We are currently away on a family holiday in France where I’ve discovered the beauty of riding a terrible bike. The beauty being its help in forever appreciating a good one. Being our first holiday with a baby, we were tight for space in the car and so I faced a tough choice. If I squeezed in the bike and its associated kit, there would be no room to bring home wine. It was a choice between a few short cycles around the Loire Valley on my own bike, or a year’s supply of fine wine at cellar-door prices. Fortunately I managed to find a nice holiday gite with bikes available to borrow, so this somewhat lessened the blow.
Naturally, upon arriving one of the first things I did was headed off to investigate the bike situation. I discovered a cave full of ‘family bikes’. In preparation for this likely outcome I hadn’t come prepared to cycle any long distances – in fact the only cycling item I’d brought from home was a water bottle. Ironically, none the bikes had a bottle cage so my token effort was wasted.
I’d chosen the most rigid looking of the bikes, pumped up its enormous tyres and set off. Its squeakiness made me feel like the Pied Piper leading an army of noisy rats across the Loire Valley while changing gears seemed to result in a machine-gun rattle for a random period of time before settling onto the cog.
I only went for a shortish ride – 14 miles through sleepy French villages, amongst the sunflowers and vineyards. And despite disturbing the peace like some sort of rampaging army of out-of-breath rats erratically firing their machine guns, it was enjoyable to back in the saddle covering miles and feeling the sun on my back. And when your average speed is significantly less than 14 miles per hour, 14 miles isn’t such a short ride either. At least we’ll have plenty of room for wine on the way home.
Last week I completed the climbing challenge which turned out to be a lot more difficult than I had anticipated. This was mostly because I’d completed a similar challenge last year while on a cycling holiday in the French Alps. Not to say that climbing mountains is easy, but having a weeks holiday to climb 4 or 5 mountains with your mates is a bit different to climbing the local hill 40 times while trying to lead a normal life.
To put the challenge in context, this year I have averaged about 70 miles a week with 3,000 ft of climbing. I went for 5 rides in the space of 8 days, riding 260 miles and climbing 29,000 ft.
All so that I’d have a little badge to stitch on my bag.
A reader of this blog showed interest in my cycling badges (a blatant fabrication) and asked to see them (not true) and so here they are in all their glory:
It was only while taking these photos that I noticed this year’s Rapha Rising challenge was a lot more climbing than previous years. This gave me some comfort in finding it so difficult. I’m not sure why I have two Mont Ventoux badges, maybe one of them belongs to Winnie, the naughty bear?
I closed out the challenge by taking the little one up our local hill for a picnic. It was nice to be back to quiet and slow cycles with no purpose other than to just enjoy the ride.
Now in its third year, Rapha and Strava have once again teamed up to challenge cyclists to climb a dizzying height on their bikes. This year the challenge is 8,800m (28,870 ft) in nine days. This equates to three stages of this year’s Tour de France and is roughly the same height as Mount Everest. The prize for completing the challenge is a commemorative woven badge which has been quite rightly mocked by a club-mate for being a bit Boy Scouts, but sometimes you’ve just got to geek-out and stitch your badge on your cycling bag with pride.
Knowing that time-constraints later in the week will probably lead me to the evil but efficient practice of hill-repeats, I started off with a ride I’d been contemplating for some time. A complete circuit of the Mendip Hills going up or down every road I know. It turned out to be a 62 miler, but the horizontal distance was inconsequential. The real result was over 6000 ft of climbing. This took me four hours and provided some spectacular views of Somerset and the Chew Valley. It also left me battling the mental challenge of the oncoming ‘bonk’ for the last hour as my energy reserves depleted.
After today’s 62 miler returned 6000 ft of climbing, and yesterday’s 35 miler gave me 4500 ft I’m about a third of the way into the challenge. Tomorrow I will be giving the legs some much-needed rest, knowing that there’s still some way to go before I can reach for the victorious needle and thread.
Last night I rode our club 25 mile time trial race. Not only was it the furthest I had raced, it was also the first time I’d pinned a number on my jersey this year so I had no idea what to expect. The course is 3 laps of Chew Valley Lake, a single lap being the usual weekly time trial distance. My personal best over a single lap was an average speed of 22.5mph, however that was last year and after lots of training. My goal for last night was to average over 20mph, known as “evens” in time-trialling.
I got down to the lake early and chose number 2. Number 1 seemed a bit too symbolic and too much of a scalp for all the following faster riders to enjoy taking. I then headed off to warm up after a bit of a chat with a few other riders, including PJ who the previous week had been racing Bradley Wiggins and several other professional riders in the National Time Trial Championships and finishing 28th. A very impressive result for a club rider.
We set off at one minute intervals and I caught Number 1 within the first 5 minutes. Rather than seeing this as something positive it just made me think I’d set off too fast. For the next few minutes I kept asking myself whether I could maintain the pace for an hour. “I don’t know … I don’t know … I don’t know” was like a worrying mantra going round in my head, until I remembered reading somewhere that this is actually the correct answer when time-trialling. If you answer “yes” you’re going too slow and if you answer “no” you’ve overcooked it! I pushed on.
Not only is the course undulating but it was a breezy night which manifested itself in a slight headwind along the uphill back straight which was quite energy sapping. I completed the first lap at an average speed of 21.5mph which I was pleased with. My tactics (or lack of) were to push it hard on lap one, try and maintain the pace on lap two and then hammer it home on the final lap. Basically I had no tactics.
