28 July 2011

My First Spin Class

Last Friday, some colleagues and I gave up our lunch break to attend a spinning class at a gym near our work. I'd never been spinning before, and to be honest was kind of intimidated by it! I'm not very good at going fast or climbing... I just go slow and steady for as long as necessary!


I'm more of a tortoise than a hare... (image source)

Things started off badly because we arrived to the class about 2 minutes late, so I was never sure what resistance I was originally meant to be at - so every time the instructor told us to turn our resistance up by half a turn, I would wonder if I was doing it right! It didn't help that my machine was unlike all the other ones in my class - it had twice the resistance so I had to divide everything the instructor was saying by two!

I thought I was doing okay for the first 15 minutes or so. Then the instructor shouted out, "Is everyone sweating? Who's not sweating? YOU'RE not sweating" (you can probably imagine, he was pointing at ME!) I pleaded that I really was sweating, but apparently not as much as I should have been for spinning class!

Anyway, the class was just the right amount of time and intensity to be extremely difficult but not impossible. It left me flushed and tired, but not broken. In fact, my legs felt fine, the bigger problem was being out of breath.

Going to spinning class is very different from going on a cycle ride - it's much shorter than my typical ride, it's obviously less pleasant to be stuck in a gym than to be experiencing the countryside at 20 kph, and of course there is someone screaming at you to work harder (and that someone is not your boyfriend!).

Anyway, it was fun and I hope it might eventually help me get my speed up. Up until now, I've continually pushed myself to go on longer and longer rides, but I'm reaching the point where I can't really push the distance anymore because there literally won't be enough hours in the day. Time to start working on the speed I guess!

25 July 2011

Machacas of the Tour

Well, the Tour de France has ended, so Alberto and I will have to adjust to life without the daily scramble to find a computer and/or TV at about 4pm everyday to watch the final km's of each stage. As a final goodbye to the Tour, we thought it would be great to identify a couple of riders who are the embodiment of the idea of machacas.

Machaca of the Tour: Thomas Voeckler
Voeckler (Team Europcar) is known for fighting it out on the breakaway, and this is how he won the yellow jersey in stage 9. So he's always been pretty machaca. But he exceeded all expectations by hanging on to the yellow jersey through the Pyrenees and on the first day in the Alps. Every day, Voeckler would say that he expected to lose the yellow jersey the next day, but he would fight on anyway. He blew everyone away with his ability to hang with the favourites and the hard-core climbers, while remaining humble and humorous. We love Tommy!

Thomas Voeckler in the yellow jersey (image source)

Machaca of a Single Stage: Johnny Hoogerland and Juan Antonio Flecha
This has to be a joint title, going to the two riders who kept riding after being horrifically hit by a media car while riding in a breakaway. Both riders finished not just the stage, but the tour, fighting through all the pain and riding with every extremity in bandages.

Flecha with his bandages the day after the crash (image source)

Johnny Hoogerland keeps riding after being thrown into a barbed wire fence (image source)

Machaca of the Saddle: Fabio Sabatini
In Tour tradition, Fabio Sabatini (team Liquigas-Canondale) will receive the honour of the Lanterne Rouge for being the rider with the slowest overall time. Finally, a machaca after our own hearts! By finishing dead last in the Tour de France, at 3 hours, 57 minutes, and 43 seconds behind the leader, Sabatini has spent the most time in the saddle of anyone on the tour. We always say that the biggest challenge of riding long distances is the amount of time spent in the saddle, so we salute Fabio Sabatini for his perserverance on this measure!

Sabatini at the back of the ride (image source)

Goodbye Tour de France 2011. Bring on La Vuelta!


23 July 2011

Are we crazy?!

Maybe, although last Saturday we could experience that we were not the only weirdos giving up a Saturday night in exchange of 200 km, cold, and an early morning swim. Some friends and family still do not understand why we love night riding...it is something difficult to explain and certainly has to be tried by yourself. As an example of what is like to ride when most people are sleeping/drinking/clubbing, here is video (en español!) of the last Dunwich Dynamo ride. Enjoy!

21 July 2011

Dunwich Dynamo 2011 Timeline

A quick timeline of our Dunwich Dynamo experience:

Saturday 16 July, 2011

10:00 AM: Wake up to torrential downpour in London. Uh oh.

11:00 AM: Watch Tour de France on ITV4 while rain continues outside.

2:00 PM: Alberto cooks cuban-style rice (rice with tomato sauce and fried egg) for a carb- and protein-filled lunch.

3:00 PM: Take advantage of a break in the rain to go shopping for food for the ride.

4:00 PM: Make wraps, sandwiches, etc. to carry with us while watching the end of the Tour de France.

