Paris or bust! Day 1

Well, it was finally time to head off to Paris. Friday 21st June 2019 saw seven of us gather in the small Surrey village in which we live in order to set off on a three day cycle journey.

We started easily enough and headed down the roads through Guildford town centre. We’d decided to leave at 6.30am in order to miss the bulk of the commuter traffic and also to ensure that we didn’t miss our final boarding time for the ferry in Newhaven of 4.30pm, allowing for mechanical problems, too many lunch stops and the like. Our plan worked well enough and we didn’t have any issues in Guildford.

Heading on south towards Cranleigh though saw us pick up our first crash (at 1 mph) and puncture. The crash was more of a slow falling over, no damage done and the puncture, surprisingly, was picked up on a brand new pair of Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres which are generally regarded as indestructible! Perhaps not! We limped the flat tyre to Cranleigh where (the rest of us) grabbed a coffee and watched Nick fix his tyre.

Fortunately, this didn’t t take long and we carried on towards Billingshurst – our designated breakfast stop. We were finally on the back roads and it was truly glorious cycling. The sun was out, there was very little traffic and we made excellent time. We stopped at Whispers in Billingshurst (behind Sainsburys) and it again bolstered its reputation of being the best breakfast stop between our home and the south coast. Nice people and great food – what more could you ask for?

Out of Billingshurst, we set off through Adversane and headed down to Ashington before crossing under the A24 and winding down down to Steyning via Wiston and a busy couple of miles on the A283 (unavoidable). At Steyning we deicded to join up with the Downs Link path from there down to Shoreham. This section of the Downs Link is really nice – great surface and some really nice views, especially by the river.

We then encountered another mechanical issue – Graham lost a spoke on his rear wheel. He was slightly concerned as this was not the first time this had happened in recent weeks on his Cube mountain bike despite having had it repaired and trued. We stopped at Halfords between Shoreham and Brighton to pick up some more spokes just in case (this turned out to be prophetic but useless), before heading on to Brighton pier (not before another puncture in Hove though). It had just turned midday so we had 4.5 hours before the ferry and under 10 miles to go so we did the sensible thing and headed to one of the beach side bars for a couple of beers whilst Graham went to get his spokes repaired.

After deciding that the beer tasted too good to stay any longer, we rode through the marina and picked up the Undercliff Walk which turned out to be a beautiful ride under the chalk cliffs between Brighton and Peacehaven for about 2.5 miles. I recommend this ride to anyone, especially on a sunny day.

That just left us a final ride over the small mountain range that sits between Peacehaven and Newhaven which wasn’t aided by the two beers consumed in Brighton. However, we still made it to Newhaven with loads of time to spare… enough in fact to make a visit to the Hope Inn (underneath the fort) which was an excellent spot from which to watch our ferry sail in and try a few more of the local alcoholic beverages.

We boarded the 5.30 ferry with a minimum of fuss and set up camp in the cafeteria to have some dinner and (yes you guessed it) a few drinks to relieve the boredom of a 4 hour ferry crossing.

Finding the Ibis Budget Central Dieppe Hotel wasn’t so easy it turned out, after far too much alcohol, despite having maps and directions. We did eventually get there though and it was to time to crash out and grab some sleep. Well, at least I did. I understand several others went in search of yet more beer albeit unsuccessfully! The hotel was clean, tidy and very good value for money. It was also very easy to find.. for a sober, half intelligent person. It has a secure indoor courtyard to lock the bikes up in, a basic breakfast offering and good showers. Job done. Day 1 was finished!

Group Riding Etiquette

Copyright of Alamy

It occurred to me over the weekend that riding in a group sometimes requires more thought than going out solo. I’m not referring to having watch the rear wheel of the guy in front or warn the rest of the group about dangers but, more particularly, how a group of cyclists affect other road users, notably motorised ones.

