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Distance Cycling in the Alps

Thursday, 10 January 2019

All Terrain Cycles Team Rider Harry Carpenter Blog on his latest adventure  :

They say you should play to your strengths, mine is distance. My Achilles heel is climbing, so what could go wrong trying to climb some the biggest routes in the Alps this summer?

 

Col de l’Iseran (9,068ft)

July saw my daughter and I in Val d’Isère, however tempting it was to roll down the valley to start the climb properly at Moûtiers the road looked pretty awful so we rode it from Val, it’s definitely the best bit of the climb and was pretty steady away, a nice warm up, beautiful views……

 

 

 

 

 

Stelvio and Umbrail (9,045ft)

A few days later saw us camped at Prato, Italy, just north of the Stelvio. An early start is strongly recommended to avoid the worst traffic so we were on the road for 0630hrs.

A chilly 10km steady drag leads to the first hairpin, thoughtfully numbered to remind you that you’ve 48 to go……. once through the woods the views are a mixture of distraction, terror and intimidation but keep tapping away and you’ll get to one of the most iconic views of the alpine cycling world, even if it’s 10 minutes after your 16yr old daughter arrived there, cracking ride Em!

With traffic building we headed over and forked right into Switzerland to descend the Umbrail Pass, which had just recently had its infamous gravel section tarmacked, a quiet and amazing descent led us down, back into Italy and to the campsite, one of the best rides I’ve ever done.

 

Sella Ronda

Further into Italy saw us in the Dolomites, well worth the journey. The “classic” circuit of the Sella Massif is incorporated into the Maratona Dles Dolomites, a beast of a ride but the Ronda cherry picks the best bits, with some stunning limestone scenery it’s an awesome ride packing a huge punch for only 33 miles, choose your day though as the weather can be fickle and the traffic can be busy.

 

Großglockner and Edelweißpitze (8,435ft)

Further east saw us in Austria and the mighty Großglockner, the highest pass in the country. As a toll road it was pretty quiet to start but the traffic soon built, I found myself alone as Emily had danced up ahead again and was soon being passed by tourists, motorbikes and souped up German supercars, I could cope with this, what demoralised me more was the rotund tourists on e-bikes gliding by…. but we all got to the top in our own desired manner.

Now, the “top”, there are two tops, the first slightly lower than the second, however an unpleasant descent and ascent through busy tunnels to get to the second looked unappealing (and I was knackered), so we retraced our steps and struck off up the rather steep and cobbled Edelweißpitze, higher than either of the pass’s high points, what a view at the top but the 17% cobbles were a challenge after the 2hrs of grinding to get there. A cracking 17 mile descent saw us back to the car, chapeau to Emily for nailing the 12 mile main descent at an average of 31mph to bag 7th lady of all time on Strava, top skills lass.

 

Col d’Izoard (7,743ft)

A few months later saw me back in France with a change of riding partner, Bob Whitfield, Settle Wheeler’s secret weapon and, just shy of 70yrs old, one of the fittest people I know, an inspiration and thankfully someone who can eat Aldi tinned curry and rice pudding day in day out, catering was sorted then….

Driving through France we stopped off and had a very pleasant stay and ride round the newly upgraded cycle paths around the Lacs d’Orient, then onto Briançon in the French Alps. We followed the Durance valley south then headed up towards the Queyras and north up and over the Izoard, a pretty unique environment of sandstone spires, scree and trees. A cold descent down to Briançon led us to the west side of the valley for the “balcon” back road back to the campsite. A great circuit.Durance Valley

A couple of short rides of note were a trip up to Fort Dauphin and the dead end valley of La Biaysee, both incorporating once again the westerly Durance valley back road which gives amazing quiet riding with stunning views. With the autumn upon us the colours were amazing.

 

Cime de La Bonette (9,193ft)

The big one, the biggest in France, if you believe the signs the biggest in Europe (but it’s not). I was actually quite surprised at how pleasant and enjoyable this ride was, I was anticipating pain and misery but the views were amazing and it was so quiet. The difficulties started past the old fort as we passed into clouds and the temperature dropped, we soon found ourselves at the col, but the loop road above it, the high point was showing as closed. Undeterred we rode on, rock fall from the scree covered summit cone was the issue but we dodged the shattered rock to complete the summit loop and descend to thankfully warmer roads, albeit being used to bring down the goats and sheep to the winter pastures, just like being home in The Dale’s.

