Filtering by Tag: Bikes
Date: Saturday 1st August, 2015
Distance: 231.7km | Elevation: 1,838m
Starts kms: 5,387.2km | Finish kms: 5,609.9km | % complete: 56.4%
Destinations: New Cross — London Bridge — East Worldham — South Downs — New Forest — Poole — Bournemouth
Today was the day that our navigation team grew by 100%.
Hendo had bought himself a Garmin Edge 810, which meant that the responsibility for (and pressure of) directing us through our two-day route could be equally split. That left me as the last remaining free-loader, following the twists and turns of their wheels, the signals from their arms and — on the brief occasions I found myself at the front — the calls on where to veer off or carry on straight.
With half of London and Surreys key roads on lock-down ahead of Sundays Ride100 sportive, we were keen to get this part of the ride behind us early to avoid any major diversions or hold-ups. It was therefore another start from London Bridge at 06.00.
Heading out to Richmond and beyond into Esher, the roads and kilometres dissipated with the morning dew and chilly start (the arm warmers stayed on until well into the mid-morning).
Trying to find a more practical — and, I’ll admit, a slightly more aesthetically pleasing — way of carrying two days worth of equipment, food and chargers, I’d attached a third bottle cage to the back of my saddle. The idea was to house the usual two water bottles on the bike, along with a cylindrical tool container stuffed with bike tools, tyre levers, inner-tubes, energy gels, iPhone and Garmin USB cables and anything else that might fit.
In principle, it worked well. My jersey pockets felt light (especially after I’d got through the bagel I’d shoved in there) and the look was a little sleeker than a saggy saddlebag. The (in)practicalities, however, soon made themselves known. As the morning wore on, the weight of my bottle and the rattling of the road prised the cage wider, loosening its grip on my water bottle slowly – but very surely – until a mis-timed bump propelled it from its rightful home, into the air and onto the road.
Luckily, Hendo, who was behind me at the time, was able to swerve out of the way as my bidon hit the floor and broke into its component parts. I was two hours in and down to one water bottle until the end of the day.
That’s where vanity gets you. I told myself to keep the sweating to a minimum.
Trying to continue the trend of the first rest stop being beyond the first 100km, our hand was somewhat forced by our stomachs and our location. Approaching the South Downs, our options were limited, with most of the pubs we passed still being closed. Seeing an open door and activity, we seized the opportunity to stop about 500m short of the 3-figure mark.
Fuelled by the generosity of The Three Horseshoes (who weren’t actually due to open for another 2 hours, but prepared us coffee and toast), we pressed on into our first of two National Parks of the day and, subsequently, our first prolonged period of road porn.
Cutting across its upper edge, we traversed South-West up and down short climbs and winding through the large, smooth and quiet roads. The coffees had taken immediate effect and we excitedly drank in the surrounding fields of barley, wild flowers, alfalfa and the occasional poppy.
Stopping at a junction, I turned to look back and was able to do so for miles, taking in the road and the seemingly never-ending fields, with their hedgerows running through them like the stitching on a blanket.
The roads being long, predominantly straight and relatively quiet offered a chance to adapt to an alternative position for short periods of time: no hands. Not something we’d fancy doing when being overtaken by cars, avoiding potholes or manoeuvring loose tarmac, it felt good to stretch out the lower back and shoulders — two of the body parts that seem to be the first to cry out in discomfort on longer rides nowadays.
Hendo, having not quite mastered the no hands position, took this as an opportunity to practice, pointing out that he’d be needing every possible position he could find for our Manchester to London ride next month.
Shortly before the days highlight came its unquestionable lowlight: Carlos Tea Room. I won’t dwell on what was, at best, an average lunch in a glorified canteen (not a tea room), but do want as many people as possible to be aware that they refused to fill up our water bottles from their taps. Despite us having bought sandwiches, cakes and coffees, they didn’t want to set a precedent whereby the occasional customer might request a tap water and force them to give away a polystyrene cup. The cost was too much to bear.
I was suitably outraged, but the silver-lining was that had we not stopped here, we wouldn’t have found any other form of food until the other side of the New Forest — some 40km further on. That is unless you count Mr. Whippy ice cream, which in hindsight wouldn’t necessarily have been the worst thing in the world. Especially if there was some form of flake involved.
Perhaps it was just pathetic fallacy, but the dark, impending clouds that hung over the New Forest as we entered seemed to embody our mood incredibly well.
We were into the final leg of the ride.
We’d spent our half-hour rest stop surreptitiously filling our bidons from the bathroom sink.
And most of our down-time was spent swatting away an army of over-friendly wasps.
But then we saw horses. And ponies. And miniature ponies. And sheep. And trees. And verdant forest.
The ominous clouds transformed into an epic backdrop as we navigated (or, in my case, as Hendo and Gorrod navigated the way for me) our way through the stunning scenery. We battled through cross winds until they became headwinds or momentary tailwinds, depending on which way we turned.
As I moved my hands onto the tops and my chain into the small ring on a hill, Hendo pedalled up next to me.
“I’ve not taken on enough food. I’m not feeling good, especially on the hills.“
That’s what he said to me before riding off ahead of me towards the top of the climb.
“I’m feeling okay”, I thought to myself, “and yet here I am watching my two friends lycra-clad backsides ascend into the distance once again”.
I smiled to myself.
I learnt another valuable lesson on the bike on the way to Bournemouth. I psychologically peaked too early, telling myself that the end was in sight far sooner than it actually was. I keep my Garmin out of sight on long rides so I don’t accidentally end up clock-watching, willing the metres on. The numerous mentions of Bournemouth on signs on our approach consequently had me assuming we probably had another half an hour in the saddle.
An hour later, we were still making our way though the town and its traffic.
However, we were by the sea by this point, so that helped no end.
Our almost-final stop was cycling cafe Rockets & Rascals, which was actually 10km from our official finish (back in the other direction), but was well worth the detour for the friendly welcome and plethora of delicious wraps, cakes and coffees that were available. They also have one in Plymouth, if we ever fancy an all-nighter from London, covering 430km.
Or we could split the ride over two days. That would be slightly more sensible.
Going back the way we came, the one last thing to do was pick up a bunch of flowers for Gorrod’s mum to thank her for feeding and putting us up (or putting up with us, given our tired, mildly incoherent states) for the night.
Date: Sunday 26th July, 2015
Distance: 29.9km | Elevation: 358m
Start kms: 5,235.6km | Finish kms: 5,265.5km | % complete: 52.7%
Destinations: New Cross – Mottingham – Knockholt
You know it’s not a good ride when I don’t have the wherewithal or the want to reach for my phone and take a few photos.
Months ago, Ashley signed-up to the Rapha Womens 100, a challenge designed to get as many ladies out on their bikes as possible and covering some serious distance.
A day on the bike at the end of July – the height of British summer – seemed like a great way to spend a Sunday. Agreeing to join her, I excitedly planned a route way back in March. Gorrod and I even did a recce at the end of that month to identify any major areas for concern that we should look to avoid (that was the one where Gorrod bonked, if you remember).
It turns out the March version of the ride held abundantly better weather than the July one. Taking a leisurely approach to the day, we got on the road just after 09.00 and the rain had already begun.
To quote Ashley, from there on in it was “relentless”. Without the slightest let-up, we pedalled on and were soaked through to our socks by 10km. By 20km I could feel the puddles of water sloshing around inside my shoes.
It was me that was beginning to lose patience, with Ashley staying good-humoured despite the onslaughts. Mounting my iPhone onto my handlebars so we could direct ourselves to Royal Tunbridge Wells had been a fine proposition in theory, but in practice the amount of rain hitting the screen throughout the ride meant my phone kept thinking I was relentlessly hitting buttons. The result was the route either redirecting or disappearing from my screen completely.