I’m firmly in the camp of we-have-just-as-much-right-to-use-the-road and am quite happy to take a road position that may annoy some car drivers. It’s not for that purpose – like most cyclists, I have no desire to be a rolling roadblock but I’ll be damned if I’m going to ride in the gutter or some of the ludicrous road edge cycle lanes that we have round here.

Having said that, a group of five or six cyclists in a group present a fairly significant obstacle for car/van/lorry drivers to pass. It really doesn’t matter whether we’re in single file or paired up – a lot of room is required to get past a group like that and it arguably encourages people to take risks when they’re trying to pass.

I’m not a seasoned peloton-ist. I don’t ride in groups (large or small) on a regular basis so I’m not sure what most do? Is it a ‘sod them, let them wait’ attitude generally or do the club chaingangs have other strategies?

I was wondering whether it’s better to ride in smaller pairs and leave gaps for a couple of cars in between so at least they can overtake in stages? No idea if that makes it worse or not? Whilst I’m a staunch supporter of the cyclists right to be on roads and be there safely, I’m also keen to minimise my impact on other road users.

I’d be keen to hear others’ thoughts on this and any tips.

Saggy bottom and other matters

The Vomit Comet (or Planet X London Road in ‘Zesty’ as it’s otherwise known) in action

It’s nice to see the weather improve and the temperature increase once again in Southern England after a week or so of languishing in unseasonably chilly winds. It provided a good opportunity to make up some miles – I really do feel like I’ve not put enough in so far this – only 420 road miles to date (and however many in the gym) – and it’s half way through May!

Last weekend I managed to fit in a solo ride of 35 miles – just a loop over the North Downs, through Holmbury and Ewhurst to Cranleigh and then back via Wonersh and Guildford. I’d had a fairly heavy night previously and thought it was biting me back on Sunday morning as I didn’t feel all there on the bike. As I headed up Staple Hill I felt OK (I had energy, my legs were feeling fine) but I couldn’t maintain a reasonable pace going up the steep section. It was hard work, much harder than I would expect it to feel.

Staple Lane

This experience repeated itself throughout the ride. I was struggling (comparatively) on the ups and always feeling like something was holding me back. I put it down to a combination of the night before and the fact it was chillier than I’d expected – my hands and feet were definitely feeling the bite of the wind. I averaged about 16 mph so it wasn’t a crawl but something wasn’t right. As I was putting the bike away, it did cross my mind that the saddle looked low but didn’t think enough of it to do any serious checking.

This weekend brought an opportunity to get [most of] the Paris group out on Saturday afternoon and we were lucky enough to dodge the rain that had been arriving in sharp bursts all morning. I decided it was a good time to roll out the Planet X and get a few decent miles in on it. I’d fitted the new doubled sided pedals and bottle cages to it on Saturday morning so no excuse to ride the Synapse. We headed out towards the ranges and climbed over the top from Pirbright on Grange Road and Gapemouth Road – two of my favourite roads for cycling and driving. We stopped off for a refreshment break at the Kingfisher on the Quay – a lovely spot overlooking the waterski-ing/SUP lake near Mytchett. We came back via a flatter but more circuitous route and finished up with 27 miles or thereabouts and a couple of recovery pints in the pub.

The lake at The Kingfisher
The bikes needed a breather…

The new bike performed well. The Apex 1×11 gearing will take a little getting used – it’s certainly not got the top end of a traditional compact but the lower gears will be helpful when loaded down, going up big hills. The bike itself feels tight and solid. It’s obviously heavier than the carbon Synapse but it still feels pretty sprightly even with the gravel-ly tyres on it. I haven’t decided whether I’m going to switch these out to Marathon or Marathon Plus tyres yet. The saddle was feeling a little firm at first but it bedded in as I went on further so I’ll play that one by … ear? I’m pleased with it and looking forward to taking out on the longer run to Paris next month.

Sunday morning brought around another ride – I headed out with Nick for an early morning ride. We decided to head up to Windsor Great Park – it’s normally about a 40 mile circuit with a few short punchy slopes involved, but nothing serious.

