The view from here

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  • 07/07/2022 – Chariot of fire

    Imagine, if you will, a huge Roman sports arena, the crowd booming loud and large and gladiators charging around in chariots. Or being chased by chariots. A frenetic and violent scene, full of colour and guts and bloody-mindedness. That, dear reader, is what the Reading CC 25 time trial felt like…

    Well, actually, we were west of Reading on a section of the A4 called Bath Road not far from Aldermaston, where warheads for Trident missiles get assembled. And, like a missile, +RichardM and myself intended to launch ourselves on the green Calfee tandem around the course at top speed. And why not? The H25/1 course is one of the faster non-dual carriageway time trial courses in the south, so it has the dual appeal of being both rapid and relatively easy on the eye.

    Our very first 25-mile race was on this course and yielded a sub hour time, 58:43, in spite of overshooting one roundabout (“You see that nice marshal in hi-viz?” “Er, no. Oops”). So, going off-course aside, we were hopeful of a decent time. There was a slight alteration the original course. A cycle lane had been put in at the west end and so the turnaround was a little earlier. Really minor change and the course is now known as the H25/1A.

    So, to the start line. Some bothersome Velotoze shoe covers had precluded our structured turbo warm up, but no bother, we felt good and ready. Ready enough to decline the offer of being held up on the start line. Not such a great decision, as we struggled to clip in after we pushed off and lost a few seconds in that moment.

    OK, let’s rewind a little. Tandem time trialling is a very niche activity. Often we are the only entrants, but the £20 prize had attracted a second machine. This machine was a stunning-looking steel tandem trike. Yes, trike. We’d looked at the results of the team riding it on the CTT website and they were good.

    Back in the race we set off with Richard joking that he felt we were going to be chased down by what felt like a chariot from the movie Gladiator.­ews

    Whilst I was deeply grateful that our rivals were not equipped with bows, arrows, swords and other brutal weapons, I did get the sense that they were breathing down our necks. At the six-mile point there is a turnaround at a roundabout and as we came back we saw the chariot, I mean trike, approaching it. They were definitely getting closer. At the next turnaround, there was no sign. Could we have gained ground? I knew that they were closing because they must have been on the roundabout when we exited it. Darn, overtaken at halfway was not a good look. We were now going back into a slight headwind, which was miserable, but we held on. 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 miles. It wasn’t until the 18th mile that we succumbed to the three-wheeler.

    Cool and calm lawyer by day, Richard is an emotional racer and he reacted with a passion. The trike moved ahead of us, but I could feel in the pedals his desire to bring them back. And I looked to raise my game, too. Try as we did, we could only slow down the growth in the gap between us. This was partly down to their strength and good aero positions, but also we had no less than five hold ups for traffic. At one point a van more or less parked in front of us causing a near dead stop. This was suboptimal, to say the least, but part and parcel of racing on the open roads. It can happen, but this was an unusual number of interruptions. Even without them, our competitors would have beaten us, probably by 15 seconds or so. Hats – or should I say helmets – off to them.

    Our time was 59:21, them 58:02. Disappointing in a sense, but looking at all the results that day, only about half went under the hour. So, not bad really. That’s it. Exit, pursued by a tandem trike.

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  • Nice blog.

    Like Mr Johnson's recent resignation, being caught by that infernal machine was less a question of "if" and more one of "when".

    Great fun (and superb post-ride millionaire's shortbread at HQ).

  • 22/07/2022 - A parallel universe

    There is another universe out there. You can access it more or less wherever you are in the world. It is quite different from this one. No, you are not entering a scene from the movie Everything, Everywhere, All at Once nor another timeline from Doctor Who. This is off road riding. Mountain bikers know how to get there, audax riders dip into it and the recent gravel phenomenon has opened up this zone to more of us cyclists. But how to get there? I’m going to demonstrate my method, which does not include spells, time machines, selling your soul to the devil or doing something unusual, a la Everything, Everywhere All at Once.

    Let me explain first how I ended up hanging out in this other plane. The first lockdown hit us and I got absolutely sick to the back teeth of cyclists drafting me or riding near when we were doing our allowed daily exercise, unvaccinated and living under strict restrictions. I cracked and got myself a second-hand gravel bike, in my case from a club mate, and got off the grid. I wasn’t a complete newbie to riding off road, I had a mountain bike in the Eighties and have done and enjoyed Rapha’s A Day in Hell/Hell of the North events with its long gravé sectors, but at no stage developed any rad, as they say, skills.

    I described this existence as off the grid because it’s somewhat quieter there. The traffic consists of occasional horses or dog walkers and there are no shops, close passes or crowds. It’s a land of chuck, chunder, babyheads and peanut butter mud and it can get gnarly. I dipped in the Stateside vernacular a bit there in how Americans describe their “trails.” Blighty puts its best foot – or pedal – forward on a land that consists of Byways, Bridleways and Unrestricted Byways. Farm tracks and livestock abound and it’s all very agricultural.

    OK, let’s go to this brave new world. In many ways, it’s actually an old world, ancient even. Some of the best off-road riding you can find is on bygone roadways such as the Icknield Way (110 miles), which claims to be the oldest road in Britain, a 47-mile part of the Pilgrim’s Way, or the Ridgeway (85 miles). In fact, the Ridgeway forms a large part of one of Cycling UK’s series of multi-day off-road routes, The King Alfred’s Way, which loops from Winchester. This sits alongside the mighty 800-mile Great North Trail, the West Kernow Way in Cornwall, Cantii Way in Kent and their latest one in Norfolk, The Rebellion Way.

    There are number of organisations that run gravel event rides, too. One of them, Hidden Tracks, are getting in on the longer distance off-road act with a forthcoming London Orbital route. Glorious Gravel and Trail Break are two more gravel event organisers.

    Another approach is to search for others riders routes on RideWithGPS (RWGPS), for example, or you could make your own route. YouTuber Simon Willis has a great explanation of how he uses Komoot to create gravel routes on his Always Another Adventure channel:­w1U

    Or you could use any of the other myriad mapping platforms out there. My way of planning off-road rides is a fairly old school one, in a digital kind of way. I find most online mapping tools are somewhat inadequate and I can struggle with hard copy Ordinance Survey maps, not because of inaccuracy, but because the way things are marked is not distinct enough for me.

    I aim to avoid using footpaths where cyclists are legally not permitted. If you do use them, they can be really hit and miss. Many are overgrown and you will hit gates and other anti-cyclist defences. Byways and bridleways for me and the Footpathmap website (FPM) I use is really clear at identifying them. Bright pink for bridleways, blue for byways and green for unrestricted byways. Footpaths are red. This works for me on a psychological level, too, knowing I should avoid the red ones.

    I like to draw my routes on RWGPS and have another tab open with FPM for reference. The colours of FPM really pop and it becomes a simple question of joining the blues, greens and pinks to make a loop. Some area have multiple options and this is a good enough reason for me not to simple click two points and ask Komoot or some such app to work it out. The reason I like using RWGPS to buid routes is the Draw Lines function. Most mapping apps have an automatic drawing function to follow the roads between the points you click, but none recognise every navicable byway or brideway. Some you simply don’t get used on auto, so the solution is to switch from follow roads to draw line mode and manually draw that section. Then switch back to follow roads.

    Here’s a couple of routes I created using this method.

    An alternative, and I’m not joking, is to just get lost. If you don’t slow down enough to explore and enjoy the scenery andwonder “where does that other path go?” then you are missing a lot of the joy universe offers.

    How do you go about creating your routes?

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The view from here

Posted by Avatar for Sir_Shannonball @Sir_Shannonball