31 December 2011

2011's Magic Moments on a Bike

2011 was a great year for me in relation to cycling. It was only my second year of cycling and there were so many new and wonderful experiences. I thought it would be nice to pick out my five favorite moments of cycling this year. Here they are, in chronological order...

#1: Big hills in the Peak District
We went to the Peak District for four days over 'Royal Wedding Weekend' in April and had a fantastic time. We had sunny skies, well-paved roads, and beautiful views. On our first day (only a half-day of cycling) we cycled from Derby to Matlock over some massive hills. And I made it up all of them! I was still getting used to the new road bike, which was so much lighter than my hybrid. I have walked up a fair few hills since then, but making the whole ride without walking was a big rush.

#2: Dawn on the way to Dunwich
The entire Dunwich Dynamo (in July) was magic, but during the second half of the ride, dawn began to break at around 4:00am as we cycled eastwards towards the sea. The ride had spread out after the halfway stop, so we were on our own, cycling through deserted roads. It wasn't quite light yet, but we could start to get a better sense of our surroundings with the sunlight coming over the horizon. It really felt special.

#3: Watching the deer in Richmond Park
In August, we went to Richmond Park to watch the London-Surrey Cycle Classic. Afterwards we cycled around the park and stopped to read in the grass in a quiet area. Soon after, an entire herd of deer came walking right past us, crossed the road, and disappeared into the woods on the other side. It was a really special moment, as the deer emerged one by one out of the woods, looked both ways before crossing the road (I swear!), and then walked on. We would never have seen that if we hadn't cycled.

#4: The last 500 meters up the hill to Newlands Corner Carpark
I had my highs and lows on our 200km audax in October, but one moment I will never forget is the last 500 meters before the finish. We were cycling up a hill so the meters were passing slowly, and Alberto was watching the route on his GPS. He kept shouting out how long we had left to encourage me to keep pedaling. We rolled into the carpark with 30 minutes to spare, and became randonneurs!

#5: That one minute in Epping Forest...
...where I actually felt like I knew what I was doing on my mountain bike! I've only had a few chances to take the mountain bike out so far, and have spent most of the time either terrified, walking my bike over tough sections, or falling off. But there was one moment at the end of our first time out to Epping Forest in October when I, just for a second, got it. I was cycling along the path smoothly, "letting the bike do the work," and I glimpsed what all the fuss is about with mountain biking.

Well, there you have my top five cycling moments of 2011. Roll on 2012!

30 December 2011

Those who can, do; those who can't... shop

The winter is making me a little stir crazy. It's been so long since we've been on a long ride and I'm really starting to anticipate the start of the cycling season when we get back to London. I seem to be responding to these feelings in a similar manner as I used to do when I was a kid during back-to-school season.... shopping!

A combination of the friendly pound-to-dollar exchange rate (friendly for me, anyway!) and the after-Christmas sales means that I am running in to a lot of too-good-to-pass-up deals on cycling clothes... but I fear I may have gone overboard.

Between my new purchases and the cycling things that Santa brought me, I will be returning to England in a few days with...

  • a new pair of cycling shorts
  • a new pair of thermal cycling tights
  • two new short-sleeved jerseys-- a bright yellow one and a super-cool Philadelphia one pictured above
  • A new lightweight waterproof packable jacket
  • A new buff
  • A new cyclocomputer (for my mountain bike)
  • Two new sleeveless base layers
  • A new little bag that sits on my bike's crossbar
Not to mention the new running shirts and shorts that I picked up, which will double as my 'civilian' clothes when we do the Camino (due to their quick-drying properties).

It's been a very successful shopping season, but I'm ready for the cycling season to start again! 

28 December 2011

A great (short) video about randonneuring

Reading stuff about long-distance cycling, touring, and the Paris-Brest-Paris has become one of my main entertainments while taking breaks from writing thesis.

One of those days I came across the Seattle Randonneurs. They seem to be one of the most well established "Rando" clubs on the other side of the pond and have published a video which describes a little bit of what we felt in our first Audax, or in any of our night rides...and yes, people still laugh at us or give us weird looks when we talk about it...Good to know we are not alone ;). Maybe we can even tag along to one of their rides if we ever happen to be on that side of the globe? Found it on yacf.

22 December 2011

Winter is no longer an excuse!

The season has come to an end for most people in Northern Europe due to the winter kicking in. Roads become icy and we may even get snowed in like the last two years in London.

British Columbia cyclists surely know how to cope with wintery conditions as this piece of kit proves:

Rear wheel and front ski

That looks pretty cool!

20 December 2011

Cross-training with Running


A few months ago I mentioned that I had tried going for a run for the first time in my life (voluntarily, I mean). Since then, I've had my ups and downs, but I still seem to be going for a run at least once a week most weeks. Not a long run, just 20 minutes or so, but something to get my heart going.

