A birthday surprise – perfect weather on Exmoor in September

For my birthday I gave myself the gift of zero responsibilities. This was mostly a gift from my wife who took care of business for the day while I skived off and went cycling. It wasn’t very “bikevcar”, but I decided to drive down to Exmoor for a long afternoon of cycling.

Glorious Exmoor

Glorious Exmoor

My previous cycling trips to Exmoor have been ‘sportives’, i.e. organised, mass-participation events. Today’s ride was the antithesis of a sportive – no early start because I do not like waking up early at the weekend, no other people because how can you enjoy the peaceful beauty of a national park when you’re surrounded by other cyclists, and no restrictions on my distance or route which was ideal as I hate being told what to do. It was perfect.

I parked the car at a place called Watchet, mostly because the name made me laugh but also because I’d had enough of driving. And then got on my bike and climbed straight up into the moors. The roads around Exmoor can be bonkers-steep – a 20% gradient seems fairly standard for these parts. At one point I almost fell off when the road ramped up so suddenly that I was caught with my hands relaxed on the tops of the bars and didn’t have time to switch to the hoods so that I could stand up. Clearly my concentration and bike handling skills still need some work.

Up up and away

Up up and … then round the corner and up some more

There were a few notable climbs that I’d wanted to find (Dunkery Beacon and the Porlock Toll Road) but other than that I had no aim. Just a photocopy of a road map to avoid getting lost and jersey pockets stuffed full of food to keep me going.

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The moors

The moors

In the end I managed 70 miles and around 6,500 feet of climbing. But it was just one of those days that I’ll remember for a long time. Exmoor in September in crisp, beautiful sun. A glorious 5 hours on the bike followed by a pint of ale in a classic English pub garden beside a river. For a man who loves to moan,  it’s fairly epic when I have a day with nothing to moan about!

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The White Horse Inn, Washford – post ride beer in a pub garden beside the river

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Frothy pint of ale – perfect day

Bike And Car – “why can’t we be friends”

To quickly dispel any concerns raised about my previous post, I do not intend to wipe the slate clean and start the Bike V Car graph from scratch. Having made it through this Winter with minimal damage from the car I’m hoping for another year of cycling further than I drive. And with any luck, this year I will recover the deficit and level the scores in a proper manner.

This Sunday was a gloriously sunny Spring day. A perfect day for a cycle. I wanted to take the car out for a drive so I decided to combine the two and headed down to Exmoor National Park for some riding on the moors. This was also a good opportunity to take the fancy bike on its first outing of the year. I would certainly appreciate its lighter weight on the hills.

Bike and Car

Bike and Car. Mrs BikeVCar said that maybe this car should be more friendly rather than being versus the bikes!

Despite the sun being out it was still quite cold. However I was blessed with a strong tail wind on the ride up onto the moors. It was a 400+ metres single ascent and was certainly the longest climb I’ve ridden in a while. I opted to take the Porlock Toll Road with its gentler ascent, rather than the viciously steep main road. It was well worth the £1 premium:

Who says bikes have less rights on the road because they don't pay for it? Not

Who says bikes have less rights on the roads because they don’t pay for them? The Porlock Manor Estate astutely show no such prejudices against cyclists!

The views along the toll road were great

The views along the toll road were great …

On top of the moors

… however the wind was wild on top of the moors

Within the first 30 minutes I had climbed over 500 metres and when combined with the wall of wind I then faced on top of the moors, meant that I only covered about 12 miles in the first hour. However it felt good to be covering some tough miles on unfamiliar roads with a variety of changing scenery.

Sun-dappled, forest roads

Sun-dappled, forest roads

Winding roads stretching out into the long distance

Winding, undulating roads stretching out into the long distance

Bleak moorland

Bleak moorland

Obligatory bike photo

Obligatory bike photo

In total I rode for two hours, climbing over 1000 vertical metres. And the car performed well. Impressively it managed the whole trip at an unbelievable fuel economy of over 60 miles to the gallon. The same energy-efficiency could not be said for the cyclist who opted for more ‘honest’ fuel than the usual cyclist’s fodder of energy gels and flapjacks:

A quick banana and pork pie picnic was *burp* consumed mid-ride

A quick banana and pork pie picnic was *burp* consumed mid-ride

Tour of Wessex – Day 3: Somerset & Exmoor

Knowing that the organisers of the Tour of Wessex had saved the toughest day for last, we awoke on Day 3 slightly apprehensive about how our bodies would react to another long day in the saddle. The 180 kilometres ahead of us would contain 2500 metres of climbing.

At least we would have 35 km to warm up our knees before the hills began

With most of the hills confined to Exmoor National Park we were looking forward to some great views over towards Wales

On top of the usual breakfast feast I also ate a few eggs and an extra cup of coffee. It wasn’t until I reached the start line with a slight stomach ache that I realised I’d hardly drunk any water since waking up. I consumed both bottles on my bike within the first 40 km thankfully easing my stomach pains before refilling at the first feed zone.

I wasn’t the only cyclist with a full tank of water. Probably the most spectacular pee Gatesy’s ever enjoyed

We blasted our way across Somerset and into Exmoor National Park in North Devon. The hills became very regular but we were rewarded with some amazing views.

On the top of the moors

“That looks a bit like Barry” “Who’s Barry?” 

We cycled up. We cycled down. The sun was shining. The views were spectacular. The hills were long but gentle. We were in a big group and everyone was enjoying themselves. Somebody was laughing. Then something in me switched – I was at the back of the group as we pulled our way up a long hill and I just started working up a rhythm. Before I knew what was happening I was past everyone and off the front of the group. I’m not sure it was a conscious decision to escape but it felt exhilarating and I just kept on pushing. Part of me imagined I was in a race breaking away from the peloton. Part of me just enjoyed the hard work. I rode on my limit overtaking a few other riders further up the road and told myself I would slow down when I was caught. In the end I was on my own for about 10 miles and was completely shattered when the group finally reached me.

“And an unknown rider in blue has broken away from the peloton….”

Gatesy celebrates reeling me in

I knew I’d never actually escape Gatesy, but I also knew he’d be extremely pissed off by my antics which obviously spurred me on! Fortunately I was caught at the start of the descent off the moors giving me ample time to recover.

I had no idea what this sign was supposed to mean but I knew it was good news

This was soon followed by a feed zone where I refuelled and accepted my mocking for embarking on such a fruitless and selfish waste of energy.

A much needed feed zone in a local village hall

Back in the pack and sucking wheels to recover

From the foot of the moors it had looked like an easy last 40 km to the finish line. However the organisers had one last trick up their sleeves with an unadvised additional 15 km. We pressed on and thankfully saw the signs to Somerton just as Gatesy leapt into his early sprint finish. Not wanting to be outdone we followed suit for one final hurrah and crossed the finish line together with much hand shaking and congratulations.

“Is it over? Please say it’s over”

Gatesy shortly before his head exploded under the pressure of 17 gallons of drained lactic acid

I don’t think there’s any way to sum up my three most enjoyable days of cycling and really do it all justice. I think I’ll just let the tan lines do the talking:

The road cyclist’s badge of honour

Paul looking incredibly pleased with the sharpness of his tan lines