This time last week, if you asked me to write a list of the things that appealed about the Three Peaks Cyclocross Race, I’m not sure it would be a very long list. I hardly ever ride road, I’m built more for long distance than I am for speed, I’m not really a fan of carrying my bike and I’m not much of a runner. I guess it appealed because it looked hard, and it’s been running for over 50 years, so it’s got heritage. Anything that old has to be good, right?
The race is described as “the toughest and biggest cyclocross event in the UK”. Benedict Campbell titles it as “The Epic” in his film Love of Mud, and various winners and former entrants describe the punishing terrain and sometimes harsh weather conditions that take their toll on bike and body. But then, a distance of 38 miles, of which 34 is rideable and 18 is on tarmac doesn’t sound that bad, all things considered?
The sweat poured off me as I pushed my bike up the narrow lane to Fremington Edge. I heard a vehicle approaching quickly as I reached a gate across the road. I held it open as an old chap in a 4×4 roared through. Just 20 yards beyond the gate he screeched to a halt in a cloud of dust. He jumped out and without any introduction said
Would you like a cup of tea?
I was in Yorkshire. I don’t think I’ve ever been offered a cup of tea by a complete stranger while in the middle of nowhere, but if it was going to happen anywhere, you might suppose it would be Yorkshire.
The tea incident was a momentary distraction from a Maths Problem. If it took me 7 hours to ride the first 100 km of a 300 km route, how long will it take me in get to the end? The opening third of the Yorkshire Dales 300 had gone pretty quickly, and not as hard as I expected. The opening section out of Skipton was on road, and as usual I found the lure of the front group impossible to resist, which, after the first 30 km I was starting to regret. I let the lead pair of Stuart Cowperthwaite and Phil Addyman drop off in the distance while I took a picture of classic Dales terrain
Once I was on my own I found my own rhythm more easily. This allowed me to concentrate on other things like how hot and sunny it was and, for balance, other things like it’s really chuffing windy. The long climb up Apedale seemed to reinforce the wind issue as it did everything it possibly could to blow me back down the valley as I heaved on the pedals in the opposite direction. It all ended in a stiff push out of the end, and to a downhill. The wind not content with the progress I was making blew harder to the extent I had to pedal down the other side. When I eventually turned side on, I discovered it’s the sort of wind that tries to suck the air out of your lungs before you’re ready for it, via your nose. Eventually I turned my back to the wind and enjoyed the fast and swooping bridleway into Reeth, which marked one third distance. I pulled in to the shade of a tree by Dales Bike Centre and had 10 minutes sorting myself out with some food and tend to various bits of kit on me and the bike.
While pushing up Fremington Edge, I saw two riders behind me. It wasn’t until Great Pinseat that Stuart and Phil – who I’d unknowingly passed at Dales Bike Centre – caught me up. We rode the section to Gunnerside, getting in a nice technical descent into Gunnerside Gill. Since Fremington, the last 30 km had taken 3 hours, and which started to make my brain ache as I adjusted the answer to my Maths Problem.
In Gunnerside, Stuart and Phil seemed to take a stop, so I tried to capitalise and rode on. I got as far as Muker before feeling the need for some proper food. The Farmers Arms served a nice chilli and rice, which was chased down with a pint of coke. The logic was to eat earlier in the evening to avoid the chance of wanting to fall asleep if eating closer to darkness. I got back on the bike feeling pretty good and with thoughts towards maybe pushing through the night.
The edges were peeling on that idea by the time I got to the top of the Buttertubs climb, which took the best part of half and hour into a full on head wind. Without having much knowledge of the area, and with the route being so long I hadn’t really committed any of it to memory, so just figured I’d take it as it comes.
The possibility of me being able to ride through the night was looking very doubtful after the Roman Road after Bainbridge. A long loose climb that my 100 mile legs could not assail with the wind as it was. I resigned to a mix of pushing, riding short sections, looking back the way I’d come, looking forward to where I had to go, cursing the Romans, before resigning to more pushing and trying ride where I could.
I got to the top of Artengill Beck just before 11pm, which was 175 km into the route. A sub 24 hour finish was now well out of reach, as the last 75 km had taken 9 hours. A tough 75 km it was too. The last of the light had faded, as had my legs and my resolve to switch on the light and push (literally or figuratively) into the night. I picked a spot by a wall where the wind would blow up the valley and keep the midges away. Finally I’d put the wind to some use!
At 3:00 am the first of forecast rain woke me up, so I quickly gathered together my gear and within 20 minutes I was on my way down the valley. This was to be a ride of two distinct halves. My arms and legs tingled slightly from exposure to the sun on Saturday, but there was little doubt that today would be easy as Wind was back but this time with his old friend Rain. On the climb up the side of Whernside I spotted a rider in the distance which spurred me on to catch them up. Mick Collins was one of the riders who had come by me while I bivvied earlier, but he had taken less sleep than I. We rode together down to Ribblehead, before I pulled out a lead and eventually put myself out of sight.
The section from Horton in Ribblesdale, Stainforth and eventually to Malham was ridden in appalling conditions. I was soaked, battered by wind and rain and feeling very low. I stopped in Kirkby Malham to change some kit and discovered that I lacked the strength and coordination to do simple tasks like unbuckle a clip on my seat harness. I rode into Malham and straight into the first cafe I could find. An hour later I came out feeling suitably refreshed.