Now that it's winter (and especially now that I'm back home in Philly, sans bike, for two weeks) I think it's more important than ever to use running as a way to keep fitness levels up in between bike rides. I certainly noticed the difference over the course of the late summer / early fall.

Some advantages to running for winter training:

  • It doesn't take very long, so you can easily do it even when you're busy
  • Compared to cycling, it's not as important to have daylight -- useful when there aren't as many hours of daylight
  • On short runs, you're never very far from home, so you can get home quickly if the weather takes a turn for the worst
Sadly, despite all these advantages, I can't manage to convince Alberto to join me! He still says that 'Running is for cowards!' 

13 December 2011

Getting from A to B

Winter has officially come to London this week, marked by such ceremonies as turning on the heating, getting caught in a downpour, and breaking out the long johns. It also means that it is getting harder to go on our long rides, both because of the weather and because we have so few hours of daylight (sunset is at 3:51pm today).

In these bleak times for cycling, all I have left are the rides that get me from A to B. I don't cycle to work everyday, but when I do, I try to appreciate the fact that I'm able to be out on my bike -- even if it is my crappy commuter and even if it's only for twenty minutes.

This past saturday, I cycled down to Covent Garden for a bit of Christmas shopping. I left on the early side, and the roads were generally calm, the sun was shining, and London was looking its very best. I was thankful for the opportunity to ride though the streets of London at my own pace and take in everything the city has to offer.

Christmas in Covent Garden
 After a few hours in the shops, I got back on my bike to ride home. Now I was thankful for a different reason--the Christmas crowds had come and I was glad I didn't have to fight my way on to the tube to get home!

Between our trip to Thailand in November, Alberto's PhD writing-up, and our trips home for the holidays, it will have been a very long time before we go for a long ride again. I guess we will have to be content with our 'A to B' trips for now. It's a good thing, then, that "winter miles count double!"

10 December 2011

Pootling around Mueang Chiang Mai

It was only two weeks ago that we came back from Thailand. Unfortunately we did not take the bikes with us this time, as the logistics were complicated, but could not resist the temptation of hiring bikes for a couple of days.

At £1 per day, we got our bikes sorted from one of the shops in central Chiang Mai. I got a very old-fashioned chinese steel singlespeed bike with a good number of miles/kms on it. The braking system was interesting, and never seen it before. Instead of cables, it had metal wires that connected the brake levers to the brake calipers. The brake levers run along the length of the handlebars and by activating the left (in theory front) you could actually operate both front and rear simultaneously. It was only later that I realised that the front brake was missing a nut, and therefore was not operable at all! oh well, too late, just try and not pick up too much speed. Also, the bike featured a very worn in leather saddle, not a Brooks of course, but something similar. And when I asked the guy at the shop to raise the seatpost, he said it was at its highest position already! I guess they were not originally intended for "tall" Europeans! The tyres were quite substantial, which made for a comfy ride along the streets of Chiang Mai.
20 kg of chinese steel
Lucy's bike was a Westernized Raleigh, dutch-style and same brand as her current commuter. She felt at home on it. And it had semi-functioning brakes.Unfortunately, helmets have not yet made it to this part of the world...We later learnt that even on motorbikes they're not mandatory in the centre, so no one wears one.

Locking up the bikes
We initially got familiar with them in central Chiang Mai, where traffic was pretty quiet. After a short while practicing, we ventured out the inner ring towards the east side of the city. The loop looked like this:

After we visited the train and the bus stations to get our tickets to Bangkok, we headed back into the old town. At some point we got a bit lost, but locals were always helpful and pointed us to the centre. The traffic was not too bad as it all seems to concentrate on the big avenues and the rings around the city. The roads were nicely paved too and looked like this

Lucy, where is your helmet?
We then crossed the old town, just under 3 km, and headed out west towards the University area. We ended up cycling around the nursing and medicine faculties, a compact maze of narrow roads packed with cars and motorcycles. Locals do not seem to use the bike that much in this part of the city, but get on motorbikes instead.

Ride on the left hand-side of the road. This could be anywhere in the UK!
The traffic was generally very civilised to us, and I guess it is because they're very used to two wheeled vehicles. As temperatures rose, we went for a coke, and after a bit of misunderstanding with the locals we got this take away drink

Coke in a bag!

On the way back we stopped to see the mountains on the west side of Chiang Mai and started dreaming about our next visit to this part of the globe. This area in particular is famous with cyclists, who head for the mountains early in the morning or late in the evening, to avoid the heat. Lots of them travel from Malasya and Singapur (on a plane, of course!) to enjoy the challenge of the Thai hills. We also spoke to the Chaitawat bike shop staff, and they told us about their cycling club and annual events such as the climb to Doi Suthep in Dcember. Next time we will definetely bring our own bikes.

