“Avon Cycleway” 100 mile loop

I decided late last night to ride the Avon Cycleway loop around Bristol today. Like some of the best and worst ideas I’ve had, this one was discovered somewhere near the bottom of a bottle of wine.

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Sunny and windy on the Avon Cycleway today

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The sun slowly broke through the clouds 

I woke this morning without too much of a fuzzy head, ate breakfast twice before then preparing my bike. I had a completely free day to myself as well as a personal point to prove after my only other 100 mile ride this year resulted in being painfully towed and finally dropped by my fitter and faster mate.

With my jersey pockets and stomach stuffed full of food I set off at around 9am heading towards Bath along narrow country lanes. The Avon Cycleway is an 85 mile loop around Bristol along quiet lanes and bike paths. Looking back this was one of the first long rides featured on this blog almost four years ago.

One of the problems on long rides in unknown territories is refuelling. Especially on a Sunday with most shops shut. I ended up barricading my bike between two signs outside a little shop and checking on it several times. The thought of it being stolen miles from home was a hassle I could do without.

Finger crossed it'll be here when I come back

Finger crossed it’ll be here when I come back

Having successfully navigated around 70 miles of twists and turns, I got lost at the exact same point as last time. Somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle of Avonmouth the signs just seem to disappear. Fortunately I could see the looming Avon Bridge and headed in the right direction. As with all 100 milers the final 20 miles were fairly tough, but the warm breeze of a welcome tailwind helped me home. I was just around the corner from home when I realised I was going to finish up on 96 or 97 miles. Putting fatigue aside I took a small detour to hit the magic 100.

The indignity of being robbed twice by a seagull

This weekend we went for a family cycle ride on the newly opened “Two Tunnels Greenway” from the city of Bath. It’s a 13 mile, largely traffic-free route along a disused railway line. The first of the two tunnels was a short couple of hundred metres; the second was almost a mile and great fun to all ride along shouting and hearing the echoes.

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“Maaaaaaaaaaa-meeeeeeeeee …. me, me, me, me” 

We probably should have come equipped with a light and a bell, but it was a last-minute idea and these days just getting out of the house with a toddler is a major achievement so we didn’t dwell on it too much.

Into the tunnel

Into the tunnel

Disused station platform

Disused station platform

Aquaduct

Aquaduct

Canal path

Canal path

Pit-stop for raisins

Pit-stop for raisins

We ended up stopping a couple of times for food and wees and other toddler-driven demands, but generally she’s a good little passenger and enjoys the ride. However, by the amount of food she consumed on the ride you’d think she was the one doing the pedalling.

By the time we returned to Bath, the two actual cyclists were starving to we headed to a  cafe for some lunch. The little passenger was in relatively good spirits and was even happier when her hot-dog was brought out for lunch. Unfortunately she let her guard down and to the shock of the whole cafe a seagull swooped down and stole off with her sausage.

Who took my sausage?

“Bu-bye sausage!”

I felt like I ought to man-up and take control of the situation and moved us to what I felt was a more sheltered table beneath the awning. I competently moved our food to the new table, then went back for our belongings. At this point another seagull seized the opportunity and launched an attack on my wife’s sandwich making off with most of it. This was now getting a bit embarrassing and also providing too much entertainment to everyone else. I considered cutting our losses and just tucking into my burger but in the end I moved us insides away from the audience and gained enough sympathy from a waitress to have our stolen dishes re-prepared.

As a countrysider coming into the city for the day, I’d been keeping a diligent eye on our bikes and had somehow managed to have our food stolen from right under my nose. Ah, the indignity. At least we had a good ride.

Tandem cycling in the USA

We’re currently on holiday in Maryland, USA visiting my wife’s family. We last visited two years ago, back in the long-forgotten pre-baby era when we could do whatever we wanted. Looking back that free time was clearly wasted on me because all I ever seemed to do was cycle.

