Sunday, 25 January 2015

Meandering home

Today was the first mild day of 2015 in County Durham; an opportunity to commute to my placement church in Sedgefield and then meander home after the service. The benefit of a bit of blue sky and a touch of warmth to the air was that my mind wasn't occupied with looking for black-ice. I had time to peer over the hedgerows and contemplate the world.

I headed north through Fishburn, Trimdon and Trimdon Grange before joining the B1278. The road was undulating sufficiently to make my thighs warm and my breathing heavy, but as I crested each hill I coasted down the other side for leisure instead of a workout. As I approached Wheatley Hill I chose to wiggle my way through the town rather than suffer the A181.

It was interesting to see remnants of ice and snow on the pavement in Thornley, clearly the recent snow flurries had been heavier here than in Durham itself - but bigger towns are often warmer anyway.

Just outside Thornley I was back onto the A181 for a very short section and waved to a gentleman cycling the other way, before I turned right at the first opportunity and was on my way to Shadforth.  At one moment the view to my left opened out into a panorama of Durham and the surrounding hills with a clear view of the Cathedral standing above the city.  I only had a phone camera unfortunately.

The road dropped with a steep descent to Sherburn Beck and then followed the Beck upstream to Shadforth and the climb past St Cuthbert's church to Sherburn Hill which had loomed dramatically above me.

Finally I followed the B1283 back towards Durham along the enjoyably wide and steady descent to Sherburn Village and beyond. The road itself is a bit rough and drains momentum, but eventually I crossed the A1 again and came back into Durham through Gilesgate Moor overtaking the inevitable line of stationary traffic.

I am enjoying working with the community at St-Edmund's Church in Sedgefield, and having the opportunity for a meander home afterwards was the icing on the cake.  What a glorious day.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Snow and sunshine

Giving up on a ride before it starts is known as DNS - did not start.  Not completing a planned bicycle ride is known as DNF - did not finish.  I had two DNS and two DNF moments on this ride; but thankfully ignored them and carried on.  DNS moment one... on the train down to Harrogate to pick up my bike from Spa Cycles:  Snow. Ice. Cold. Grey... of course I'm going to give up before I even start.

Sing hooray! Last post: the rear derailleur snapped. This post... Spa Cycles have done a wonderful job of restoring the bicycle to full working order.  The story of repair includes a replacement rear derailleur, a new cassette, a new chain, a new set of chain-rings, a new bottom bracket, a replacement headset, a new rear gear cable... Spa Cycles realigned the rear mech hanger. Essentially I had my spring service done and all those little jobs which had been building up over time were addressed while I was down in Harrogate.

To treat myself I had planned to cycle back with my repaired bicycle but my second DNS moment loomed: My nice clean serviced bicycle is soooo clean and sooo nice.  It would be a shame to ride it in the muck, grit, salt, snow and sleet.  I suggested to Mike, my ride partner, that we just bail out. The look on his face said it all... we headed out. Anyway, it is just a bicycle and this was a brilliant opportunity for a nice long bike ride.

Mike led me on the Greenway from Harrogate to Ripley - a straight and level tarmac route which cut out all interaction with traffic and led us out into the countryside towards Bishop Thornton and Fountains Abbey.  The snow was falling thick and fast; it was clear I would DNF as soon as we got to Ripon: I planned to find a train and make my way home in comfort.

We negotiated our way along gritted roads - no worries about ice at all - past St Mary's church and on the dead straight road through Studley Park.  In Ripon we then called timeout for coffee and cake.  I'd only had porridge for breakfast at 7am - so something refreshing was in order.  With hindsight I should probably have had some cake, not just a small black coffee.  The camera steamed up giving Mike the 'Peter Jackson' film effect.

The ride so far had been much better than expected.  I think it is often the case that the fear of the weather is worse than the reality. We parted ways in Ripon; Mike headed back to Harrogate and I ploughed on through the snow northbound for Durham. The snow didn't really last long, once outside Ripon the skies cleared and the sun came out.  It stayed bitingly cold, but the sun was to my back and gave the impression the weather was warmer than it was.

What a wonderful day it was turning out to be, with crystal clear views of the rolling countryside, white snow covered hills and bright blue sky.  Birds were fluttering along the hedgerow ahead of my front wheel, like dolphins in the bow wave of a boat.