Fields & mountains

If you want to know more about cycling and touring in Thailand, here are some of my favourites sites:

Travelling Two: Thailand

Shane Cycles in Thailand

Bicycle Thailand

03 December 2011

Bring on the Camino!

It's official -- we will be cycling approximately 1100 kilometers in France and Spain this summer on the Camino de Santiago!

The Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James in English) is a historic pilgrimage route to the city of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, northern Spain. There are actually several routes but we'll be taking the traditional Camino Frances, starting from St-Jean-Pied-de-Port on the French side of the Pyrenees. We're actually flying in to Bordeaux though, so we'll start cycling from there. Hopefully we can stop off at the Dune du Pyla before making our way to the route of the Camino.

Dune du Pyla (source)

We leave London on the 20th of May and have a flight from Madrid back to London on the 5th of June. That should give us plenty of  time to complete the Camino and hopefully spend a few days with Alberto's family in Madrid as well.

Now that the flights are booked, there is just the small matter of training so that we can actually make it over the Pyrenees!

30 November 2011

London bikes invasion

Via one of my friends, I have just learnt about this super cool video showing the activity of London (wrongly known here as 'Boris') bikes. What I like the most is that the bike usage peaks at 9 am and 5 pm, which proves that London people do not actually work that long hours...well, some do not!

London Hire Bikes animation from Sociable Physics on Vimeo.

29 November 2011

Cycling, travelling and coffee

We are back from our holiday, still getting used to our daily routines and hopefully soon fully functional on our bikes and blog!

I´ve recently come across the fantastic blog Bean on a Bike via Travelling Two. I suggest you have a look at his beautiful pictures and incredible trip, could not be more jealous right now! Coffee, bikes and travels. What a great combination!

A blog entry with our recent experiences of cycling (just for a couple of days though) in Thailand will follow soon. We liked it so much that we (or should I say "I") are looking into our next holiday in Southeast Asia, hopefully on two wheels to escape the crowds.

09 November 2011

See you in two weeks!

We're off to Thailand for two weeks so won't be posting anything until the end of November. Hopefully we'll have something to say about cycling or bikes in Thailand!

While we're gone, why not relive some of our favourite posts!

Dunwich Dynamo Highlights and Lowlights

Dunwich Dynamo 2011 Timeline

Our very first experience on recumbent bikes (and trikes!)

Suffolk and Norfolk Coast Mini-tour: Part 2 - Day 1 Ipswich to Mundesley

Cycling the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run

On Sunday, we had the opportunity to take a truly unique cycle ride. We've cycled to Brighton many times, but never before have we been accompanied by almost 500 cars built before 1905!

The London to Brighton Veteran Car Run is one of the largest and longest running events of its kind, and draws participants from all over the globe. It has apparently become a tradition for a small band of cyclists to join in on the ride, as we go roughly the same speed as these old cars!

Riding along with the veteran cars.
The route was great fun, and an opportunity to cycle along a route that would normally be too busy and fast-moving to be comfortable. Instead, we cycled alongside cars for the entire route, but never felt unsafe. Because these cars are generally open to the elements, we could interact with the drivers and passengers... so much better than modern cars which make people isolated from one another on the roads.

Old cars need gas too!

There were probably about 50 cyclists in all, but we were in a group of 10-15 going at a similar speed. Some of the cyclists brought out their most fabulous and wacky bikes as well!

Cycling with doggies.

We cycled the whole route with Kepa, a Spaniard who we met at the beginning of the ride, who was great company.

Alberto and Kepa in Brighton

It was such fun to see these incredible machines up close and in motion. It was even more fun to overtake them on the hills! When we got to Brighton, we saw many cars that we had cycled along with early in the  ride, arriving hours after us! I knew it was possible, but it was still nice to have proof that we cycled faster than them!

03 November 2011

Paris Roubaix looks tough

It is the classic of the classics. Most of it on cobblestones. And they ride it on skinny tyres!

I've got a few videos via Diario de un Biciorejón which I find tiring just to look at.

Since it is actually not too far from the UK (near Lille), we are planning on watching it live next year. We will ride to Dover and then ferry over to Calais, and onwards to Lille. Should be good fun. Any takers?!

01 November 2011

How to eat at Audax controls

I've seen this really funny video on the yacf forum. Some people reckon that it is somewhat similar to eating in an Audax control...not that we have much experience in them, but I can see why.