Despite my best efforts, forever-wet hands meant I couldn’t rectify this without pulling over to the side of the road and taking the phone from its case. As I did this for the fourth time in 30km, with Ashley and I sheltering under a tree, it was time to call it a day.
This wasn’t going to be the last time I’d have to do this, the roads were slippery and dangerous (and quickly filling up with traffic), the puddles in our shoes had become small lakes, the rain was here to stay and our waterproof clothing wasn’t up to the mark.
We admitted defeat at 30km and got on the train from Knockholt back to New Cross, Royal Tunbridge Wells still a far-off aspiration.
This was a timely reminder to make the most of the nicer suymmer months whilst they’re still around.
Date: Saturday 11th July, 2015
Distance: 217.7km | Elevation: 2,467m
Start kms: 4,792.9km | Finish kms: 5,010.6km | % complete: 50.1%
Destinations: New Cross – London Bridge – Ditching Beacon – Brighton – Ashdown Forest – Royal Tunbridge Wells – New Cross
We’d had this ride in our sights for some time, having scheduled it in during the wetter, darker winter months of the year.
There seemed to be something innately satisfying about heading from London, down to Brighton, and then coming back again all in one day.
Part of it no doubt stemmed from the fact that it was a loop. It’s always itws own reward to hit the start and finish button on your GPS outside of your front door.
Part of it arguably came from an inherent (albeit it slightly shameful) smugness of covering a well-trodden, well-publicised and frequently organised ride before lunch and then doing the same again, only in the opposite direction.
And part of it was definitely because it looked good written in short-hand: LDN-BGN-LDN.
Someone needs to put that on a t-shirt.
Amongst with the usual subjects – Hendo,Gorrod and Saul – was colleague and new-bike-owner, Dan. Having not ridden more than about 40km and seeing this as a reasonable distance to wear in a fresh saddle and new bike set-up, he met us at London Bridge for a 06.00 depart.
Yet another sunny day awaited us and with it another day of milestones.
First, whilst not by much, was that with a total distance of 217km, this saw my longest ride benchmark creep up a little further.
Second – and more exciting – was that with this incremental gain would come the halfway point of my 10,000km. Somewhere between Mottingham and Eltham, I crossed the invisible 5,000km line.
But that came later. Before all of that that was my first ride from London to Brighton and an introduction to Ditchling Beacon (and all that comes before it).
A Category 4 climb, Ditching Beacon wasn’t necessarily steep – it was just 90km into the ride and a kilometre and a half long, so it started to take it out of you towards the top. That said, it was a really enjoyable climb for the fact that there were no sudden kicks or surprises lurking round any bends and for the incredible views at the top.
Out of curiosity, I’ve just taken a minute or ten to look back through my previous rides. Whilst my legs would be inclined to disagree, at no point have I taken on ay hill that is categorised beyond a level 4. I’ve gone back into 2014 to see if that held any level-ups – nothing.
Back on Ditching Beacon, we stopped at the top to take in the views and wait for the group come back together. Dan, well beyond his furthest ride already by this point, was still hammering away despite having a camelbak, a BMX helmet and a lack of cleats to contend with.
The buttered loaf of Soreen he retrieved from his pack at the top was well-deserved. It was also an excellent choice of riding snack of which I took note for future rides.
The final 10km into Brighton was a gentle downhill that took us to our first stop. We’d heard about Velo Cafe from numerous sources and were under the impression that it was one of the best cycling cafes in the UK. Whilst that may have been the case at some point in the past, it’s certainly not true now. I’m not sure whether it’s under new management or if they’ve just changed tack, but this was less cycling-hub and more caff with outdoor seating.
Thankfully, our second stop would be through the tried, tested and universally-liked The Velo House in Royal Tunbridge Wells, where all disappointment was annihilated by not so much a slice, but a slab of white chocolate rocky road.
The second leg of the day was relatively uneventful, the high points being the fact that we made it to the coast and actually saw the sea (unlike in Kings Lynn in the Tour de March earlier this year) and another run through Ashdown Forest on yet another perma-kit-inducing day.
The low point was probably watching Gorrod throw himself around unknown corners on a couple of downhill segments at far too high a speed, shouting out “REALLY SHARP ONE” at the top of his lungs.
We didn’t see the value in explaining that was the reason we were hanging back in the first place.
As well as providing us with vast quantities of butter and sugar, it was at The Velo House, at 160km, that Dan decided it was best to call it a day. Having just one movement available to him through the pedals (pushing) his legs had begun to feel it, as had his shoulders as he became used to a new sitting position on a brand new frame. With a train station 2 minutes from where we sat eating our enchiladas, the temptation was all too much.
If that was my first ride out, I would not have hope to have faired anywhere close to that well.
I had built up the Royal Tunbridge Wells to London stretch in my head as being pretty brutal, filled with two, if not three, fairly challenging hills in there. However, avoiding Brasted and Toys Hill this time round meant the reality of the ride was far better, more enjoyable and – as a result – faster than I could have hoped so far in. We quickly made our way back in to Bromley and then Greenwich. Trying to avoid as much of the traffic as possible, we went up, over and through Greenwich Park rather than straight through Lewisham.
It meant avoiding people rather than cars, but at this stage it was definitely the lesser of two evils.
Averaging the final 70km at a pace of around 25kph we all managed to get off the bike feeling if not good, then at least pretty okay.
Given the fact that Dan, Hendo, Saul and I all managed a run the following day (separately, I hasten to add), we can;t have been completely done in.
Date: Saturday 27th June, 2015
Distance: 206.5km | Elevation: 2,661m
Start kms: 4,430.6km | Finish kms: 4,537.1km | % complete: 42.7%
Destinations: New Cross – Knatts Valley – Turners Hill – Linfield – Ashdown Forest – Brasted – Crystal Palace – New Cross
I’m no endurance athlete.
That’ll come as no surprise to anyone.
However, my limited experience of doing any form of long-distance exercise is that there comes a point where the psychological endurance becomes as – if not more – important than physical fitness.
With this in mind, and with the Rapha MCR-LDN ride now on the foreseeable horizon, it was about to take down a psychological milestone.
Hendo and I formed a 2-man peleton for the day to take this on. My longest ride was sat at somewhere in the region of 180km. His was 160km. The route we’d planned for this was 206km.
Speed was therefore absolutely not the key. Instead, it was simply a case of conquering the new distance and hopefully getting off at the other end without feeling as though we couldn’t possibly do any more.
The foundation of our route was taken from the still fairly recently launched Strava Local, a great collection of cycling and running routes in and around some of the worlds major cities. However, with a full day at our disposal, we were able to add on an extra 70km or so by heading out a little further South East and taking in Knatts Valley for the third time in four weeks.
Another habit we’d started a few months ago and were keen to keep up was covering more than 100km before the first rest stop.
In the past, we’d generally taken our first break at the 50-60km mark, stopping for half an hour to take on some food and rest the legs. That makes sense when you’re calling it a day at 100km, but coming back to the psychological element in play over such distances, getting out of the saddle to rest less than a quarter of the way into a ride makes the whole thing feel a lot longer.
Now fully au fait with eating on the bike, we were able to pedal on through to 115km before dismounting for the first time. I can’t speak for Hendo, but after rolling through several towns that had nothing to offer in the way of eateries, I was incredibly happy to see the beckoning bench of a small deli in Lindfield.
Over half the distance down and at our furthest point from home, post-lunch saw us making our way back up towards London though another new cycling realm: Ashdown Forest. A long and gentle incline would have made for more of a challenge were it not for the thrill of new surroundings and enjoyable scenery.
The combination of the high, afternoon sun, the clear skies, the dry scrubland to the left and to the right of me, and the sheep and cows roaming the banks and roads came together to create the impression that we weren’t in East Sussex, but on a far-off Spanish island.
