February 22, 2014

Georgie Ormrod

Memory fails me when I try to reconstruct meeting Georgie via the internet. It could have been just before my 2012 Pyrenees trip, and I know it was before 2012 Coffeeneuring, because I remember her jumping into riding for coffee with both feet. In any case, the Pennines, where she rides, remind me something of the Berkshires, where I ride. (No, not that Berkshires, this is the one one the west side of the Atlantic.) The cycling struck me as somewhat different though, and wanting to learn more about rough stuff riding and audax in England, I asked if she would agree to an interview. Happily, she did, and her answers give a superb sense of cycling in the Pennines. All photos are Georgie's.

You live in an area of England called the Pennines. It looks so beautiful in your photos, will you describe it?
I live in just one part of The Pennines. The Pennines themselves are a ridge of hills that run up the length of the north of England from about half way up towards the border of Scotland--essentially separating the east from the west. The Pennines have a mixture of farmland, areas of natural beauty (such as The Peak District & the Yorkshire Dales) and post-industrial towns that thrived during our cotton industry. I live in one of those post-industrial towns. Most of the houses line valley bottoms with larger conurbations in-between valleys. They often have canals, railways and disused railway lines snaking through the area, which help with cycling on the flat. Between built up areas we have plenty of wild open moorland on hill tops -- usually it requires climbing some steep slopes to make it to the tops!

And your climate?
The Pennines are notoriously wet! We have a temperate, damp climate, which is why the cotton industry thrived here during Victorian times. Canals and railways linked mill towns to Manchester and the port at Liverpool. My home town has an old textile mill in it that was used in The King's Speech. This place has been a museum for donkeys years, but in the next valley, Rossendale, we had working cotton mills until just the other decade. Obviously there was a massive decline in the cotton industry with most fabric now being made in India and China and we're left with a densely populated, but deprived area, albeit one with amazing countryside. To the west of where I live is the plain of Lancashire, which stretches towards the coast and is quite flat. I do sometimes ride there too, but it's less to my taste.

What is the riding like where you live?
Cycling here is fantastic! If you love hills!! Which thankfully I do. I think hills give the best rewards with the views that open up. I've always loved hills and always want to know what the view from the top is. We do have narrow roads that snake over them to connect the valley conurbations, but we also have old pack-horse roads that are mostly boulders of stone that are now classified as bridleways (more on that later).

How much is cycling a part of the culture?
Historically cycling thrived here in the 50s and 60s, but much less so now. I suppose because of the dense population and narrow valley bottoms, which are often the only flatter roads; we have very high concentrations of cars packed onto a few roads. Most people would not dream of cycling here.

Of those who do ride, what kind of cycling do you see most?
I suppose because there is so much auto traffic, we do have quite a number of people who just go mountain biking and we have some wonderful purpose built facilities for this in woods and old quarries. But as everywhere else in England, we do have a reasonably healthy road cycling culture. In my experience, many clubs are made up of older generations riding during the week when roads are quieter. Utility cycling is few and far between and in my region cycle commuting ranges from about 1.5% to a maximum of about 2% and most of those are fast blokes!

But you do sometimes commute by bike, don't you?
Yes I do. I commute by bicycle more often than not, but I keep an eye on the weather as the roads are fast and not very wide; if it's windy, it can be pretty scary getting buffetted about with traffic passing with a inches to spare. My commute is also 9 miles each way with some significant climbing in both directions- it really adds length on to my work day, but it does wake me up in a morning and help me relax in an evening. I never need to worry about what I eat or think about needing exercise.

Commute option across the moors
Do you always travel the same route?
No, I do like to mix things up with the commute too as it can feel like a chore otherwise. In summer I can go a shorter, but off road route over the moors, which is BRILLIANT FUN! (alas not suitable in the dark or the wet or the ice) and I can go a route with some greenway & canal that is a few miles further. I actually first got my bicycle to commute to work when my office was three miles from home, but due to service restructures my office has since moved twice, both times further away! Stephen & I are in the process of getting our own place together and then the journey will be even longer so I will probably explore options of trains or part ride / part drive. And hopefully we will do tandem commutes more often!