 

Grand Gorge du Verdon

A few hours further south saw us in Provence and the spectacular limestone gorge of Verdon, a 76 mile circuit of the gorge with 8500ft of climbing gives some amazing views and some big climbs, the Routes des Cretes giving some quite amazing and unnerving riding, just remember it’s a one way road for half of it and it runs clockwise (although having accidentally ridden it anticlockwise the French drivers were very sympathetic and encouraging).

 

So after all that lot I can climb a little better, surely for longer although the steep kicks of The Dales still bloody hurt.

Getting ready for Winter Cycling …….

Friday, 07 September 2018

After one of the best summers for cycling in living memory, it’s time to start gearing up for some harsher Yorkshire weather.  Many enthusiasts continue to ride throughout the winter months and as long as you and your bike are properly equipped, there’s no reason to hang up your cleats until the Spring.

Safety, of course, is paramount so as soon as the nights start drawing in, make sure your bike has adequate lights so that you can see and be seen. It’s a legal requirement for all cyclists to have white front lights, a red rear light and reflector and amber pedal reflectors. Powerful LED lights are brighter than a conventional bulb and are reasonably priced nowadays as well as offering the convenience of being charged by USB.

Hi-viz cycle wear is also a wise investment, particularly if you’re commuting at dusk or early in the morning.  There are lots of bright neon yellow and green waterproof cycling jackets to choose from, or you could slip over a fluo vest.  Reflective arm or ankle bands are another good option with research showing that the up-and-down motion of pedalling catches the eye of the motorist more than a reflective strip on your back.

The other key consideration is staying warm.  As will most outdoor pursuits, layering is the answer to coping with the vagaries of the British winter.  Start with a high-tech wicking base layer designed to keep in the warmth, merino wool is still the favourite with many seasoned cyclists.  Then add a breathable long sleeved jersey in a light, synthetic fabric so you don’t get too hot on those uphills.  There are literally hundreds of tops to choose from, including specially designed windproof fabrics.

A good quality, waterproof jacket is an absolute must.  It’s worth investing in a specialist cycling jacket from a reputable brand – do make sure that the jacket is being marketed as ‘waterproof’ rather than ‘water resistant’ as you need something which really will shield you from the wind and rain.  While a cycling jacket may look broadly similar to your walking jacket, they are specially designed for the sport.  As well as having taped seams and storm-proof zips, they have a longer tail to protect you from spray and keep your back warm and many also feature under arm vents which can be openedfor extra breathability.  Designed to be light and compact, they can easily be slipped into the pocket of your cycling jersey.  While some cyclists refuse to spoil the lines of their bike with mud guards, it’s certainly better than having a wet back or spraying fellow cyclists!

You’ll also need to pay special attention to your hands and feet – as they are largely stationary while you’re cycling, they can very cold very quickly!  Rather than risk numb fingers which make it difficult to change gear and to brake, get some heavy duty cycling gloves and maybe silk liners too.  There are lots of products to keep your feet warm on chilly days, from wool socks to waterproof or windproof overshoes – lots of hardened cyclists also resort to winter boots for extra insulation.  A neck buff is useful for a bit of extra warmth when you set off, and a thermal skull cap that fits under your helmet also gives a bit more flexibility.

After months of glorious sunshine, even the most reticent fair weather cyclists may be thinking that it’s time to get back in the saddle.  For many of us, some of Yorkshire’s finest cycling country is just a short ride away.  Whether you want a steady amble down quiet lanes or the challenge of some of the Dales’ steeper hills, there’s something for everyone.

Fleet Moss Yorkshire

Fleet Moss at Sunset

The first thing to do, of course, is to check your bike is in good working order.  If you haven’t been out on it in a while, it would be worth having it serviced professionally at a reputable bike shop to make sure everything is running smoothly and it’s safe to ride.   Most services will include: adjusting or replacing brakes; checking the gear indexing; inspecting the wheels and tyres; changing cables; checking the headset and frame; and degreasing and re-lubing moving parts.  If you have been maintaining your bike regularly, just work through your usual checklist.  Don’t forget – always make sure you pump up your tyres and lube the chain before every ride!