Some of the smaller back roads had not been gritted, but with a little ingenuity I found enough detours to keep going in the right direction.  There was a nice long straight section of service road next to the A1 with a smooth surface, perfect for daydreaming. After Leeming Bar the quiet country lanes kicked in again, but by 2pm I knew my nutrition plan - eating nothing - was a rubbish eating plan. So I stopped at Scorton for refreshments.

The Farmers Arms was open with a roaring log fire; so naturally the refreshments consisted of a pint of Doom Bar and a packet of dry roasted peanuts, followed by a Mars bar for dessert.  They do proper food though, or at least food designed for me!

When my toes were properly warm, and my tummy properly gurgling, I headed back out onto the cold harsh roads of Teesside.  And had a lovely time: there was hardly any traffic all the way to Middleton Tyas and on through to Darlington where I'd planned my final DNF.  I assumed that it was going to take a long time to get to Darlington and that it would be getting dark, therefore justifying a train ride home.  Unfortunately for the train companies I arrived in Darlington just past 3pm, with the sun still shining and the roads still ice-free.  There was only one option really; to follow the A167 all the way home to Durham.

One last nibble of chocolate at the Newton Bar service station just beyond the A1 and I pushed on for home.  The sun was just setting leaving a peach glow in the clouds to my left and I made it home by 4:30pm.  I had done it: Harrogate to Durham on a cold January morning and I had neither DNS or DNF'd this experience.  It has emboldened me too, because I'd started to think I couldn't do this.  By actually doing it I found fresh confidence in my winter abilities.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Snapped rear derailleur

At least these things don't happen very often...

The same weekend the boiler in our house broke down, I was nipping out to the shops for some bread when I heard a crunch beneath me - and the bicycle stopped moving forward.  I was in the middle of a roundabout when it happened; not the best place to be.  But if you are riding a bicycle when something mechanical goes wrong, it is likely that it will go wrong while you are somewhere hazardous.  Thankfully no one was driving fast around me, and I was able to walk out of the road.

Trying to reconstruct the incident, I think the chain somehow jammed in the rear derailleur and dragged it round with the cassette.  It twisted and snapped away from the rear mech hanger and jammed in between the spokes and the mudguard supports.

Beside the road I was able to dismantle the rear derailleur and remove it from the frame.  The chain had twisted and so this was easy to separate it to remove.  I rolled home to inspect the damage more comfortably.  Despite giving the bike a clean after every winter ride; the road grime does build up in hard to reach places.  Eurgh.

One of the jockey wheels had sheared in two, the bolt-hole on the derailleur had also snapped in half.  The cage is utterly twisted.

This rear derailleur has passed on. It is no more.  Has ceased to be.  This rear derailleur's expired and gone to meet its maker.  Its a stiff.  Bereft of life, it rests in peace...  Its kicked the bucket, shuffled off this mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible!  This is an ex-rear derailleur.

Less humourously though, the twisting/snapping action has also bent the rear mech hanger.  Now this is more of a problem because the rear mech hanger is part of the frame and the frame is titanium.  I'm a bit worried about this.  I've already been in touch with Spa Cycles and I'm taking the frame down to them this week to see if the rear mech hanger can be straightened.

Although we are still in the middle of winter, and although the gritters are out tonight spreading salt on the road; I'm going to have to use the new chain and cassette I was saving for the spring servicing.

The metal supports for the mudguard were slightly bent, but easy enough to bend back and no problem there.

The only remaining annoyance is that some of the spokes on the drive side of the rear wheel were pinched and will need to be replaced.  The wheel isn't very old, so I'm hoping that it is a simple matter of replacing the damaged ones - please don't let it be a new wheel.

I could do without an expense like this, but being car-free means that I have to get it done.  However, on the bright side, when a mechanical problem hits a bicycle it is a lot less expensive than an equivalent problem with a car.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Bollihope-y New Year!

photo courtesy of Dean Clementson

I am very grateful to a group of friends for the 3rd January bicycle ride we did together; setting off from Darlington around 9am Saturday morning we had a 105km social ride out into the Pennines and back to Darlington for a pint at the Half Moon before going our separate ways.  Special thanks to Dean for making all the arrangements and route planning.  No icy roads!  Some wonderful views... and how he managed to plan blue skies was amazing.  Dean has written up his experience, with photographs here.