30 October 2011

Lanes and Fens ride: 100km around Cambridge

Yesterday we took advantage of the still-lovely Autumn weather on a delightful 100km ride around the Cambridge area, organised by Alberto's colleage Becs via the cyclechat forum. I was excited to join a forum ride--Alberto has been on several but they're usually at a pace and distance that is just a little out of my reach. Becs organised this ride specifically as a social ride that would accommodate all paces.

The route of the day as uploaded by Luke

Several of us met up at King's Cross to catch the 9:15 train to Cambridge. It was lovely to be able to sleep in a bit compared to our usual start times! We then met up with the rest of the crew at Cambridge and began our cycle out to the countryside. It was a beautiful day and, once we were out of Cambridge, the roads were surprisingly quiet and the cars were surprisingly respectful! One of the many benefits of cycling in groups I suppose! It was nice to be out in the Cambridge area again as it has been a while.

It is always nice to cycle with others and I thought the group yesterday was especially friendly. There were many interesting chats with interesting people, which made the miles fly by and the ride so much more enjoyable.

Alberto chatting away (pic courtesy of Dave)

Caught laughing at something (pic courtesy of Dave)

We had an early pub stop at Withersfield which had great food and reasonable prices. It was nice to be able to stop for a proper meal as we almost never do that on our rides these days!

Outside the pub stop - Alberto and I are in the centre in yellow (pic courtesy of Dave)
After lunch, we continued on for a while and then a small group turned off to head back to Cambridge via a more direct route. The rest of us headed across the Fens, a flat expanse of marshland that is windy all the time! Yesterday was no exception and it was definitely one of the most challenging parts of the day to get across it. Shortly after that we stopped for tea and cakes at the Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve where we all remarked on how amazing it was that we were able to sit outside comfortably so late into October.

Gorgeous weather (pic courtesy of Dave)
After that it was just a flat and quiet ride back to Cambridge, via Becs' house and a cycle path all the way into the town centre. All in all it was a great ride, slower than usual for us but with much better company! It was also really refreshing for me not to be the slowest rider, as I usually am with Alberto, because it meant that I could relax in the knowledge that I could keep up with the pace rather than have to worry about whether I was going fast enough.

Autumn has arrived
I know we will not get many more great days for cycling so I was glad we took advantage of this one.

Riding in London can be fun

It was just a random Friday, although packed in with a bit more riding than any other regular weekday. We are still enjoying amazing weather in late October. This made for a trully enjoyable commute in the morning as well as a relatively traffic-free pottle in the evening, when I joined the Critical Mass. A good way to finishing off a busy week...

BT tower in the background, the highest freestanding building in London

View from Waterloo bridge, St Paul's Cathedrals shines in the background

7:05 pm setting off Critical Mass

Downhill to St. Paul's Cathedral

Heading towards the city, Critical Mass

28 October 2011

The Mary Poppins Saddlebag

On one of our FNRttC rides this summer, the mount for the saddlebag that we normally take on my bike broke off. I felt it break and stopped as soon as it felt safe (the bag was hanging on by a velcro strap, rubbing against my back wheel), but it was dark and we didn't want to turn back to search for the bolt that had held the saddlebag in place. We managed to pack the contents of the saddlebag into our jacket pockets and into Alberto's large Ortlieb saddlebag, and continued on our way. Shortly afterwards we bought a new saddlebag, the Topeak Aero Wedge QuickClip.

This new saddlebag is incredible! It is compact and unobtrusive, yet holds a ton of stuff! Here's a picture of it, fully packed, on my bike.

The Topeak Aero Wedge QuickClip

You can already see two of its excellent features--the pump holder straps along the bottom of the  bag and the strap on the back of the bike for a back light. It certainly helps to fit things into the bag when you can store some stuff on the outside of it!

But the best thing about this saddlebag is how roomy it is on the inside. On our 200km audax last month, I managed to fit all of this into it....

That's the routesheet, two spare inner tubes, a patch kit, a back light, a pump, a multi-tool, a spoke tool, two spare AA batteries, our alternate sunglass lenses (in a plastic bag), tyre levers, and my packable waterproof jacket! 

I'm so glad we have this one, especially as it means I have more room in my jersey pockets for FOOD!

PS: In case it isn't obvious, we don't get paid for our reviews and we only review products we have bought ourselves unless otherwise stated!

24 October 2011

London (Bromley) to Rye and back: a 200 km ride

Back in August I made a note on my diary. I would ride from Bromley (southeast London) to Rye (East Sussex) and back, totalling 200 km, with a bunch a machacas from the Friday Night Rides.

Time had come, and weather could have not been better for this time of the year. Although with a fairly chilly start, around 6 degrees when I left the house, the temperatures warmed up as soon as the sun came out. I took my night riding lights since we were expecting a couple of hours of darkness towards the end. Off I went, making it to Victoria station in less than 25 min! I should've ridden to the start, especially given that it was a Sunday morning and that would have meant little traffic...but on the other hand I am quite bad with directions and did not want to get there late (this is not Spain, and people are actually on time!). Despite that, I was, as always, the last one to arrive, just 5 min before the official 8 am start.

