Last ride before the big one.

I’ve been planning to ride the 47 mile Mary Towneley Loop since the beginning of the year. My hope was to do it in April, when the weather was amazingly dry, but the Coronavirus lockdown prevented me. The weather was too wet at the end of August, when I last had a chance but this weekend it’s going to be dry on Saturday and Sunday, though we may get a little rain tonight (Friday night). The ride is almost all off road and climbs and falls by a total of 6,500 feet. It is probably best ridden on a mountain bike with a cross country demeanour and in my own stable, now numbering 5 bikes, I’m thinking my best option is my Whyte JW4. It is light in weight, so should be easier to get up the hills, and has both front and rear suspension which will aid comfort. As far as I know there will be few times in the 47 miles when the suspension performance will aid my speed on faster, downhill sections but rear suspension can help on the climbs. The slight weight penalty of rear suspension will hopefully be overcome by better traction and a much smoother ride over broken ground. In addition, on longer rides especially, the comfort of full suspension leaves the rider much fresher and able to perform for longer. The Whyte JW4 has an additional trick up it’s sleeve. The unique linkage front suspension resists bobbing up and down when you pedal. Such compression of the suspension wastes energy in the form of heat in the spring and damper which could be better used to propel the bike forwards.

The bike is fully serviced and ready to go and I’m about as well prepared as I could be. The route is signposted but I also have a detailed map so as long as I don’t daydream I should find my way around. I’ve studied Google Earth to get as much familiarity with the loop as I can. Luckily the whole way is featured in “Street View” so I’ve been able to look at plenty of good 360 degree photographs of the trail. I’ve packed a few spare parts such as inner tube and gear cable, all the tools I might need and have planned the food and drink which I’ll take. My wife, Ali, is going to take me to the start and pick me up at the end by car. Most suggestions are that a fit rider will need 6 to 7 hours to complete the ride, though the fastest times achieved are less than 5 hours. I rarely rest during a ride so this time will probably only stop to eat and take photographs and to open the reputed 50 gates which are a feature of the route. The loop is named after the late Mary Towneley who campaigned for access to the countryside on horseback. Fortunately bicycles are allowed to use all bridalways in Britain so my ride will be completely legal.

Today I thought I’d take it easy on my last ride before the big one and not do much climbing so that in 2 days time my muscles are not still in recovery but ready to go. I’d walked my dog, Freddie, through Duxbury Woods this morning and took the same route on the JW4. I’ve noticed that the rear suspension doesn’t perform as well over small, repeated bumps as my more modern Boardman FS Pro but the bike does feel tight and fast. I’m going to change the rather chunky front tyre, which is a Maxxis High Roller, for something less knobbly and hopefully faster rolling. The terrain in the woods is probably more challenging than any part of my ride on Sunday but after returning along the opposite bank I took a very easy option and rode north on the Leeds/Liverpool canal. The towpath stays resolutely between 299 and 301 feet above sea level until reaching Johnson’s Hillock which has a series of 7 locks, rising 65 feet. At the top is the delightful Top Lock pub where I regretted the lack of cash in my back pack. I took some photos and loosened the straps on my pack which had been causing my hands to go numb.

A formerly important transport link is now an excellent leisure facility.
Modern full suspension bikes tend to be all about the downhills. The 2004 vintage Whyte was designed for quick progress on long, cross country rides.

On my return down the canal I could feel the wind in my face but by Sunday winds will hopefully be light. After covering more than a quarter of Sunday’s distance in an hour and a quarter I wasn’t at all tired though I’d climbed only 376 feet in my ride. I’m looking forwards to Sunday and will, of course, write about it in full.

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