I felt pretty good as we headed out and through Chobham. We got to the other side however and onto Staple Hill and felt like I was towing a trailer. With bricks in. It’s a slope I know well and, whilst it’s noticeable, it’s nothing serious but, here I am, down near the granny ring and struggling to get up. I flagged Nick down and the first check I made was saddle height (I remembered my fleeting thought from the weekend before). Nick and I are similar heights but my saddle is normally quite a bit higher than his – a fact he’s commented on more than once. Today, however, mine’s an inch or so below his. Aha… that’ll be the problem then.

It’s probably the only thing about my Synapse that I don’t like. Rather than a traditional external clamping mechanism for the seat post, Cannondale have installed an internal clamping system that is controlled by a bolt running down parallel to the seat post. It’s not the easiest thing to get to and doesn’t work well with my multitool, my t bar allen keys or my torque wrench. I only had my multitool anyway at this point so reset the seat height and tightened up the bolt, the head of which, worryingly, seems to be stripping. I tightened it carefully (5-6Nm is the limit) and we set off again, this time with me back to riding more efficiently!

You can see the cover for the seat bolt post and how close it is to the seat post itself

As you will no doubt have foreseen, this was not the only time we had to stop and adjust the seat. Twice, it actually spun slightly as I was pushing which is never a great sign! It’s probably as simple as me being to timid to over-tighten it and/or strip the bolt head. I think I will just have to stick it in for a service and get it dealt with then.

As we headed for home out of Windsor, Nick seemed keen to get back quickly (he had a date with an important football match) and I felt like I was in a team time trial for about ten miles – hanging on to his back wheel for grim death! Saddle issues aside, it was a great ride out and it made me realise that the Paris training rides are not stretching me as much as I’d like and that I’m probably behind the curve of my usual fitness/strength progression into the peak summer months. It looks like I had better get my backside into gear and pick up my workload – presuming of course my saddle/seat post will allow me!!

The castle is there in the distance, I promise

Busy weekend of cycling

Down at the seaside at Shoreham Beach

What a beautiful Easter weekend! The sun shone relentlessly and it was great to put it to use by getting out on the bike(s) a lot.

Friday started off with the usual round of house and garden maintenance but, in the afternoon, I was (easily) persuaded by my 9 year old son, Matthew, to go out for a bike ride. Matthew is a pretty keen cyclist and is always keen to get out unless football or Fortnite gets in the way. As you can imagine, I’m keen to encourage him! He’s getting competent on the roads despite all the usual challenges and I’m now more comfortable taking him out on the tarmac rather than sticking to the off road stuff. Hopefully it will give him the skills and confidence to tackle our busy roads on his own in later life. I love cycling with him as he has the typical 9 year old enthusiasm for everything and it’s infectious.

Matthew out of the saddle

We did a circuit through the back roads around Clandon and stopped for a quick refreshment break at the Queens Head in East Clandon – always a nice spot for a mid ride refresher. Apparently the salt and vinegar crisps saved his life as he was running out of steam on the long gradual slope up to the village. I was really proud of him as he set his new PB for distance as we covered 12 miles in all. I have a tendency to over estimate his abilities and need to remember that he’s only 9! As with most kids of that age he tends to go flat out until he stops. Dead. I sometimes misread that and think he’s got more left than he does. Perhaps I won’t take him up Staple Lane just yet!

This was my first ride out on the Planet X ‘vomit comet’ and it was good. The bike rides well and is pretty comfortable so I’m pleased with it. The only minor niggle that I will look to try and iron out with some tweaking is that my hands seemed to ache a bit when riding on the hoods. There was nothing too obvious that I could put it down to – perhaps just a slightly different shape to my usual bike? I will probably change the saddle and put the Fabric Scoop from my Cannondale on it as I’m intending to upgrade that one to a Fabric Line model.

