See what I did with the title there? I know, I’m such a genius I amaze myself. I chose this title because a) it was a windy ride, b) I was riding on new roads (convert what is ‘chafe’ to ‘change’ if you are not blessed with intelligent insight) and c) my new shorts were giving me nasty chafing on either side of my unmentionables. More on that as I write.
Anyway, I was really looking forward to doing this ride. I have become a little bored of cycling on my local roads (as wonderful as they are) so I wanted to go somewhere different, using the method of 4 wheels with bike in the back. Luckily, my awesome little Peugeot 205 can just swallow up my road bike with the front wheel off. So I chucked it in without giving myself a hernia and drove down to Cerrigydrudion, a little village a few miles further down the A5 after Betws y Coed, about 40 minutes drive from my village. Proceeded to be slowed down by roadworks (no change there), tractors, large articulated lorries and a caravan ‘clubber’. Not many places to over-take on the A5, due its windy nature, blind corners, blind tops and double white lines (in the UK, you cannot and should not over-take when these lines are painted in the middle of the road), but thankfully said ‘clubber’ indicated left to inform me it was safe to over-take when I was about to anyway on one of the few straights. Thank you that man. I floored the pedal in my 1.8 diesel and off she went, like a startled rat out of a drainpipe! Seriously, my 1994 machine can move it when she feels like it!
I arrived at Cerrig, had a quick natural, parked up the mean machine and made a quick decision about my wardrobe choice. Hmm, cold wind. Leg warmers and over-shoes it is then. I always get cold feet otherwise. Bugger. I always feel slower riding in winter/early Spring garb. I’ve shaved my legs and I want to get them out, dammit! I turned on my GPS, waited for the bleep to tell me satellites were found, and off I went with that wind behind me up the first climb out of the village. I even stayed in big ring. My fitness is really coming back now.
I’d driven along this road previously, and wanted to cycle along it and boy was it fun. It’s very quiet and has little traffic; I think no more than six cars went past me along the whole fourteen mile section. The road just rolls up and down merrily, so it was good to get a decent average. There’s a few little climbs to slow you down, but as soon as you’re up one, you’re down another again, gaining back what you just lost. I couldn’t have cared less today to be honest, I just wanted to stuff the average and enjoy the ride. There’s a little 20% climb (conveniently next to a pub) out of Llanfihangel Glyn Myfyr to quote its full WordPress-spell-checking-confusing-name, that wasn’t really difficult so I was quickly over it. I was gaining height pretty fast though. Me and the bike were barreling along, but I didn’t want to miss one point that looks out east towards the southern Clwydian range of hills; a natural barrier that runs north to south (or south to north if you want to be pedantic) near the border between England and Wales. It’s quite a hazy shot, generated from six portraits, but it’s a lovely view:
After here it was a fast descent down into the town of Rhuthun/Ruthin, where I desperately needed to pee.
I cycled through and stopped on the other side to pee in a field in full view of passing traffic. The view whilst peeing was pretty wonderful though, giving me a clear panorama of the northern Clwydian range, including the highest point, Moel Famau at 555 metres/1,821ft. I could also see rather worryingly, the climb I was going to follow up to Bwlch Penbarras. I was going to follow the main road, but didn’t want to slow down the traffic in this ‘road rage age’ that we find ourselves in, plus I wanted more of a challenge:
Well, I wanted a challenge and I got one. For sure. I turned off the main road at Llanbedr and within a matter of metres, the road rises. The climb itself is around 1.7 miles long with an average of 11.2% with a maximum of 28.8%! The first section out of the village was already testing my legs, as I had to lean forward to equal the centre of gravity to keep my front wheel firmly planted on the tarmac. There was no let up and it became gradually steeper as I hit a little junction and hit the climb proper. Crikey, what else had it in store for me? Yet more up and steeper still. The road is very narrow here and to my annoyance (and no doubt the driver’s) I had a car behind me. I couldn’t stop but was barely moving at around 4 mph. But it’s hard to keep a car at that speed without stalling on a hill. Luckily there was a small lay-by on the left, so I pulled in taking care not to stop and lose my momentum to let him past. The road opened out further up, so any cars could squeeze past just. All I could see was up in front of me, like a relentless, un-shifting wall of pain, tormenting me and mentally playing with my mind to make me stop. I just had to get out of the saddle now and stomp the pedals, not something I like doing in my lowest gear of 34 x 27, but changing up would put too much strain on my chain. I was breathing heavily now and wishing I was a few kilograms lighter and stronger. I could see the hairpin up ahead, and vowed to stop there as I wanted to take a shot of the bend, and it gave me a good excuse to stop for two minutes; I’m not ashamed as it’s a very hard climb and can be found in the book “100 Greatest Cycling Climbs: A Road Cyclist’s guide To Britain’s Hills“. The inside of the hairpin is as steep as it gets:
I was grateful for the climb to ease up on me after the bend for 50 metres or so, then it followed around a right hander to continue upwards, but not as steeply as the first sections before the hairpin; anything seemed easier after that! At least I could sit down again now. I made the summit and parked up for a few minutes with one guy saying “Bloody hell, did you just ride up that as my car struggled!?” to which I replied, “Trust me, your method was easier“. I took a number of portrait shots for a panorama. The view from here is fantastic, and on a less hazy day, it’s easy to see Snowdon (35 miles away) and Cadair Idris (40 miles away):
I was eager now to descend down to Loggerheads, as I was on schedule to meet my wonderful wife for a coffee and some cake. The descent was fun but as usual I behaved like a girl on it, keeping my speed below 40 mph, but I was glad to have my new brake pads as they slowed me down a treat when I needed to. I nodded a quick hello to a couple of mountain bikers coming up the other way; I nod/wave to all cyclists. Doesn’t matter what you ride, we are all cyclists and I get fed up sometimes of seeing comments on forums about people ignoring each other because they ‘ride different bikes.’ Pathetic.
I met up with my wife, who works locally. I’m always very pleased to see her, as she works away a lot, so a brief food stop was a treat. She had her usual hot chocolate, bursting at the seams with mini-marshmallows and a piece of chocolate cake, whereas I plumped for usual caffeine fix and a slice of lemon drizzle cake. We chatted for about 30 minutes then she had to get back to work and I needed to get on too. I gave her a big hug and a kiss and had one last look at her over my shoulder as I disappeared up the hill towards Mold. Naturally, I had contracted ‘cafe stop legs’.
From here I made a small navigation error, despite telling my wife earlier that I’d recced the route and taken pics of questionable junctions on Google Streetview, so that I would “never get lost” to which she’ll no doubt be laughing at as she reads this. I just needed to turn round back towards the roundabout and turn left. My memory failed me in an epic fashion, as I told my wife earlier that I needed to take the second roundabout…dumb-ass.
The next climb of the day was Bwlch yr Oernant, translated as “Pass of the cold stream”. Or, the Horseshoe Pass as it’s known because of it’s shape as it contours around a hillside. Before I got there though, I was climbing up a long drag when all of sudden there was a loud SNAP! as my chain decided to part ways with itself. I pulled over on what seemed to be quite a dangerous road, as it was straight and drivers were going pretty fast up it, so I was a little nervous. I used my initiative and hung the bike’s rear triangle on a branch that was sticking out of the hedge, so I could use it as a makeshift repair stand to allow me to turn the cranks whilst fixing the chain. One thing I love about being a cyclist is being self-reliant. You carry all that you need with you; tools, inner-tubes, pump, food etc. It feels great knowing that if something does go wrong, I can be up and running again having used my skills gained over many years. This particular technical problem cost me seven minutes and black, oily fingers. So off I went again. And this is where the chafing really started to kick in, and I had a good twenty miles remaining yet. Not good.
I was surprised at the ease with which I climbed up onto the Horseshoe, but I knew I was ascending the easier side as I’d already gained some height climbing up out of Mold. The wind was pretty strong up here today, but I wanted to stop and get pictures, as usual, including the following, out-of-focus selfie:
I cycled a little further round to get the panorama that I wanted. I made sure I took at least eight portrait exposures so I could get a good stitch in Photoshop and I’m very pleased with how it came out, apart from the slight distortion on the hill on the right. The very curved fence line is a normal result of a panorama when stitched:
I jumped back on and got myself ready for the descent. It drops down quite quickly as you reach the first left hander and again on the second turn, but then there is the fantastic long run-out on smooth tarmac. I built up speed pretty quickly, but the wind was buffeting me about, making me very nervous. There were also a number of sheep next to the road chomping on the grass, so I gave them plenty of room. I probably reached 40+ mph, but if I had my confidence back and if it wasn’t as windy, I could have reached 50 mph easily. I slowed down as I reached the lower reaches as I knew there was a cattle grid to negotiate. I bumped over it and took it steady down the rest as it became steep again. I was really enjoying myself. Eventually, I arrived in the pretty town of Llangollen. It was pretty busy today, despite being a Tuesday, but it’s the first major town on the A5 as you enter Wales from the East. I stopped on the bridge to take a few shots of the River Dee for another panorama:
I stocked up on a couple of bottles of energy drink and treated myself to a dark chocolate bar, and made my way out of the town on the A5, keeping an eye open the right turn I needed. And I have to say, this was my favourite part of the ride on this road. It basically follows the river, contouring around, up and down the sides of the valley and the scenery was absolutely wonderful; I was feeling so happy to be here. There were little villages with houses just dotted around on the hillsides and it was so peaceful as the River Dee carved its way through the landscape around me:
The road was quite hard going in places, with some sneaky little climbs. I had to get out of the saddle quite a lot as I needed to ease the soreness from the chafing either side of my manhood, but each time I sat down again I had to ‘re-adjust’ everything to get a semblance of comfort again. I tried to block it out as I didn’t want it to spoil the wonderful ride I was having.