We converged in Darlington from all over the north of England; Dean, Steve, Andy, Peter, Trevor and myself; and followed secret paths through housing estates and quiet roads until we found Burtree Lane and the junction with the A68.  Dean's plan was for us to get out past Bishop Auckland reasonably quickly so that we could enjoy the hills beyond.; so following the wide main road / dual carriageway we headed north and through Heighington and Redworth towards Shildon.  My family on my father's side are from (and still live in) Shildon, but I've not cycled here very often and don't know the roads as well as I ought.  We then carried on to Bishop Auckland and past the optimistic palm trees in Tindale.

The busiest of the traffic was over for now; we kept on for Witton Park and Witton-le-Wear.  There are some wonderful bridges in this area, and here is a picture Dean took of our favourite - a bridge within a bridge.  The railway line goes over the top, the road through the middle and the river Wear underneath... this is featured in the "Bridges for CrinklyLion" thread on yet another cycling forum.

photo courtesy of Dean Clementson

We stopped for a late breakfast at the cafe in Hemsterley Forest, and although they had just opened, they worked fast to get hearty vegetable soup, some pies, and bacon sandwiches out to us along with warming cups of coffee.  My view out the window kept me entertained too - there were a set of four speed bumps close together, and as the full suspension MTB riders came past I was treated to their comedy-clown-bicycle impressions, bumping up and down.

We set off again for the hills 'proper', the climb of Shull Bank and the drop into Wolsingham, Dean headed off to the top to capture photos of us all arriving out of breath.  I rode alongside Andy and we were so busy chatting that I think Peter was surprised to find himself over taking and leaving us.  But it isn't a race and we were deep in conversation.  The view of Wolsingham was good from the top of Shull Bank, but there was a touch of drizzle in the air and we knew the descent could be strewn with hazards; gravel, damp road surfaces and sharp corners; so we took it easy.

The plan was to climb Bollihope from the Frosterley turning, which necessitated a section of the A689; this is a wide road with plenty of space for people in cars to overtake.  Today there seemed to be a few people driving who couldn't be bothered to move out as I had a couple of very close passes and this is perhaps my one teeny complaint about cycling in County Durham.  A minority of motorists haven't thought through the consequences of accidentally hitting another human being with a tonne of metal at 50+mph.  Oh well, it didn't spoil the day.

We turned off at Frosterley through Bridge End and started climbing.  Andy and I together again, discussing our favourite rides of last year, and we laughed as we passed a sign "Hill End" as it clearly wasn't - we could see the hill climbing away on the road ahead of us!  We regrouped at the top of the climb looking down into Bollihope Burn and the exposed moorland beyond.

Cramp! We administered Trevor with banana to combat the cramp attack he'd had crossing the cattle grid in Hill End.  This was going to be Trevor's furthest and highest ride ever.  I've often thought it is okay to push yourself faster, or further, or harder... but rarely two of these or never all three at the same time.  Trevor was certainly keeping up a good speed with us, and climbing more than he'd done before and on his longest journey. 

There was a fast descent down to Bollihope Burn which brought a smile to everyone's face; and then the major climb of the day began - Bollihope... to the top - which brought grimaces of effort.

Again I rode alongside Andy, surrounded by bleakly stunning and wide open views of the top of the Pennine hills.  There were no cars.  And no motorbikes.  I've cycled up here in the summer time to the constant roar of engines; but this day early in the new year of 2015 was almost as perfect as it could be - the skies were blue, the air was cool enough to stop us over-heating and yet the ground was not icy.  We passed the snow poles; as this is one of the only routes linking isolated towns together the council have an obligation to keep them open no matter how deep the snow gets.  The ploughs come up here and the only way to know you're on the road is to follow the markers.  It might be fun to come up here when the snow is 2m deep either side.

We reached the top and stopped for event-memorable photographs.

Ever heard the phrase, "it's all downhill from here (except for the hills)"?  Well that is a good description of the ride back from Bollihope to Darlington.  Mostly downhill... mostly.  There was really only Folly Bank to climb - not too onerous.  First though, we had the stunning descent from the top to Eggleston.  Dean and I had ridden up here while the world was purple, but with the sun shining in our eyes and the brown heather, we were being treated to another beautiful day, with a sweeping open road and nothing to force us to slow down.  Brilliant!

