The Way of the Roses – good times, good gravy

There’s something very agreeable about a coast-to-coast route. Crossing a country and seeing two seas lends the trip a grander geographical context, even if the route itself is relatively short, the country crossed relatively small.

The Way of the Roses is by no means long – just 170 miles – but it ably meets these criteria. While it may not boast the wilds of Northumberland or Hadrian’s Wall found in more northerly crossings, it more than compensates in other ways. The route is superb and a credit to the engineers who sewed it together. There’s probably one bland section, the remainder on quite, traffic-free lanes and tracks. Maybe it was because we made our crossing early in the season, but you can achieve that wonderful sense of detachment riding this route – that the world is churning along somewhere but you’re managing to avoid it.

The route starts in either Morecambe or Bridlington. Starting in the west may give you the benefit of prevailing winds while an eastern push off saves the climbing for later in the itinerary. And be under no illusion about the climbing in the Yorkshire Dales and Forest of Bowland, those hills kick.

I rode the route with my good friend Tim from Life in the Cycle Lane. Both of us hadn’t toured in a while and felt the route was a solid objective; definitely a challenge, but one that would satisfy our somewhat voracious appetite for cake, Yorkshire Tapas (read: high-quality meat products) and ale.

We covered it in four days and rode 181 miles in total. This is a leisurely pace but we were touring not racing. Our progress was punctuated by photo stops and we spent a great deal of time riding side-by-side laughing our asses off about an encounter en route or an anecdote from one of our previous trips. It’s the way to roll on a journey like this… leave your Strava fixation at home.

Accommodation is straightforward en route. We lugged camping gear but only had cause to use it one night. That said, we were travelling off peak. The Way of the Roses is a justifiably popular and you’ll need to book ahead in the summer months.

Navigation is no chore either, particularly if armed with the excellent Sustrans route map. Still, we did manage one navigational boo-boo so keep your wits about you when looking for the waymarking signs. This part of the country is justifiably criss-crossed with numerous cycle routes and it’s possible to start following, say, the Yorkshire Wolds Cycleway, when you shouldn’t be.

A few tales from the road coming shortly…

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Velo Orange Porteur and Constructeur Racks

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When I built my Bob Jackson World Tour last year, I had a plan to fit racks at some point. I’d considered a number of options, but given the overall aesthetic of this bike – think French Randonneur – replica parts seemed the order of the day rather than fitting more purposeful Tubus or Surly load luggers.

Although it may never have been my intention to carry camping kit on this bike, my hand has been forced by next week’s Way of the Roses ride. Frames to replace my trusty but just–too–darn-small Surly Troll are either in transit or can’t be collected until May. I’d be pedalling coast to coast on the Bob Jackson then, and I needed racks to suit.

The hunt for the right replica parts normally means Velo Orange and I’ve been chewing over options from their range for a while. I eventually settled on a minimalist but rather elegant Constructuer rear rack and the more substantial Porteur front, which provides a sizeable platform for a large bag that I hope to acquire some time in the future. (There are some rather nice options from this cottage manufacturer in the Netherlands.)

The two VO racks arrived last month and I was immediately struck but how burly the Porteur is. By contrast, the Constructeur feels somewhat under gunned with its svelte lines and thin tubing. Both are made from stainless steel and rather nicely finished, though. Reading the VO specs they should be adequate to carry my slimmed down camping kit with control.

Fitting the racks was a bit of a faff… but isn’t it always? Both allow for the option to drill mudguards (if you have ‘proper’ alloy or steel mudguards that is) and it’s worth measuring, praying and drilling for the additional stability this provides – both for the racks and the guards.

You’ll note from the pictures I’m running the Constructeur rather tight to the mudguard while the Porteur is a little higher (and there’s a stack of M5 washers helping to keep the ‘guard put). In both cases I have to cut the tabs which attach to the drop out mounts – make sure you have a quality hacksaw for this job as the metal is reassuringly hardy.

This is a huge frame and having the Porteur rack a little higher gives me the perfect distance between its platform and handlebars for the aforementioned large ‘porteur’ bag. I’ve angled the rack back slightly too so the bag will be inline with the angle of the head tube. A personal quirk that may or may not work when the bag is ultimately in place.

