Falling out of love

Have you ever had a partner who looked great with a lovely personality but just had this trait that drove you slowly nuts. The type of thing where your friends say you’re mad for considering dumping them but you know that if you don’t, you’ll probably end up strangling them!

Don’t worry, I’m not after dating advice here.

My Cannondale Synapse is a great bike. When I bought it two years ago, it ticked all of the boxes on my list (including the one that said “£1,000 off list price”). For the first year of ownership, it worked beautifully and I was very pleased with my choice to buy it.

The second year has been a bit more taxing. It seems to have been a long running saga of squeaks, creaks and other issues for the past 12 months.

First we had the creaking that turned out to be the wheel hub. New wheels – sorted. Then it was the slipping saddle. Fibre grip – sorted. Chain chatter. Serviced – sorted. Now it’s creaking from the crank area.

Is it too much to ask to have a quiet bike ride?!

I know it’s doing its best but I’m getting weary of it.

I’m away next week so will be having a couple of weekends off the bike. This may be a good thing. Hopefully, I’ll return refreshed and enthused to tinker with the bike and cure all of its ills. Or, pay someone else to do it properly. Having said that, the bike has never been the same since its first service!!!

I really, really don’t want to be thinking about a new bike.

Ride London Weekend

Firstly, apologies for the lack of photos but I was concentrating more on getting round the route than taking snaps!

Anyway, before the ride report, I’ll backtrack to the preparation .

I had booked my Synapse in for some tweaks and a new set of wheels and tyres. As previously reported, I’d chosen a set of Hope 20Fives to replace the Aksiums plus some Continental GP5000s. I picked the bike up on Thursday evening and all seemed well. Unfortunately, when I went to go out for a ride on Friday morning, the front tyre was flat. Annoying but so be it. I took the tyre off and put in a new inner tube. Replacing the tyre was an absolute mission – even with tyre levers I struggled and, unsurprisingly, heard the sound of a pinch flat as I finally managed to get the tyre in the wheel. Sigh.

That wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t then gone on to do the same to THREE more inner tubes. I simply could not get the tyre back on without pinch flatting the tube. I took the bike back to the shop and it took them twenty minutes to get one in successfully by hand.

This was something of a concern as I had no idea what I’d do if I had a front wheel puncture on the road. I didn’t fancy my chances of managing a successful roadside tube change although, the heat in the tyre from riding it might make it more pliable I guess.

All done… finally!

Friday afternoon I headed up to Excel in Docklands to register for the event. There was the normal array of nutrition and biking holiday stands but it still pretty disappointing – it would be really nice to see more manufacturers displaying bikes up there.

On Saturday morning, I was really pleased to see the front tyre was still inflated and I took the bike out for a quick spin to check everything was working. I was irritated to notice that the creaking was still there – that wasn’t just the wheel hub then! I decided to clean up the seat post as well in case the creaking was coming from dried out fibre grip but that didn’t make much difference either. I also noticed that there was a noise coming from the front derailleur. If I pushed the front gear lever ‘up’ when it was in the outer ring, it seemed to lessen it but I didn’t want to start playing around with the cable at this stage in case I made it worse and decided I’d have to live with it.

On Saturday afternoon, Nick and I headed up to London to see the Classique Pro Women’s race and we ended up with a great spot outside Buckingham Palace where we saw the riders up close twice a lap. The racing was fairly benign for the first few laps but, as usual, picked up a lot as it neared the end. You really a sense of speed from this close to the action and those girls are so, so fast. We saw the first crash in the distance but not the major one in front of the line but, having seen the footage afterwards, hope that no-one got severely injured and that they all recover quickly. That looked horrendous!


We then headed up to Queen Mary’s University at Mile End where we were staying and got an early night before the big day.

I got up at 6am on Sunday morning and sorted all my gear out – a handful of Clif Bars and Shot Bloks were the order of day plus two full water bottles. We headed off at 6.45 for the relatively short ride up to the start line at the Olympic Park before joining the mass of cyclists being shpherded towards the start itself. I think we set off bang on time at 7.52am.

The team – I’m the one on the right

The early miles are always a blur on the Ridelondon. Being closed roads, it takes a bit of mental effort to ignore the traffic lights and use the whole road. The first 15 miles go so quickly – you’re through central London and out towards Richmond Park before you can blink. It feels like you are slipstreaming behind a fast moving bus! We were averaging about 20 miles an hour or more for the first 30 miles.

