Local knowledge can be a considerable advantage when tackling new terrain.
I was glad to have Luke Humphries, director of Velobrands, along for the ride when experiencing the beautiful Teign Valley for the first time on a recent trip to Devon.
Luke’s advice that Devon has no flat roads – even those with the appearance of an even trajectory are ramped – proved to be entirely accurate.
Our 45-mile tour from Topsham on the outskirts of Exeter, out to Moretonhampstead and as far south as Bovey Tracey, was littered with climbs, if littered is the word I want to describe the beautiful scenery that formed the backdrop to our jaunt.
The purpose of my visit, and that of RCUK Technical Editor, Tim O’Rourke, was for an early test of a clothing range being developed by Velobrands under its Chapeau brand.
We wore early samples of shorts and legwarmers, and in TOR’s case, arm warmers too (I was in long-sleeves). It’s early days for the project, but we were impressed by Luke’s determination to get it right (his living room contained a pair of shorts seemingly from each of his competitors, and his observations on the position of RCUK’s shorts on the saddle were pertinent). We all agreed that the leg warmers were excellent, and good enough to be the final product.
It didn’t take long after leaving Topsham to encounter the first testing climb of the day. The Longdown Climb is four miles long, peaks at 620 feet, and has a maximum gradient of 7.8 per cent. ToR’s pre-ride claims for form lost due to enforced time off the bike proved to be hokum, and he and the RCUK Test Rig, sporting the rather fetching SKS Blumels guards, disappeared from view almost instantly.
It was here that Luke, an experienced competitor, deployed the first of several devices to slow Tim’s advance: the ‘friendly’ arm around the shoulder. A subtle approach that to the outsider appears to be one rider showing concern for another with a friendly embrace, it leaves the recipient shouldering the weight of his new ‘friend’ and slowing accordingly.
A smart descent from Longdown brought us to the brief ascent of Farrents Hill and a mile later to the climb of Doccombe, at 1,002 feet, the highest of the route. The steepest section is 7.2 per cent, but we took a steady approach. A rare appearance of sunshine, filtered through the leaves of the overhanging trees, created an attractive distraction from the continued effort.
The final climb of the day was a second ascent of Longdown, this time heading east in the direction of Exeter. This proved to be the hardest climb, topping eight per cent in places and one, as predicted by Luke, that dug into the ‘glutes’. ToR made his usual rapid ascent, while I followed Luke’s advice to dump the chain on the inner ring. “I know how long this climb is,” he confided, as Tim disappeared from view.
The remaining few miles back to Topsham passed at a decent pace, before winding down as we hit the network of shared pedestrian-cycle paths that led us back into the town.
I’d recommend Devon’s Teign Valley to cyclists seeking beautiful surroundings and challenging hills. The descents are as rewarding as the climbs and Luke’s advice that the flat roads of Devon are never truly flat is well worth heeding.