Monday, 22 October 2012

Brilliant Birthday Ride

Enter a new decade as you mean to go on! Leading a 28 mile off road ride in beautiful sunshine.
I celebrated with friends with a meal on the Friday night, so I had all of saturday to recover any roughness, to be fully sober for sunday's ride.
I attached my balloon to my bike and set off to the meeting point. Cheers of Happy Birthday followed in my wake. Lovely.

I'd warned the Rough Stuffers that this ride would have some hills. Some real beauties. We set off straight up hill out of the park for a warm up, followed by a further 7 miles of ascent over the moors on the Gorple Rd packhorse trail. Beautiful views stretched as far as the Yorkshire Dales Three Peaks in the clear skies. A rarity where we live, usually this vista is just loads of clouds, or else just rain.

We had a breather at the top by Gorple Stones overlooking Gorple Reservoir in anticipation of the rough descent towards Widdop Res. The braver of us zoomed ahead, I had a bit of a chat with John on the way down, so we took things a bit more steadily. Lovely to hear of tales of someone elses Dad bringing them over to Widdop in their youth. This place is very special to me and is where my Dad's ashes were scattered.

Spot the birthday balloon!

Some undulating hills brought us to the tops of the National Trusts Hardcastle Crags. Beautiful autumn colours below. We didnt visit the site today and probably a good call too since when we rode past the car park, it was so busy people were being turned away. I will save the usual slice of Yorkshire curd tart that I eat there, for another time. 
We descended to Hebden Bridge to the only mishap of the day. Stephen's handlebar caught my balloon and one loud bang later, it was no more. 

We lunched in the newly reopened park life cafe. Veggie hotdogs for your birthday lunch are spot on! I also completed my 5th brew of the Coffeeneuring challenge!! Sitting in the shade was quite cool and for the next few shaded miles along the canal, I picked up the pace for some warmth. The canal was still full to bursting following the recent flooding and we cycled through some gushing overflows on the towpath. 

After an easy couple of canal miles to digest lunch, the real challenge began. A long steep climb from the bottom of the valley at Todmorden up, up, up onto the moors, passing Dobroyd Castle below and some spectacular views. We took it easy and if there was any cussing of my name, I didnt hear it. 
620 feet of ascent in 2 miles. Slightly easier than the route I took last time on a parallel road up the hill.

Click for full size. It's a really lovely view :-)
A boggy bridleway and a swooping downhill later and we were on the last leg of the journey back to base.
One of the rider's, Frank must have really had a great ride - 'You should have a birthday every week'. That really was a brilliant compliment.  An unexpected birthday card from Irene who couldnt make the day,  delivered by her husband, John was really touching and I hope she's better soon.

The first big ride I've done seemed a great success. Really looking forward to my next one.  A fantastic birthday!

More pictures and the RSF ride report

Monday, 15 October 2012

Old favourites & new tracks

After a long week in work I was relishing cycling to meet up with the family friendly sector of my cycling club, I woke up bright and early and donned a winter cardigan and my gloves.

I cycled a hilly 6 miles to the meet point. The roads were quiet and the autumn mists were beginning to clear.
Jubilee Tower, Darwen

A friendly troup in a car waved as they passed me - Brian and his family were going to beat me to the start point!
I enjoyed my coffeeneuring challenge brew stop and caught up on news since my holidays.

One of our younger riders was now off the tagalong and on his own bike so our route would be determined by how his stamina was holding up.

A good turn out of 14 riders braved the chilly autumn morning to ride along the muddy riverside track. And some people even braved cycling through the ford a couple of times - I chickened out, but as I was taking this photo, one young lady cycled through & I got splashed! Brrrr!!

White Coppice

I admired this old Peugeot's handlebars - not seen any like this before, so I had to take a picture :-)

We looped back to the tea room for more brews and cakes before I parted for my solo return ride along a disused railway and some farm tracks that Brian had suggested I try to get onto the canal further along. It was a lovely new area to discover, albeit muddy and cow patty in places, my boots were a right state when I got home.
Brilliant fun.

Abbey Village Reservoir

Coffeeneuring Challenge

I saw the link when we got back from holidays and since I always am out & about riding and visiting cafes, I assume I can complete the challenge...

I hope so at least.