We closed the first loop of our figure-of-eight route at just after 165km, joining already covered ground in Brasted. With minutes to spare, we were able to get our order in at Tarte, a cafe we’d ear-marked for the journey back. Operating on the principle that breakfast food is the best food, I chose granola with yoghurt and lemon curd to push me through the final 50km.
And my god, I needed it.
As I’ve mentioned before, our rest stops are always in fairly well-populated towns or villages. Towns and villages tend to be located close to water. These are, in turn, generally in a basin or valley. Consequently, more often than not, the first thing we’re faced with is a hill.
In this case, that hill was not only present, but almost named correctly: Brasted Hill.
More Bastard than Brasted, I was immediately calling on my granola to fuel me up as the gradient became steeper and steeper and I churned through gears until I had none left. Snaking from one side of the road to another and doing my best to stop my heart beating out of my chest and up to the top of the hill before me, I felt sorry for the car crawling up the hill behind me.
But not enough to even consider the possibility of stopping to let it past. That would have required energy I had no ability to draw upon at that point.
Looking to learn as much as we could from ‘the longest ride to-date’, the greatest lesson came in the final stretch of the day: the need to communicate constantly. If there’s a car down, a pothole ahead, glass on the road, an obstacle in the road, it needs to be vocalised to everyone as audibly and obviously as possible.
The first time this became apparent was on the final (relatively small) climb of the day, which took us up to Crystal Palace. Tired, sun-beaten and a little jaded, concentration was beginning to lapse. As Hendo and I approached a red light, he slipped from his pedal and swerved into the back of a BMW. I heard the thud and crunch of something breaking and quickly turned around expecting to see him lying on the floor.
What had actually happened was that he’d managed to accidentally force his handlebar through the brake light of the car, leaving it smashed. The driver was incredibly patient and understanding about the incident as the two swapped details to settle reimbursement.
The next incident was a far closer call on the descent into East Dulwich. As we coasted past Dulwich Park, I swerved to my left to avoid a traffic barricade that sat across the road.
Hendo saw me swerve.
He then wondered why it was I had swerved.
As he pondered this for almost too long, he made the final decision to follow suit, moments – metres – from clothes-lining himself from his saddle and likely a few broken ribs.
Needless to say our final few kilometres – with the promise of a cold can of Irn-Bru and an even colder tub of Ben & Jerry’s awaiting – were filled with exaggerated hand signals and loud calls to guarantee we made it home to our indulgences.
It was better to point out the obvious than for someone to fall victim to it.
Lessons learnt, milestones surmounted and legs still capable of moving, the only major issue beyond weariness and its impact on reaction times was a sharp, burning sensation in the balls of our feet.
The constant – and at times heavy – pressure being put through this specific point over and over again made itself known in a very physical way for the final 50-60km.
No doubt Google will hold many helpful (and yet more unhelpful) solutions.
Date: Sunday 21st June, 2015
Distance: 100.7km | Elevation: 962m
Destinations: New Cross – Knatts Valley – Clapham Common
Start kms: 3,938.4km | Finish kms: 3,950.1km | % complete: 39.5%
It turns out I wasn’t the last in the group to be introduced to Knatts Valley. Both Saul and Gorrod had yet to venture in to its hedgerows and so, now fully inducted, I took it upon myself to be their guide.
In an effort to mix things up, I decided to take us through the valley in reverse, approaching from Eynsford. Whilst I’m not exactly sure why, my preference is definitely for the run in from Shoreham – I think that’s down to the difference of the descent in, with the former feeling that little bit longer and slightly faster.
It was only a few months ago that Hendo and I were in Richmond Park with Saul, dropping him on the hills and helping him out of a ditch on one of his first proper rides out of London. Without wishing to sound condescending, and whilst a small part of me was left pining for these headier days as I sat on the back of the group, the speed at which he’d progressed was unbelievable.
He was like a whippet up every hill the route placed in front of him.
Grossly under-estimating the length of time it would take us to get from the M25 crossing to Clapham Common left us pacing back through central London fairly aggressively. The result was the gradual flagging of each of us as we got inside the 10km mark – the conversation died down, the heavy sighs got louder and the questions of “is the this cafe much further away?” became more frequent.
Thankfully, the answer was “no” and, even better, that cafe was the always delectable FIELDS.
As I neared my front door, it became clear that I was painfully close – but not close enough – to breaking the 100km mark. I diligently peddled past to complete my victory lap and bring me safely over the threshold.
Date: Sunday 14th June, 2015
Distance: 93.2km | Elevation: 962m
Start kms: 3,717.7km | Finish kms: 3,810.9 | % complete: 38.1%
In an age where everyone’s looking for a new challenge to add to their list and people place increasing levels of importance on experience, races (be they bike-based, running-oriented, obstacle-laden or some combination of all 3 and more) feel as though they have never been more popular.
As a result, it’s often difficult to find one that isn’t over-subscribed, over-priced or sponsored to within an inch of its life.
No tags, no numbers, no timing chips, no sign posts — for your £11.00 entry fee, you were sent a paper copy of the step-by-step directions for the course and had access to a Mr. Kipling cake and a cup of tea at each of your three rest stops.
That was it.
No Powerbars or energy gels in sight, and if you wanted a sandwich, you’d need to make sure you’d packed the extra change.
After an evening of rain, we awoke to a dry and sunny morning. Porridge down, jersey pockets stuffed with tools and inner-tubes and bikes racked on the back of the car, we were on the start line for 08.00.
It was there that I realised I had left my Garmin on the bedroom floor. It was time to fall back onto my iPhone and Strava.
But there was a problem. I had next to no phone signal and, despite my best efforts to record, the app insisted on auto-pausing every 10 seconds. I spent the first 10km (and the first climb of the day) angrily thumping my screen, willing it to work.
I realise all this technology-reliance flies in the spirit of the events off the grid approach, but with 10,000km to cover this year I very much subscribe to the Strava Prove It and Strava Or It Didn’t Happen credos. Sadly, with Strava’s signal dropping in and out, that was difficult to do.
I’ll leave it there and concentrate on the ride itself after making one last point: my stats fell around 15km short and, somewhere in the hills of Shropshire, I lost 400m of climbing.
I will claw them back.
Having carried out numerous breathing exercises, I was able to restore my inner-calm and begin appreciating the unbelievable scenery being showcased at the top of the numerous climbs of the course.
Sadly, I don’t know the actual name of one particular highlight, but as a local, Luke was able to tell me its moniker: Top of the World. At the top of this climb was some of the most exciting and unusual riding I’ve been able to experience this year. Surrounded by valleys and hills, the road before you morphs from compressed tarmac to loose gravel soon after reaching its top. Whilst the probability of experiencing at least one puncture increases exponentially, so too do the number of sheep and cows freely roaming the green grasses either side of our route.
Eventually, the tranquility gives way to cattle grates (never a pleasant experience on the posterior or the forearms) and an incredibly hairy downhill section.
Those were two of the major risks we were facing on the challenge: high likelihood of punctures on messy roads following heavy rain the day before and steep descents on unknown roads.
The latter is always a recipe for potential disaster as confidence and excitement fuse to become arrogance and you find yourself misjudging the sharpness of the corner, the surface or the road or amount of oncoming traffic waiting for you on the other side.
It’s never worth it and thankfully we didn’t fall prey to either.
A risk I had not factored in, however, was wildlife and — more specifically — insects. Somewhere between our short jaunt over the Welsh borders and back into England, an incredibly acrobatic wasp was able to work it’s way up, over and into my not-exactly-baggy lycra jersey. Feeling it buzzing away somewhere down near my left love-handle, I clawed at my jersey to waft my uninvited passenger back out into the world.