5:00 PM: Eat dinner of tortellini. More carbs. Torrential rain has returned.

6:00 PM: Get changed, pack the bags, and prepare the bikes.

6:30 PM: Rain has finally stopped (never to return)!

7:00 PM: Head out for Pub on the Park in London Fields, the official start of the the Dynamo.

7:30 PM: Arrive at Pub on the Park. Hundreds of cyclists. Fight through the crowds to pick up our tickets for the coach back to London and get a route sheet. Wait around in the park somewhat away from the crowds.



8:30 PM: See a large chunk of cyclists heading out and figure we should join them. We're on our way!

9:30 PM: Ride through Epping forest in a large group. I manage to keep pace on the hill!

9:45 PM: Ride through Epping town centre - to the jeers of locals standing outside the pub!

10:15 PM: Pass first country pub at Moreton. Many have stopped for a pint, but we keep riding.




11:15 PM: Pass second country pub, Dunmow I think? See above.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

12:15 AM: Pass third country pub, I think it was at Finchingfield. Make a pit stop and fill the water bottles. Otherwise see above.

1:00 AM: Arrive at the 'half way' stop in Sible Hedingham. Queue for food is absolutely outrageous, but we eat some of our supplies and have a hot drink. Consider moving on, but realise if we keep this up we'll be in Dunwich by 7am -- too early if it will be rainy and miserable there.


2:00 AM: Finally set off from the food stop after an hour of warming up indoors. Freezing to be back outside!

4:00 AM: First rays of sunlight peek through on the horizon.




5:00 AM: Stop at Needham Lake to enjoy the scenery and refill bottles in the water fountain. Spot the guy cycling with his two dogs letting them have a bit of a run-around.

5:45 AM: Stop to admire the Bacon Roll stop near Gosbeck. What a nice setup! But again we decide to stick to our own supplies.

7:00 AM: Begin to see a trickle of cyclists coming from the opposite direction. They were cycling BACK to London after all that!

8:20 AM: Arrive in Dunwich!

8:30 AM: Get to the beach. Find hundreds of cyclists napping there.




9:15 AM: Alberto goes for a swim!

10:30 AM: Load bikes on to lorry for return journey to London, organised by Southwark Cyclists. To our surprise, told that we now have to board a coach for immediate departure to London (coaches were supposed to depart at 1PM).

11:00 AM: Coach pulls out of Dunwich. Cyclists still trickling in from the roads leading up to Dunwich.

11:05 AM: Fall asleep.

2:30 PM: Arrive at Smithfield in London.

2:45 PM: Lorry with cycles arrives at Smithfield in London.




3:00 PM: Rain arrives at Smithfield in London.

3:45 PM: Home in time to watch the last 20km of the Tour de France!

19 July 2011

Dunwich Dynamo 2011: highlights and lowlights

What a fanstastic ride the Dunwich Dynamo 19th edition was! Really top 5 on my list.

Highlights
  • Leaving home just after the last downpour had cleared out
  • Getting to Broadway Market and up to the Pub on the Park with loads of fellow night riders
  • The sight of hundreds of cyclists at the pub, from very young machaquitas to experienced middle-aged machacas, in all sorts of bikes and outfits
  • Bikes bikes bikes: carbon-made-in-Taiwan, skinny titanium, aluminium roads. Lots of vintage steel British beauties, fixies/singlespeed, recumbents (including trikes), tandems (including steel fixed), Boris bike (see report by Leo Ton - the rider - here!), 90s crappy mtbs, heavily loaded tourers, american army folding bike, bromptoms and fake bromptoms, and of course, the brave guy carrying his two dogs on board!
  • Leaving East London and clearing Epping Forest in a big group (that park is big!!!)
  • Sunset in the rolling Essex countryside following red blinking lights rather than cyclists

  • Nearly full moon and clear skies until 20 miles to Dunwich
  • Riding "solo" for some bits (no one else in sight but Lucy and I)
  • Manic bell-ringing old man as we passed by Sudbury at 3 am (I guess in support of us?!)
  • Seeing fellow riders having naps all over the place along the way (at 12 degrees C!)
  • Bacon roll stop in someone's garden (although we didn't stop to eat them)


  • Last 5 km riding into Dunwich Heath, a familiar place knowing that the beach was awaiting us
  • The sight of Dunwich beach packed with sleeping riders under patchy sunny skies

  • No mechanicals or punctures
  • Longest ever ride (196 km with 9 h riding time)
  • Swimming in the ocean (my very first time in the UK)!

  • Not a single bug on the beach was probably the best of all highlights!
  • Falling asleep on the bus back into London only to be abruptly awaken by yet another downpour somewhere on a highway: was all of this a dream?!

