Gales, hammering rain squalls and two-feet deep puddles around most of the route aren’t the conditions you’d necessarily want on a day ride in the Dales. That’s exactly what faced us when we set out of the New Inn pub car park, Appletreewick at 10.30 the other Saturday morning though. Six and a half hours later we were drinking bottles of beer in the livery after one of the best rides we could remember.
We’ll admit that luck had played a part in us not still being out when it fell dark on Pockstones moor, but there was also some serious thinking involved to pull off a good ride at this time of year. But if a couple of Bikemagickers, a photographer, a German rucksack distributor, a seatpost maker and a cartoonist can manage it, you certainly can. For those wanting to follow the route it’s all on OS Explorer 26: Nidderdale (get the laminated version for this time of year).So how do you put together a good group ride?
The first thing to get straight is that the route in itself is not the most important thing, it’s the suitability of the route that is key.The riders
This means it needs to be suitable for all the riders in the group. Not only does the route have to be achievable by the slowest member of the group (with a decent emergency margin thrown in) but it also has to be enjoyable for them. Group rides aren’t fun if you’re always grovelling half a mile off the back only to find folk setting off as soon as you get there.
In weather like we had it’s also dangerous to have fit, skinny folk waiting at the top of hills for slower riders as core temperatures can drop very quickly. Polaris superhero John Houlihan might have been the one Santa Cruzing up the first hill with a heart beat 40 below everyone else, but it was him who suffered later when we were repairing punctures in a biting rain filled crosswind.
For this reason keep your group within a certain fitness range, and stick with it. If this means turning away people you know will slow you down too much for you to enjoy it, then that’s the way it has to be. You really are being cruel to be kind.The weather
Start checking the weather in the ride area at least a week beforehand, to check whether the ground is likely to be sodden or good going. I knew that with the amount of rain we’d been having Nidderdale’s trails would be washed down to the rock, with just a few bottomless swamps becoming more bottomless than usual.
One section of our ride shows just how much difference ground conditions can have on your speed. We were averaging about 5kmh across the first swampy section of Braithwaite Moor, alternately riding and walking through bog and puddles. However, as soon as we hit the Land Rover track behind the grouse butts with the wind (and torrential rain) behind us we span out at 60kmh and still carried on accelerating!
In general the wetter it gets the more exposed stuff will be cleaner and better going than low lying fields and pasture, but experience should tell you which areas are rideable and which not. The only trouble is that these exposed bits will also still be getting the worst of any weather and wind. Therefore checking wind direction and strength on the forecast and locally before you set out is crucial. Be prepared to keep an eye on the weather too as you ride too, as valleys and hills can have dramatic effects on wind direction and weather ferocity.
Make sure you minimise the effects of the weather too. If you have to stop for repairs or food, then get out of the wind and rain straight away, not when you start feeling cold. If that means dragging a broken bike 400 yards to the shelter of a drystone wall, or waiting 5 more minutes before lunch break then do it. Hypothermia doesn’t care if it’s inconvenient or not.The route
We went against all the rules by heading out with the wind behind us, but there was a plan behind that. To minimise the headwind on the way back we’d stay high on the tops for a push on the way out, and then sneak back along the valley bottoms as far as possible on the way back. Wherever possible we stuck to tracks that we knew would at least be solid under the water, but there are other considerations too.
If you know you are going to get cold and wet, then make sure there are parts of the ride where you can warm up. We came off Pockstones moor absolutely sodden and frozen, but by the time we’d hauled up the vertical white road climb at the back of Gouthwaite we were toasty warm again. The climb over to Middlesmoor from Scar house then warmed us up after gradually chilling out on the crosswind-ravaged track round Dale edge. The only trouble we had was the road plug back down from Lofthouse (the bridlepaths through the fields were waterlogged) which despite a reasonable pace saw body temperatures drop enough to declare an emergency café stop in Pateley Bridge.
And that’s the other important consideration.
Always make sure you have an easy get out clause in case things do turn nasty. If double fried egg and chips hadn’t worked their magic we could have left the weary in Patelely for later collection. Plus even if back up Greenhow hill wasn’t exactly the easy option at least it was quick and left us more daylight time to get back across Black Hill road than the original quarry path route we’d planned.The attitude
There’s always a competitve aspect to rides (well there is with me) but on big day rides the most important thing is that everyone leaves their serious ego’s at home, and just enjoys themselves. If you’re going to moan constantly about the weather then stay at home. Likewise if you’re going to curse about someone lagging behind on a hill while you get cold rather than going back and encouraging or even pushing them.
Don’t get hung up about your fitness – or lack of it – at this time of year, as Summer is a long way off. Besides, just by being out there riding now you’re doing the best you can to be fit in time for the dusty trails we dream of.The most important bit of all!
Once you get back have a quick mental check through what bits went well and which bits nearly (or actually) went horribly wrong. We’ll freely admit that the wind dropped at just the perfect moment to let us get back down Nidderdale, at a time when the serious headwind we were expecting could really have caused problems.
Make a note of these lessons and warnings and remember them next time, before they really catch you out.
That’s all for now folks, but stayed tuned for Part 2 next week where we look at kit and bike preparation and how to pace yourself properly on a big day out – whatever your fitness levels.
Have a good weekend.