Initial shake down rides now done and I am a big fan of the Porteur. I’ve carried reasonable weight up front with little discernable effect on the handling. If anything, the rack has made the Bob more settled if that’s possible for this most predictable of bikes. The rack will carry a drybag next week containing tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping mat along with lighter clothes and food.

The Constructuer, while looking dandy, is not so practical. It will just ferry a pair of small Caradice Super C panniers with some adjustment of the hooks. The platform will take a small drybag of some description too.

I’m hoping this three-bag solution will take care of my gear. I have the option to add an Alpkit framebag to spread the load a wee bit further. The Porteur will take front panniers too if needed but I’m trying to avoid the additional weight.

I’ll report back after next week’s trundle.

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Mad dogs and Englishmen (and women)…

… go out for a day-long pedal into the Peak District without checking the forecast.

Sometimes the plan is just set. I was always going out for a ride on Easter Day this year. I wanted a long, but sedate, day on the bike, more for endurance ahead of the Eroica and my coast-to-coast next week. The miles also would pay dividends when I sheepishly get off the plane in Nice in a few weeks helping me believe I can pedal over some real mountains.

The day started well. I puffed over Chunal Moor to Chapel-en-le-Frith and picked up Eroica routes past and headed to Whaley Bridge and that sublime pull out of the Goyt Valley to Derbyshire Bridge – for my money some of the best climbing inches in this lovely district. If you haven’t bowed your head to this route on a bike yet, you simply must.

A very chilly drop down from the Axe Edge Moor led through through Earl Sterrdale before picking up NCN Route 68 and the High Peak Trail. Rail-bed paths followed – the Peak’s very own Strade Bianche.

At Hartington I diverted briefly before picking up the lovely Cardlemere Lane (NCN Route 548) for more excellent traffic-free gravel before picking up the High Peak Trail/Midshires Way again through Gotham (no, not that one) and Friden – scene of this year’s Eroica Festival.

Back at Parsley Hay, I hit the road through Youlgreave and ultimately Bakewell where the Monsal Trail pointed me in the direction of home.

Here, the day delivered the sting in its tail. Rain swept in and I reluctantly left the relative protection of the trail for lonely windswept roads through Wormhill, Peak Dale, and Dove Holes before picking up Route 68 again near Chinley for some knee-grinding climbs back to Glossop. I met a group of women road cyclists also enjoying the conditions. We could only exchange feeble smiles.

I pressed on and the rain intensified. The air had the tang of smoke from woodburners and I gazed – somewhat pathetically – through the windows of cosy cottages  as folk sat down to a family dinner.

Home, at last, and my sodden cycling clothes sagged… my shoes were frigid foot spas. Never has a shower and pizza been quite so sweet.

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Early morning ECR

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I’m not really a fan of loading the bike in the car and driving somewhere to ride… seems kinda’ counter intuitive for this rider.

However, I succumbed at the weekend. Recovering from manflu, I didn’t think it would be the best idea to pedal over the Snake Pass (and back) from Glossop to the Upper Derwent Valley where I fancied a pootle on the Monster Truck (read: Surly ECR). So I loaded the bike in the back of the van and let internal combustion take the strain.

I left early and found sublime conditions in the Upper Derwent. It may have been chilly, but I enjoyed the best of this lovely valley and made good my escape before the crowds descended.

It’s all gone quiet over there…

Err, yes. It has hasn’t it? I blame real life… its twists and turns and how it had an uncanny knack of kicking me squarely between the legs in 2016 for one reason or another.

So, a New Year, a new start and new plans.

Usually at this time of year, when the rain is lashing against my office window, I’m daydreaming about trips on foot and bike. I have a little notebook full of ‘adventure ideas’. It was a gift from someone very dear to me who, tragically, is sadly no longer with us… last year’s most horrible event.

She was well aware of my ability to stare out of the window and escape and, always a fan of a list, bought me the book in the hope that some of these mental voyages would become a reality.

I was leafing though its pages just after the New Year celebrations and found some notes on two trips in the Alps – a place I’d never really visited save for a rather gloomy school skiing trip in my teens.

The first adventure – on the bike – detailed a trip from the South of France to the north taking on the Route des Grande Alpes in reverse before plotting a route through the Jura and, even, taking on the notorious pavé. A personal Tour de France if you will but at a more sedate pace on a touring bike. The trip was all about good food, good wine, incredibly scenery and very, very testing climbs.

