Just a very quick post today. Having slept like a log, I had a pleasant day doing laundry, booking a flights and reading. The calm was shattered by a mid afternoon storm though. These hailstones made a hell of a racket on the tent. The gear just about survived, but I can’t imagine what it would have been like had I have been on the bike…
‘C’est les vacances terribles!’ came the cry from my host at the campsite in Saint Martin Vesubie. She was referring to my bike trip of course and after today’s climb of the Col du Turini, I too was beginning to wonder about the sanity of this venture. In an effort to preserve my mental health, I’d rather focus on the 20 km descent I enjoyed after all that toil. The juxtapostion of agony and ecstacy was marked no doubt, but I still can’t shake the fact that I have summited an ‘easy’ climb today and much sterner tests are to come.
Truth be told, the gradients were not that bad… certainly not beyond this Glossop hill bagger. However, my fears about the heat were brought into sharp focus today. Only when I’d dragged myself beyond the 1200m contour did a comforting breeze materialise. Before that, it was oppressive and I quickly adopted the jersey open, bare-chested routine of racers on these slopes (not a pleasant prospect for others on the road).
The hope is, the more I ride the more mentally and physically prepared I’ll be… and hope is a good thing, I guess.
First night in France and I find myself in an overpriced but rather charming gite in Peille. Now, the keen-eyed among you will note that Peille is not on the Route Des Grand Alpes. Thinking I had a smart short cut – provided by Google Maps – I spent the afternoon following a route to Sospel in the vain hope of cutting out the dogleg to Menton. Very bad mistake.
Google Maps likes to use minor Chemin routes as part of its cycle suggestions and these are, based on my experiences today, undulating single-track roads that no doubt provide an excellent route through these beautiful coastal mountains but not for those lacking local knowledge.
I’d been on the search for quieter routes as the traffic in Nice and on the climb out of the city had been a real chore. Added to this the oppressive, heavy heat and the day has been a challenge.
So, after plugging around and getting nowhere fast, I stopped and threw a bit of money at my predicament. I realised early on that I was tired after my 3.30am alarm call and, consequently, had started to make bad decisions. Tomorrow, I’ll have to retrace my wheel tracks but should make Sospel for lunch and then the real fun and games can begin. Alternatively, I may miss out this section and push directly north to the Col du Turini…. we’ll see.
The heat is set to continue and its something I hadn’t really accounted for in my planning. Consequently, I am going to try to start early, take a long lunch, and ride into the evening. Things will be different in the High Alps but the heat of midday is going to be too much to bear. It’s also going to affect my pace and itinerary… but it’s not a race.
I realise this may sound a little gloomy. Not really, just a bit grumpy at myself at a poor start. Being a little more philosophical, I should be grateful the bike arrived in one piece and is running like a dream. Now its rider needs to!
I’ve just put the finishing touches to a Surly Ogre. The massive bike – an XXL frame – uses parts from my trusty–but-too-small Surly Troll, including a Rohloff transmission.
The Ogre frameset came up by chance – a friend was offloading it – and given my height it was a chance I jumped at. Regular readers will now I am fan of the Rohloff hub for touring both on and off road. I too have been a fan of Surly’s do-everything- reasonably-well bikes. However, the Troll always felt a bit too much of a compromise. Notwithstanding the fact it was too small, I found the handling too busy for it to be a full-on load lugger.
Since dismantling the Troll before moving house last year, I’ve really missed not having a bike of this kind in the fleet. So I was keen to marry the Rohloff to a larger frame and hopefully achieve the true all-roads, all-round touring machine I was looking for.
It may well be early days, but I think I may have just found it. The Ogre is based on Karate Monkey geometry – that venerable ‘niner off-roader of the Surly line up. I wondered whether this would be ‘too mtb’ for touring, but the handling is very different to the Troll. Maybe it’s the set up, but I’m amazed at how predictable this bike is… with none of the Troll fidget. It’s far more to my taste as a touring machine but won’t be as nimble on the gnarly stuff of course.
So, tracking straight and true, the bike really inspires confidence on descents. I’m a bit lily livered when to comes to downhill, but the Ogre has me tucking in and flying. That may be something to do with the riding position. I am able to comfortably ride in the drops on this bike and the position feels quite relaxed and controlled… certainly very far removed from aggressive.
Take a look at the build kit for this bike and you’ll quickly appreciate this a belt-and-braces machine – just how I like my touring bikes to be. However I can also fully understand why some readers would find it over the top and not to their liking at all. It would be possible to build a far leaner and sprightlier version of this bike but the component choice is based on my experiences with the Troll. This bike should be able to bounce along the Kjolur in Iceland fully loaded and crawl (albeit slowly) over Alpine passes. It also needs to be burly enough to resist the determined inattention of baggage handlers (I remain ever-hopeful on this latter point).