It seemed to work. The buzzing subsided and I was able to focus on the next 5 miles to the final rest stop. Dismounting for my third instalment of the Mr. Kipling range (Viennese Whirl this time round, if you’re asking), the vibrations of wasp ricocheting between skin and lycra began again in earnest. Before I was able to panic-strip and indecently expose myself to a community hall filled with people, it had gone in for the kill and stung me.
I watched as it half-heartedly flew towards a window, already on its last legs.
On the subject of last legs, the last leg of the challenge brought with it the most challenging hill of the day. As a general rule, the last hill is always the most difficult regardless of gradient or categorisation purely because your legs are already storing everything from the kilometres that have come before it.
Anything left should and will be left on that final upward stretch.
In this case, I’m confident that this climb would have been considered the hardest of the day regardless of where it was placed. If you’re unwilling to take my word for it, I hope the name will convince you: Goat Hill.
I do not know the etymology of the name, but having ridden up it I can take an educated as to how it came to be. Quickly running out of gears, any hopes of standing out of the saddle for a little more power were quickly stymied, with my back wheel beginning to spin freely as it lost traction with the road.
Luke, borrowing his Dad’s bike for the ride, had forgone cleats for trainers and stirrup pedals. To have powered through on that set-up was impressive, especially as I watched more than one rider lose grip, then momentum and finally their balance on the sharper, steeper bends, forcing them to walk the remainder.
The Mr. Kipling range sampled, hills conquered, two countries covered (just, but a border crossing is a border crossing — just Ireland left to go now) and rain, crashes and punctures avoided, we were greeted beneath Ludlow Castle with a medal and the promise of lasagne at the end of our short drive home.
Oh and by the way, learn from Luke’s mistake: you won’t want to bring the extra change for that sandwich. They’re not so good.
Date: Sunday 7th June, 2015
Distance: 53.4km | Elevation: 543m
Destinations: New Cross – Eynsford – New Cross
Start kms: 3,554.3km | Finish kms: 3,607.7 | % complete: 36.1%
Actually, in this case it was a case of admiring the poppies.
Fresh from my ride with Hendo into Knatts Valley, I’d been reminded of just how fantastic greater London and its abundance of countryside was looking. For reasons that I am entirely unaware, the poppies had taken over a number of fields with full force on the way out towards Eynsford (see previous post) and the results were nothing short of spectacular.
I decided that Ashley would no doubt appreciate this and that I had to show her. She even wore her floral Freddie Merckx jersey as a fitting tribute.
Was this all a ruse to squeeze in another few kms before the week was through?
I couldn’t possibly say.
We both enjoyed it though.
Date: Saturday 6th June, 2015.
Distance: 115.2km | Elevation: 1,214m
Destinations: New Cross — Shoreham — Knatts Valley — Bromley — New Cross
Start kms: 3,439.1 | Finish kms: 3,554.3 | % complete: 35.5%
The internet — and Instagram in particular — is filled with road porn.
Especially when you follow the right people (I’m looking at you, Rapha).
Vistas. Rolling hills. Mountain ranges. Long, seemingly never-ending descents filled with smooth bends and sharp chicanes. It’s difficult to stay off the bike and have a slower-paced day when a quick thumb through your newsfeed gives you an enormous case of cycling FOMO.
In many cases, it’s pretty easy to appease yourself:
“That run’s in the middle of The Dolomites."
“That climb’s only accessible as part of an expensive trip to the French Alps."
“I won’t find views like that without sacrificing several precious hours of my weekend on a train."
They’re not forever off the cards, but they’re not going to be ticked off the list in the immediate future.
However, there was one hallowed piece of road that I’d seen often and had no reason to have not visited. Ride route after ride route recommended it. Photos emitted their FOMO-magnetism, drawing me towards it.
And yet, having lived in South East London for 2 years and had it practically on my doorstep, I had never been.
On a morning that I’d decided to take down the Strava Gran Fondo for the month, Hendo decided he was going to introduce me to it.
It was a last-minute decision in the middle of a Kent loop and it was utterly worth it. A longish, gradual descent brought us into the valley where we are able to cruise between two hedgerows, surrounded by wildflowers and what may well have been rapeseed.
At its lowest, flattest point, it was remarkably easy to see why and how Kent has earned the moniker of ‘the garden of England’. It was almost enough to take the sting out of the hill that awaits on the other side.
Date: Wednesday 27th May, 2015
Distance: 46.3km | Elevation: 459m
Destinations: Gleneagles – Muthill – Gleneagles
Start kms: 3,337.3km | Finish kms: 3,383.6km | % complete: 33.8%
Mid-way into a 10-day UK road trip, Ashley and I spent 2 nights in Gleneagles Hotel, where it turns out it’s not only possible to while away your day in spas, restaurants, bars between golf and shooting sessions, but also to hire Condor bikes and explore the surrounding roads of Auchterader.
Gleneagles being the Mecca of all things golf, I naturally chose to body-swerve the greens and fairways entirely in favour of some Scottish roads.
With the help of a couple of Garmins pre-loaded with several routes, Ashley and I set out to explore Strowan Road and its surroundings.
The roads were as quiet as you’d expect given the fact that they surrounded an idyllic retreat and the undulations were as present as you’d assume them to be in an area named The Highlands.
What I had failed to anticipate was the considerable contrast in temperature compared to London. A month of committing to attire consisting of bib shorts and jersey-only meant that I’d turned up woefully unprepared. My true colours as a soft, southern twat were at risk of being exposed, made immediately obvious to anyone that might care to gaze longer than a couple of seconds on my goosebump-covered, purple/red-coloured arms and chattering teeth.
Ashley had already laid claim to the only vaguely suitable cycling jumper I had, so I strictly adhered to Rule #5.
The Condor Italia RC bikes we’d hired were by no means top of the range – and I suppose a £2,500 frameset, one of Condor’s higher-spec numbers, is an unreasonable expectation for a morning jaunt – but they were comfortable runners.
This comfort was made all the better by the addition of bar-mounted Garmin cycle computers. Whilst I’ve benefitted from the navigational prowess of the Garmin Edge in the past, I’d never used one first-hand and I was entirely sold on the merits of using it over a mounted iPhone – battery life, size and clarity and three of numerous realms it trumps the latter.
The Scottish scenery had put on the most ominous, looming, moody outfit it could find for the morning. The clouds hung dark, grey and heavy over the surrounding hills and valleys. The threat of rain was constant.
With so little in the way of weather protection, I was living dangerously, but it made for some truly phenomenal views and superb panoramic shots. I was willing to risk being battered by the rain for both.
Thankfully, it did manage to hold off for the majority of the ride, with increasingly frequent droplets welcoming us back to the hotel before an all-out downpour.
That was our cue to hit the spa.
Date: Thursday 21st May, 2015
Distance: 46.7km | Elevation: 251m
Destinations: New Cross – Grand Union Canal – Heathrow Airport
Start kms: 3,290.6km | Finish kms: 3,337.3km | % complete: 33.3%
When does saving time and money become a false economy?
When you end up late and out of pocket.
In planning a week-long road trip that would take my fiancee, Ashley, and I from London, up to Scotland and back down to Somerset, I’d managed to save myself around £100 by choosing to hire my car from Heathrow Airport rather than somewhere more central (and therefore infinitely more accessible – a detail that will become pertinent momentarily).
However, that cost saving would translate to a substantial outlay of time on trains, tubes and buses – or at least it might have.
An early start and a two-hour cycle would see me avoiding any travel costs, negating the need to drag several bags around Londons transport network, allow Ashley to stay at home and make some last-minute preparations and give me a chance to get in some much-needed kilometres ahead of 10 days off the bike.