What is your own favorite kind of cycling?
As many local roads are not much fun on the whole for cycling, I favour rough-stuff cycling. Rough-stuff is an old fashioned term coined back when tarmac was taking over-- the phrase was used to differentiate from smooth stuff ie. tarmac. The Rough-Stuff Fellowship was born in the 1950s for cyclists who knew that where smooth stuff ended, the cycle journey could begin. It's more off-road cycle touring than hard-core mountain biking. And we are happy to push & carry bikes should the path be worth it. The Rough-Stuff Fellowship ride for the enjoyment of the countryside rather than adrenalin thrills.

And we ride to the slowest rider, so everyone is welcome. The club has factions all over the country and we have national meets twice a year. In my neck of the woods there are four factions quite close together, so there are plenty of rides I can join and I usually make between three and six rides a month, depending on the weather and where the rides are.

Do you organize, lead, or design any of those rides?
Yes I do. I am a total map fiend. I love sitting down and plotting routes. My main problem is working full time means I can't always try out a ride to perfect it before the day, which can sometimes be an issue, but sometimes things just work out ok. I'm still learning the art of leading rides and finding my own style of leading. The club members are all very supportive and we have a wealth of very experienced riders who I can always rely on and who have become more like a family over the years.

Leading a Rough-Stuff Ride
What distances are the rides?
We have weekly family friendly rides that are up to 15 miles through to tougher rides that usually max out at 35 miles. As anyone knows off-road miles are very different in distance terms to on-road miles.

What kind of roads, or trails does it use?
Most rides have some bridleway--these are usually stoney tracks on hills that are like a wider footpath that horse-riders and cyclists are allowed to use. They can, however be very muddy! We also ride through woods, on canal towpaths and in recent times greenways, which are often reclaimed disused railway lines that are smoothed over with tarmac. We do also add some quieter lanes in.

I believe I read in your blog that you also ride brevets, or audax rides. The word audax derives from,the same Latin as audacious, and I think audax rides are essentially the same as what we call randonnee rides in the U.S.
Yes audax rides are like your brevets & randonneurs. They range 50 - 150km for brevets and well right up to LEL & PBP distance.

I think most of my readers are familiar with Paris-Brest-Paris, but will you describe LEL and does it require the same qualifying series?
London Edinburgh London is 1400km. But you don't need to go through a series of rides to qualify. One day I might be ready! I can dream.... and aim for that in the future...maybe.

What distances do you ride?
I've only been riding audax for a year, so I'm starting out small. I've done a few lovely 100km rides, although I can ride further, the time limit is a bit of a mental hurdle for me. I like riding my vintage ten speed for these rides, but that does limit the speed a lot. I've also enjoyed riding the tandem on a couple, which really speeds things up especially in terms of navigating; not having to stop to check directions really keeps the ride flowing fast! But Stephen's not really up for longer distances.

Do you have any specific goals?
This year I'm starting to work on collecting AAA points. Audax Altitude Award! Which makes sense since I live in the hills. I'm starting with smaller distances through winter and to build up my speed. But I would love to get my brevet 500 (5x 100kms) & randonneur 500 (50, 100, 150, 200 at randonneur speed) this year. But working full time often makes getting round to obtaining these goals quite tough. I keep chipping away.

Those are 2 very fun goals. I am not aware of them here, but will have to look. They both seem like challenging goals for riders who don't aim for the longest distances in one go. Here some riders aim to complete a 200K every month. That appeals for similar reasons. 
Are all audax rides organized by an official group of some sort? Did I also read that you can design your own routes?
Some rides are organised and they're always so friendly and welcoming. I love these because they make me visit places that I wouldn't necessarily ever think of visiting. You can also build your own rides and do routes that are set up to ride by yourself at any time. But doing the organised ones is easiest and most fun for me.

