Friday, 28 March 2014

Ride 11 MTB 26/3/14

So my original plan was to ride the MTB on the off road route that I took the cross bike on. However the wet weather put paid to that - instead, I had a cold, wet ride down to Brighton "on road" today.

Of course, the beautiful thing about a Mountain Bike is that it is built for going up mountains - therefore the hills of Southern England were more than adequately catered for. But Mountain Bikes are not built for going fast on roads. They don't have the "top end" gearing, but most importantly, they have big fat tyres with nobbly rubber bits on them. This makes for hard going on road - I could keep a decent speed, but was having to work for it.
I was already feeling a bit knackered by the time I got to the windmill!

And my level of fatigue was such that I needed a quick stop in the co-op at Lindfield to recharge on sports drinks, bananas and pork pies - in fact I think it was the effort the bike required rather than the cold and the wet that made me demolish so much food on this one!
I'd like to say that Ditchling was conquered convincingly - but really I just stuck it in a really low gear and grinded my way up!
Whilst I had a mudguard on the back of my bike - I didn't have one on the front - that resulted in the tyre throwing up lots of lovely mud from the road onto my jacket. And my face...!

Phew - hard work that one - good time, but hard work!

Strava link here:





Ride 10 - Night ride (racing bike!) 15/3/14

Right - I had to think of something a little bit different as my plan to ride a Penny Farthing had been thwarted by two things. One was the fact that I haven't taught myself to ride a Penny Farthing yet (I tried to get up on it once, the bike fell over and I trod on the wheel buckling it in the process) and two was the fact that the state of the roads down to Brighton are so shocking that I was not confident that I could get down there safely - especially on the tyres which are not air filled, but the kind of hard rubber you find on things like wheel chairs....
So I wondered what I could do - and I thought, well, as it is so dark at the moment, I'll ride down at night - with lights. Of course, how that was going to help me identify where the potholes were was something that temporarily slipped my mind. I chose to do the ride on my "good bike" - it is a Carbon Fibre race bike from Condor Cycles, a beautiful shade of purple and normally very fast (even with me riding it). Riding it through the streets of London was fine - but as I got to Whiteleaf and past Caterham School - I realised that this was the last road light:

Afterwards, things got a bit dark - although crossing the m25 did lighten things up a bit....


Visibility was not brilliant at times - this was my light and gives you an example of how far ahead I could see - not so far! This was fine going up hill when I was going slowly - but not so great going downhill when speeds that I'd normally expect to hit 35mph+ were too hazardous given the state of the roads....
Having said that though, it was a really nice night - crisp and clear although you noticed the cold as soon as you got out of the major London conurbation! Also - my photos weren't quite as good without the daylight - here is the windmill:
And here was my bike at the top of Ditchling Beacon. You forget (in London), just how much traffic is around and how many people are about ALL the time - this isn't the same even a humble 10 miles out....
Felt a bit weird getting to Brighton at pub kicking out time with people roaming the streets looking for something to do! I was on a "boozy" train back to London too - lots of banter and chat with strangers looking to say "nice" things about my lycra/bike! Fun!

Strava link is here: a quick one - but it would have been a bit quicker if I could have seen my way on the downhills!


Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Ride 9 Boris Bike 1/3/14

Right. Time for the rematch. Having been put on the deck by a Boris Bike once, I was determined not to let this happen again. I prepared by - well, not getting much sleep as poor old Orly was teething! Having learnt from my previous errors, I studied weather forecasts, I got up early and I took a backpack with lots of food and liquid.

