little lies


10363963_10152688171339863_19144140860253414_nRolling through the delightfully named village of Upperthong, I couldn’t resist stopping to document the warning of headless children and their headless parents.

I’m reliably informed there is also a Lowerthong and even a Neverthong although I suspect the latter is more life advice than a place name…

Moments later (still childishly sniggering at ‘Upperthong’), I was hurtling downhill, pushing 40mph and leaning into a corner as I saw the bonnet of a car pulling out of a side road.

Instinctively, I pulled on the brakes and attempted to steer to safety. The rear tyre squealed for mercy as it let go of the tarmac, taking the bike into a superbike-esque sideways skid leaving the front brake to do all the work while I did everything in my power to stop it locking up.

Some time later, at the bottom of the hill my riding companion gave me that familiar ashen-faced look, revealing just how close that shave must’ve been.

Scout Tunnel Huddersfield Narrow Canal Surly TrollThis was just one of many crazy moments, the likes of which I seem to come across quite often… earlier in the ride I was fumbling around in the dark, slipping on slimy cobbles as water dripped down my neck (courtesy of the very long, very damp and VERY DARK Scout Tunnel on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, near Stalybridge).

Later, I found myself being chased along the Woodhead Pass section of the Trans Pennine Trail by an extremely frisky and very vocal Spring lamb. We couldn’t decide whether he was excited to see us, annoyed we were disturbing his otherwise peaceful afternoon napping in the sunshine or just plain crazy but what must’ve been the lamb’s mother eventually came wearily trotting over and called him back after he nearly went under our wheels for the 3rd time. She had that “…he does this EVERY time a cyclist comes by…” look on her face.

Huh. Sheep do have expressions on their faces. Who knew?

Salter's Brook 2x Surly Troll Salter's Brook BridgeJust before our run in with the sheep, we’d stopped for a photo opportunity at Salter’s Brook Bridge. It’s all historical and interesting here, there’s a (now ruined) shelter which used to be a haven from the elements back when people transported salt across t’ Pennines by way of long-suffering packhorse. The keen-eyed observers amongst you may have spotted some similarities between our two long-suffering packhorses… Yep, what we have here is the rare sight of 2 original orange Surly Trolls basking in the sunshine in their natural habitat.

Surly Troll Greenfield 1This one is, of course, mine and I suppose these days it’s technically a Surl Troll since the ‘Y’ fell off. These days it’s back in what has become know as “heavy ass utility mode” with rigid fork, Jeff Jones Loop Bars, front & rear racks and Halo Twin Rail tyres.

Surly Troll Greenfield 2T’other Troll (the gigantic one) is owned by our freakishly tall friend of Northern Walker fame. Ever since we rode together with Shona & Rich from Keep Pedalling, Tyler & Trevor from Surly Bikes and a bunch of other like minded crazy folks, the Northern Walker Cyclist and I have been negotiating with our respective other halves for a free pass so we can go out and play on our bikes. And, one beautiful day in mid-May, that’s exactly what we did.

Behold: Trollfest #1.

2x Surly Troll GreenfieldOK, OK… I know all of 2 bikes hardly qualifies as a ‘fest’ but the next one promises to be much better attended. In fact, we’re hoping to double the number of attendees to a semi-impressive… um, 4.

These Surly Troll things are a bit rare, you know.

Now, he’s a lovely bloke that Northern Walker but he does have a dark side…

He lies.

And he likes to torment fat blokes (or, at least this fat bloke).

Our route started in Manchester City Centre at the bike shop, picked up the Ashton Canal which took us out to Stalybridge where we marvelled at all the people clammering to get into Tesco’s while the trails were blissfully quiet. We continued on to the Huddersfield Narrow Canal which included the slippery walk through Scout Tunnel, an emergency banana stop and a number of missed photo opportunities.

Surly Troll Greenfield 3We pushed on through Mossley and started the serious climbing as we hit Greenfield. With the promise of imminent cake, I dug deep and did everything I could to keep up as we climbed yet further into Diggle.

More photo opportunities passed us by as I rode down some surprisingly familiar trails which form part of the challenging Diggle Jiggle I rode sometime last year.

Dying a thousand deaths, I was again promised cake. We pushed on with stomachs rumbling and the sun climbing higher in the sky.

“Just a little further”, he said.

The Northern Walker’s bike computer topped out at just over 61kph but I was still accelerating as I got down into the elusive beard-resting-on-the-bars aero position, moved out into the centre of the road and just let the bike go as fast as it wanted to.

As it turned out, “as fast as the bike wanted to go” was “faster than I felt safe going” so I pulled the brakes on and started the gradual process of slowing to a stop. The combination of the momentum I’d built up, the weight of the bike and the fat bloke tearing it down a long ass hill was enough to leave the brake discs scorched and the pads fading… it stopped me, but if I’d needed to slow down in an emergency, I would’ve been out of luck. It was spectacular fun.

