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British cy­cling doesn’t al­ways have to be about the climbs, how­ever. There are other chal­lenges to be found

“Fans turn quiet coun­try lanes into glad­i­a­to­rial are­nas as they flock in their hun­dreds to see the pain on riders’ faces, at­tracted to the trauma as if it’s some sort of Vic­to­rian freak show.”

Sev­eral of the UK’s most fa­mous hill climbs are to be found in the Peak Dis­trict where au­thor Chris Sid­wells rode and re­searched a se­ries of routes for his re­cently pub­lished book,

Re­ally Wild Cy­cling.

“With the dark, brood­ing crags of the north and the soft green hills of the south, the Peaks has two faces, their fea­tures honed by ge­ol­ogy,” he says. “The grit­stone north and lime­stone south are over­laid with a net­work of trails, all ready to be ex­plored. Some parts are busy, but push on past these and you are soon off-grid.”

British cy­cling doesn’t al­ways have to be about the climbs, how­ever. There are other chal­lenges to be found in the un­like­li­est of places. Fran­cis Long­worth is a pro­fes­sor of phi­los­o­phy who spends his spare time por­ing over OS maps and con­sult­ing Google Earth in a bid to dis­cover for­got­ten, cob­bled tracks in the depths of the English coun­try­side.

So far he has un­earthed sev­eral dozen miles of farm tracks and drover’s lanes that were once an es­sen­tial part of Bri­tain’s agri­cul­tural in­fras­truc­ture, yet now lay dor­mant and ne­glected like bro­ken teeth.

He has in­cor­po­rated them in sev­eral of the sportives he or­gan­ises, in­clud­ing the Tour of the Black Coun­try and Cheshire Cob­bled Clas­sic. They range from the bumpy mo­saic of paving stones and cob­bles that is Wal­ton Hill near Birm­ing­ham to the un­for­giv­ing boul­ders of The Corkscrew that twists up a steep hill in deep­est Cheshire.

“When I looked at the sportive cal­en­dar, I saw that most of them were all about the length and steep­ness of the climbs,” he says. “I re­alised my events could stand out as some­thing a bit dif­fer­ent by the va­ri­ety of road sur­faces they use.”

Sea and land

A chal­lenge of a dif­fer­ent kind is the ‘Five Fer­ries’ island-hop­ping route in Scot­land. This takes in a won­der­fully scenic ride around the is­lands (Ar­ran and Is­lay) and penin­su­las off Scot­land’s south­west coast with the goal of try­ing to catch a suc­ces­sion of in­ter­is­land fer­ries. It should take a day but miss your con­nec­tion and you could be stranded on an island in the Firth of Clyde for a lot longer than you’d planned.

That’s the other thing about tak­ing your cy­cling hol­i­day in Bri­tain – a bit of imag­i­na­tion and for­ward-plan­ning can make the ex­pe­ri­ence even more mem­o­rable.

Pavé-lov­ing Pro­fes­sor Long­worth’s favourite philoso­pher is Ni­et­zsche, who said there are two types of peo­ple: “Those who know how to make much of lit­tle, and a ma­jor­ity of those who know how to make lit­tle of much.”

The first type would in­clude a par­tic­u­lar breed of British rider, the ‘tester’. In his skin­suit and teardrop-shaped hel­met, this hardy peren­nial of the British cy­cling scene likes noth­ing more than to ride his bike as fast as pos­si­ble along an unlovely stretch of dual car­riage­way that has been as­signed a co­de­name. The D10/15, for ex­am­ple, is a 10-mile stretch of the A55 near Abergele in North Wales where the current record of 17 mins 49 sec­onds be­longs to Trek-Se­gafredo rider Ryan Mullen.

That’s another pe­cu­liar fea­ture of the British time trial scene – it may well be a mis­er­able, wet Wed­nes­day night on an anony­mous stretch of road, but you might find your­self rub­bing shoul­ders with top pro­fes­sion­als. WorldTour rider Alex Dowsett reg­u­larly turns up to his lo­cal club’s mid­week TTs.

Those cryptic co­de­names, by the way, date back to when bunch rac­ing was banned on the roads af­ter pres­sure from farmers and gen­try who didn’t like their live­stock or pic­nics be­ing dis­turbed by gangs of cy­clists “scorch­ing” along in chaotic hordes. That was in the 1890s, and for half a cen­tury af­ter­wards rac­ing on Bri­tain’s roads was done in the form of clan­des­tine time tri­als, with in­di­vid­ual riders set­ting off against the clock at se­cret lo­ca­tions, with the ad­vice to be as in­con­spic­u­ous as pos­si­ble.

“Com­peti­tors are par­tic­u­larly re­quested to be qui­etly dressed and avoid all ap­pear­ance of rac­ing through vil­lages,” ad­vised the en­try form for one event in 1903.

Join the club

Though the an­tipa­thy be­tween cy­clists and cer­tain other road users is an ever-present ir­ri­tant on British roads, the mem­ber­ship of cy­cling clubs has boomed in re­cent years. The weekly club run is cel­e­brated as a so­cial gath­er­ing on bikes for riders of all ages, gen­ders and abil­i­ties.

“The tra­di­tional British club run is some­thing to be pre­served,” says Chris Sid­wells. “So many cy­clists learned their skills and group eti­quette on these rides. Club runs are pearls of wis­dom handed down and friend­ships formed. And cy­cling friends stay friends for life.”

And if you’re plan­ning a week­end trip to some­where new in Bri­tain, ar­rang­ing to join lo­cal cy­clists on their Sun­day morn­ing club run is as good and en­ter­tain­ing a way as any to make the most of the ex­pe­ri­ence. This coun­try doesn’t just pos­sess a va­ri­ety of stun­ning land­scapes, chal­leng­ing climbs and de­mand­ing road sur­faces, it’s also home to some of the old­est and strangest tra­di­tions in our sport, from the joys of cafe rides to the pain of com­plet­ing Land’s End to John O’Groats. Now is the per­fect time to go out and en­joy them.

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