The View From Here - a blog

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  • Here are a couple of photos from the ICC to trip to the TdF (in Epping)

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  • Also as a nice postscript to that first year, we did way of the roses and someone dropped out so someone we didn't know - James - took his place, first time we'd ever met him. Fast forward a decade and I was his best man last year. Two other early ICC members were groomsmen.

  • 06/03/2023 – One Ride to Verulam All

    The Verulam CC Reliability Ride (VRR) is the last event I rode before lockdown and the first one I took part in when things opened up. And this year my calendar seemed to open up with a VRR-sized space at just the right time. Why would I do this again? It’s usually cold, the course is really challenging and the start is out in Redbourn.

    Last year I had puncture after puncture. That wasn’t going to happen this year. I shod my bike with 30mm Challenge Strada Bianchi tyres - full on Spring Classic mode. Richard chose a modern classic in blue with 28s and mudguards. Sensible bikes were the order of the day.

    This bike loves being in the big ring a little too much

    With 4,500ft of elevation, plenty of technical sections and the roads full of potholes, mud, water and gravel, this is probably the toughest of the Chilterns Classics series. This year the course is tweaked and it’s 68.6 miles (down from 70.1 last year), but it still includes some leg, back and spirit breaking climbs.

    I drove up and met up with Richard, who had ridden up from Islington. He was looking for a big day and I was just looking to get round. There were a few others planning to be there, but it was a complicated weekend with another train strike to manage. Despite the VRR field being mainly composed of local riders, I felt there were fewer taking part.

    I don’t get bored of saying this. It’s only 12 quid. Yes, it costs just £12 to enter and while there are no food stops or aid stations, you get hot drinks, pastries and a pile of bars to grab at the start and then shed load of sandwiches and cake at the end. It’s cycling’s grassroots, old fashioned and quite timeless in its low-key and friendly ways.

    How did it go, I hear you ask? Well, I set out at 9am behind a group of about 30 keen-looking riders. Placing myself strategically towards the rear of this pack, I was looking for a group to drop off the back and ride at a mellow pace that I could comfortably get involved in. No such luck. They were going at it hammer and tongs. Averaging 245w over the first three miles was not something I could sustain over the full distance of the course. That’s my hour power, my race pace, not something I could stay with. I dropped back. Please note I was not dropped. I. Dropped. Back.

    Richard mixed it up with the big group for another mile before realising I had “tactically fallen back.” We pressed on, still going at a fair lick. There is a lot of amazing woodland on this ride and a few decent vistas, too. We ploughed through the Ashridge Estate and then past Albury and the Musette Café. I had earmarked the No 2 Wine and Cheese Deli in Wendover for a pit stop and it did not disappoint. We took on toasties and coffees, just as well as a pair of climbs were about to hit us in 5 miles' time.

    The view from the deli as two more arrive in Wendover

    Whiteleaf and Wardrobes. They sound innocent, sweet even, but they are buggers. Whiteleaf - #23 in Simon Warren’s 100 Greatest Climbs book – is a half mile that averages 10% and tops out at 20%. No sooner have you go down the other side of Whiteleaf than you hit the 0.87 miles of Wardrobes Lane, which although averaging a more modest 8.9%, it tops out at 13.4%. And Wardrobe is sneaky. It hides its steeper section where the road turns sharply left. Round that bend and you hit the 13.4% part. Not such a brute as Whiteleaf, but riding these two back to back is makes you really glad to close the door on Wardbrobes, so to speak.

    Richard had some kind of diagonal weird crossover going on with his chain just as we began Whiteleaf. It went back into place. Phew. Whiteleaf done. Then he was well ahead of me on Wardrobes Lane. It was only when we’d got past the top, I understood why. He couldn’t get in the small chain ring. He necessarily had to blast his way up. Mr May is something of a grinder, rarely using the small ring. “Perhaps there were too many cobwebs?” I quipped. Maybe. After 5 mins of failed fettling, he decided to call it a day and big ringed it to High Wycombe train station. Having ridden up, he ended up logging 75 miles. Not so shabby.

    Endless rolling hills await

    I wasn’t expecting to see any more groups on the road, but within a minute of Richard’s departure, a pair of riders came by. They were both local and on the VRR. Great. They knew the route really well and I was happy to be guided. I locked in on a rear wheel and went into wheelsucker mode. Their pace was a little below what we’d been doing, but still strong enough. It took 20 miles for me to step up and take a turn on the front. When I looked back, I’d lost them. I really, really wasn’t riding hard. I hoped nothing untoward had occurred and rode the last 5 or 6 miles to the finish. I later learned they ran into another rider they knew and eased off for a chat.

    After refuelling at the HQ and uploading my data, I was quietly and tiredly delighted. Compared to last year, I’d ridden faster, kicked out more watts and hadn’t had a single puncture. Strava gave me 128 achievements. And I had hit my maximum heart rate on Whiteleaf. Blimey! If reliability rides are in any way accurate as traditional early season fitness and form tests, then I am starting to get excited about what I can achieve this year.

