The Full Cycle

I’ve been a bit quiet on here of late, certainly by my usual fairly prolific and inane standards. It’s a combination of things, notwithstanding moving house and pursuing research for a book i’m writing. However, it’s also to do with a vague, almost unnoticeable change in my attitude to cycling. there has been a gentle shift lately, but again, it’s not anything significant. having had a few experiences of late where i palpably haven’t enjoyed cycling, i’ve set out to try and rediscover the reasons why I am so utterly captivated with cycling in all its myriad forms. often when racing i don’t realise how much i enjoy it. it’s only on reflection that i recognise how much cycling keeps me on the straight and narrow and banishes the demons to the gutter in a classic coup de bordure.

La bordure est, en cyclisme, un groupe de coureurs séparés des autres à cause d’une soudaine accélération en tête de peloton.

Si le vent arrive de côté ou de 3/4 face, un groupe de coureurs en tête de peloton se dispose en éventail (jusqu’à la bordure de la chaussée) de sorte qu’un coureur suivant l’éventail ne peut plus profiter du coureur précédent pour s’abriter du vent. Si le groupe de coureurs en éventail accélère brusquement, les coureurs suivants directement l’éventail se retrouvent en file indienne, derrière la queue de l’éventail, et ne sont donc plus protégés du vent. Dans ces conditions, il est très difficile de suivre le rythme, ce qui provoque une ou plusieurs cassures au sein du peloton. Le coup de bordure peut servir plusieurs objectifs, comme la victoire de la course ou la mise en difficulté de concurrents directs.

it sounds so much lovelier in french.

sometimes it’s simply a good time to pause and reflect, and there certainly was a serendipity surrounding my abject failure in managing to get to a startline last weekend. instead i managed to get the bike out and just ride it. i wanted to do some longer rides and get a bit more endurance going, but also i just wanted to go out and ride, on my own (plus ca change) and be unencumbered by anything else. to this end i removed all my ride data from Strava and closed my account. there are other reasons why i closed my strava account, and maybe i’ll outline those in another post, but predominantly it was taking quite a lot of the fun out cycling.

if only all signposts were this lovely

i did 42 hilly miles last Saturday around the Mendips, taking in Blagdon and a few other snorters. On the Monday i rode from Cheltenham to Bristol, with a few more hilly beasts. Wednesday was a quick blast out and back and today was an absolute belter in the West Yorkshire hills. It’s been a 230 mile week with 16000 feet of climbing and I’ve enjoyed it, none more so than today’s ride.

A hidden valley near Trawden, the road in the distance is a fearsome climb

I waxed and waned all morning, partly hoping for a window in the weather and partly hoping for a monumental downpour so i could just lie indolently on the sofa. in the end it didn’t seem to be raining all that much so I threw caution to the wind – the feral, violent, gale force wind, i hasten to add – and saddled up. the intention was to take in a route i hadn’t ridden for about 9 years. I hadn’t thought about it too much, but once out and riding i realised that it was a route that i used to do when i first returned to cycling after more than a few years out. It heads out of Bradford to Haworth, past the Brontë parsonage with their avante-garde hëavy-mëtal umlaut, then out across Scar Top. It’s a stretch of moorland dominated by reservoirs and open expanses of unspoilt heath. There are very few cars and lots of strange birds you might not necessarily expect to see – oyster catchers for one. the only issue was the unbelievably violent headwind slapping me repeatedly in the face. my only hope was that i would get a really saucy ride home from the lusty tailwind as recompense for being worked over on the way out.

beautifully desolate and deserted

the road undulates and turns with no flat sections to speak of. The turn is essentially at Trawden, at which point you skirt the edge of Wycoller Park, an area even more desolately beautiful than Scar Top. After a fairly long climb i gingerly dropped down into a hidden valley and a rolling bank of low cloud. the micro-climate within the steep valley walls and the muffling effect of the dense and rolling cloud bank served to create a feeling of breathless silence. i climbed out of the valley, accompanied only by the sound of my rattled breathing, and near the top paused to revel in the momentary and fleeting nature of soundlessness. i felt completely enraptured and utterly alive, a feeling that comes from being out in the wilds and divorced from the relentless march of time and space. as always, in trying to make space for the moment some of the magic dissipated, but i rode on in blissful solitude, and was indeed rewarded with a tailwind that shoved me gently homewards.

sous les paves, la plage!

Heptonstall revealed itself as a beautiful village with an absolutely terrifying cobbled descent of about a kilometre. I then headed through the epicentre of new-age hippydom that is Hebden Bridge. there should be bright red signs at the top of all descents into Hebden, warning cyclists that should they choose to ride down into the alternative capital of West Yorkshire, they should take due care to avoid the wandering bedreadlocked crustafarians and their sandalled brood, but also that they should be aware that the roads out of Hedben are vertical walls of pain and penury.

out on the wiley, windy moors

I opted for Wadsworth Lane and Height Road . It goes on and on, ascending a savage 400 feet in 1.5 miles. After the briefest of respites the next climb was immediately ahead: Halifax Lane at Luddenden. This beast rises up 700 feet in under 2 miles, with an average gradient of 12%. It’s quite disconcerting to see huge scars in the tarmac on the hairpins where cars have scraped their way around the corner. It was used for the National Hill Climb about 15 years ago and I can confirm that it is one of the most challenging climbs i’ve ridden for quite some time.


In total, i somehow managed to squeeze in 6,500 feet of climbing in 42 miles. With the added effects of wind and rain, it was a tough ride, but a real cracker. I enjoyed it very much. When I last rode the route, minus one or two of the climbs, i seem to remember really struggling all the way round. I still struggled today – it’s just a really hard loop, and even though i’m much fitter and probably a lot faster, it still hurts just as much to go uphill. Nevertheless, i felt a certain sense of things being cyclical, returning back to the loops i used to do when i escaped from London temporarily, revelling in the solitude of the countryside. i felt that same sense of serenity and peace and an unambiguous enjoyment of cycling. I have been lucky enough to talk to Jim Henderson recently. We discussed memories and enjoyment of cycling and both of us leaned towards the longer, day rides, the epic saddlebag tours when amazing things happen, the commutes to work at 6am as the sun lifts up above the hedgerow and startled wildlife bolts at the unexpected sight of a cyclist on a 60″ gear. These are the moments that shape and define cycling, that key it into the psyche and make it something other.

something made me forego the usual cake stop

8 thoughts on “The Full Cycle

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  1. Keep wanting to go and ride around Yorkshire. Used to go and stay at a friends cottage near Kirbymoorside in Gillamoor. Some amazing scenery around there. Most of the times I’ve been there has been in Winter with plenty of snow around to make the moor roads interesting, if not perilous. One day I’ll make it up there in the Summer.

    + Keep meaning to try to catch up with you and go for that drink… but guessing you’re still off the booze for the season?

  2. I never know if I agree with that Henry Lawson poem on Sheldon Brown’s website or not, but even if new roads are the bee’s, then old loops are the next best thing. Losing the odo was the best thing that ever happened to my handlebars.

  3. I hate cycling right now because my partner hates me having a life of my own. If anyone has seen Velo i’m at the scene where I’ve buried my bike under the back garden and i’m in a fetal position on my bed wallowing in self pity working my way through my third pack of biscuits.

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