1st Coffee at Bean There in San Francisco on Steiner St at The Wiggle.
We had two white coffees, and a slice of Pumpkin pie yum yum. This was my favourite cafe of the holiday - the coffee cake offer was super bargainous, the staff were very friendly and bubbly and swapped out one of the cakes for free because Stephen wasnt a fan of any of the choices from the list.
Bean There, San Francisco. Lots of coffee bean choices, really good value, great staff. Stephen enjoying the cake. Hired bike propped up behind him.
We had ridden to Golden Gate Park for a leisurely ride and we stopped at this cafe on The Wiggle on the way back to our b&b. Verily enjoyed watching all the bikes go by from this corner. The total riding was 14 miles on Oct 2nd.

2nd Coffee at Caffeine Rush in Towneley Park, Saturday October 6th.
After 30 hours on board planes, trains, busses, waiting lounges, in queues to sort out lost luggage after flight delays meant my suitcase was still on holiday when I wasnt... I thought a nice easy going ride would be a good way to stretch out my legs and smell that autumn air that has hit the UK since 3 weeks ago. 
My brain, still jet lagged, forgot that saturday afternoon in the park would be busy with people and my uber responsive 60s mixte is hard to manoeuvre when trying to slowly ease it past small children and pram pushers. Add to that an unexpected running event that was taking place and well, the ride was a bit of a dud. A mere 5 miles, but then I'm in need of some sleep.

The shack at the park usually has soya milk, but they were out today, so just a black coffee and no sweet things - two weeks of exploring every option of what bakers do with pumpkin in the USA mean I'm on a strictly salad, soup, stirfry diet until my birthday meal in three weeks time.

3rd Coffee at Park Tea Rooms & Garden Centre, Bury Old Rd near Ramsbottom, Sun Oct 7th

A ride so beautiful I blogged it just for the ride itself here
oh the mist and autumn colours.

Still suffering from time delay post-holiday, I was up at 5am. The tea rooms dont open til 9, so I waited til 7.30 thinking I would slowly potter over. I arrived at 8.15,  it was cold so I was peddling hard and I was amazed how fast I got there. Happily they let me in and I enjoyed a white coffee and some bilberry pie - the custard wasnt made yet, so I had icecream, then another coffee to warm myself up after the adverse icecream effects on the cold in my toes.

The beautiful peaceful ride had me smiling for all of it's 30.6 miles and 1200 feet of ascent.

I've not ridden by myself for a long time (since I usually cycle as part of a pair) and had forgotten quite how free you feel pushing the miles away with only you, your bike and the earth knowing where you are.

Ride 4 -Brinscall Cottage Tea Room 13.10.12
After a long week in work I was up bright and early totally relishing the thought of a lovely ride to meet my cycle club for their family friendly ride. I'd not seen them for afew weeks since I've been on holidays and I was looking forward to a good catch up.
I cycled 7 miles to the start point at Brinscall tea rooms where I breakfasted on espresso and a scone. Best cycling breakfast I can think of.

The cycling club ride was only a couple of slow miles. One of the younger members is now off his tagalong and on his own bike, but it's only got one gear & small wheels, but he is doing great.

After riding by the river and through the trees we returned to the tea shop and I had a tea and some cake before my solo return journey home through some very muddy fields. It was great fun & boy did my boots get muddy!!!! :-D
A total of 21 miles and the biggest smile when I got home. Love exploring new tracks.
Sunday was a day off the bike chilling out and catching up on eps of Castle (plus my deal for including a ride from my holiday was to take a weekend day off the challenge to balance the days up).

Ride 5 - Birthday Ride to Hebden Bridge, Park Life Cafe 33 miles
To celebrate 30 years on the planet, I lead a ride for The Rough Stuff over the Lancashire / Yorkshire border via some cracking Calderdale hills. (see previous report for stunning scenery).
We luncheoned at Hebden Bridge, a hive for cyclists stopping for food, so many places to eat, today we stopped at a new RSF favourite, Park Life Cafe in the park, funnily enough.

For a veggie, I was spoiled for choice, a rare treat. I feasted on vegi hot dog, fruit cake, soya strawberry shake & an espresso (note to self, always drink espresso before milkshake - the other way round makes the usually bittersweet coffee, just very bitter).
My birthday balloon had popped by this point, so no more random birthday cheers, but the rest of the ride was just as delightful.
Full details of this beautiful ride here

Ride 6 - Morgan's Cafe, Earby 27 miles

A frosty morning greeted me as I sped along the canal to meet up with the saturday family friendly riders. I'd already put 7 miles under my saddle before I'd got to the start of the official ride.
Riding into the wind was bitter. Ski gloves on, my fingers were just about ok, but my feet were very painful and no amount of peddling was pushing the full flow of blood into my toes despite the sun trying to break through.
I warmed myself on a filter coffee and a veggie fry up breakfast. In fact the majority of the group plumped for a full English. Must be good for keeping the cold out.