As always, friends and family were out to cheer us on and was good to stop and have a quick chat with them. Overall, the level of support from the public is incredible and gives you a very small taste of what the professionals must receive when they’re out competing. It is always a lift and I’d like to thank everyone who came out to cheer us on and shout words of encouragement.

As we headed into the hills it began to get really warm and I was getting through water at an alarming rate. I managed to survive with my two original bottles until Newlands Corner where I refilled them after drinking a fresh bottle full first. I did consider stopping at the mechanics tent to see if they could do anything to lessen the bike related noises which were getting worse all the time. there was a bit of a queue and I didn’t want to hang around that long so carried on – the bike was working well enough, albeit noisily.

We were held up at the bottom of Leith Hill where they were sending us up in waves to ease congestion as it’s steep and narrow. This was the third hold up of the day already as we’d been stopped in queues for accidents on the road – one just north of Ripley on White Rose Lane was quite nasty as someone had gone over the side of a small bridge and into the stream – it’s a bit of a pinch point and perhaps not marshalled well enough? We’d already been stopped in Pyrford for a crash on a straight and wide piece of road. There was another crash at the bottom of the hill by St Nicholas’s Church shortly after that but it must have only just happened before we passed as there weren’t yet any hold ups – the marshals had only just got to the wounded rider. I do hope that all the riders involved were OK and have a speedy recovery.

Leith Hill was the usual grind up and I stopped halfway up to refill water bottles again – it was a good excuse to break the climb! I found myself a nice gap on the way down and took it steadily rather than flat out – it’s a common spot for crashes and I wanted to avoid those!

We passed through Dorking with no issues for a change and then I had a steady spin up Box Hill before heading back to Leatherhead and the home straight back into London. I was refilling water bottles regularly at this stage and was struggling to keep up with the amount I was sweating out. I still felt strong enough though and kept up a decent pace overall as we headed through Esher, Kingston and Wimbledon. Wimbledon Hill is always a leg tester after 90 miles and Putney Hill is always a joy to descend knowing that it’s a flat run in to the end.

I began to feel properly tired for the first time on the Embankment and i was counting down the last four miles far too much but it was soon over and the finish line in The Mall was passed. My Elemnt Bolt suggested a ride time of 5.54 which I was pleased with – I had expected to be slower this year.

We had entered as a team of four through the Amstel Ride Along ballot and the main benefit of this was that we could enter the Amstel Zone where we presented with two free pints of the aforementioned. Now that’s the way to finish a 100 mile bike ride!

A few afterthoughts…

I think I may be done with this event. It’s my fifth time of doing it and it is great but I may be, dare I say it, bored of it. The route is fine but always the same and it’s too crowded – even on closed roads. 30,000 people on narrow country roads riding at greatly differing speeds is a recipe for crashes and this year was no exception. The cycling discipline is pretty non-existent. Now I love to see new cyclists taking on events like this (that was me not so long ago) but mixing them with club riders and pro-wannabees who are trying to set PBs doesn’t work well. I may enter the ballot for next year (which is open as of today) just for the hell of it but I think I’ll look for something else next year.

I was much stronger than I expected this year, save for the climbs. Whilst my hill climbing has tailed off (from a pretty poor place) a bit, my flat riding seems much stronger. I didn’t really struggle at all, just tailed off for the last few miles. I did make a conscious effort to fuel regularly this year. I was eating food or gel blocks every half an hour maximum throughout the ride and I think that made a difference – I never felt like I was running on empty. I drank a lot but had no choice really – it felt a lot warmer than the temperature suggested. Anyone who didn’t pay attention to hydration yesterday would have found themselves in trouble.

I think I’m falling out of love with my bike. I think I’ll save the details of that for another post though…

Hope this will solve the issue

I’ve had enough. The creaking has got to me sufficiently that I’ve bought a new set of wheels – a pair of Hope 20Five RS4 Disc wheels.

After a fair bit of creak-hunting, I think it’s a fair chance that it’s a worsening of the de-bonded rear hub on the Mavic Aksiums that I’ve written about before. I was actually looking to get new wheels anyway because of this issue so it’s not quite the rash decision it may appear.

