Instead of always pounding myself into the ground (for what?!), obsessing about what gear I was pushing, I looked up and realised that there’s a lot more to cycling than the number of miles you’ve notched up. This great country of ours is full of hidden treasures – historic sights, stunning views, idyllic olde worlde pubs and narrow lanes leading to villages with ridiculous names like Limpley Stoke and Bolton Percy (FYI these are real places). But when your ride is spent staring at your training partner’s back wheel, your chances of seeing any of this are minimal.
So I decided to ditch the drop handlebars and super-skinny tyres, in a bid to enjoy cycling in the slow(er) lane. For me the Pompetamine was the perfect blend of practicality and trick bits: disc brakes, carbon seat-post and handlebars, hand-built wheels and a good old Brooks saddle, all arranged around a steel frame. And with an 8-speed, Shimano Alfine internal hub gear I had more than enough ratios to tackle the undulating English landscape – not that there are that many hills on my rides. Give it a go and see for yourself.
While I was at it, I binned the maps, too. Instead I would spend a year getting gloriously lost in a labyrinth of thatched cottages, farmers’ markets and assorted teashops – sniffing out a series of rides that showcase England in all its glory.
The result is Escape Routes, my personal collection of unique bike rides, researched through a combination of following my nose, and opening my gob to get recommendations from locals.
Each of the routes begins and ends at a smart B&B or independent hotel, because – let’s face it – fluffy towels and good bathroom products are important. And the good news is that they’re all pretty short – around 15 miles – giving you more opportunity to stop, explore and sip the froth off a pint.
Put simply, this book is not about how fast you go – it’s about what you experience along the way. Each of the routes is themed, so you can pick one that matches your mood – whether you’re after hidden beaches, riverside rides, amazing views or just a good pub. My favourite is the one that begins in Freshford, near Bath. After cruising along a hidden, tree-lined valley, you end up in the gardens at Iford Manor, before continuing on (a slice-of-cake-later) to the Cross Guns at Avoncliff – an ancient pub right beside the canal. From here you pootle along waterfront, past brightly coloured narrowboats, before peeling off through Limpley Stoke to arrive back at Freshford after a leisurely 11 miles.
Matt Carroll’s Escape Routes – A Handpicked Selection of Stunning Cycle Rides Around England, is published by Punk. Available from Amazon.co.uk
20 October 2011