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.

Paris or bust! Day 3

Sunday morning felt considerably better when I awoke than Saturday morning had. I’m sure it had nothing to do with the lesser amount of alcohol the night before but I’ll bear it in mind for future reference, just in case. It might also have been the fact that I knew we were on the last day with a modest distance to cover.

The Beauvais hotel provided a better range of breakfast than Dieppe had so that was another tick in the positive column. I would also add, as I forgot in the report on the previous day that the staff at the hotel were incredibly friendly and helpful. We were also able to store our bikes in a hidden area albeit it was not 100% secure but we locked them all up with no problem.

Its location was also helpful as we were already on the southern side of Beauvais so didn’t need to navigate through the town to start the trek down to Paris. Happily, my Elemnt Bolt was fully charged and I dutifully loaded in the route for the day and switched it on before we started. It worked perfect;y until the second junction where misread it and took us round a small loop of an industrial estate before arriving back where we’d started. Still, it’s always nice to see a few factories…

I had warned the group that there was a reasonable climb early on in the ride so as we climbed quite steeply out of Allonne, everyone’s spirits were high thinking we’d already done the uphill bit of the day. Err, not quite!

Endless countryside

We headed south on the A927 and, just after Auteuil, we were faced with a long steady climb for a mile or so that had most of us sweating profusely realising just how hot it already was despite it was still about 10am. When we pulled over at the top to wring out various garments, two things became apparent. Firstly, Hugh (who had been nursing a serious shoulder injury for a few weeks) was finding the climbing hard going, despite his words to the contrary. Secondly, Graham’s bike was back into full-on spoke shredding mode. Just as we pulled over, another one pinged on the front wheel. We decided to carry on although he was four spokes down at this point on the front wheel and three of these were adjacent, leaving a worrying weak point. It was agreed that he would take it easy down any hills and that we would always ensure that someone was with him, just in case.

Attempting roadside repairs

We carried on until we turned right on to the D5 just after Ressons-l’Abaye and we lost yet another spoke. Unsurprisingly, it was again adjacent to the existing gap and we decided it was worth trying to repair it on the roadside. Google searching turned up no open bike shops within 50 miles (being Sunday and France). However, this proved to be a wasted effort as the now missing spokes were on all on the disc brake side and we didn’t have the tools and/or the knowledge on how to remove the disc. That was one to look up when we got home! Cycling very gingerly, we headed on before finding some open shops in Ribeauville which was useful for stocking up on water and energy.

We then left the D5 and headed towards Arronville through some scenic roads. This was probably the most beautiful part of the ride, going through deserted country lanes surrounded by views of seemingly never-ending fields. There was one stretch of track (rather than road) that went downhill with a nice left turn at the bottom where I was able to get some decent photos of the guys coming through behind me. Having got a bit stretched out in a rolling section before Arronville, I made this mistake of pulling over to wait after a junction (rather than before) and a couple of people sailed past the turning. After some apologising and a re-group, we carried on south.

Easy riders
Empty roads
Now this is cycling

More and more countryside rolled by as we re-acquired the D927 just south of Hereville before another longish but easy climb through Herouville. The roads started to become tree lined and, despite the fact we were still surrounded by open countryside, they felt like boulevards and had a distinctly French vibe to them. We stopped for some lunch at a farmers’ market in Auvers-sur-Oise which was very enjoyable and at a complete contrast to the one from the day before. The whole town/village seemed to be out and milling around the centre and it was great to watch the community spirit that was clearly evident.

How much more French can you get? None. None more French.

We were now moving into more built up areas and had a surprise climb through Mery-sur-Oise which went on for about a mile and allowed some of the local recreational cyclists to speed past us on their Peuguots. It became apparent that the heat, traffic and three days of cycling were beginning to take effect and there was some tetchiness within the group (for the first time). Now the map reading became more vital and, given the screen size of the Elemnt Bolt, more difficult. It’s great at turn by turn directions but there’s no doubt that a larger screen in built up areas would make it easier to follow. When there’s complicated junctions, it’s sometimes difficult to pick out the right exit.

On the far side of Bessancourt, I was convinced we had gone the wrong way as we ended up going over what seemed to be a very casual crossing point of a fast looking railway line before turning right and through one of the local drug hang outs before arriving on some very suburban back streets. We wove (weaved?) our way through houses and apartment blocks, then through a park and some rough tracks through a massive woodland area before picking the tarmac back up in the interestingly named Jules Cesar.

