James Whitham Column - Mar 10

He moans. He goes to the shops. He breaks eggs to make an omelette. He meets famous people. He is James Whitham and he invites you to enjoy a Pennine winter

Posted: 20 March 2010
by James Whitham

Is it me, or are a lot of people getting worse at driving these days ? I can’t speak for folks in the rest of the country, but round these parts at least half of all road users completely lose their minds when driving conditions are anything other than perfect. What shows this up most is when we have a bit of snow like we did in the run up to Christmas.

Back when I was a kid, as soon as it started snowing yer dad shoved a couple of bags of blue circle cement in the boot of the family Cortina and went about his business undeterred, mumbling on about how this is nothing compared to ’63. As did everyone else. Sure, it used to snow a lot more often than it does now, so maybe people are out of practice? And admittedly, modern cars with wider tyres and more power probably aren’t as good in snow as the ones back then but I reckon there must be more to it than that. Round here we had less than six inches of snow and they might as well of hung a sign on the M62 saying “Huddersfield is closed...” The whole area ground to a complete standstill!

The day it started putting some down I decided that, before it got too bad, I’d jump in the van and do a bit of panic buying of essential provisions in case we really did get marooned in our house for any length of time, you know, dried milk, tins of soup, catering packs of Haribo cola-bottles, that kind of thing. My van is front wheel drive, which is an advantage in these conditions I reckon, but I have to negotiate a mile of undulating single-track country lane even before I get to the main road. With at least three or four inches of the white stuff already settled it was no problem, as long as I kept it moving and eased off the throttle when the tyres slipped the van kept going.

What was a problem was the scene of utter carnage that confronted me as I turned out of the lane onto the main road. Instead of leaving a gap and trying to keep a bit of momentum going everyone was nose to tail, so when one mallet-headed driver decided the best way of getting a bit of traction was to spin the driving wheels up to 150 mph, even though the car was only doing 5 mph, turning the snow into sheet ice, everyone has to stop behind him.

The grid-lock extended as far as the eye could see in both directions. It doesn’t matter how cocky you are with your 4x4, when it’s like this you can only make as much progress as the most inept driver or the crappest vehicle. In this case the most progress anyone was making was exactly none. Loads of people were just getting out of their cars, locking them up, regardless of where they were, and continuing on foot.

Nobody was going anywhere so I spun the van round before I got tangled up in the chaos and headed back home. What was needed was a vehicle that would get through the snow and the traffic... Ooh, now let me think! I put on my winter riding gear and a rucksack and headed out on my 300 KTM trail bike. On ice any kind of bike is a nightmare, and in snow they’re hard work, but at least with knobbly tyres the thing would get enough grip to keep you moving forward, the biggest problem is steering the beast, the front end tends to have a mind of itís own and tries to wash out all the time.

The best technique is to ride in the virgin snow between the wheel tracks of the cars and try to keep away from the bits where people have spun and turned the snow to ice. If you have to cross any tyre ruts don’t do it at a shallow angle coz the front tyre will probably stay in the rut and have you on your arse, which would be embarrassing, everyone hates you anyway, just coz you’re moving and they’re not, and they’d laugh they’re nuts off if you went down.

I got to the Co-op dead easy. In fact it was so much fun I didn’t go straight home when I’d filled the rucka. I went for a ride round just to see how bad it was and generally show off a bit. The whole town was solid with traffic, the only other vehicles I saw that were moving were a couple of blokes on farm-type quads, but they were finding it a lot more difficult than me to get through the clogged traffic. The best part was people’s reactions. Some smiled, some shook their heads, most just gawped. It was the best shopping experience I’ve had in years. Only marred by the discovery that my half-dozen free-range eggs were smashed to bits  in the bottom of the rucka by the time I got home. Mmmm, omelettes for tea then!
Went out mountain biking with a couple of mates around the Derbyshire peaks recently and were joined by the Alstare Suzuki WSB pairing of Leon Haslam and Sylvain Guintoli.

Both the friends I took with me are fitter than me and it got a bit competitive between them and the two Suzuki boys. I didn’t have a problem with the distance but I have to admit the pace was a bit hot for me. Up all the climbs it turned into a four-way battle to be king of the mountains with me playing tail-end-Charlie a couple of hundred yards back. Guintoli is very strong, even though he must only weigh about 9 stone with legs like two pieces of string. We only knew which way he’d gone coz we could smell garlic!

Half way round the three-hour run we were peddling along Edale valley and saw none other than Jenson Button peddling the other way with a bunch of blokes. It didn’t make a lot of sense until I switched the telly on that evening and realised the sports personality awards were coming live from Sheffield, just down the road from Edale. Fair play to the lad. Mind you, I reckon we could’ve kicked their arses, and when I say we – I mean the other four. I’m taking a mate who’s even slower than me next time, so I’m not at the back!

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