I wanted a robust set of wheels but ones that were well regarded and I’d pretty much narrowed it down to a set of Hopes or Hunts. The Hunts weren’t available before RideLondon and I ended up buying the Hopes at Evans as Sigma Sports couldn’t fit them in time, being flat out the for the ten days leading up to the aforementioned event which is right on their doorstep.

So I’ve ordered the 20Five RS4 version in a 32 spoke guise for extra robustness. It may make them a little heavier but less likely to buckle under my considerable weight so it seemed a worthwhile trade-off.

They’re being fitted early next week so ride (and creak) report to follow.

Cycle Clothing for the Larger Cyclist

Firstly, let me apologise for the above picture but it seemed appropriate as those of us in the UK have been told today that Boris Johnson will be our next Prime Minister with effect from (I think) tomorrow. I have no intention of getting into my feelings on the matter here but it seemed apt to stick him on today’s post.

Anyway, the actual point of the post is to start to realise a long term goal – I want to create a list of cycle clothing manufacturers that cater for those of us with a larger body size than the typical cyclist. Anyone of that persuasion knows how hard it is to source decent technical cycling clothing and, whilst I’ve seen a few lists online (mainly on messageboards) they’re not exhaustive. What I’d like to do with the help of you guys (and anyone else you know) is to build up a really good list of suppliers of larger size clothing in the hope it may help others getting into cycling in the future.

Let’s face it, even skinny racing snakes look slightly silly in full lycra. If you’re large and not athletic, it’s almost comedic. If you step back and think for a moment of any type of clothing that is less suited to to an overweight body shape than full lycra I’ll look forward to hearing about it. Don’t get me wrong, it is absolutely the right thing to wear as a cyclist and I will tell anyone of any size that if they’re going to cycle any distance then it will provide a lot of advantages over less technical wear. It still looks a bit daft on me though – your mileage may vary.

The list below sets out either clothing that I have been happy to wear and have firsthand experience of or that I have good reason to believe their sizes go large, mainly through word of mouth. Apologies for the fact that the list is slanted towards the UK for obvious reasons. Most of these sellers ship across the world and I’m happy to include any overseas suppliers that I may not be aware of.

If you are aware of a manufacturer or supplier that provides larger size clothing that I haven’t (yet) got on the list below, please let me know.

The List (a work in progress…)

FAT LAD AT THE BACK http://www.fatladattheback.com

Al in the Navy/Lime Short Sleeve Ginnel Cycling Jersey

Fat Lad At the Back (FLAB) is the [big] daddy of larger size cycling gear as you might expect from the name. They also provide a Fat Lass At the Back range for ladies. They cater for male cyclists sized from 36″-58″ chest with 29″-60″ waists. Female cyclists’ clothing ranges from 34-50″ chest, 27-46″ waist and 37-55″ hips. I have worn jerseys and bibshorts from FLAB and can attest to their quality. They have a wide variety of designs to choose from and have even produced a ‘stealth’ range that doesn’t mention the f-word anywhere. I like the mission of the company, their typically Yorkshire sense of humour that they apply to their business and range and the clothing itself. It’s not just skinny clothing made big; it’s clothing designed around the more typical shape of a large human being and allows for a few lumps and bumps without showing them off to the world. Reet grand.

PRENDAS CICLISMO http://www.prendas.co.uk

Prendas supply a wide range of cycle clothing in size that go up to 8XL for men (my 48″ chest fits comfortably into a 5XL size) in many products. Their products are manufactured by a range of well known suppliers such as Santini SMS. Many of their jerseys are replicas of bygone team jerseys or specific race jerseys – they have a great range and very different to the usual big brand modern designs you see in the mainstream outlets. Their service is excellent and their products are too in my experience.

SANTINI SMS http://www.santinisms.it

Image result for santini sms

Santini SMS are an Italian cycle clothing manufacturer. I mentioned them above as one of the ranges that Prendas sell but you can buy direct. Only some of their product ranges go large but the quality is good if you can find something to fit you.

FUNKIER http://www.funkierbike.com

Funkier are an American brand that is available in the UK through a number of mainstream sources although direct purchases can be made through the website. The first pair of bibshorts I ever bought were Funkier and they are still used to this day, although not as my main pair. They’ve held up well and are nicely made. Funkier offer a decent range of products and they come in a variety of sizes although not all come in the larger sizes – it’s down to checking each item on the website. Their winter jerseys are good – I’ve one one for a number of years that kept me toasty during the cold weather but without plastich bin liner lack of breathability. Most Funkier products are keenly priced as well (may not be so if imported direct from the USA).