The bikes were there and ready for me. I walked up and down the line and found myself a likely looking candidate. Checked the tyres. Turned the pedals round. Changed the gears. Paid my money, inserted my code and was off!
Literally within about 5min of riding, I remembered what I hated about Boris Bikes. The weight. The ridiculous riding position. The thick, inefficient tyres. The incredibly lumpy and uncomfortable saddle. The fact that the gears seem cruelly organised so you are never in a comfortable gear for riding. The odd noises from the whirring front dynamo, the squeaky back end and the crunchy gear box. It was going to be a LONG ride...
Incredibly the Croydon Road out of Purley into Caterham was shut for virtually its entire length. Really mad it was - massive piping running the length of the road, huge holes in the road. Luckily it was ok for a bike to pass - and actually made for some nice cycling.... No cars revving past me and I got through fine. 
The riding was as painful and slow as it always seems to be on a Boris Bike - every uphill becomes an ordeal as you lug the 23 kilos of bike up it and every downhill, you spin out at about 18mph and sit bolt upright with your body position acting as a massive airbrake!
Particularly horrific were Turners Hill where it felt like I was pedalling through treacle and the area around/just after Walstead where the succession of small steep hills took all the power out of my legs. I was stopping regularly (every 45min or so) to try and get some feeling back in my legs, take on food and water and to stretch out. I had also worked out that if I hunched over the bars and ducked down, I could get a more "aerodynamic" position. I felt very stupid, but it did make a difference - downhill I could carry the speed for longer which meant less pedalling which was very good!

Before attempting the Beacon, I stopped at the café in Ditchling and had a very hard earned coffee and sandwich. I cannot remember the name of the café (I'm so exhausted when I get here!) but that's the second time I've stopped there and they're always very nice. I then took off (slowly) and headed for Ditchling Beacon. I think that it must be the location of Ditchling Beacon which makes it so hard - it never really ramps up to "silly" gradients, but you are pretty tired from all of the riding you've done to that point. Luckily the gearing on the boris bikes is so low that you can just about keep turning the pedals despite fatigue and weight.


I managed to get to the top without stopping - a Motorcyclist cheered at me coming the other way and there was a group of guys on road bicycles at the top who gave me a cheer too. My triumphant entry was rather ruined by the immediate and painful attack of crippling cramp that I got when I pulled into the side - I slumped over the bike so someone had to hold it for me whilst I rather ungracefully dismounted! Was glad that didn't happen halfway up the hill though....

I cannot tell you what a relief it was to get to Brighton Pier - it was gutting to have been defeated by this last time out and in my head I had built it up to be an impossible task. Turns out it was perfectly possible, just pretty hard! Thank you to all the people that gave me very nice words on the way - and to the lovely lady on the train on the way home (diverted via Littlehampton and 2hrs 25min rather than the usual 55min) who not only gave me an energy bar to keep me going, but also made a donation to the cause. Thank you. Right - 9 down, 3 to go!

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Ride 8 - Brompton Bike - 2/2/14

I have a bit of a soft spot for the Brompton. If I ever have a spare £1k knocking about(!) buying a Brompton is definitely on my list of things to do. It is a triumph of design - no other folding bike comes close to the footprint of the Brompton - it seems to fold to a size that is even smaller than the sum of its parts. They are also all made in a factory in Chiswick (London) and each bike can be traced back to who made it. They have been accused of being slow to innovate and to leap onto new technologies, but to be honest, they do just "work".

£1k is an exaggeration - the most basic bikes start at around £600 - and thank you very much to Munir from work who kindly lent me his bike so I didn't have the excuse to buy one!!!

Also, really lucky today - I had the pleasure of some company for my Brompton bike ride!
Chris, who I used to work with and his friend Rich got up very early today (especially Rich who drove to Brighton from Bournemouth, caught the train up and then met up with us at Wandsworth) had very enthusiastically offered to join me. Chris was claiming that they were both not "bike fit", but to put this into perspective, Chris has run a sub 4 hour marathon wearing a chicken outfit and he knows Rich from running. Rich was also cheating by riding a Dahon (slightly bigger wheels!). They both looked pretty cheerful as we set off!
It was a lovely day, but by the time we got out of Croydon, I think both Rich and Chris had learnt that Bromptons really are more suited to relatively short pootles through town and that a long distance ride probably wasn't the best (they were smiling slightly less!). I however, was really enjoying the ride. The short wheel base makes the bike quite "twitchy" and the 3 speed sturmey archer gear box almost worked best by back-pedalling when you changed, but it felt like a bike with character...

