Its my sister’s birthday tomorrow but driving to Worcester to drop cards and her present off isn’t really an essential journey is it? So I decided to ride and use my outdoor exercise allowance + a socially distanced drop off when I got there to sort it.

After yesterday’s beautifully sunny day, today’s mirky 1 deg fog wasn’t the most appetising weather so I decided to get the gravel bike out. My Ribble CGR has been in hibernation for a few months because I’ve been exclusively riding my Dolan outside, mostly to work. I’m only a couple of miles from the canal and I can get to my sisters house pretty much offroad to within 100m of her door so that was the ride. Canal all the way.

I haven’t actually ridden my Hunt wheels offroad yet so it was a great oppo to give them a blast properly

I pumped up my sexy (brown sidewalls!) Panaracer Gravelkings to 35psi which was soft enough for a bit of comfort and hard enough for the roads and harder surfaces on the towpath and I was away, dressed top to toe in my best thermals and trusty Northwave boots to cope with the cold because it was…really cold.

As I pulled away from the house the first thing that struck me was how nimble and light the bike felt. Silky smooth wheels and no pannier, rack and bag. Out of the saddle felt a bit weird because I’ve obviously adjusted to riding with a heavy pannier bag on my right hand side so now with nothing on the back, lurching to the left felt odd. Round rings too. Grrrrr. I need to get that shit sorted.

Onto the canal and riding south to Worcester descends the Tardebigge flight, so nice and easy. The tyre pressures were spot on. Reminiscent of the ‘glide’ over the rough ground I used to get from racing on cross tubs when the bike was dialled in perfectly.

At Stoke Prior, the gravelly surface gave way to the first muddy section which it always is, even in Summer, except this time on an off-camber part my front wheel lurched to the right and for a split second I thought I was going in the cut. This stuff used to be my bread n butter when I raced cross but today my reflexes aren’t what they used to be #ringrusty. After my brief scare I got going again and in the main most of the towpath was fine with only a couple of short sections where it was cut up. The Gravelking tyres are not mud tyres at all but boy they clear the mud really well when you get out of the gloopy stuff. I was really surprised given how tight the bobbles or tiny knobbles on the tread are. Brilliant on the gravel sections too.

cold, mirky and alone

I pretty much had the canal to myself. No one about in the remote parts, only the odd fisherman, walker or cyclist when I got nearer Worcester. A whole section of towpath from Crowle to the M5 Motorway bridge has been tarmaced. Lovely and smooth, which is great for Joe Public but it was the one bit I used to like. Dirty but flat and fast too and thats gone now. I thought it would have gone all the way to Worcester as I’m pretty sure most urban canal towpaths will eventually get the same treatment as councils tout them as cycle routes. Its a low-cost option to tick the ‘cycling infrastructure’ box for them but the reality is they’re fine for leisure but not as a mass-transit option. Too narrow, sometimes too remote and too dangerous for vulnerable users.

At Perdiswell Park I jumped off the canal, over a bridge and circumnavigated the park on a dedicated path which goes all the way to the A38, past where I used to work. I crossed that and I took a path that runs behind some houses and you literally pop out through a gap in the fence and I was there, just 100m to my sisters door.

The delivery was brief. Too cold to hang around outside at a social distance so I just got off feeling lighter now I’d dispensed of the 750ml bottle of something I’d carried in my rucksack for her.

Back onto the towpath North and the icy cold wind went straight through me so I kept the effort up to stay warm. Going back seemed to pass quicker partly because I was obsessed with trying to work out which tread mark was mine from going the other way. A sad little game that kept me amused. As I approached Stoke I decided to skip the section where I was nearly off and jumped on the road. I picked up a path that ran parallel to the railway line, literally 10 yards away from it. At the end I popped out in a horrible, bland housing estate and decided to follow some of the Cycle Route Bromsgrove council have been implementing. It’s quite shit. Just the odd dropped kerb, some blue signage and regular pictures of cyclists and arrows painted on the road. The bridge over the A38, this is a National Cycle Route remember, asks you to dismount ffs.

Cold and tired I rode through town, managing to get the obligatory close-pass in. If the pass wasn’t close enough, then swerving to the left just in front of me to avoid and oncoming car then braking to turn right just sums up how impatient some drivers are. Another day, I’d have followed them home and had a word but not today.

Home, I clocked up 58km. A decent workout and the wheels were wonderful


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