On not knowing where your bike has been and on being stung on the head by a striped beastie

I rode to Cheltenham yesterday and I rode back today. It was a slightly circuitous route and several strange things occurred. In the badlands near Kingswood I was stung on the head by a wasp. 

It flew into the vents in my helmet, buzzed around then unleashed hell. I felt like it had punctured my brain and stopped at the side of the road. Televisual visions flooded my mind and checked my breathing carefully lest I experience some kind of anaphylactic catastrophe. I waited for the shock to wear off then took to wondering what Charly Wegelius would do. firstly, he’d sell his jersey for £2.5k to a bunch of win-hungry italians, but secondly, he’d get the hell back on his bike and drag the bunch back up the leaders. I followed his example (the latter one). I recommend Wegelius’ book, Domestique. It’s better than most cycling books. 

It was a hot day so I stopped at Sainsbury’s in Stroud to buy some jungle juice and replenish my bottle. This was part of my pre-ride strategy, I only had one bottle on the bike because the other cage is used for a spare tubular tyre. 


A One Act Play

A country road. A supermarket. 

The entrance area of the supermarket is broad and capacious. The double doors are located to the left, approximately 3 metres from the ‘food to go’ section and lottery kiosk. The front of the shop is all but empty, 2 or 3 shoppers loiter near the baskets. A large and misshapen security guard leans to the right, propped up against the ‘information’ point, attempting unsuccessfully to curry favour with the lady behind the desk. 

A cyclist walks in with his bicycle and stops at the chilled drinks cabinet, trying to choose a suitable refreshment. He looks as though he has just ridden a considerable distance. The security guard approaches. He looks as though he hasn’t ridden more than 2 miles in 20 years.

Guard: I’m sorry Sir, and I can see that it’s an expensive bike, but you can’t bring it in here. You’ll have to leave. 

Cyclist: Why is that? 

Guard: Because it’s policy. 

Cyclist: Can I see the policy please? 

Guard: We don’t have to have everything written down you know. We’re not obliged to write policies. 

Cyclist: So is it a policy or isn’t it a policy? 

Guard: It’s our policy. 

Cyclist: I thought your policy might be to allow a thirsty cyclist to wheel his bicycle across six feet of floor into the shop to spend his money and buy a drink to replenish his thirst. 

Guard: I don’t want to argue, it’s our policy. 

Cyclist: I’m not arguing. You’re trying to frame this discussion as an argument to suit your lack of an argument. There is no argument. My question is, why is it the policy to not allow bikes in the front of the store? 

Guard: Because we don’t know where they might have been. 

Cyclist: Well, I can help you with that. This bike has been along the road from Bristol to here. It’s also been to France several times. It frequently rides uphill. On rest days it sleeps in the spare room with some other bicycles. What about your trolleys? Where have they been? 

Guard: We know where our trolleys have been. They’ve been in the car park. 

Cyclist: I have concerns about them resting outside in all weathers with the peoples of Stroud being able to touch them and do things. What about the prams and pushchairs? And shoes? Can you vouch for their provenance? 

Guard: If you want to argue then I’m going to have to ask you to leave. 

Cyclist: We’re not having an argument and you’ve already asked me to leave. 

At this point the cyclist replaces the bottle of chilled pop on the shelf and leaves the store. 


The rest of the ride was relatively uneventful. On the return leg I got lost looking for Birdlip Hill (which i’d descended the day before) and rode up a curious climb called ‘Dog Lane’, which goes all the way up the escarpment then all the way down. I found Birdlip, it has been resurfaced which makes it marginally less painful going up and quite a lot quicker going down. I managed to break 50mph for the first time in quite a while. I have unpleasant memories of riding up Birdlip in the thick of winter on a 68″ gear. I will never do this again. 

I managed an average speed of 18.5mph for the 50 miles from Bristol to Cheltenham. I took in three big climbs; Wotton, Crawley, and Slad Valley, topping out at 3,500 feet of ascent. On the return my legs complained and I got lost in Stroud (punishment for arguing with the security man), as well as getting lost looking for Birdlip. My average speed was 16.5mph with a similar amount of climbing. It has been two good days of cycling. I’m not sure i’ll have the legs for tomorrow’s hillclimb at Frocester, so may rest and save my energies for the weekend. If I had sufficient room in my pockets I would have brought home some good muck. 