ASSOS http://www.assos.com

Image result for assos s7 equipe

What?! Assos?! Aren’t they premium, racing snake specialists?! Well, yes, but my last bibshorts came from Assos and they fit really well. I’m a 39″ waist (possibly 40″) and their largest size of bibshorts fits me nicely – I don’t feel like I’ve had to squeeze into them. So anything up to 40″ waist should be good, possibly 42″. I haven’t tried a jersey as they seems to only go up to about 46″ chest and I have no idea if that’s an optimistic sizing or not. I cannot speak highly enough about the quality of their bibshorts but, given the price, they should be bloody good! I bought mine in a sale and they were only mildly eye-wateringly expensive. To be fair though, they really are comfy and I would happily buy them again (after I’ve saved up or sold off the kids).

ENDURA http://www.endurasport.com

In a similar vein to Assos, I have bought and worn Endura bibshorts but never tried a top. Their premium Pro-SL bibshorts fitted me very well and have lasted me for a few years with no issues at all and I would highly recommend them. No idea on the tops – I have no doubt they’re of a similar quality but can’t vouch for the sizing.

STOLEN GOAT http://www.stolengoat.com

Image result for stolen goat jersey

I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that SG’s jerseys fitted me. Just… I bought a jersey last year in their XXXL size and it is a snug fit but it is a fit. I love some of their designs and have also heard very good things about their bibshorts although I haven’t yet tried them myself.

KNIGHT SPORTWEAR http://www.knightsportswear.com

The Royal British Legion Black/Red 2019 Cycling Shirt

I recently discovered these guys looking for some custom kit. KS have a range of cyclingwear that goes up to a 6XL (54″) chest. The products are largely designed in support of the UK Armed Forces or related charities and may not be to everyone’s tastes but I like a number of them and have my eye on an order soon. They also do custom kit for events in alrger sizes which is good to know. I haven’t yet tried them so can’t comment on quality or comfort.

AEROTECH DESIGNS http://www.areotechdesigns.com

Another American company who supply larger size cycle clothing in both stock designs and custom kits. They have three fit types and a huge range of sizes – some of the largest go up to a 64″ chest. There are a lot of different designs as well so well worth checking out. No personal experience but have read good things online.

TENN OUTDOORS (Amazon/Google)

It’s a shame to have to report that this company have closed down. I have a number of Tenn products in my wardrobe and they were all good value for money and nearly all good quality kit as well. Their bibtights have been going strong for a number of years and I have several jerseys that I wear frequently. The cut of their sprint jerseys was sporty – not race cut but not flappy so suited my figure rather well. Their standard cut was even more forgiving. Whilst their website no longer works, their products are still available (for long I’m not sure) on Amazon and other retailers – definitely worth checking out. For example – I have two of the Sprint jersey shown above which is currently on sale for GB£8.49 at Tredz online! Bargain!

Creaking my way through the weekend

Guards’ Polo Field

I’m getting a bit tired of creaking. For the past year, my bike has been providing a creaky soundtrack to every ride I’ve done. I’ve written about the issue with the rear hub (that I still need to solve) previously but I have a new set of noises now that require further investigation.

When I was out last weekend, I noticed a new type of creaking coming from the bike. I also noticed some chain chatter as well. It’s a new chain from the recent service so it’s not stretched or worn (yet). The creaking was different to the rear wheel noise and was pretty constant.

On Wednesday last week, I decided to clean the bike up and, in an attempt to be really thorough, I decided to take the chain off and give it a really good clean. I won’t bore you with my details of how my mechanical ambitions far outstrip my level of knowledge/competency but, eventually by Saturday, I had a very clean chain (with a new quick link in it) and bike.

I had originally planned to go for a ride to the coast on Saturday as a final long training ride before the RideLondon on 4th August. I’d plotted a back road route down to West Wittering before backtracking to Hayling Island and then on the ferry to Portsmouth and a train home. Sadly, the weather forecast predicted thunderstorms so I decided to give that a miss. I still want to get in a longer ride before RideLondon but I’m running out of time. I don’t feel quite as strong on the bike this year as I have been for the past couple of years so, whilst I have no fears about being unable to finish it, I want to be able to do it in a reasonable time (for me) in comfort.

