Author of the 100 Climbs series Simon Warren leaves London behind and heads ‘up north’ for a new life in Sheffield! We are all guilty of riding the same old roads and he sees this as a wonderful opportunity to ride somewhere completely different.
A little over a month ago I upped sticks and after 22 years in the capital headed north to start a new life in Sheffield. The reasons were several, cost, family, space and although I know I’ll miss many aspects of London I was looking forward to new horizons and yes new roads to ride.
After so many years of heading out of east London either down south into Kent and Surrey or more usually north into Essex, I had an encyclopedic knowledge of my local lanes. I could compose a different ride every day to account for the type of training I wanted to do and of course which way the wind was blowing if I was going to try and bag a cheeky KOM. Now though it was all new, predictability and familiarity had been replaced by the unknown and adventure.
If you had paid attention in geography you’ll know that Sheffield sits slap bang in the middle of England right on the edge of the Peak District, so at my disposal, I’d have one of the most beautiful parts of Britain and of course, lots and lots and LOTS of hills. I’d been visiting in the Peak District since I was a teen and of course knew all about the famous climbs of Winnats Pass, Mam Nick, Curbar etc, and whenever I’d been there I’d always headed for these highlights but never looked what lay beyond them, hidden from view.
Back in London, even though I knew all the roads, I’d often plan my routes online the night before, searching out segments that could be potential KOM targets, but they would all still be familiar, now when I looked at the map I was faced with a myriad of new options, just where would I start? Of course, I knew exactly where, and at the first available opportunity after the late winter snow had melted (DO NOT EVER move house in the snow), I headed to where else, but Winnats Pass. I rolled out at 0800, and by 9 I was at its base, I was literally at the foot of one of Britain’s greatest roads and it was just an hour from my new home. AMAZING, just amazing, I was no longer missing London.
Sheffield, like Rome, is famously built on seven hills which I knew before I arrived, and of course, we’d visited many times looking for a house, but it was only once I was here that I truly realised it’s ALL HILLS. There are NO flat roads. NONE. Of course, I love the hills, but what if you want an easy ride? I went back to Strava and began to plot routes, but no matter which way I went, north, south, east or west, it was impossible to do a two-hour ride with less than 1000 metres of climbing. And if I wanted to get to the best roads, each ride started with 25 minutes all uphill, I was going to get fit or collapse.
With Winnats bagged on my first ride, where do I go next? Staring at a blank canvas it’s often hard to know where to start, but thankfully I had help in the shape of Ben Lowe, the man behind veloviewer.com. Ben and I had been working together for some time and as a Sheffield resident, he was keen to show me around his manor, and also keen to hurt my legs on climbs I was yet to put in my books.
Over the next couple of weeks, we ticked of Pindale out of Castleton, although first time up we had to abort because of more bloody snow. I’d only ever ridden down this beast on my way to Winnats so it was great to finally go up it, and boy does it go on! After this, he introduced me to the ‘Beast of Bradwell’. An absolute killer of a road with a grinding section of 25%. This would surely have been a contender for 100 Climbs if it had more fame. I’m looking forward to taking the best bike to this and giving it some welly later in the year. After this it was onto Froggats, a climb I had shockingly overlooked, again due to its proximity to another famous road, the one up to Curbar Edge.
Froggats is a five kilometre drag set on a pretty even 5% slope and seems to be the one climb that all the local ‘hitters’ want to put a fast time down on. The top couple of pages on the Strava leaderboard are a who’s who of the local pros and climbing talent. Ben sits in very good company in 5th place and says he will never go that hard again on its slopes, but my relationship with this climb has just begun. As I write this I have yet to give it a proper go but I’ve been up five or six times already just to get a good feel for it. I’ll not get anywhere near the top of that list but I’d like to see how I fair and trust me I’ll not give up until I’m happy.
I’d done all I could on the small hills in Essex, and although they all hurt, they were VERY small. I’d got KOM on many of them and lost KOM on many of them but had given each one my best shot. Now I had a host of new targets, a myriad of roads, some new, some familiar to hurt myself on in search of gold crowns. Thing is, unlike north London, there is a fair bit more climbing talent around these parts and they all seem to love Strava. This, unfortunately, means KOMs will be hard to come by but I’ll keep trying because you never know, with the right legs on the right day, and with the right wind I could get lucky.
But of course, there’s more to life than Strava and just the fact that within 20 mins of leaving home in the centre of the city I can be staring out across a barren empty moor is simply incredible. In an instant, my stresses are gone and six weeks later I’m still unable to ride across that moor without stopping to take a photo, each time as surprised as I was the first time by what I see and I hope this feeling never fades.
Simon wrote the original 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs book over seven years ago and has subsequently released a further eight regional climbing guides covering all regions of the UK.
All eight books are now available as a 545 climb boxset through his publishers Frances Lincoln.