    If you want to ride the route, you can drive up or take a train to Harpenden (3.5 miles) or St Albans (5.4 miles).

    Next week (12/03/23) is the Berkhamstead CC Spring Classic, which starts from Aldbury at the Musette Cafe. Get a train to nearby Tring if you fancy it.

  • Good day out. The bike was clearly determined to not allow even a momentary breach of Rule #90. Those who live by the big ring,...

    If you want to try one of these rides:

  • 24/04/2023 – Highway to Hell

    Back in 2010, Rapha staged it’s first Hell of the North ride. An homage to Paris-Roubaix, it was 50 miles in length and featured 20 gravé sectors rather than pavé. These were gravelled paths and dirt tracks – the best they could do without access to French and Belgian-style Spring Classic cobbles. There was an apres ride social at a pub to watch the finale of Paris-Roubaix and enjoy a beer and frites. It was free to take part and take part I did.

    I was working as a cycle instructor at the time and went along with an instructor buddy called Neil. Neil was on a cross bike. Sensible. I was on the only bike I had - a steel Peugeot with down tube shifters and 25 mm tyres. How times change. I don’t think I saw anyone else on a cross bike that day, everyone seemed to be on road bikes and all seemed determined to tough it out. Maybe there were one or two MTBs. It also has to be said, there was no GPS routing. There wasn't even a cue sheet. We were given something that looked like a brevet card with a roughly drawn route. It wasn't a map. More like an artist's impression of the route. The route itself was signed by pink chalk marks. I just followed the riders ahead and hoped for the best. The rest stop was fairly spartan, it featured bananas and water only.

    Even in 2019 most entrants were on ordinary road bikes with narrow tyres

    Times (and tech) do change. When disc brakes came to road bikes, the opportunity for fatter rubber opened up. With that an opportunity for a new kind of bike, the gravel bike, with tyres that were beefier than you could fit on a cross bike. Bikes that could compete with many mountain bikes for off-roadworthyness, so to speak, but were also lively on tarmac.

    The route card for the first Day in Hell

    In 2010, most riders had 23mm tyres. I took part in 2013 and rode - I kid you not - on a fixed-gear bike with 25s and a 66in gear ratio (48:19). I had quite a few punctures that day and it was a slog. After eight editions of the Hell of the North, Rapha renamed the ride A Day in Hell. Pretty much the same fare, except the event became a paid for thing and places were limited. I didn’t get a place again until the 2019 edition and then, having learned my lesson, rode my titanium (geared) road bike with 30mm tyres. The ride was more plush, but I still got a few punctures.

    The 2023 edition was not as muddy as I'd feared

    Fast-forward to 2023 and it’s now £25 to enter Rapha's A Day in Hell. The start is from Rapha’s HQ, which is Elthorne Road in Islington. Handy, eh? And it wasn't at all hard to get a ticket, even three days beforehand. This year Rapha offered three routes: 100km (standard), 136km (long route) and 100km (optimised for 28mm tyres). I took on the standard and RideWithGPS indicate about 25% off-road. It wasn’t at all. After 10 road miles you’re into it and it’s mainly off road all the way to when you hit Shenley on the way back. You could pick up several tracks from here if you wanted to stay off road – probably all the way to Finchley.

    As you'd expect, gravel bikes now dominate the ride

    Compared to 2010, the bikes are of different order. Tons of beefy rubber-equipped gravel bikes and road bikes with 28-32mm tyres. Something that hasn’t changed is that the field is almost exclusively male. I found this odd. Rapha has worked to champion women’s cycling and their RCC rides seem to feature a good proportion of women. I think I only saw one or two women riding, which, as an ICC member and in general a human, did feel very odd.

    Two Mason Bokehs enjoy a well earned break in Shenley

    This year I worried (unnecessarily) about it being too muddy. There were one or two short sections that were really sloppy, but all were rideable. Rapha set up a feed station in Brickendon at the Farmer’s Boy and there were bananas and tons of bars and gels to grab, along with inner tubes. I got chatting to a chap who was also riding a Mason Bokeh. I think we were both starting to flag and stopped off at the Orchard Cafe in Shenley to refuel. It was only 10 miles from the finish, but I just had to have some real food.

    Rest stop giveaway goodies acquired

    Below are the three 2023 routes. You can also find all of the historic Hell of the North and A Day in Hell routes on RideWithGPS.­utm_campaign=Get%20Ready%20for%20A%20Day­%20in%20Hell&utm_medium=email&utm_source­=exponea­utm_campaign=Get%20Ready%20for%20A%20Day­%20in%20Hell&utm_medium=email&utm_source­=exponea­utm_campaign=Get%20Ready%20for%20A%20Day­%20in%20Hell&utm_medium=email&utm_source­=exponea

  • So weird catching up on this, and seeing pics of former members I had no idea had ever been involved with the club! Particularly Alison Alexander who was a regular at the Evans I worked at back in those days... I actually sold her the bike I see in some of the pictures you've posted David!

