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Band of Climbers Summer of Steep

Updated: Sep 2, 2021

Muckle Cycle Club is proudly supported by Band of Climbers, and here's a couple of ride reports I did for them on their 'UK's Toughest 100km Group Rides' series.

The North York Moors

The Summer of Steep is officially here! Sunday 6th June was the first in the Band of Climbers Toughest 100km Group Rides series. The stunning North York Moors played host to round one, and it did not disappoint.

I was honoured to come along and help as one of the ride leaders on the day – not that I did much actual ride leading, it was more ‘ride following’ really. As soon as the road turned upwards, which was more or less constantly, I could only watch on as some of the rather handy riders who were participating made it look easy and danced away on the pedals.

I was also asked by Band of Climbers to write up a little report of the day for this story. I guess they thought they could rely on me for some humorous observations or anecdotes about the day. Let me tell you this though – when you’re grinding a 39x28 gear up a 33% gradient at a cadence of about 30rpm, and absolutely dying, attempting to dream up engaging things to talk about in a story post was a little bit beyond me.

The ride started just outside of Whitby, the home of Dracula (his UK residence at least), goths, and great scampi. Around 30 riders assembled at the BoC sign on station. I love the starts of rides like this - meeting new people, or ones you’ve maybe only known through the socials, for the first time, eyeing up each other’s quads, seeing who has the best coat of tan, comparing sock lengths, and cleanest, most pro looking bikes. As well, of course as making mental notes on who look to be the hitters and anticipating a good kicking from them on the climbs.

Our route for the day was a 100km loop in the heart of the North York Moors including 2,500m of elevation, and 5 climbs going over 30% gradients. We didn’t have to wait long for the suffering to start, as more or less straight away we were into the steep stuff, climbing Sleights Moor Hill - 3km at nearly 7% average and maximum gradient over 30%.

The pleasantries were put on pause until we regrouped at the top, by which point the legs were well and truly woken up. That, however, was just an hors d'oeuvres for some of the ramps we would be attempting to devour later.

Onwards we continued, on a course that was pretty much up or down, with seemingly no flat, the whole way. The route seemed littered with countless short, but super steep little ramps, in themselves innocuous but they definitely became progressively harder as the ride went on.

Some of the standout longer climbs - the main course on today’s menu - included Egton Moor - 6.7km long with an average gradient of 4% and max gradient over 20%. Rosedale Chimney (the hardest of today’s efforts in my opinion) - 1.5km long with nearly 14% average gradient and a max gradient of over 30%.

Blakey Hill was probably the second toughest - 2km long with an average gradient over 10% and nearly 30% maximum. Rosedale and Blakey were for sure the two standout climbs – chain snapping, lung busting hills, of the kind that forces mere mortals such as myself to zig zag across the road, desperately searching for the briefest respite from the unyielding gradient.

Thankfully, after Blakey Hill, the BoC van was there to greet us with a pop-up feed zone, so it was time to regroup, fill up bottles and smash in a bit of OTE Nutrition they’d kindly laid on for us.

Fortunately, the weather gods had largely favoured us that day – warm without being too hot, enough of a breeze to cool you down without it becoming a slog, and the earlier threat of rain had evaporated into a fine, dry day. Not often do we get a ‘just right’ kind of day in the UK, so it was certainly one to be savoured.

The North York Moors is a spectacular place, with some incredible views on the high ground of open, beautifully barren, landscapes. I thought about when Dracula was over here, and that it would’ve been such a shame for him to have missed these views, which wouldn’t be anywhere near as good if you only saw them at night.

Another thing I thought was so good about the day was distance people had travelled to take part. As well as the Tyneside and Yorkshire bunch, I chatted with a guy who was down from Glasgow, one who had travelled over from North Wales, and another bloke who had come up from Cambridgeshire (via the American Midwest).

Some interesting characters from far and wide, but the one thing they all had in common was giving me a good hiding on the hills! You’ve got to love cycling though - such a sociable sport which brings different people together. For me, at least, that’s pretty much what it’s all about, and one of the things we’ve all missed so much over the last year and a bit, which makes rides like this all the more enjoyable.

So, that was basically the order of the day – some on bike banter, spicy climb, post hill banter and recovery, followed by spicy descent. It all passed without incident, apart from one hair raising moment on a descent from Glaisedale when someone had to hit the brakes to avoid hitting a massive chicken in the road that did not seem particularly phased by a cyclist coming at it at 60kmph.

A bit of flapping around (from the chicken) and some adept bike handling skills and fortunately disaster was avoided. Doubly good because getting taken out by a chicken would not be a particularly noble way to crash, and also because it wasn’t just a standard chicken, it looked like one of those speciality posh chickens or something.

I had initially thought (in my suffering on the hills) I wouldn’t have any funny stories of the day but have just remembered that when we cycled past a sign for Fryupdale, someone speculated whether that was where the full English breakfast was invented. What a gem.

I must say, without looking any further into it, I am somewhat doubtful. Nevertheless, they must have started somewhere, right? I cannot really stomach the things myself, especially first thing in the morning, but if someone can set me straight and tell me the true and definitive origins of the full English breakfast, I’ll treat you to one (or probably just a coffee) on the next ride.

So, Band of Climbers toughest 100km group ride number one – complete. A classic day in the hills with friends old and new, taking in some of the finest countryside the UK has to offer. Next up on the Toughest Group Ride BoC tour is the Yorkshire Dales which I reckon is set to be another banger. See you there, together we climb.

Peak District

Well, my knees survived the North York Moors (and a weekend of fell running in the lakes – I’m sorry I’m not sorry 😉) therefore I duly came back for more suffering in hills at the third instalment of the Band of Climbers Toughest UK Group Rides series.