On the half-hour mark I was overtaken by Number 3. It was a strange feeling but I was actually glad to be overtaken purely because it was nice to feel the camaraderie of another rider. For half an hour I’d been suffering alone. Plus he was wearing a pointy helmet, had a disc wheel and TT bars so I consoled myself by saying it was probably just his equipment which made him faster than me. I do own some clip-on TT bars and have used them before but they gave me terrible neck ache from the strained position so I didn’t contemplate attaching them for a one hour race.
On 40 minutes I was overtaken a second time. This time by Number 8 who was going super fast. By the end of my second lap my average speed was down slightly to 21mph which was good. I knew I had +20mph in the bag and pushed on. But by the end of the difficult back straight my average was down to 20.6mph which gave me a new determination to try and finish on 21mph. With a couple of downhill stretches I felt the wind in my sails and gave it everything I had. On 23 miles I was overtaken by PJ. I hadn’t known what race number he’d taken but always knew he was somewhere behind me tearing up the tarmac and closing the gap. Number 14. He had started 12 minutes after me so was definitely on for a sub-hour time for the course which requires an average faster than 25mph.
By the final straight my average was up to 20.9mph and I gave it everything I had. I was riding at 25mph and with the finish line in sight had one eye on my average speed waiting for it to change. It did. 21mph average and a time of 1 hour 11 minutes.
I felt trashed and after hanging around at the finish for a while I headed home. Cold sweats, pain in the butt like I’d been kicked repeatedly and an inability to ride faster than 15mph without feeling like I was about to collapse. At one point I even brushed against a patch of stinging nettles on the side of a country lane, my brain working too slowly to adjust my riding line. The satisfying feeling of giving it everything you have.
Say it quietly and be careful not to speak too soon, but we appear to be having a genuine proper summer in England this year. Sunny days, little rain and warmth on a near-enough daily basis. It’s unprecedented. I have become an accomplished picnicker by bike and with a baby, which is no mean feat. It requires quite a lot of preparation but the benefit is that there’s no kitchen floor to clear from an avalanche of food. Instead you just shake the crumbs onto the grass for the birds and head on.
I take it at an easy pace. There isn’t really much option when you have a picnic blanket hanging off one side of the bike, a full pannier bag on the other and a big baby sat directly behind you. I also just wear normal clothing, although her constant grabbing at the waistband of my boxer shorts is starting to make me consider wearing bib-shorts to prevent her mid-ride attempts at pulling a wedgie on me. If she ends up being embarrassed by her Dad cycling in Lycra then she’ll only have herself to blame.
In contrast to leisurely picnics by the lake I may be pinning a race number onto my jersey this evening and taking part in my first time-trial of the year. At 25 miles it’s much further than I’ve ever raced before, but with such beautiful weather it seems a good moment to head down to the lake for some fast fun. Hopefully there’ll be no danger of troublesome pumas when I’m kitted out in proper cycling gear.
We were in Amsterdam this weekend visiting family. I fancied the idea of taking our daughter for a ride in a Dutch cargo bike, but also didn’t want to be the cycling obsessive who disrupted everyone else’s weekend plans, so didn’t go so far as organising anything. In the end this was the closest I got to one:
And this was the best ride that little Miss BikeVCar had:
Luckily, for a brief moment on Saturday afternoon the stars aligned and both my wife and daughter wanted to go back to the hotel for a nap while everyone else headed back to the house to relax before the evening. I seized the opportunity by borrowing a bike from the hotel and running a few errands. I headed out of the suburbs and into the touristy, centre of the city to buy a small souvenir for our daughter’s first trip abroad.
Having spent some time walking around this part of the city it was a completely different experience on a bike. Rather than being a pedestrian buffeted about in the chaos I was suddenly easing along within the flow of the madness. Pedestrians cleared out of the way, cars backed off and other cyclists were all travelling at the same speed.
Without caring too much about my speed and just using the bike to get about, I still thought I was moving at a decent pace on my little three-speed. Right up until the moment I was overtaken by a lady in a dress wearing high heels. By that point I’d been out and about for an hour, had completely my errands and was back out in the suburbs with half an hour to spare. Rather that eek out every last bit of fun (and be overtaken by more people in completely inappropriate cycling footwear) I decided to end on a high and stop for a beer in the late afternoon sun.
Then I made my way back to the hotel to wake the sleeping beauties to get ready for our evening ahead.
Today’s big news is the unfortunate withdrawal of a big name from this year’s Tour de France. With it starting on British soil this news is a big shame. No, I’m not talking about Sir Brad, but Little Miss BikeVCar. We had made plans to head up to Yorkshire in a few weeks time to spectate. And she’d been putting in the mileage in preparation. Something like 20 miles in the last 4 weeks. But we’ve decided to put things in perspective and the prospect of taking an 8 month old baby out onto the Yorkshire Moors for a long day surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people just doesn’t seem like the sort of thing responsible parents would do.
It’s obviously a tough time at the moment but she mostly seems to be coping ok with the news that we won’t be making the trip up North. She’s still relatively young so should have a few more years ahead in her cycling career. And with the Tour of Britain coming to Bristol and Bath this year there’s always the possibility of catching that event instead. For now we’ll be sticking to the local roads and just enjoying the ride.