The interesting test was with the 1×11 gear set up. I knew in advance that I would not have the same top end gearing as I’d plotted the ratios against the Cannondale’s more usual compact gearing. However I was surprised to find that I only had three cogs left whilst riding along at a very sedate pace. I need to get out and ride it some more on routes that I know well to get a proper comparison – I may yet need to tweak either the chain ring or the cassette to get a more even spread. I also need to bear in mind that I’ve bought it to tour with luggage so it may work perfectly for that.

Saturday brought a slightly longer ride with it as four of the Paris group had planned to ride down to Brighton. We met at 7.30am in the village and were joined by Dave – a friend of Nick’s and, it was pretty obvious immediately, something of a proper cyclist. He had the cap and everything! This would be Matt’s first half century ride so we planned to take it at a reasonable pace and enjoy the sunshine. I had planned a route and started off easily by heading out through Guildford and then sticking to the rolling back roads (Wonersh/Shamley Green/Cranleigh/Bucks Green/The Haven). We hit our usual half way stop at the most excellent ‘Whispers’ cafe in Billingshurst for a bacon sandwich and coffee. If you’re ever in the area, I cannot recommend this place highly enough – the service and food are marvellous. It’s just off the High Street behind Sainsbury’s.

We did have a rare sighting of the little seen Sussex Zebra on the way to Billingshurst which was worth a quick photo detour!

Sussex Zebra

The second half of the journey started by heading out through Adversane and heading eastwards towards Ashington before picking up the busy A283 to get to Steyning. It’s never a great stretch of road and we had the usual issues with cars refusing to give any room or cut their speed down as they raced towards the coast presumably.

I had planned a scenic detour after Steyning as it’s always good to get a decent view on a bike ride. We rode through the centre and then swung a right onto Bostal Road and headed up into the Downs. I hadn’t really looked at the profile of the climb and was fairly quickly hit by some tough stretches of gradients up to about 17%. Not the easiest climb! Nick and Dave shot off making it look easy whilst John, Matt and I struggled a bit more. Once we got to the top though it was worth the climb and the views over Steyning Bowl and the surrounding countryside to the sea were definitely worth it. The downhill stretch on the other side was also great and we quickly forgot about the aches and pains of the way up!

The top!

At the bottom we crossed over the A27 and immediately Matt picked up a puncture. No big problem, that got fixed and we headed off via a slight error in route planning which led us around the houses in Sompting a bit before getting to the sea at Lancing. We headed off down the coast road and had a quick stop at Shoreham Beach before heading off to Brighton. We detoured off the horrible main road by crossing the dock gates just east of Shoreham and on to the Basin Road next to the beach. Annoyingly we then had another puncture – same bike/same wheel despite checking the tyre carefully the first time – and messed around getting that repaired.

Shortly after, we had to get back on the main road again and crawled into Brighton itself amongst the masses of cars full of people with the same idea – not surprising of course given the glorious weather for an Easter weekend. We eventually got to the Palace Pier – job done! 55 miles in and Matt had his first half century under his belt – quite rightly he was very proud of his effort.

Brighton was heaving. You could barely see a pebble on the beach for freshly burnt skin. We retired to a local hostelry and watched the world go by for an hour or two before heading to the station for a train back via London Bridge. It was an interesting contrast to Sunday where I ended up back at the coast at Seaford (12 miles east of Brighton) which has a lovely pebble beach at the bottom of the first of the Seven Sisters white cliffs – there was so much space on the beach it would be hard to describe it as busy although the friends who live there that we were visiting said it rarely got any worse. Seaford is very much off the beaten track and much better for it frankly.

All in all. it was a good ride out and I always enjoy the coast rides, especially when the weather is that good. I need to get a few more in over the summer.

On the way to the coast

On Monday I hadn’t planned to go out the bike but the weather got the better of me and I had just about an hour to fit a quick ride in. I didn’t really have a route in mind so ended up doing something I’d planned to do for some time but never quite got round to. You may be aware of the Club des Cingles? Members of this club have cycled up Mont Ventoux three times in one day (at least one of which has to be on the toughest route from Bedoin).