I missed the Yorkshire Dales ride the weekend before, which, by all accounts was a walk in the park compared to what today had in store for us – The winning route of last year’s hardest 100km route competition - 3000m of vert packed in to 100km, and an elevation profile resembling a sharks gnashers.

Firstly, I just have to say that the route was incredible, and I tip my hat to Mark from Sheffield based, 7 Hills Cycling Club, who has played an absolute blinder in devising it. It had just about everything I could want – a bit of urban chaos round the houses at the start to make things exciting. Plenty of twists, turns, and opportunities to get lost – adding further excitement / jeopardy.

Quiet lanes that weaved through woods, round lakes, and up and down short sharp banks. There were long drags, sweeping descents, and big views over open moors, valleys, and rugged crags. Just about the best of everything you can get in the UK, I think. Just zero flat whatsoever.

On the outskirts of the steel city 50 riders assembled, ready to test their mettle on the hills of the Peak District. The BoC crew and I were well prepared after a nice restful evening trying to sleep in child sized bunk beds at a local haunted youth hostel, preceded by a kebab which we wolfed down on the village green at Eyam, right next to a seemingly fully operational, set of medieval stocks. Something told me I would be in for a flogging tomorrow.

In the morning, the skies were heavy with some low mist hanging over the hills, and the temperature seemed only barely in double figures, but it was dry, and the wind wasn’t too bad. Hopefully, the sun would burn through the fog and things would improve later on, but for now we were all keen to crack on and get warmed up.

We set off in 3 groups, a few moments apart, and predictably the groups blew apart almost immediately as we were straight into twisty decent, followed by twisty climb. The start of the ride took us through some of the western suburbs of Sheffield, which resulted in the further fragmenting of the groups at the various junctions and traffic lights - all of which were nice and quiet at 8am on a Sunday morning.

As we headed North and away from the city, I found myself with a small group, which I then lost on a descent when I bunny hopped a puddle and dropped my chain (worth it to avoid excess splatter on the bike).

Fortunately, it wasn’t long until another little group caught up with me and I tagged along with them.The ride was a bit like a party in that respect – floating about having lots of little conversations with different people, all the time knowing that at a certain point I will start flagging and must deploy an emergency OTE gel. (Yes, I have used a gel at a wedding before – they can be long days, especially if the vol-au-vents have been clattered by everyone before they get round to you).

Most of the route was unfamiliar to me but one part I was looking forward to returning to was Pea Royd Lane which arrived at around the 35km mark (1.16km long, 12.5% average gradient).

I raced Pea Royd Lane at the 2018 national hill climb championships – the most savage 3 minutes I’ve had on a bike, I remember it took about a day before the taste of blood left my mouth. This time however there were no catchers required at the top of the hill to lift me off my bike and deposit me at the side of the road in shaking mess.

In fact, I had quite a pleasant time spinning up and chatting with fellow BoC rider Dean about some of the more bizarre conspiracy theories we have heard recently. We’re really spoiled for choice these days I think – back when I was a kid you just had the classic moon landing stuff, maybe a bit of JFK, and some of the standard Area 51 alien abduction type craic, but now there’s all sorts of wacky stuff you can get deep into and worry your friends and family by constantly talking about.

With wild conspiracy theories about Covid, vaccines and 5G put to bed not long after Pea Royd Lane, we arrived at the pop-up OTE feed zone where bottles were refilled, and jersey pockets were stuffed with bars and gels before setting off for the second half of the ride.Shout out to OTE who had once again laid on the nutrition.Essential for anyone who, like the BoC crew, may not have factored breakfast into the morning’s logistics.

One thing to note was the fantastic condition of the roads – a legacy of the 2014 Tour De France.I thought it would be great if we could have Grand Depart in Northumberland so they could give our lanes up there some much needed TLC. I chatted to a couple of guys from Surrey on the ride who shared similar feelings about their local roads.What a difference lovely tarmac makes.Really makes you forget about your troubles.

The next significant climb, which was also a feature of the 2014 tour was the ‘Cote de Bradfield’ (1.9km long, average gradient 10.1%). Again, I kept things sensible and spun (grinded) up, chatting (in laboured grunts) with some of the other people in my little group.

I heard that things hadn’t been so civilized with the front group on the ride, where a bit of good-natured competitive spirit had resulted in things getting a touch spicy. A bit of Strava stalking, and comparing segment times, in the van on the way home confirmed that the watts had indeed been pumped out, and shenanigans were had on the climbs. By all accounts there were some impressive performances, but had any of those fast guys in the front group reached a consensus on whether aliens had built the pyramids or not though?

I’m aware this write up has taken you round the houses even more than the start of the ride did, in my mind now the whole thing is just a blur of up and down! We’re nearly finished though I promise.

There were around 21 separate climbs on this ride, and they just came one after another. Most of them were short and sharp, and not necessarily anything you would have heard of, which says a lot about the region and the proliferation of hills it holds.

One of the longer climbs came towards the end of the ride – Burbage Moor (4.6km long average gradient 5.1%) which rose past and round an impressive craggy escarpment. Probably one of the more memorable climbs on the loop for me, thanks to the scenery.What I wasn’t thankful for was the head wind that we had turned into and that would be a feature for the rest of the ride.

Fortunately, there wasn’t much of the ride left, and soon we were at the finish, reunited with the BoC support van, and swapping tales of the ride with people from the different groups. The feeling was unanimous from everyone I spoke to - that had been the toughest 100km loop they had ever ridden in the UK, and I would certainly agree.

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