Autumn can be a hard time for mountain bikers. The dry trails give way to mud and temperatures fall. In compensation we may get a fabulous display of rusty shades but this is a short time to fill the soul before the starkness of winter. Today was about as good a day as we can expect in northern England at this time of year with the temperature at 11 celcius and plenty of sunshine. I couldn’t resist a bike ride after walking the dog and making an essential shopping trip on my scooter. I’ve been thinking back to my attempt to ride the 47 mile Mary Towneley Loop in September. If it hadn’t been for a split sidewall of my rear tyre I could surely have completed the last 7 miles with only one 500 foot hill to climb. Extra fitness, though, would do no harm so I’ve mused on what this actually means. I seemed to have sufficient stamina though I made sure I didn’t exhaust myself on the many tough climbs. What would probably have helped most of all would have been more power in my legs to climb. I’m aware that I don’t have the power I once had and this is proven by the fact that there are some really difficult climbs locally which I can’t conquer any longer. I may never be able to reach the same level as I achieved 20 or more years ago but I know that I don’t try the toughest climbs in the way I did back then. Maybe by just putting the effort in more often I can improve my climbing ability and therefore power. The muddy conditions we have now are not the best for very steep climbs since you’re likely to stop due to a wheel spin before the gradient beats you. I thought I could, however, get some useful training in by climbing Great Hill and making sure I put the effort in on the many hard gradients.
I used the roads the whole way to White Coppice today because my usual mainly off road route was bound to be slow and muddy. At the village I decided to cross a ford and and follow a concrete road which I haven’t ridden in a very long time, like 25 years. It seems to climb quite steeply with no descent taking you to the bottom corner of Brinscall Woods, which is only a few meters higher than the ford which I’d crossed. Who stole the downhill? Time to refer to Strava, the cycling app. It seems that the ford is at 416 feet from which I climbed to 543 feet. I then descended on a grass and mud surface to 500 feet so obviously just didn’t feel the benefit of the loss of height. Mystery solved.
Climbing the gravel fire road in the woods and the wet surface is making progress far harder. After a short section of tarmac is the gravel, rock and mud climb up the final 400 feet but first I heard cyclists coming up behind me on the tarmac. I reached the gate before I was overtaken and when I stopped I was surprised to find that the riders weren’t super fit road bikers but a couple on Ebikes. We chatted and they asked if they could reach Rivington across the moors. I assured them that they could, on the trail mainly paved with sandstone slabs. I helped them to lift one of the bikes over the gate and they really are heavy. I could manage it alone buy I don’t think I could shoulder such a beast and climb over a stile as I do with a conventional bike. I set off before them on the gravel which has been badly rutted by heavy rains during the summer. I made sure I kept my effort up on the climb. Before the final stile is an especially tough section with protruding rocks and I was working at perhaps 90% effort to keep it going. The rest of the way starts steeply and has some awkward step ups. On the summit at 1,250 feet I took some pictures.
It begins on stone slabs but soon changes to a sinuous trail of rock, grit, grass and at this time of year, mud. Just before the stile I hurled it off a couple of drop offs, slamming it into the ground and digging the wheels in to brake with yards to spare. It was like showing a Jackson Pollock painting to someone with no appreciation of art. They just didn’t seem to get it. I had to slow more than once on the next section for walkers. It’s worth being cautious and polite though there are still some walkers who don’t accept bikes on what were once exclusively footpaths. It’s a pity that the legal status of rights of way have not changed since before the mountain bike existed.
Over the stile is a long, long trail with a varying surface. After the first twists on grass is a very rocky segment. Walkers slowed me today but that at least lessens the chances of blowing a tyre. Next comes gravel then a fantastic minute of your life on a truly exciting trail descending to the woods. A final stile and along the top of the woods. I almost made the first rocky hump by using my lowest gear and pedaling hard, stopping just at the crest. After this undulating section is the trail I’d choose to ride if I had to pick just one. It’s like a dozen different trails with the ever changing surface. So many chances to slide to the ground or glory in the best sport yet invented.
I rode back to White Coppice and on towards Healey Nab. I could tell that my extra effort was having a big effect and felt the effort climbing the back of the hill. A group of riders ascended in front of me and I left a gap before I started the big downhill. They turned onto the black graded route and I continued to the final more open section, taking it easy in the mud. It was a very fulfilling ride and making a bigger effort definitely had an effect on my legs and in fact my whole body. I’ll keep giving it a bit more this winter.