The Freeride’s first ride, and born again. Scarborough to Whitby & off road.

Before you read on, it is advisable and preferable to get the context to this story by reading ‘The iconic Christmas build etc etc’ story first, then the jigsaw pieces will slowly fall into place. Hopefully. As a scene setter, this story takes place on the day after the build of the bike, and about 8 hours after its maiden midnight flight. I’m feeling as fresh as the North Yorkshire weather is outside, an unusual 12 degrees (Celsius), which is not the normal climate for this time of the year, being so close to the North Sea. The bike is in the van and waiting for us to get going. I double check that I have everything I need, and then my wife and I head out of the drive and leave the village. Our little village get’s smaller in the van’s rear view mirror and we head north east towards Scarborough, which is the start of the ride. We pass the big house, Castle Howard, and weave our way through its countryside and pretty estate villages. The weather is looking distinctly brighter towards the coast, and our destination.

This maiden, shake down ride is an easy one, from Scarborough to Whitby, and which also has the option to throw in a few special sections. The route is actually part of the Sustrans National UK Cycle Network (check out Sustrans.org.uk) and uses the old and now disused railway route and trackbed that went along the north east coast. It is a flat-ish ride with only small gradients, and the track bed is now a level and relatively loose, cinder surface that is easy to cover distance on a mountain bike. We arrive in a packed Scarborough, the sun is shining and as the tide is out, there is a football match taking place on the beach, with a big crowd watching and a man in a top hat, trying to sell them all roast chestnuts from his traditional cart.

This town is one of my favourites. It has a lot of soul. It has a motorcycle racing circuit, Olivers Mount, which has 4 meetings a year where the roads are closed and many famous, international motorcycle racers take on the hilly and twisty circuit at speeds you can only believe when you see them. The road, or track is narrow. It is about one and half cars wide, super smooth, is tree lined, and has big elevation changes. Speeds hit 150mph+, which on a big 1000cc racing motorcycle, must feel like the track is only a metre wide. It is a place to be respected and has claimed the lives of several. Google it and you’ll see what I mean from the onboard camera footage. The town has big victorian hotels, a working harbour where fish is landed daily and on a big rock next to the sea, a spectacular castle. The first castle appeared in the 1130s AD, so its been around for some time. We drive around the cliff that has the castle perched on top of it and park up in the North Bay. This bay is a popular surfing place, all year round. In winter you wear a dry suit or a 6mm thick wetsuit. In summer, it is a 3mm wetsuit. The waves aren’t very big, but they go on for a bit, so long ‘Mini Mal’ boards are used.

Good-to-go. Ha!

The bike is unloaded, I get my shoes and helmet on and my wife asks me if the bike is ‘good-to-go and do the brakes work?’. I put these questions down to mild concern for my bike building and not my riding capability. I breathe in the salty North Sea air and throw a leg over the Cannondale. I’ve pumped the fat, downhill specific tyres up hard to make sure I get full and easy traction on the cinder track, and I’ll let some air out of them when I get onto slippery single track.  This is where my wife and I part for the next few hours. I will ride the 21 miles up the coast to Whitby and my wife will drive there, and as the tide is out, she will go for a beach combing walk until we meet at the van. We’ll both then go for Fish and chips together.

I head off along the cliffs of the coastline. This cinder track route isn’t technically challenging on a smooth, full suspension mountain bike and it also has a a flat-ish profile. The steam trains that used to frequent this line up to the the early 1960s didn’t like big gradients, so it is a great engineering feet to get this flat-ish profile in a hilly area. There are a number of small sea coves en route that will get me and the bike down some single tracks from the cliffs to the beaches. This is where the quality of my construction work will be tested. If I get too carried away or get cut-off by the incoming tide, it means carrying the bike up some distance to get back up the steep cliffs and the railway track. The sun is now out to play and I head north. There are dog walkers, other cyclists and some horse riders, and all sharing the route together. There are greetings every time I pass people. Friendly folk in North Yorkshire.

