The Yorkshire Cycling Federation

I went up North for the first time in a little while. I had a longstanding commitment to attend the annual YCF awards dinner as guest of honour. It’s worth mentioning that when these invites come along I’m very surprised and feel obliged to attend. I usually apologise when speaking for not being someone of greater worth or notoreity. Nevertheless, people are kind enough to ask so it suggests in its small way that something I’ve done, namely written a book, has had some impact on the lives of others, for which I’m genuinely grateful and touched. I still feel like an imposter though.

I took the bike and went out early on the Sunday morning on one of my favourite loops ever, anywhere. It’s a short but savage perambulation that runs as follows:

Allerton – Haworth – Stanbury – Wycoller – – Scar Top – Colne – Trawden – Widdop – Blade Dean – Slack Top – Heptonstall – Hebden Bridge – Peckett Well – Oxenhope – Denholm – Allerton

It translates as about 5,000 feet in 45 miles. I had three hours to spare. It was a quite tight. The climbs pitch up in brutal slices, none more so than a very narrow track up Slack Road towards Widdop, and then the most horrid death that is Wadsworth Lane and Height Road, a vile and unrelenting climb of unceasing pitch that had me reaching for gears that I didn’t have, nor will ever have. It wasn’t a case of missing the 27, I was missing a massive dinner plate on the back and an 11t on the front. I have been doing this circuit for many years. There are other rides, but it’s the one I go back to and know inside out. Some of my first longer rides after returning to cycling in my 20s were out on these roads, so it does have a certain feeling, a resonance if you like.

It’s a beautiful and utterly desolate landscape. The two things are symbiotic; the emptiness of the hills and the raw, unfettered moorland combine to transcend wherever it is you’ve pedalled from.

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The cobbled climb in Haworth which roped in the Tour
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The climb up Slack Road; it’s an absolute stinker, but it’s very beautiful. It would make a stonking hill climb. 
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Hardy hill types, about the only people I saw. 
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The view towards Widdop
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These are my favourite mileposts ever
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Moor Elephants at Oxenhope
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There was some life on the Moor, just not in human form. 

The trouble and the joy of riding in Yorkshire is the continual undulation. The Mendips, for example, are beautiful, but it’s a confined area of a certain number of square miles. Get up into West Yorkshire and it’s all like it, until you get to the Dales, then it’s even worse/better, until you get to the Lakes, at which point it’s more worser/betterer again.

I made it back with some chewing of stem, just inside the three hour window, and then hotfooted it across to Tadcaster for the shindig. There was the usual table laden with silverware and famous names.

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The Boot. 84″ fixed gear. BOSH. 
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Still discussed in reverent terms around the table by those who knew her. 
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More Beryl. 

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Mike Smith was the compere. He was very charming. I didn’t really put the name to the voice until l checked later, but he does quite a bit of Eurosport stuff and things at Manchester. They gave away a special award in honour of CA Rhodes. This year’s winners were Steve Bate and Adam Duggleby for their medals in Rio. These are incredible feats.

The Worlds are coming to Yorkshire soon. In my brief speech I mentioned how it’s easy to see it as a testament to the recent popularity of cycling. However, it’s a tribute to the success of Yorkshire Cycling over the years, the way the topography has become intertwined with the mythology of cycling within this country, a part of the national identity, a litany of names, places and things; Beryl Burton, Ben Swift, Blubberhouses, Holme Moss, the Circuit of Keighley, Dave Rayner, Malcolm Elliott, the Strines… and the beat goes on. It’s amateur sport that has led to this pinnacle of cycling. It was curious to meet people with living memory of Beryl Burton, discussing their memories of her. Up until this point she has been a mythic figure; images and anecdotes. It was vaguely reminiscent of the time I saw Karl Marx’s grave in Highgate. I realised he was was really real.

I think that this will probably be the last of the ACE related Endeavours. It’s done me well. I now have to turn my attention fully to the next project and pile on in. In the meantime, I’m going to get out on my touring bike this weekend. I’ll keep all three of you posted.

1962 British Cyclo Cross Championships

john atkins at Tingley in 1962

It’s currently the middle of the cyclo-cross season. Or, as i referred to it in the pub during the Ale Rave, ‘the cycling cross’. Cue much merriment from resident master of the rough stuff, Steve. Some time ago i posted a video of a cyclo-cross event from back in the day, when men were men and cyclo-cross was savagely brutal. That particular video went quite mainstream and can be seen in a variety of places.

I’ve recently stumbled across another one, filmed at the 1962 National Championship by members of the Morley CC ‘Film Unit’. It’s quite exciting that the Morley had a film unit. The half hour film features Beryl Burton winning the women’s race. The event takes place on open farmland at Tingley, near Wakefield.

utter filth

The men’s race features a battle between John Atkins and Harry Bond. Atkins was the pre-eminent cyclo-cross racer of the era, winning the title 12 times and the 3 Peaks three times. He came 2nd four times during his seventeen year career.

At Tingley most of the competitors seem to spend most of the race carrying their bikes. Some of the obstacles are almost insurmountable, and as the course cuts up the parcours become more and more treacherous.

a staggeringly high wall with a stranded and confused rider

All of this makes for excellent viewing and the healthy crowd are massed at the stream to watch the riders stumble and fall. Several of the competitors opt to jump across the gaps whilst shouldering their bikes; this is terrifying.

The full film is available to watch at the Yorkshire Film Archive.