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!

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?!!!

TBT – The Queen hates me

Hmmm…

I don’t get it. I’m pretty sure I’ve never done anything to upset her but the Queen apparently doesn’t like me or any other cyclists. I say apparently because I haven’t actually ever asked her about it but the sign outside her gaff in Windsor seems to make it pretty clear. Perhaps one of us ran over one of her corgis at some point?

Now this particular bit of tarmac is called the Long Walk and runs from Windsor Castle [almost] up to the statue of King George III at Snow Hill and is, I believe, 2.64 miles in length. Given it’s called a ‘Walk’ you can perhaps excuse Her Maj for thinking that cycling wasn’t appropriate. However, I don’t understand why you can’t push a cycle on the Long Walk! Perhaps she doesn’t like pushers? I know my Nan always moans about them hanging about on her estate – it might be an old person thing.

It is something of a shame as, from the statue, it’s a very enticing looking stretch of tarmac that I’m sure would be very enjoyable to ride down!

Might have to sneak down there one day when it’s quiet

I regularly ride up to and around Windsor Great Park and it’s a particularly nice place to take your kids for a bike ride, if a little busy especially in the summer months. The first photo was taken almost exactly two years ago today, in the year 2017BC (Before Cannondale). The second picture was from the latter end of last year.

Spring cycling at its best

A rare photo of me in action

After a busy weekend of attending sporting events, I was grateful to my wife for letting me duck out of a family event to get on the bike on Sunday afternoon. What a glorious afternoon it was too. Whilst it was still a bit chilly – the arm warmers stayed on – it was nice and sunny the whole way round. It was good to feel the heat from the sun after even as mild a winter such as the one just gone.

Matt was up for another training ride and Nick managed to find some time to join us which was good as we haven’t been out that much recently. We weren’t planning anything large – just 20 miles or thereabouts. We sauntered up to East Clandon on the back roads and somehow persuaded Matt that it would be a good time to introduce him to Staple Lane (part of the 2012 Olympic Road Race route). He didn’t seem convinced beforehand, definitely didn’t seem convinced half way up but got to the top on his first ever attempt which I rate as a victory. Nick waited at the top for us to take some action shots.

The views from the top are fantastic. You can see most of London including the Dartford Crossing on a clear day. Sadly the construction site that is Woking is beginning to become a blot on the landscape as tower blocks go higher and higher around the station.

We dropped down the other side of the Downs and made our way back via Chilworth and Guildford with a coffee stop at the cafe in Shalford. Not the longest of rides but certainly a very pleasant one. I think Matt is proving to be a natural cyclist and I don’t see him having too many problems on the upcoming Paris ride.

I must remember to book the bike in for a service though – there’s way too much clicking and creaking coming from the bottom bracket area. It’s been like that on and off since it was replaced last Spring (needless to say it hadn’t been doing it before the new one) and I’m getting a bit tired of it. My ageing bones make enough noise going up hills without the bike joining the chorus in sympathy.

Friday Photos and memories of Switzerland

Breathtaking scenery

This Friday’s photo is more of a Throwback Thursday shot. The picture was taken on the bike during my trip to Switzerland last year. We were heading south out of Gstaad to head back over the Col du Pillon back to our accommodation in Leysin, having already ridden out over the Route des Mosses in the morning.

This 50(ish) mile ride was probably my favourite day’s cycling of all time. Despite the fact that we started fearing that our plans would be washed out by fog and rain, by the time we got off the mountain side at Leysin, where we were staying, to our starting point at Ormont Dessous, it was clear and dry. The scenery was simply breathtaking, all day long.

We had originally planned a trip to Mt Ventoux but one of our group was already signed up to do the Cyclotour du Leman (sportive round Lac Leman or, as you may better know it, Lake Geneva) and we decided this sounded fun so went there instead. We stayed in Lausanne for two nights and added on two nights in Leysin to get a taste of riding the Alps themselves. Much as I still want to do Ventoux, I don’t regret the decision at all. All 3 days of cycling were fantastic as well as challenging.

En route to Evian, dropping off the group

The Cyclotour du Leman consisted of 109 miles of open road cycling round the lake. We started from Lausanne but there are options to start from Geneva as well. As you can imagine, the sportive provided some incredible views all day long. There were several thousand riders but, once out onto the open road past Lausanne, it thinned out nicely. We were able to take advantage of group riding in the early stages which bumped our speed up significantly but after a crash (not us) and an acceleration which broke our elastic band, we detached and carried on at a more leisurely pace through Evian, Geneva and back to Lausanne, finishing in a shade over 6 hours. I thoroughly enjoyed the day although I was very tired at the end (I don’t think the 12 hour drive the day before plus a second very early morning helped). It’s an annual event I would highly recommend to anyone – they even give you a jersey!

A tired but happy fat guy

After a well deserved decent night’s sleep, we headed up into the mountains, stocked up with food and, after one particularly hair raising moment involving a three point turn and a thousand foot drop, picked up the keys to the chalet we had booked. We had a short but steep climb up the Tour d’Ai (or at least as far as we could get on road bikes) in the afternoon which provided more amazing views.

View from Tour d’Ai

Day 3 was the circular ride through Route des Mosses and Col du Pillon. I had taken some time to plan this route as we wanted a reasonable length ride in the mountains that wasn’t impossibly steep. Easier said than done in the Alps but this seemed to work well and had the advantage that the two climbs are ‘known’ in the cycling community and therefore had kudos value (I know that’s sad but I’m shallow)! The two climbs involved were of about 5 miles each (ignoring the approaches) with average gradients of about 4 or 5%. This doesn’t sound much but it was hard work for a man of my stature.