One of many bridges on the route

I ride under several bridges and do train whistle’s as I go through them. The longer bridges provide a bit of echo-acoustics. Talking of acoustics. The main song in my head from the previous nights ‘Super’ tracklist is ‘Super Massive black holes’ by Muse. The only reason for this is that it was the last one I heard last night, so classic ‘last-track-syndrome’. The cinder track enters more open country and with a blue sea on my right. The views are amazing. There are quite a few gates on the route as the track crosses small roads or has split a farm in two pieces, and they all have a mechanism which can be used to open the gate from a horse or bicycle, and without dismounting. However, there was one gate that was unusually tide with what I call ‘bailer band’ and others call ‘binding twine’. It’s that really strong nylon twine that farmers used to hold hay and straw bales together with, and it is usually an orange colour. It is also used to tie down anything on the farm. This bailer band was a ‘Bianchi blue’ colour, which obviously didn’t go with the very green Cannondale. I’ve never seen this colour before and whilst I’m not a bailer band spotter, it was unusual.

Very unusual Bianchi blue coloured bailer band

I continue my journey humming my Muse track and arrive at Ravenscar. This place has what is left of a small railway station and a big hotel, now converted to houses. This place sits on top of a big cliff and was planned to be a tourist centre back in the Victorian days, but it never made it and now has just a few buildings, one of which is the lifeboat station. They only have a small inflatable lifeboat there and that needs towing some distance to find a safe place to launch, such is the sheer height of the cliffs. UK Lifeboat stations have blue doors and as you’ll see below, look great with a green Cannondale in front of them.

Her Majesty’s Coastguard, Ravenscar.

The whole route along this spectacular coast is amazing, particularly on a day like today. Anyway, enough about landscapes, I’m sure you’re wondering (maybe…) about what the bike is like to ride. Everything worked as it should. I was concerned that the complex roller bearings in the forks would need replacing, which is also complex, so I had greased the internals to the point of drowning them in grease in the hope that all would be good. When I started the ride, the fork movement wasn’t as smooth as Cannondale intended, but about half way through the ride, they got nice and smooth, so a ‘big phew!’ was exhaled. On one fast and very rutted section, the bike launched itself out the other side with a rattle. A sort of metal on metal rattle which occurred over bumps. I checked everything that could possibly rattle on something else and found nothing, so tried to carry on in the hope that it went away. It didn’t. I get paranoid with a rattle in the car, so this stated to ‘do my head in’. I stopped and bounced the bike up a down a few times and it turned out to be the Allen key in the small saddle bag, which was to to blame. It had pushed through the bag and was knocking on the seat post over every bump. I reprimanded the Allen key and the saddle bag, put the Allen key in my back pocket and set off again, relaxed.

A 1998 Vintage Cannondale blocks the view of Robin Hoods Bay

I bypass the small sea fishing and now mostly holiday cottages village, of Robin Hoods Bay and head on towards Whitby. A quick call to my wife to check our respective locations and and then back to pedalling again. The cycle track sometimes left the railway where it bypasses someone’s land, who probably doesn’t want traffic through their back yard, and this is where I caught up with a man and woman on the latest in craze in cycling, new cycle-cross bikes. The riders were carefully picking their way through the stoney track base so I just blasted past with a friendly greeting. I felt smug. This would be short-lived when we got onto tarmac no doubt. I drop down the hill into my destination town of Whitby and stopped to take a photo of the dirty bike by the river. The town is really busy with people enjoying a day out, and daylight, and sunshine.

Whitby harbour with the red and white swing bridge in the background. Dirty green Cannondale hogging the foreground.

