Trust me, it’s magnificent

Every time I go out to ride, I try to think of topics that I would like to explore through The Gabbling MAMIL. Invariably there is one that I keep coming back to. Mid-ride, full of endorphins and serotonin, it is a brilliant idea that I can’t believe hasn’t made it onto my page yet… and then by the time I get home I have completely forgotten what it is! And right now, once again, I can’t remember what it is despite a thorough mulling over during this morning’s ride. I even know precisely where I was when I remembered it (heading from Whissendine to Wymondham, on a right hand turn, near to Stapleford Hall) but I genuinely have no idea what it was – other than it was (is) brilliant. Arse.

Eventually, I will remember it for long enough to take a note, and you will be the first to know as it makes it to print. And while I am sure you’ll be incredibly interested in whatever it is, you might also be interested to know that The Gabbling MAMIL isn’t actually the first cycling publication that I’ve been involved in.

Waaaay back on a dark Friday evening during January 2015, I sat down in my lounge after work with a beverage to sit and read my freshly delivered copy of Cyclist magazine. I think it was a fairly new publication at this point that I was subscribing to through some sort of introductory offer, as I don’t typically subscribe to magazines, especially since the advent of Readly (if you’re a magazine fan, and haven’t seen it, check it out!). I looked forward to its arrival, so I could sit and peruse the lumps of carbon fibre that I could not afford, and mull over why anyone would ever need a a bike costing more than a small hatchback (how things change!). Flicking through it, I came to a fabulous picture that made me stop flicking, and really admire it. It’s taken from above… looking down, on three cyclists riding in a reverse echelon formation (two wide at the front and one tucked in between behind), riding a ruler straight road that disappears into the distance, with rugged heather and mountain grass on either side. It stood out to me as a brilliant piece of work. As I sat admiring it, looking closer, a bomb went off in my brain as I realised ‘Bu@@er me… that’s us!’. (Apologies for the language, but it’s genuinely what I thought, and may even have said out loud despite being all alone in the house)

The photo was taken during my first trip ‘abroad’ with my bike, to the Isle of Man, where in the prior September, myself and two friends went to ride two laps of the Isle of Man TT circuit, as part of an event called the Isle of Man CC, organised by Greenrock. The event itself was small, well organised and a bloody sight harder than we had anticipated it might be. With a choice of one, two or three laps of the circuit we sensibly opted for two laps that would be a shade over 70 miles… as three relative novice cyclists who ‘did a bit’, this sounded enough. Having watched the Isle of Man TT on TV for years, it was a particularly exciting proposition for me to actually ride the circuit where so many of my heroes, perhaps gladiators of their time, have risked life and limb (unfortunately losing some of both almost every race week) in their pursuit of the perfect lap, and what I can only assume is the biggest adrenaline rush this side of strapping in to one of the early Saturn V space rockets. The TT lap record on a motorcycle is a terrifying average of 135.4mph (kudos Mr Peter Hickman)… we were never pretending to aim for any particular average, though perhaps two laps, at ‘double figures’ would be a victory.

As I’ve mentioned previously, the terrain of South Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and Rutland may provide some very pretty and enjoyable riding, however what it doesn’t provide is anything remotely ‘Mountainous’. Despite my interest in the TT, what I failed to remember in the initial excitement of booking the event is that there is a certain section of the circuit called ‘The Mountain’. Even as we stepped off the ferry in Douglas to ride the short distance to our hotel on the seafront, climbing was something of a mystery to us, perhaps blissfully unaware of what lay ahead the next day.

Aside from admiring beautiful countryside, having a riveting conversation about whether you could in fact live off Jelly Babies, and remarking at how unhinged the TT racers must be to ride these roads at full throttle on a 200 brake horse power superbike, it was a very uneventful first 70 minutes. After passing through the ‘capital’ of the island, Ramsey, we began to climb, and headed up through the iconic Ramsey hairpin. This is the slowest part of the circuit, where many years ago my father had crashed his Vespa after underestimating his turning circle and ridden into the bank on the outside. Having now ridden the hairpin myself, I am at a loss as to how he managed it! If Peter Hickman can get a BMW 1000RR around there, a 250cc Vespa should have been a piece of cake.

The fact of the matter is this; the Mountain is called ‘The Mountain’ for a reason.

At a smidgen over 12km, with an average gradient at 3.5% and a maximum of 11%… it was a whopping contrast to anything that we were used to. We were used to minutes of climbing… not an hour!

Climbing away from Ramsey….

Now, before you belittle this achievement, as ‘fen-boys’ reaching this summit was an extraordinary feat! The first of a kind for us… and we all considered how / if another lap was actually possible and how crazy you would have to be to have signed up for three laps in the first place. And the Mountain wasn’t finished with us yet, not least as we had another lap to do. 1,200 feet of vertical doesn’t only impact your legs, it also impacts the weather. Arriving at the top, on a beautiful day, doesn’t mean it’s going to stay that way, and as we rode across the top of the mountain the weather moved in from the west to provide ‘unwanted refreshment’. While fortunately, it disappeared as quickly as it arrived, it was a timely reminder of how changeable the weather can be in the mountains.