The route we took looked like this (thanks Martin!)
After 45 min of riding, we went past Biggin Hill aerodrome and down the North Downs, crossing the M25 into Westerham, where we collected two more riders. From there on it was a relatively hilly (for the Southeast standards) ride, without much faffing.

Around Biggin Hill airport in Southeast London (all pics courtesy of Adam)
At some point we relealised that we were running a bit late for lunch (again, this is not Spain, and lunch was booked for 1 pm, kitchen closing before 3 pm!). We pushed it to Rye in the last 30 km, forming a mini-peloton of 5-6 riders. Slipstreaming is actually amazing, they say it reduces in about 40% the amount of effort you need to put into the pedals...and I truly belive it. We were riding at almost 40 km/h on the flat, and while I was at the back, I could keep up without any problem and having to freewheel at times! Completely the opposite when I took the front: I was completely spent after 15 min...but then someone else gave me a relay!

Quick stop to regroup after the hill
All in all, I managed to stay at the front with the strongest two machacas (one of them a Paris-Brest-Paris 69 h finisher!!), although at some point got quite concerned about wasting all my fuel for the return leg. Most of the roads we took were B four numbers (in theory, the least busy of the roads, not counting the proper country lanes) and a few A three numbers. Not my personal preference, but the advantage is they're usually better paved and a lot faster to ride on. In fact, one of them had just been re-surfaced with fresh tarmac, and we really flew on that section. Good tarmac makes a difference! We eventually got to Rye on a lovely sunshine afternoon, got a bit lost finding the pub, but did it in the end. I was really craving for hearty meal, but knowing how upset my stomach gets while on the bike, went for a light soup and chips (again, adapting fast to the British culture!). The rest did, of course, have the fish and chips, another tipically British stereotype that is completely true! Oh yes, and pints. I still have not reached that stage, and reckon I would have been tipsy with an empty stomach after a 568 ml of beer intake.

After we left Rye, gone past 2 pm, we rode on quieter roads along the canal, until we made an abrupt left turn on to yet another steep shortish hill! At that point, Adam, the photographer, peeled off to catch his train back. My camera was playing up, so could not take many pictures unfortunately...

You can tell that's steep! especially after lunch

The ride back was bumpier than I had anticipated. Maybe it was because of the >100 km on the legs already? The scenery was beautiful though, passing through a lot of farmlands, plenty of apple/pear trees and some cute typical Kent houses.

Kent houses and their funny pointy roofs

Towards the last quarter/stage of the ride (still got that audax mentallity from our last audax 200) I was feeling pretty knackered, and quite hungry. Not sure if it was me, but the ride seemed to be getting hillier and hillier, and we still had another 40 km. I ate my last banana and a cereal bar, and that gave me boost for the next few km. The group kept splitting, with some riders heading East. The sunset was fantastic though. We turned our lights on and carried on cycling along quiet lanes. I started to feel a bit better, maybe it was because you cannot really tell how fast you ride at night, and with the excitement of it, we crossed the M25. One of the riders was local to the area and took us on a few diversions/shortcuts to avoid the last few hills as we were all feeling the legs. Without delay, we were back on the A21 into Bromley.

It was just past 7 pm and I was there waiting for my train back to Victoria. So glad I did not have to ride another 30 extra km, as I was feeling quite sleepy and hungry: not a good sign. My predictions came true, and after I headed north from Victoria station and into Camden, the semi-bonk hit me. It took me more than 45 min to get back home. I ate everything I found on the fridge, showered and went for a greasy pizza and Tuborg beer! Really need to eat a lot more next time!!! Oh well, another 200 km route in the pocket (or under the belt, as they say up here!) and a fantastic ride in good company. I even got some good advice for my hopefully first PBP.

The stats said:

- 2300 m climb (7500 feet)
- 220 km for the day
- ~24 km/h average
- 63.4 km/h maximum speed
- 9 h riding time
- 6 bottles of water

Special thanks to Martin for planning the ride, and to Adam for taking the pictures.

Went to bed at 10:30 pm as we had planned a mountain bike ride in the Epping Forest on the following day...

19 October 2011

The Expert on the Trails

Last weekend I finally got the chance to try out my new mountain bike, the Corratec Expert XVert. Having never ridden an actual mountain bike I was a little apprehensive... but it turned out great!

