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.
A final thank you to Band of Climbers for organising the ride, and to Strava for their ride routing and tracking, OTE for keeping us fuelled and hydrated, Veloskin for recovery, and Intack Self drive for the van support on the ride.