Riding With Rob Penn.

After an evening of imprudent drinking at Prima Italian Restaurant we were scheduled to put in a few miles: me, Franco Fantoni - the 'Fausto Coppi' of Ripon and Rob 'It's All About The Bike' Penn. Rob was in town to do a talk about his book and other cycling related topics which he'd delivered the previous evening and this had been followed by the aforementioned indulgences (it was Rob's fault - or Franco's, I forget which). The morning dawned bright (one might almost say, dazzling) and due to work and family commitments (or just plain bone-idleness) the proposed 'peloton' had been whittled down to just the three of us. Our route climbed out of the town and up through the undulating mixed meadow and woodland that forms the rising country towards the Dales. The air, heavy with the scent of Oilseed Rape and approaching summer, is alive with the sound of Great Tit, Chiff Chaff and Skylark, it is a glorious morning to be abike. Rob is clearly used to riding with a pair of duffers like me and Franco because at no time do I feel he is chafing at the bit to be away and we settle into a nice easy pace which is just as well as the road continues to climb for some time. As it does so the scenery changes: conifer and pine begin to replace Oak and Ash and the plaintive song of the Curlew and Oystercatcher take over from the lowland songbirds. Fifteen miles in and Franco's thoughts turn to coffee and he seems to know exactly where he's going: we turn off the road onto a conifer lined track (still climbing) and before long the trees thin, we cross a cattle grid and the bizarre sight of a field full of yurts opens up in front of us - have we cycled further than we thought and ended up in Totnes? 

We are at 'The Bivouac' - a cafe, restaurant, and, it seems, some kind of holiday resort. We sit outside with a coffee and fiddle with our phones; the views are panoramic and the birds sing and all is right with the world - we may also be at the highest point of the ride! We can't linger though as Rob has an appointment in North Stainley where he is due to unveil a sculpture - something to do with TDF. There are few pleasures to compare with a long downhill on a warm spring day with all the scents of the countryside filling the senses and it is no time at all until we roll into Masham and then along to Stainley where we are met by a clamour of committee members from North Stainley's TDF group. The sculpture is draped in what appears to be someone's sitting room curtains and on a given cue, Rob whips the curtain aside with a flourish and there stands a stag, made out of bicycle parts (I don't know so don't ask). Rounds of applause and photos are taken and for some reason Franco and I are induced to be in them (see above), in fact we are royally treated and a buffet lunch has been laid on for us; it's all a bit baffling really and I have a creeping feeling that they think I'm someone famous - David Millar perhaps or even Wiggo. When it comes time to leave we are thanked profusely and of course we thank profusely in return so the parting takes some time - a kind of ballet of nods and smiles and turns and waves and then we're off - the final leg back into town a swift goodbye and back to work - Hey Ho!


Another Firkin Year!

Another Firkin Challenge is looming; it's a hundred mile ride through the Yorkshire Dales to raise money for disadvantaged children through the Wooden Spoon charity and this will be my third. It can be gruelling and the weather in previous years has not been kind - it has in fact pissed down.  I feel less well prepared this year and I'm another year older and more decrepit.  2014 is of course the year Tour de France comes to Yorkshire and to reflect that, this year's Firkin will follow much of the route to be tackled by the likes of Wiggins, Froome, Voigt et al; more hills have been added and as far as I can see the riders in my team are all faster, fitter and younger than me so why I agreed to do it I don't know. So - if you do have a shilling or two that you can spare, don't buy a lottery ticket, don't bung it on a knackered old nag, don't pour it down your gullet at the pub…….give it to the kiddies. Here