Blwyddyn Newydd Dda

On the upper reaches of the Teifi


Only one way to start 2010; with a bike ride. Luckily, the heavy snowfalls that affected much of Wales over the period between Christmas and the New Year didn’t quite reach the far west between Cardigan and Aberystwyth.

Since this is where I have spent the last week, this meant I had no excuse today not to get out for a couple of hours other than the fact that I had done a couple of hours on New Year’s Eve and, given the unrelentingly hilly nature of the local terrain, was suffering sore legs. Oh, and the night time temperature dropped to minus 20 or something, leaving extensive sheets of ice even on gritted ‘B’ roads.

On the other hand, I had brought along the perfect machine for the conditions: RCUK’s test Boardman CX Pro, fitted with hardcore heavy duty touring rubber ideal for the rough Tarmac and generally muddy conditions of the locale. Swaddled in two layers of Rapha Merino Sportwool under a long-sleeve jersey and over a long-sleeve undervest and with substantial covering over legs, feet, hands and head, I ventured out into the icebox conditions above the Aeron valley.

My regular two-hour route is carefully chosen to provide as much reasonably flat riding as is possible and therefore follows two river valleys: the Aeron and Teifi. Getting between the two inevitably means crossing a bowler hat of a hill, as does getting home at the end of any ride. Ah, well; the air was crisp, the air sparkling and the sky cloudless, so who’s complaining?

It did not take long to encounter the first sheet of ice, but since this was already turning to slush in the bright sunshine it posed no real challenge to the gnarly rubber on the Boardman. Most of the minor roads turned out to be dry and ice-free as far as Llangeitho, the previous day’s sunshine having evaporated  water from the road surface almost as fast as it melted. Ice lay across the stiff climb out of the village but the only real problems lay waiting on a single track lane that drops down to the Teifi as it is joined by the Brefi.

These I crossed on foot, not least because there might not have been a passer-by for ages had I fallen and broken something. Lying over puddles, the ice had been smashed by car tyres before re-freezing, this time covered with small, jagged protrusions that would kick the front tyre irretrievably off line.

Something similar almost happened approaching Lampeter, where the road runs shaded by trees just above the river. Of the numerous narrow ribbons of ice across the road, only one threatened to pitch me off thanks to a ridge frozen into it that did exactly as described above. Of course, go fast enough and you regain grip before falling…

Riding out of Lampeter towards Newcastle Emlyn I saw two road cyclists, one in what looked at a glance like Lampre team kit. Not for the first time it did occur to me that, in the conditions, a tootle along well-gritted ‘A’ roads is the sensible option even if it lacks the appeal of traffic-free minor roads. Trouble is, the ‘A’ roads in west Wales are invariably extremely hard work and make few concessions to cycling even when they wear signage inviting the activity.

Still, I timed my return to perfection, climbing wearily off the Boardman to find roast goose and a cool bottle of Pen-lon ‘Ramnesia’ strong ale waiting to revive me. Happy New Year!

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