There are many points on the TT circuit that are truly iconic. Even from a ‘still’ image taken at these points, you know exactly where the riders were, and can feel the excitement and energy that you know existed when the shutter opened. The start-finish straight. Glen Helen. Ballaugh Bridge. Parliament Square. Ramsey Hairpin. The Gooseneck. Bungalow. I could go on, but it will suffice to say that it was amazing to ride through each one. But the one that has always stood out to me is Creg-Ny-Baa. This is a right hand bend, at the end of a downhill straight heading off the top of the mountain, in a relatively remote spot with a pub on the outside of the bend, where if you didn’t make the bend, you could end up taking an unconventional route to a prime spot at the bar. It has always been, and remains an ambition to be at that pub watching the TT with one too many pints of something very cold on a beautiful sunny day (I will have to wait, but will do it). This may have been a really good place to stop for a photo – but quite honestly, I was going too fast! As I may have mentioned before, I’ve got a screw loose when it comes to speed. With a touch of tail wind, tucked in on the drops, on fabulous tarmac while reminiscing about the motorcycle gladiators of old heading down the straight to Creg-Ny-Baa was too much… for a moment I was a two wheeled legend on the TT course myself, with my legs spinning out so fast that I was struggling to keep my bum on the seat.

On reflection, it’s not lost on me that Guy Martin and the other heroes are sat astride more suitable equipment, wearing far more appropriate outfits, as they thunder towards the pub. I was wearing my finest single skin of Santini Giro D’Italia celebratory lycra, on board my self-maintained 8kg of Felt F6. An off at any speed is not funny – let alone at just shy of the 87kmh that I was doing as I approached the Creg. I must say that I wasn’t aware of this speed at that time, for two reasons. First, at that time I was using MPH, so had I looked, I would have seen 54mph. Second and most significantly, I was transfixed on the pub at the end of the road, realising that at some point I was going to have to slow down to successfully navigate the bend. The 23mm wide Rubino Pro tyres I was running at the time were brilliant (more robust than the Graphene version of today), but not designed for a ‘knee down’ around Creg-Ny-Baa, and nor was my unprotected knee, so any attempt as such would surely result in ‘blue light’ assistance being required. Almost as if I knew what I was doing, perhaps reminiscent of a TT racer, I sat up… the air-braking effect was astonishing! With a gradual but firm squeeze of the brakes, the speed washed away and the bend was rounded with some reasonable aplomb. My momentary panic subsided, and it was all ok. With no fear, and only adrenalin remaining, a Cheshire Cat grin kicked in with a real, very audible Laugh Out Loud… I liked that A LOT!

This was a significant event. Not least as any question of whether we were doing a second lap and making another ascent of The Mountain was gone, we were going again… I wanted more. However, this also taught me that I LOVE descending and going fast on my bike, something I continue to enjoy more and more, though I am more aware of the risks and potential consequences as I get older.

I am also very aware that in the fullness of time, our memories of some events fade, and our recollection of the details can vary, on occasion disappearing altogether and sometimes exaggerating. You would be forgiven for questioning my claims about hitting 87kmh / 54mph, and indeed, even as I was typing this blog, I had to question myself whether this was correct. However, looking at the photo’s I noticed that I actually had my first Garmin at this point, and therefore the data from the ride should still be available to back up my outlandish claim. And sure enough, it’s still there, and I feel confident in telling you that subject to Garmin’s accuracy, I have done 86.9kmh or 53.99mph if you prefer, onboard my Felt F6 heading down the straight towards Creg-Ny-Baa. (I also have a faster speed recorded descending Leith Hill during Ride London, but I simply don’t believe this as it was in a wooded descent where GPS data is notoriously unreliable, so I will keep that one to myself.)

Pulling in to the pits, full of beans at having confirmed that I have more than a love of speed, what I didn’t expect or want was a wagging finger. But, we’d be been naughty! It was nothing directly to do with my speed, however the one rule we’d been given during the morning briefing was – ride single file across the top of the Mountain. However, we’d left the briefing, ridden up the road, while dreaming of Jelly Babies and forgotten all about the golden rule, and then been seen riding two abreast across the mountain, and we needed to be corrected. Corrected we were, and we headed off on the second lap… The rule was seemingly bonkers to us, as it was almost deserted up there. However, it is there for good reason – the road is ‘fill your boots’ derestricted. As a Porsche 911 demonstrated to us beautifully on the second lap… in the right car, this is a seriously quick piece of road! The porker’s presence was also a nice distraction as the second lap weather wasn’t so kind, so having something to watch / be passed by going so fast (and giving us plenty of room!) while conquering another arse-ache climb was actually awesome. The weather also ruined the second run down the Creg, as by now it was a headwind. Not what I’d hoped for, and I questioned whether I could have been in the bar 2 hours earlier. Interestingly, when we finished after the two laps (utterly broken!), we learned that most of the people who’d signed up for three laps were bailing after two as well. As a result we felt better about our ‘Fen-Legs’, and headed off to the pub to celebrate. I believe it was a relatively quiet night.

As an experience, the Isle of Man CC was a great little event, and it is still running… the next is provisionally scheduled for 21st September 2021, if you’re interested? If you are a cyclist and a motorcyclist / motorcycle racing fan, you certainly should be interested. The Isle of Man is a special place, and if you’ve not been, you most certainly should go and while the TT weekends are super busy, the end of September is the opposite and a great time to visit. If you do go, just remember; single file across The Mountain.

Fast forward 5 months, and there it was… one of the best cycling photo’s that I’ve seen, and I am in it with my two friends… demonstrating three of us doing exactly what the organisers told us not to do! While the article about the event in Cyclist magazine was really very positive, I’m sure the organisers must have put their heads in their hands when they saw the photo. However for me, it started a hunt to get in touch with the photographer who took it, as I simply needed a print.

Today, the largest print I could get has pride of place in my living room. Sadly, I can’t show it to you… as I don’t have the photographers permission.

But trust me, its magnificent!

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