Cycling is a superb tonic. It allows you to pedal away from stress: the rhythm of the cranks and the rumble of tyre on tarmac provide a simple mantra for the mind while the sense of freedom can lighten the heaviest heart.
Motorised traffic can easily nullify this euphoria, though. As a road cyclist, cars, lorries and motorcycles are common currency but I do try to avoid them as much as possible and that’s where the back roads help me maintain that delicious cycling equilibrium.
In the south Pennines, there are back roads aplenty and they have one chief advantage over the minor roads I pedalled when living in Chelmsford, Essex.
Here, the country lanes were beautiful: fringed with lush hedgerows, they wound their way through fields to the sea. But they always seemed a shortcut for motorists. You could enjoy 20 mins of peace (if lucky) before some ghastly ‘hot hatch’ would approach, bass lines throbbing, a trombone of an exhaust farting a gruff engine note while the car’s rear end, supported by ‘sport shocks’, ground the tarmac.
I realise I am reinforcing a stereotype here and I apologise. It would be wrong for me to tar Essex folk with that brush as it would be to claim my neighbours only wear flat caps and live on rag pudding and black peas.
The truth is the ‘Max Power’ generation extends across the land but, if chosen wisely, the lanes of Saddleworth and beyond only provide a tenuous link to farms and hamlets clinging to hillsides. They go nowhere else and provide challenging passage for those in cars. If anything, they are better suited to Land Rovers than Citroen Saxos.
But back roads are not without their challenges for cyclists. Inclines can be impossibly steep, even with ‘granny gear’ engaged, and the effort will cause disconcerting wheelies if you’re sitting in the saddle.
Cyclists should be wary of horse riders, too. Narrow lanes do not lend themselves to swift overtaking of our equine friends and riders will appreciate your careful approach.
It pays to take note of the degenerating road, too. A quiet lane can have a nasty habit of losing its tarmac seal and subsurface cobbles can make mincemeat of that lightweight racing wheelset. My Audax handles these changing conditions with relative ease, but there will be inevitably be times when potholes and/or mud will cause me to dismount. Discretion is the better part of valour.
Finally, remember to take a map, as it’s easy to lose your way and end up at a five-bar gate. Signposts are a luxury here and it is heartening to know that the sharp incline you are sweating up actually leads somewhere.