Posted on

Britain’s Best Road Bike Ride? – The Lake District Loop!

Cycling Plus readers have voted this 40 mile South Lakeland cycle loop the best ride in Britain, and its on my door step!

A ride devised by James Hodgson, from Broughton in Furness, passes within a few yards of our base here at Lowick, and many of the routes miles are my regular rides. What a lucky chap I am!
James has won a brand new Boardman bike for his efforts which he is going to auction to raise funds for the local St. Mary’s Hospice in Ulverston. So if you log into the Hospice’s web site you may be able to bid on line?

But what of this testing Lakeland cycling loop? It takes in everything that is so very unique about  Lake District cycling. A mountain pass aptly named Wrynose Pass with its steep ascent and tricky descent, quiet undulating lanes along the shores of Coniston Water, together with the very varied scenery of the South Cumbrian villages and hamlets.

I guess I’m very biased, but my bike hire and tour business is based in this Lake District National Park, the perfect place for road cycling. And my top-of-the-range titanium road bikes for hire are perfectly geared for such an epic ride.

If you fancy trying the ride I can lead you or you can ride yourself, you can down load it at bit.ly/11syyJG or view a video of all the finalist in the Cycling Plus Best of British Road rides at bit.ly/1gVp5XJ.

Have fun looking, it’s a lot of work riding it, with 5593 ft of climbing (1700m).

Meanwhile back at the ranch, with the mild November air, I have been out cycling more than ever and am probably as fit as I have ever been at this time of year. Which is good as Margaret and I are off to Tenerife for a weeks cycling before Christmas.

Happy Christmas and a very Happy Cycling New Year.

Posted on

Autumnal Cycling In The Lake District

Where has the summer gone? Now the trees are turning and the bracken is again its rusty winter brown, it’s still great fun to cycle the Lakeland lanes.

The Lake District is internationally famous for its fantastic range of Autumnal colours. This ‘back end’ has been particularly warm so even as we approach Halloween the fields are still green and the leaves still on the trees. This has been great cycling weather with amazing views over the lakes, fells, and mountains as the seasons change.

On a recent ride, with the rustling of the dry leaves on the road, the first scents of Autumn wafted by. No frosts as yet to really ripen the trees leaves, and still warm enough to ride in summer mitts.

The cottages at Coal Yeat Farm are on offer at the moment with weekend and mid week breaks available – www.coalyeatcottages.co.uk – between now and Christmas is a great time to get away and cycle on the quiet Lakeland roads or fells. Tyan, a cottage for two, has a lovely open log cottage range fire to toast your toes on after a bracing ride.

No need to hire my bikes or take my routes, but you can if you wish, bring your own, explore yourself, have fun and relax.

Posted on

Cycling The Scented Lakeland Lanes

What a pleasure to the senses cycling this summer is, here in the Lake District. The late cool spring has delayed all the flowers and as a consequence the roadside verges have been a mass of blooms. The heady scent of Bluebells, bright blue and the sweet wafts from the Hawthorn hedges massed heavy with their snow-topped blooms.

Cow Parsley stand firm by the roadside waving their white heads as we cycle by. The sweet smells of the freshly cut grass slowly drying in the long sunny days, to make winter hay for the livestock.

So much to smell, so much to see as the cuckoo’s call heralds a real English summer. Now the yellow fields are scattered over the walled patchwork, as a token to the farmers toils. Gone are the tall verdant grasses, chopped for silage or bailed for hay, growing again for another day.

Meanwhile, my wife Margaret has taken me away for cycling in a new area, for a change. She was the guide as we cycled round the Trough of Bowland and The Fyld. Totally different countryside and yet so close to the Lake District. It was strange being guided, rather than being the guide. But it just goes to prove that local knowledge cannot be replaced by maps and ride plans!

I got some very bad news this month in that my Canadian cycling buddy Steve Edgar had died, suddenly. We have travelled many miles together both on skis and in the saddle and shared many, many unforgettable moments in Canada, England and Europe.

