Last year wasn’t exactly fallow in cycling terms, i managed about 3000 miles with one super long ride from Land’s End to Bristol, a bit of a hike up North and some general soft-pedalling. However, one of my new year’s resolutions was to try and ride a bit more and be more disciplined about it.
There are a couple of reasons for this, but the most searingly obvious one is that I feel better when I ride more. it’s good for my mental health. It doesn’t work on its own, there is also a need to try and get things in balance and all sorts of other stuff, but on a fundamental level, a decent and regular blast on the bike has a significant impact. I also start to remember all the good things as fitness returns; the enjoyment rather than sufferance of hills, the way time passes separately to the experience, outside of it, and the crazy things and animals seen in the half-light of an early morning or the evening twilight.
Thus far in January, I’ve done 450 miles, and I’m aiming for roughly500 a month. This has cued up several comments on the stravasphere about ‘secret training’. There is a grain of truth in this insofar as it helps having something to aim at, but on the whole I’m just working a bit harder and riding a bit further. There has been some weight loss which is also a good thing. I have fond memories of the ‘bantz’ copped at Burrington when I turned up a few kilos over my racing tonnage. I recall something Bradley Wiggins mentioned (not to me, this was in print, not when we were racing together), that people would say to him, ‘you’ve put on weight’ when the reality is he is now a normal weight and before he was at a ridiculous and unhealthy weight. Such is cycling, professionalism, eating disorders and mental health.
I have to fit it around all the other things that happen, so it involves more long rides to work and a regular weekend ride. It was the weekend ride that had disappeared. And yes, in terms of aims, I am planning a long long ride but it is very much weather dependent and i shouldn’t be planning it for this sort of time year (i.e arctic cold and wind) and it’s not really long in comparison with the stock bun-run of the ultranutters, but it is on the cards.
The book is fast approaching completion of the first draft. I think 10 days, give or take. Then it will be rewrites all the way, redrafts, up until the deadline in April. I was in a total hole with it but have written my way out of that one. I took the advice of a fellow writer (that’s a weird phrase to write, ‘fellow writer’, because it implies I sort of see myself as a writer at the same time) who said ‘write every day’ and I did some writing every day and low and behold it started to move through and the mental quicksand ebbed away.
Lastly, someone tweeted about the hill climb book the other day. This was nice to hear. If you like a book someone has written, let them know. At the risk of sounding completely new-age and not cynical, if you like anything someone has done, book or not, just tell them.
It sounds slightly dubious. Like sandbagging, or teabagging (no hyperlink on this occasion). Maybe a combination of the both, sandyteabagging. With a saddle. Others call it ‘credit card touring’, on account of the lightness of the tour, i.e not going full touring bongo, front and back panniers, dynamo hub, SPD sandals and other CTC erotica. Either way, and whatever hankie you’ve got in your top pocket, I’m going on a short saddlebag tour. These are convenient and can be woven into a busy life, allowing a short glimpse of the outdoors without the kind of legal compromises that can ensue with the unexpected announcement of a forthcoming world cycling tour.
Previously I’ve done Devon/Cornwall. It was very hilly and very beautiful. We (me, Graham and Steve) missed a fatal helicopter crash by inches. It was very hilly. We went to a pub and were lucky to escape alive. The road out of Lynton was the most beautiful ride I think I’ve ever done. A pint of Exmoor Ale on Exmoor never tasted so good. Day two was enlivened by the three of us catching up with a clubmate who had been dropped in a road race. It was strange. Day one was way too hard. It was all absurdly hilly and incredibly beautiful.
This year I’m opting for a straight ride back, an A to B, from Withernsea (the Saint Tropez of the Holderness peninsula, said no-one ever) to Bristol, over three days. It’s big miles, but it hopefully should be relatively benign until I reach the Cotswolds.
The bike is ready to go.
I’m using a Carradice Nelson on the back and a Carradice Barley bar bag on the front. It’s a nice set-up, and one I haven’t used before. In the past I’ve always opted for the super C, which is a total whopper of a bag, and nothing on the front. I like the option of having ready-to-grab things up front. It also means you can opt for the slightly smaller bag at the back. Accommodation is then provided by the good folks at Air B+B (a high-end shed in someone’s garden near Newark) and Premier Inn.