Like anything, bicycle design is constantly being updated and improved, so if you feel that yours is past its best, it might be worth a trip to a decent bike shop to view the latest, energy-efficient models.  Make sure you go to a bike superstore which can offer you the widest choice; ask the staff for guidance on your particular needs; and, ideally, try out a few bikes before making a final choice. If you’re also going to use the bike to get to work, the Government’s Cycle to Work Scheme is a great way of helping to offset the cost of investing in a new bike as staff at many places of work can benefit from tax exemptions on their purchase.

You’d also be well advised to prepare for any unexpected mechanical issues – a small under saddle kit bag, equipped with on-the-road essentials such as a spare inner tube, tyre levers and a pump plus some basic tools, is a must.  A small CO2 inflator can also make the job of changing a tyre much quicker and easier if you are unlucky enough to get a puncture.

Wearing the right kit will ensure that your ride is as comfortable as possible.  Even if it’s sunny when you set out, be prepared for the vagaries of the British weather and take a compact, high performance waterproof jacket with you.  Some lightweight arm warmers or ‘warms’, also give flexibility as they can be easily slipped on or off as needed, and cycling leg warmers are another useful piece of kit.  Cycling glasses with interchangeable lenses will keep the sun (and flies) out of your eyes and it goes without saying that good quality, padded cycling shorts are another essential – and an investment you won’t regret!

Finally, keep eating and drinking regularly – you don’t want to risk hitting the wall or ‘bonking’ as it’s known in the cycling fraternity.  This is actually a serious condition which affects endurance sports; it is a sudden fatigue caused when you haven’t taken in enough carbs and have, therefore, used up your body’s glycogen stores.  The golden rule is to eat and drink little and often.  Always take two water bottles with you, one of which should contain a proprietary sports drink which has been specially designed to provide the sugars, carbohydrates and electrolytes needed by athletes.  There is also a wide range of high energy snacks available, including energy gels which are a concentrated form of sugars, designed to give a quick energy hit in a very compact form.  Or you could choose from hundreds of energy bars and chews, all of which give a swift boost as they are easily digested.

A holiday with a difference

Wednesday, 04 July 2018

With so many more people taking to their bikes for a weekend spin, the popularity of cycling holidays is also growing rapidly.  It’s easy to plan your own trip, either here or abroad, or if you would prefer someone else to organise it, there are hundreds of specialist tour companies which will take care of your itinerary, provide a guide if necessary and even transfer your bags between stops. It’s also a great way of meeting new people.

 

Just have a think about what you want to get out of the trip and then take your pick.  Do consider your cycling ability and pick an appropriate itinerary.  Most guided tours offer different levels of rides – if you only use your bike for an occasional five minute ride to the shops, don’t sign up for a 200k a day, hilly cycling adventure unless you are prepared to do some serious training beforehand!  Generally, however, cycling is a great way of seeing more of a country in a relaxed way, far removed from our usual fast-paced, stressful lives.

 

As with most sports, the key is to be prepared.  Whichever cycle holiday you opt for, it’s worth getting some hours in the saddle before you set off so that you’re comfortable and confident – it won’t be enjoyable if you’re struggling to keep up and are exhausted every night.  What’s more, even if you’re fairly fit, you will need to get your muscles used to cycling.

 

Think about what you need to take.  If you’re going abroad, it probably isn’t worth transporting your bike unless you’re doing some pretty serious cycling.  If you are planning a more strenuous trip, purpose-made bike travel boxes are now readily available to protect your bike in transit.

 

In many countries, you can hire decent bikes fairly easily, just make sure you’ve done some research first and, preferably, book bikes before you go.  That way, you can be certain that the correct size of bike is available.  Taking your own seat is a wise option, so you know you’ll be comfortable!  Also check whether the hire company can fit the bike with peddles compatible with your shoes if you use clip-ins (or flat pedals if you don’t), and that they will provide a repair kit and spare inner tube.  Generally, it’s safer to take your own helmet as you know its history.  Many companies will also provide emergency assistance for mechanical issues if you do get into difficulty.

