed wheel skid, and the ever popular folding bike race. So there was something to keep everyone entertained.

The women's race was of particular interest to me as it was included in the London Women's Cycle racing series. It was great to see so many women out racing in front of huge crowds. The vast difference in ability between the lead riders and the backmarkers was quite noticeable and made it a little challenging to count laps, as I found while in the commissaire's box.
It's a real credit to Bob and his commissairing team that they managed to keep the lapped riders in the race and produce results for the 40 women who raced.

Once my work for the women's race was done I was able to relax and enjoy a beer in one of the nearby bars while pressing the flesh.
Smithfield really was the place to be last Saturday. Thanks go to James and his team at the Face Partnership for putting on a fun packed evening.

A few days after that, I went down to Canary Wharf to watch the finale of the Halfords Tour Series - a 3-week long circuit racing team league with races in different parts of England.

I had no involvement in this event, but it was great to watch the race and see how the semi-pros do it, especially in the damp and rather windy conditions encountered when sandwiched between tall buildings!

The bad weather didn't deter the crowds and so, as with these events it was another chance to say hello to cycling folks I hadn't seen in a while, as well as to meet new people.

It was good to see the team prize go to Rapha Condor Sharp, which I consider to be a local team - even if their riders are based in various places outside of London!
Anyway, another good night. Thanks to Ryan for organising me a guest pass.

photos by Dave Hayward