This holiday we had a couple of blissful days to ourselves – leaving the little one with her grandma we headed off to the beach. Unimaginatively I steered us towards a bike hire shop at the earliest opportunity.

Tandem beach cruiser

Tandem beach cruiser

Neither of us had ridden a tandem before and it turned out to be great fun. It was easy to talk to each other and being permanently hitched together removes any potential competitiveness of cycling with another person. In theory a tandem ought to be more efficient than a regular bicycle, but that relies on both people pedalling. If, say, the person on the back was sometimes just letting their feet be turned by the pedals then a tandem could in fact be very hard work for the person on the front. Fortunately American beachfronts aren’t short on refreshment opportunities for hard-worked cyclists.

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When the going gets tough, the tough get compensated with ice cream

One of the trickier aspects of tandem cycling was turning. The person on the rear can’t always see the twists and turns ahead but needs to participate to some extent in leaning on sharper bends. The other tricky aspect is starting and stopping. All of this requires a bit of communication but we seemed to get the hang of things and be motoring along quite well.

My other cycling this holiday has been using Pete’s arsenal of bikes in his basement. I took a single-speed out a couple of times but it mostly ended up being a reminder of how fit I used to be when we last visited. Riding up hills on a single-speed is tough work, and I quickly swapped for a bike with gears.

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Getting out for some road cycling 

My cycling season has finally begun

If you want to ride your bike on a regular basis, don’t have a child, start your own business or embark on a home refurbishment project. And especially don’t do them all at the same time. Only an idiot would do that. Anyway, this particular idiot has finally complete the refurb project and so took the opportunity to go for a long ride today. 70 miles to be precise. Continuing the theme of biting off more than I can chew, I’ve signed up to do a 100 mile sportive in a couple of weeks time with an old mate so thought I’d better condition my bum to endless hours on a saddle. I’m generally not so interested in sportives these days, but they can be a good reason to meet old cycling friends who live in different parts of the country so thought I’d sign up. This will be the first time I’ve ridden 100 miles in about 2 years so I’m looking forward to the challenge.

I was putting my bike back in the shed with my toddler daughter when she spotted the bike she’ll hopefully be learning to ride on one day. She seemed pretty keen to have a go but couldn’t reach the pedals yet. I think I’ve still got a few months before I need to fit the stabilisers.

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She seemed very adroit at eating a biscuit while sat on the bike – a key still for long distance cycling! 

Return of the Baby Chariot

The weather this past week has been glorious and seemed a perfect opportunity to attach the child seat to my bike and take our young lamb out for her first chariot ride of the year. She’s changed a lot since I last took her out, probably 6 months ago. Mostly she’s learned the word “no” and knows how to stubbornly use it. So it was with slight trepidation that I got us ready.

Sit in here? On the back of that bike?  ... "NO!"

Sit in here? On the back of that bike? … Ha ha … “NO!”

Anyway, despite a few initial complaints about the shoulder straps and the helmet, as soon as we were on our way she started happily chatting away. “Daddy bike … me bike …”

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“As long as you don’t strap my feet in, we’ve got a deal.” 

The big difference from last year is the talking. She was chatting away as we rode. Actually that’s a lie, the big difference from last year is her weight. She’s well over 30lbs now so I avoided any hilly roads! Today’s mission was to find some “baby sheeps”.

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We rode a couple of miles from home before taking a sheep and water break 

Mummy sheep and baby sheep

“Mummy sheep and baby sheep”

It was then time to head back home and I made the same mistake for approximately the millionth time. Asking her a question that really should have been a command. It goes something like, “Ok, shall we get back on the bike?” Answer “No.”

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“Ok, well do you want to walk the 2 miles home?”

As well as dribbling on my water bottle, we’d also shared a banana while we stopped. In theory it’s nice to get her to eat outside the house as it usually avoids any cleaning up. However, rather than eat her piece she firmly gripped it the whole way home before immediately dropping it on the kitchen floor. If this is a game then I’m definitely points down.