Posted on

Sir Bradley Wiggins – ‘itis’

So the Giro in Italy, plagued by bad weather, is almost over and our favorite had to retire. How Bradley Wiggins managed to pedal for so long with such an acute chest/nasal infection is very creditable. Here in Cumbria I have taken two weeks off my bike, as I too have been struck down by a similar “bug”.
Where does this Bradleyitis come from?
Well mine came from my grandchildren via my daughter, fresh from the local school. I guess Bradley could have caught it from his children as according to the press they were in Mallorca when he was training for the Giro. Such are the pitfalls of cycle racing and to win so many planets have to line up in your favour. [ I cured mine with whiskey and Stones ginger wine! But Bradley had to resort to antibiotocs to stay legal]
Here in the Lake District everything is now a verdant green as May ends and June is upon us. This year spring is very late, and talking to the local farmers, we all reckon we are a month to five weeks behind a normal spring. What we all need is some dry warm sunshine!
Road biking is proving very popular in the Lake District with the country lanes illuminated by scattered fluorescent cyclists. Now the leaves are on the trees the dark cast shadows in the leafy lanes make brightly coloured cyclists the safe ones. How difficult it is to see a cyclist dressed in black in the shadows.
Ride safely – be seen.
Posted on

Fred Whitton Challenge 2013

While about 1000 merry men and women took up the Fred Whitton Challenge in early May I was sensibly showing my pigs at Newark and Notts County Show (Oxford Sandy and Black news). This cold blustery weekend was not the ideal conditions to take on the Lakeland passes,but undeterred my son in law Graham took up the challenge.
After a winters training and a spring training week with me in Mallorca he finished in a very credible time of just over 7 hours for the 112 miles .I reintroduced Graham to road cycling 4 years ago and enjoyed pulling him around the beautiful roads of the Lake District.But being almost 30 years younger once he gained his road legs and lost his beer belly, he started to drag me along! Now a converted ardent ‘roady ‘ and a member of the Lakes Cycling Club he regularly time trials every Wednesday evening during the summer.
Another cyclist taking up this Fred Whitton Challenge stayed in our holiday cottages at Coal Yeat Farm, where Graham lives in the farmhouse with his family. Graham was able to pair up with this guy and drive to the start in Coniston only 9 miles away. Apparently with so many cyclists taking part in the Fred Whitton Challenge the road from the north and west into Coniston becomes very congested, while the road from the South from Coal Yeat Farm remains traffic free. Therefore the holiday cottages at Coal Yeat Farm, with luxury accommodation and bike washing and storage facilities offer the ideal solution to pre and post race relaxation. www.coalyeatcottages.co.uk
Although the one day spring Fred Whitton Challenge takes place in May it is possible to undertake this challenge at any time of year either as a whole or as individual passes over several days,and can be included in any of our cycling holiday programmes.
Graham writes:

Being a local to the Lakes, the legendary ‘Fred Whitton’ had always been an event I’d been interested in entering. Its mythical status of one of the hardest sportives in the country, coupled with local punishing climbs somehow appealed to my masochistic side!

Over a few glasses of wine during the Christmas holiday I managed to persuade myself and my long term cycling buddy Scott that doing it this year was a good idea. I don’t think there is a ‘right time’ to enter such an event. You can always find an excuse.

One of the issues with the Fred is the time of year it is on. It requires you to regularly train throughout the winter/spring months. Luckily this winter wasn’t particularly wet, but it was very cold. The rain held off until spring, when the last three long training rides were in atrocious conditions. This turned out to be a blessing (I think?!) as the second half of the event was in very windy and wet conditions.

I was happy with level of training done to get us round in 8 hours or less. It is always hard to judge whether you have done the right mix of distance and hills. Strava, the online app, did a good job of keeping me motivated, especially on a local climb where my time kept dropping each time I attempted it. It became a good marker for my fitness.

The weather forecast for the day was for calm, mild conditions until 12.00pm and then heavy rain and westerly winds for the rest of the afternoon. For this reason we set off at 6.07am, pretty much in the first bunch of riders. It was a great feeling to get going and the legs felt good on the first climb. Unlike my gears. Clunk, grind. My chain jumped off the top of the cassette and managed to bend my hanger into the wheel. Thankfully it was still ride able, although I was without my granny ring and in certain cogs it was jumping about like a man on hot coals!