Eventually, we rolled into Marsden and I missed yet another photo opportunity as we leaned the bikes against the window at the rather excellent Crumbals on the Corner.


We gorged ourselves on tea, sandwiches and a huge slice of cake, basked in the sun, swapped cycling stories and lingered longer than we probably should have.

Dragging ourselves away from the deliciousness, we hopped back on the bikes and headed for the aforementioned Upperthong via Meltham, regretting ordering (and nomming) such a large slice of cake on top of a large sandwich.

As we dug into our food at Crumbals, I was warned about “the climb out of Holmfirth” but was reassured that, while it’s “sharp”, it’s also “short”. Uh huh. Yeah. Like, “yeah, we’ll have cake soon”…

The warnings about the upcoming climb continued as we again hared downhill on the way out of Upperthong (this is where the near-death experience occured, as I recall).

We stopped at Holmfirth and, as the roadies whizzed by in every direction, we saw the NCN route 68 sign gleefully pointing up a very sharp climb which curved to the left past some houses.

“Like I said, it’s sharp but it ends just around that corner”

With those words of encouragement ringing in my ears, I approached the climb, dropped it into the granny ring and said “Right, let’s go and get laughed at by the roadies…”

If I was going up that hill, I was going up it hard. Instantly, as the ridiculous incline started, I lost all momentum and instinctively stood on the pedals. As the Trollhoff clicked down next to me, I arrogantly clicked up a few gears and rode by my friend with the blind determination of a bloody fool.

I rounded the corner and the “short, sharp climb” only got longer and sharper. I made some kind of guttural noise and pushed on even harder thinking that maybe it starts to even out after the second curve… Mockingly, the incline increased and I was forced to sit down and drop into the lowest of the low gears. Before long, I had to admit defeat and get off and walk.

To add insult to injury, I was soon passed by the Rohloff-turning long-legged liar who, whilst once a friend of mine, was now some git I’d once met.

By now, the sun was high in the crystal clear sky and, as they say, only Mad Dogs and Englishmen venture out in the mid-day sun. I’d refilled my bidons back at Crumbals but as we took a wrong turn on the approach to Winscar reservoir, we were both running dangerously low on fluids and the salt we’d lost through sweat was all too apparent in the crystalline white patches on our jerseys and shorts.

“Welcome to Barnsley” the sign said.




“I must’ve missed a turn somewhere…” the git said.

10390431_10152688171039863_2646682817147008200_nChecking the GPS, we found this ‘road’ heading in roughly the right direction. As we hit the surface (a mixture of deep sand, large sandstone boulders, loose hardcore and patches of lingering wet mud, we revelled in the unstoppable capablity of our rides. In their own way, they were very different machines – 1 with derailleurs, the other with (probably) the most expensive (and reportedly the best) internal gear hub in the world; 1 extra large, the other regular sized; 1 with uber-expensive Jones bars, the other with el-cheapo riser bars; 1 with now-super-hard-to-find Schwalbe Marathon Extreme tyres and the other with get-’em-anywhere Halo Twin Rails; but despite all the subtleties, these two machines had transported us across smooth tarmac at high speed, climbed obscene hills off road, descended obscene hills on and off road and handled just about every type of terrain you could fit into one day and, what’s more, they’d done it without missing a beat.

Surly Troll Clif Shot BlocksWe were almost completely out of fluids by this point and we were both drawing on what little remained of our emergency energy reserves.

This packet of Clif Shot Blocks and the remaining contents of our bidons was the only thing that dragged us up the climb from Winscar reservior to Dunford Bridge.

It was my turn to lie as I said “this isn’t a long climb”; which it probably isn’t but by that point, it sure as hell felt like it.

When I eventually caught up at the highest point on the Trans Pennine Trail, the Northern Walker revealed the secret to his dehydrated-hill-climbing success: “Yeah, I just had to have a word with myself…”

Soon after, we legged it across the Woodhead Pass, missed more photo opportunities, hung out at Salter’s Brook and survived ‘the lamb incident’.

Woodhead pass to Longdendale TrailFrom here, I knew it was all downhill (or at least flat) all the way back to Manchester so we paused briefly atop the Woodhead Pass before belting downhill to the Longdendale Trail which we despatched in record time, dropping the hammer and not relenting until we rolled into Hadfield.

The phone rang. We had already been out for over 7 hours. We were a good 2 hours beyond our curfew. There must’ve been something in the gravelly voice that meant the boss let us stay out just that little bit longer.

Instinctively, we fell into the pub and ordered 2 pints of the coldest, most delicious beer in the world. I also ordered a glass of iced soda water and asked for it to be poured right away. The barmaid, bless her, stopped everything she was doing and instantly poured us 2 ice-cold glasses of bubbling nectar which lasted a good… 10 seconds.

The beer lasted about 10 minutes.

