WELCOME! I've been cycling through the Southeast Valleys of Wales since 2010 and I can't say (or show) enough about the place. I just love it. So if you've got the interest and would like to spend some time... sit back and let me show you some of the fabulous places I've discovered.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Lovely Day For It...

If you happened to watch the news or listen to the radio this past Sunday you might have thought the entire United Kingdom was going to simply blow off the face of the earth. And in all fairness, it was windy. And we did get a fair amount of rain... but the hurricane they predicted... ("St. Jude", no less) passed Wales by with hardly more than a few gusts and some "fairly-typical-for-Wales" rain. But ooooo!.... the weather forecasters have such a flair for the dramatic. How they enjoy a good storm warning! (Read more...)

So I don't know why exactly, but I got the itch to go for a short bike ride.

Where else but up to the highlands above Fochriw...

It's only 12 miles above our place, but from the look of it you could be 100 miles from the nearest bit of civilization. The clouds come in fast and low and the wind whips up from the valley with a roar. You want drama?... this is drama.

Looking down on the little village...

I was getting soaked, bracing myself against the growing wind... completely exposed. It was not relaxed cycling 1500 feet high up in the barren plains...

Signs of the hard winter last year...

The wind began hitting me hard broad-side, blowing me off the road. I was down on the bottom of the drop bars, keeping as low profile as possible... and still I could not let go long enough to change gears. I pulled over and yikes!... this was as far as some other creature had made it. Keep movin'... keep movin'.

The wind was blowing hard and the rain was lashing!...

I struggled to capture the intensity with just a fiddly little smartphone... a few minutes later there was simply no way that I could even take the darn thing outta my jacket.

That's a storm comin' up the valley...

This is the last shot I took before the weather became really intense. The road narrows to a single lane just over the hill and it snakes along a series of saddlebacks with deep valleys on either side. There is nothing but scrub brush, road, and sky for four long, arduous miles.

Water was running down my face and under my glasses. I had my helmet tilted hard to the side in an effort to protect my right ear from the pelting rain. Water was running down my back - inside my jacket. My gloves were soaked. My feet were soaked. My arse was a saggin'. I was pedaling steadily into the fury at a whopping six miles an hour. It was hard, wet, work... It was fabulous.

Over the top and on the other side...

And then... suddenly I dropped around a small curve to the other side of a ridge and not so surprisingly, the weather was rather pleasant. There was hardly any wind and no rain. The sun was actually poking through the clouds. Welcome to the Valleys of Southeast Wales. You can see the lake at Parc Taf Bargoed in the shot above. There's a visitor center, a small cafe, toilets, and shelter... if ya need it.  I just rode on past and headed home.

About the route: Leaving Oakdale, I went up NCN Route 468 from Hengoed to Bargoed where I crossed over onto NCN Route 469 and followed the valley up to Fochriw. It's above Fochriw where the fun begins...

So that's it for now. Stay tuned for more stories of happy cycling adventures in Wales.

Parting shot: Fochriw Highlands spring 2012

cheers, cm

Friday, 25 October 2013

Winter Treads

It's been raining for a week. The morning temps. hover around 7c. (45f.) Afternoon highs peak at 14c (58f.) It's windy and I ain't seen the sun for days... it's fall in Wales.

It's time for winter tyres!

I had been running a set of Continental Gatorskins. I love 'em. Best tyre I've ever used... the set that just came off have close to 4000 miles on 'em. Last week I had my first puncture. I'll put 'em back on in the spring and perhaps get another thousand miles. We'll see.

Lizzie in her winter garb...

Now I've got a small problem. I'm running 27" rims on old Trek (see post: "Lizzy Rolls Again"). Here in the UK 700c rims are the size-standard for road bikes - most always has been. They's slim pickins in the 27" x 1 1/4" tyre department. Schwalbe, Panaracer, Raleigh, and Kenda offer some very basic tyres (with little to no mention of puncture protection). While Michelin has an inexpensive "World Tour" bike tyre, the reviews are less than stellar.