The road continued to follow the river and at one point I had to follow a pretty long and fairly steep climb up out of the valley, with a terrible road surface, but the view at the top more than made up for it. I looked down and just soaked in the sight. It was beautiful and so tranquil. All I wanted to do was just get off my bike, and sit on the grass and drink it all in; I was so envious of the people who lived in the white house. Still, I took five minutes here to just enjoy the peace and the beautiful view that I think was the nicest on the entire ride. The light was playing too so I could get a good picture here:
I took another quick face-selfie whilst I was stood here; I tried about six times before I got one I thought was OK:
I left this little slice of heaven and eventually made my way out towards the A5 again, and the noise and danger of fast moving traffic. Bloody chafing was getting to me now, but in time it kind of ‘warmed up’ for want of a better phrase, so it was less uncomfortable, but still unpleasant. On the flip side to this, I seemed to have a second wind of power, so I was happily riding along in big ring, even up the climbs; that’s even after fifty hilly miles. I was really pleased with myself and so I should be; I’ve worked very hard on the bike to get my fitness back and I am reaping the rewards, slowly but surely. Even my weight is starting to come down a fraction, after gaining a little from newer muscle development, but I admit to it being frustrating at the speed it comes off compared to the amount of calories burned; over 30,000 in March alone.
Nearly finished now though. I stopped for another natural in the bushes to the sounds of a singing Chiff-Chaff (that’s a bird, if you’re not a ‘twitcher’), made further adjustments to my giblets and was off again. Turning off the A5 a little further along led me on to a minor road that ran parallel to it, so I could at least avoid the road as much as I could. Exiting this road, I had to go straight across to another minor road. Unfortunately, this means more climbs, as heading off adjacent from the A5 just means more hard work. Moving up the first hill past a farm, I changed down from big ring and got chain-suck. This has been a major problem for me since I moved to Campagnolo gearing, but I don’t think it’s necessarily to blame, more than likely being the aftermarket PZ Racing carbon chainset I run. I need to get a stopper, as it has damaged my frame pretty badly and despite being very aware of this happening when I change down at the front, it still happens if I’m not concentrating and it annoys the hell out of me; just glad my frame isn’t carbon, or it would have mashed it up by now.
Anyway, I squeezed past a large farm tractor and trailer, that was giving birth to a number of sheep, so I had to slow right down and find a safe path through them without spooking them or upsetting the farmer. It’s a common occurrence here in the wilds of Snowdonia if you want to follow B-roads between farmland!
After my run in with the sheep, this road had a sting in its tail. Luckily, I was coming to the end of my ride. It climbed up quite steeply and for a good distance before finally easing off a little around a bend, but again, the views were awesome and worth it:
After getting over this climb, I was treated to a most wonderful view of the distant mountains of Snowdonia. Despite the haze, it was easy to make out the Snowdon range, the Glyderau and the Carneddau, from west to east in an unbroken panorama. I took the shot in black and white as I thought it would turn out better:
From here I made a fast descent that dropped down very steeply into a small valley, and that rose out of the opposite side up another stiff, but mercifully short 25% + gradient. It was the last climb so I hammered up it until I was out of breath at the top. The chafing was really bothering me now, so I was very pleased to see my start village of Cerrigydrudion again. So, I just freewheeled back down the hill I started out on, pleased to see my mean-machine still parked up. I wanted a picture of me looking knackered so I sat the camera on its tripod on a bin and came out with this:
I stretched whilst being giggled at by school kids and I also admired the beautiful, pristine red Camaro that some lucky sod owned parked up across the road.
So despite the crotch soreness, this was one of the best and most enjoyable rides I’ve had in ages with some of the most breath taking views.
I think perhaps I may invest in some liner shorts.