Time for… some Surly-Burley

Fatherhood, eh? Who’d have thought it would have been quite so all-consuming. I’ve tried to pen the odd post for this site over the last 10 months or so, but the breezy prose has eluded me somehow.

So, here I am, trying again… the breezy prose a distant objective, no doubt.

In truth, this post has been prompted by a rather nice email I received earlier in the week politely wondering whether I’d drowned in a sea of soiled nappies. It reminded me that, while it’s obviously important to focus energies on the new family, one should not lose sight of the other things in life that give pleasure. It also made me reflect on those folk who may find escape reading about other people’s outdoor exploits, but are no longer able to participate themselves for whatever reason. So I’m grateful to that correspondent… I’ll try not to leave it so long next time!

The Surly-Burley ready to roll in the White Peak

OK, so thing shave been busy. While we still haven’t managed a camping trip as a family, we have been on numerous, lower key wanders and spent a couple of weeks north of the Arctic Circle in Norway. What a truly stunning country… look out for some hiking posts soon.

A major milestone for my partner Sophie and I was to get back on the bikes again, though. Our love of cycling brought us together in the first place, and we were keen to include Baby Joe in our pedalling adventures, albeit capped by some common-sense restraint.

In order for this to happen we needed a trailer and I set about the task of finding one with characteristic nerdy relish. Two candidates emerged from the wash – a Thule Chariot Cross and the Burley Solo. If the Thule is the Rolls Royce of the kid-ferrying world, then the Burley is the Land Rover Discovery. Both are very well equipped, but the Thule edges it in terms of engineering and completeness.

Considering the importance of the cargo, I was keen on dishing the dough on the Thule but then, while on a rare solo cycle sortie, I had the good fortune to fall in train with a cycling mum using the trailer on the Tissington Trail.

Cabin doors for take off – final preparations before our first ride in the Derwent Valley

I struck up a conversation and she very helpfully gave me an exhaustive review of the Thule. As expected, this looked a superb bit of kit with great weatherproofing and a very comfortable ride afforded by the reclining seat and suspension. However, my riding companion felt it a little on the cramped side – a particular considerations for Joe given he is clinging onto the very top of the baby growth chart (99.6 centile, I’m told).

As a result, I shifted my attention to the Burley and its considerably lower price tag. The immediate advantage here was the bowed side frame that would give Joe more elbow room. The seat and harness, while not as plush as the Thule, looked comfortable and offered some recline via rudimentary straps. Another plus points was the large space behind the seat for Joe’s gear.

Taking a break for lunch

I decided to pull the trigger and a very large box arrived at the house a few days later. Assembly was simple, and the instructions very clear. Soon, Joe was sitting in his new wheels and I was pulling him up the driveway. The smile on his face was a good start.

Before our first trip proper, I swapped the stock Burley tyres for Schwalbe Marathons – after seven years commuting across London on these ‘boots’ I knew they would be a reliable replacement. I also purchased a wheel set for the front of the trailer, which converts it to a stroller (these are included in the Thule chariot package).

Joe strollin’ in Suffolk

Then there was the subject of the hitch. The Burley Solo comes with a standard Burly steel hitch normally secured by the rear wheel’s quick release on regular framesets. My intention was to tow Joe with the Ogre and Surly-heads will know this frame features a do-everything-reasonably-well rear drop out. I was able to make use of one of the 10mm threaded holes intended for Surly’s proprietary hitch from its trailer range. I sourced an m10x1 bolt along with some spacers and lock washers. This may all sound a bit of a faff, but I run the Orge with a Rohloff and EX box and this causes clearance issues with trailer hitches. This solution may not be the most elegant, but it works really well. The trailer is off centre (the Burley is designed this way, anyway) and in practice it tows very well indeed.

A bit Heath Robinson? Maybe, but it works well.

In fact, on my first test run with a load of books in the trailer rather than Joe, I forgot I was hitched. This is no doubt testament to the low rolling resistance of those 20” wheels, the quality of the trailer design and the heft of the Ogre (officially, the world’s heaviest bike) that meant I just didn’t notice the Burley.

Our first family pedal was to the ever-popular Derwent Valley. I packed the Ogre and Sophie’s Sonder Camino in the back of the van and, after a quick fold and unhitching the quick release wheels, Joe’s trailer fitted in with plenty of room to spare. Folks with more regular family cars will have to get creative, though, no doubt enlisting the services of bike carriers, roof boxes and the like.

That first sortie was a real pleasure. Joe loved the novelty of his new wheels and after 15 mins or so, was happily snoring away. Bliss! It was great to see Sophie back on the bike again so soon after her pregnancy and she loved the sense of independence while I took care of the towing. We completed one slow circuit of the valley, taking our time and stopping for lunch.

