Wednesday, 20 May 2015

N+1 -- or, The London Town Bike Revolving Door

There's a story to be told -- actually, 2-3 stories -- and these will follow in due course but I'll lay the groundwork now with a few announcements: 

Astrid the Viking will be retired before next winter. 

Astrid has done surprisingly well in the role of London Town Bike but she has one fatal weakness and I have another vision for her. This won't be pursued until next winter, at which time I will give a long-term review.

I've acquired another Puch Princess, in astonishingly original condition. (One careful lady owner from new, etc etc.)

In a few weeks' time, she will look somewhat different. (As will Lorelei.)

Monday, 18 May 2015

Making Lemonade -- or, Escaping from the Great Escape

I am not entirely new to the world of audax but I have yet to complete one "successfully", that is, within the time limits with a fully completed brevet card.  

Coming into yesterday's event, my audax CV (résumé for the Americans) consisted of just two attempts:  the Flitchbikes 100 from Great Dunmow, Essex, in June 2011 and the For Those Who Don't Do Hills 100 from Polegate, East Sussex, in April 2012.  On the Flitchbikes 100, I rode my Surly Cross Check and finished out of time, mostly due to an unexpectedly long lunch break -- a friend and colleague had tragically died in Spain two days before and I spent nearly an hour on the phone with a mutual friend who was very distraught. On the "No Hills 100", I had just taken delivery of my new Surly Pacer. The first few miles became a "shake down" ride trying to figure out all the various things that weren't working correctly, gear changing being the main one. I bailed fairly early on and became a tourist for the day, taking in Pevensey Castle and other local sights before making my way back to Polegate for the train home. 

So I'm not what you'd call 'accomplished' at this audax lark.  

Yesterday, I rode The Great Escape 200km with my partner Adam and our friend Sonia. For both of them, this was their very first exposure to the audax 'scene'.  Adam was basically in it for a long day ride in nice weather but was happy to take on the role of pacesetter and navigator. Sonia and I came prepared with route sheets and maps, determined to hang on to Adam's wheel (if we could) but most of all excited to test ourselves with a challenging distance. 

So - take three people, all quite experienced at social group rides but with no relevant experience at riding to time limits - and you can guess what happened!

First - the start at Look Mum No Hands! This was extremely well organised by Islington CC. (Shocking to find out afterwards though that, out of 400 entrants, 130 did not turn up.) We arrived in good time and greeted lots of friends (most of whom were going to be in much faster groups well ahead of us).  

Arriving at LMNH about 07.20

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Unprepared But Ready

Tomorrow I will ride The Great Escape 200km audax. It will be my first audax event since March 2012 and my first attempt at a 200km ride since July 2010. 

Am I ready?  Well, if knowing myself, my bike, my kit, the route, how I need to fuel, hydrate and pace myself equals readiness, then yes, I'm ready. 

Am I prepared? Looking back over the past few months at my ride data -- time, distances, frequency -- then no, I'm not as prepared as I could be or indeed would like to be. 

Last Saturday, I rode nearly 100km on Lorelei the Puch Princess on a casual group ride. That was the first (and only) ride this year longer than 25 miles. After 50 miles, discomfort from being a bit too stretched out for my liking began to kick in but otherwise I felt good and got up the next day feeling I could do the same again. 

Tomorrow will be very different. Crucially, I will be on a bike that fits me, one I trust to give a comfortable ride all day long. I will have a handlebar bag to carry snacks and to stuff items of clothing in as the day wears on, with no need to stop -- likewise with water bottles. Perhaps most importantly, I will be wearing stiff-soled cycling shoes and using clipless pedals. That makes all the difference to my legs, particularly knees, in terms of stability and degree of fatigue. 

So compared to last weekend, I should be a bit faster and more efficient. As long as I can school myself to keep stops to a minimum and not 'faff about', I should be okay. 

Ideally, I would have done 5-6 rides of 100km by now, as well as 1-2 in the 140-160km region. But, although I may not have as many miles behind me as I would have liked, I think I have adequate 'time in the saddle' and sufficient conditioning to spend a long day in the saddle fairly comfortably. 

Some of our friends are talking about completing the course in 8 hours. My goal is just to finish within the fixed time limits!

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

The Fridays Go To Normandy (Again)

I am counting down the days to our mini cycling tour in France at the end of the month -- just 10 days to go! Here's a preview* of our route and hints at the scenery we'll be cycling through.

After a night in Cherbourg with a few other Fridays peeps, we will cycle 5km to Brix to meet up with everyone else - outside the boulangerie of course! Then we set off for Bayeux.


Valognes - earmarked as possible mid-morning coffee stop

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

A Cycling Mini Tour: Just What The Doctor Ordered

First day of my first cycle tour. Smell the excitement!

With the last assignment of my law course now behind me and the final exam itself just one month away, the next item on the calendar is...

An extended weekend cycling with friends in northern France. 

The Fridays On Tour 2014.  (C) Andrew Brennan
(full photo set on Flickr)

This year is the fourth "Fridays Tour", organised by Simon Legg, founder and father of the Friday Ride Night to the Coast.  This year is the first that Adam and I have been free -- have made ourselves free -- to join in for the entire duration. 