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.

Training Through

Wednesday night is generally seen as club time trial evening up and down the land. It’s good training, providing the opportunity to blast out an interval prior to the weekend. Over the past few seasons I’ve generally been fairly refreshed and race-ready, but that’s changed this year. Different times and circumstances mean that I’ve made some adaptations to my training. I am racing less and probably training a bit more consistently, this includes training through the midweek races and saving my energy almost resolutely for the weekend.

After Sunday’s horrible hilly i took it fairly steady on Monday, only doing 14 miles. Tuesday was a busier day, a hilly ride on a 68″ gear, about 25 miles for the day. Yesterday I rode to work on the bongo-weapon – Wednesday has become the day of bongo commuting. The 10 mile race ended up being sandwiched with about 60 miles of riding at 21mph. as a result, i felt a little bit off the pace and really struggled to crank it up on the way out. I dribbled back into Bristol a while later, my legs in bits.

bongo commuting

I was kimmaged (famously angry anti-drugs campaigner who blew spectacularly in a Tour stage up the Galibier and was overtaken by a bearded tourist with full panniers) twice today on the way into work; scalped by a fully-laden nodder and some chap on a hybrid. I felt weak and overdone. The only consolation was overtaking a triathlete on his full bongo-weapon on the downs. I was spinning a 65″ gear at about 17mph, replete with Carradice. He had his head down and his shoulders were rolling like a tumultuous sea. I found it strange. I asked him what he was doing. He said ‘intervals’. He rounded the corner and got out of the saddle, churning out the power and pushing up to a blistering 20mph.

The interesting thing about racing less is you tend to get more time to train. I think it’s an approach that should work, but I can’t really tell for sure. We shall see. I’m now taking things very steady in anticipation of the Welsh Championships at the weekend.

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.

Nothing Cold Can Stay

I went out on a training ride today. It was my longest ride for a very long time, which isn’t saying all that much – i only break the 20 mile barrier in races. I managed to eke out 45 miles with some uppity climbs and far too much ice. I assumed it wouldn’t be all that icy. i was mistaken.

Dundry Hill, north of the wall

I had to walk a couple of times on account of hazardous icy descents, especially near Butcombe. The average temperature for the entire ride was a balmy 3 degrees. I managed  4,200 feet of climbing, taking in the scenic cols of Dundry, Blagdon, Shipham, Wrington and Belmont, with a 16mph average. Things were looking great on the way out, but the headwind on the way home had me grovelling.

On the plus side there was a huge twitch going on at Chew Valley Lake. Men in khaki fatigues and expensive binoculars lined the walls of the dam. Today’s unusual visitor was an Osprey, circling the lake in a flash of black and white with outstretched talons. The raptor was returning from Africa to Scotland or Scandinavia.

I’ve just about had enough of winter’s icy grip. Steve Douchebag is heading to Ireland in 4 days time for a saddlebag tour – taking the necessary kit for a sub-zero Nordic biathlon probably defeats the purpose of a saddlebag tour. Mike and chums are somewhere out into the wilds of Hereford as a warm-up for their visit to Belgium and return bike ride. I’m sure like most normal cyclists they anticipated maybe being able to use the armwarmers or a nice gilet, as opposed to the full thermal battlegear they are doubtless currently using.

Even the weatherman on the terrorbox the other day referred to the current unseasonal blast as ‘unprecedented’.

Course au Soleil

I managed to get out on the open road this morning for a quick blast in the rain with two other BSCC chums, Sam and Ed. The ride was made more eventful by Sam’s extremely shonky and useless disc brake set-up, worn away by 2000 miles of heavy commuting. We had to ride on ahead on faster sections and shout warnings to give him enough braking time.