Warmed through we left Morgan's to be greeted by a blue pigeon on the street before we hit the tailwind. Happily riding westwards, my feet were fine all the way home and now I could enjoy the beautiful autumn scenery and company to the full.

Ride 7 - Pavillion Cafe, Witton Park, Blackburn, 14 miles
I 'toured', panniers loaded 11 miles from home to Stephen's house. After afew days off the bike, this pedestrian road ride to Blackburn was such a joy. Riding into the sunshine, albeit on busy pot-holey A-roads, I smiled all the way, especially kicking the butts of the cars queuing to get into town.
Arriving at Stephen's I swapped bikes. We picked up our third-hand tandem last weekend, but hadnt had chance to get on it all week. This was our first trial ride - three miles to the park and back before sunset. We grabbed a coffee and shared a Twix at the cafe in the park before meandering home.

One older gentleman stopped for a lengthy discussion of all things 'bike' - I could have talked to him all night long, but for the dark closing in.
Getting used to the quirks of the tandem seems like it will be a quick learning process, she's been kept in great condition, either that, or she's hardly been ridden... either way, she will certainly be getting some miles from us.

Bonus Ride - not 100% coffeeneuring, winter picnic at Brockholes with our own blend coffee in our flasks, butties & muffins. Break at Brockholes Nature Reserve Cafe, 24.5 miles

First proper outing on the tandem. We sped to Brockholes, a ride that would usually take us a little over an hour on separate bikes, took about 45 mins on the tandem! Lots of thumbs up from other cyclists we passed and loads of kids going 'woah a double bike'. Kids these days, how do they not know the word 'tandem'...
I also tested out my bike gps system, still lots to practice. I tried loading a route onto it, but it said 'out of memory' - need to reread the instructions.
We had our picnic lunch on the floating cafe area. I was greatly amused that the gps showed our position... right in the centre of the lake.
We took a different route home via some farm tracks and bridleways that were not really suitable for tandeming on. But today was part of the learning process. And now we've found some fuuun mountain biking trails.

For those interested in the coffee blend - 1/2 aribica beans, 1/2 australian skybury beans - very mellow and well rounded.
The 24.5 miles passed like a breeze. Cant wait for better weather and getting round to some touring on her.

Next year I'd urge every bike commuter to try the coffeeneuring challenge. I enjoy cycling to commute & for leisure, but after holidays this year, I wondered about those who cycle purely as a mode of transport could expand on this and see cycling as something else.
A great challenge to keep us cycling at weekends through the colder months. Thanks Gypsybug :-)

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Autumn Calling

Happily jet lag and still being out of sync with UK time means that I've been up and about pre-sunrise all weekend. And since I'm taking part in the coffeeneuring challenge what better reason to start peddling than to go get some bilberry pie for breakfast. The only place that serves a great bilberry pie and a coffee that I know of is in Walmesley, Bury so I set off for a 30 mile ride wrapped up well, knowing that the mist would be very cold.

It did not disappoint - jewels of mist crystalised on my eyelashes and by the time I got to my coffee / breakfast stop (40 minutes earlier than anticipated - probably due to peddling hard to keep warm, mixed with totally empty roads & my over enthusiasm for some pie) my bicycle was covered in damp.

After two coffees and an extended time warming my hands under the drier, I set off to join my favourite bit of the NCN6 and hoped that the heavy mist would start to clear so I could see the beautiful hills.

River Irwell at Ramsbottom
The pictures say more than I ever could in words about why mornings like these are my favourite. 

track between Irwell Vale & Holcombe
Musbury Torr

Leeds Liverpool canal
Coming back from holidays to weather like this certainly helps with the pain of knowing you're about to go back to work. Hopefully it will stay rain free for a little while, ideally I'd like my bday ride to be like this.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Cycling in & around The City By The Bay

Just back from just over 2 weeks in beautiful San Francisco where we hired some rather dodgy hire bikes (for 2 weeks you have to be cost effective and most tourist places hire to people for one day and cost a lot) for getting round the city and transporting ourselves to some wider Bay Area places.