It seems strange looking back to the first time I rode in the event – the inaugural version in 2013. As a relative newcomer to adult cycling, I was very nervous about attempting my first century ride – on a hybrid – and did a lot of preparation beforehand. It must have paid off as I survived the ordeal and finished the event with no broom-wagon in sight. The last three times I’ve taken part have seen a slightly more philosophical approach to training which mainly involved me not worrying about it at all and just carrying on with my usual weekend cycling and the odd long run out to the coast or similar. Familiarity breeds contempt? Having said that, an awful lot of this is in the head and I’ve done enough centuries now to know that I’m more than capable and, barring crashes or breakdowns (me or the bike), I won’t be in last place.

I’m riding within a team of four this year and I haven’t even met two of the other guys in the team but suspect they’ll be a bit quicker than me from what I can see. No matter. I got into the event through the Amstel Team ballot after failing to get a place in the main ballot – it was just a route to entry. I have no problem if some or all of the others want to set a faster pace – we’ll no doubt meet up at the finish.

The weekend plan changes saw me meet up with Nick on Sunday morning for a shorter ride than I’d planned for Saturday. We decided to head north for a change and set off for Windsor Great Park. It’s a destination we pick a lot as there’s a number of routes we can use and the round trip is somewhere between 35-40 miles which is perfect. The weather was great – warm and sunny at 7.30am and I wasn’t suffering too much from a few beers the night before.

West Byfleet, Row Town and Addlestone came and went in a flash before we cut over to Virginia Water and Egham where we were stopped by a train. We then headed up Tite Hill which wasn’t quite as steep as I’d remembered it (but enough at 5-9% for much of it) before cutting across the main road and down to Bishopsgate and into the park. We turned left and head south, working our way around the Guards’ Polo Club before exiting again at Savill Garden. We went back to the main road and down Priest Hill – a descent I always enjoy and noticed the Elemnt Bolt showing 42.8mph at one point down there. Flying!

An extortionately expensive coffee and bacon roll were consumed at the Runnymede Pleasure Grounds before doing the return leg through Thorpe Lea and Chertsey. I was flagging towards the end of the ride but managed to keep Nick’s wheel and we headed home.

Good ride but the accompanying constant creaking and chain chatter is tiresome. I have a feeling that the chain noise is simply that the front chain guide is slightly out which should be an easy adjustment (see my earlier comments on mechanical ability). I don’t know what the creaking noise is though. I may spend a couple of hours re-tightening everything or possibly try and get some time to get my LBS to take a look and see what they think. Given it’s two weeks to RideLondon, I’m not sure any of them round here will have the time though!

I may try and get out to the coast next weekend, family commitments and weather permitting. It’s the last chance before the event and it’s always nice to get out to the seaside for whatever reason.

New jersey time!

First, I should probably clarify that I’m talking about my latest kit acquisition rather than a timezone in the US. Apologies to any horologists or other fans of time related articles – this one’s not for you.

I decided it was time for a new cycle jersey and have had my eye on this one for a while. It’s made by Prendas Ciclismo (www.prendas.co.uk) who are a well known supplier of bike clothing, a lot of which is retro in appearance. They have a website packed with (amongst other things) jerseys that replicate the look of some well known historical team and event jerseys but manufactured in modern day materials.

From my perspective, Prendas have another plus point going for them – they do their clothing in sizes that fit me! This particular jersey for example goes up to an 8XL fitting! Having said that, I ordered a 5XL (which, let me assure you, is a depressing thing to do) and it is a comfortable but snug fit on my 48″ chest. It’s not tight but it’s certainly not loose either.

The jersey is actually a Santini one and therefore good quality. Everything feels robust, especially the zip.

Whilst I’m not the biggest fan of retro cycling gear, I really like the design of this jersey which they also do in the original black on white design. As a person-of-size I tend to avoid tight white tops.

I’ll report further once I’ve worn it for a ride or two.

Just in case you’re still wondering, the time in New Jersey right now is 6.58am.

Lumpy Holmbury Ride

Newlands Corner

I woke up early on Sunday morning ready to head out on the bike and was greatly disappointed to see it was raining, albeit lightly. I didn’t remember that from the weather forecast on the previous night!

