Life Cycle 2013 - a few words on cycling...
Life Cycle is a new area of the site, dedicated to articles about all things bike. We want to explore the issues and emotions that surround our great sport.
Life Cycle Archive - for older articles: click here
This is a new article from Garry Shillam, who has bravely or foolishly agreed to be part of our routes team in the Dales and Moors. Garry has been out with us and about a couple of times recently, and here's his account of a fact finding trip from Healaugh to link in Great Pinseat.
What's in yours?
Looking at the picture to the right of this text, you'll see a face that had recently been smashed against the ground on the black route at Dalby after a handlebar leap (Feb 2008). At the end of the evening, despite still smiling...I was in shock, I had my front teeth striaghtened out, wired and cemented below the gum and had my nose glued, also suffering two black eyes.
My wife was surprisingly very sympathetic, saying: "but you've always had such lovely teeth!"
My cycling colleagues on the other hand drove me home via Helmsley where they stopped for buns; buying me one before saying "Oh we'll have yours shall we!"
Hence the question regarding first aid kits. Being a climbing instructor I always tend to have something to hand. Not for others but for my own accidents! I also ride a lot throughout the winter and in isolation across the Dales, Moors and Lakes. So if I do have a mishap, then it's initially down to me.
In terms of you guys then, what is in yours? Do you actually have a first aid kit? Do you cycle in isolated countryside on your own, and if so do you let anyone know where you're going?
Mtbing is a fantastic sport, especially at this time of the year. However, we have to make sure that we can take care of ourselves and think about those waiting at home for our safe return. Trust me, they do often worry about their grown up people doing 'silly things.'
So next time that you're out this winter, just pack a few bits and pieces in the Camelbak and stay safe when you're in the hills.
First Time Fixie, by guest writer Peter Ford.
‘It’s great,’ said a chap I met in 1959 at one of those little roadside tea trailers where cyclists stop. ‘Once you get used to it, you can really put the miles in.’
He was talking about single speed fixed wheel bikes with no freewheel, now back in fashion as ‘fixies’, and popular for winter or commuter riding. There are fewer moving parts to get ground up by road grit and you’re supposed to have greater control on slippery surfaces. Before this conversation, I’d thought fixed wheels were only for characters who came puffing past pedalling furiously with eyes straight ahead and feet a blur. Wondering what the fascination was, I ended up booking my ten speed Viking racer in for a fixie makeover, changing the derailleur block for a single speed fixed sprocket, which gave a higher ratio than the super-low touring gears to which I was accustomed.
‘Go carefully till you get used to it!’ called Albert the mechanic as I left Tom’s cycle shop in Lancaster. Not having ridden fixed wheel before, I had a few ‘Whoa!’ moments through trying to freewheel and being hoisted up off the saddle, but things improved within the first mile. I was already using racing shoe plates in toe clips to provide effective ‘ankling’ - using each foot in turn to pull its pedal up while the other pushed down, increasing the power. At seventeen, I cycled everywhere and was accordingly fit. The bike was pushing me along and I felt empowered – invincible, even, so full of the new experience I decided to ride home the country way, which should have been about five or six miles.
Yet at Caton, some three miles into the journey, inspired by a fine afternoon and a finer lightweight, I rode past my turn for home and kept going. The higher western bank Lune Valley road beckoned and I headed up through Halton and Arkholme toward the riverside beauty spot of Devil’s Bridge at Kirkby Lonsdale fifteen miles or so to the north-east. With only a hum of high pressure tyres and no hiss of chain through gears I flew uphill and pedalled fast downhill, not missing my freewheel at all. When I arrived at the bridge, the afternoon was almost gone, but there was time for a brew.
Leaning on the parapet drinking a mug of tea from the nearby mobile café and watching the sunset, I decided it would soon be time to return. Propping myself against the bridge I pushed feet into toe clips and felt pedals click into shoe plates. All felt fine as I set off on the road along the opposite bank of the river; then, at the first small gradient, my leg muscles lost all their power. Every vestige of energy seemed to drain and I reached for the gears. Of course there weren’t any, but I made it to the top of the rise like a bird - emitting the occasional squawk, that is.