We parted ways and I hopped on the train back to Manchester, the Northern Walker (now my friend again thanks to the miracle of beer) headed for home over t’ hills. The 6ish miles from the station back to home were a blissful blur, my dusty bike steering its own way, my legs somehow keeping the cranks turning as my frazzled brain recounted the day’s highs and lows.

Best. Day. Ever. (since the last one and until the next one)

Surly Troll bridleway

horse with no name


A while ago, I wrote about the perils of bonking and yet, this very weekend I found myself in a dark corner under a bridge over the Ashton Canal bonking my brains out with wild abandon.

Now, we all know the importance of eating well, not drinking too much and getting plenty of exercise so I won’t bore you with the usual holier-than-thou-go-for-the-burn-and-eat-a-granola-bar nonsense but I would like to share a cautionary tale with you, if you don’t mind.

As part of the whole me becoming a grown up extravaganza, I’m now looking at buying my first house and finally getting a foot on that shaky rung of the property ladder. Of course, there is a list of things the house must have (minumum 2 bedrooms, minimum distance from nearest council estate, maximum distance from nearest pub etc. etc.), chief amongst which is the ability to commute to work in under an hour without having to cycle along the shoulder of a 70mph dual carriageway.

Said potential new house finds itself in a little place called Carrbrook, roughly 10 miles from Manchester and quite literally perched on the edge of the Pennines; and, as it turns out, it’s possible to cycle almost all of the way along the Ashton Canal and Huddersfield Narrow Canal.

To test out my theory, I hopped on the Troll and headed out for a bit of recon. The trail itself is actually quite good almost all of the way and, with the exception of one puncture, a little cobble related unpleasantness and an impromptu detour around Ashton-under-Lyne, all was good with the world but that’s a story for another day.

Today, dear reader, is all about food and drink. On the day in question, I woke up early and shared a rather delicious breakfast of brown toast with scrambled eggs and smoked salmon with my ever patient girlfriend, Karen. After doing a few domestic chores, I was allowed out to play on my bike so I filled my bottles with water and took off in search of the horizon.

The planned ride was a mere 35ish miles (probably ended up close to 40ish with the unplanned detour and my penchant for exploring muddy trails up in the hills) so it was hardly what I would call a big distance and, I’m sure, what many readers of this blog ride without even blinking.

About 15 miles into the ride, I suffered a puncture which seemed to take an age to fix (lousy Troll and its horizontal dropouts) which swallowed up the one spare tube I was carrying with me. By sheer coincidence, I skipped off the towpath at Stalybridge only to spot Johnson’s Cycles across the road (sorry, can’t find a website to link to; must be a fairly new shop) so I headed in, Troll and all, getting mud all over the floor and everything I touched. I grabbed a couple of replacement tubes for £8 and nommed one of the free bananas that was lying on the counter.

After enjoying said ‘nana, a short rest and a nice chat, I got back on the trail, found a great route through a country park, up into the hills, past a reservoir and around to the back of the potential new house. Could I live with these views on my doorstep? I think so.

From here, all I had to do was retrace my steps (minus the detours of course) and I was feeling fine. What I didn’t realise was that I’d been out for several hours and it was already long past lunchtime. Heading back, I made steady progress until I was about 5 miles out of Manchester city centre; that’s when it hit me. The combination of the previous night’s Prosecco, a relentless headwind, my less than adequate intake of food and fluids was starting to take its revenge.

The lactic acid starting building up in my thighs, I was a little battered by the cobbles, there was nowhere to hide from that awful headwind and my mind started wandering. Somehow, I kept the pedals turning (in a big gear, too!) and the Troll found its own way home for the last 12 miles. How I didn’t end up in an accident, I don’t know.

I realised later (after nomming a Scooby-Doo style sandwich, a large handful of salty pretzels and drinking 2 cups of tea) that I was dehydrated and running low on energy reserves, salt and probably several other things your body needs to keep going.

Looking back, I probably only drank about 500ml of water the whole time I was out and with only the banana I ate in the shop and a second one I nommed later on as fuel, I’d basically pushed my unfit body beyond its hungover limits.

It’s easy to remember to eat and drink in the summer when you’re out riding with the mad dogs because you can see the sweat pouring off your brow, you can taste the salt leeching out of your body and you know you need refreshments. The problem is, when the weather’s a bit colder, you really don’t feel that need to eat and drink as much as you do when it’s hot and this proved to be my downfall.

They say you should drink before you’re thirsty and eat before you’re hungry… I’m not quite sure how that works; I guess after a while, you get to know just how much fuel your body needs and you can anticipate it before it feels like your stomach is tied in a knot and your throat is like a piece of sandpaper…

There are plenty of options out there for getting the right stuff into you from ready made drinks to powders, tablets, gels, energy bars and the list goes on. Try a few out and you’ll soon settle on the one that works best for you but, in the meantime, keep taking in plenty of water and you can do worse than have a couple of bananas and / or oaty flapjacks in your pockets.

Oh, and spare tubes too!