Just don’t ask how much it weighs…
The build is as follows:
Frame: Surly Ogre, XXL (24”)
Wheels: Ryde Sputnik Rims, Shimano Deore fornt hub (36 spoke) Rohloff rear (32 spoke)
Tyres: Halo Twin Rail gum wall, 2.2 in
Racks: Tubus front and rear
Transmission: Middleburn cranks, 38T chainring. Rohloff hub, 16T sprocket. Surly tugnut.
Brakes: Avid BB7 V discs, Tektro V brake drop levers
Bars: Genetic Flare, 46cm
Seatpost: Velo Orange layback seatpost
Stem: Salsa Guide Stem 90mm, 115 degrees
Headset: FSA Orbit XL
Extras: Thorn accessory bar for Rohloff shifter.
A couple of readers have got in touch to ask about how I packed the Bob Jackson for the Way of the Roses trip. The decision to take the bike I built for Eroica was a bit last minute as a replacement frame for my trusty Surly Troll was held up for one reason or another. I now have a dedicated, heavyweight Rohloff-based tourer to replace the Troll that will accompany me to the Alps at the end of the month, although I’d be more than happy to take the Bob if needed as it handled touring duties with impressive ease.
Given this bike has to sit within the aesthetic guidelines of the Eroica events, I fitted some rather lovely replica French racks from Velo Orange before leaving for Morecambe Bay. More information can be found on the fitting process here.
They are not all-show-and-no-go either as both racks can handle reasonable weight, particularly the front Porteur rack of which I’ve become a huge fan. This design, or a more modern iteration thereof, is destined to find a home on other bikes in the fleet.
OK, so the packing list. I’ll detail the items taken by bag to give you an idea of weight distribution. Suffice to say, the bike handled beautifully with this light load and I’d be happy pedalling for weeks with this kit as long as I had opportunities to wash and dry gear on the way.
Velo Orange front Porteur Rack, in a 25 litre Exped dry bag
Thermarest Prolite seat (inflated, to prevent items rattling on the rack bed)
Go Lite Shangrila flysheet
Oookworks custom inner for the Go Lite
Mountain Co-operative Merlin Sleeping bag (XL)
Exped inflatable pillow
Thermarest Neo Air full length Xlite mattress
Alpkit Possum frame bag
Pole for Go Lite Shangrila
Thermarest chair kit
Caradice Zipped Roll saddlebag
Abus cable lock
Rapha rain jacket
‘Tools’ – Park multi tool, tyre levers, micro leatherman, lighter.
Two spare tubes
Caradice Universal panniers on the rear Constructeur Rack
Pocket Rocket stove and MSR titanium pot and lid
Alpkit MytiMug and MSR mugmate
1 pair of sandals
Montane wind top
Rapha merino base layer
Rapha winter gloves
North Face down jacket
Rapha classic jersey
Sherpa woollen hat (much loved!)
1 pair of Endura Mesh padded undershorts
Endura waterproof over shorts (worn as a last resort only!)
Alpkit dry bag (attached to the top of the rear rack)
Toiletries – deodorant, shower gel, toothbrush, toothpaste, Sudocrem
Fjalraven Nils trousers
Towel (when not drying on the front rack)
Spare food – when carried
Rapha riding gilet
Rapha merino base layer
Brooks Eroica B1866 jersey
Walz cycling cap
Rapha Randonneur shorts
Giro Terraduro shoes (ready to fall apart)
Endura mesh padded undershorts
Ripon initially challenged my opinions that evening. Our rather desperate digs were compensated for somewhat by our enthusiastic host. Then, we happened upon Moonglu, a well-stocked and friendly local bike shop where the owner gave Tim a replacement rotor our of the parts bin. Result.
Following the now stock post-pedal routine, we made a beeline for the most welcoming pub we’d seen and made merry with some excellent Timothy Taylor beers. Forgive the nerdery, but it was heartening to see the excellent Boltmaker on tap alongside some more unfamiliar brews. Beers lubricated the brain cells and the conversation turned to books, an irregular but enjoyable conversational tangent.
So far so good… but while our restaurant for the evening was nice enough and the food good, the clientele were decidedly odd. ‘Stare-y’ I guess you’d describe it. The same was true of the pub where we’d had our beers earlier. The whole place put me on edge again and I was keen to leave.