    ... in fact the guy next to her in this pic was the Head Mechanic at the store..! (I think they dated for a while?)...

  • I did it in 2019 on 25mm 100psi tyres and it was sketchy as all hell but I managed to stay upright by just sending it on certain section.
    When I did it again in 2020 on an actual gravel bike it was still sketchy and can't believe I completed it the year prior on road tyres. No punctures either year though.

  • +Zac I believe that sketchy feeling of being on the edge of control is called Type 2 fun. No punctures for me in 2023. A massive relief mainly down to the massive difference from 25mm to 42mm.

    +GeorgeS which Evans? I bought my beloved Surly Steamroller from the Hendon shop.

  • Over the years I worked at St Pauls (Farringdon Road/Ludgate Circus), Waterloo (The Cut), West End (Mortimer Street) and Spitalfields. Occasionally I covered shifts at London Bridge too.

    IIRC, Ali bought the bike in our Mortimer Street branch. I don't miss working retail one bit, but getting trade prices again would be nice!

  • Some great memories here! Just had a cruise back through some photos and this is I think one of my earliest ICC photos/memories. The Great Escape 2015 edition, I think I'd been in the club for a year at this point. In the background it's @ceci @Ivan.B and maybe @Sir_Shannonball in the white gilet?
    This was my first 200k and think I fainted at the end. Because I was new, didn't know what I was doing and hadn't eaten enough on the ride. Still have that bike (albeit in new colours).

  • +Alec 2015 and the event was still an audax. Here is the registration desk and a panorama of the crowds building outside Look Mum No Hands.

    I'm not the wearer of the white gilet in that shot, I was on a tandem with +RichardM in 2015. There was a good article on the Look Mum blog:­-adventures/P136 At the bottom of the page were are links to other editions of The Great Escape.

    Richard doing a great job of holding both me and the tandem upright

    I think I need to give some kudos to Paul Baker +paul.b who served as our first kit manager and Orestis Mavroudis-Chocholis +Orestis who served as membership secretary. Both made tremendous contributions.

    Paul is the rider climbing Hardknott's Pass in that dramatic photo on the home page of the forum. He was competing in the Fred Whitton Challenge.

  • Ah nice, tandem before the new colours!

  • Yes. Getting round 200km in 6:47:04 (moving time) planted the thought that a tandem might be useful for time trialling. What a slippery slope!

  • 30/04/23 - From Groovy to Gravy

    Having ridden the 100km of Rapha’s A Day in Hell last week, I felt confident taking on the mere 37 miles of Spoke Cycling’s inaugural Groovy Gravel ride. Roughly half the length, you still get beer and frites at the finish. This was going to be easy, right? Actually, you also got an orange Spoke mug, but more of that later.

    Spoke have been running gravel rides on Wednesday evenings spring to autumn from their Codicote cafe. Groovy Gravel was a natural extension of this vibe for owners Alex and Jonathan. I took the train up to Welwyn Garden City with Richard May and we grabbed a coffee and a race card (oddly there was no number on it). Like last week at A Day in Hell I had knobby 42mm tyres, as did Richard. But looking around there were quite a few mountain bikes. Did they know something we didn’t?

    Lucky that I cleaned my bike in advance...

    They did. It rained a fair bit that week, but the key thing was the route. It was quite intense. Almost entirely off road and with many muddy, flooded areas and unrideable sections. Hike-a-bike is not really Richard’s style and he headed off to work up a sweat on more solid surfaces around the halfway mark.

    This was a total hike-a-bike part of the route

    It was quite a challenge to stay upright. This can be fun. Without a little slip and slide going on, it isn’t quite a gravel ride. The first steep gradient we hit and everyone was walking. It was just too sloppy to have enough traction. Even the MTBs. We had quickly gone from groovy to gravy. From gravy, we hit some seriously flooded trails. I do like this kind of dirty ride.

    This is me on one of the "more sensible" sections

    I fell in with a rider called Ash. He was struggling a bit, so we stuck together. We both managed slow-mo spills and both suffered horrendous “glue mud.” I don’t know what else to call it. It is like fast drying concrete and clogs up everything. There is one field between Tewin and Bramfield that is full of this evil stuff. Just two wheel rotations and your bike is buggered. If you have a front mech, it will be stuck. Front wheel, stuck with a clogged up fork. Back wheel, stuck with a clogged rear bridge. And the chain… Seriously, the chain had glue mud between every link. Both of our bikes had this and the chain would not sit on the chain ring. We had to grab handfuls of water from puddles and work this filth out. That took 20 minutes, no word of a lie.

    Ash, some mud and a snack

    My bike with residual glue-mud having spent 20 minutes unclogging it

    Clearly I had put my foot (feet) in it

    We limped back to Spoke running on fumes. 37 miles had felt like 137. Most people seemed to have done the shorter 20 mile route on a MTB and who could blame them? The beer and frites and sense of camaraderie were great, the route (although super challenging, was really well marked out with orange ribbons. And as well as the beer and frites, you got an orange Spoke mug as a gift. I couldn’t fit it into my pockets, so I zip tied it to my bars. Brilliant, eh? Except when I got home, I cut the tie and forgot to grab the mug. It smashed!