Once I’d left the cafe, I started on the climb out of Gordale and saw Mick in the distance. By the top of Mastiles Lane, we were riding together again. The rain had eased now and it was looking like it would brighten up, but the wind still persisted. The with not much more than 50 km left to the finish, the route is intricate to say the least. Weaving back and forth to catch all the good trails of the area. All things considered, body and bike were working well. No significant aches or pains, and the legs seemed to be able to turn the pedals up most grades despite the GPS showing more than 7,000 metres of ascent. After Malham Moor, the route finally turned south east and towards Skipton. Across the valley Mick spotted a track up the side of Rylstone Fell, and said
I bet you any money that the route goes up that!
And he was right. At a distance it had a perspective that made it look unfeasibly steep. On closer acquaintance it wasn’t so bad, but too much for me. Mick rode out of sight while I pushed. Once on the top, the trail opened up to a lovely piece of moorland singletrack that was just perfect for my gear. Carving turns, pumping little compressions and generally having a hoot made the previous 290 km melt away in my mind. I caught Mick up as we started the descent off Brown Bank to Halton Moor. The end felt close now and the pace picked up, hammering the road together back into Skipton, with the excitement of nearing the end. We stopped the clock at 15:52 on Sunday to give a total ride time of 31 hours 52 minutes. Joint third place honours, behind first place Stuart Cowperthwaite and second Phil Addyman.
It’s fair to say the Yorkshire Dales 300 would be a hard route on a good day. The wind, and later the rain, made it a proper test of endurance and staying power. The balance of really fun trails, linking sections of road and those bits you just have to do to link the good bits together can be tricky to get right over such a distance, but Stuart Rider has pulled it off.
The Yorkshire Dales 300 can sit quite comfortably and proudly amongst the array of other ITTs in the country, waiting patiently for its next challenger.
Midge headnet and repellent
Terra Nova Discovery Lite Goretex bivvy Polaris Bikewear Core Bamboo base layer
Gore Bikewear Alp-X Waterproof
X-bionic thermal arm warmers
First aid kit
[Packed into a XS size Exped dry bag]
Modern day bikepacking in the UK – as version of traditional touring for people who prefer their riding off road – had to begin somewhere. Just maybe that “somewhere” was a small farm in Mid Wales, which hosted the first Welsh Ride Thing seven years ago.
Not concerned with scoring points, beating the clock or riding an obscene amount of miles, the “WRT” draws in both hardened and aspiring bikepackers alike to a field in Wales before sending them off into the wilderness for three days in search of “points of interest”. Getting stuck in a bog, falling in a stream, maybe having a pub meal, sleeping in a bothy or perhaps under a hedge are all optional activities along the way. Life could not be more simple.
Here’s a video of how a wet and windy weekend in Wales unfolded for Beth and I on this years Welsh Ride Thing
In 2013 I got my first proper look at custom hand made bikes. The Bespoked Hand-built Bike Show in Bristol was packed with dozens of unique creations all tailored to the needs and desires of their owners, and each reflecting an immense depth of skill, passion and outright devotion from their creator. Expensive? Yes. Desirable? Very much so. To be in possession of something that is one of a kind, made for you, your specification in terms of geometry but injected with a creative flair that sets it apart from everything else was very compelling.
At that 2013 show, one bike caught my eye – a road bike with a paint finish that paid homage to the Lotus JPS Formula 1 car – a car that I could remember from my childhood. It was a very cool bike and I wanted one. But one exactly the same would not be right. That uniqueness would be lost. I needed to find something else like it, but not like it. And so the seed was sown. (more…)
Two days after the Rovaniemi 150 Arctic Winter Race, I headed back out into the wilderness with two fellow racers: Antti Sintonen & Evan Simula. Legs still tired from the race, we headed north-west out of Rovaniemi on some of the lesser-travelled snow mobile tracks, our ultimate aim to get to a laa-vu (traditional wooden Finnish shelter) beside the frozen lake at Sinettäjärvi.
It was a fantastic ride in an amazing environment, made all the more enjoyable with the company of Antti & Evan – cheers guys!
It was but the first month of the year
As I gathered together my bikepacking gear.
Wales in January; it would probably be raining,
But no matter, for this was really for training.
In preparation for Finland I go,
To a land bleak and white and covered in snow.
The Bear Bones Ford Fiesta is that which beckoned;
No finer celebration of fords could be reckoned.
Out from the start, my route headed west,
Riding into the wind was really a test.
Onto Glyndwr’s Way, where new trails await;
Progress would be easier if the wind would abate.
Last Monday saw my last ride of the year, and it was a cracking one with which to finish the year. It was minus 7 degrees Celsius as I left the house at 5:30am. The temperature didn’t really get above freezing until closer to 11:00am, by which time I was high up on the Black Mountains, east of Brecon. The ridge tops were majestically covered in a dusting of snow, and though the ground was frozen, the going was far from easy. The 100km loop took over 10 hours to ride, but left me satisfied that I’d rounded off the year in suitable style. (more…)
There are dozens of excellent tracks all over the Beacons & eastwards to the Black Mountains (note: plural). It’s an area I know like the back of my hand – I can ride over 100 miles of trails without even needing to check the map. However, if you head westwards just a little way there is one area where I had never ridden: The Black Mountain. Back in August, I decided I needed to put that right. And I definitely needed to take a map. (more…)