Category Archives: Ride Reports

Ride report: On hills, and getting a soaking

My ride this morning, although shorter than intended, needed a hefty dose of HTFU.

Firstly, I suck at hills. I’m too fat and too slow to haul myself up anything. But after doing the yacf Friday Night Ride to the Smoke (more on that another time) from Oxford to London, one thing was painfully clear: I need to stop sucking at them. Having a bike with a bottom gear of just 32″ means I have absolutely no excuses. So I’ve been trying to throw a climb up and over Old Town into the start of as many of my rides as I possibly can. At the moment it’s still really tough work, but it’s definitely getting a little easier each time. Where I’m really struggling, though, is with subsequent hills – I can probably manage a couple of hundred metres of climbing before my legs lose all their power and I’m relegated to the flat stuff.

And secondly, if there’s one thing I hate more than hills, it’s rain. I can’t stand getting a soaking, and it doesn’t help that my only SPD shoes have vented mesh uppers and so are the least water-resistant footwear in existence. But let’s face it, living in England – even down here in the south – is going to mean getting wet on a fairly regular basis. The obvious solution, of course, is to harden up and get out there. And with the promise of a Toffee Crisp in the fridge for when I get home, that’s exactly what I did:

Riding out into a light drizzle, my original intention after getting over the motorway was to head west at Burderop and into Wroughton before climbing over the downs and into Marlborough for some coffee and a slice of cake for a total ride of about 35 miles. However after the first couple of climbs the rain was starting to get heavier rather than lighter, and my legs just weren’t really in it for the long haul so I bailed out towards Chiseldon and back over the M4 for the flat ride through town to home.

I don’t like bailing out on rides, but after falling off the diet wagon in a big way this weekend I can’t say I’m surprised. Need to stick to the diet, shed a few pounds, tell my legs to shut up, and keep turning the pedals next time.

Ride Report – FNRttC Southend

A little over a month ago, I wrote an inspiration blog post that I wanted to do one of the Friday Night Ride to the Coast rides, but that I thought it might be a little beyond my abilities and that I’d need better legs for it. But still I decided that I wanted to do one before the end of the summer.

And then the very helpful Jurek commented that the Southend-on-Sea ride was the easy one, and so that was decided. Unfortunately, after looking* at the FNRttC website the Southend ride was not very far away at all – Friday 4th May. Conveniently my birthday fell over that weekend too so it felt like a good way to celebrate – I even had a few days off work booked beforehand and the bank holiday afterwards for preparations and recuperations! A cheque was despatched for insurance and the like, I gave my bike a thorough look over (i.e. I kicked the tyres and nothing fell off), I packed some essentials in a pannier such as extra layers and some spare batteries for lights, and on Friday afternoon I departed for That London.

I’m not very good at packing, I have to admit. In a rush, I totally forgot to put any drinks bottles, even empty ones, on the bike as I left. Fortunately I had a few hours to kill in London before midnight so I met up with a friend in town and headed over to Look Mum No Hands! for coffee and to purchase a couple of drinks bottles. The lady behind the counter was even kind enough to wash them out and fill them with tap water, so I was sorted.

As for the ride itself, well I have to be honest: I don’t remember a great deal of it. I’m terrible at guessing numbers but I’d imagine maybe 50 bikes or so, including a few tandems and folders, and a very pleasant 55-ish mile route through east London and the Essex suburbs out to the seaside. From my hazy memory of place signs this is vaguely where I think we went:

(Edit: the above is now a proper, gps-magicked route courtesy of Tim. Cheers!)

At various points we saw wildlife (a few foxes in the suburbs), wild life (maybe a dozen or so police, a couple of vans and a helicopter dealing with a fight in Romford), plenty of water including a rather swollen ford (thankfully with a foot bridge) and a beautiful red sunrise as we left the food stop in Stock. I must mention the excellence of the family who manned the food stop at stupid o’clock, supplying delicious cakes to hungry cyclists. Nom!

The second leg, from Stock down to the coast, started with a bakewell-fuelled burst of energy. Which was well-needed because this was where the real work began. The climb into Rayleigh was tough and needed all but the last two of the emergency jelly babies to  get me up, but then it seemed to be mostly downhills and flat riding pretty much all the way into Southend. We were incredibly lucky that despite an ominous weather forecast, the rain held off until we had reached the cafe for breakfast. I did, however get a soaking trying to find my way around Southend to a train station, eeek.

And from there, it was pretty easy – train, dry out, tube (with a bike! Cue disapproving looks from people with massive trolley cases..), another train, nearly fall asleep and miss my stop, lucky escape at Swindon and then home.

* It seems I didn’t look at the website very well, based on my worries about my legs and it being so soon. Writing this, I’ve realised that there is a “Genteel” ride to Southend-on-Sea – flatter and slightly shorter – on June 29th. I may or may not be there, depending on life, but if you’re interested then read the website and email Simon on the email address you’ll find there. I’d wholeheartedly recommend you do – they’re bloody good fun.

Sunday Fun Ride: Going around in circles…

Actually this isn’t a Sunday Fun Ride – partly because it wasn’t that fun in the end, and partly because I did it yesterday!