    My smashing way to carry a mug

    I think Alex and Jonathan should take great credit for getting this event on. They are going to have several road rides, too, to build on their Ride of the Falling Leaves from 2022. My only gripe (which I made loud and clear) was that it should have more road sections. Half the pleasure of a gravel bike is that it is capable and quick on and off road. A bit more on and I think this ride would be even more groovy.

    Frites and beer included

    Here’s the route, just take a detour around that field near Tewin.

  • 10/05/2023 - Sign of the times

    Forget about the race itself, just getting to the start line can be quite a task. Some of my favourites include setting pm rather than am on my wake-up alarm, missing some vital bit of kit and getting lost between the HQ and the start. This is all assuming that the event in question isn’t cancelled in the first place...

    The London and Home Counties Veterans Time Trial Association (VTTA) 10-mile time trial on 7 May was not meant to be the first race of the season for me and tandem race partner Richard May. It was meant to kick off a month earlier on 10 April with the ECCA 25 Championship, but that was cancelled because of hazardous potholes. Then the Charlotteville CC 25 on 23 April had a mix up with categories and would not allow Richard and myself to race on a tandem (it was pouring that day, so we didn’t miss much). Then another ECCA 25 on 30 April was also mysteriously cancelled at the last minute. This was all something of a wind up.

    The VTTA race was on the F11/10 course. It’s an out-and-back, that features a nice long drop off that you don’t have to do uphill on the return leg. In short, it’s widely regarded as a fast course and as such drew 150 riders in the solo category and three in the tandem category.

    This season Cycling Time Trials, the National Governing Body for time trials in England, Scotland and Wales, have created a road bike category for all races. Of course, you could always enter any time trial on a road bike before, but now if you choose to ride a road bike, you are not competing with time trial bikes. This is a really positive move.

    Six years ago, I helped organise a training day with Matt Bottrill Performance Coaching. Matt was a legendary amateur racer and we hired him and his team for a day’s workshop, looking at how to plan your training to reach your goals, FTPs, diet, rest, mental strength and will finish with a panel session. There are videos of the day on the forum.

    One young chap on Matt’s staff was George Fox. Spin forward 6 years and George now has his own coaching business and was aiming for a record or two in the new road bike category at the VTTA 10. Well, he did it! George set a time of 18:41, beating Colin Sturgess’ record which has stood since 1988. His time was the second fastest of any rider that day, Richard Oakes being the fastest at 18.12 on a time trial machine. GCN fans would have spotted Ollie Bridgewood placing 5th overall (19:09) on a time trial machine.

    George Fox on his Argon road bike

    The Calfee Design Dragonfly tandem in its new livery

    I’m getting distracted here. I was/we were racing that day, too, in the tandem time trial machine category. The machine itself has had something of a wash and brush up since last season with a lively new orange paint job. We were up against national champions Elliott and Greenstreet and a racing couple, Chris and Joanne York, who also looked rapid. With 150+ entrants the car park was full and we found ourselves setting up the turbo trainer for our warm up on a local street (which isn’t weird at all). Richard’s power meter is malfunctioning and he stepped out of the warm up for a while. He makes up for it by pushing hard when we head off for the race. “I’ll do it on heart rate or feel,” he mutters.

    We get to the start OK ahead of the Yorks, who were off before us. Tandems go in 2-minute gaps rather than the usual single minute between solo riders. Typically, Elliott and Greenstreet arrive moments before we set off, which I always find impressive, but my innate sense of punctuality would never allow me to do.

    We’re off reasonably well and averaging 26.5mph when we hit the sharp descent, which is roughly at the 4-mile point. This drop off is at least 1.5 miles and it is glorious. We touch 44.5mph and our average is above 30mph by the time we hit the bottom. Then it’s four flat miles to the finish. I’m not tracking my HR while we race (power and average speed), but I later see I hit my maximum heart rate as we sprint to the finish. And it was a sprint, kind of. We can see the Yorks up ahead heading for the line and do our best to catch them. We very almost do, but find ourselves overtaken by Elliott and Greenstreet meters before the finish. I wish someone had caught that on camera. We did later catch up with the Yorks and check out their very lovely Mercian machine. You can see that there is a lot of love poured into what is a simply stunning build.

    The Yorks' spiffing Mercian tandem

    Then it was tea and a slice of almond and apple cake back and the HQ as we awaited our official time. It was 20:48. This is a PB for us by a massive 1:03. Pretty exciting. I can’t say we blew the roof off the village hall, but in the “whirlwind” I did grab an extra bit of cake. It’s also an ICC club record for tandems at 10 miles.