The second – on foot – revisited the Alps for a tour of Mont Blanc, the classic multi-day hike linking mountain refuges. This, again, involved some serious ascent but promised a feast of Alpine scenery.

On a dingy train home last week I chewed over these options again and couldn’t really decide between them… so I settled on both. I’ve selected June for the bike trip and September for the walking tour. In doing so, I aim to avoid the busier periods and, potentially, enjoy more stable weather.

Training has now started in earnest… ish.

Riding a bike at this time of year requires a special kind of masochism. Hail is my favourite. Still, the hard yards now will hopefully soften the blow of, say, the Col de l’Iseran and Bonette.

Hopefully.

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Peak District wildcamping bikepack

An opportunity arose at the weekend to get out. I say ‘opportunity’, but this bikepack in the Dark Peak was complicated by my current state of moving house. Bike bags had been packed, sleeping bags and bivvy bags were neatly stowed in marked cardboard boxes, camp stove fuel and water bladder were stored God-knows-where.

An hour or so crashing around in the workshop later and I cobbled together some kit for the trip. With the weather sultry in Glossopdale, I opted for a tarp – a first-time outing for this simple shelter.

I strapped the bags to my ECR and pushed off at 5pm. While the heat of day hung heavily in the air, the sun had started its descent to the horizon and the evening light gave the Derbyshire hills definition, perspective and texture. The trails were agreeably quiet too.

I picked up the Pennine Bridleway and headed due-Edale over Lantern Pike towards Mount Famine. Feeling a little reckless, I turned the handlebars towards Jacobs Ladder and ended up pushing most of the way – underlining the heft of my bike and my hopeless skills as mountain biker.

Edale was full of weekenders enjoying the evening. The village’s Spoonfest had swelled numbers, but campsites would have always been full in this balmy weather. As a consequence, some enterprising folk had negotiated their own impromptu campgrounds on farmers’ fields further down the valley. The atmosphere was heavy with the fug of barbecues.

I didn’t delay.

I was headed for the banks of Ladybower north of Bamford where I hoped to find a helpful spot to rig the tarp and watch night fall. Pushing along the reservoir track I found a nice ‘beach’ and the branches of low trees provided perfect anchorage for my tarp ridgeline. Despite being my first outing, the tarp was ready in a couple of minutes. I rolled out my bivvy and sorted the bed for the night. A brew soon followed and I watched the light fade and the traffic illuminating the Snake Road – a mere whisper on the far bank.

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Hear the Lion, erm, ding

Regular readers will know I’m partial to the odd ride along a mixed-use trail. Normally, these mini-adventures are undertaken with that fine fellow Tim from Life in the Cycle Lane and, more often than not, are an excuse to indulge his baffling affinity for the Trans Pennine Trail.

Riding these routes has its problems though – largely confined to other trail users. We always try to be considerate on these Troll-fests, normally favouring a polite ‘on your right’ when overtaking walkers. Horse riders are given a respectful wide berth too.

However, increasingly I hear grumbles from walkers as I trundle by along the lines of ‘Where’s your bell?!’ Both Tim and I feel the bell can be more offensive than a verbal warning but, in the interests of ‘scientific’ enquiry, I decided to equip the Bob Jackson with one ahead of this year’s Eroica.

As this was the Bob I was looking for something suitably retro. I’d found a fine example for a tenner amid Eroica’s tempting stalls but then came across Lion Bellworks. Their rather splendid brass bell was another fiver. Maybe it was the quantity of gin I’d consumed or the fact that Lion bells are assembled in Manchester that prompted me to cough up the extra dough. Actually no, the Lion emitted such a becoming ‘ding’ I was immediately hooked.

Lion bellworks brass cycle bellAware of the importance of the sound, Lion have posted an audio file on their web homepage. It’s easily described though. Flicking the elegant hammer against the brass body produces a sound that would summon Andrew Sachs as Manuel in Fawlty Towers.

The Lion is beautifully made and fits securely to a quill stem, a strip of cork on the bracket ensuring the bell remains put and is free from rattles in use.

So, how did folks on the Peak District trails respond? Mostly with a smile, exactly the response I was after. It was a bit much for one daydreaming pedestrian though who spun round with a start and blurted ‘Jesus f@cking Christ!!!’

Hmmm, can’t please everyone I guess.

This is a lovely product and is highly recommended. The only downside is the bell will tarnish so requires regular polishing.