Hills were a challenge - there wasn't the natural out of the saddle position that you get on a "normal" bike and the saddle was "rustic", but everything was eminently possible - and the weather was fantastic.
We stopped regularly for drinks and to keep energy levels up - and for the "usual" photos. The Brompton doesn't have "bottle cages" so we kept everything in backpacks and had to stop if we needed to rehydrate.
It was great riding with people and the time passed by really quickly and without a hitch - although we did have a bit of a concern coming into Lindfield where there were massive "road closed" signs up everywhere. Fortunately we could get through ok on bikes and although the road was pretty mucky, it was accessible enough. We stopped in Ditchling before tackling the Beacon (my Northern companions were pretty damning about the seeds and the balsamic accompaniment with their cheese and ham toasties!)
We all got up ok - although Chris stopped to "peruse the scenery" at one point! The journey did not pass off entirely without a hitch though - Rich punctured midway through and we ended up washing the oil off our hands with puddlewater(!) and Chris very unfortunately punctured 400m short of Brighton Pier! Which meant our first act there was to mend the bike! (no easy task with a hub-geared bike).
Thanks guys for a really great day of cycling - and THANK YOU Chris for your fantastic fund-raising as well. Legend.

 Strava details here:

Ride 8 - Boris Bike - FAIL - 15/1/14

Oh dear. I mean, I know this was a pretty hard challenge, but I wasn't expecting this.

I got up and out of the house slightly later than I wanted to and cycled over to Putney where the new extension westwards and southwards of the Boris Bike scheme has seen a lovely row of Boris Bikes put in. I got there a lot later than I wanted - about 10.30am...

After some initial teething problems (not being able to get the bike released due to the machine being out of paper to issue me a code, although the helpline sorted me out pretty quickly), I managed to pick out my bike of choice and set off.

Its a bit of a leap of faith picking out a Boris Bike for a long journey like this - you check the tyres, make sure it doesn't look too battered and hope there is nothing integrally wrong with it!

Due to Xmas illness and the horrible weather (headwind and rain), I wasn't feeling too confident about this and when you aren't feeling good, little things just seem to count against you. There was the bloke who leaned out of his car just outside of Croydon to scream abuse at me (whilst going the other way), there was the guy in a lorry who pulled back in on me as soon as the cab had passed me (forgetting that the lorry was some considerable length) and the guy in a white van who kindly and deliberately blocked a cycle lane and then mouthed off at me as I cycled past. You normally shrug off this kind of incident - but when you are feeling a little dispirited anyway, those things kind of count against you and I never got into a real flow on the bike - even some of the odder bikes I have ridden, I managed to get "into" the bike - to enjoy its foibles and distinctions, but not the Boris Bike. I'll write it up properly when I do it properly, but I was having a horrible time riding it.

After about 25 miles, I was properly struggling. Cold, wet, feeling a bit miserable, I had in my head - "just get up Turner's Hill and go to the pub and reassess". I got to Turner's Hill and REALLY laboured up over it and by the time I got there I was properly beaten. I had been riding for 3 hours, done 33 miles, taken 3 1/2 hours and I still had 23 miles to go. And I could NOT face it. At 2pm, I estimated it would take me a minimum of another 3 hours to get into Brighton, at which point I wouldn't be able to get on a train and I'd have to wait for another couple of hours there....

I made the shameful call to my Dad (who lives locally) - he wasn't in, but his partner was (thankfully) and she very kindly came to the pub to pick me up and take me to the station at Haywards Heath so I could get home. The bowl of chips I had in the pub whilst waiting was the most delicious thing I have eaten in a long time.

So failed. And properly beaten. But I did do 33 miles. Let's call it "training".... We have unfinished business Mr Boris Bike.