The first part of the ride is beautiful and after getting over Kirkstone we got in with two other riders to share the work to Matterdale Rise. The Fred Whitton isn’t just about the 5 big passes, there are plenty of other hills to test the legs and Matterdale is one of them. This took us to the A66 where we grouped together with nearly 30 riders to cruise into Keswick. It gave you a feeling of what it must be like to ride in a pro peloton, being ushered through closed roundabouts  and being cheered on by all the supporters round the course!

The flat roads quickly turned into the first steep ‘beast’. Honistor.  It’s a grind to get out of the trees, the section over the bridge is insane, but the rewards at the top are worth it. A steep, tricky descent on the other side led us to the first feed stop at Buttermere, 52 miles in. Full of goodies we tucked in and I tried to get the bike fixed to no avail. She would have to get me round to the end. Newland awaited straight after the feed stop and we blasted over that still feeling good.

It was a long, quick descent down to the first ‘dib’ stop at Braithwaite and we got there in 3.43. On target for under 8 hrs. After summiting Whinlatter the route descends into West Cumbria. This is the toughest part in terms of keeping mentally strong. The road rises and falls (but generally rises) until the summit of Cold Fell at 81 miles. It was here the rain and wind started and thankfully we had ‘finish line’ fever and all those wet training miles helped keep the cold out.

After the second feed/dib stop we rode on in trepidation of the final two ‘beasts’. I’ve ridden both Hardknott and Wrynose a few times and knew what horrors awaited us. True enough they were horrible and I felt no shame in joining many others in walking up the steep sections. Looking back at my best time up Hardknott, it was only 3 mins slower walking than riding.

After Wrynose we knew we were hopeful we could make it under 8hrs and put enough into the final few miles to get there in time. The worst hill of the day comes at the road out of Elterwater. With all those miles in your legs it feels as hard as any 30% gradient. We got over that and then sprinted down the final miles to dib in with a time of 7.43. Well under out target! Shows we were tired as we couldn’t even read out watches properly!

The HQ ran like clockwork and you will never eat a better pie than the one served to you by the volunteers at the end.

All in all it is an amazing event. Considering it is run by volunteer’s and headed up by a friend  of the late Fred Whitton, Mr Paul Loftus , you cannot fault the professional nature of every aspect.  I will certainly be back.

Things I leant about the Fred Whitton

1)      Give it some respect and train regularly.

2)      Share some of the work with other riders on the flatter sections

3)      Be careful on the descents. They are as hard as the ups.

4)      Wear enough clothes for the day. Too many people didn’t and ended up shivering , some in hospital with hypothermia at the end. I had an under garment on, cycling shirt, rain gillet, arm warmers and a rain jacket. Knee warmers on the legs and booties.

5)      Ride in SPDs in case you have to walk.

6)       Take enough fuel but don’t go stupid. I carried far too much considering an energy bar and gel is generally enough for a 50 mile ride.

7)      Say thanks to all the marshals and volunteers

8)      Smile all the way round and remember why you are doing it!

9)      Expect it to rain.

Stay at Coal Yeat Holiday Cottages for a few days training prior to the event.

Posted on

Cycling with Bradley Wiggins?

What other sport can you think of when you can unwittingly share the road with  a multi Olympic gold medal winner and tour De France winner?

Well, while slowly climbing up to the Luc Monastery on Mallorca last week I waved on a car only to be amazed at the blur of Bradley flying by followed by the Team Sky car!

I was not really cycling with Bradley Wiggins but I was sharing the same road as were the rest of my biking buddies. He was off on a mission of hill repeats in preparation for his attack on the Giro De Italia, while we were getting in our 40 odd miles of warm weather biking.

We had a great week in Mallorca with perfect cycling conditions, I have never seen so many cyclists from so many different countries on the road.

We managed to get in 250-300 miles in the 5 days on Mallorca’s near perfect roads, with great climbs, awesome descents, and long open straights on the plains.

On returning back to the Lake District the weather had totally changed, gone the freezing East wind replaced by a muggy southerly air stream straight from Africa. Spring at last! It took me 4 hours to unpack, clean and rebuild two bikes, so it was well in the afternoon before i could go for a quick 20 miles spin around Coniston Water. I left it too late as I was caught in the first rain for 6 weeks and arrived home rather wet. Welcome home, to cycling in the Lake District.