Lowlights

  • Seeing some very thoughtless folk riding with no lights
  • Dulwich rider with broken collarbone in Epping forest
  • Painful knees until I realised that I was wearing shorts at 12 degrees C!
  • Unconsiderate folk chatting loudly nearby houses at crazy am hours. There was plenty of countryside to yell...
  • Litter on the road, not only dangerous for passing cyclists, but certainly looks bad on all of us. If you can carry all that food with you, surely you can take the wraps back home.
  • Painful stomach-aches and severe sleep deprivation 90 miles into the ride
  • Lucy's soreness on the last 20 km induced by a combination of posture, cheap chamoix and long day (night) on the bike
video

Stats
  • 196 km door to door
  • 9 h of riding (not including cycling to Hackney)
  • 20.2 km/h average
  • 49.5 km/h maximum speed (not even the average on the flat managed by Le Tour de France machacas)
  • 2.5 h of stopping time on the ride
  • 3 coffees
  • 6 jamón ibérico sandwich rolls
  • ~6 litres of water (and countless wees!)
  • 8 AA batteries (to feed the front light)
  • Some 1300-1400 cyclists
  • ~640 riders taken back to Smithfields by the Southwark people on coaches
  • 3 h and 15 min to get back on the bus (including getting lost in East London)



14 July 2011

Taking on Contador

On Saturday night, Alberto and I have a showdown with Alberto Contador, Andy Schleck, Cadel Evans and the rest of the 177 riders still in the Tour de France. That's right. And we are pretty sure we're going to beat them.

This is because on Saturday, the participants of the Tour will ride a total of 168.5 km in Stage 14 from Saint-Gaudens to Plateau de Beille. Meanwhile, Alberto (not Contador!) and I will be cycling 180.7 km overnight on the Dunwich Dynamo!

Okay, so the riders of the the Tour will take care of these km's in an afternoon, while it'll take us all night. They'll be greeted by spectators and shouts of "Allez!" while the best we can hope for are some drunk Londoners shouting abuse at us. They'll have support cars carrying everything they need for the ride and more, while we'll have our saddle bags and a couple of 2-liter water bottles. And at the end of their ride, they'll get a nice, relaxing sports massage, while we'll get to feel the sensations of hundreds of little flies landing on our skin.



But the fact remains that we will ride further than Contador on Saturday. And I can't predict how he'll fare in the Pyrenees, but I can guarantee that Alberto and I will both be wearing yellow at the end of the day!

11 July 2011

Great writing about pro-cycling


I am currently back home in Philadelphia visiting my family, and a happy combination of jet lag making me wake up early and my parents having finally decided to get cable TV a few years ago means that I have been watching every stage of the Tour de France live! I've kept up with the Tour in past years, but never to this degree. It's fantastic!

The problem is, as a newbie to cycling I feel like there is so much I'm missing out on because I don't really understand it. The team tactics, the following cars and feed stations, the camaraderie and competition amongst the riders... the things that make these racers into humans. For instance, in Stage 3 I thought it was really amazing that the peloton allowed Anthony Charteau of team Europcar to break away from the peloton so he could meet his family on the side of the road, stop and say hello to them, and then rejoin the peloton as it passed by!

Anthony Charteau pulled over on the side of the road to greet his family. Photo from dailytelegraph.com.au.

These are the kinds of things that aren't easily communicated by commentators on TV and are not really covered in Wikipedia. In searching for more information on all this, I've come across some great writing about the sport:

First, a great story about the way that the riders in May's Giro d'Italia paid tribute to Wouter Waylandt, along with some critique about the way pro races are organised these days and the way the media covers crashes and injuries.

Back in March, there was this article by Michael Barry which helped me understand how pro-cyclists use drafting or slipstreaming. Not just of each other, but of the motorcycles and cars associated with the race as well! It's a pretty good introduction to understand what's allowed and not allowed in that area. I thought it was an interesting point that it is impossible to simulate a pro-racing situation without actually motorpacing, because nothing else creates that drafting effect of a 200-strong peloton.

Then there are the pro riders that have their own blogs. It's really fun to watch a race on TV and then read about what was actually going through riders' minds at the time. Of these, my favourite is Jens Voigt's Hardly Serious. Jens (team Leopard-Trek) is the oldest rider in the tour so he's got a lot of perspective -- plus I think he's a great writer!

Until yesterday there was also Chris Horner's blog (team Radioshack) but sadly he crashed out of the race.

There are also twitter accounts -- too many to mention. But I did thoroughly enjoy Alberto Contador's tweet after a crash that left his jersey torn up -- "Here's my summer jersey," he said!

