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One from my cousin

One from my cousin

I've got four cousins. Two on my mum's side, and two on my dad's. My mums sisters son, is Paul. He's a bit older than me, but we've always mucked about a bit together. He's a bit more rambly-walky-climbery than me, and I'm a bit more bikey. He runs a lot, and has done high level mountaineeringy stuff whilst I just pedal around. He rides on-one stuff, and has a prototype Scandal I had ages ago. It's a bit small for him, but he gets on OK with it.

As an aside, my dad's sisters son is the bloke who tutors the students for Manchester University's University Challenge. The only bike I remember him having is a Dawes Kingpin. We don't talk much.


Recently it was my dad's 70th birthday, and our Paul came down to the party, and then rode back. I asked him to write some words. And he did. He writes OK for a dentist, and here they are...

I love a ride with a purpose and what better than to join in the celebrations for my uncle's70th birthday. Even better that this uncle introduced me to mountainbiking in the first place - along with scrambling on the Welsh mountains, climbing and impressively fast driving to get there.  On a walking holiday in the Lakes my uncle carried his son's mountainbike up Stake Pass so he could ride down the other side then on a family holiday in Ullapool I got a chance to ride. A nice 20 mile loop gave us some land rover track, some hike-a-bike and a bone jarring but exhilarating descent to the road home. I was only young so could handle the jarring but I could still see the benefit of my uncle's flex-stem. It was on one of these rides when I had that defining mtb realisation that you need to think what your back wheel is doing as well as the front.

So my uncle was 70 and I was invited to his party. The rest of my family were busy with Scout camps and musical commitments so I conceived the plan (on a sunny bank holiday) to travel there by bike and train then ride home with a bivvy on the way. What people these days call a microadventure.

Before the inevitable 'what tyre?' questions came the 'what bike?' Since Brant is my cousin I could hardly turn up on my Genesis - that might cause offence! So, the incredibly versatile Scandal 29er sample seemed the obvious choice for the combination of on/off road that I was planning. 

Shod with Schwalbe Dureme tyres and loaded with gear, plus party clothes, I set off for Newcastle station. Thirty miles later and feeling like a nodding donkey having passed loads of cyclists taking advantage of the sunny weather, I stocked up on cake and coffee before relaxing on the train to Leeds. The canal towpath could have been frustratingly clogged with walkers and other cyclists but engaging a chilled touring attitude meant it was more fun  than it might have been and it provided a pleasant way to my destination, winding through the suburbs of Leeds and Bradford. Eventually a quick heave up past the famous Bingley Five Rise locks and a further heave and a shower saw me ready to party. 

Once the food and birthday cake had been eaten we adjourned to the garden wall while the next generation explored the design faults and genius of the various contraptions in my uncle's garage. Brant advised on the angulation of my Carnegie bars which had arrived 'not as the designer intended' then set about cobbling together a chain guide from a bit of plastic pipe. My Scandal wasn't meant to have gears - it's a nazi single speed - but I had bodged a mech hanger from a bit of scrap angle iron so I could run 1x9 but the lowest gears were only available with care. Not any more - that could prove very helpful later!

Before the sun dropped too low people began to drift away so I changed back to riding clothes and made my farewells. Laden with a wheelie-inducing lump of birthday cake like a returning bounty hunter I started to head home over the hills. Up and over to Ilkley, and looking at the route ahead, I realised I was crossing the grain of the country all the way. Counting the dales I would pass through occupied my mind as I ground up the other side of Wharfedale, ticking it and Airedale off my list. Only Nidderdale, Coverdale, Wensleydale, Swaledale, Arkengarthdale, Teesdale, Weardale and Allendale before my home Tynedale was reached!

Tricky navigation slowed me down along with rougher terrain down to Blubberhouses making me realise I'd have to keep moving if I was going to get home in time to meet family deadlines. I could appreciate the angulation of the bars as well as he effectiveness of my prototype On One chain guide on the ups and the downs.  At this point it was starting to get darker, although not as much as I thought once I'd taken my sunglasses off! A quick stop for a drink and a nibble in Pateley Bridge then on up Nidderdale towards Scar House reservoir where I hoped to find somewhere to stop. Riding across the dam wall in the dark was quite surreal for some reason with the sound of lapping water out of sight due to darkness and Victorian engineering. 

I figured that I'd be cold in the morning so it would be good to start with a climb. Sleeping this side of the hill from Coverdale made sense so I found what seemed like a good spot in the dark and bedded down on the heathery grass. At 5am next morning I could see where I was and took a moment to appreciate the remoteness of this valley and the toil of the workers who built the reservoirs at its head. Only a moment though - I had to be off. After 45 mins and only 3 miles I knew I had my work cut out and it became clear that the later planned off-road sections would have to be kept for another trip. Onward to Leyburn then over to Reeth, thankful that the wind had been kind all the way. A pause for a self-timed photo saw my camera blown off a wall into a stream - it still worked though so my luck was still in.

The remainder of the route was the same as I'd followed the previous summer with my then 12yr old son except we'd done it over two days and I had . . . 6 hours! It wasn't going to happen, I was going to be late. Once over the Stang and on up Teesdale I became aware it was a long time since I'd not really had breakfast so stopped in Cotherstone then properly in Middleton in Teesdale for coffee and a sausage roll. Dropping into Weardale to St Johns Chapel saw my fastest ever speed on a bike - 54.5mph and I could see the home straight approaching ever  sooner. A last grind up to the Northumberland border then chasing a motorbike down into Allendale and I knew that it was almost all downhill from here. Some walkers commented about the toughness of the hill out of Catton but really it was nothing - I didn't have time to explain to them why not.

Finally home and time for a quick shower and shave then out to meet the family at the Northumberland County Show where my wife was saxophoning with the Tyne Valley Big Band. It had been a great dirty night out and a purposeful ride squeezed into a sunny Bank Holiday and lovely to see family and friends. The Scandal had been comfortable and sure footed as usual, ready to head off to Scotland for the rest of the week camping near Pitlochry!

18 June 2013