We called in at the Moorcock Inn in Eggleston, the "Wild West Pub" with the portrait of John Wayne on the wall; coincidentally McLintock! was showing on the telly.  Helpfully they had a map on the wall telling us where we were.  After a refreshing pint we headed out again for the final leg back to Darlington.  Over Folly Bank, down along the B6279 through Staindrop and Ingleton.  Here we took a detour from roads I know; Dean knew that there were roadworks and the resultant diversions were making the road ahead very busy, so we weaved our way south and east towards Piercebridge and with some comedy off-road moments around the closed road signs.  Closed roads are great fun; I enjoyed riding along the wrong side of the road and also sweeping back and forth through the gaps in the white lines.  To feel like a kid again!

We were back in Darlington by 4pm and had enough time to enjoy a pint in the Half Moon, although why I have it stuck in my head at the 'Mushroom' is odd.  I don't think I've heard of a pub called the 'Mushroom' before.

Peter had bought us all commemorative badges to celebrate our first group ride of 2015, which was a really nice touch - thank you Peter, great to ride with you again.  Trevor had ridden his furthest and hardest ride so far - big congratulations to him!  It was brilliant to ride with Steve again after our last experience on the dead-arrow.  And to Andy for his company and conversation - good to be out with you again; and finally to Dean - perfect social ride.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Button up on Christmas Eve

..."I'm just popping out for a quick ride!"

This used to be so easy back in Teesside... 2 hours could see me enjoy rolling terrain in the valley, including a stop at Suggitts for a walnut whip and mug of coffee.  Not any longer, oh no.  County Durham's geography doesn't allow 'popping out' to happen lightly.  Below are a couple of ride profiles for a ~45km loop from "home", one in Teesside and the other from Durham.  For reference, just short of 10.0km on the Teesside profile is the dip of Rudby Bank.

Don't misunderstand; I really enjoy the hills.  It is fun to come home with a big grin on my face from the effort required to snipe a strava-segment from a friend, the only problem is that there is no alternative.  It is hills or nothing in County Durham.  Yesterday I rode for two hours in the pouring rain determined to make the most of this Christmas vacation, but when today dawned with clear blue skies and bright sunshine I had to head out again.

I had targets for today's ride:

  • A friend of mine has a 30 second advantage on the 2.4km/141m ascent of Norburn Lane from Witton Gilbert... it was time to put that right.
  • Another friend went out yesterday and rode "Button's Bank" just south of Waterhouse; I've never seen that climb before and wanted to explore the area.

I usually follow the road to Sacriston as it is close to home and avoids the A-road bashing required to plough along the A691 towards Lanchester.  There is a bit of a climb up to Sacriston, and today was the immediate drop back down to Witton Gilbert to find the bottom of Norburn Lane.  This isn't a difficult climb and would make an interesting hill-climb time trial, it is 2.4km long and is quiet shallow.  I pedalled hard to keep going knowing that I wanted to knock 30 seconds off my best time and over-take a friend on mine on strava.  I was wheezing heavily as I reached the top, but there were horse riders coming the other way, so I made out I was taking photographs to disguise how knackered I was.

The wind along the ridge top was blowing directly into my face, and behind me were a string of people in cars trying to get to the farm shop ahead.  The wind carried the 'silence of the turkeys' towards me this Christmas eve.  Once past the farm shop all was peaceful again and I rolled down Peth Bank to Lanchester.  No rest though, climbing once again up to Quebec and over the hill to Waterhouse.

There was a 15% descent along Ivesley Lane to Waterhouse which might be nice to do in the other direction, but with Button's Bank up ahead I expect it is the poorer relation which rarely gets ridden.

I hit the climb and for the first time today my gears would not change down.  I could only reach the 38/26 combination and knew that this was going to make the climb really hard work.  Button's Bank is 1 km long and rises 100m, and within the first two bends I was knackered!  I gave in and shifted to the inner ring of the triple, 28/26... and twiddled my way to the top.  It was a brilliant hill, but I really need to come back with the shifting working better if I want to climb it quickly.

The reward for all this climbing was a long single-lane descent to Brancepath with beautiful sunlit scenery to soak in.  The final push of the day was back along the A690 through Meadowfield and Langley Moor - and finally the wind direction was in my favour allowing me to keep up with the Christmas shopping traffic at 45-55kph.

My thighs hurt this evening.  Hills are fun, but I think that as tomorrow is Christmas Day I'll have a rest.

God bless you - and Merry Christmas.