So a plan was hatched: an early morning cycle to Heathrow, pick up the car, throw my bike in the boot, drive back via the house, load up and be on our way to Scotland by 11am whilst saving a cool amount of cash.
That’s what should have happened.
I did get out early.
I did cycle the 46km from New Cross to Heathrow Airport.
I did make good time.
What I didn’t do is pack my wallet or any form of photo identification.
Which meant I couldn’t pick up the car.
So Ashley couldn’t stay at home to do any last-minute preparation.
Because she had to get in a taxi and drive to Heathrow quick-sharp to clean-up my mess.
And that transformed a cool saving into a painful (and larger) expense.
A 2-hour delay as a result of the wait acted as a liberal dosing of salt to a very open wound.
We made it to Scotland, but not before I was forced to coyly sit in a Sixt Car Rental foyer, clad head to toe in lycra for 120 red-faced minutes whilst reflecting on my actions and working my way through a banana and a protein shake (both of which I had remembered to pack).
This truly was the royalest of fuck-ups.
Date: Sunday 17th May, 2015
Distance: 166.4km | Elevation: 1,802m
Destinations: Ascot – Chiswell Green – Lee Valley — New Cross
Start kms: 3,087.8km | Finish kms: 3,254.2km | % complete: 32.5%
With the coming of our second day of cycling came the addition a third rider to our group.
Freddie, a friend of Saul’s, had missed the first day of riding due to work commitments, so had spent the wee hours of Sunday morning driving out from London to Ascot with his bike to meet us. Arriving just after we’d finished for breakfast, we were introduced and I marvelled at what was a solid ten out of ten for effort. If I had spent my Saturday working and not set out with the pack, I’d have most likely forgone an early start and a day on the bike in favour of a lie-in and a leisurely brunch.
With everyone adhering to their own slightly less stringent start times — no doubt thanks to the draw of the breakfast buffet — the start line was considerably less congested and we were able to continue the northward trajectory we’d started the previous day relatively quickly.
Being British, I’m not sure I’ve escaped one post since the beginning of this year without mentioning the weather.
Rather than apologise, I’m going to justify myself.
If we exclude January, as I didn’t so much touch a bike for those 31 days due to injury, I have 3 and a half months of riding on record. In that time, I’ve banked around 3,000km and a considerable amount of that has been on long, weekend rides. Of those longer rides, there is only one morning that had me taking on the rain. Given the fact I rode 1,968km in February and March, I find this pretty remarkable.
I suppose the convoluted point I’m trying to make is that this was yet another sunny day. I therefore continued working diligently on my perma-kit.
Crossing the Thames for the third (and penultimate) time that weekend, we were all moving along at a reasonable pace and, more importantly, feeling comfortable.
I’ve often viewed long cycles as an invitation to devour an incomprehensible amount of food at the end of each day and that tends to hang around well into the following morning, leaving me feeling sick and slow. Having made that mistake numerous times before (both whilst cycling and when just going about my day-to-day business), I’d avoided eating to the point of paralysis at dinner the night before and at breakfast that morning.
Unsurprisingly, I was feeling the benefits. My mind was focused less on keeping food down and more on taking down hills.
And there were a lot of them in the first half of the ride. There was less in total than the day before, but the ones that had been thrown in were certainly more of a challenge.
During each appearance thus far, Saul has found himself lying on the tarmac at one point of a ride or another, so it’s only fair I celebrate our first crash-free ride together. It being the second day, the heat and hills combined were taking their toll on some. Legs began to give-way and riders snaked their way to the top of the steeper climbs, we watched as one poor chap reached the peak of a hill, only to momentarily lose his balance and, in almost-slow-motion, take a tumble.
He was fine, if not a little embarrassed
Thankfully, we all remained on two wheels, but Saul was beginning to experience some pain in his knee. The symptoms sounded remarkably similar to what I’d experienced at the beginning of the year.
Fuelled by Jelly Tots (an essential ride snack as of their introduction during this event), we looped our way back eastwards via Kings Langley, skimming St. Albans before abruptly finding ourselves riding parallel to the M25.
We were almost back.
The usual traffic light and congestion rule applied itself from around Enfield and into Lower Edmonton. Whilst navigating the queues, we wheeled past someone dealing with a puncture what could only have been 3km from the finish. We offered assistance, but she insisted she was fine.
Making a concerted effort to avoid anything that looked even remotely like glass, a pothole or a jagged stone, we crossed the line to the soundtrack of something upbeat, bass-driven and energetic.
I want it to have been something classic and somewhat ironic, like ‘Eye of the Tiger’. However, it was probably a forgettable EDM chart topper by someone like David Guetta.
What I do know is that medals were donned, photos were taken and back-slaps were exchanged.
Freddie, who had only managed to do day one of the previous years event, had now completed the set and got himself a medal. He just needed to figure out how to get back to Ascot to collect his car.
Safe to say it wouldn’t be on two wheels.
Having had a bit of food and drink, Saul and I climbed (and at this stage, this isn’t poetic license, it’s a factual description of how it felt to throw a leg over the frame and place our backsides back onto the saddle) onto the bikes and began the relatively short, but psychologically long journey home.
Somewhere around South Tottenham, Saul’s knee could take no more and, rather than risk doing any long-term damage, he made for the overground — an incredibly sensible decision based on my experience.
Me, I conquered the final 25km that got me home but after 2 days of unadulterated cycling, I can’t say I enjoyed it. A solid 5km along the gravel paths of Regents Canal had me on-edge as I incessantly visualised having to deal with a last-leg puncture. Having a backpack full of overnight clothes strapped to my back didn’t help matters, either.
The irritation and annoyance was mostly tiredness though and the warm glow of achievement quickly washed away any dissonance I was experiencing as soon as I crossed the threshold of my front door.
I’ll certainly be signing up for next years ride.
Date: Saturday 16th May, 2015
Distance: 189.0km | Elevation: 1,942m
Destinations: New Cross – Lee Valley – Edenbridge — Ascot
Start kms: 2,898.8km | Finish kms: 3,087.8km | % complete: 30.9%
I like an organised ride.
There are downsides, the biggest one being that you have to go somewhat out of your way to do them. Sometimes it’s an early morning train. Others, a car journey.
In this case, it was a 25km ride to the start line.
However, the loss of the convenience of starting and finishing a ride outside your front door are more than counteracted by what an organised ride has to offer.
Route planning is non-existent. Stem-staring is no longer necessary as you replace the reliance on an iPhone or Garmin with following the peloton or, better yet, the well-placed and frequent road signs. Snacks are packed on an emergency-only basis, with fuel stations fulfilling all cake and coffee doping needs.
In short, the majority of thought is removed, leaving the joy of the ride and an unexplored route to be enjoyed.
The initial 25km I mention was to take me out to Lee Valley for registration. On my way out, I picked up my ride partner for the weekend, Saul. Together we’d be taking on the Mitie London Revolution, a two-day sportive that would take us around the edges of London.
However, to get to the outskirts and suburbs of Greater London, we first had to work our way through its centre. Following a route very similar to the one that had got me to the start line, hundreds of riders moved their way through East London and over Tower Bridge. It was as slow-going as you’d expect given the mid-morning congestion and the number of traffic lights, but any sense of frustration was subdued by the meditative sounds of the peloton: the whirring noise of the freewheel, the click-click of tens of riders unclipping in unison, as they paused at yet another red light.
The momentum began to build as we moved south from Crystal Palace and the group began to thin as everyone found themselves enough road to spread out.
Sadly, we were reminded of the dangers of riding unfamiliar routes very early on. As we approached the top of a steep descent, we became part of a bottle neck at least one hundred riders deep. From what we were able to make out, a rider had taken on the narrow, slightly bumpy, tree-lined (and therefore dimly lit) hill too fast and not been able to manoeuvre through a blind bend. Whether or not an oncoming car was involved, I don’t know, but the road was certainly open to two-way traffic.