Still, no big problem. As it seemed to have stopped by the time I was due to leave, I didn’t bother with a waterproof or even arm warmers. I met John at the crossroads. He was a little late as he’d turned round at the bottom of his road to head back and get a jacket. As we started off, it was beginning to drizzle again and I was slightly envious of his decision. I nearly turned back from a jacket and my Ass-Saver but couldn’t be bothered.

The plan was to do a short but lumpy ride around Holmbury Hill. To get to Holmbury village requires going over the main ridge of the North Downs and we decided to go up via Beech Lane in Effingham. It’s not the steepest route over by any stretch but it does drag on a bit. From the foot of the climb north of Effingham it’s about 4 miles to the top on Whitedown Lane. We had a slight rest on the way up as Beech Avenue was closed for roadworks and we had to take a foot-borne detour round the footpath.

As we crested Whitedown Lane, we commented that we should probably take it easy on the way down as the road surface was getting greasy from the drizzle. As we approached the left then right tight bend combo I managed to lose my rear wheel as I scrubbed speed off to turn in. Fortunately, it was only for about two inches but it felt a lot worse and the rest of the descent was done with a lot more caution.

We crossed the A25 and went up Rakes Lane. This has a nice little kick on it towards the end, just before the steep descent to The Volunteer at Sutton Abinger where we picked up the main Holmbury Road again. I know Holmbury St Mary really well and have cycled up to it many, many times. It still amazes me however that the village is actually at a higher altitude than Newlands Corner. The climb up to the village is gradual – about 2.5 miles – so you don’t really notice how much height you’re gaining.

As we got to the village green, the rain started to come down a bit heavier so we took shelter in the bus stop for a few minutes, much to the disgust of a lot of passing cyclists who you could tell were judging us for our weakness. Either that or they were cursing us for getting to the dry spot first, I’m not sure. Still, there was a nice view of the church gate to look at through the rain.

Holmbury St Mary Church

Once it eased up, we headed up Holmbury Hill Road. This is a lovely undulating ride with lots of small, steep kicks interspersed with short flats and downhill sections. There’s some nice views to the south from this road as well. Oh, and a space laboratory. Obviously. Once you join Radnor Lane however, the gradient steepens and the legs start to complain as you (well, I) grind it out to the top.

Radnor Common is one of my favourite places to ride. I’m not sure why, it just fits my eye. The road is smooth, narrow (and slightly downhill in this direction) and surrounded by bracken and trees. It just feels more like you’re in Scotland or North Wales than Surrey. It finishes off with a steep descent into Peaslake and a junction at the bottom so acre is needed not to barrel through the crossing at the bottom.

You can tell that Peaslake is a popular cycling spot. There’s a well known mountain bike shop there, Pedal & Spoke, that caters for the hundreds of off road riders that do the many trails around Holmbury Hill but, more importantly, there’s the Peaslake Village Stores that provides an amazingly good cup of coffee and a selection of cakes and hot pastries. I opted for the sausage roll and it was just perfect. I may need to do more rides through Peaslake. Most of the customers get their food and drinks before heading back over the road to sit on the benches at the crossroads and watch the world go by for a few minutes. It is a glorious and quintessentially English spot. I love it.

(C) http://www.peaslakevillagestores.com

We turned and headed for home via Albury Heath and Newlands Corner where we stopped again for a few minutes to enjoy the view and take the obligatory photo.

25 miles and just over 2,000 ft of climbing. Nice work for a short Sunday ride.

Sticky Saturday

I was due to head on the bike with Matt and John at 1pm, so decided to make the most of a rare free Saturday morning by doing some gardening. I wasn’t expecting to sweat so much gently pushing a lawn mower up and down a modestly sized patch of grass. There weren’t any new mole hills so that’s a good start to the day. I followed up with some halfhearted weeding which stretched the leg and back muscles a bit so there was the warm up tyaken care of.

We met, as usual, at the crossroads and set off eastwards. I had originally thought of a couple of riverside locations we could cycle to, break at and then return but Matt had other ideas. “I enjoyed Box Hill the other week, let’s do that again!”. OK, no problem, let’s go.

In an attempt to do something slightly different, I routed us around Ripley and through Ockham before heading past the green at Downside and into Bookham Common. It’s not ideal as it’s an unmade path rather than tarmac but it was passable with care even on the carbon road bike – I wouldn’t take that bike through there in wet weather though. We then picked up our usual route up and over the Downs by Polesden Lacey before zipping down to Westhumble.