    Tea and cake never seem to go out of fashion

    On the drive home – happy and tired – +RichardM gets a call from an unrecognised number. “Hello?” It was Rachael Elliott. We had forgotten to sign back in. Unless we did, we would be disqualified and our time voided. “Would you like me to sign you both in by proxy?” the national champion kindly offered. “Er, yes. That would be very kind. Thank you.” And there you have it. It’s not all about getting to the start line or even the finish line. You have to sign on the dotted line.

    VTTA report

  • Nice report, +Sir_Shannonball

    So what did we learn? Well, for one thing I should probably outsource signing duties to Rachael Elliott, and riding duties to Remco Evenepoel, and just focus on the cake.

  • 31/07/2023 - Southern comfort

    I wanted to get away from it all and take on a gravel bike challenge. Just me and the countryside. Me and no worries. Me and the bike. Maybe I should have been more careful about what I wished for. I had the South Downs Way in mind. 100 miles of walking and cycling trail that runs from Winchester to Eastbourne. Those 100 off-road miles have more than 12,000 feet of climbing, it’s not for the faint hearted.

    I took the train to Winchester and set out just after 9am. A mile outside the town you hit the trail, an innocuously looking flat section starts you off. It’s rarely flat again and there’s barely any tarmac until you reach Eastbourne. As I begin, I pass a chap walking his dog and it all seems quite mellow.

    The deceptively flat beginning

    I’m committed to pacing myself and enjoying the famous views atop the Downs. I know there’s a lot of climbing, so I’ve packed as light I can bear to. I have strong tendency to overpack, so this is against my better nature. Not long into the ride it starts. Up and down, up and down. It’s slow going. Aside from the obvious physical effort, climbing on rough and rocky slopes covered in large pebbles takes real mental focus. So much for switching off for a couple of days.

    This is a light as I could bear to pack for an overnighter

    You are quickly and almost constantly rewarded with gorgeous views. Travelling eastwards, these are inland to the left, and out towards the sea to the right. Inland you have the Surrey hills and even North Downs, while seawards the hills drop away to the English Channels and many coastal towns.

    I had lunch at the café in Queen Elizabeth Country Park, just after descending Butser Hill. There are a few little MTB obstacle courses in the park that looked fun. I was very tempted to have a play on my gravel bike, but my pace so far was pretty slow, so I chose to press on.

    The chalk escarpment that follows the ridges of the Downs

    Did I say I was going slow? I certainly was. I had planned to split the ride 60/40 miles between the two days and stay at a hotel in Bramber, near Steyning (60/40 was more like 70/50 when you add in getting to and from the train stations). It took quite a while getting to Bramber. I staggered into the hotel reception at about 7.30pm having walked out of my front door at 7am. This was big day at the office, as they say.

    When I say hotel, I mean it was a pub inn, The Castle Inn and I got myself refuelled, downed a pint and put myself to bed. It’s decent value there. £77 for bed and breakfast and I noshed my way through £27 of food and drink at dinner. I took a stroll around Bramber after breakfast and it is quite a sweet historic village with its own Norman Castle - hence the Castle Inn – and several interesting old buildings.

    Cherry Tree Cottage, Bramber

    Day Two did not warm me up gently. Not in the slightest. The first 6 miles features 1,200ft of elevation gain. I have no shame in saying several of the climbs were too hard or simply impossible to ride up. When they get up towards 20% and are full of loose stones, there is no traction to be had. My frugal packing was irrelevant, the rear wheel span and I did some hike-a-bike. On the first of these on the second day, while I was on foot an e-MTB rider rode screaming past me. It seemed so incredibly unfair. I hated him and I was at the same time deeply jealous.

    This guy is not even breathing hard

    I saw a few other e-bike riders, including a septuagenarian that I got chatting with near the ice-cream van stationed at Ditchling Beacon. He’d been a lifelong cyclist and using an e-bike was the only way he could now work with his knees issues and keep cycling. I got some good intel about local roads, his home town, Brighton, and the frustrating building project he was escaping for a few hours on the bike.

    I pressed on towards Lewes. I couldn’t really locate a good lunch spot, so I planned to pick up some food at the service station on the A27 near the University of Sussex campus. I found a decent looking baguette which I strapped to my handlebars I ploughed on to a fabulous viewing spot at Swanborough Hill. The town of Lewes was before me to the left and way over to the right the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head. It was quite warm by now and quite a vista to kick back and soak up.

    Baguette on bars courtesy of Restrap, er, straps

    From here I made it to the village of Southease and then had a bad moment. A truly awful stomach pain and feeling of physical weakness. It was bad enough that I checked the train times back to London. There should be a train in 30 mins, but owing to industrial action, the next was in 3 hours. I couldn’t wait around that long, may as well see if I can make some progress.

    I had 15 miles to go and gritted my teeth and pedalled on, but in just a couple of hundred metres I came to a youth hostel with a cafe. Sanctuary! I had a rest and a chat with a couple of the clientele - another cyclist and a runner - and made a new plan. The YHA was on the A26 and terra firma or rather terra tarmac. I logged on to the wi-fi and drew a new route on road to Eastbourne. I limped my way to Seaford on the A26 and then to Eastbourne on the A259 over the Seven Sisters. More climbing, but at least it was on smooth roads. I made it and parked myself on the next train completely drained.