Obviously I didn’t have time to make it to Provence but I could do my own version over Newlands Corner on the North Downs. To be fair, it’s not quite as high as Ventoux but it’s uphill and it has three ways up and I did all of them on Sunday, one after the other. I started on the Clandon ascent (the worst) and dropped down to Shere before turning round and heading back up (middling), turning left and dropping down to Merrow through the golf course before heading back up again (easiest) and then back to Clandon.

Frankly, I have a lot of respect for the members of the official Club des Cingles. I’m not sure I’ll ever qualify! My 1500 ft of climbing in 16 miles was quite enough and doesn’t even compare with the easiest ascent up Ventoux. Still, it was (as always) good to get out and I earnt a quick pint with friends at the local on the way back.

So, a good solid weekend of cycling all told! I wish they could all be like that. I’m not sure who thought the five/two pattern of work to rest days was a good idea but it definitely wasn’t me! A four day weekend every week would be much better and I”d be a far stronger cyclist!

Kit Review – Assos Equipe S7 Bib Shorts

Assos Equipe S7 Bib Shorts

Cycling clothing is a challenge for those of us who aren’t built like a pro cyclist. There is little more depressing than ordering clothing in a size XXXL and finding it’s too small! It’s a common problem for those of us who are built to larger dimensions and it’s long been a quest of mine to compile a real world list of clothing that will fit a person of my size. I haven’t got round to that yet as a) it’s quite expensive buying kit from every manufacturer and b) I’m quite lazy so haven’t quite got round to it.

I’ve been wearing Endura Pro SL bib shorts for the past couple of years and initially found them very comfortable. However, I’ve begun to notice a persistent rub on the left side of the pad area over the past six months and decided it was time to trade them in for a new pair. I had orginally thought that I would go for a pair of Decathlon’s B Twin 900 series. I bought the 900 series bib tights last year and found them to be a comfortable fit and nicely padded. Typically, they seem to be phasing out the bib shorts and I couldn’t get any in my size so had to look elsewhere. I also considered going back to Fat Lad At The Back’s range – I have a pair of their Ey Up bib shorts that have been going strong for several years and obviously their sizing range works well for just about anyone. I’m a big fan of FLAB and their ethos – their tongue in cheek approach to deling with what is for many a very sensitive subject is both refreshing and welcome. Embrace your size and be proud.

However, my eye was caught by a number of reviews of the Assos Equipe bib shorts mostly because of the level of comfort the reviewers found they provided. From what I understood it appears that the pads are only connected at the front and back, allowing for more movement of the pad with the body whilst pedalling. Assos call this ‘Golden Gate’ technology. I’m sure there’s some double entendres in there somewhere but I’ll give them a miss for the moment.

I found a par of the S7s on sale at Wiggle in my size and pulled the trigger. When I say they were on sale, the discount brought the price down to a merely eye-wateringly expensive level. Still, what price comfort? I ordered a size TIR – I seemed to be slightly in between sizes and erred for the larger – and was pleased find that they fitted very comfortably. For reference I am about a 39″ waist (measured below the overhang obviously). I had read some comments that they came up shorter than normal but I didn’t find that at all. The look is great – plain matt black finish with discreet logos.

I have taken them out for two rides now – one of about 20-odd miles and one of 40 miles; both times I found them to extremely comfortable with no issues in terms of pressure or rubbing. That Golden Gate technology may be a thing! The pad is certainly comfortable and I like the fact that it’s quite large in area at the front – the more cover a gentleman has in that area is a good thing in my opinion! I don’t really know what else to say about them – I didn’t notice them while I was cycling which is perhaps the best thing I can say; normally the only time you would notice your shorts is when they’re doing something you don’t want them to.

I’ll report further as I use them more but initial impressions are very positive. It’s nice to be able to wear some premium kit at my size though. I’m no equipment snob but it’s still nice.

The Big Dilemma solved!

The solution!