As we approached the official foot of Box Hill, past Rykers, I noticed that Jon was already pushing on. We turned right into the ascent proper and he was setting a very steady pace and I decided to hang on to his rear wheel. We passed a lady cycling up and said hello. She laughed about jumping onto to our back wheel and we said it was fine. Jon’s pace didn’t waver one bit as we hit the first hairpin and shortly up the second leg I tentatively offered to take a spell at the front and was very pleased when he said he was fine and just concentrating on his own pace. That seemed like official confirmation that I could continue to hang on and try to keep the elastic band in one piece – I wasn’t sure I would have easily been able to overtake him and hold the pace anyway.

Half way up the third leg, Jon changed up and pushed on a bit. Initially, I didn’t follow but then decided to try and keep up, switched up a gear and slowly hauled him back in, shortly before we were passed by a guy on a folding bicycle who was powering up at a rate of knots. Just before the final right hander, Jon pushed again and this time I had to let him go. I just didn’t have the legs to go after him again. I checked my time when I got back and Strava dutifully reported a time of 10.0 minutes for the climb – only eight seconds off my PB. Given how warm it was, I’ll take that as a) I don’t feel I’m in good hill climbing shape this year and b) I’m pretty sure the amount of sweat that was pouring off me on the way up was reducing my traction on the road and wasting power.

I had already remarked to Jon recently that he was climbing much quicker this year than I’d seen previously. In part, he put it down to the bike he bought for the Paris ride – a Boardman aluminium gravel bike with 40mm tyres and a bright orange paint job. He’d remarked when we met that he’d decided to take this out rather than his dedicated road bike (another Boardman) as he found the gearing suited him better. Once I got my breath back I told him he should probably sell the other one and keep the orange bike as he is undoubtedly quicker on it.

We had a cold drink and an ice cream at the cafe before heading on up through Box Hill village and then back towards Headley. The usual route was closed for some road works so we detoured around Headley Court before cutting back to the bottom of the small punchy rise towards Tyrrells Wood Golf Club and one of my favourite local descents down towards the A24. We went through Leatherhead towards Cobham, but turned off at Leigh Hill Road and made our way via the Old Portsmouth Road to West End Lane where we had a short stop to allow Jon to remove the wasp that had worked its way into his jersey and was leaving a trail of stings across his shoulder. Ouch.

Time to head back, via Hersham and Weybridge (along a truly awful bit of tarmac on Queens Road) before reaching West Byfleet and going round the back roads home and some serious rehydration. 45 miles done, 45 gallons of fluid leaked and a thoroughly enjoyable bike ride.

Mid week rides

Last night’s view from Staple Lane

Mid week rides are great in the summer months. I rarely get home much before 7.30pm most days given I work in London and commute from my home in Surrey. I don’t always have the inclination to jump straight on the bike and head out but last night I decided to and was pleased I did.

It was a glorious evening, the sun was beginning to set so I thought I’d head for the Downs and try and get some photos. I headed out through Clandon before climbing up Staple Lane where I stopped to take some pictures.

I then had a great descent through Green Dene which was completely empty so was free to let fly all the way down. As I turned into East Horsley I thought I’d give it a bit of a push and see if I could get near my PB for that road. It’s 3.9 miles in length and it drops at an average gradient of about 1-1.5% the whole way. I was pushed hard at the top and managed to keep my speed above 20mph for almost all the way – it dropped to 19 at one point around the Ockham turnings where it flattens out a bit – to be honest I was getting tired at that point! I missed the PB by about 10 seconds but was pleasantly exhilerated by the effort and my legs felt good.

I stopped again on the south side of Ripley to take a couple of sunset photos before heading home. It was only an hour (roughly) but I felt so good afterwards and must remember to make the effort ore often whilst we’ve got the long summer evenings.

Cycling to Paris – Afterthoughts and tips

We cycled the whole way, except for the wet bit

I thought it may be useful to do an afterthoughts post just to sum up the trip and hopefully provide some tips to anyone else who may be contemplating a cycle ride down the Avenue Verte. If you haven’t already seen the separate posts for each day of the journey they can be found in the list of posts in the blog, right before this one.

I’m not sure exactly what expected from the trip to Paris before we left. I was keen to have a go at some touring by bike and see how I got on with it. Paris seemed like the ideal destination as it’s overseas (which sound like you’ve gone further) without being too far away. It was certainly interesting that the less regular cyclists were able to achieve it fairly comfortable even with a minimum of training in some cases. I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants a 2/3/4 day cycle ride where the emphasis is on fun and keeping away from highly trafficated* roads for most of the trip.