To be honest, the rest of the ride became a bit of a blur as we made our way through suburban Paris. The main highlight of this section was our first crossing of the Seine at Argenteuil. We knew at that point that we were getting close and it made dealing with the traffic, junctions and intermittent cycle lanes easier.

I would say at this point that I had discussed the route for day 3 with the group in advance and given them two options. We could either follow the Avenue Verte (either east or west) and , using the Donald Hirsch variants, head into Paris via quite and relatively traffic free roads, with a total distance of about 70 miles. The second option was to basically head straight at the centre of Paris on as quiet a road as we could find and bring the distance down to just under 50 miles. It was widely agreed to do the latter – it didn’t make for good scenery but it was getting us quickly close to our finishing point at the Arc de Triomphe.

Our first sight of the finish line

We crossed the Seine again near Clichy and were clearly in the centre of Paris. The buildings became more ornate and recognisably Parisian. There was a brief moment of elation as we turned a corner and got our first sight of the Arc de Triomphe at the top of a small rise in front of us. We were there! We made it! Well, nearly, Given that we wanted to make the central island in the middle of what I can only describe as the most insane piece of road anywhere outside of South East Asia, we defied death and BMWs to reach our goal for a few photos before being moved on by some local police sporting some heavyweight armoury. We didn’t argue.

Done!

We found a handy bar close by and raised a glass of beer (or two) to our respective efforts. I was quite moved by the sense of achievement, especially amongst the guys who were not such keen/regular cyclists prior to the trip. Having done a number of century and other long rides (including some back to back albeit without luggage) I wasn’t concerned in advance about covering 180 (actually 190) miles in three days but it was clear that not everyone had shared my laissez-faire attitude. It felt good. We had achieved our goal and everyone was still in one piece and still friends.

I won’t bore you with the aftermath which included finding our hotel near Gare du Nord (Ibis Styles Cadet Lafayette for reference) where we were again provided with a secure place to store the bikes. This was thanks to the helpful receptionist who moved some stuff around in the store room – we had been told in advance that there was no such area for the bikes but it never hurts to ask again! We then got cleaned up and headed out for sightseeing and sitting in cafes, eating and drinking the night away. You can imagine the rest.

Monday saw us head to a very hot and crowded Gare du Nord (ten minutes from the hotel) where an error with the passports machines had created a very long, sweaty and disgruntled queue. We had originally been told that we had to book our bikes onto Eurodespatch at a cost of about £45 each as they would not let assembled bikes on the trains. Worse, they would only take two bikes per train so we were faced with a long wait at St Pancras whilst they filtered in on the trains behind the one we were travelling on. As it turned out, they actually loaded three our bikes on the train before ours, the remaining four on our train along with a number of other bikes belonging to some other guys we’d bumped into on the ferry out who were doing a similar trip to our own. This was welcome as was the air-conditioned comfort of the Eurostar train. We were very pleased that we had picked that weekend rather than the one after where 40+ degree temperatures were forecast.

We had a busy but uneventful ride down from St Pancras to Waterloo before jumping on a train back to Woking and another short cycle ride back to our local for a final celebratory drink and a late lunch.

I’ll add another post just to round up my thoughts about the trip, the route and any other thing that spring to mind but that’s it. We did it… and it was great.

Paris or bust! Day 2

I awoke at about 6.30am and instantly regretted it. I was not feeling exactly 100%. Memories of the previous evening’s drinking came back to me and I was reminded of my plan to imbibe carefully on the trip until the final evening in Paris. As a group (well, most of us), we have very little will power and I was feeling the results of that. Still, 70 miles to do that day so no point in feeling sorry for myself.

I met up with the others over breakfast (a very limited choice of bread/pastries/cereals) and soon began to revive slightly with a combination of coffee, juice and croissant. I was pleased to note that I wasn’t the only one suffering and there was some mild groaning around the breakfast table. We did manage to get packed up and ready to go by 9.00am however, we were immediately met with the need to go shopping as one of John’s cycling shoes had broken the day before – the sole almost completely detached from the body of the shoe.

A quick online search revealed a nearby Decathlon so we headed off with a brief tour of the town centre of Dieppe. We then discovered that Decathlon was located at the top of what I can only describe as a medium sized mountain! It was a long and slow pedal up the south face of Mt Decathlon and many of us arrived at the top feeling less recovered from the night before than we had after breakfast. It must be downhill from here right? John managed to source some new shoes but then we spent ten minutes trying to work out how to fix the SPD cleats. It transpired that we needed to cut a plastic cover off each shoe, which seemed a bit strange. Cleats attached, we worked out a route to the start of the Avenue Verte path and headed off (fortunately it was mainly downhill), albeit somewhat later than expected at about 10.30am.