After an EU surplus breakfast in a distinctly dingy dining room, we readied our gear and pushed off into sunshine. Today was to be an easy day. We had a tailwind of sorts and the terrain would be flat – a far cry from the hills of the Dales and The Forest of Bowland. We pedalled off side by side chatting about our night. We were both glad to be leaving the town and resolved to find a more appealing place to stay that evening.
Out of hill country and you might think the Way of the Roses becomes quite bland. Au contraire. The roads are exquisite, sewing together small villages and, again, mercifully free of traffic.
We sped through a village and I slammed on the brakes while Tim kept on barrelling along. I retraced my tyre marks and stopped by two attractive women sitting outside the local pub enjoying a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Tim watched me from afar and then, with some consternation, saw me pull out my camera and take a picture of the two sunbathers. Little did he know my companions were mannequins, which obviously accounted for their lack of response to my advances… obviously.
This was very agreeable riding, helped no doubt by us becoming more accustomed to the ritual of the road. After an entertaining – and free – crossing of the Aldwark Toll Bridge we soon we turned into the grounds of Beningbrough Hall and Gardens where coffee and cake were taken in glorious surroundings.
The route then picked up a riverside path to the ever-lovely city of York. We didn’t linger, though, save for another navigation gaffe on our departure. We had designs on reaching Driffield that evening in order to give us just a handful of miles on the last day and, hopefully, an equally easy train ride home. Besides, the forecast was set to turn foul again and we didn’t fancy the drowning.
We’d followed NCN route 65 on the way into York and now route 66 continued our easterly course and we ticked off Dunnington, Stamford Bridge (not that one) and then Pocklington.
Irrational as my dislike of Ripon might have been, I had an equal and opposite response to this small market town. Maybe it was the profusion of Tour de Yorkshire banners and yellow bikes that lined the roads or the very excellent deli where we had a late lunch (more Yorkshire tapas for me I’m afraid, a rather more sensible salad for Tim), but we wanted to stay.
I shook the Internet for a B&B. Everything was busting budget sadly and I struck a conversation with the owner about potential camping options. Well, it would have been a shame to lug the gear all this way and not use it just once. We settled on a campsite to the north of the town centre. We approached a set of farm buildings that had been converted into a shop, café and a fledgling campsite. The facilities for tented folk were basic to say the least, but we warmed to the purposeful looking owner who charged us a bargain rate for the night and offered to lock our bikes in his barn.
Tent’s pitched and after a brisk shower, my liking for our host grew as he rolled out his encyclopaedic knowledge of Pocklington’s, or ‘Pocky’s’, attractions. He even finger-sketched out a map on a piece of scrap plywood lying at our feet. I joked with Tim later that I should brought the map with us.
We heeded our host’s advice on a pub and drank very decent Black Sheep ale before a very more-ish curry. It had been the right decision to stay.
The morning dawned bright but we both knew conditions would not stay that way. Tim claimed that he’d had ‘no sleep’ in his tiny single skin shelter, but that didn’t correlate with the snoring that emanated from his tent and troubled the neighbouring horses all night.
We headed back to ‘Pocky’ for breakfast and the heavens opened. We couldn’t complain, we managed to avoid the worst of the weather on our crossing so if the final day was going to be wet then, despite our misgivings yesterday, we were ready for it.
We hadn’t bargained on the climbing though. The very lovely Yorkshire Wolds presented an obstacle that needed to be crossed at the start of the day and we pushed the pedals along truly stunning quiet roads. We then lost the route and started to head north into a very nasty headwind. After far too long, I realised the mistake and rather than backtracking, we enjoyed (endured for me) a few very fast miles on the A166 to Driffield. I cursed our error under my breath as trucks unceremoniously thundered by. I put my head down and hammered out the miles – such a contrast to the start of the day.
I chomped on an energy bar at Driffield waiting for Tim to catch up. We were about to embark on the final section of our journey and I started to feel glum that it would soon be over. We then pedalled the only bland section of the Way, a shortish bimble along a main road to the delightfully named village of Nafferton. As dull stretches go, it wasn’t that bad at all again underlining just how good the Way of the Roses is.
Burton Agnes soon rolled under our wheels and we were descending to Bridlington. We caught a glimpse of the sea and pedalled through the outskirts of the town. I gestured to Tim to go ahead and finish the route first and a few metres down the ‘prom and we reached the sign. Picutres taken, and the relief evident for Tim, we sprinted to the railway station and just caught a train back to Manchester.
I sat on the train watching Yorkshire rattle by. I felt tremendously satisfied. The Way of the Roses had been challenge enough, but the company had undoubtedly made this trip. Riding bikes is a wonderful thing no doubt, but laughter is a better tonic for the soul.
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.