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Pain & gain in equal amounts

Pain brings elevation gain

The phrase “no pain, no gain” is one that’s no doubt very familiar to most serious cyclists out there. Usually referring to training, personal bests and physical improvement. But on certain rides like Tuesday’s the pain is 350m of altitude and the gain is coming back down.

When I’m close to the Peak District for work, usually around the Manchester area, I cannot resist an evening ride in the hills. Coming from East Anglia the hills around where I live are few and far between and tend to be quite short climbs. So getting the opportunity to test myself on something bigger is always welcome.

In the past I’ve always searched for a good mountain bike loop incorporating as many bridleways and byways as possible, but this time I was after something to take my new road bike on. Bollington seemed a good starting point; not too far from the hotel in Handforth and close enough to plenty of hilly lanes, to make for a challenging ride. So I hunted down a suitable car park and found one just north of Bollington at the end of Holehouse Lane.

Car parked and ready to go.
Car parked and ready to go.

It was a 22 km loop with just over 700 m of total elevation gain and took me from Bollington, up Blaze Hill and out past Pym’s Chair. It’s a real up and then down loop with the majority of the climbing done in the first half of the ride and then the second half of the ride spent mostly in the drops descending as fast as you dare. True “pain” followed by “gain” stuff.

Up at the top!
Up at the top!

The “pain” section had me out of the saddle at several points where I was already in the lowest gear combination and feeling the need to power on, up and over particularly steep bits. The “gain” section on the other hand had me chasing down cars that had previously overtaken me, being able to take the twisty downhills at a quicker pace.

As I started out on my ride the temperature was a nice comfortable 16ºC. I don’t know what the temperature was up by Pym’s Chair but that was the top of my loop and I arrived there hot & sweating, only to find that the descent that followed immediately afterwards left me chilled from the wind whipping through my jersey.

This is one of several points in the ride where the profile is deceptive. You turn left after the long climb and it seems relatively flat ahead, maybe a slight downhill but certainly a good section to switch off, pedal steadily and recover for a moment. It’s not the case, once you’ve taken the left turn you get a feeling of being sucked in to the descent, rapidly gaining speed until the rest that you were planning on morphs into an, in the drops, head down, adrenaline fueled, chasing down cars while looking for the smoothest lines, two kilometers of constant speed.

It's nicest up in the hills
It’s nicest up in the hills

The second half of the ride seems a lot less remote than the first as it passes through Kettleshulme and along the B5470 and onward to Pott Shrigley. Scenery wise it is a slight anti-climax after the rugged hills of the first half. There’s a small, much easier climb up to Bakestone Road and from there it’s gentle a downhill back to the car park. It’s definitely the best way around to do the loop though in my opinion and a very enjoyable ride it is too for a free hour and a half on a spring afternoon.

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