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Big Ride: Chilterns

Sam Challis
14 Dec 2016

For those trapped in the concrete metropolis of London, green fields and quiet roads are nearer than they might think

Chequers? Check...

A thrilling descent out of the Ashridge Estate via Tom’s Hill, a blast along Upper Icknield Way and a spin past the PM’s weekend residence, Chequers, sees us into the undulating Hughenden Valley.

With major roads nearby, the lanes we are riding are rarely busy and offer a testing parcours, which could explain why they were once used as a course for the Archer Grand Prix, a long-running classic on the domestic racing calendar.

The race was first organised in 1956 by the Archer Road Club and ran up until 2007. Gary Wiggins was a member of the club and on occasion his son, Bradley, would turn up to compete on these roads.

We may be rolling in the tyre tracks of the pros, but after noting on the map a number of upcoming place names containing the word ‘hill’, I make the suggestion of a distinctly un-pro lunch stop.

With 90km under our belts a refuel is well overdue so my idea is greeted with enthusiasm and we stop at the Plough, near Amersham.

Looking like a traditional country pub, we are delighted to find it boasts a comprehensive Italian menu so we gleefully fill up on carbohydrate-laden pasta dishes.

Once back on the bikes, we skirt beneath Amersham where the roads downsize to quintessential English country lanes, so we spin gently two-by-two, allowing our sleepy post-lunch legs to reawaken before the choppy topography really takes a hold once again.

We get no more than a couple of kilometres of respite before Winchmore Hill, Coleshill, Ley Hill and Whepley Hill repeatedly attack our restocked energy stores. They all pass in a blur of sweat and out-of-the-saddle grinding, but the leafy beauty of our surroundings takes the edge off each rise.

Hill-arious

When we reach the outskirts of Berkhamsted, the biggest town we have seen for some time, the route profile looks like it begins to settle down so I tentatively ask Rob and Joe, who know this area better than me, if it does indeed level out.

They exchange a look, laugh and say, ‘Almost.’ I swiftly find out why their answer was so enigmatic as we grind out of town up a final 15% incline. 

So late in the day the hill really tests us and towards the summit I have to back off, cramp threatening to snatch at my calves.

At the top, hedgerows peel back to reveal the Chilterns in all of their tumultuous glory as the landscape turns rural once more and our shadows stretch long ahead in the late afternoon sun. 

Just past a village called Water End, we turn right to join the road we used some hours earlier to start our expedition into the Chilterns.

The wind and sun are both at our backs so we take a last opportunity to blast along the twisting lanes that lead back into Redbourn. It is a thrilling end to an enchantingly varied day’s riding.

On reflection, I even enjoyed the hills.

• Looking for inspiration for your own summer cycling adventure? Cyclist Tours has hundreds of trips for you to choose from

 

The rider's ride

Cervélo C5
£6,199, derby-cycle.com

Gravel grinder, adventure bike… call it what you will, but the C5 is Cervélo’s answer to the demand for an ‘all-road’ machine.

However, keeping it true to the brand’s racing heritage, Cervélo designed the C5 to be less pack horse, more thoroughbred, making it perfect for the Chilterns’ undulating tarmac. 

‘The C5 is as stiff as our R5 but more comfortable,’ says brand manager Jürgen Kallnbach.

That racy stiffness is evident both when you cast an eye over the huge bottom bracket shell, which houses Cervélo’s proprietary BBright bottom bracket system, and when you put power into the pedals.

The lower half of the bike is unwavering under hard efforts, so I was able to shoot forward on the flat and could rest assured that none of my energy was wasted grinding up the Chiltern’s many ramps.

The stiffness created by the considerable chainstays, bottom bracket and down tube is balanced by the comfort afforded by the elegant seatstays and 28mm Continental tyres.

Additional comfort comes from a generous amount of exposed seatpost, which filtered out the worst of the occasionally broken roads, while the large tyres made the bike feel planted, with no discernable speed penalty. 

 

The rider's kit

Assos T.Cento_s7 bibshorts

Innovative bibshorts feature the KuKuPenthouse (a privates pouch) and GoldenGate, a semi-floating pad that reduced friction.
£210, assos.com

Oakley Jawbreaker Prizm sunglasses

The design harks back to Oakley’s classic Eyeshades, updated to accommodate its Prizm road lens, which offers exceptional clarity.
£175, uk.oakley.com

Shimano R321 shoes

Incredibly stiff, yet the customisable insole and comfortable fit ensured they didn’t need adjusting once all day.
£249.99, madison.co.uk

 

No place like home counties

Follow Cyclist's route up and down the Chilterns Hills

To download this route, go to cyclist.co.uk/55chilterns.

Head west out of Redbourn and take the right fork at Church End. Follow the road as it bends north through Clement’s End and Whipsnade, up onto the Dunstable Downs.

Once you reach the B489 turn left then take the next right out towards Eaton Bray. Head for Ivinghoe Aston via Northall and Slapton to reach Ivinghoe Beacon. At Ringshall, turn left to circle through the Ashridge Estate, exiting via Church End.

Ride along Lower then Upper Icknield Way, turning right at Butler’s Cross. Head for Hughenden Valley, then hit Winchmore Hill and Little Chalfont underneath Amersham.

Ride north to Berkhamsted then head northeast until you pick up your earlier route from Redbourn.


 

Do it yourself

Getting there

The Chilterns are comprehensively served by train from London. To tackle the Chilterns with Redbourn as a start point, Harpenden is the easiest station to travel to. It’s half an hour on the train from London King’s Cross and from there it’s a 5km spin to Redbourn.

Fuel stop

Make sure you grab a coffee and breakfast at the cycling-themed Hub cafe (hubcoffeebikes.com) before you set off.

A bit further up the High Street, the Hub’s affiliated workshop, the Bike Loft (thebikeloft.co.uk), can supply any last-minute tubes or gels you may need to see you through a day riding in the Chiltern Hills.

With thanks

Thanks to Neil Wass of TMG Horizon Cycle Team (ourcyclingteam.com) for all his help and advice with route planning, and to our driver for the day, Paul Cope of High Wycombe CC (highwycombecc.co.uk), for being very patient when our bike computers repeatedly sent us the wrong way.

Thanks also to Cyclist’s ride partners, Rob, Joe and Mike Jackson of Madison, for doing more than their fair share of riding on the front.

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