All this has really enhanced my experience while watching the tour. Now, if only I knew other cycling fans to show off my knowledge to!

07 July 2011

Cycling in the southwest of England

On Saturday 2nd of July I finally managed to cycle in the southwest, an area that is pretty much unexplored for us, in favour of the south/southeast and north of London. This time I joined some of the people that we cycled with down to Brighton on the night ride.

The day started, as usual, way too early for me. We had agreed to meet by 7 am in Waterloo, meaning 6 am wakeup! We got the groupsave and attempted to get on the first train down to Winchester, but the very kind southwest train staff said that no more bikes on said service, and so on to the next one. Fortunately this was only running 5 min after the original one, so we all met up in Winchester by 8:45 am. By 9 am we were on our way out of this little town, and on to a bit of a dodgy roundabout, where we found an amazing bike path following the valley of the river Itchen. Beautiful rolling countryside surrounded by crops (which included Xmas trees!). For the first 1/3 of the ride we barely saw any cars, and the ones that we did, were surprisingly nice to us, waiting after the peloton until it was safe to pass

The peloton itself was formed of interesting folk. 4/9 had titanium bikes (split between Van Nicholas - one of my ever dreamt ones, Enigma, and Burls), the rest were carbon framed, one american military version of a folding mtb (riden by Will) that weighed in at 20 kg or so! and my not-so-cool aluminium Canyon.

We carried on past Selbourne, where we stopped to take a view of the landscape. In the distance we saw the Geodesic domes of Oakhanger, looking like random sized golf balls scattered across the fields. We had seen these stuff already near Cromer,in Norfolk. The whole area is big on military camps, and in fact, Tim, the organiser, had spent a good deal of time here. About 30 miles into the ride we had our first stop. Of course, everyone had a tea (we are in England!) while I downed an orange juice.

We then sped up a little and were soon entering the Surrey hills. At this point the average came up to 23 km/h, which seemed kind of easy to maintain when in a medium size group. The pub lunch was very nice, along the river, in a spot that will be packed in the Olympics when Cavendish et al fly past the area. Soon after the lunch, we hit the second hill...Ranmore Common. It got pretty steep at times, but the roads were empty and stimulating.

Box Hill and its Zig-zag road was next. This hill will be "climbed" 8 or 9 times by the pros on the Olympic road race. It was a gentle incline, that put all of us to shame when we saw a real lady machaca no wearing lycra, with crappy shoes, with a very old fixie (including saggy chain) going up the hill at a very reasonable pace...yes, on a fixed gear! I had to congratulate her! We encountered tons of fellow cyclists resting on the grass, taking in the atmosphere of the place. We took the group photo with the nice views in the background, went for a speedy downhill and were soon crossing the M25. After this the ride only got worse and worse, passing through Kingswood, Outwood, Chipstead Valley and Coulsden. And then into Croydon! This was certainly the worst bit, and took us almost 2 hours to get home.

All in all, it was a very nice ride (thanks to Tim Decker for organising and for some of the pictures shown here) except the last bit past the M25. I managed to put in 160 km, with an average of 22.1 km/h, maximum of 54.5 km/h and 7h 6min on the saddle. The overall climbed totalled 6000 feet, which is not bad at all!

05 July 2011

The puncture from hell

Any cyclist has had many a puncture at least once in their live. But what happened in our last 2-day mini-tour almost made me run out of patience. Lucy's bike wears Continental Ultra Sport tyres, which although are not awful when they're brand new (as they usually come with low-end bikes off-the-peg), they tend to wear off quickly and get punctures every 20 km after 1000 km or so. This is a short summary of events that happened when we were only 10 km away from our final destination, King's Lynn:

1. Front flat tyre
2. We removed the tyre, inspected it for foreign objects, we found nothing
3. Put a new inner tube and put tyre back on
4. Realised that the valve is too short for Lucy's rims (they're kinda fancy aero tall rims)
5. Take inner tube back out to only realise that the rim tape had moved from its natural place and the hole along the rim is not longer visible
6. Unsuccessfully tried to move the rim tape so that the holes on both the tape and the rim matched
7. Given the heat (even in the shade) and the fact that we needed to get back home at a reasonable time, I decided to cut a new whole on the rim tape using the swiss knife
8. Put a new inner tube with longer valve in. Put tyre back on.
9. Sh*t, tyre lever breaks! First time this has happened to me! Strange...maybe blame it to the hot English weather?
10. Inflate the wheel with mini-pump, doing well, up to 70 psi, boooom! Valve has blown up. This is the very first time it has happened to me at only 70 psi!
11. Only have one other inner tube that would fit those rims, the original one that actually had the flat.
12. Get glue and patches out, fix it, leave it to dry for 5 min
13. Put inner tube back in, tyre back on with only two remaining tyre levers, and inflate to 60 psi fearing that the valve would blow up again and we will run out of options!

