The weather has been pretty ‘grim up north’ - Not too cold to go out, and, unbelievably, despite this being the wettest year on record, there have still been a few relatively ‘dry’ days. Though when I saw ‘dry’ days, I mean the absence of heavy rain. There is still water everywhere. Mist in the atmosphere, water on the roads – flooding down from the hills. A dry day in a Yorkshire winter still means coming back pretty wet.
The hardest thing is the strong westerly winds, which make the going pretty slow. With 25mph winds, I prefer to cycle into the wind on the way out, a tailwind on the way back is at least something to look forward to. The problem is you spend the first hour or two getting a little demoralised, two hours at 13mph is not a great start to any bike ride.
You would think that with such a strong tailwind, you would fly back, but somehow you don’t go quite as fast as hoped. I’ve come back from rides up here in Yorkshire, with record low average speeds. I haven’t been this slow on a bicycle shaped object since this pedallino (below) in the Italian city of Pisa.
Christmas day was a huge three hour effort, for a fairly paltry 40 miles. Boxing day was another ride up into the misty clouds – this time 60 miles, but it still took a good four and half hours to ride. In a few months, I will be hoping to do 2.5 times the current average speed, with current conditions, you’re never sure how it’s going to happen. Though, there really is a huge world of difference between riding a smooth dual carriageway in July on a TT bike, and riding Yorkshire hills, on your winter hack in December.
It was nice going out on Christmas day, more fun, even, than watching the Queens speech, and it was also a chance to enjoy relatively car free roads. Again, there was that sense of isolation up on some Yorkshire moor. I kept thinking of Wuthering Heights, by the Brontes. The Yorkshire Dales is not quite Bronte country, but think windswept moors, and you get the idea.
On Boxing day, I was a bit more adventurous. I put my head down, and made slow progress west to Gargrave. Gargrave is a bit of a mecca for Yorkshire cyclists because it has a cycling cafe of some local renown. I didn’t stop because, if I got too comfortable, I feared that after a toasted tea cake and pot of tea, I would take the shortest route home. From Gargrave, I made my way north (avoiding a road closed due to flooding) and went up to Malham.
From Malham there is a sharp climb up to the tops, overlooking the great cove below. It was hard work on the 20% hairpins. When the Tour comes to Yorkshire, they will have no difficulties in finding suitably difficult climbs. Though, I think they should do the Yorkshire Tour de France stage on clapped out winter training bikes with mudguards, just to make it a proper hard ‘northern stage’. Up on the top of Malham cove, the persistent mist turned to a more voluble rain. It was so hard, I had to stop and get my Altura rain jacket out.
From the top of Malhamdale, I went over the misty moors towards Arncliffe. In the middle of nowhere, there was a particularly vicious 25% rise. Fortunately, I was blown up the hill with a gale force wind, directly at my back. That was fun. The one point I felt fast on the whole ride.
The only drawback of being on the top of Malham – Arncliffe moors, is that it is permanently wet and raining – even on one of these dry days. I was glad to descend back into the valley, where it was slightly less wet than up on top. Because the back roads were flooded, I went to Ilkley via over the top to Langbar. It ended up being quite a hilly ride, with 1600 metres plus of climbing. At least that was another thing to justify the record low average speed of 14mph.
All that effort for a paltry 60 miles. Good job I’m not counting the miles…