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Farewell old friend

September 14, 2014

After 10,000+ miles and many happy years together I decided it was time to bid farewell to my oldest bike. I wasn’t being forced to implement  the S-1 Rule where my total number of bikes was causing matrimonial disharmony, it was purely to free up a bit of space at home and because the old fella wasn’t getting any miles these days. I felt sad seeing him collecting dust and cobwebs in the back corner of the shed and thought he’d be better served as a starter bike or winter hack for another cyclist. The fact that old bikes seem to hold their value on eBay was an added incentive.

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eBay selling photo

I took the time to give the bike a thorough clean, and then probably went above-and-beyond the call of duty by dismantled the head-set to clean and re-grease it. The last time I’d ridden the bike was a rainy day and the headset had spluttered rusty gooze over the top tube. I didn’t want the buyer to think they’d bought a lemon if the same thing happened to them, so it gave me peace of mind to fix the problem.

Buyer beware

Buyer beware – the brand name has worn away from the side of the saddle. Which isn’t the original saddle that came with the bike. This bike clearly has some miles in it

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I made sure to include photos of wear to forewarn potential buyers

With 5 days to go, bidding is already fierce so I’m expecting to recoup some of the expense that’s gone into this bike. If I still lived in a city I think it would be handy to have a number 3 bike for locking and leaving without worrying too much. But living out in the sticks, it would appear that the correct number of bikes to own is 2. One carbon-fibre bike for training and racing, and one steel frame bike with mudguards and rack for winter riding, baby-carrying and errand running. However … I’m not completely ruling out the possibility that the freed up space in the shed could be nicely filled by a shiny new bike.

Spectating a professional cycling race

September 11, 2014

I made my way into Bristol yesterday to watch the finale of Stage 4 of the Tour of Britain. When compared to other sports, watching a cycling event is quite a strange experience. You hang around on the side of the road not really knowing what’s going on in the race, eventually a procession of police motorbikes and press cars come through with sirens and horns blaring which excites the crowd and then finally the riders stream past with everyone clapping, cheering and seeing if they can recognise any of them. Which is generally difficult with their faces concealed beneath sunglasses and helmets. It’s a very fleeting experience which can feel like a bit of an anti-climax. Everyone mills about afterwards for a few minutes chatting about what they thought they’d seen and looking on their phones to find out what was actually happening. And that’s it. It’s finished.

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The race finally arrives

I had a good day out, meeting up with some friends and cycling 40 miles in total. It was also a beautiful, sunny day so hanging around on the side of a road for an hour wasn’t too much of a hardship. It’s also quite amusing to overhear the typically banal chat from other cycling fans discussing the intricacies of their equipment. Being a cyclist really brings out your inner nerd.

There’s definitely something unique about how close you can get to the race. It would be chaos if football fans could touch the players or shout in their faces while they were playing. And it was good to head over to the finish line afterwards and see the riders cooling down outside their team buses. Formula 1 fans pay thousands for that sort of access. Watching cycling is free.

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The Team Sky bus was pulling the biggest crowd

I got caught in a bit of rush hour traffic on the return home. For someone who lives in a little village and does most of his riding on quiet country lanes this is fortunately a rare experience. I was faced with a dilemma: sit behind a mile-long queue of cars breathing in their fumes, or ride up the middle of the road with the motorbikes and face a few shouted comments from white-van-men about riding on the wrong side of the road etc. Nobody likes sitting in traffic so I guess cyclists can provide a focus for some people’s frustration. But I’m not quite sure I understand why nobody minds a motorbike doing the same.

Saying goodbye to the city

Saying goodbye to the city

Bike v Wine

September 1, 2014

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.

The bike cave

A bike cave 

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.

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Inappropriate clothing alert – when the nose of your saddle protrudes beneath your running shorts, that’s officially indecent 

 

Forget

Forget your Alpine ascents on lightweight carbon fibre bikes. Riding this beast up a small hill left me gasping for breath

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.

More grip than a Chinese burn on these tyres

These beefy tyres would be good on my car 

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Peeling render and closed shutters – picturesque French villages 

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Enjoyable summer cycling 

Bobbing head, grimacing, etc. just to climb a small lump on the landscape

Bobbing head, grimacing, etc. just to climb a small lump on the landscape

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.

Challenge complete

July 30, 2014

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.

New badge on its way

A badge

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:

Badgeman's bag

Badgeman’s bag

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Saumur-Amboise-Saumur was a 200km ride. Alpe d’Huez & Mont Ventoux were holidays in the mountains

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Previous Rapha Rising badges and more mountains 

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.

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“Let’s not ride any hills this week”

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Picnic in the sun

New climbing challenge

July 20, 2014

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.

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Today’s ride was a full tour of the steep Mendip hills

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.

Somerset Levels

Heading down towards the Somerset Levels 

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I may need to replace my brake blocks after this challenge

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Another narrow, windy descent

Towards Blagdon

Towards Blagdon Lake in the Chew Valley

Cake consumption was the immediate priority on my return home

Cake consumption was the immediate priority upon my return home

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.

25 Mile Time Trial

July 3, 2014

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.

Race number

Race number 2

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.

Picnics and pumas

July 2, 2014

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.

Step 1 - prepare the baby

Step 1 – prepare the baby

Step 2 - prepare the baby chariot

Step 2 – prepare the baby chariot (there is a bike underneath there somewhere) 

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.

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Stopping to release a puma (pants up my a***)

Picnic

Picnic

It's amazing what you can do with 2 teeth

It’s amazing what you can do with 2 teeth

"Get off my

“Whose hands were just on my shorts?!” 

Back home and worn out - nap time

Back home and worn out – nap time

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.

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