Last year I rode there and back as part of my desire to get fit for LEL and do some long sequential rides - so 370km there on the Friday, take Saturday off, then 400km home. The extra distance home is due to adding in a dog log via Stroud; as I’d be out on the beer on Saturday an early morning start wasn’t going to happen so I wanted to factor in a couple of hours in a £9 Travelodge room rather than ride from midday straight through the night.
Here is Matthew's conveyance on another snowy episode:
Last year was fine going to Bangor, but the return was the weekend when the snow hit and brought the country to a standstill. It had started snowing as I got into the mountains and was continuous until I got to the Travelodge, where I abandoned hope of finishing in time. I had a good sleep and continued home in daylight once the snow ploughs had been out.
Fast forward a year, and I decided to ride up again. I’m lighter, fitter and faster, so expected it to be much easier. Unfortunately things didn’t quite turn out that way.
I left home at 4:30am in the pouring rain. I was making pretty good time, getting to Peartree services (~70km) before the Little Chef opened at 7am. The weather cleared up a bit, though there was rain on and off and it was pretty cold when I stopped in Stratford-Upon-Avon for a quick picnic on the river bank.
Approaching Bridgnorth it started to snow, so as I’d planned a stop there anyway I ducked into a garage for a coffee and snack, somehow managing to lose one of the rubber ear pieces for my headphones in the process. When I left the snow had abated, but my back wheel had started to make an occasional clunking noise. This is a two year old wheel that is due for retirement soon anyway (probably having cover 15,000 miles), but I’d hoped to eke it out until the weather got nicer rather than subject a brand new rim to the grinding paste of winter riding.
A few miles up the road and it was sounding like Windy Miller’s windmill. I wasn’t sure how long it would last, and certainly didn’t fancy taking it over the mountains in bad weather. I crawled to Shrewsbury and found a mechanic willing to do a wheel bearing service there and then (in Halfords of all places!). I watched him, he did a rather splendid job but I ended up losing about 90 minutes, plus the delay due to riding carefully for the previous 10 miles or so.
Up the road to Oswestry - with snow and very slippery conditions. I had a full meal at the Little Chef and when I left the roads were not as icy - presumably a gritter had been through. Then things turned sour again; flashing signs at the side of the road told me that the A5 was shut just past Corwen. I had no idea if it was road works (where I might be able to get past even if it meant walking) or bad snow. The signed diversion was to go up past Wrexham and along the A55 - swapping a scenic ride through pretty towns and painfully beautiful mountains for a main road hack up horrible dual carriageways with nothing to look at and an extra 20 miles to ride.
I didn’t have a map with me as I know the route well, and the GPS really doesn’t cope well with planning alternative routes on the bike. The display is simply too small to get a big overview and if you just ask it to get you somewhere it somehow always manages to choose the most inappropriate routing. I managed to cut off a corner going via Mold, but I wasn’t in the best of moods - especially when I also somehow lost one of the clear lenses for my glasses so had to take them off.
For some reason the drivers on the A55 road were pretty nasty; it was late-ish at night, with an almost an almost empty road, yet I’ve never been honked at so many times - I wonder if they think the whole road is barred to bikes rather than just certain sections?
The A55 is a fairly benign road hill-wise, but in their wisdom the North Wales planners have decided that bicycles are fine to take hillier roads whilst car drivers have to travel on the flat. Whilst the cars get a nice flat expressway through Colwyn Bay, cyclists are forced off onto the old road which goes over the top of a mountain. Past Conwy, you aren’t allowed through the new tunnels on a bike, so you have to take a convoluted cycle path that includes climbing up steep ramps to foot/cycle path bridges, going over the top of outcroppings where the cars go straight through, and following a lovely surfaced cycle path where the road alongside is flat but the cycle path follows the original contours and incorporates regular 10-15% hills up and down. The worst of these is at the Penmaenmawr end - you drop down a 10% hill to be presented with a pair of chicane barriers as you are supposed to dismount at that point. I wonder how many people have ridden into those if their brakes aren’t 100%. You then have to climb a long extremely steep hill into the town that I only just made it up using a triple, then another steep bridge to negotiate and a path over the top of the hill that the cars drive through. Hardly a cycle route to encourage new cyclists! [Matthew has managed by dint of adventurous rides like this one to place highly in the Year-Rounder Personal Long division. He currently lives "down south," on the Berkshire /Hampshire border, but ranges farther afield. Stay tuned next time for Part 2, the return! - jle]