We thought this was bad enough, but no...

14. Monday morning we realised that also the back tyre was completely flat! Luckily, it held up on the previous day and we did not even notice! Phew...

Continental Gatorskins ordered!

So, make sure your inner tubes fit your rims, and always carry patches as well as inner tubes! And get reliable tyres to make life easier!

04 July 2011

We're famous!

Okay, no, we're not really famous. But a few weeks ago Alberto and I stopped by the Camden Cyclists' annual Cyclist Breakfast on the way to work. Though we are both members of the London Cycling Campaign, we don't normally go along to any of their events, but when we heard about the event the night before it was due to take place, we decided to check it out. We had some juice and croissants, checked out the maps and other literature, and picked up a free slap ankle band to use as a trouser clip (flourescent yellow of course). And a picture of us made it into the news story about the event (first row of pics, all the way on the right).

It's great to live in a place that has such an active cycling community, even if we don't take advantage of it that often.

02 July 2011

Suffolk and Norfolk Coast Mini-Tour: Part 3: Day 2 Mundesley to King's Lynn

We got as early a start as we could on Day 2 because we knew it would be a hot one. The forecast was for at least 30 C (86 F) if not hotter. We had a proper English breakfast at the B&B and headed out onto the roads. We had been very excited to leave behind the terrible yellow-loving flying beetles of the day before, but we soon learned that there were other bugs waiting for us! These little things stuck to our skin, but died quickly (due to sweat or sunscreen) and then just remained there all day. We would wipe them off periodically, but pick up more the next time we would ride at speed.


Yep, all those little black things are bugs!

We took quiet lanes as much as possible, but after Runton we briefly had to go on the A149. It is always scary to go on main roads, but fortunately it was downhill, and we both managed to hit about 46kph (28mph), so we kept up with traffic somewhat. We turned onto quiet roads after that which gave me an opportunity to practice taking pictures of Alberto in motion. Something tells me he will remain primary photographer of our rides...



The day was starting to heat up, and we got a taste for what would lie ahead when we turned into Sheringham to check out the beach...hundreds of Brits arriving at the seaside on a hot summers day. After Sheringham we turned inland for a while, which was probably a good thing given the traffic near the coast. We cycled to Baconsthorpe Castle, a National Trust site that Alberto had read about, and had a snack as we briefly explored the ruins of this manor house from the 1400s.


Baconsthorpe Castle

We continued inland for a while longer, riding through quiet country lanes, many of which had pretty good shade so we did not necessarily notice how hot it was starting to get! The kilometers passed pretty quickly, although I started to get hungry when we were about 10km out of Wells-next-the-Sea, where we planned to stop for some food. When we finally arrived at Wells-next-the-Sea, our final coastal town, it was PACKED. We didn't even make it to actually see the ocean, which was a few kilometers away from the town. Alberto had some fresh cockles and we bought sandwhiches at a cafe, but we didn't stick around long due to all the crowds and the fact that the heat was intensifying.


Eating cockles

We turned inland for the final time, and it was brutally hot. There was very little shade and I just couldn't seem to drink enough water to stay hydrated. At the first small bit of shade we found, I stopped to take off my leg warmers which I had been wearing all day to avoid having to worry about sunscreen on my legs. This only helped with the heat marginally. We had to keep moving because it was too hot to stay in one place!

We eventually turned on to roads lined by well kept fields with trees in the distance. What a nice change of scenery! A few minutes later we realised we had just entered the Sandringham estate, owned by the Queen! We knew we were very close to King's Lynn so we decided to stop and rest in the shade by the entrance to Sandringham House, near the gift shop. We rested in the shade, had a snack and plenty of water, and left with enough time to make the next train out of King's Lynn.... or so we thought!

About 10 minutes after of Sandringham I got the puncture from hell. This was such an awful puncture that we are devoting another whole post to it very soon! Luckily, we were in the shade, but suffice to stay we spent the better part of 45 minutes trying to sort it out. When we finally got it fixed, we hurried on to King's Lynn to try to catch the *next* train (half an hour from the one we had been aiming for). We made it with about 8 minutes to spare, only to miss the train due to some confusing signs on the platforms!! Another 30 minutes later, we finally got on the train. If there was any reluctance to head back to London after a weekend of mini-touring, the last few hours certainly helped us see that we were ready to get back to normal life for a while!

Shortly before the puncture from hell!