When we were given the all-clear to walk our bikes down the hill, the presence of an air ambulance in a nearby field sent a shiver down my spine and offered a tangible warning that is better to finish slow and safe than to not finish at all.
Lightening the mood — and providing some light relief for our legs — were two rest stops along the way. The first was in Edenbridge, around 100km in. In terms of fuel, we were not left wanting. With a smorgasbord of chocolate bars, flapjacks, fruit, energy gels, energy drinks, biscuits, sweets, biscuits and cakes on offer, the danger wasn’t that we’d wind-up bonking somewhere between the start and the finish, but that we’d get overexcited and end up over-indluging. This became an even greater risk at the feed station, as sandwiches and a pretty decent cup of coffee (provided by Claud the Butler) were added to the equation.
Exercising serious levels of self-restraint in both circumstances, I took a spot on the grass and, basking in the afternoon sun, made my way through my mini haul.
The lethargy had perhaps started to take hold slightly as we left the second feed station.
Within the first 10km, Saul let himself drift a little too far into my slipstream and was quickly thrown out of it and from his bike. His front wheel had skimmed against my back one and, unable to rectify the imbalance, he slid along the road at a not inconsiderable speed.
Back on his feet, he’d picked up some nasty road rash, but everything was still bending and all of the cyclists riding behind him had managed to swerve around him. Thankfully there’d been no oncoming traffic, as he’d made his way onto the opposite side of the road.
The bike was looking good, too, so he was able to brush himself off remarkably quickly, getting back into the saddle and powering on within a couple of minutes of hitting the deck.
The final 50km towards Ascot put forth some of the best riding of the day. The sun had been shining all day, the roads were smooth and wide and the hills were negative rather positive, meaning the kilometres drifted away beneath our wheels.
Arriving at our overnight rest stop — the racecourse itself — I felt tired, but capable of going further. It was a good sign, as this was my longest ride to-date and, knowing what lies ahead of me in September, these kinds of distances need to feel both familiar and achievable.
Awaiting us were already-pitched tents, hot showers, massages and stretching sessions, plus a seemingly endless supply of buffet food.
There was also beer.
We drank beer.
Two main courses, two desserts and two beers was all it took to make our eyes feel heavy. Sun down meant heads down and we were into our sleeping bags before 22.00 ready for an early start the following day.
Date: Monday 4th May, 2015
Distance: 62.4km | Elevation: 557m
Destinations: New Cross – Richmond Park – New Cross
Start kms: 2,570km | Finish kms: 2,632.4km | % complete: 26.3%
As my birthday rolled around, I looked sympathetically at my 1980s Raleigh Sirocco. A year of commuting had not been kind to an already tired but always-reliable run around.
The handle bar tape sagged sadly from the bars as it continued to peel away. The paintwork was discolouring where Sharpie pens just were;t doing the job anymore. I worried for my own safety as I slammed on the brakes and finding myself stopping somewhere in the region of 15 metres later.
Overall, it was looking forlorn and, growing tired of braking with my feet against the concrete rather than with my hands, I decided it was time to breathe some new life into the trusty workhorse.
I picked up the new, improved Sirocco on the day of my birthday itself from the excellent ream at Seabass Cycles. They’d gone to town, stripping the bike back to its bare-bones and building it back up: new gears, new brakes, new cables, new chain, new bar tape, new saddle. In fact, the only thing that remained was the original frame, and even that had been made to look like new with a black paint job finished with gold accents around the lug work. The wheels had also been held onto, although I was told they’d likely have to be replaced in the next two to three months as they were on their last legs.
The very next day, I took my Dad with me on a ride to wear-in my new saddle and introduce him to the highs and lows of Londons cycling scene.
We set out early on a Bank Holiday Monday to avoid onslaughts of traffic as we headed to Richmond Par. With a couple of laps under our belts – and Dad suitably impressed with the green, deer-laden haven surreptitiously tucked inside London – we began the journey home.
By then, the traffic had picked up and I could tell it was a bit more of a nerve-wracking experience for him. He wasn’t put-out by it, just a little unused to the constant nature of it.
By the time we reached Vauxhall roundabout, I could see he was starting to get tired and the thought of contending with three lanes of traffic didn’t seem sensible. I therefore opted to get us onto the pavement and across via the pedestrian crossings.
In a moment of either lack of concentration or complacency, he found himself unable to unclip from his pedal and, panicking slightly, fell in slow motion into me and my bike.
I managed to stay standing and, once we’d made sure Dad was okay (he was – we’d hardly been moving at all), we checked the bikes.
I pressed the brakes. All good.
Checked for scratches. None.
Span the front while. Straight and narrow.
Span the back wheel.
Tried to spin the back wheel again.
It didn’t want to budge.
The weight of my Dad had buckled the wheel leaving the bike almost un-cyclable. I emphasise the word almost, as I was able to ride the final 7km back to the house with the wheel snaking precariously behind me before getting it back to Seabass for the replacement wheels a little easier than I’d anticipated.
Date: Saturday 18th April, 2015
Distance: 59.4km | Elevation: 473m
Destinations: Jersey (St. Ouen – St. Catherines – St. Aubin – St. Ouen)
Start kms: 2,305.6km | Finish kms: 2,365km | % complete: 23.7%
Whenever I’m lucky enough to go home to Jersey and go out for a cycle, I’m always reminded of a now over-used Hemingway quote taken from a letter to his family:
“It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them…you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through”
It’s true — and not just of cycling versus driving. I’ve walked, skateboarded, run and driven what feels like all of Jerseys roads countless times whilst growing up, but nothing makes me appreciate their ups and downs, their smooth or uneven surfaces like a bike.
8 months ago, my Dad hit his head whilst bording a plane from London back to Jersey. Mid-flight, he began to feel odd – tired, agitated, removed from the situation. Moments later, he was in the midst of a fit and wouldn’t come-to until safely in the back of an ambulance, on the way to Jerseys hospital.
Thankfully, he was ultimately fine, but to get to that point has meant a lot of rest and patience – not an easy ask of an active, excitable guy with a love of being outside and making things happen.
Sometimes proactively and sometimes enforced, it’s been a case of slow, incremental steps.
This weekend saw him take a big one: the first time back on his road bike, cleats and all.
Having completed a number of short rides on his sturdier and, to him, more trustworthy, mountain bike with my Mum, he wasn’t just ready, but raring to go.
He was reserved though, at least to begin with, forcing me himself to hold back and renew his acquaintance with the feel of the saddle, the reactiveness of the handlebars, the lightness of the frame, the abruptness of the brakes.
Before long, though, I saw him visibly relax, as he began taking one hand away from his handlebars, placing it on his knee and turning around to chat to me. It’s true what they say about riding a bike – you don’t forget, it taking little time for muscle memory to kick-in and make 8 months dissipate away to nothing.
For me, my lungs and legs would be more than happy to remind me of the time off, but if Dad was experiencing it, he didn’t let it show, taking on his first hills for months and chipping away at them until he reached the top.
This was Mums first long ride for almost a year, too, and one of her longest to-date. As we reached the half-way mark – 30km with no sign of stopping – she’d really found her stride and was happy to tell us as much: “I’m really enjoying this!”.
It was great to hear and even better to watch as we followed the islands coast and stopped for the obligatory cake and coffee such rides dictate.
Weighed down, we had the choice of cutting back in from the coast and heading home in a more direct manner. With 45km in the bank and another 15km on the shorter route, I wouldn’t have blamed them for choosing that option. We’d already far-exceeded my expectations for the first time out.
But they were insistent that we continue to trace the coast, taking on its 2 climbs in the process.