If you build your own ride, can it count in the qualifying series? Also, does it become a recognized route?
As far as I know it is only certain rides that are allowed to qualify for PBP, so ones you've designed yourself probably wouldn't qualify. And yes, any route can become recognised if it's validated via Audax UK correctly. There are some lovely routes around here that I know would make brilliant events and perhaps one day I'll organise a ride of my own for people to enjoy. That certainly is something I would love to do. A lady who lives on the Isle of Man has had a couple of her DIY rides turned into Permanent events. The Isle of Man is somewhat isolated from mainland UK, so to get her audax fix, she does her own thing. I'm hoping to get over to the island soon to try out a couple of her routes.

Are the two organizations (Rough Stuff and Audax) related?
Rough-Stuff (RSF) and Audax are completely separate. Audax rides are on roads, albeit remote ones on the whole. Both are unsupported & require that you bring your own emergency supplies. RSF rides are about being sociable, so any problems are fixed together, Audax is about being self-reliant in terms of navigation and with any bike problems.

Is either more popular there? If so, why?
Both are popular and many RSF riders do ride Audax. Audax has more members, but by its nature it appeals to all road cycling clubs. Most cycling clubs around the country put on their own audax ride or sometimes even series of rides every year.

What is that series?
This isn't a specific series. One example would be that Calderdale CTC put on audax rides of certain lengths that allow a rider to complete a Super Randonneur award if they do all the rides. Does that make sense?

Absolutely! Let's go back for a minute to those beautiful images of yours. Do you carry much equipment?
Usually I just take a little snapper digital camera with me, but if we're going on tour, we have a better camera that we take. I'm always stopping to take pictures. I love dramatic skies especially.

December Ride
What are you aiming to convey in your images?
I like to take the pictures to show my mum where I've been; she has limited mobility, so she enjoys looking at the adventures I've had. In terms of my blog, I suppose I'm show-casing the beauty of my region. It's not classically beautiful like The Lake District or Scottish Highlands for example and I suppose most people would never consider visiting this region for their holiday. When I started blogging, I hoped people in the area might recognise the beauty beyond the local towns, but I think that people who look at cycling blogs are already interested in getting out & about, so I'm not sure I've inspired anyone to take up cycling.

I've thought that also. I used to organize my routes into formats that other riders ... new riders, or visitors to the region could use, but my stats showed that those route reports really weren't being looked at.


A little bird told me that you and Stephen are getting married ...
In fact the plan is that Stephen & I are to get hitched on our bicycle tour this year. Fingers crossed it doesn't rain!

Congratulations! And, Georgie, thank you so much! Your answers paint a lovely picture of your cycling world. Readers, visit Pennine Peddling for more about riding there, along with great photos of the region.


  1. Another interesting interview. Thank you. I have tried to persuade Mrs Tootlepedal to try a tandem but she won't.

    1. Thank you! It's fun for me to learn a bit about other parts of the cycling world ... and with each interview spring is a bit closer.

      Why won't she try a tandem?

    2. Tandems are like Marmite - ppl seem to either love them or hate them. There is so much compromise in your riding style which is the most difficult part. Stephen & I do have different styles - he rides a higher gear than me, I'm happy to ease it up just a touch & pedal faster. Downhills are VERY scary. But I'm often left cackling like a witch - it's so much fun!

    3. Hi Georgie, thanks for joing in! I have to say, I wouldn't get on a tandem with my husband, but then he wouldn't get on a bicycle! Did you happen to see my interview with the Scargills?They rode around the world on a tandem inthe 1970s.

      Thank you again for the interview. Several local readers who rarely comment here have told me they thought you did a superb job of bringing your cycling world to life for them and they loved it!

  2. Great interview! Yes, Georgie was part of the 2012 cadre of coffeeneurs. That's how I began to learn about the area where she rides. It looks like an excellent challenge to explore and ride there... when it's not raining :).

    1. Thanks! Yes, I don't remember fhe exact chain of events, but Georgie and I "met" each other just as coffeeneuring 2012 was starting, or we were corresponding then ... I found a note to her saying tbat I thought she might be the first to make it an international event, but I didn't know. It's proof of the butterfly wings theory, and how your event hooks people up!


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