I’ll try and keep people posted. Probably best for the three long-suffering readers of this blog to check out my instagram feed for live pictures of unending tarmac and the lincolnshire badlands. So excited.
We were discussing ‘Zwift’ the other day. It’s all the rage in the same way that strava was all the rage a few years back, and as such it’s also polarising opinion quite quickly. Far be it for me to have strong opinions about these things. The general consensus is that anything that makes the turbo a better experience is a good thing. However, nothing makes the turbo a better experience than not using the fucking thing in the first place, so I don’t quite get the sudden virtual seduction of otherwise hardy winter cyclists. Anyway, that’s another blog for another day, with multiple layers of reality just waiting to be virtually explored, all undertaken whilst staying in the same place.
The discussion of zwift saw a ‘friend of a friend’ link to these chaps:
He knew what he was doing. “Hey, PJ, have you seen these guys?” he typed, with a coquettish smile and a flirty emoji.
I love a good pre-vetting. Is that an extra layer of vetting? How many layers of vetting does a collective need these days? I always thought that the word ‘collective’ was quite benign, soviet farming notwithstanding, but it’s acquiring increasingly sinister undertones. I’d go so far as to argue that it’s undergoing pejoration.
“The EC1 Collective was founded on strong principles that seek to advocate the interests of its members before all else. We’re not a cycling club in the traditional sense but rather a community of like-minded bike enthusiasts whose propensity to enjoy the finer things is maximised through an aggregated representation. Our aim is to move past the current marketing model of the UK cycling industry where manufacturers & retailers define the value exchange. Instead, our high-net-worth members have empowered themselves under a collective voice, the EC1 Collective, that see’s them dictate the value and experiences they want.”
I’m unsure of these ‘strong principles’. When I was very small I remember my Mum took me to church one Christmas. The Vicar pulled out all the stops on the sermon and gave it some welly about how hell is so terrible because you get everything you want and yet you still want more, you do your bidding, and it’s riven by insatiable avarice and personal desire. I remember at the time thinking that it didn’t sound all that bad. He then said Heaven was much better because you did what Jesus wanted all the time, you did his bidding. It seemed complicated, but to my 7 year old self it made heaven seem like an elaborate hell for Jesus, riven by his insatiable avarice and personal desire, which I didn’t think was the intention. Either way, this dualistic vision of the inferno seems to have several undercurrents with the EC1 “philosophy”, a social model predicated entirely on exchange value and net-worth. It’s the apotheosis of the current wave of materialism and has to be the most loathsome combination of high-capitalism and cycling I’ve yet seen.
“Through this reverse marketing model they are driven directly to the most relevant sources of trade. Our data driven model enables this granular matching up process.”
“Say hello to our community founder Mike and plan your next corporate ride out into the hills. With our industry connections we can piece together a ride or social occasion that’ll knock the cycling socks off your clients. We’ve also piece together many team building days / weekends based on varying abilities. Challenge your team to a ride out that’ll stir the sensing and leave them pumped & positive for the year ahead.”
I’d like to say hello to Mike, but I’m not sure that the granular matching up process would lead me within a hundred miles of him and his stooges, out on their triple-bongo winter bikes, which isn’t to say i don’t want my sensing stirred, it’s just that maximising my aggregated representation isn’t probably the way to do it. Maybe I’m just adrift of the times. Unlike the current POTUS who seems very much in tune with this model.
Most cyclists look forward to Christmas on account of the promise of quiet roads and an unusual sense of bonhomie amongst the general populace of car drivers. As such, it’s a perfect opportunity to bust out the winter bike and rack up the base miles. My good friends at Rapha sponsor the ‘festive 500′. It’s one of the things Rapha do very well, along with sponsoring several cycling events, backing a pro-tour team and providing expensive garms to legions of hapless choppers with more money than sense. You need to ride 311 miles between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Simple. 39 miles a day. I’ve managed 95 miles thus far, leaving a paltry 224 to turn in by Wednesday. If i’m lucky, I might make it an imperial festive 100. If you can’t beat ’em, start your own competition and win that. I think I will award myself a third chocolate orange on completion of this epic feat.
On the way back from the ‘Nham I came across some genuine Europro wannabes. Tommeke doesn’t count: he’s wearing sponsored kit from a team. He’s earned that look, and it’s more hardcore domestic pro with stripes than Eurosmasher. He has won road races and moved up through the categories as a result of hard work and diligence. Unlike the two Castelli head-to-footers on summer bongo-rockets who couldn’t even manage to lift a finger from the bars to acknowledge the presence of a fellow cyclist on the road to Uley at Christmas. Shame on them. I shall carry on waving, not drowning.
At some point today I tweeted that it might well be a day for the rollers, rather than riding outside. Cue a fusillade of comments from the battled-scarred roadmen of Bristol; all loosely invoking that ‘what would Sean Kelly do” spirit, but with less finesse and more ‘MTFU’. I had to then point out that I had actually been outside on my bicycle already and, on reflection, felt the time may have been better spent indoors on the spinning barrels of plastic. Either way, I lived up to the whole ‘do your ride then decide if it was too wet/windy/filthy’ mantra.
I struggled today. I was caught in a meteorological oubliette where the headwind seemed to come from every angle. It made for heavy going and I wobbled in the face of adversity, unlike Sean Kelly who would have dented the callow headwind through sheer torque and brutal souplesse. Sean Kelly was hewn from granite.
The first 4 miles of my ride were much more sedate; my progress was interrupted by the encroaching high tide. it was very exciting. I took some pictures.
Firstly, Happy New Year. I hope last year was good and this year will be even better. My year has been amazing for reasons entirely unconnected with cycling.
In many ways cycling has been a secondary endeavour. I’ve still tried to squeeze it in and I’ve managed a fairly healthy racing calendar. For this I’m indebted to the support of Belle, who is amazing. It’s all well and good to say, “I’m only going to do local races”, bike racing requires time, energy and commitment. I can argue that it makes me feel better, it’s good for my mental health, I keep fit, it stops me going loco, but these are all ultimately self-serving arguments, and family comes first. I feel incredibly lucky that I have been able to race and fit in some training around family commitments, and it’s nothing to do with what I want to do, or however many sacrifices I feel like I’m making, it’s everything to do with working together to make things right and ensure that time is sacrosanct. And I’ve got it wrong at some key points this year, but generally I’ve got it right. If i had to offer a few key tips to anyone whose life is about to change enormously and wondering how they might manage to ever ride a bike again, then it’s this:
1. Family comes first
2. Ride when you can: this means don’t make plans to go out at 8am with friends, it means ride on your own in the 2 hours you’ve got in the middle of the morning or whenever the window opens
3. Make use of rollers, sometimes the window is small
4. Insist your inlaws move to a location approximately 50-70 miles away on the other side of an escarpment of hills; visit them regularly en famille: cycle there.
In line with point 4, I cycled to the inlaws at the weekend. In these enlightened times where everyone’s a cyclist and everyone has an opinion about cycling, people are less and less surprised by the strange endeavours of the long distance wheelman. I rode to Cheltenham from Bristol, a 65 mile jaunt over the old Severn Bridge and via the Forest of Dean. I dropped this into a pub conversation and it caused a murmur of disbelief. ‘You did what? CHEPSTOW? You’ve been to Wales? ANOTHER COUNTRY?’ I felt vaguely nostalgic for the days when every Monday was marked by similar conversations as non-cyclists attempted to suspend their disbelief at my heroic exploits around lanes of Kent. Maybe it was a peculiarly atavistic weekend, after all, I saw only two other cyclists in the four hours in the road and I traversed the Forest of Dean where the locals eat their young.
in the five years since moving to Bristol and 30,000 miles or so ridden I’d not made it over the bridge by bike until yesterday. Belle managed this feat some years ago. I ignored my normal Cotswold lungbuster in an attempt to squeeze in a few more miles. Riding over the bridge is fun. It opened in 1966, which isn’t all at long ago. I imagine it was heralded as a new economic dawn and anglo-welsh success story, destined to link the two shorelines in perpetuity. Instead, traffic tripled in 20 years and a new bridge was completed in 1996. I wonder how long it will be before another bridge is mooted as the solution to ever-increasing numbers of vehicles.
Before the bridge there was only a ferry at Aust. Some of the signage is still there and the crossing is marked by Passage Road.
The climb up and out of Chepstow is terrific. It heads upwards for around 4 miles or so, then the road sinuously reaches up towards the Forest of Dean. Come the high season I’d like to get fresh and take the C-Bomb up there for a bit of bike-on-hill action. There are several other tasty climbs, including one beast of a ramp up to Speech House. I enjoyed it and a 68″ was just about right, apart from one or two slightly tall ramps where I had to honk it a little bit. The run into Gloucester and Cheltenham was rapid and terminally dull, apart from a nice stretch around the lanes somewhere. I have been using the ‘breadcrumb’ mapping capacity on an old Garmin 500. It’s really simple; you map the route on bikehike or similar then upload it. As long as you keep an eye out for turns it works perfectly.
My arrival was heralded by a chocolate cloud cake. It was amazing.
The following day I rode back from Cheltenham to Bristol along my normal route; straight up and over the Cotswolds. It was cold and beautiful, but also horribly icy. By the time I’d realised just how icy, it was too late. I came round the corner near Painswick to a perfect tableau of a car, gently rocking on its side and a static sea of surface ice. Luckily a fellow cyclist had warned me near the top of the descent of ice on the road so I’d taken things extremely carefully on the way down. As soon as I saw the run-off across the road i started walking.
Mercifully, no-one was hurt, although moments later the Cheltenham CCC club run came rolling down the hill and went down like nine-pins. there were a couple of dicey bits and if i wasn’t doing an A to B ride I would have turned round and headed for home. As it was, I took it steady and stuck to the main roads wherever possible. I made it back in one piece.
I had a vaguely self-satisfied feeling that comes from ratcheting up the miles over the festive period. I managed a few decent rides. However, everyone else has been out doing a passable impression of team sky, busting out back-to-back 100 milers and other insane feats, including 21,000 feet of climbing in 2 days. (J’accuse Ben Davis et aussi Tom Ilett). Oh well, no prizes for having a shedload of form in February. Unless your target for the season is the Frome and District Wheelers 10 Mile Open Time Trial. Which it isn’t.
On the way home today i got to chatting to a fellow cyclist. this is quite an unusual occurrence; most commuters are either extremely slow or hell-bent on some kind of lone criterium where they’re the only one racing and they failed to mention it to the other people they’re racing against. I’ve had a few stick to my wheel like a chopper incarnation of cadel evans. it’s quite irritating. I’ve had to ask a few to not ride so close in traffic. Wheelsucking on a commute annoys me; it’s dangerous. But nevermind. Blah blah blah ride faster. Anyhow, we were chatting and it was all very cordial. He then took to admiring my bike – I was on the fixed weapon. This won him extra points. Then he said; “you’re the one who’s bin taking all my stravas”. At which point i said, “probably, yeah, me or some guy called Ben”.
In reality, I have a few KOMs on Strava. i’ve recently rejoined the sickly online high-score table and have managed to just about curb my resentment and hatred of the site in order to access the really rather useful features; namely, the capacity to measure your improvements against yourself on climbs. I don’t have that many KOMs and they’re not that good; they’re certainly not ‘on the shelf’, nothing ever is, and by setting a time all you do is set it up for everyone else to have a pop at. And there is always, always a bigger or weirder gorilla. That aside, it’s been very useful at charting like-for-like improvements, hefty tailwinds not withstanding.
The mornings are getting dark. In fact, the mornings are dark. I came across the bridge at 7am and a sea fret was rolling up the gorge in billowing clouds. It was beautiful to watch. I took some shonky photos with my phone.
I’ve just got back from a lovely holiday in Brittany with the family. I didn’t take a bicycle, but did throw in the boot a piece of metallic origami that some people really really like but tends to leave me with a bit of sick in my mouth whenever I look at it. The intention was to use the device for le baguette run tous les matins. This involved a short fait du velo to la boulangerie.
Before i left Will gave me a crash course in how to unfold and fold the beast. I tried my best to remain level-headed and unimpressed with the clever engineering involved. Any vaguely inappropriate thoughts were dispelled when i attempted to lift the hefty piece of folded scaffolding; the brompton is pas légère.
Once in France I unfolded the petit monster on a couple of occasions. it has three gears in an old school sturmey style. The straightforward percentage increases make it easy to ride and it can go relatively fast, particularly when heading down a steep incline with a strong tailwind and pedalled by a heavy-set rider.
