Challenges And Opportunities Of Yorkshire Hills: Part 1

As the winter nights draw in (OK, for pedants, they have stopped doing that as we are now the 23rd December but you know what I mean…) and cycle touring in the northern hemisphere is left to the hardy adventure cyclists out there – I’m afraid to say that, despite my summer exploits in northern Norway earlier this year, I’m not one of them – this website does tend to go into a kind of hibernation… But yesterday I did get in some ‘cycling action’ in the form of a visit to Pennine Cycles in Bradford, West Yorkshire. This is going to be a two-part post so more of that later today. This post – part 1 – is about why I felt the need to do so in the first place.

Since returning to live in West Yorkshire – my home county – after many years of living in France, and more recently, in Berkshire, I have been reminded of one of the county’s greatest assets; it’s hills. Despite their names, the Loire Valley in France and the Thames Valley in southern England don’t offer many challenging climbs for your average cyclist. Those that you do find can usually (if you choose to do so) be avoided with a bit of forward planning. West Yorkshire, however, has hills in abundance, especially in Calderdale – my own corner of this westermost Riding – squeezed in as it is between the Leeds-Bradford conurbation and the bleak southern Pennines themselves. I turn left out of my front door and there is a steep hill into the valley bottom; turn right and there’s a sharp climb into the centre of the nearby village. Whichever way you turn – literally! – there are hills, they are more often than not steep hills and almost always unavoidable hills. Indeed it’s interesting to compare my old cycle commute route from Reading to Henley-on-Thames (on the left) with what could be my new cycle to work from where I now live near a place called Stainland to Sowerby Bridge (on the right) should I ever motivate myself to start cycling to work again:

Look carefully at the figures (although ignore Google Maps estimates for cycling times; I could cycle to work in Henley in under 30 minutes on a good day). My new commute would be significantly shorter (7.7 compared to 11.8km) but the climbing distance on a round trip would jump from ‘just’ 200m in Berkshire/Oxfordshire to over 450m here in Calderdale. Two slices of strenuous bread between a filling of a long and equally strenuous day at the chalkface.

So, is all this a prelude to me admitting that I have abandoned cycling due to the geographical challenges of my new home? Hopefully not, but it does go someway to explain why, over the last couple of months, my Ridgeback Panorama – the famous Reggie – has seen very little two-wheeled action. Shame on me. I’m not sure whether I will return full-time to cycling to work again; it’s unlikely to be the case as long as I continue to work for my current employer and have to face 450m every day of the working week, but I am missing the cycling! Away from the commute, the prospect of hauling heavy Reggie Ridgeback over hill after hill after hill in my leisure time just isn’t making me feel very enthusiastic about the whole cycling thing. There is, however, a solution. What I need is a new bicycle – a second, not a replacement – that will ease my way from valley bottom to Pennine peak; a lighter bicycle that is engineered to make mincemeat out of those winding country roads…

But which one? Trek, Specialized, Cannondale, Pinarello, Boardman, Scott, HOY, De Rosa… and the rest! This could be tricky. However… Read this before you continue. You didn’t, did you? OK, this is what I wrote back in early 2010. I was discussing the merits of which bike to buy in order to cycle to southern Italy in summer 2010, the ride that would be immortalised in Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie the following year;

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My ‘first’ Bianchi

“I had set my sights on a a Bianchi…. Below [actually over there on the left] is the picture I took the first time I saw it at The Bike Show last October [2009]. What a beauty! But it is difficult to attach panniers so I’m afraid it is out of the running.”

Ever since that moment at the Bike Show in 2009, whenever my mind has wandered into the realm of ‘what road bike would I buy in the future?’, my first thought has been Bianchi. I like how they look, I like the name Bianchi, I like the Italian connection… but, admittedly, I don’t know much about them. That said, the same could be said for all of those other makes listed above. A quick Internet search last weekend gave me a list of ‘best buy’ bikes for between £1,000 and £1,500 and I was delighted to see that a Bianchi was included in the short list. You can consult the full road.cc list here but this is what is said about the Bianchi Vertigo* Veloce:

We bet most people will want a Bianchi on any new bike shortlist. Bianchi classifies the Intrepida as part of its endurance racing line-up which places an emphasis on comfort over long distances. That means a slightly more relaxed geometry and more upright position than a traditional race bike. Bolted to the frame is Campagnolo’s Xenon groupset with an FSA Omega chainset and Bianchi’s own label Reparto Corse for the wheels and all finishing kit, including the brake calipers.

(*For 2016 this has now been renamed the Bianchi Intrepida Veloce)

I particularly appreciate the reference there to the ‘more upright position‘. So, could this be my next bike? It was time to consult an expert and the local stockist of Bianchi bikes, Pennine Cycles and the extremely knowledgeable Paul Corcoran. More in part 2 later…

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Iain says:

    My commute is a total of 56km and between 550 meter and 730 meters depending which route I take. I only manage it a couple of days a week but when it takes an hour to ride or 30mins to drive along roads mostly slowed by Lorries queuing into the port it works out much better than trying to get out on the bike on top of work. Plus there is a good set up with lockers, showers and drying cupboards for my kit (to promote alternatives to driving) which makes it easy. Doing it a couple/few days a week means I have to bring uniform and food in on non cycling days so I can travel light. I just have a small altura clip on bag that I put sandwiches in, mobile phone work pass etc.

    You always need another bike so I think you best get one. I’d recommend you have a look at a BMC Grandfondo (if part 2 is not going to tell us how you have bought it). A couple of mates have them and they have relaxed geometry with a tall headtube (so quite upright). It’s also got gearing which will help on the climbs with a large rear sprocket. Most Bianchi bikes will come with campagnolo gears, try and get one with shimano so you have the same system as the touring bike.

    1. Andrew says:

      Thanks Iain; you rightly put me to shame. I’d like to think that at some point in the next few months that I will occasionally commute to work again by bike, perhaps once or twice a week? We’ll see… Part 2 won’t reveal that I have bought the bike yet, but I’m very close!! You may be disappointed with my groupset choice…

  2. ianmac55 says:

    Yep – bought an Impulso Veloce as my first-ever road bike (at the age of 65). Reasons? Bianchi! The colour! And all those days spent staring through the window of my LBS when I was a teenager on 2 shillings and six pence pocket money. And it had to have Campag! (Who would put Japanese kit on an Italian bike?) And … most importantly … it comes in a 63 cm size!!

    So added the Bianchi to my fleet of Peugeot hybrid, Saracen mountain bike, Dawes Galaxy tourer, and Brompton. Should have done it years ago!

    (Have since added custom Enigma Etape Disk to the fleet for credit-card touring.)

    You won’t go wrong with a Bianchi!

    1. Andrew says:

      Thanks Ian. Very interesting stuff… You’ll enjoy reading Part 2 🙂

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