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She celebrated her victory by painting her face in “noghurt” 

“Knog Blinder” review

Over the course of this blog I’ve written a handful of cycling product reviews – I try to buy as few cycling products as possible so generally don’t have too much to review. Unfortunately I am now in need of a new rear light as the old one broke. It was a ” Knog Blinder 4 Circle Rear LED” and I can’t say I was too disappointed when it died. I haven’t been overly impressed by it and now have good reason to purchase a replacement. Hopefully I’ll make a better choice this time.

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The Knog Blinder – style over substance?

First the positives – it’s very bright and lives up to the name ‘Blinder’. It has about 5 functions, one being constant and the other 4 being various flashing sequences. Arguably 3 of these are superfluous but maybe some people like to have a choice. It’s easy to clip onto the seat post via a rubber band and metal clip, but it probably wouldn’t attach securely to smaller tubes such as the seat stays if you have a saddle bag. And you certainly couldn’t clip it onto a saddle bag or mudguard. It’s rechargeable via a flip-out USB connector. Onto the negatives. Battery life has always seemed too short. It’s difficult to know exactly how long it lasts, but it’s somewhere between 2 and 3 hours. I’ve been on a few 3 hour rides where I’ve come home to find the light not working. Not only does this seem unsuitable to a sport where people often cycle for several hours, but it also means you need to charge it after every ride. When I was using it for commuting in the Winter I used to charge it twice a day, once at work and again at home just to be sure. This was obviously a nuisance. The USB connection is also a bit temperamental and there have been times when it was plugged in but not receiving charge. The final and terminal flaw with the design was that the rubber band clamp perished. I think I’ve had the light for 18 months. In that time it’s had good use and been subjected to lots of rain, but still, for a light that costs somewhere between £25 to £30 you’d expect better.

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Perished rubber band

I also own a Knog front light, and similarly this has a battery life of about 2 hours. So, going forward I will be looking for a light with a longer battery life. And probably not a Knog. Clearly all of that removing and reattaching to charge this one up has contributed to it wearing out. If anyone can recommend a good rear light (or has better experience of the Knog Blinder) then please feel free to respond in the comments section below.

* After writing this post, I checked out the Knog website and read that all of their products have a 2 year manufacturers guarantee. So I sent the product back to the distributer and was issued a full refund. So despite not being completely happy with the quality of this particular Knog product, I can’t fault the integrity of the company.

Long rides or short rides: a matter of perspective

Several times this year I’ve headed out with the intention of riding 50 miles but have ended up doing 30. Partly because I keep underestimating how long it takes to ride 50 miles, especially at this time of year. And partly because the winter weather gets the better of me after two cold hours in the saddle.

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Up on the grey and threatening hills

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Glimpses of Spring 

Cycling’s a funny hobby – how did it make me think two hours of exercise is a short workout? When I play football, or run, or go to the gym I never do it for more than two hours. Often for much shorter, depending on whether I get tired, substituted or sent off. However, one of the benefits of cycling is that you can be fairly flexible with your timing and do it when you have an opportunity. Plus there’s no travel time, you just ride from the front door for as long as you’ve got. I’m sure when the weather improves and life gets less busy I’ll find the time to ride for longer.

Today was one of those classic English drizzle days. Too warm to wear a rain coat and too wet to go without. I stopped a few times to take it off, put it back on, take it off, etc.  I may have only ridden 30 miles but I made sure to include a good climb. Two miles of constant climbing in warm drizzle wearing too many layers resulted in a boil-in-the bag effect. This was followed by several miles of cold sweat, the sort of feeling you associate with having a fever. It was somewhere in the midst of this unpleasantness that I thought, bugger this I’m going home for a cup of tea.

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Doing the rain coat dance 

I think it’s just a matter of perspective. Two hours of exercise at this time of year is good enough for me. I’ll save my long rides for the summer when you ride for longer because it’s enjoyable.