 

Deciding what to take on holiday is always difficult, but thinking through the essentials is vital if you’re spending multiple days on a bike.  Don’t even think about ‘managing’ without cycle specific gear – the starting point is high performance padded cycle shorts which are a must!  Talking of which, some anti-chaff or chamois cream would also be a wise investment.  You’ll need cycle jerseys which are wicking and have plenty of back pockets for all your bits and pieces.  Don’t forget cycle gloves and cycle glasses (the wrap-around ones to stop fly-in-the-eye are good, ideally with changeable lenses for different conditions).  A good quality, compact waterproof jacket and arm warmers could also be lifesavers, enabling you to easily adapt to changing weather.

 

The most practical way of carrying your essentials is in a small saddle, frame or handlebar bag – you won’t need to take much with you, just some snacks (such as energy gels and high protein bars), money and sun cream are usually enough.  And don’t forget to take plenty of fluids!  If you’re in a hot country, you’ll obviously need far more water than you would at home – take a couple of bottles and fill them up during the day.  There are also lots of electrolyte and energy products you can add to your water if you feel you need an extra boost.

Electrically assisted bikes are becoming a common sight on our road and cyclepaths – combining a conventional bike with a battery and motor, they take much of the effort out of pedalling.  Not only is this great for older cyclists who don’t want to struggle up hills, but they’re now proving popular with people of all ages for a wide range of reasons.

 

For example, e-bikes are ideal if you’re commuting, allowing you to cover the miles without arriving at work needing a shower!  They’re also useful for cyclists who are recovering from an injury, helping them to get back in the saddle faster, safe in the knowledge that they have the boost of a motor is they need it.  As anyone over the age of 14 can ride an electric bike, they’re also a great way of giving teenagers more independence and enable cyclists of different abilities to ride together.  In fact, mountain bikers are also turning to motorised bikes for some off-road fun as they enable them to quickly ascend the hills and spend more time enjoying the thrill of hurtling down.

 

On the continent, electric bikes have long been popular and it’s estimated that almost 40% of German cyclists use e-bikes, with Holland and France also being big players.  The UK too is seeing a surge in demand as people wake up to their many benefits – they’re environmentally-friendly and a very cost-effective way to get around; you don’t need road tax, insurance, a licence or to pay for parking.

 

E-bikes have a small, integrated electric motor which is engaged by pedalling or using the throttle on the handlebar.  As you have to pedal in order for the motor to run, they do involve an element of exercise – with a maximum speed of 15mph uphill, riders are able to choose from different levels of power to assist them.  The lowest setting, usually ‘eco’, only gives a slight push while the highest, ‘turbo’ gives a big boost, particularly from a stationery position or up hills.  Electric bikes have rechargeable batteries that can be charged at a normal mains socket, usually taking about three hours and lasting for around 20 miles.

While originally aimed at the ‘silver cyclists’, e-bikes are the latest craze among young, daredevil mountain bikers with the bonus of having a motor enabling them to tackle even the steepest of off road trails.  These e-MTBs offer all the benefits of a performance-orientated trail bike, but with the added fun of an extra boost of power.  They’re great for mountain bikers recovering from injuries; or for those who enjoy an occasional off-road blast but don’t want to have to commit to a tough training regime in order to keep up with the pack.  E-bikes are perfect for helping you get you up those climbs faster and for covering long distances so you can enjoy the more exciting parts of the trail.

 

The choice of e-bikes has exploded in recent years and, as with regular bikes, in general terms, the more you pay, the better quality of components you  get.  Whether you want a compact model for commuting or a high performance mountain bike with carbon frame, there’s an electric bike for you.

 

No matter how scathing conventional cyclists have been about the concept of a bike with a motor, e-bikes are certainly carving out a place for themselves and, what’s more, every cycling purist I know who has tried one has quickly been converted!  While I don’t think that e-bikes will ever replace traditional road bikes and MBTs, many avid cyclists are adding an electric bike to their collection – and it’s certainly a  great option to have.

 

www.yorkshireelectricbikecompany.co. uk