The weather has been far too wet over the last few days to make a mountain bike ride an appealing prospect. I do, however, have strategies to overcome the weather and still get out for a worthwhile ride. I know some relatively weatherproof trails and if these are likely to be too dismal, I always have the roads to fall back on. Today we were awaiting our second named storm of the season in the form of Storm Barra. Wind speeds were likely to be high but it didn’t seem like the rain would be too heavy. I decided to wear warm clothing and ride on the bank of the Leeds/Liverpool canal. With no traffic it’s safer than road riding and although flat, except at locks, it’s technically off road, which appeals to me. I’ve ridden for 30 minutes on the canal in the Liverpool direction before and reached the vicinity of Haigh Hall, now a country park, before returning home. There’s a very muddy section, in wet conditions, at Red Rock so I thought I’d try the Leeds direction and would therefore enjoy a following wind from the south on my outbound leg.
I rode the short distance down Hogg’s Lane to the canal bank before starting my stopwatch and soon found myself alternating between eighth and ninth gears out of the ten available, with a helping hand from the wind. Despite the muddy, wet ground under the wheels I was still holding between 15 and 20 mph and the narrow path gave me a good sense of speed. I had to slow several times for dog walkers and soon reached the flight of 7 locks at Johnson’s Hillock. The canal rises by 65 feet and I needed to use the gears on some rather steep if short climbs. I noticed that, for a short distance, the wind was blowing from the opposite direction. It must be swirling through the hills and I started to think that my outbound time might not be too dissimilar to my return leg. I noticed just how many canal boats there are. It really is a very popular pastime though some narrow boats are lived on so it can also be a lifestyle. I reached bridge 90, the ninetieth bridge from Liverpool, showing 30 minutes and 40 seconds. Whilst I was stopped taking photos I felt a chilly breeze.
I could feel the headwind as soon as I started my return journey. I was now in seventh gear and sometimes had to drop to sixth where the mud held me back. Even the brief period where the wind changed direction was barely noticeable but worse was to come. The wind seemed to have picked up and was biting my face in it’s icy jaws. Further on it was funnelling between trees and bridges and I had to drop to fourth gear a couple of times just to keep going. Fourth is a very low gear on a mountain bike, usually reserved for climbing steep hills but now I needed it on a level surface. This was definitely type 2 fun, the kind of thing that only feels like fun when it’s done and you can look back on your success, having overcome the difficulties. I had no choice but to get my head down and battle through it. Some gusts felt like they were going to stop me dead in my tracks. I was glad to get back to my start point but hadn’t thought much about how long it was taking me. I was surprised to find that my 30 minutes 40 outbound had only increased to 35 minutes 20 on my return. I’d worked quite hard and on balance had had a decent ride. Speaking of balance I was rather dizzy immediately after the ride. I wondered if it was the effect of the cold or the swirling winds. I soon felt back to normal and can confirm that there’s something invigorating about being out in really windy weather.
If you’re an enthusiast for the app. Strava, I can certainly recommend riding on a windy day. I set 8 fastest ever sector times, which I wouldn’t have managed in still conditions. My total time, though, was probably a few mph down on what I’d have done on a still day. The advantages just don’t compensate for the disadvantages.