That leaves me with either the Continental Super Sport or the Continental Tour Ride. When comparing the Super Sport to the Gatorskin... the tread pattern is almost identical, ie; slicks with some lateral tread pattern, but not what I want for a winter tyre... so the Continental Tour Ride it is.

Hmmm? 80 psi... that's lower than the Gatorskins...

Outa the package the tyres feel heavy and rigid. And I see that these are actually made in India as opposed the the Gatorskins, which boast proudly on the sidewalls; "Handmade in Germany". I have no idea if this matters or not at this point, but I did find it surprising. The sidewalls are matt black and though I do appreciate having reflective stripes running around the tyres, I personally don't ride that much at night.

Kinda diggin' the rough lookin' black sidewalls...

The tyre fit on the rim just as I would have expected... tight. Yes, you will need tyre levers and you will need to work the wire beading down into the center of the rim to squeeze the last bit of sidewall over the edge. Grumbling is not allowed... it's a tyre. It's supposed to fit tightly. Would you want it any other way?

Also match these up with a set of Conti Tubes... from my experience they are far superior than any other make. Yes, they are heavier... but if you want an additional layer of puncture protection; I highly recommend them. You can see and feel the difference just looking at them.

Like "Farmer Johns" compared to the Gator Skins...

Initially the tyres ride heavier than the Gatorskins and seem less responsive, but that is to be expected from the tread design and lower air pressure. However, after my first day out (45 miles) on a combination of wet roads, cycle paths covered in leaves, sticks, dog poo, and some short rough dirt tracks (woo hoo!)... I love 'em. They grip well when braking and corner smoothly. I even ran through a large section of broken glass bottles without any problem. (Not without worry though...) The additional tread is immediately noticeable and just what I'm looking for in a winter tyre. I'll post again with a further review after a couple of months and 1000 miles or so...

Just get'em...

On a closing note; I also put on some of these bad boys... Clarks' Triple-Compound brake blocks. They are the shit. If you want to stop fast in wet conditions, if you want to stop reliably down steep hills, if you want to protect protect your rims... buy 'em. More worrisome than finding 27" tyres is the gut-wrenching reality that finding decent 27" rims in the future is going to be very, very difficult. I must protect these super light Wolber's... they are the last of a breed.

Coming soon:

"What the hell is that damn bag and what all kinda shit do you haul around?"

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Lizzy Rolls Again!

A short back story... In 1977 my trusted Schwinn Le Tour was stolen! She was my source of freedom. Yes I had a car, but this was the 70's and gas was expensive. Besides, bike touring was exploding in popularity. Riding your bike 20 miles outa town and camping was a crazy new experience. It was quirky, cool, and slightly rebellious, and it was awesome! But as shocking as having my trusty stead stolen, I was however; just graduating from high school and soon received some well deserved cash from my grandparents. (I was hardly an honour student and I'm sure most all of my family were just pleased to see me get any form of diploma... but I digress)

Do you remember these?... So cool.

Then in 1978 after a few months in university, my new best buddy and roommate showed up with his Christmas present... a brand new Fuji America. (Read about them here...) I was friggin' jealous to beat the band. It was gorgeous.. light and ready for adventure. I had to get a new bike... cash & envy were fueling my desire.

So in the spring of 1979 when I wandered past the window of my LBS (Toga Bikes in Greensboro, NC), I was gobsmacked with what I saw. There she was... not a Fuji America, but something even sexier... A Trek 700. Done. Graduation money well spent.

Click to read the juicy details...

Flash forward 34 years... I'm living in Wales. My trusty Trek has been boxed up since I moved here in 2010. I was concerned about her age, her 27 inch rims & tires, old style (small) brake blocks, old cables, finding parts, etc... blah, blah, blah. I had in fact purchased a new Dawes Ultra Galaxy in 2011 thinking that I needed to make the leap forward into the 21st century; ie, 700c rims, better/larger brake calipers, stronger frame, etc... blah, blah, blah.

She's in there...

For 2 years she's been quietly boxed away...

Hint #1: DO NOT leave your classic Trek bicycle
boxed up for 2 years...

Yeah... it was not pretty opening the case. I had cycled around Virginia, North & South Carolina for several months before hopping a plane to the UK. Then I just packed all my shit and was gone. Hint #2; DO NOT just pack your shit and go; ie, do not pack your classic Trek bicycle away dirty.