We will travel to Cherbourg on Friday, 22nd May, then spend what promises to be an absolutely idyllic three days awheel, before returning to England from Dieppe on Tuesday, 26th May. 

The Fridays On Tour 2014. (C) Jenny Millington

We will be staying in hotels and B&Bs but carrying our own luggage. Credit card touring! My favourite way to travel, to be honest. 

Very possibly the view we will have from our room in Bayeux

I have been looking forward to this trip all winter but now that it is just around the corner, I am overwhelmed with the feeling that this is exactly what I need:  a complete change of scene, relaxed cycling (interesting with hints of challenge but not strenuous), with minimal planning or day to day management required. Just turn up and pedal. 

I hope to come back refreshed and ready to focus my undivided attention on exam preparation... and then on private matters that will take all the mental and emotional fortitude I can muster. And then some. 

Pity it's rather difficult to cycle while studying...

Photo: This Isn't Happiness

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Update on Womens Bib Shorts

I posted recently on my experiences with a variety of women's bib shorts from brands making an effort -- with varying degrees of success -- to create innovative designs enabling toilet breaks without the need to completely strip off (not fun on a night ride, whether in suburbia or out in a dark country lane with the foxes and frogs). While some (such as Gore) do not differentiate the way they market to men and women, they do, I think, quietly "get it". Others (like Pearl Izumi), on the other hand, trumpet their women's specific designs as a unique selling point yet miss that point in some crucial aspect. 

Fortunately, more brands are having a go at designing solutions to this challenge. I stumbled across an article in Outside Online magazine today applauding women's bib shorts designs from six cycling brands. I have not personally tried all six, but again it looks like a mixed bag of the good, the bad and the rather silly. Here are my initial impressions, along with UK pricing details. Where possible, I am including from the manufacturers' own websites photos that show the specific "bio-break" design features, rather than simply an overall front view. 

My favourite Gore Power 2.0 bib shorts are at the top of the list. At £99, they are the second cheapest pair of shorts featured and very good value. The placement of the zips has been altered in the latest update to this design, so I cannot comment on that. I would caution that the keyhole front dips below the belly button, which for some women will not be the most flattering look. 

Photo: Gore

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Bridget Gets A Facelift

One of these days I will write a long term review of the stalwart in my stable, my Surly Cross Check -- I promise. I bought this bike in October 2010 and she's been my daily commuter and faithful friend. The fit isn't perfect but with a few tweaks to her over the years and, to be fair, improved strength, flexibility and better posture on my part, we've sort of grown into each other. 

I mentioned a few tweaks. The significant transformations that Bridget has gone through are recorded in the series of photos on the My Bicycle Family page. Meanwhile from time to time she gets a few minor updates. 

I'm not quite sure how to classify yesterday's 'operation' -- transformation or minor update? Basically, Bridget got a whole new "head"! This was in fact the final, most time-consuming, stage in a series of changes that saw all three contact points significantly changed. 

We'll call this stage "The Facelift". 

Bridget has sported On One Midge dirt drop bars for nearly two years. These were fitted in the summer of 2013 when I started working for Sustrans at the Travel Choices Hub. While my commute was entirely on paved roads, the cycling I was doing during the course of my work ranged all over local roads, tracks and trails on a wide variety of surfaces, including spots of deep loose gravel. Dirt drop bars gave me my preferred default position on brake hoods but also offered a wider stance when the going got rough. I love these bars and wouldn't hesitate to put them on another bike (or iteration of this bike) if mixed-surfaces regularly feature in my life again in the future. 

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Day Ride in France

The long awaited Day Ride in France!  It was in fact an exceedingly long day: one of the cats woke us at 2am following which we did not get back to sleep. The alarm went off at 04.15 and we did not get home until 00.15 the next morning!

Adam and I took the train to St Pancras where we transferred onto the High Speed service to Dover. We spotted Sonia while walking through the station and found Jurek already settled on the train. Arthur and Tony joined us at Ebbsfleet. The weather from home was damp and foggy and it didn't look much better in Dover.

#30daysofbiking 2015, Exhibit B

My cycling this week ranged from commuting to errands to Touring In Foreign Lands, utilising four different bikes!

Monday, 6th April 2015

On Monday (which was a Bank Holiday), I accompanied Adam to our local Recycling Centre to get rid of a cargo bike + trailer load of mostly electrical goods. 

Saturday, 4 April 2015

#30daysofbiking 2015, Exhibit A

I tried the #30daysofbiking challenge two years ago but didn't get very far. Last year, I dismissed the idea out of hand because, to be honest, by the time we reach April, spring itself is incentive enough to ride. 

I have not "signed the pledge" this year either so, on an official level, I am not doing it. But unofficially, looking at how my schedule is shaping up over the next couple of months, there is in fact a very good chance I will be on a bicycle of some description for at least a few minutes' duration nearly if not every day. And I've got this new toy to play with. So I may as well record a few rides as we go. 

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