This was the dreaded rubber legs syndrome that I’d heard about, known to cyclists as the Bonk or, in Scotland, the Knock - the result of riding hard without having eaten properly beforehand. I was not out of breath. The problem was simply that muscular strength had evaporated. This side of the river was fairly level, but every small gradient felt like a Lakeland pass. I even groaned aloud at some points, although I managed without having to dismount and push. All went well until Caton, four miles short of home. Darkness had fallen and I was riding in my own little pool of white dynamo light. Deciding to take my feet out of the toe clips to stretch one leg at a time, I reached down to slacken one allegedly quick release strap but of course it was in constant motion and I couldn’t. The same happened with the other and irritation gave way to mild panic. Brain function had apparently gone the same way as leg muscles and I imagined myself having to ride round all night trapped in my rotating toe clips. Passing an open field gate I considered riding into the next one I saw and simply falling over, to release my feet at comparative leisure. However, a roadside telegraph pole appeared invitingly in the dynamo beam and my brain revitalised.
Propped against the pole, I undid both straps and stretched my legs before deciding to take the shorter if hillier route home. At least, there was no-one around to shoot past with the standard greeting of ‘Get off and milk it!’ as I creaked between the hedges on the dark Quernmore Park road. After a few more rides though, fixed wheel became the norm and a freewheel felt strange. More than half a century later I’m converting one of my current bikes to fixed wheel, but this time I won’t rush off on a thirty mile trip first time out.
Dom Perry, friend of Pedal North, gets misty-eyed here
Looking sideways by Robert Thorpe
Most people who know me regard me as a mountain biker. In the main they haven't been around long enough to recall my climbing days, pre-children; or the fact that I started life as a roadie in the Derbyshire Dales and Peaks. Yep, there's a confession - hence my love of all things cycling, especially drop handlebar. What took me mainly to the tracks? Well climbing was a bit too dangerous for a new parent; other people to think of and all that, and cars drove me off the road - pardon the pun... but it's dangerous out there.
However, in recent weeks I've been rediscovering the tarmac side of life on two wheels; and as my neighbour and friend has just got himself a tandem, it'll get even more interesting quite soon.
Being back on the road a lot more has allowed me to see things differently. Years ago I'd set off from my Gran's place - the bike was kept in her barn - and ride at a reasonably steady pace all day whilst enjoying the scenery, with very little fear of traffic around me, and with no great desire to break the speed limit - except when going down hill! The villages and fields that I travelled through provided enough for me. And I'm pleased to say that it's still the same. But I do wonder just a little how many of the phlethora of cyclists on the roads today take time to look at the scenery that they're traversing, rather than just 'head down and sweat your balls off!' Yes, cycling is all about a good fitness workout, but life itself has to mean more than that. It's also about the places we visit on route.
My family and I have recently returned from the Picos Mountains in Spain, where we were lucky enough to see the oldest cave paintings known to man. Yes, we did pay, and anyone can go - but it's still a privilege to see these things; and in that context that's what cycling is all about. It gives us all the opportunity to see fantastic things and to visit great places as we pedal along.
So next time that you're out on the road, just take a moment to look sideways and enjoy the views as well as the ride.
PS: The roads are also safer in Spain...and have less pot holes!
Two years of getting lost...so you don’t have to.
I don’t mind being lost. As long as I know roughly which county I’m in. And which side of the watershed is home. If I’m somewhere close to where I set out to be, I’m happy. To paraphrase Ian Brown in a very different context, it’s not where you are; it’s where you’re at.
Long ago, when I was just a walker, a mountain biker friend admitted he repeated the same handful of routes ad infinitum. He said it was all about momentum and hands being already occupied with brakes and shifters and not wanting to stop and fiddle with maps. It struck me then (strikes me now) as a shame that anyone would deny themselves a regular change of scene. Just think of the vast variety of routes across the North. Think how different Glaisdale is from Grizedale, or Otterburn from Slaidburn.
About two years ago, I had an afternoon to myself to go for a spin around the drove roads of Settle and Kettlewell. While rattling down into Wharfedale, I saw a couple of guys with bikes on the ground. Well, you’re a rider - you know your Chivalric Code too, don’t you? I hauled on the anchors to see if they needed any help. (When I think of all the times folk have stopped for me and conjured spare inners, jelly babies and Helpful Mechanical Knowledge from their Camelbaks, I feel I still have a deal of debt to repay).