This post is about my musings on cycling in another part of the world and how I found it, my next will be more focussed on the beautiful scenery and places we visited.  I'm currently zombified after a delayed flight, being rerouted back via extra airports, and my suitcase is still on it's holidays, so sorry if I ramble.

The thought of cycling in a busy city, on the wrong side of the road, in a country where you aren't 100% au fait with the traffic laws is a little intimidating when you're collecting your bike. But yesterday whilst trying to sleep on the plane, I realised that for 2 weeks I've been spoiled with a whole different cycling culture and attitude from the general populous.  The prospect of returning to the roads here gives me a sinking feeling.

Both cycling in the city itself with it's grid pattern streets and outside the city on faster more twisty roads felt much safer and easier than I could have ever hoped it would do and after just one whole day out on the bikes covering a 50 mile route, Stephen & I both remarked at how we both felt much safer than cycling in England on the roads we're used to that have traffic laws we understand. That should really speak volumes to road planners, campaigners and cyclists in the UK.

We generally followed routes published in the Cycling & Walking map of San Francisco which shows the best routes for cyclists to take when navigating the city - it avoids the busiest and hilliest roads and showed me to The Wiggle - my favourite bit of bicycle roads marking design by far - green boxes painted on the road lead you around The Wiggle and its certainly a mini bike highway. We sat at a brilliant cafe, Bean There and watched cyclists using The Wiggle as we supped coffee and ate pumpkin pie. Brilliant for people watching and also great for seeing the variety of bikes and human powered wheels that people use as their prime method of transport to get about the city limits.
Sharrows on The Wiggle

Afew points of note that really stand out to someone visiting:
  • Bike lanes are wide and are separate from parking zones. 
  • Bike lanes are wide enough to allow cyclists to avoid the 'door zone'
  • Where there are no distinct painted lanes, there are chevrons / sharrows painted on the roads that show cyclists and other road users where cyclists should position themselves to cycle safely.
  • You are not cycling in the gutter.  This makes everything so much safer, you have room to swerve for potholes and avoid hazards easily & feel much more in control. 
  • Signs. This is a big one. Putting afew signs up alerts other road users that cyclists are just as important and valid as automobiles.
These included:
Bike Lane - No Parking
Share the road
Bike's have full use of lane

Green Wave on Valencia had us flying across town

now that's a bike lane!

Another thing I noticed was that drivers on the whole do not seem to speed as prevalently as they do in the UK.  Which when you really think about, is a huge culture difference. US roads are much wider, straighter and visibility is therefore much better, yet people seem to drive much more sensibly.

I never once felt like I was about to be clipped by a car over taking me.  Even in rush hour times, it felt just as safe.

The whole attitude to road users and pedestrians felt much different to here. Depending on lights, everyone has equal priority be it on foot, on human powered wheels (and we saw plenty of skate boarding and roller skating people in the bike lanes too) or petrol powered wheels and I think that is a real key in why things are so much different.
Here most drivers' attitude is that they wrongly think 'road tax' means that they pay for the roads themselves and therefore have priority.  All tax payers pay for roads, they are a called public highways.

Hiring bikes for the holiday was such a positive experience. San Francisco has loads of cyclists and this has increased exponentially over the last few years. The great work done with the Bicycle Coalition has brought a positive public image to cyclists and we were very grateful for their city cycling map resource.  Much like Sustrans here, lots is being done to promote the idea of every day cycling, though here cycling is still very much seen as a leisure pursuit rather than a valid form of transportation.

Transport ministers, road and town planners really should do some travelling, get on their bikes and see how other places can make things work.
I know in the UK our roads arent built for the volumes of traffic that they carry and not much can be done about that. But a change in some licks of paint, some added signs for cyclists and drivers and maybe we could see an eventual shift in the attitudes of traffic. San Francisco has shown it can be done, it just takes some time & patience.
I believe in merits of both on road cycling and also for separate bike lanes. Functionally for me, cycling ten miles to work has to be largely by road for it to be practical, but I love the off road network that Sustrans have created for my leisure riding, to ride side by side with Stephen and not have to even think about traffic.

Alas when Monday comes, I'll have to be up & set off an hour early to beat the worst of the traffic to cycle to work more safely & when I cycle home, I will be forced to ride on the pavement down a grid locked A-road where you literally can not cycle past the waiting cars on the road without clipping them with your bike.  I'll be passed with inches to spare at speeds that are far from sensible and see cars run red lights at every set of lights I pass. Back to reality.

Our 1st day on the bikes and initial view of the Golden Gate Bridge