It served one clear purpose, namely, allowing me to get Belle’s croissant aux amandes and Penny’s croissant normale. Penny does like the croissant. I also got to achieve one of life’s richer pleasures: riding a bicycle, any bicycle, in France. It’s a cosmic experience. France was part of a wider plan written in the primordial days of the big bang; at some point as the atoms and various cosmic things hurtled outwards, they coalesced into an area of solidity which became la France Profonde, a nation, culture and geographical space at one with the transformative power of the bicycle. France + cycling = a celestial symbiosis.
Whilst I would have preferred to have ridden my road bike, the apotheosis of bicycle design, I will settle for riding a folding piece of carefully engineered steel. It was a lot better than many other bicycle-shaped objects I have ridden in the past and in a perverse and unsettling way i was impressed with the Brompton, at least in part because it’s the answer to a question that was actually asked, unlike most other ‘innovative’ bicycle designs (the wretched flying gate, for example). Nevertheless, I think if i ever had reason to purchase some sort of quasi-bicycle it would probably be a Moulton, rather than the slightly neurotic Reliant Robin of cycling, the Brompton.
This weekend an old friend was visiting from London’s famous London. We went out cycling and I endeavoured to show him some of the highlights of the area, but forsaking the savage climbs which make up a typical scenic perambulation in my route-book.
It has been a thoughtful weekend; I haven’t seen him in about 5 years and in that time a lot has happened. It was good to catch up. Sometimes friendships drift away over the distance of time and space and it’s reassuring when old acquaintances resurface and connections are reforged. Will put it succinctly when he remarked that things in common stay in common. We talked of disparate things, the difficulties and demands of living in London, solitude and solipsism and our ever-changing sense of subjectivity; over 5 years any collective sense of who we are, let alone any individual sense, has changed; how we perceive time and space changes. Maybe i’m just getting old.
Our conversations kept returning to Roger Deakin and Robert Macfarlane, two significant ‘nature’ writers, the latter heavily influenced by the former. I think that both writers try to capture in words the fugue state that can only be accomplished by encounters with nature, usually when divested of the trappings of the material world, including notions of time, space and self. Setting out on a meandering cycling ride that consciously sets out to avoid main arterial routes, seeks out ancient paths and avoids cars, underpinned by the flow activity of cadence and gentle reiterative motion, results in a joyous amnesia from the conscious and unconscious realm. It’s a paradoxically modern movement that pitches the transformative geography of the rural environment against the urban sprawl and notions of psychogeography, just as the the figure of the tramp acted as a counterbalance to the flaneur in early modernism,
We went along drovers’ roads, through and around strangely named paths; Beggar Bush Lane, Horse Race Lane, Winter’s Lane, Dark Lane, Claverham Drove, Blind Lane, Brinsea Batch, Cardytch Rhyne, Crookwell Rhyne, Pudding Pie Lane, Half Yard, Tinker’s Lane… a litany of lyrical naming that hints at the past but only in half-revealing, the narrative significance lost over time to leave only a geographical palimpsest.
These are the old ways Robert Macfarlane explores in his book. We meandered across the landscape on a day when average speed was of no value. We saw buzzards and kestrels at close quarters, hovering and screeing across Kenn Moor. Cattle slept lazily in the fields, indolently aware that the days of the drove were gone, they would be chauffeur-driven to their fate. We were chased by yapping dogs and hailed by fellow cyclists, each enjoying the sun and brief respite from yesterday’s rain. We rode along the Strawberry Line and gazed at the endless cider orchards.
After serendipitous encounters and perfect cycling, we took the route around the airport and marvelled in child-like wonder at the planes lurching askew into the crosswinds directly above our heads, each new experience adding colour to what was already the perfect bike ride.
Will was eyeing up my bicycle. I have got the Mercian back on the road; it was the perfect bike for the day; hand-built for extended jaunts into and around the English countryside. I put new bar-tape on, it looks a bit Bet Lynch but is nicer than the slightly mismatched yellow I had on there before.
I’m looking forward to taking the bike out on the saddle bag tour next month. It’s perfect for the job, absorbing any imperfections and ameliorating the rigours of the road with comfort and efficiency.
Here’s to a weekend of rekindled friendships, the enduring fellowship of cycling and the open road, escapism and simplicity.