Shoes repairs at the summit of Mt Decathlon

The sun was out by now but not too hot so it was very pleasant riding through the quiet southern suburbs of Dieppe and we soon picked up the path which wound its way through some small lakes for a mile or two. It’s always a joy to be cycling off the roads and we were in high spirits as we headed south. We soon broke into more rural countryside and the views from the AV were very pleasant. The path was easy to follow and it gave distances to certain towns on or close to the route which helped keep track of distance. Given how well signposted it was, I decided not to bother following the route on my Elemnt Bolt – it seemed pointless frankly. More on that later!

Gorgeous day on the Avenue Verte
I wonder if it’s for sale?

We worked our way through to Neufchatel en Bray where we came across what appeared to be a former station building converted into a cafe. Given it was 12.30 and we had covered 25 of the planned 70 miles, it seemed like a helpful lunch spot. The food on offer was typically french and appealing but, nearly 2 hours later, when we were finally served with lunch, it had lost a lot of its original appeal. It’s easy to forget that the pace of life runs slower in France and we were well and truly caught out by it here. Having said that, it was only just after 2.30pm when we set off again and we only had about 45 miles to go (we thought) so spirits were still high and the sun was still shining.

The world’s longest lunch stop

We continued south on the path which was fine until we came to some works that diverted the path from its original route but it wasn’t too problematic although the signage wasn’t great. It did give us the opportunity to stock up on water and food at a supermarket just outside Les Bruyeres. The heat was beginning to build up and tiredness was already setting in so the short break was welcome.

It was at about this time that my Elemnt Bolt ran out of battery. Strange – that’s not happened before after just a few hours so I put it down to perhaps not charging it correctly the night before. No matter, the route was well signposted so it shouldn’t be an issue. It wasn’t right up until the moment we got a few miles further and the path seemingly stopped in Forges-Les-Eaux. There was a dirt track carrying on but we headed off down the side road and saw the signs pointing back the way we came for the Avenue Verte. Rather frustratingly, nothing seemed to give us directions for the way we were mean to go to continue south. We back tracked to the dirt path and tried that before giving up at the next road crossing – that was definitely not the right way. This is where a fully charged and route loaded computer would have come in handy!

We consulted the online maps as we now did not have the route on my computer and I was able to recall roughly where the route went from when I was planning it. We headed back into F-L-E and eventually re-found the route. Suddenly we were onto the roads. Very nice roads to be fair but we found ourselves going up and down a series of rolling hills that we hadn’t expected. We were however following the route signs (which were very clear) and it was easy enough to navigate. We went through Pommereaux and Haussez and then Menerval before heading towards Dampierre-en-Bray. Legs were definitely beginning to tire at this point and we were having to stop quite frequently to refuel as water was disappearing at a rate of knots as the route got hillier.

More en-route scenery

The stops were welcome but we seemed to have become trapped in a space time vortex. Every time we consulted the navigational oracle we didn’t seem to be getting any closer to the finish and our expected distance for the day of 70 miles was looking increasingly on the low side.

It was good to pick up the newly converted path of a former railway line at Gournay and this made again for easy traffic free cycling; once again we started to pick up some reasonable pace on the level ground. It was around this time that, having already covered over 70 miles, it occurred to me why we were having to go further than expected. When I’d mapped the route, I’d used two or three diversions from the classic Avenue Verte route which were recommended by some regular users. One of these detours cut out most of the hilly section mentioned previously and made the route easier to navigate! Damn! I mentioned this out of honesty but didn’t get the best of reception from the others!

We had a final stop near Parc St Paul just west of Beauvais before making the final push to the hotel – an Ibis Styles in Allonne to the south east of the town. We arrived at a much later than expected 8.30pm, tired and hot. It had ended up as a very long day in the saddle. 79.5 miles all in with the Mt Decathlon detour and the lack of planned detours later on. I made very sure to plug my Elemnt Bolt in carefully to ensure it charged for the next day.

The hotel itself was very nice, despite being located in between the motorway and some retail parks. The rooms were large and the staff were incredibly friendly. After a local but late dinner and only a few drinks tonight, I retired thankfully, looking forward to an easier final day in the saddle.

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!

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?!!!