We broke no records, we shattered no PBs and we certainly didn’t give everything we had.
What we did do was enjoy each other’s company, make the most of a beautiful afternoon and re-establish a level of confidence not only in my dad, but in my mum as well.
It’s good to have them back.
Date: Friday, 10th April, 2015
Distance: 130.5km | Elevation: 1,775m
Destinations: Morebattle — Duns — Haddington — Edinburgh
Start kms: 2,104.0km | Finish kms: 2,234.5km | % complete: 22.3%
The second day started early, at around 6am. The sun was still rising over the hills of the surrounding valley and the mist and frost had yet to dissipate from the impending heat of the day.
Looking out at the view from the bedroom window, it was nothing short of beautiful and completely chased away any weariness that ran the risk of creeping in. It also made for a picturesque backdrop on which to share our breakfast: half a CLIF bar and a cup of tea.
Our first rest stops opening time was what dictated our departure. The 130km route we were taking had us away from any form of town or village for tens of kilometres at a time. Running light on any form of snacks, we had little room for unplanned breaks and therefore slowly packed and got ourselves on the road for a little before half past seven.
Once again, the wind was behind us and, it still being early, there was little traffic on the road. Little soon became none as we left the A and B roads behind and planted ourselves on country lanes for what would be the majority of the day.
Our pre-breakfast route was an excellent warm-up for the day, with nothing but relatively flat roads interspersed with a few small hills to break us in. We wheeled into Dunns and spotted the sign of our haggis roll purveyor.
I’m not sure what it is about small villages, but there seems to be a real affinity for cafes located in garden centres. This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced these dual-purpose businesses on cycles, but this was definitely the friendliest encounter so far.
Wheeling our bikes past the piled-up bags of compost and through the stacked lines of plant pots, all of the staff greeted us warmly, despite having only opened their doors minutes earlier and no doubt still comprehending the prospect of another day of work. I’d imagine the somewhat novel sight of two dishevelled men in skin-tight clothing contributed to their smiles. The glorious sunshine probably helped, too.
The only irk from anyone came as the result of Gorrods order: “A haggis and egg roll? Well I’ve never heard that before”. Given the limited range of breakfast accoutrements in existence – bacon, sausage, egg, beans, tomatoes – we were somewhat surprised that any pairing with haggis would come as a curveball. These guys either lacked a creative intrigue, or Gorrod really had strayed far from the Scottish breakfast track.
Regardless, we’d only been in Scotland a few hours and he’d already rubbed the locals up the wrong way.
We were right about there not being anything beyond our first rest stop. I’ve never been on a ride that doesn’t pass the odd local shop, newsagent, cafe or pub every 10km or so. I suppose that’s the result of the majority of my rides taking place in and around the M25. In this case, though, the 50km that followed saw more farmhouses than public houses; more road kill than cars.
The roads themselves had begun to slope upwards considerably, with hills being more of a level you’d expect from a day with circa. 1,700m of climbing. It was the kind of climbing that I enjoy, with short, sharp bursts of uphill that for the most part, allowing you to attack before resting your legs on the freewheel provided by the descent. Yes, at times it meant struggling skywards at 15kph for several minutes, but for every 5 minutes of that, you benefitted from 10 minutes of sailing through Scotland’s quiet roads at 50kph.
Civilisation was reestablished at 95km in the town of Haddington and with it, we encountered our first set of traffic lights since Kings Cross. You quickly forget the existence of such things on getting out into the countryside, meaning you don’t appreciate their absence until you find yourself slowly approaching one, willing it to go green before you need to un-clip.
Coffees consumed, our final 35km was back towards the coast of the fairly aptly named Musselburgh. Whilst the name suggests a rustic, coastal town, home to shellfish, fishermen and trawlers, I can assure you that it was more akin to a tired British seaside town (although the internet informs me that, as one of Scotlands oldest towns, it’s known for both its golf course and its racecourse).
On our approach to Edinburgh, we were both determined to hit the all-important Gran Fondo distance of 130km, but soon realised we were running out of road. The city centre was fast-approaching and we still had some ground to cover before it was official (to both us and to the Strava app, which would be officiating). I wasn’t helped by my GPS dropping off in a tunnel, costing me several hundred metres.
An extra lap of the town centre was needed to take us over the line. We jokingly referred to it as our victory lap, moments before Gorrod – choosing to ignore the designated cycle lanes and keep to the roads of Edinburgh – discovered a still fairly new addition to the city: its tramlines.
Both of his wheels locked in to the thin metal grate, leaving him with no room for manoeuvre. With little option other than to hit the tarmac, I watched as he slid down our final descent, closely followed by his bike.
100m from the finish and we had our first casualty.
Dragging his bike, and himself, over to the pavement he should have been riding on originally, we assessed the damage. The bike was fine, with no damage to the wheels or frame. The important information established, we then turned to Gorrod, who had succumb to a little road rash and a hard knock to the hip, but little else.
Thankfully, we were more than capable of free-wheeling to the finish and Gorrod was still more than able to participate in a weekend of Stag-based activities.
My total distance flicked over to 130km seconds before I unclipped at our final stop, Fortitude Coffee, where we both toasted an almost-successful morning of riding over a cup of delicious coffee and a couple of shared slices of cake.
As we did, I synced my ride data from Garmin to Strava and was horrified (and I’m somewhat shamed to admit that this is not an understatement) to discover I had in fact logged 129.9km.
129.97, to be exact.
That equates to around 5 seconds of riding.
That tunnel had cost me dear.
Gorrod laughed (too much, if you ask me. He seemed to be taking some level of enjoyment from it).
I began drafting my email to Strava in a vain attempt to reclaim those much-needed metres (and you’ll see the retrospectively resolved the issue).
Questionable distance measurement aside, we had made it to the city centre exactly on schedule. We’d crossed borders and taken in some incredible scenery. We’d also put in a solid couple of days of base-tanning our perma-kit lines for the summer.
We were ready to begin The Stag proper.
Date: Thursday 9th April, 2015
Distance: 85.4km | Elevation: 1,247m
Destinations: Alnmouth — Banburgh — Wooler — Morebattle
Start kms: 2,018.6 | Finish kms: 2,104.0km | % complete: 21.0%
There are occasions when, setting out for a ride, you tightly cross your fingers and pray to whichever god might care to listen that the run-up to it is not indicative of the excursion itself.
With an hour of the morning spent trying (and failing) to load two routes onto Gorrods Garmin, this was one of those sort of run-ups. With 30 minutes left before our train was due to pull out of Kings Cross Station, we eventually decided we were flogging a dead horse. On this occasion, the Garmin would not be our guide.
With neither of us knowing where we were going beyond the station we’d be arriving into, we quickly hatched a plan. On the ride to the station, Gorrod would veer off to locate an iPhone mount for his phone whist I powered on to the station to print out our tickets. We set out together, darting through the rush hour traffic and snaking between the masses of cars, buses and motorbikes in a manner more reckless than I’d care to admit.
Tickets in-hand, I ran through Kings Cross. Anyone who has tried walking on a tiled floor in cleats knows this is no mean feat, but I was determined to pick-up some remnant of the Stag breakfast I had intended.
With two bikes, two flat whites and a paper bag full of impulse purchases, we ran for our platform to load our bikes into the front carriage.
We had 3 minutes to spare.
After months of careful planning, this is not how I had anticipated us beginning the two-day ride that would kick-off Gorrods Stag Weekend. As Best Man, I did not feel like the best man.
Seats located and cycling accessories safely stowed away, we took approximately 10 seconds to breathe, basking in the fact we’d managed to stick to time, before greedily going at our almond croissants and cinnamon doughnuts. This was chased down by a past-its-optimum-drinking-temperature coffee.