    As far as views are concerned, the South Downs Way just keeps giving

    The South Downs Way is a magnificent route which is both beautiful and brutal. If you’re after a challenge that is almost completely off road, this is a good one to try. If you have a mountain bike, I’d use that. I rode a gravel bike with 45mm tyres, which coped well, but there is no harm in having bigger rubber and suspension on a route like this one. Two days felt about right, but I know some take it on in one day. Kudos to them. And it’s also a great multi-day walking route, if you fancy a change from cycling.

  • 30/08/23 Game of stones

    What is the oldest road in the country? Well, it’s The Ridgeway and it’s still in use. This ancient droveway is reckoned to be more than 5,000 years old. Originally it ran from Dorset to Norfolk and was known as The Chalk Way. These days there is an 87-mile National Trail you can enjoy between Ivinghoe Beacon and Avebury. In fact, the Ridgeway trail is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

    Previously, I’ve ridden some of the eastern part of the route and also some of the western leg when I took on the King Alfred’s Way. My recollection of the latter was as one of the best parts of that ride and wanted to revisit it. I grabbed a 100km route from a Trail Breaks event that starts in Chilton, goes out to Avebury and returns to Chilton. The RideWithGPS route shows it as 83% unpaved, so this would be a proper day out.

    There are plenty of great viewing points to take in

    I rode it with +RichardM and within ½ mile we’re climbing a super gravel trail. Within 3 miles we’ve both clipped the sides of those grooves you can get on trails and “enjoyed” a soft landing, plus a few swear words from me, before proceeding. This was going to be a bit more technical than I remembered.

    The weather was half decent, a brief shower later on, maybe, but otherwise the forecast looked good. I was aiming to reach my planned lunch stop by 12 or soon after. This was at the Red Lion pub opposite the standing stones in Avebury. The stones are something else. Unlike Stonehenge, you can go right up to them and not only is there a circle of stones – the Avebury henge - there is also a mile-long avenue of stones.

    An arial view of the stone circle and the avenue (these are professional photos - not mine)

    Lunch at 12 was a fantasy - in the sun, outside the pub, gazing out at the sheep and stones as we ate. Reality was not getting there until after 2pm, a 30-minute wait for food, then a shower that became a downpour that didn’t want to stop.

    Not quite the idyllic al fresco lunch I'd hoped for

    I didn’t want to charge through this ride, I wanted to enjoy it at a reasonable pace. That turned out to be so much slower than I’d imagined. Next time I do one of these rides I’ll have to remember that and lose my well-established optimism bias.

    Given the ongoing downpour (and Richard’s lack of rainwear), we made the sensible decision to return to Chilton by road. We went via Marlborough and Great Shefford. This made it a ride of two distinct flavours, the first part shared with livestock and full of stunning vistas, Iron Age forts and the Uffington White Horse and the second leg (somewhat faster) on tarmac taking in many pretty villages and it was all still pretty darn pretty. Even opting for Plan B, we still ended up with 68 miles and some very tired legs.

    Typical Ridgeway riding (before the downpour)

    Of course, you can explore this part of the Ridgeway any time, but there is Trail Break event coming up soon – The Ridgeway 100: Century to the Stones – on 9 September 2023 if you fancy doing this with support and food stops and so on. Plus you get a medal!­gjs

    Here's the event route:

    And here's the full trail:

    And this is a route that emulates the Great Chalk Way:

  • Great day out.

    Next time on the tandem.

  • 28/09/2023 – Two left feet

    This season – and specifically time trial racing season – I can honestly say I’ve been in decent shape with good power numbers. I’ve even lost 8lbs. I race, or should I say test, on the back of a tandem with +RichardM captaining the machine. He has been in pretty decent nick, too this year. And he’s even lost about 8 or 9lbs. The season started well, with a PB in an early race on the F11/10 near Tring. It all boded very well indeed. Or did it?

    This season became something of an annualis horribilis after our first two 10 mile races. The next three were all cancelled by the organisers for various reasons. Then I was ill (but nothing serious), then Richard was injured (but nothing serious). Then we had some holidays, then I had to make an unscheduled trip to the US to visit a dying relative. And when you took account of all our other commitments, it seemed the season was over.

    No fear. There still was a race in our calendars. The Cambridge CC 25. This is the F2A/25 course where we set our PB last year. We felt we could improve on that and then with PBs at 10 and 25 miles, the season would have been quite reasonable.

    You may guess where this is going. The day before my wife and I spent a longer day than we’d planned with our sons in central London. Arriving back late I took good care to pack my race back and include everything I needed. Just one item missing cab be disastrous. Skinsuit – check, gels – check, computer – check, shoes – check, helmet – check, pedals - check. You get the idea.