It turned out they were fine - just admiring the view and taking photos of each other.
“Well”, says I, “so I haven’t warmed up these disks for no good reason, why don’t I take one with both of you in?”
It transpired they wanted a shot for a website of Dales rides. “That sounds interesting,” says I.
So I got roped in. And the most frequently lost man in England (this is still England, right?) ironically acquired the title of Routes Editor for pedalnorth.com, with a brief to ride, ride, ride across the Lakes, Dales and Bowland Forest as often and as widespread as humanly possible.
Unsurprisingly, compiling routes has completely transformed my cycling experience. In two years, I’ve never repeated a route. I’m discovering new lands like a Victorian explorer, scanning maps for bridleways that stray past those thrilling words, “Here Be Dragons.”
When you get out there, of course, there are many wrong turns before the route runs smoothly enough to put on the site. But that’s OK, it just means a few spells retracing tyre-tracks. I now know exactly what it means when a route description says “Easy to Miss” - it means that the writer’s first attempt involved an hour flailing around a knee-deep bog being chased by bulls, scratched by thorns and zapped by electric fences. If you read the pedalnorth route descriptions carefully, you will discern many such elided epics.
So, enjoy the routes. But spare a thought for the bedraggled, blooded and dirt-bedaubed figure whose tyre-ruts you’re following.
Like most of us, David Stead has that special collection of rides that we reserve for certain times. For me, my favourite pure XC ride is Wharfedale; for the road - the Hambleton Hills; and for an evening jaunt, it has to be the Deer Park at Studley Royal.
In this article, David writes eloquently about those rides that we often neglect, but never forget...read on
Ten Thousand Saw I At A Glance
Or so Wordsworth claimed. You don’t think he actually went round those daffs with a clipboard and counted them, do you? Well, here at Pedal North HQ, we do count stuff. We count you.
When posting material on t’internet, one of the more nagging concerns is whether anyone, other than your mum, will ever read it. Your lovingly crafted words could be sitting on a hard disk somewhere, its platter dusty and its bearings seized. Trust me on this – I also run a poetry site.
But the Pedal North servers have not had that problem – in fact we might need to install extra cooling to dry their fevered browsers. Since we launched in Spring 2012, we’ve been monitoring usage in our preferred metric of page-views per month. Some sites keep a simple headcount of visitors but we like to see folk having a leisurely browse round the site, not just flying in and out after just one page. Over our first summer, we established a steady 2,000 page-views a month. We were pretty chuffed with that (my poetry site would kill for that) but the turning of the year brought an upshift of gear.
As the cold bit (and carried on biting), we were getting more winter visitors than a bird sanctuary. Rob and I started exchanging nervous texts (“Seen the site? Might make 5,000 this month.”) Then May exceeded all expectations, surging through the 10,000 mark with a day in hand. To celebrate, Rob and I went for an evening tazz round Gisburn Forest, followed by a brief sup in the Plough at Wigglesworth.
So huge thanks to all you folk who’ve kept our servers busy – we really appreciate it. The extra cooling is on order but it’ll be a low-budget affair – the side-draft from a turbo-trainer…
The kind of growth George Osborne can only dream of…or the altitude profile of the ultimate mountain stage?
I've just been out on the bike, high in every sense, a quart of endorphins in my turgid bloodstream, lungs stretched like the skins of ripe berries, tipping a glance of thanks to an empty sky that I still have health enough to drag this body to the higher levels and comfortable with the contradictions that gratitude implies.
Then swishing along a switchback ridge, rattling over rocks, the North stretched out for my inspection, surpassing approval. Up, up, through the larklands, scattering pipits, far from the Twitterings of the Porlock People busying below.
The descent fast and grassy, clinging on, a reckless adrenal rush, knowing if we can only zoom towards our private doom with cheesy grins on our windswept cheeks, we'll have attained that holy state of grace where pointlessness does not depress, where meaning has no external compulsion and the silence is a beckoning bower of peace.
Down lanes stitched with ice-white wort, bluebells nodding in spurge-scattered verges, hedges bearing their harvest of finches, lambs teetering after sag-bellied ewes, all the riotous life-gasm of spring. This, I think, is what Being Alive feels like.