What a treat!

The weather in Northern England can change rapidly. It’s often like 4 seasons in one day! Our town of Chorley in Lancashire is actually said to be the second cloudiest place in Britain, probably due to our local hill, Healey Nab, trapping the cloud over the town as it spills in from the coast. This month, however, we have a massive and static area of high pressure over the country which has meant virtually no rain, though temperatures have still been in single figures Celsius. Near perfect conditions for mountain biking and such a treat for the time of year.

I’ve been a little lax in my training so far this year and really need to get out for some longer rides so decided to ride to the top of Great Hill at 1,252 feet. Starting at 299 feet with many undulations along the way the climbing on the ride would total 1,378 feet in 15.66 miles. What the raw figures can never convey is just how many thrilling moments lie along the way.

I rode more gently than I often do having ridden 2 days ago after a couple of weeks of hard, physical gardening work. I undulated to Brinscall Woods where the big climb to the summit began. I used the shorter, steeper ascent of the woods partly to test the abilities of my chosen steed, the radical if aging Whyte JW4. This bike was conceived at a time when people realised that most of your riding is on the level and up hill rather than only considering downhill performance. It has a unique front suspension system to prevent bobbing under pedalling forces and weighs way less than 30 lbs. I could immediately feel the light weight and sense of acceleration under power. The front end is also very light which enables you to skip over rocks and other trail blocking obstacles like no other bike. A lack of sales meant that the concept was never further developed. I count myself lucky to have 2 such bikes.

I rode with another rider on a Trek hardtail for a while on the climb until he turned off for the descent to White Coppice about two thirds of the way up the hill. I continued to the stone cross windbreak on top and didn’t feel too fatigued, probably due to the light weight of the JW4. The 100 mm of suspension travel at each end means that the bike isn’t as plush as many more modern bikes and the small, 26″ wheels compound this. After reaching the summit I turned for the long descent to the bottom of Brinscall Woods, Here the bike performed very well. It isn’t a trail with big rocks and bumps and the small bump performance of the Whyte is excellent, absorbing the rippled surfaces very well. I had to slow many times for walkers but this took nothing away from the thrill of riding in such good conditions. There was still some mud in places but the good weather is expected to continue at least beyond next weekend so things should improve further.

The smaller 26″ tyres give slightly less grip than I’ve become accustomed to but I still managed some fast downhill times. In fact on my final descent of Healey Nab I recorded the fastest time in a very long period on the red graded downhill. I expect that this was partly due to the better speed up an incline about a third of the way down the segment where the superior climbing ability of the JW4 helped. I was feeling the effects of 2 hours of continuous riding in the later stages but what a treat!

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