    I planned the drive up to Cambourne to give us 2 hours before we set off at 11:02. I picked up Richard and the bike, the roads were clear, got a good parking space, signed in, set up the bike, got into the skin suit, started to put on my shoes for the warm up and…


    I had a left shoe and another left shoe. Two left shoes. It took a little while to sink in. Then it did.


    How did this happen? I have two pairs of black Sidi shoes, one with MTB SPD cleats and one Look cleats. The uppers are identical and clearly was easily confused.

    There wasn’t enough time to drive home and get the other shoe. I’d driven up in a pair of Crocs. At the least I could ride in one road shoe and one Croc. Richard didn’t like that idea at all. I looked for a local bike shop. None were open on a Sunday. I asked around. Nobody would lend me a shoe.

    Regretfully we sidled up to the sign in sheet and wrote “DNS” next to our names. We drove back with steam coming out of our ears. Accepting we’d missed an opportunity and started planning the 2024 season and what races and rides we were going to prioritise. It helped, but only a bit. When I got home, I took my frustration out by rattling around the Fixie Loop. That helped more.

  • The thought of you riding that 25 in your Crocs is the stuff of nightmares.

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  • 04/10/2023 - Falling for the jerk

    When I’m asked why I like to ride my fixed-gear bike, I often reply “to make it harder.” Having one gear that is usually the wrong one, makes for a great challenge when you have to grind uphill or spin like hell going down the other side.

    I applied a similar logic to taking part in Dulwich Paragon’s classic end of season sportive, The Ride of the Falling Leaves. With getting on for 5,000ft of climbing and grades up to 22% and several technical descents, it is absolutely not a tandem-friendly course. However, that is what I/we decided to do “to make it harder.” Ride tandem.

    Former club chair Richard May with current chair Alec James

    RoTFL, as they like to call it, is one of my absolute favourite cycling events in the calendar. An homage to Il Lombardia (AKA The Ride of the Falling Leaves), Paragon stage it on the first Sunday of October. I’ve ridden RoTFL six times over the seven years before the pandemic. It starts with a ¾ lap of the Herne Hill Velodrome, has several challenging climbs, great scenery and good food - coffee and pastries at the start and lunch and a beer at the end – plus it has a great atmosphere.

    The ICC chain gang

    Yours truly and Fiona Garland trackside at Herne Hill

    Pre-Covid there were timing chips and the gold time band meant finishing in under 4 hours, which I achieved twice. Once I missed it by a single minute (that’s what you get for stopping to help a fallen comrade). My only real aim this year was to have fun. Fun being slogging up steep inclines on an unsuitable machine and watching the pilot – poor +RichardM – nervously picking his way on downhills with tricky blinds turns and dodgy surfaces.

    Sleepy looking sheep on a misty morning on the way out of London

    There were about six or so ICC riders out including +Alec +Wai +FionaGarland which was great to see. My riding plan is always the same for this. Take it strong and steady until the first climb at Woldingham at 16 miles, then really try and crack on from mile 20 to 40, where it’s fairly level. Then it starts to get attritional with Toys Hill and Sundridge Lane and several other ramps between you and the finish. Anerly Hill – the last climb of the day - has a longish 10% section which requires a strong push. By the time we reached Anerly, I was still feeling good and able to put out strong power numbers (for me). Richard had a near cramping up moment, but kept chugging away, too.

    Grinding up Toys Hill is anything but child's play

    Jerk chicken - the lunch of champions

    Back at Herne Hill, we were treated to a jerk chicken lunch and an IPA, which were included in the ticket price. By then the sun was out and it was very pleasant sitting on the steps of the Herne Hill building. It did take a while queuing for the food, but boy was it delicious.

    Here's the route if you fancy giving it a bash.

  • 15/01/2024 Things can only get better

    Oh boy, this one is going to be hard to write. I haven’t written a post for a while because my year, that started really promisingly, became something of an annus horribilis. It became too painful to post about. Sorry.

    Coming off the back of a successful Rapha Festive 500 (riding 500km over 8 days), I had a good launchpad for cycling in 2023. I even took New Year’s Day off riding and only touched my bike to clean it. I built a base of endurance, then grew my power, all the while doing regular weights sessions. I even tried my hand at salsa and hit spring feeling, well pretty good.

    I enjoy a varied cycling life. Road and gravel events, a bit of touring plus I commute and also race. It feels almost too eccentric, too niche, too odd, but my preferred for of racing is time trials on a tandem in the vets category with +RichardM. This provides me with goals. I have always loved training, but I find it better to have a specific goal. This makes you focus your training and work on a particular kind of fitness. Time trials in my case. The first three races went well. A course record at the Welwyn Hilly 50km and a PB by almost a minute for 10 miles on the F11/10 course near Tring.

    Then the wheels started to come off. Three races were cancelled for various reasons. For the next two, either I was ill or my tandem partner Richard was injured (can’t remember which way round it was), so we missed those two. Then bad weather at another. By then it was June. And I got a call one morning - my mother-in-law who lives in Oregon was dying. We duly flew to the West Coast and got to spend a few days with her before she passed.

    Charlie - such a good boy

    Then soon after we returned, we had to put our dog, Charlie, down. I rode the South Downs Way solo and tried to forget. Then my aunt died. Then my wife’s aunt died. This was all very hard. I stayed with the training. Stayed in shape. Stayed sane. Come September we had a shot at fast 25-mile course. Could we pull out another PB and save our season? Clearly no, you can read the story above (Two left feet) about how I managed to bring two left shoes to the race and we recorded a DNS rather than a PB.

    Late September came and my father had a heart attack. It seemed "mild" at the time, but he developed pneumonia and then a bad UTI and got weaker and weaker. My mother is disabled, so we suddenly had two parents in need of 24hr care. (If you reach that stage with your folks, 24hr care is never enough. You will invariably need to do more to support that care).

    I caught a cold which lasted the whole of December. Probably brought on by stress. Then, on 1 January my dad died putting a full stop on a dreadful 6 months. He was 94, but we all wanted more. The world seemed to freeze for two weeks while my brother, sister and I arranged funeral and wake and supported our mum. Then there’s all the paperwork and probate afterwards. Bereavement sucks.

    My father, Barry

    Today I’m back at work. Today my cold came back and my lungs are sore (it turns out I have a chest infection). Today sucks. In between all this, I’ve been trying to plan my 2024. I do have a calendar of races and events lined up. I’d like to actually ride a few of them, too! I know that I now have to be patient and build my fitness and health up. It feels like a bit of a mountain, to be honest. I really don’t want to lose any more of my dear ones this year. It has been an extraordinary period. I hope to be posting again soon about cycling.

  • 10/02/2024 - Tales of a pessimist

    Back in 1987, BBC weather presenter Michael Fish gave a forecast that denied rumours that a hurricane was on its way.­JhaxGzep

    The next day a violent cyclone ripped through the country with winds of up to 132mph, 18 people died and 15 million trees were felled. Since then, it seems to me that BBC weather forecasts have erred on the side of caution to the point of pessimism. For some reason, I failed to remember this...

    So, it was the Friday before a 100km reliability ride and – I know, know – I checked the BBC weather app on my phone. In truth I’d been checking every day for a week. The prediction was bleak. A 70% chance of rain all day. Not really what I wanted to subject myself to, especially after recovering from a nasty chest infection in January. When +Greg_Kabulski posted that he was thinking about doing a DIY ride of the route on the better-looking Saturday, I decided to do the same.

    I’ve ridden the Verulam CC Reliabilty Ride a few times – there are two reports above – so I knew what to expect - hills. My coach gave me a plan: “ride this on heart rate and keep it under 125BPM on the flat.” “What flats?” I wrote back, attaching the elevation profile. “Oh, I see, just go over 125BPM on the climbs then!”

    I set out from Redbourn doing as coach instructed. I kept it pretty mellow and the weather stayed pretty mild, a misty start that grew a little bright as the day wore on. I went through Tring and Albury, saw a very friendly white horse, then Wendover Woods and lunched at Wendover. No 2 Pound Street does a very good line in toasties and I sat and stared down the hill while gathering myself for the second half.

    Either side of the 40 mile mark the two most challenging climbs of the route come in quick succession. First Whiteleaf, then Wardrobes. These must have eaten into my legs a fair bit, because at 50 miles I was struggling. I stopped and took on some white chocolate and peanut protein bar thing, had a 5-minute breather and decided to HTFU. Easier said than done.

    The next 10 miles was a struggle, but once I was past that soul destroying climb out of Berkhamsted up[ Gravel Path, I rallied. I finished well apart from not have the apres ride lunch that Verulam CC throw on. I was a day early for that. I tried not to be too disappointed that this was my slowest ride on this route. I’m still coming back from a long period of disruption to my training and I was riding my somewhat heavier gravel bike. Although I have to say, having an easy 38/42 gear allowed my to cruise up the steeper ramps in a slow and stately manner.

    And Sunday, did it rain? Hardly. There was a brief and minor bit of drizzle and by noon it was blue skies. I love the BBC, but not for their weather forecasts. It's almost like they don't want us to go outside and enjoy ourselves! Next time I see another of their gloomy forecasts before an event, I’ll take it with a pinch of salt. The main thing for me was to get my first 100km ride of the year done, so mission accomplished.

  • @Sir_Shannonball, I'm glad I came to Chiltern Hills on Saturday to do the Verulam Reliability ride. I'm a fan of Chiltern Hills and any opportunity to go there is valid!

    Even though it didn't rain that much on Sunday, I think we've won anyway, because I'm sure the roads were significantly drier on Saturday.

    So far I've done the following DYI:
    L'Etape UK by Tour de France twice
    Harp RC Harp Hilly Hundred
    Verulam Reliability Ride

    How would you rank all the Chiltern Classics and which one would you recommend for me to tackle next?

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The View From Here - a blog

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