You knew it was going to happen. It was always going to end up as a new bike. The lure of shiny aluminium and pristine sticky rubber was just too much to resist.

You may recall from my earlier posts on the subject that I was struggling to decide what bike to use for my forthcoming ride to Paris and, potentially, the End2End ride next year. When I last posted, I had paused the decision making process to consider a related issue (luggage) and see if that had any bearing on the bike choice.

I’ll be honest, as practical as they may be, I have never been a fan of panniers on bikes. I just don’t like the way they look and, let’s face it, image over practicality is key when it comes to serious cycle touring. I wanted to investigate other options. For the 3 day Paris ride, I had originally assumed I would just pack a rucksack and head off. After much discussion with others and some rethinking, I put myself off that idea.

Having done some online research, I took a fancy to the bike-packing idea. Whilst we won’t be doing any camping, the basic set up on the bike looked far more to my taste than panniers. Whilst there’s not as much room as a rucksack or panniers, I think there’ll be enough as long as I pack light and sensibly. The Paris trip won’t be a problem, all I need is a red and white stripey t-shirt, beret and a spare set pair of bib shorts and I’m sorted. I’ll wear the fluorescent yellow gilet so that’ll save some room – I hear it’s quite the fashionable thing to do in Paris these days.

My current front runner in the luggage stakes is the Restrap set up pictured below. Restrap are a British company based in Leeds and are a highly regarded manufacturer of bike luggage amongst other things. Their website is found at www.restrap.co.uk

saddle bag
Courtesy of http://www.restrap.co.uk
Bar Bag
Courtesy of http://www.restrap.co.uk

So, assuming that the luggage issue is now resolved, what does that mean in terms of my choice of bike for the trips? The original conundrum was whether to use the hybrid or the old Trek road bike, having discounted my Synapse from the running (for Paris anyway). I then discounted the Trek over tyre sizes and was pretty much left with the hybrid.

Until…

I had been keeping my eye out for another alternative. I nearly pulled the trigger on a secondhand Secteur on Ebay but decided against it at the very last moment. I was browsing various bike websites and then checked out the clearance section on Planet X’s site and … there it was. A beauty in fluoro green. Exactly the type of bike I’d had in mind and in the perfect colour scheme! What’s the price? £499?! Done! Trigger pulled, case closed! Now all I have to do is sneak it into the garage without anyone seeing.

In all seriousness, this seems like a good conclusion. I now have a drop bar bike for touring, with disc brakes (I upgraded the discs to a higher spec in the options) which I wanted, robust wheels, capacity for 40mm tyres, mudguard + pannier mounts (just in case) and, being aluminium, I’m less concerned about it being knocked around on Eurostar. The Apex 1 groupset will be interesting though. I haven’t tried one before but I’m quite content with the fact I’ll lose some intermediate gearing and some top end compared to my Synapse’s Ultegra compact set up. I’ll still have a good overall range and the increased simplicity means that there’s one less thing to go wrong on the road.

I’m looking forward to giving it a tryout once it’s delivered. Oh and does anyone want to buy a Trek 2.3 Alpha or a Specialized Sirrus Elite?!!!

The adventures of Reggie (and Andrew)

Where next I wonder?

I wanted to take a moment to recommend a series of books to anyone who enjoys cycling, cycle touring and or travelogues in general. I have no doubt that many of you may follow Andrew’s own blog https://cyclingeurope.org/ but for those that don’t, you should.

Andrew’s books chart his adventures with his bike, Reggie, as he sets his sights on what I would regard as highly ambitious adventures. Andrew and Reggie taken them all in their stride however and even take the time to document the ups and downs (of all varieties) that they encounter along the way. Andrew’s writing style is easy but descriptive. He manages to convey the mood of the moment as well as the facts.

I’ve just finished the 3rd book (Spain to Norway) and hope that Andrew is going to embark on another trip soon in order to provide the material for a 4th.

Thoroughly enjoyable books, highly recommended.