Whitby has a special place in my heart and life. We had holidays there as kids, it is still a thriving sea fishing port, it has gothic and now, steam punk weekends. These are not things that you would naturally associate together, but it works. Whitby is also where Dracula landed in the UK when his Transylvanian ship went aground at the harbour entrance. Fact. Once a thriving whaling port, the town now lands North Sea fish and closer to the coast, shellfish, crabs, lobsters etc. Needless to say, all of these can be found and eaten in the town. The harbour is well protected from the sea, although some Spring Tides can easily flood the road that my bike is on in the above picture. I could bang on all day about Whitby, but I must refrain as this is all about the Freeride bike. My wife had said that the van was parked up on the south cliff top by the Abbey and as I was now ‘down’ in the town, I thought that I would ride through the narrow, cobbled streets and onto the south pier to get a photo of the bike. I rode to the end of the south pier and balanced the bike on the steps of the 19th Century lighthouse, which was first lit in 1858. It is at this point that the world feels good, and without any alcohol to fuel it either.

I head back to the place where the pier meets the mainland and then decide to ride down the steep and greasy (with seaweed) slipway and onto the sand for a ride around. I know only too well that sand and mechanical things isn’t a good marriage, but hey, I wanted a photo of the bike on the beach as a true finale to the ride. Whilst riding towards the sea for what is now the feature photo of this story, the front wheel disappeared into a soft sand hole and I hit the sand. No damage, except embarrassment, as I had done it in front of some people, and naturally felt a right idiot! The beach photo was taken and then I had to ride ‘up’ to the abbey to meet my wife. There are two ways to do this; cycle into the town and up a steep road or pick up the bike and carry it up the 199 steps to the top. I chose the steps, which were also full of tourists, so I got some smart-arse, or smart-ass (dependant which one you can relate to) comments from other people walking either up or down the 199 steps. I reach the top, cycle to meet my wife who I find walking back to the van with some stuff she’s found on the beach, and the ride is over, but not the day. My wife asks me if the bike ran fine, and I declare that it did. Ha! The bike is put in the van and tethered with its matching green straps so it doesn’t spread muck everywhere or join us in the front if we have to stop quickly.

Every detail thought through. Matching straps…….

I get changed in the van and my wife and I walk back ‘down’ to the town and our favourite place to relax and eat fish and chips. There are several good fish and chip restaurants in Whitby, and ours is called Trenchers. The place is great. The service is great. The food is fabulous. There is always information on the chalk boards on the walls which tell customers the name of the fishing boat that landed what is on their plate that day. The fish hasn’t been dead long when it hits your plate. We both have a small Haddock and chips and my wife has a pint of Yorkshire beer whilst I make do with sparkling water and tea. I’m driving the van home apparently.

Mmmmmmmm………

We leave the restaurant and then walk back up the 199 steps to the abbey and the car park where the van is. The sun is setting and I capture the abbey, which was first built in 657 AD, so it’s bloody old, against a north east winter sky in a photo (below). So, whats the moral of the story I hear you ask. Firstly, I managed to source a complete kit of bike parts for GBP260, or the equivalent of Euro290, or $330. I built it in an evening and rode it without any hassles or issues the next day. It is actually, a great bike to ride as well. I’ve had the fun of searching out parts as well as the anticipation of the build. Even if it hadn’t worked properly or I’d found a crack in the frame, it’s still bloody good value for ‘entertainment money’ and ticks every box. Would I have had more fun on a brand new bike? Would I have gone any faster? Would it be more comfortable? No. I still stand by my original comment about these bikes being ‘iconic’ from a design and innovation perspective, and whilst the bikes of today are excellent, I’ve managed to re-cycle an old bike into something that lives again. Incidentally, the kit of parts came from 9 different countries, and I wouldn’t have been able to source them that easily when this Cannondale Freeride bike left its USA factory in 1998. I did break one of my own post-ride golden rules, which is to always clean the bike straight away. As it was fully dark when we got home, I put the dirty bike in the shed until tomorrow, so I can do a proper clean and post-build check on it. Will I be able to sleep tonight knowing I’ve got a dirty bike in the shed? We’ll see. Anyway, next steps? Ride it more of course, AND find the next project……….

Whitby Abbey with a northern, winter sky. This photo was taken at 15:30. It gets dark up north early in winter.

Thanks again to Qwerty Cycles (Top Cannondale specialists) for some key parts, particularly the green cable ends 😉

All photos by the Author