*Copyright Mrs Fatsiclist 1999

The riding is pretty easy aside from a couple of long but steady hills on Day 2. It will vary of course what route you are taking through the UK to get to Newhaven. If your route includes going over rather than through the South Downs you’ll have more elevation to cope with. If you want to avoid elevation, it is well worth looking up the Donald Hirsch Avenue Verte route (which is easy to find online) and check out the detours to the classic route that miss some of the hills out.

Overall it’s a very pleasant way to spend three days on a bike, especially if you get the weather that we did. Whilst a large amount of the route is on paths rather than roads, you pass by the edge of a number of towns and villages where you could stock up on food and water although I would avoid the cafe in Neufchatel unless you have a lot of time to kill (see “Day 2”).

Whilst we stopped in Beauvais, if you’re planning to do the western option of the Avenue Verte route all the way into Paris (or even with the Donald Hirsch amendments at the Paris end) the half way point is around Gournay and that would seem like a sensible place to stay if you’re doing the French bit over 2 days. That will probably enable you to find a hotel that has more French charm to it than an Ibis!

We used Ibis hotels because 1) I’m lazy and 2) I get loyalty points and a 5% discount on Accor hotels. It meant I could make one phone call and book all seven of us in to three different hotels in one go. Trip organisers are allowed some perks. On that note, the Ibis Budget in Dieppe was perfectly OK, the Ibis Styles in Allonne, Beauvais was great if a little remote from the actual town and the Ibis Styles Cadet Lafayette in Paris was a lot more expensive but again perfectly adequate. You tend to know what you’re going to get with corporate hotels and these were no exception.

Eurostar to get home was dead easy but I do recommend booking the bikes onto Eurodespatch in advance unless you’re going to box them up. Whilst it cost extra cash, the fact that we didn’t get stuck in Paris being not able to take the bikes on our train made the cost worthwhile. I’ve heard varying stories about getting bikes on Eurostar so wouldn’t rely on getting lucky by just turning up and winging it.

The DFDS ferry to Dieppe was very easy and cost effective. I’m not sure the overnight crossing gives you enough sleep hours to make a cabin (instead of a hotel in Dieppe) worthwhile. I would advise not overdoing their cheap bubbly on the boat. It gives you a headache (See “Day 2”). If you do what we did and take the late afternoon ferry with a stay booked in Dieppe don’t forget lights for your bikes – you’ll need them to get to the hotel even though it’s only a mile or two into town.

As for bikes and kit, I covered my kit in the “Day -1” post in some detail with my personal verdict on it all. I found panniers were easy to use and carried plenty of stuff. Having said that, one of our party used a rucksack and packed light – he had no issues at all with that. Another used the Topeak fold out pannier option and that also seemed to work well. A friend of mine once managed London to Gibraltar with one of those pannier sets with great success.

In our party we had four road bikes, two hybrids and one mountain bike with road tyres. All of these dealt with the route admirably well (except for the mountain bike which left a trail of broken spokes across northern France). The Avenue Verte is suitable for almost all bikes so don’t be persuaded that you need something specialist and new, unless you want a new bike in which go for it (like I did)!

At times I chose to cycle without a helmet on some of the off road bits (and the odd back road). I always use a helmet at home but the heat persuaded me to remove it on Saturday, comfortable with the relatively low speed and lack of traffic and other hazards. However, I wouldn’t recommend it in Paris which is a typically busy and congested city. Each to their own and it’s entirely your choice although it may be worth checking the legal situation in France (I did this before I went but have since forgotten the details, sorry).

In summary, it’s a great trip and easy to do in 3 days even for relatively novice cyclists. Any advance training will of course help – your sit bones and other bits will no doubt thank you for some advance warning of the hours spent in the saddle. Chamois cream, Vaseline and the like can all help but that’s all personal preference stuff however I do think if you’re sharing it (and maybe even if you aren’t) then a ‘no-double-dipping’ rule should always apply.

If you’re thinking about doing the Avenue Verte my only advice is to do it. We had an absolute blast and I’m already planning the next trip.

If you have any questions at all then please ask away in the comments section – I’ll happily try and answer them for you.