We were heading for Alnmouth, Northumberland and would be crossing the Endland-Scotland border later that afternoon. However, with a 4-hour train journey ahead of us, there was little to do in the meantime except kick-back, watch the south of England transform into the north, consume a questionable array of pre-ride fuel and relax. Awkwardly, I took my level of relaxation a little too far, nonchalantly knocking over my just-opened can of beer and watching its contents drift slowly and precariously closer to the MacBook of my neighbour. Whilst I felt bad for disrupting his in-train entertainment (at points I became as enthralled by the silent rendition of Rambo I’d been watching over his shoulder as he was by his full sensory experience), I have little doubt that watching a Lycra-clad idiot jog down a moving train carriage in cleats in search of loo roll had its own merits.
Accompanied by the vague stench of beer and sausage rolls, the cycling itself began at around 13.30. Normally, our rides end with a train journey rather than beginning with them, so I thought we might be a little more lethargic in our riding style.
I was wrong.
With the sun shining brighter than it had all year, we were expressing levels of excitement over the first bib-shorts-and-jersey-only day of 2015 that, for countless reasons, was unacceptable for two guys in their mid-twenties. Throw in the fact that the first part of our route was taking us down to Bamburgh and its coast, meaning a fairly constant downward slope, and we’d covered 40km in little over 90 minutes.
Stopping only for a photograph of Bamburgh Castle, we were quickly on the move again, back in-landf towards Wooler which, at around 65km seemed like a sensible place to stop. Both of us could probably have pedalled on through to the finish, but it feels wrong to complete a ride of this distance and not have one rest-and-cappucinno stop along the way. Gorrod added a tiramisu to this, which is arguably excessive, but forgivable on account of it being his Stag Do ( I suppose…).
With the sun warming us on the terrace of thew inspiring and uniquely name Milan Restaurant (it was indeed an Italian), we were sure we were moving closer to the England-Scotland border. However, the fact that everyone was still speaking with the warm, affectionate lilt of Sarah Millican suggested we weren’t there yet.
We did arrive at it soon enough, though, and thankfully it had a level of ceremony to it. This is the first time I’d cycled over a country border in the UK and I had a mild concern that we’d find ourselves missing an understated sign that was characteristic of our nation and not discover we’d made the transition until we reached our destination. Instead, we pedalled up towards a large sign that simply stated: “Scotland welcomes you”.
Behind us, we left an even simpler sign: a plaque screwed to a wall that read “ENGLAND” in block capitals.
Make of those what you will.
Our stop for the night was only a few kilometres beyond the official border in a small town called Morebattle. Neither one of us for the indulgences of lad culture, the first night of Gorrods Stag could not have been further from the Hollywood-inspired debauchery of Vegas: a quiet cottage on Teapot Street named Kissingate, located by a stream, complete with free-standing bath and gas stove. The owner could be forgiven for thinking us honeymooners rather than Stags.
I’m sure our matching embroidered casquettes, Gorrods labelling him ‘Groom’ and mine ‘Best Man’ removed any doubt from the situation. Following a beer on the balcony in the last of the days sun, a bath and a Chinese Takeaway, we prepared for the following day by mulling over our route and drinking whisky from makeshift whisky glasses (refashioned tea light holders). We also located our all-important breakfast stop — approximately 60km away, allowing us a reasonable warm-up.
Meanwhile, Gorrod pondered aloud the major concerns of what the day held in store:
“I wonder what roll our haggis will come on tomorrow”.
Date: Sunday 5th March, 2015
Distance: 103.2km | Elevation: 1,426m
Destinations: New Cross – Royal Tunbridge Wells – New Cross
Start kms: 1,925.1km | Finish kms: 2,028.3km | % complete: 20.3%
It can happen to the best of us.
Too many late night after late night. A few too many beers the night before. A restless nights sleep. Eating the wrong thing before jumping on the bike (or simply not eating enough).
Thankfully, it didn’t happen to me.
At least, not this time.
Joining me on an early Sunday morning jaunt to Royal Tunbridge Wells and back, Gorrod had a week of long, stressful, physically-involved days in him thanks to his recent house move. Ever-eager — and almost always running behind time — he wound up feeling the need to cover the 15km from his new house to mine in under half an hour, leaving him slightly out of breath and, as we’d discover, on the back foot before we’d even begun.
In hindsight, the tell-tale signs were there by the time we’d hit 40km. Whereas he would normally always place himself half a wheel ahead of me (a physical embodiment of his superior fitness), today Gorrod was, at best, alongside me.
His head hung heavier, too, looming towards his handlebars.
I quietly rejoiced in the fact that I didn’t have to worry about getting caught in the friendly fire of his snot rockets. I also began to congratulate myself on what was clearly a considerable improvement in my fitness levels.
Any misplaced confidence was immediately shattered when Gorrod pulled into the side of the road and began devouring a CLIF Bar. We were 3km from our rest stop and he is a proud man — as much as I wanted it to be the case, he didn’t just fancy a snack.
Not even a considerable breakfast at The Velo House could reinvigorate those tired legs to regular service. As we rolled past train stations, I watched as he surveyed them with intent, actively weighing up the possibility of dismounting and switching to an infinitely easier mode of transport.
Having already tackled these roads within the last month, involuntarily becoming the stronger rider made them feel somehow easier. My focus was drawn away from the inclines and towards making sure we both made it up and over together, which meant having to take on a level of positivity I rarely afford myself.
Gorrod crossed the 3-figure threshold somewhere on the way back in to Bromley. It was either that, his breakfast kicking-in or the possibility of the ride being over becoming very real that brought him out of the other side.
As I say, rather him than me, but I know that it’s only a matter of time.
All of this said, I do feel it’s only fair I point out that bonking doesn’t mean Gorrod crawls along at a snails pace. He managed to average a speed of 26kph over the course of the ride.
It’s little wonder I struggle to keep up on the good days.
I’ve alluded to it already, but whenever I possibly can, I choose to get around on my bike.
Living in London, that’s not uncommon as the alternative tends to be a crowded train, tube or – if you’re feeling rich on time – bus. For me, starting my working day (or any other day, for that matter) on public transport has a visibly negative impact on how it tends to pan out, with my journey heavily influenced by my mood and frame of mind.
To be clear, this isn’t a dig at TFL or London transport at large. I happen to think it’s an excellent service (for the most part – I have witnessed and experienced London Bridge Station in the past few weeks). I just take an inordinate amount of joy from getting around on my own steam, choosing when’s best to leave, how best to get where I’m going and being confident in how long it will take me to arrive there.
There’s also a small part of me that relishes the saving I make on tube fares. It’s pretty measly on a day-to-day level, but knowing I’ve saved upwards of £30.00 on a weekly travelcard tends to offset any guilt I might feel for ordering a big lunch or extra coffee when I’m out on a ride.
Not only are my almost-always-daily commutes helping me eat away at the 10,000km goal, but they’re also allowing me to see London as the ever-changing place that it is.
Admittedly, there are some days I get soaked through, cut-up, beeped at and even the occasional middle finger.
But for every bad ride, there are infinitely more new, exciting, interesting or just plan fortuitous things that tip the scales back in my favour: a building, object or structure that catches my eye for the first time; the sun coming up behind The Shard, Tower Bridge or a dilapidated, disused water tower; a serendipitous conversation with a stranger at a set of traffic lights (and, a little less frequently, someone you know); a tail wind on the home straight that gets me through the front door 30 seconds earlier.
Some of these moments are feelings and some of them are sights.
However, for me, they are what cycling is about.
They’re the reason I take (almost) as much enjoyment from forcing a clapped-out, old 1980s banger of a bike through the worst of what Londons roads have to offer as I do from gliding a carbon frame through the smooth and winding roads of Surrey.
It’s these moments I’m hoping to capture more and more of.