We headed out a bit late (as always) and rode some canal towpaths out to Epping Forest in northeast London. We picked up the Regent's Canal about a mile from our place, and then connected to the Lee Navigation and followed it up to Epping. It's a lovely scenic ride although it always takes longer than you would hope as you have to dodge walkers, joggers, children, pets, etc. 

When we got to Epping Forest, the entrance we arrived at was what Alberto later referred to as a 'technical uphill'. Of course I didn't know this as I charged ahead up the hill, loving the existence of my triple chainring, until my front wheel lost traction with the ground and I had barely enough time to catch myself before I fell over! That's how I learned that when going uphill on the MTB, you need to lean forward and try to put weight on the front wheel. 

After that incident just to enter the forest, I was starting to feel a bit nervous for what my first MTB session had in store for me. As we went along through the beautiful scenery, I found it hard to just relax and enjoy myself. I spend all my time on the road bike watching out for hazards and trying to avoid cycling over them. Now, the entire surface that I was cycling on was made of hazards, and that was the point!

We had a 27km route through the forest planned, but it soon became apparent that with all my paranoia, we were going too slowly to have any hope of accomplishing that! Instead we just focused on trying to get more confident on the trails, with Alberto giving me tips as we went along. Mainly he just said "relax and let the bike do all the work," which I had no idea what he was talking about! He said that there was an error on my bike where it says 'Expert' along the crossbar.

I did start to relax a bit towards the end of the ride though. I started to see what the fun could be about and also started to feel more confident on different types of hazards, although I was still dismounting a fair bit when something seemed too tricky to navigate. 

I escaped the day with only one proper fall, which left me with some impressive bruises on one leg, but other than that unscathed!

We had to head back on the early side, but we stopped for a snack at a canalside cafe where we also discovered that our GPS unit can do navigation (like a car GPS), which we never knew! We found a quicker way home through the backstreets of north London. It was a short adventure in Epping, though we did manage to put in 60km, but I definitely look forward to my next trip out on the trails!

18 October 2011

Surprise in the post...

A very strange letter was awaiting for us today. Strange because it had my own writing on it!

I had completely forgotten about those two C5 pre-stamped envelopes that I sent to the organiser a while ago when we registered for our first Audax...After a bit more than two weeks our validated brevet cards have finally arrived! So now it is official, we completed the 213 km ride in 13h 35 min!!! Well done us!

Full Brevet card with stamps and times (click to see in larger format!)

Definetely have to aim a bit faster next time!

 We're now planning the next few rides, and hopefully I will be doing a full 200, 300, 400, 600 and maybe a  1000 km series next year. Lucy remains unsure about this and keeps sending me weird looks...That will be my Reyes Magos wish for the New Year!

17 October 2011

Mrs Miles

While faffing a bit on the internet (guess on what...!) I found this very, very funny thread about audax-ing. I am honest to say that only us cyclists may get most of the jokes, but still...Someone called Mrs Miles replies to Audax-related questions such as:

- Dear Mrs. Miles

Should I confess to my wife that I once slept with another man ?......in a bus shelter.

- Someone asked about having his legs shaved...

If you are going to shave your legs, then traditionally you should go up only as far as the bottom of your cycling shorts. Ideally, your shorts will then ride up slightly as you pedal, revealing a reassuring half-inch of manly pelt.

More on here


11 October 2011

Etape Cymru: cycling the north Wales hills

 After a week without doing any proper training, other than commuting to work, time had come. We got on a Saturday morning train bound for Chester, where Duncan parents lived, and where we would spend the night before the event.

Once in Chester, we made a start on our very English (culinary speaking!) weekend. Sausage rolls, custard cakes, and a sweet that reminded me of roscón de reyes were eaten within seconds. Also managed to get a thimble for mum (always good to keep her happy!). Duncan showed me around, took the silly picture and soon we were off to his parents, some km away from central Chester. The lanes over there are fabulous, you're in the countryside after 10 min of riding!

Chester seemed pretty...
 In the afternoon, we got a lift to Wrexham, where we had to register for the ride. This seemed to be one of the major complaints for people, since having registration the day before meant you either drive there and back, or spend a night in a B&B or similar. Surely registering ~1000 cyclists is not easy on the day of the actual event, but come on, posting the entry packages would have saved a lot of headaches! We had a massive, yummy dinner and went to bed ridiculously early...earlier than I ever remember! The weather forecast seemed unclear at this point: 18C, heavy rain and up to 29 mph winds (50 km/h).