Sam laughs in the face of having a completely inadequate braking system

Most of the club’s road race contingent are out in Majorca enjoying the sun (or snow, judging by today’s pics, hahaha) and wearing their best pro kit. It looks terrific and i’d really like to head over there* one day to get some sunny winter miles in, mixing it up with the pros. Well, hitting max heart rate in order to tag along on their recovery rides.

Darkening Dundry

Despite the persistent rain and grimy filth encrusting the lanes, it was a really enjoyable ride. The weather might be closing in tomorrow, in which case it’s back to the rollers. I’m more than a little bit alarmed that the start sheet for the first race of the season has now been issued.  I have both speed to find and weight to lose.

Ed admires the view over Bristol

*apologies to any early readers for the horrific typo (even worser than usual)

Roller Disco Playlist

The inclement weather has put paid to any vague notion i might have had that I may possibly be able to ride my bike on the road. i am not a fan of ice, it breaks bones and ruins seasons.

I have undertaken a number of constructive roller sessions this week, armed with a bottle of water, a garmin 500 and an ipod. Having a decent playlist makes an enormous difference to the quality of the session. This week’s playlist is an eclectic mix, the faster the better.

Elektrostatik, Plastikman; Sven Vath, Barbarella; Happy Cycling, Boards of Canada; Natural’s Not In It, Gang of Four; Mother Popcorn, James Brown; Spastik, Plastikman; Inaugural Trams, SFA; Stuck Between Stations, The Hold Steady; Beep It, Cornelius.

I’ve mostly been riding in zone 3 or 4.

Riding on Rollers

Riding on rollers isn’t an entirely new experience; some time back I had a particularly shonky pair that someone donated and used to do the odd session on fixed in the depths of winter. One of the drums was decidely wobbly and made a noise like a jet engine taking off which didn’t go down that well with the landlady who lived upstairs. It’s not the best idea to do rollers on fixed; there is more to go wrong, as seen by this youtube comment

“My room mate was all high and mighty about his roller skills and would be all dramatic when he rode them. One day he was huffing and puffing on my track bike and lost control, dropped off and shot into the corner of the room. He torqued my forks and front wheel but at least he shut the fuck up about his skills.”

if bored, you can always search the interweb for ‘roller crashes’.

My new set are the ‘entry level’ elite ghibli parabolic rollers. They have curved edges to stop you riding off the side. They are simple and effective. I used them yesterday and rapidly found my roller-legs, hitting the centre of the drum and finding a suitable cadence. i had one wobble when i slipped a gear, but nothing untoward.

I was using my TT bike and found it relatively easy to get onto the extensions for up to ten minutes at a time, alternating between the base bar and the ski poles to make things more interesting. I didn’t plan to do any intervals, more just 40 minutes or so just below threshold.  Essentially, I’m a bit strapped for time and starting to do some specific time trial work. The rollers are very useful in this respect. It’s great to be uninhibited by the stop-start of the road and just get your head down.

Rollers need to be given a little bit of respect, they are quite tricky to use at first and it’s made worse if you approach it in a tentative manner. You have to jump on and get moving with confidence. Grabbing a drink or a towel, or changing to the extensions, are all challenges. It’s good for your core and efficiency, ensuring a smooth pedal stroke and getting you pedalling in circles, all of which helps. For really hard intervals you need to either find some hills or use a turbo. I found I could get my heart rate up to around 175 fairly easily, this is anaerobic and heading into red line effort territory. Mostly I was working below threshold at an aerobic level.

I try and keep my use of HRM really simple. this chart is of some use.

Hamilton Wheelers Easy Rider

As a club secretary I get lots of emails from cyclists looking to ride a bit more, perhaps join a club and maybe participate in the famous ‘club run’. The main source of anxiety people have is to whether they will be able to last the distance or hold the wheel. In reality, the pace is glacial and the cake stop halfway helps break up the mileage. However, until you’ve ridden 45 or 50 miles there is always an element of doubt in the back of your mind as to how you will cope. To a certain extent this continues as long as you continue cycling; i was anxious before doing a 100 mile time trial (although i probably should have been, it was an unholy shitshow) and yet i made it round. Long road races give me the willies, anything over 60 miles starts to make me worry; how is it possible to ride at 27mph for 70 miles when I can’t break 20mph for 50 in training?

