Halifax Imps window on the world is, like for so many organisations, the Facebook page. It tells you what we do. We meet outside Toymaster in George Square on a Thursday evening during the summer (BST) and go for a ride to a pub. It does not tell you which pub. Because it is a secret pub, known only to the IPOO (another secret). The IPOO reveals the secret to initiates a couple of days beforehand.
On Tuesdays in summer (see above) we have time trial training around Norland Moor; for left hand turn fetishists desperate to record a personal best. Recording attendances and times are the responsibility of the Timelord and Timelady who dutifully publish them on Facebook nanoseconds after the rides end. There is no escape.
No escape either when the evenings draw in. Norland Moor Tuesdays are replaced by “the Rollers”. Roller sessions are worth a story in themselves. Ned Boulting could do an entire half hour feature on this and still have loads of material left for a sequel. Not for nothing is it known as the “Cellar of Pain”. Again it is supervised by the Timelord who publishes the results on Facebook for all to see.
Er, that’s it. But no, look further down the Facebook page and you will find the following:-
For those who are retired or able to get out during the week there is a weekly run on Wednesday which starts at 10.00 am from Shelf roundabout.
Really ? All year round ? Even in winter ?
When looking for material for this magazine the Editor asked if anyone on Facebook knew anything about these mysterious Wednesday rides. He even suggested that the rides were a figment of the imagination; not on Facebook ? Do things not on Facebook actually exist ?
I too had heard about these Wednesday rides. Some years ago, whilst meandering along a country lane miles from Calderdale with other members of the Rough Stuff Fellowship (yes, it is a cycling group) there was a whoosh, a flash of blue and amber, as we were passed by a group of racers. Just before they disappeared into the distance I managed to catch the Imps logo on one of the jerseys.
Anyway, last year in the spirit of investigative journalism and because I fancied a ride I thought I would ride to Shelf roundabout on a Wednesday morning and see if anyone turned up. Quite a few did. There were about a dozen riders who were obviously “retired” as well as “able to get out during the week”. Most wore Imps tops of varying degrees of antiquity; a couple had Condor tops. I knew a few of them but they were all very welcoming.
Obviously they were there for a ride; but where ? I had no idea of what to expect – 30 miles ? A bit further perhaps ? Back by 2pm – surely no later than 3 pm ?
All eyes turned to the apparent leader, Imps legend Mr John Kaye. Where are we going, John, they asked. After a brief discussion about places they had not been recently – all the destinations were cafes – John announced they were going to Airton Farm Shop.
Airton Farm Shop ? That’s miles away ! What’s going on ? No chance to find out; as soon as the destination was announced they were on their bikes and disappearing down the road.
I do not remember a great deal about the first hour of this ride. What I can remember is that the route northwards around Keighley followed a series of back lanes which were completely new to me, including an industrial estate and a cycleway, before we popped out on the old road to Skipton at Utley. I was struggling at the back to keep pace (about 16-17 mph) and my struggle was not helped by it being apparent that no-one else – and there were several riders obviously much older than me on the ride – seemed to be in any difficulty at all.
The pace only started to relent once we passed Skipton and somewhere at the front it was decided to split up; apparently Airton Farm shop was not far enough for some folk who wanted to go further up into the Dales (Burnsall ? Hawes ? Richmond ?). Following this parting of the waves about half a dozen of us meandered along to the excellent Airton Farm shop. The return was uneventful, a slightly easier pace, but over 65 miles for me back to home.
Perhaps I should have realised my limitations and decided that this Wednesday morning lark was a bit beyond me and stuck to less strenuous rides. But a few months later I decided to have another go, and turned up at Shelf roundabout on a Wednesday morning. Same drill; a discussion about the lunch stop (this time it was Knaresborough) and off they went. The pace this time was even faster than last time – I noticed that the riders at the front had Condor tops. But I was prepared for it, and there was even the bonus of a p*nct*r* (not mine, fortunately) giving me the chance for a break. So this time I was a bit more relaxed when we rolled into Knaresborough and the very upmarket (they seem to go for upmarket food) Blue Tulip on the riverside. Full of yummy mummies and sleek grey cyclists.
As we crossed the river after leaving the cafe I was looking forward to a pleasant ride home. All my assumptions were that we would be heading back south. Seconds later my assumptions were rudely shattered . We turned off onto a cycleway and headed north towards Ripley. . We started to see signs for villages like Hampsthwaite and Kettlesing. It dawned on me from previous rides in the area that we were a) going in the wrong direction and b heading into some lumpy terrain. It seemed an age before they made a left turn instead of a right and headed towards Otley and home. I was very tired.
Approaching Otley there was a discussion at the front about the route out of town and back to Halifax. Before I could ask “are we going through Menston ?” i.e the obvious (easy) route back into Bradford the decision was made – we had done over 60 miles by now – to go up the Chevin. Otley Chevin was a categorised climb when the Tour went through in 2014. Sod that
I said I had had enough and would bale out and get the train home. “No station in Otley” was the instant response, but fortunately whilst I may not be a particularly strong rider I have an honours degree in bikes on trains so I knew I could get a train into Bradford from Menston station three miles away. Which I did.
You might be interested to know I have done the Wednesday rides on two or three more occasions since then and I actually enjoy them a lot. They have had the same pattern each time
1. A ride to a good cafe, usually upmarket rather than greasy spoon; in addition to places like Airton Farm shop and the Blue Tulip, we also visited the excellent Cafe Cargo at Foulridge and the very nice tearoom at West Marton near Gargrave;
2. Between 60 and 80 miles covered, longer in summer, shorter in winter (they always get back before nightfall);
3. You will go along lanes and routes you never knew existed;
4. They do not hang about; when you look at your GPS at the end of the ride it usually shows an average speed of 15 mph plus. Nothing special over 20 miles, a bit harder when you have done three or more times this distance over lumpy terrain.
I think every Imp should make it their duty to join the Wednesday ride on at least one occasion. They are a very friendly and welcoming group and the conversation covers a range of eclectic topics. In fact discussions about bikes or bike related events tended in my experience to be the exception.
But before you go think about it carefully and be afraid, very afraid.