The alarm went off at 6 am, and I was suprised it was completely dark until past 7 am. Autumn is kicking in. We devoured a massive bowl of porridge with berries, and some bacon, and felt ready for the ride. We decided on our clothing: I wore shorts and short-sleeved jersey with arm warmers. Duncan would do the same. High clouds and warm temperatures predicted a warm and probably dry-ish ride. At least before we hit the mountains. Upon arrival to Wrexham industrial state, we started to spot plenty of lycra and fancy road bikes. Most people wore full lengh lycra, and some even overshoes. Being from Spain, I thought I had made a major mistake and was going to freeze. Oh well, too late. Amongst those, I saw lots of titanium and even more carbon. I think Duncan and I were in the minority, riding old-fashioned aluminium framed bikes. Some folk had converted mtb, convenient for the steep hills that we would face later on. It was 8 am and everyone seemed ready, except the organisers. Apparently they were still sorting out the road closures...and that's because this was meant to be a closed-roads, traffic free event. Well, not quite, as we later learnt first hand! 8:20 am and off we went.

Smiley faces before the start
 The start was quite slow. Riding with another 1000 cyclists is not easy, and requires a bit of handling skills. I saw a tyre blow-up (scary stuff!) shortly after we departed, and plenty of punctures. The peloton rode at an easy pace (well, at least in our peloton!) up until the first hill "The Garth (16%)". On top of being quite hilly, it proved very challenging to filter through people, some of them already walking. I was surprised to see extremely good bikes being walked up. It's all about the rider, I thought...! At this point I felt incredibly strong and tried to emulate Contador. I reached the summit in good spirits and no pain. After that, we had some steep descends. The roads were quite slippery due to the overnight rain and mud. I nearly had a fall in of the downhills, although managed to control the bike. Even got congratulated by someone riding behind me! All those years riding mtb paid off I guess!

Narrow lanes were common

 Without even realising, we were climbing up "World's End". We knew that there was a ford (water flowing over the roads) so were extremely careful here. This hill was quite steep at places, reaching 20% apparently. Despite the UK not being very high, the steepness of the roads make it very challenging. Also, the roads were covered by mud and water, so standing was not a good plan either, and was tricky to get good traction in certain sections. The climb became a narrow road towards the summit, and again, I felt strong and went for it. The scenery was extremely beautiful and reminded me of the north of Spain. I managed to take some pictures at the top, which show how pretty this area was. The wind was blowing incredibly strong here, so could not hang around much. We saw an ambulance and what it looked like a crash by one rider that went straight through in one of the sharp turns. Hope (s)he is ok!. After the downhill we had our first feeding stop. I was quite surprised, they seemed to have plenty of food and drinks. I always go for the traditional bocata de jamón or some pita bread instead of artificial glucose mixes, but gave them a go this time. As I had predicted, I threw them out immediately as were completely disgusting. Pretty much anything tastes good on the bike, so they must've been really bad. It seems that we were lucky to get there early, as they run out of food shortly after we left.
The Worlds End I think...beautiful scenry, tough hills

Steep and technical descends
 After the 10 min stop we were, again, riding uphill. I was amazed at how disgusting some cyclists are, throwing all their gels/bars' wraps all over the place. I even counted three inner tubes on the road. Do people think that they're real pros and that somebody is behind them collecting their rubbish? It really does not help us to have idiots dumping their crap on the roads, honest! Anyway, the ride up to the second feeding station went by pretty quickly, as we gained some speed going downhill and people seemed to have found their own little pelotons. It got very windy on the flats, but we found some riders that were keen to work together, and the km flew by quickly. It really helps a lot to sleepstream, especially if it is windy. I went up in the front several times and it was knackering being there, which made me think of the poor domestiques of the Tour de France. In no time we reached the second feeding station. Or should I say...the second NO food NOR water station? The organisers had not planned for enough food or even water - they had run out by the time we got here. I was quick and made it to the local pub's toilets for a refill, but as I was leaving, there were dozens of cyclists queueing up... Really pathetic organisation. On top of that, I heard something coming out of Duncan's tyre. He had a massive crack on his front tyre, that even compromised the integrity of it. We patched it up on the inside and asked the not-very-friendly mavic mechanic to pump up the tyre for us (he had a track pump and was doing nothing). When I politely asked him for the pump, he said I should've had one...!? Aren't these people meant to help in cases like these or what?! Anyways, we got it pumped up and left.
Atmosphere at the second stop while Duncan patched up his tyre
 The third climb of the day, which name I have forgotten, was challening. My legs had started to complain, despite the rest of me feeling fine. Not sure why, I guess it was lack of hill training. So far the local support had been fabulous, people cheering us on from their houses, ringing bells, some even dressed up! I can imagine why people love the Paris-Brest-Paris so much. Having local support really gives you a push on the hard moments! The downhill sections were incredibly steep and technical, with sharp turns and slippery, rough surfaces. My wrists were in pain sometimes because of the vibrations coming from the road. Apparently there were plenty of falls here. The organiser had not put up any signs or marshalls, and sometimes we did not have a clue as to where to turn in some intersections. It turned out that someone had removed the signs showing their annoyance to the closed roads. Still, organisers could've done a lot better.
Rolling hills past half way
 The Horsehoe Pass was the highlight on the day, at least on papers. It actually was not that bad, despite the long 6.1 km climb. The problem was that we had already gone over ~65 milles and the legs were burning. Only some sections were very steep, about 20% according to the road signs. At that point my right quad was in pain and I had this great idea of stretching it while on the bike, climbing up. As I was going to pull it, a cramp on the opposite muscle warned me that it was not very smart to pull any further, so I kept pedalling uphill. I met a nice chap who said that it would get a lot easier a few meters further up the road. When we were talking, my computer did register double digits. I kinda fancied a break, but I had to push or else it would have been bad for my sore muscles. He happened to be an Italian living in Wales for some ~40 years. You always find the charming mediterraneans in the most unique places! And he was right! The last 2 km were very easy going, I even put my big chainring on and had Duncan in sight...Overall, it took me 32 min, Duncan 29 min, whereas the pros made it in 14 min! The fastest Etape Cymru rider completed it in 19 min, not bad either. Unfortunately the weather had turned quite nasty, and it was incredibly windy all the way up and at the summit. Rainy as well. And of course, the food was completely gone and so were the drinks. Another example of terrible organisation and many £££ in the organiser's pockets that should have been spent on the feeding stations. No smiley photos atop the Horshoe Pass due to wind, rain and cold.