It all fits!

This early success opened the floodgates somewhat. Numerous trips on the strade bianche of the White Peak have followed along with a glorious trip to Suffolk where we pedalled the quite lanes around Southwold. Here, the stroller wheels came into their own as we pedalled to pretty villages, parked the bikes and then were able to push Joe. The Burley solution is not as elegant as the Thule in this regard, but it still works well enough. Weather protection, while not as good as the Thule, has also proven to be satisfactory, although an additional rain cover can be purchased as an optional accessory.

Ideally, I would like to load the trailer up, the Ogre and Sophie’s Camino for a bike camping trip. We might just fit this in later in the year, although maybe a little distracted. The trip to Suffolk culminated in a pedal to Dunwich beach in balmy late Autumn sunshine where Sophie proposed, modern girl that she is!

I said ‘yes’.

Tackling the sand in Suffolk
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Vive L’Eroica

The Eroica Britannia may have allowed me to indulge the n+1 theory of bike ownership in the form of my much-loved Bob Jackson, but it’s not all about the bike and I enjoyed my ride immensely last year.

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At the end of the lovely Eroica Britannia

I was always going to take part again but wanted to change the tenor of this year’s trundle, to move away from the rather elitist 100-mile class and pursue a more sedate pace while immersing myself in the spirit of this very British incarnation of the Italian ‘heroic’ ride.

Consequently, having ridden the longest route previously, last weekend I rode the shortest. I ditched the retro merino ‘racing’ gear for what perhaps could be described as 1950s touring wear – white shirt, retro tank top, baggy tan shorts. It all seemed to suit the Bob and my biking philosophy.

I had a companion this year, too, who helped me explore this more relaxed approach. In a last-minute bike switch, Sophie rode my Brompton hastily equipped with a wicker basket and looked very dandy in the world’s largest sunhat. Although not particularly aerodynamique, the headgear made sense as the weather was glorious… furiously hot in fact.

We set off late, nearly the last riders to make the grand depart. Within half a mile along the lovely High Peak Trail, we stopped for breakfast. Riding just 25 miles immediately changes your mindset; there was always going to be plenty of time. And with that time came a deeper appreciation of the surroundings and the nature of the event. Riding my bike, great weather, lovely company… simple but sometimes-elusive pleasures.

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On the trail

The miles passed under our wheels easily and my companion didn’t appear too encumbered by the Brompton despite her initial skepticism. Leaving the gravel, our route dropped down into Monyash where the food station was bare. Still, there was beer, soft drinks and much-needed water to give us a lift. A brass band provided the only soundtrack needed for half an hour lying on the grass in the sunshine.

Now heading back to Eroica HQ, we both started to dawdle, neither of us wanting the ride to end. To soften the blow, we formulated frankly hair-brained plans for next year. This could involve a tandem and cross dressing,.. and I will seemingly endure the greater humiliation.

In the final miles, all routes converged and we encountered the hasty progress of riders on the longer tours, their riding philosophy somewhat removed from ours. They also sped by when we came across a venerable rider seemingly slumped on his weighty trike in the fierce heat. We were concerned for our fellow velo and plied him with water and sweets. We decided to ride back to Friden Grange with him as an unofficial support crew where he was greeted with heartfelt and deserved applause upon crossing the line. Chapeau my friend.

So, a glorious ride on a glorious day. You couldn’t really ask for more.

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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.

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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ECR miles

The last couple of weekends I’ve been getting the miles in on the ECR ahead of my trip to Scotland in May. Importantly, these have been largely off road miles and with luggage to a lesser or greater degree.

Last weekend saw me out with those fine folk from Keep Pedalling and a couple of other customers, among them Tim from Life in the Cycle Lane. We bimbled around the byways of the South Pennines on our passé geared machines while our hosts chewed up the trail on single speeds. It was the workout I needed and a salutary reminder that my fitness is not quite where it should be. Read Tim’s account here. Continue reading

Photo post: Edale, Jacob’s Ladder and The Woolpacks

I had the opportunity to head out with our Vango Force 10 at the weekend. The accessibility of Edale proved too tempting to resist and we pitched at Fieldhead. This campsite seems stuck in a time warp – the facilities no more appealing than the first time I poorly pitched my old, heavy backpacking tent on its muddy fields – yet its location remains a major plus.

Saturday saw us climbing Jacob’s Ladder and picking a route through the Woolpacks before clambering down the boulders of Grindsbrook Clough. I promised my other half ‘proper’ Dark Peak and the Dark Peak didn’t disappoint – although a slip on our descent and bruised behind did prompt questions about my ‘classic’ circuit.

Heading out on the Pennine Way
Heading out on the Pennine Way

Continue reading