Posted on

Spring Sunshine Cycling In The Lake District

BRRRR… IT MAY BE FROSTY AT NIGHT but the days are sunny and the roads dry.
This Easter in the Lake District here on the West of England we are sheltered from the strong cold East winds. This is giving us perfect cycling conditions with stunning views of the snow covered Lakeland  mountains to the North.
Last weekend we had a winter snow storm and even today , Easter Sunday, there are drifts in the strangest of places. Mountain bikers are coming round corners to be confronted by drift several feet deep and with total lunacy burying themselves and their bikes in the drifts.Such off road madness!
All the roads are now clear of the drifted snows although the East side of Coniston Water all fields and fells are still white with snow.
There are lots of road cyclists up here in the lake District this weekend intermingled with a few marathon runners.Its good to see so many women  on bikes.Is the plan to get a million women on bikes this year achievable? I hope so.
Next Sunday I’m off with a group to Mallorca for a 5 day cycling trip and we are all hoping for some warmer rides. I hate being so wrapped up to combat the cold,three tops and a jacket kept me warm yesterday as in the shade the temperature is still hovering around zero.

Still its great to be out on the bike seeing the daffodils in full flower and the newly born lambs bleating for their mums.Spring is just around the corner.

Posted on

Frost Bike on the Bike?

It’s been a great dry month (late February/early March) but very cold with severe night frosts. Having Skiied and Snowboarded in the frosty chills of Canada (down to -40C) my nose has previously been frost bitten.

Once exposed to frost bite the skin never heals 100% and is therefore more susceptible to new attacks. I’m convinced that cycling down hill in the shade at speeds in excess of 40mph,the wind chill has dropped the temperature sufficiently to freeze the tip of my nose enough to be frost bitten again.Its dry cracked red and sore.

But when wrapped up in 4 tops, 2 pairs of pants and overshoes the rest of the body was so hot I got a sweat on! Such is life when spring training on the bike in the Lake District.

Posted on

Winter Sun Cycling In The Lake District?

Yes, I have been to find the winter sun in Morocco with Margaret , my wife. I packed our bikes and headed South in February flying with Thompson the bikes only cost £30 return.

We were on an organised tour of the Atlas mountains, with a dozen other cyclists.Up at dawn and to bed after dusk setting off on crisp icy mornings in the mountains and coping with temperatures up to 90F in the coastal foot hills. Up to 60 odd miles some days with a days rest in the middle to see some rocks painted blue by an international conceptual artist[the site ruined by other attempts to emulate painted rocks and hence destroying the sense of place!]

I lost count of the number of mountain passes we climbed, in the three different ranges of Atlas Mountains up to an altitude of 2,200mts, and the descents on the Moroccan roads needed 110 % concentration to avoid the numerous pot holes, donkeys and pedestrians calling out “Bonjour”. Never have I spoken so much French.

Just like the Lake District passes? Not likely most were more alpine in nature,possibly due to the French colonisation in the 20thC. But my faulty Garmin Edge 800 did record a climb of 12% one very hot day. [the Garmin seemed to have a mind of its own accurately recording my slow mountain climbs but as soon as I got up speed on the downhills, the screen went blank!]

Yet, on one  very long descent on a perfect road, I did manage to head the group with a freewheeling speed of 40mph but got caught on the next accent of  another pass. But the beauty of this group was It did not matter if you were leading or at the back as everyone was going at their own pace and having fun.

Morocco can be recommended for winter cycling,we had cloudless blue skies,roads which were fine for road bikes, great company, excellent chicken tagines, friendly smiling locals, and a fantastic back up crew lead by “the boss” Saaid, and the Berber omelette. Oops we must not forget the mint tea served at every rest stop and Im sure laced with some local herbs to help us on our way?

I’m a mint tea convert and have been drinking the brew bought in the markets of Morocco.

Meanwhile Cumbria was covered in another dump of snow,but on our return we were greeted by a beautiful spring, sunny, warm February day,so after rebuilding and cleaning the bikes I went off for a quick spin round Coniston Water back to cycling in the Lake District.