New jersey time!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lumpy Holmbury Ride

Newlands Corner

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holmbury St Mary Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sticky Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mid week rides

Last night’s view from Staple Lane

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

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

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

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

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!