This is where the Hamilton Wheelers Easy Rider comes in. They meet every Sunday, just about, at the Mud Dock Deli in Bristol for a 30 mile loop out into the countryside. It’s flat and mellow, building up the distance and helping newer cyclists gain confidence with their bike, with riding in a bunch and with bigger miles. I’d recommend it if you’re not sure about things and want to dip a toe in the water. Several people also use it as a chilled out Sunday ride, a break from the hectic base club madness and relentless training, which is exactly what I did this morning after a big week. It was also an opportunity to catch up with a few people I hadn’t seen for a while and to talk bikes. There were lots of new people along; including two who for some reason didn’t make it past the cafe at the beginning, i’m not sure why. I hope they make it out again another time.

Easy Rider: A Photostory

The ‘meet up’ is at the Mud Dock Deli, overlooking the harbour and the tops of the cranes
I opted to ride fixed, a popular choice for the day. The Bob is very comfortable and a really lovely bike: steel is real.
Rob bought a huge bag with him containing several packets of Soreen in case of emergencies. Trotters was also on his Bob Jackson Vigorelli.
Tim Wilkey had some sort of HD GoPro. He looked quite stylish in his racing garms.
It was good to see that Sean Yates has found gainful activities to keep in busy in his retirement
At one point the sun came out, it was blissful.
Trotters went full ninja

It was great to meet new and old people and a lovely end to a week of fairly intense cycling.

Closed Road Hill Climb

Base club is very much back on and we have a couple of new members, including the mighty Glyndwr and Tom ‘Zone 2’ Illet. It’s been a purely Bristol South affair; I can’t remember last year if we had any interlopers but the last couple of weeks have been unsullied by the colours of lesser clubs. The roads this morning were populated with lots of cyclists, no doubt swept along by the unceasing enthusiasm for cycling in the UK as it continues its remorseless grip on the mainstream, and also emboldened by resolutions. You can spot those not used to cycling at this time of year by the woefully inadequate kit. I would say the absence of mudguards, but there are hard-bitten racing snakes in the South who refuse to embrace the mudguard. As any fule kno, they ride at the back.

Tom was aiming to stay in zone 2 for the entirety of the distance. This plan was scuppered by our initial ascent of Blagdon from the lake to the top. Kieran hit his max heart rate. I wasn’t far off. I had a better day than earlier on in the week where I wheezed my way up Rhodyate and my legs lost any sense of being independent and fully-functioning limbs. For all sorts of reasons i forwent the extended base jaunt down onto the levels with the chaps and turned right to head back up the Gorge. I had intended to scuttle up Draycott, but it’s a climb that can destroy an entire ride in about 9 minutes: discretion won the day.

Riding up Cheddar Gorge turned out to be brilliant. Several of the other base clubbers had been up over Christmas and found a closed road, devoid of traffic but full of gravel and water. Steve mentioned how it had been the best bit of his ride back from Somerset to Bristol. I crept through the barrier and rode up in silent isolation. I felt the need to stop and observe, to breathe in the experience of being somewhere incredibly beautiful but with the rare luxury of silence and solipsism.

At their steepest, the sides of the gorge stand ominously on either side, two towering periglacial walls. I gazed up at the crows and jackdaws circling above the parapet of the cliffs and was struck by the majesty of the surroundings. With startling speed and ferocity a Peregrine Falcon swooped down in front of the cliff edge and attempted to take a bird out of the air. It was the sound that made me look up – of the swoop echoing against the limestone battlements,  the air rushing past the tucked body of the bird hurtling downwards at anything up to 200mph. 

The Falcon then climbed up out and circled around the top of the Gorge for a few minutes, scaring and harassing the other birds. I’ve been taking my nice camera out on rides lately, but this morning opted to leave it at home. I managed to get some phone shots.

Hurtling towards the murder of crows
Chaos and a scattering

After a few more moments of awed twitching, I pressed on up the Gorge and made my way back to Bristol. Nothing before or after compared with the peregrine falcon.

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