We put our raincoats on and made our way down the Pass. Or rather, we battled against strong head and gusty winds. Legs were starting to recover and we felt ready for the very last climb of the day. Apparently the World's End via different route. However, the organisers, blaiming it to the weather, decided to cut that bit off the route and direct us straight back to Wrexham. Oh well, we will not complete the 100 miles. Weather got better as we made it down the mountains, and we dried out quickly. Again, we bumped into yet another ridiculous and unexpected hill. We were boiling and had to take our rain coats off before climbing up the hill. You could see how everyone was struggling at this point. After this last hill, it was all gentle dowhill back into Wrexham.

We pressed on and averaged >30 km/h for the last 25 km or so. In some of the latest sections we joined roads that had traffic in either direction. Again, we thought this was a closed roads event? Maybe the organisers had a different opinion? Here and anywhere else on the route, we saw various cars. Some riders had crashes and problems with them, and we were at all times aware of the possibilities of cars coming towards or behind us, which was not the point of riding such an event. Before we even realised, we were crossing the finish line. The weather was quite pleasant (for English standards) and we chilled out on the grass with a plate of pasta. No drinks or anything else offered by the organisers!!! I still remember when I did mtb rides back home...5 euros would get you proper feeding stations and a massive bbq upon arrival. Good old times.

Blanquita needs a thorough clean

At the finish. This must be a yoga move or something...
 Overall the stats said:

- 6 h 52 min moving time
- 50 min stopped time
- 148 km
- 21.4 km/h average
- Max speed 59.6 km/h
- Average heart rate: 138 bpm (max of 175, min of 88)
- Ascent 2636 m and descent 2632 m (difference due to changes in atmospheric pressure?)
- Highest point 477 m, lowest 83 m
- 8 bottles of water (6 litres)
- Countless wees (as usual)

In general, although we had a challenging day on the bike, through beautiful countryside, and lovely locals, I was very dissapointed at the organisation, especially given the £60 price tag. Something likely to be found in a £10 event for sure. The major complaints that I have can be summarised as below:

- Cars let through the closed roads?! We even rode on completely open sections towards the end! Completely unacceptable and potentially dangerous (as others' reports are proving!)
- Feeding stations run out of food AND water. Not acceptable.
- British Cycling membership included on entry? What if you are already a member of LCC, Audax UK and CTC? Why do I need a membership that I do not want when I am covered by three different insurances?
- Advertised as 6193 feet climb, when it actually was >8500 feet, not including the last pass. I would imagine lots of people could not cope.
- No signs, no marshalls at critical points. No GPS files available beforehand either.
- Goodie bag contained nothing but rubbish and publicity
- We only got a bowl of pasta upon arrival. No drinks, of course not. They surely run out of water too.
- £5 refund for a gilet that we did not get and was advertised as £20 rrp? dodgy

It was my first and last "sportive" event. Definetely not worth the money. Someone must have made a fortune out of us fool cyclists though. Wales has so much to offer, for free, so we will surely be coming back in the near future. Saw plenty of mtb-ers, and will probaly take the "fat tyres" ones next time.

The route back was uninteresting, with a rewarding smooth ale and a some good sleep on the train...

Bed time

I also found other interesting write ups on the net:

And a news story where people seem to put their comments: