Dundry, Parsonage Lane, Blagdon, Draycott, Shipham, Wrington, Belmont

I’ve been trying to rebuild my base endurance after it took a walloping due to illness and other factors. this involves the same sort of training as normal, but with some extended weekend jaunts out into the mendips, taking in at least a few hills. Today i tackled a ride i usually favour during a ‘build’ period. it’s not one for the faint-hearted or faint-legged, for a couple of reasons. The total elevation tops out at 5000 feet, hitting that all important 1000 feet per 10 miles marker. There are 6 particularly unpleasant climbs, interspersed with some opportunities for recovery. It’s really hard work and maintaining any kind of average speed above 15mph is very difficult, requiring considerable exertion on the ups and and on the flat.

The route starts with an ascent over the steep side of Dundry, and it’s very steep. It takes around 4 minutes, oscillating between 10 and 20% with not much inbetween. The hairpins are also very steep. It’s a wall. Parsonage Lane is much gentler, at around 6% for about 0.8 of a mile. After that, Blagdon looms large. It’s the nastiest way to get up the north side of the Mendips, rising up from Blagdon Lake to the highest point of the hills in 1 3/4 miles. The elevation pitches up to around 15% at various points and is never particularly shallow. It’s a climb I really like but it’s never particularly easy, just tipping over the edge of steepness to make it hard to find and maintain a rhythm. It’s used in the Colin Carfield road race where the action generally explodes.

After a brief recovery and descent of West Close – a hill climb course used this year by Team Tor and for the National HC in 2000 – it was time for the hardest, nastiest, most revolting climb in all the Mendips: Draycott Steep. It’s a climb most people avoid on account of its unremitting savagery. it’s hard to explain precisely why, but it could be because of its unassuming nature. Essentially, it heads up out of Draycott to the very top of Cheddar Gorge in one straight, steepening line. There is no opportunity to gather breath or recover. The climb is a mile and a half long; once it pitches up to 15% it doesn’t slip back down for about a mile. Instead it gently pitches up to about 22%; the increased incline isn’t immediately evident, you can’t see it looking up the hill, but it’s evident when you start pedalling in squares and the front wheel becomes light and unstable. I find the climb exerts a curious allure, it’s a challenge and every now and then i head down and have a pop. I’ve never had a good climb on Draycott, my only memories are struggling up and wishing i had something else other than the 39:25. It’s simply too steep for too long to get any kind of rhythm.

The hostelry at the top of Draycott

Once i’d reached the top of the Mendips my legs were a bit ragged. A rapid descent of the gorge and blast through Cheddar allowed some respite. I’ve never seen quite so many cyclists coming up the Gorge, small groups and individuals enjoying the glorious weather; i probably passed around 25 riders. I’ve always preferred descending the gorge to climbing up; it’s not much of a climb, to be honest, and the scenery is more impressive when you plummet down through, remembering only to ‘think goat’: watch out for the bearded ruminants who line the cliffs.

two cyclists dwarfed by the towering cliffs of the gorge

Shipham is a main road rhythm climb, rising out of Cheddar and back up the side of the Mendips. It’s not particularly nice because it heads past a quarry, but it’s relatively straightforward. After that I hopped up over Wrington, a short and very steep climb with amazing views across to the Mendip escarpment, then rattled back into the city, pausing only to direct some leisure cyclists (aren’t we all?) onto the railway path and point some day trippers towards Clevedon. A quick ascent of Belmont and super fast descent of Clarken Combe finished off the ride. Average temperature, even at 8am, was 78 degrees. Very very hot. In an unprecedented development I drank two full bottles of jungle juice. I feel like my legs might be returning.

Riding the Trough of a Wave

It’s been a busy week. Last Sunday I went to the Welsh course. I had very low expectations but somehow came away with a 51.45. I would have taken this beforehand. It was a windy day in the Valleys. Wendy Houvenaghel was there, she turned in a short 54.

The Wendster; all round cycling superstar
Here be dragons… on some sort of monocoque frame

I then took things easy on the Monday. It was wet and dank. On Tuesday I headed out to Didmarton for a Hardrider. Incidentally, the surnames recorded in the parish graveyard, and in that of the Didmarton Congregational church, include: Baker, Bickerton, Borham, Cox, Gould, Lucas, Pritchard, Short, Rice, Robbins, Till, and Tuck. The race was a chastening experience, i was well beaten by several other people I have been beating relatively recently. My legs deserted me and the headwind was cruelly indifferent to my lack of form and general fatigue.

I rode slowly to work on Wednesday through the dank and murky mizzle.

Legs of despair, murk-ridden cruelty

The weather has since atoned for its derision and nastiness with a couple of days of glorious sunshine. It looks suspiciously like it might be a floaty weekend. Therefore it is inevitable that my race is cancelled due to roadworks.

Gloire du matin

I shall be busting out the C-Bomb tomorrow for a ride around the North Somerset environs, dreamily contemplating the distant prospect of a return to form, one day.

Dawn of the Replicants

The sun has made a welcome reappearance of late. This has also led to the reappearance of hordes of cyclists on our otherwise quiet and uninvaded roads. They are a peculiar species, the summer cyclist, akin to the cicada or some other organism with an innate biological or seasonal trigger point. I went out yesterday (started early — took my bike) and even at 8am the presence of susbtantially more cyclists than usual was apparent. Several of them were in various combinations of team kit. Not many were in club kit. I bumped into Nick Pilborough from Spin Rotor Primal and we chatted about the Tour Series. He still had his race number on his bicycle. Tom Stockdale had a really unpleasant crash in the Colchester event, I’d watched it on catch-up that morning and it looked very hard indeed, so it was nice to hear from a team-mate that he was going to be OK. The racing at the Tour Series looks incredibly hard – short technical circuits with sharp hairpins and an elite field – not nice. It’s also usually raining which doesn’t help.

The sunny weather at the moment means short-sleeve order and it’s a rare treat to able to head out the door without giving it too much thought or having that nagging interior monologue rattling around the brain – am I going to be too cold? too hot? should i swap rain jackets? mitts or defeet dura-gloves? leg-warmers or knee-warmers?

I headed up clarken coombe, it’s one of my favourite climbs, and I was going well until i unshipped my chain. I couldn’t do the old flick back on, so had to stop and get oily. I was annoyed. My annoyance lasted until I got to the end of beggar’s bush lane and saw this chap:

some chopper out strava-bombing in replica team kit

A first glance told me it was the mighty JTL. Confirmation came in the absence of a helmet: as any fule kno the professionals never wear helmets. I chased him down – lucky for my he was on a recovery ride, soft pedalling and generally chilling out, and asked if i could take his photo. He was really friendly and obliging and stopped at the side of the road for a chat. I got a bit over excited and tried to control myself. Our conversation was fairly typical of any conversation between two keen cyclists, he asked me where I was heading, i mentioned two mile hill – ‘the one with the switch backs heading up to horserace lane’ said JTL. He was tired after a very heavy week, I asked what he had been doing, he said ‘everything’. JTL’s planned ride was a gentle jaunt out to Wraxall and towards Clevedon. He even asked what races I had planned… I said I was keeping my powder dry until the hill climb season and doing a lot of hilly time trials with quite a bit of climbing in them, sometimes even as much as 2000ft. I asked him what races he had lined up, he said “I’m racing at the Tour De Suisse in a week’s time. Some of the climbs are over 3,000 metres”. It’s not quite the BSCC/Dursley hardrider, but I’ll allow him bragging rights on that one.

It was quite an encounter. I took the opportunity to congratulate him on an amazing season last year when he won the Tour of Britain. Tour of the Mediterrean, Tour of Alsace, Tour De Haut Var, and finished second at the Tour of Murcia. Jon’s description of this season is ‘different’ on account of his role in the team and the level at which he is now riding; essentially acting as a mountain domestique to riders like Froome, Henao, Uran and others. It’s an apprenticeship and a new learning curve. 

The rest of my ride was suffused with a glow on account of the serendipitous meeting. This lasted for quite a while, or precisely, it lasted until I got to the furthest point away from home. This happened:

asymmetrical lacing on neutron ultra

Usually I can fix mechanical issues when out on the move. This one proved to be a bit of a humdinger. The wheel went badly out of true and wouldn’t go through the seat stays. It required a call to Belle to bring out the Voiture Balai.

Swept up

Whilst waiting for the sag wagon to arrive I enjoyed the sunshine and looked at the view.

light and colours

Breaking the Chain

My chain snapped on the way to work yesterday. Too much torque: raw, unabashed power pulsing through the cranks tore one of the links apart and left the chain coiled in disgrace on the tarmac.

At the moment it popped i could have sworn by Thatcher’s Digne Bones that my chain tool was back at Traumfahrrad towers. Imagine my surprise when i saw it glistening at the bottom of my carradice. I‘ve resolved to try and remember my chaintool ever since Steve RoughStuff had a chain-related catastrophe in the middle of the Brecon Beacons. We began to panic and cry. We thought we were going to die at Heol Senni, until Graham Audax-King came to the rescue by delving into his tardis of an Audax bag containing an entire set of workshop tools. Resolving to remember it and actually remembering it are two  very different concepts, but somehow I managed to do both. 

I suddenly felt resourceful and manly; the trajectory was complete – I had become my Dad. There was no technical problem beyond my compass. I shortened the chain and wrapped it round the 15 sprocket, heading into work in single speed mode. I felt almost unbearably smug and had to tell my workmates of my early morning adventures. They failed to share my excitement and self-satisfaction or understand why fixing a chain and making it to work on time was such a fantastic start to the day. 

Riding home today I stopped to help a fellow cyclist who also had chain issues. It must be something to do with the long and brutal winter exacting retribution on the moving parts of bicycles everywhere.

So far this week I’ve fixed a chain whilst out on the road, chitted some potatoes, changed a terry nappy and made a sour dough loaf. It’s Richard Briers Day every single day chez traum.

 

A chaos of hard clay

Ashton Court is an old mansion estate on the edge of Bristol. It’s home to various things throughout the year, including the photogenic balloon festival and a large herd of small deer. It’s also been adopted by the local mountain bike community and there are several carefully constructed trails in the woods. I’ve done my best to ignore this aspect of the cycling world for about 36 years, but lately have been surreptitiously dipping a toe into the filthy primordial pondwater of mountain biking. I have assembled a bike for the carrying of the small person; it just so happens that it’s a retrotastic steel framed Orange P7 mountain bike and perfect for riding the sturdy and fast Nova trail in Ashton Court. Penelope has been taking a keen interest in all things cycling and is eagerly tracking the developments in the spring classics.

Well Dad, Boonen might be on the front at Driedaagse Van West-Vlaanderen but i’d wager he hasn’t got the form for a concerted and successful campaign. More milk please.

I’ve been over to Ashton Court twice this week to use it as my recovery ride. It’s a 4 mile circuit through the woods on a track built up and maintained by some ardent trail pixies. It has berms and banks and drops and all sorts of technical features. More importantly, it’s dry and free of the kind of slurry normally associated with this darkest and most vile of sports. I like it because it’s been deserted in the mornings and is a lively, technical ride requiring lots of decisions, a degree of focus but not too much out-and-out effort. It’s also a lot of fun. I learnt some interesting lessons: it’s best to let air out of tyres in order to go faster and gain a semblance of control. Not quite sure how Tim Wilkey of Das Rad Klub fame managed a fixie 120psi loop; courage.

the view from the Nova trail this morning at 10am

Today and last week I didn’t see another soul. On my way out, however, i saw an endless stream of men of a certain age in rather large and expensive looking cars with their large and very expensive mountain bikes in the back. It’s a minor gripe, but these chaps should really be riding to the trails. I’m sure there are a few excuses, but it didn’t look good. I nearly always see people unloading their bikes from the boots of huge cars in Leigh Woods and Clifton. It seems anomalous and not in keeping with the reasons why many people cycle.

That aside, the Nova Trail is the perfect introduction to the disgusting ‘off-road’ realm and I’d recommend it as an ideal workout for those new to such dark pursuits.

We want the finest drillium available to humanity, we want it here and we want it now.

There are two mythical materials used in the construction of high-end bike frames, both of which are million miles away from the current crabon hegemony. The first of these is known simply as ‘unobtainium‘. A longstanding member of the london bicycle community and early guiding light of the LFGSS forum, known only as Cornelius, or Corny to his chums, rode a bike made of purest unobtainum. It was reputed that it had been built using materials left over from the construction of the space shuttle. It was shiny and silver and shimmered delicately in the smog.

Even rarer than unobtanium is the delicate filigree finish of a piece of finest drillium. The high-water mark for drillium was the 1960s and 70s, a time when weight was seen as the definitive measure, prior to the relentless focus on slipperiness cemented by Lemond’s Tour victory. Drillium is a startling frame material, two parts emmental to three parts solid silver. Occasionally an example comes up on fleabay or via Hilary Stone. Several minutes can be spent gazing at the delicate curlicues and intense fragility of the wonder material. Alf Engers is seen in some quarters of the King of Drillium. Some of his Shorter frames and components defined the aesthetic and practical limitations of the material.

For some time i’ve been exchanging pictures of drillium with Elliot Davis, with each trying to outdo the other with a new and outrageous example. I sent him the images of the Aende, the bicycling equivalent of mint aero. He linked to the campag seatpost. I thought it only right and proper that i share some of these meisterwerks with you. Feel free to add your drillium tales to the comments thread.

Chainset , brake levers, seat post of purest drillium
holy drillium, batman
drillium fork steerer
beautiful high-end drillium
not dissimilar to the airlite hub, but much more extreme
Molteni Merckx Drillium

Vulnerable Road Users and a Frightening Week to be a Cyclist

Today was perfect cycling weather, at least in comparison to the manifold treachery of the ice fields of yore. Temperatures were kind and it was possible to ride in a state of blissful innocence, free from the latent fear of frozen liquid and the potential for horrible crashes.

I made my way to work the long way round. I did not enjoy the battle with the headwind on the A38 but hunkered down and forced the pace. It made a lovely contrast to the rollers and the endless repetition of riding indoors. feeling the wind in your face at least makes you feel alive.

Eventually i made my way into Bristol and across the downs. It was about 7.10am. I paused at the lights on the corner of Parry’s Lane and Saville Road and waited patiently for an opportunity to pull out. i glanced back over my shoulder and saw a car approaching really quickly and it became apparent in that instant that it was very unlikely he was going to stop. and so it goes.

The car rammed straight into the back wheel of the bike, throwing me forwards onto the main road. it was a sudden but slow impact. I lay on the floor for a few moments before getting up and walking to the side. The car driver had stopped and he got out of his car. I asked him fairly simply; “What are you doing?”. I think i repeated it. His reply was something along the lines of “these are just things that happen”, which was a bit of an injudicious comment and prompted me to unleash a bit of a rant. I was surprisingly articulate given the circumstances and can remember most of what I said. This is because normally i think of what i should have said after the event, whereas this morning it just poured out in a torrent of anger, shock and frustration.

These aren’t just things that happen or accidents. I’m was trying to get to work and being careful and riding safely and I was knocked off my bike. I wasn’t an invisible cyclist or someone riding in a crazy manner. I was highly visible with three Smart lights on the back, scotchlite tape, a bright red jacket and luminous overshoes. A driver went straight into the back of me.

I was really angry and both the shock and adrenalin were making me shake. I was aware that i was uninjured but also aware that this was an entirely fortuitous result. At this point a passer-by came across the road to give me his details to say exactly what he saw and that I could get in touch if i needed to. The car driver was not angry, he was also shocked and a bit freaked out. He continued to say that it was an accident. .

It wasn’t an accident, it was a direct result of decisions made on the road. He drove into the back of me because he wasn’t looking. It’s entirely the driver’s fault and when a driver does this; looks down or the wrong way, or makes an assumption, or thinks someone might be about to do something so pre-empts it, only to find they don’t, then one of three things could happen. The first of these is nothing; the driver goes home and doesn’t even remember the incident. The second thing is “this” happens and a cyclist ends up on the floor in front of a car. The third of which is serious injury or death.

If i was in a car we wouldn’t even have particularly discussed the matter, i’d have taken his details and he’d apologise and think about his no claims bonus. I pointed all of this out to him quite forcefully. He apologised and was genuinely remorseful. I was still really angry and shaken.

I ride every day to work, give or take. i get up at 5.50am so i can ride 20 miles before work because i’m a committed racing cyclist. This morning i’d been out on my bike for an hour when i came across a semi-comatose, unthinking driver who’d slumped into his car, not even thinking about it and proceeded to hit my bike. It’s unfair. Every day in the time i spend on the road someone comes within inches of knocking me off. and i ride safely, assertively and without cause for alarm, and yet still it happens every single day. A day when i don’t feel threatened by a car driver is a cause for celebration. I’m not some irritant in the way or even particularly different to your average car drive, i’m just going to work, trying to do an honest day’s work to earn money so i can pay my bills. I’m not an asshole or insignificant thing, i’m just like the errant driver, except i’m much more dedicated to cycling than he (or presumably anyone) could ever be to driving. every minute i spend on the bike is time i value, each and every second, whereas every second spent in a car is time wasted or rushed through in an unceasing hurry to be somewhere else, doing something else.

He apologised and said he wanted to do something to help. The adrenalin and shock subsided and i was feeling a bit wasted. He drove me to work because my back wheel was fubar. I couldn’t even get it go past the seat stays, let alone the brake blocks.

He was a chap who took his eye off the road for a moment with unpleasant consequences. It could have been far worse. In a week where a married couple on a tandem were killed in Hanham, road safety is uppermost in my mind. I’ve been haunted by the ridiculously lenient and offensive sentences handed down for those causing death by dangerous driving and upset by the lack of will by anyone in government to do anything about it.

I told him that i would fix the wheel.  The one good thing he could do that would make a positive difference is to give all cyclists a wide berth, space on the road to breathe and not feel threatened and intimidated. As we passed a cyclist I pointed out that it’s someone’s wife, daughter or sister, just trying to get to work in nasty weather. They shouldn’t be running the gauntlet and risking life and limb. They deserve heartfelt respect from callow and fickle drivers in their hermetically-sealed and dangerously insulated cars.