In my view you can’t get much more old school than doing pre-season reliability rides. Well, it turns out you can. This weekend I ended up doing a reliability ride on a fixed-gear bike. I know, pure masochism and even more old school. This was not my first choice. I’d had some indexing issues with my road bike and the shop thought it was down to a wonky drop out. A simple fix. So, I duly booked it in. However, it turns out the drop out was true, but the entire drive chain needed replacing. The shop had all the parts aside from the hill-friendly 12-29T cassettes I favour. No probs, I’ll just order one myself and fit it in a few days, except it won’t arrive until after the weekend and my next reliability ride. So… the only choice is my only other bike – my trusty Bob Jackson Vigorelli. I had it set up with a reasonably modest 68in (49:19) gear. It’ll be fine, I tell myself...
There are six Chiltern Classic routes and this week I chose to do the Harp Hilly Hundred route, which is as you’d expect, quite hilly. It starts from King’s Langley. There is something of an overlap between these routes, so you do get a strong sense of déjà vu. Well, it’s actual vu, because there is repetition. Most rides pass through Link Road in Great Missendon, Wendover features in all of them and there is an odd castle-like building that is something is do with a reservoir. There’s a photo below. It’s somewhere between Chesham and Berkhampted. It turns up so much, I think I've been seeing this turret in my dreams, too.
There are five main climbs in this ride. The first is a long slow one up to Ashridge as you leave Berkhampsted, which takes you through some lovely woodland. The second is shorter, but more brutal rise on the B4546 up to Whipsnade. This tops out at 13%. Then there’s a compulsory climb at Wendover Woods, Ivinghoe Beacon and finally there’s quite a challenging ramp out of Berkhamstead.
On a fixed-gear bike you have to commit to climbs like these mentally and physically. Being in a inappropriate gear, you have to keep it turning (or churning in my case). You can’t think of easing off or you will. If you do, it’s so much harder to get going again. After the Berkhampsted climb there was a strong dip and rise in the road on Leyhill Road. On the downhill it said 14% and it looked similar going up. This got int my brain and somehow I conspired to unclip on the right side. I’m blaming worn out cleats (since replaced), but once you stop on a grade like that, it’s so hard to start again and clip in. You can ride downhill, clip in easily, turn around and then climb. I was not going to climb this twice, so I hoofed it for 100m to the top.
Last week it was my bike that lacked reliability. This week the bike held firm, but the body was tested more sorely. Sore being the operative word. I finished the Verulam ride feeling strong and Training Peaks gave me 273 TSS (Training Stress Score - a scientific measure of how hard the ride was). This week, I finished feeling utterly ruined. I could barely stand up that evening and Sunday I suffered with the DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). And the TSS score? A paltry 217! Clearly Training Peaks knows nothing about fixed-gear riding. Sections when you’d normally freewheel, you’re still pedalling because of the fixed-gear. It’s a TSS rip off, but my legs know and I’ve scheduled an extra recovery day before I do my next session. The next long ride will not be on my Bob Jackson and will feel so much easier.
Almost forgot the most important thing, the rest stop. I used the café at the Tring Garden Centre on Bulbourne Road. The food is decent, but I should point out that they have expanded the café enormously without a comparable increase in staff, so you might have to queue to order in busy times. There is a good outdoor space and tons of space inside. I had an americano and a bacon and sausage sandwich before heading off to tackle the Wendover Woods climb.
Here's the route. You can drive up or take a train to nearby Hemel Hempstead from Eutson.
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"You will always be in our hearts and on our roads." - @Giro d'Italia on Michele Scarponi