Checking all the parts & pieces... greasy bits & bobs...

Step #1: Cleaning & mold removal... urgh.

What a lovely day to play with my old friend; Lizzy. She's such a sweet bike. And she's been with me all these years... all over the US. I have no idea the miles... Many parts have been replaced and upgraded; Shimano 600 groupset in 1984 (from original Sun Tour)... new fork, handlebars & stem after being hit by a car in 1994... resprayed in 1997... new Campagnolo hubs & Wolber rims in 2003... new Sugino triple crank in 2007.

Look how skinny she is!

At this point I was stunned with a shocking flashback. After riding my Dawes for 2 years, I had forgotten how svelte Lizzy is... so incredibly light too. (I could not stop smiling...) Yes... I am truly attached to this object. I wholeheartedly love this thing... this lovely little bicycle.

How many places have we been together? How many adventures? Through all my adult life, through every bit of crap and bullshit, I've had my bike to ride... to just get on and pedal. To get the hell away from everything and ride. She's been my psychologist... my physical therapist... my spaceship.

Here she is fully tricked out...

Now it's 2013... I'm riding Lizzy... again. She's so light and responsive. I almost feel as if I'm cheating when I hit the mountains here in Wales. I see many cyclists on carbon fiber and aluminium bikes and I wonder; "do they know what it's like to ride on a vintage steel lugged frame?  Do they truly know what is meant by 'steel is real'?"

I do. And I am a lucky boy. Let the adventures begin... again.

For more reading pleasure:
Some of her stable mates can be seen at Vintage Trek
Thanks to Trek and Vintage Trek for the online catalog reprint: Trek American Handbuilt Frames
Read about Trek in the 1978 issue of Bicycling Magazine

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Cordell Country Heritage Ride

Having just finished reading Alexander Cordell's "Rape of the Fair Country", I found myself wanting to get out and ride in the valleys where I live... to see the land of which Cordell wrote. Of course, nothing is as it was in the 1840's and the coal mines and iron foundries are long gone. But the land, the people, and the beauty is here.

We're very fortunate to have Sustrans. These folks have done an amzing job converting the abandoned rail lines into traffic-free routes which wind up and down the Southern Valleys of Wales. The circular route I followed is shown below.

So sit back and relax and ride with me up through Cordell Country.

Six Bells & The Gaurdian. This grand monument is at first hidden through the trees as you cycle up NCN 465 from Aberbeeg. As you get closer the trees clear, the valley opens, and this sculpture quietly dominates the skyline. It is a powerful tribute to the lives sacrificed for the coal industry. There is a visitors centre with a small cafe and heritage room located across from the car park. Read more @ Guardian of the Valleys.

The irony of Margaret Thatcher closing the mines, putting hundreds of thousands out of work and devastating the Welsh economy... is that nature has reclaimed the valleys.

Up over the mountain from Brynmawr one feels as if you have completely left civilization. All I could hear was the wind and my rolling bicycle tyres...

Far off in the distance you can see The Blorenge.

A restored steam train pulls out of the Blaenavon High Level Station during a weekend railway gala...

Still Waiting... sculpture on an abandoned platform quietly remembers.

This project is under development.  Check back for additional information to be included on the Big Pit National Coal Museum and the Blaenavon Ironworks & National Heritage Center... meanwhile here's the route. 

 Traffic-free  Shared Use  Quiet Road

Cordell Country Heritage Ride
Distance: 32.5 mi.
Skill Level: Advanced
Approx. Time: 6 -7 hrs.
Elevation: +2620 ft. / -2620 ft.
Max. Grade: 10.8%
Avg. Grade: -0.3%

My ride started in Newbridge heading up NCN Route 465 toward Brynmawr. I then rode NCN 46 over the Heads of the Valleys to Route 492 and down through Blaenavon to Pontypool. In Pontypool I rode NCN Route 466 back to Crumlin and Newbridge. "Just like that."

Big Pit: National Coal Museum
Blaenavon Ironworks & World Heritage Site
Pontypool & Blaenavon Railway