I’ve been repeating the same 28-mile route that I’ve blogged about before. It’s fairly straightforward, it’s a nice length that I’m comfortable with, and it lets me compare my times to see how I’m progressing. And yesterday’s ride started off much the same as it usually does. The first three mile stretch is both the start of this route and my commute to the office, so it’s nice to leave the house and pretty much just ride on autopilot while my brain wakes up and my legs loosen. After that, it’s a quick dice over the M4 and then out into the Wiltshire countryside towards Wroughton.

However, by the time I got back over the motorway and back into Swindon, my energy started to drop off quite quickly and by the time I’d winched myself up Piper’s Way I was wishing I’d brought some chocolate with me. Nevertheless I persevered. The “real” beginning of the end came when I got to Greenbridge and realised that between the tinted lenses in my sunglasses, the impending ominous clouds and my lack of lights meant that I probably couldn’t get around the full 28 miles before the light ran out. Disappointed (but secretly a little thankful) I turned back and headed on a more direct route home, trimming just over ten miles off the route and getting home in a smidge over 70 minutes overall.

Of course, sod’s law meant that as soon as I’d got home and took my bike shoes off the clouds cleared a little and the sun came back out. Naturally after a ten minute sit-down I was completely grief-ridden (haha!) and so I really had no choice. Shoes back on, water bottle refilled, and back out on the road.

And just like having a few beers, switching to soft drinks and then starting on the booze again it’s never as good as the first time.  Stiff empty legs, and a complete inability to climb even the slightest incline left me complaining under my breath, a mood which wasn’t helped by getting utterly scalped by some shaven-legged roadie probably twice my age and twice as fit on the run from the M4 into Wroughton.

Despite my crappness as climbing hills on a bike, Piper’s Way isn’t actually that steep and I can usually get up it in one go quite easily. Not so the second time around. It might as well have been the Col du Swindon. Almost straight away I found myself desperate for lower gears than I had, I was barely beating walking pace and my legs were screaming for mercy. And by the time I got to Coate Water I would have quite happily stopped rather than climb up through Dorcan to Greenbridge. But I persevered, and once I got to Greenbridge for the second time I knew that it was almost all downhill from there to home. Phew!

Even knowing that my Cateye Velo computer paused the clock when I stopped to catch my breath a couple of times on the second lap, I was surprised that I was only ten minutes slower the second go than the first. Not bad considering how broken I felt! But it was really good to have improved on my “big ride” mileage by a couple of miles. Total summary:

Lap 1: 16.69 miles in 1:10.46 (14.15 mph)

Lap 2: 16.70 miles in 1:22.20 (12.17 mph)

Overall: 33.39 miles in 2:32.66 (13.08 mph)

30 Days of Biking

I only actually stumbled across 30daysofbiking.com today, but seeing as I went for a ride yesterday I suppose I can make it count towards it retrospectively!

The idea is simple – just a public commitment to ride your bike, every day, for the whole of April. It doesn’t matter whether it’s road riding or mountain biking, Lands End to John O’Groats or just down the road to the shops, fast or slow. All that counts is that you just ride your bike.

Today’s ride was only a short one, at less than five miles and just over twenty minutes, but it was so nice to get out of the house. It also gave me a chance to tackle one of my arch-enemies – a hill.

The particular mountain in question – which I’m renaming the Col du Swindon – was a short sharp grind up Victoria Road, which at its worst seems to be about a 14% gradient. I would probably have been quicker to get off and walk, but that wasn’t the point. I gritted my teeth, sucked in as much air as I could, and kept spinning until I’d winched myself to the top.

All in all, it wasn’t much – but it was the first noteworthy hill I’ve braved this year so it was a good start. Hopefully by the end of the summer I’ll be dancing up Hackpen Hill and off to Marlborough like I meant to do the other day…

Sunday Fun Ride: Not quite to Marlborough!

In my ongoing efforts to lose the spare tyre around my waist and build up the miles so I can have a stab at an Audax in the summer, I decided to head out this morning for a “long” (long to me, at least) ride. It was freezing – the moment I stepped out the back door I realised that the buff and gloves in the back of my jersey were required. Still, it warmed up quickly enough that short sleeves and 3/4 shorts were just about the right choice.

My intention was to head to Marlborough for some brunch/lunch, depending on how long it took me. It wasn’t until I got to Wroughton that I realised that I didn’t have a lock with me, and that there wasn’t a route to Marlborough which didn’t involve  at least one double-b*st*rd-hard climb, horrible 60+ mph traffic, or impassable gravel/mud cycle paths. After being completely scalped by two very fast ladies I wimped out, remembered that I can’t climb for toffee, and turned back towards the M4. Still, I wasn’t going to be entirely defeated.

Instead, I decided to try and keep as wide a radius from Swindon town centre as I could without getting lost or ending up so far from home I’d be afraid of a mechanical. Went as far East as Coate Water and Stratton, then almost as far North as Blunsdon before sprinting down Thamesdown Drive at ludicrous speed and back to West Swindon before picking up my usual commute home from the office.

All in, it was just over 28 miles in a little over two hours. I now have a burning desire to eat everything in my kitchen, which will soon be placated with a big plate of sossidge sammiches!