What made it so, so worthwhile were the descents. The ride down from Mosses was just amazing. Probably 8 miles of pristine tarmac and very few cars, weaving around the gorges and mountain sides. Heaven. I could do that ride every day for the rest of my life and die a very happy man. The descent after the cable car station on the Col du Pillon was just as great although I was so blown out by the climb up (I was having a bit of a moment) that I didn’t enjoy it quite as much.

I’ve included a selection of photos from that ride below but, suffice to say, I would recommend getting out to the Alps and doing some cycling to anyone. It’s an experience not to be missed. I’m absolutely serious when I say that if I could persuade my family to move out there and find a job that would pay well enough to cope with Switzerland’s eye-watering prices I would move there tomorrow.

Descent down from Mosses
View on the way down from Mosses
Alpine meadows!

I’m in! (and there’s beer!)

A sign to warm the heart after 100 miles

I wasn’t surprised but was disappointed when I received my ‘Commiserations’ magazine from the Prudential RideLondon 100 organisers this year. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done it on 4 of the 6 times it’s been held so am doing better than many who try unsuccessfully every year to get in. To be clear, only twice have I made it through the ballot. The other two years’ entries were gained through the Peloton Relay. So, I’m probably in the lucky camp when it comes to my hit rate of getting in to the ride. Having said that, it’s become a bit of an institution for me, especially as it passes within a mile of my home which makes it easy for my family and friends to come and cheer me on, so I’m always sad when I don’t get a place.

I did put in entries for both a Peloton Relay place and the Amstel Team ballot and was very pleased today to receive a confirmation that I have a team place for the Amstel event. Yay! I already have one confirmed team mate and now just need to identify two other victims to join in. The other good news, if I remember correctly is that there is a private area at Green Park for the Amstel teams and I’m pretty sure there was a celebratory beer in there! Now that is how to end a 100 mile bike ride.

For anyone intending to take part this year, I have good news! It doesn’t rain when I do the RideLondon! The only two wet years (well, one wet and one utterly flooded) were the ones where I didn’t get in. So be warned… take sunscreen!

Is anyone else taking part this year?

John Wayne and hailstones

Another training ride…

Another Sunday, another training ride. After a chilly morning watching my son play football, as usual, I had a quick turnaround in order to meet Matt and Jon to head out for another training ride. The weather was somewhat nicer than in the previous couple of weekends – the wind was down considerably and, whilst chilly, it was fairly pleasant. Not shorts pleasant though I would add and I was glad I put full fingered gloves on – a last minute change of plan.

I decided that it was preferable to head out into the wind and then reap the benefits on the return trip so we headed west, out through Old Woking and Fox Corner towards Ash Vale. The wind, whilst significantly lower than in recent weeks, was still enough to dent forward momentum but we managed to keep up a decent pace through the back roads.

I’d planned to have a coffee stop in Ash Vale – there’s a very handy cafe near the station that I’ve stopped at before. Sadly, when we got there we discovered they were shutting for the day but it did give us a chance to give Matt’s set up a check as he was struggling with some aches and pains. Now, I’d preface this by saying that I’m no bike fitter and only have a rudimentary grasp on the geometric complexities of creating a comfortable and efficient riding position. However, one thing I have learnt over the past few years is that most new road cyclists (unless they’ve been properly fitted) tend to have their saddle lower than the optimum position. Matt was new to a road bike having only recently acquired it from a mutual friend and that, combined with the fact that his knees were somewhat splayed out as he cycled, suggested that a little more height in the saddle may help. As Jon succinctly commented, “You’re meant to look like John Wayne when you get off the bike, not while you’re on it”.

We did the quick heel-to-pedal measurement and bumped the saddle up an inch or so – it could have gone more but I didn’t want to end up with Matt struggling to put his feet down at stops so it was a compromise of efficiency and confidence. We also turned his handlebars up slightly as they were set in a very racy position. Just a few minutes’ work with an hex key and we were off again. Despite being denied a well earned coffee, the changes seemed to spur Matt on and he seemed to be in less pain and riding at a quicker pace after the stop. I decided that this gave me the excuse to suggest heading back over the top of the ranges at Mytchett – always one of my favourite roads – and get the benefit of the long gradual descent down the other side via Grange Road into Pirbright.

Matt had a scary moment as we turned right, at speed, into Grange Road as a BMW driver decided to overtake him despite the fact he’d indicated and moved into the centre of the road (in good time) for the turn. This prompted a lot of”typical BMW driver” comments from the others (I drive a BMW, sorry), followed up by “you don’t get that from Audi drivers” (guess what they both drive?). The phrase ‘famous last words’ sprang to mind a few minutes later when we were buzzed by an Audi hatchback on Cemetery Pales who was apparently trying to set a new landspeed record! I’d be more critical if I hadn’t been guilty, in my misspent youth, of doing much the same thing on a few occasions.

Aided by the wind behind us, we made good time to the local pub to meet our families who had gone for a walk and this was just as well because, a few sips into our first pint of Guinness (Happy St Patrick’s Day!) we were treated to a very sharp shower of hailstones that appeared out of nowhere. Fortunately we were under cover unlike our families who got blasted by it just before they reached the comfort of the pub.

Good timing!

Hopefully the weather will improve over the coming weeks as I’m keen to get some longer rides under my belt. Given it’s heading towards the end of March, I don’t feel up to speed just yet and need to up the stamina levels before the (hopefully) sunny months ahead. Still, another 25 miles was covered and it all counts!