Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Chilling in the Chilterns

The weather in the UK is unpredictable at the best of times, so I did not have high hopes during my Christmas visit of getting in much quality cycling. But, the day I arrived the skies were blue, the Sun was out, and the roads were calling my name. Little did I know, that these "perfect" conditions were going to test my skills within hours of stepping foot in blighty. The clear skies and winter sun in the UK do not warm the roads as fast as in Colorado (my current home base), and I soon found myself doing a synchronized ice dance on the bike ascending a hill covered in black ice.

Fortunately, the ice dancing was a one off party trick. The crisp frosty winter air soon gave way to milder breezier weather, which in turn means the roads stay damp in the daytime, and trails become stickier and muddier. However, after Day 1's Ice dancing the next ride I decided to do was off-road (Phoenix trail aka National Route 57). Now, my last UK off-road riding was probably back in the 1990's, I had forgotten what a messy affair it can be, no piece of clothing came away unscathed!. Never before has my cycling clothing seen the inside of a washing machine this frequently :).

Fortunately the rest of my on road riding experience was a safer and much less messier affair, just a wipe down of the bike after each ride was all that was needed. The beautiful Oxfordshire scenery really stood tall and proud when the sun shone, and observing it at the pace of a bicycle really made you appreciate it even more. The view in this image is from Brill Windmill, built in the 1680's, and restored in the 2000's. The views from here extend to Oxford and beyond.

The Chiltern hills are a chalk escarpment that lie to the southeast of Thame, the town I grew up in, and where I base myself when in the UK. The hills are designated as "An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty", and are a cyclists dream. The Tour of Britain even passed through the "Chilterns" during 2014, and they throw plenty of challenges at the amateur and pro cyclists alike. One loop I like to ride takes in Kingston Hill, this averages 11% for a 0.5 mile stretch, and really warms you up on a cold winters day!. I typically follow tried and tested routes when I cycle in the Chilterns, these routes follow national cycle ways, quiet roads, and pass through quaint little villages.

Sustrans is the main UK charity responsible for promoting alternative travel, and the force behind the National Cycle Network. The National Cycle Network covers 14,200 miles through the UK, and follows safe on and off road routes via route numbers (The Phoenix trail is part of Route 57, as seen in this photo). Sustrans website has an extensive shop that sells mapping and books to guide you across the UK via their routing, I have found the routes well marked and well planned. Their website can be viewed by clicking HERE

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