26 August 2011

Off to see La Vuelta!

We're off for a long weekend in Madrid! Planning to catch stage 8 of the Vuelta a EspaƱa in San Lorenzo de El Escorial tomorrow!

25 August 2011

Why long distance cycling is similar to doing a PhD?

Lucy's come up with a good story to write about...Why doing a long distance ride is similar to doing a PhD?

I think being a scientist and a cyclist is being a double-weirdo. But let me explain the similarities:

- When you start a PhD you are very enthusiastic about it. Similar stuff happens when you start a (long distance) ride.

- Some days you do get a rainy start (or completely soaked!) while riding to the lab in which you are doing your PhD, same as when cycling long distance (blame it to the island's benign weather!)

- Doing a PhD has its ups and downs, exactly the same as cycling for prolonged periods of time, unless you intend to cycle in Suffolk/Norfolk.

- Everyone who has done/is doing a PhD knows about its unexpected turns (some of them nasty, some of them sweet), sort of similar as riding in the UK's narrow country lanes!

- Crazy people doing PhDs need support from their peers when they encounter difficulties, and so do long distance cyclists when they feel bored/tired/about to bonk.

- Most people "enjoy" speedy lunches (based on sandwiches) while doing a PhD, because your gels/PCR/immunochemistry slices need your immediate attention. You do eat quickly on the bike because you need to get going!!!

- It gets difficult and hard-going at the end of a PhD. I am experiencing it first hand. It does feel the same on a long distance ride. And in both cases, it always takes longer than expected to finish it!!!

- You dedicate more than 10 hours most days to a (scientific) PhD. Luckily, we do spend the same amount of time (sometimes even more!) if doing long distance events.

- PhD supervisors always want you to work harder/run more experiments. Some long distance cyclists want their mates/partners (this applies in Lucy's case) to go faster and complain less about it.

- Doing a PhD is not going to give you money nor recognition. But one must feel proud once you get it (hopefully!). It does feel great to complete 200 km on two wheel, also.

And I have found one dissimilarity:

- It takes 3 or more years to complete a PhD. I wish I had that time to complete a loooong journey on a bike! One day, maybe?

23 August 2011

Caught in the Rain AGAIN: A Hertfordshire metric century

This may surprise our readers, but we have only been caught in the rain on three occasions in the entire time we have been cycling in the UK. The first was Easter weekend 2010, on our first ever mini-tour in the Isle of Wight. The other two times have been in the past two weeks--the Friday Night Ride to Bognor Regis last weekend, and on our most recent ride around Hertfordshire on Sunday.

We had planned a 110km route for Saturday. We wanted to get back to London before the afternoon so that Alberto could get some work done, and we were taking Rachael (of triathlon fame) out for her first ride in the countryside and her first metric century!
We met at the train station at 8am, and by 8:20 we were in Potter's Bar. We knew that rain was forecasted for the late afternoon, but we were pretty sure we'd be back from the ride by then, and besides, we did the loop clockwise to take into consideration the direction the weather was heading! The first few km's were fantastic, as we rode through farmlands and forests, enjoying the lovely sun which was pleasant without being too hot.

Shortly before midday, we met Hitchin, the halfway point of the ride. An attempt to avoid the main street through town resulted in a very hairy situation in which we were stuck on a very busy road for a few minutes. We managed to turn off and take a route through the centre of town, but this was just as unpleasant as the cars didn't seem to think we belonged there. Fortunately it was all over in about 20 minutes and we were back in the countryside.

A few km's later we stopped at a pub in Weston to fill our water bottles (it was the first open pub we had passed). There were some tables in front of the pub, and they looked very inviting in the sun. We decided to have some soft drinks and relax for a few minutes there before heading on our way.

Clouds roll in, if only we had noticed!

By early afternoon, we started to notice the humidity in the air and we could see that it was getting a bit cloudier. I honestly didn't think we'd get caught in the rain, but then it started...first a few telltale sprinkles, building into an all out downpour. We only had about 20 km to go at that point, but they were tough! There were some minor hills that had to be ridden up, which was difficult enough, and then down, which was even harder as we worried about how our brakes would work in the rain. And then there was the minor incident of turning up a road only to find out that it was actually a route through private parkland with a locked gate! Fortunately the diversion didn't make the journey much longer anyway.

We made it back to Potter's Bar and then back home, and, obviously, about 30 minutes later the sun was shining again!

Overall, 118 km for the day, 22.2 km/h average (this had significantly dropped due to the last 20 km in the rain!), and nearly 5 h on the saddle. We hit 55 km/h on some of the downhills, still quite far from the pros...but getting there!

20 August 2011

Watching a pro-cycling race

Last weekend, we decided to check out the London-Surrey Cycle Classic, yet another event of the London Prepares series. The race took the route of next year's Olympic road race, except the peloton only did two laps of Box Hill, rather than the nine that the men will do next year.

The Olympic route starts and finishes on the Mall in front of Buckingham Palace, and goes through Richmond Park (fast becoming a favourite) both on exit and entry from London, then does a loop through Surrey. We thought we'd go watch the race from there since we know it well and we predicted there would be a good atmosphere of machacas there.

We caught the train to Richmond in time to watch the peloton come through on their return to the mall; the riders would have about 20km left in the race at that point. A fellow spectator told us that he had watched the riders leave west London earlier in the morning and there had been a breakaway of four riders, about a minute ahead of the peloton, so we were excited to find out how the race would look at this point so close to the finish line.

We knew the riders were nearby when a series of cars and motorbikes came flying past. First was a race radio car with loudspeakers on top. As it went by, it broadcast the current status of the race, so we heard that there were still two men in the breakaway and they were about 20 seconds ahead. Then several police motorbikes came past, from all across the UK, followed by the cars of the race officials and other important figures.

Finally, we saw two riders coming around the curve in front of us. We cheered them on and waited for the peloton which were knew were right behind them (they had even cleared the race vehicles from between them, a sure sign that  the peloton were going to catch up any minute now. The peloton flew by, team GB at the front, and it was all over in a few seconds.

The breakaway

The peloton
Many people in the crowd started crossing the road and leaving, while the race marshals (who are also practicing for next year!) tried to remind us that we hadn't seen the sweep vehicle come past yet. People were milling about, standing in the road, wandering off, when all of a sudden a second group of riders came into view in the distance! The marshals started frantically trying to get everyone out of the road, just in time for the second peloton, almost as big as the first, to come past. We were left wondering what could have possibly happened to split the peloton like that. Was there a crash that held people back, or maybe its just that there were two types of pro-riders on this race, the world class ones like Mark Cavendish and Tyler Farrar, and the middling racers who ride for smaller trade teams.

Surprise! Peloton number 2!

After the excitement of the second peloton, we waited around and watched a few more small groups of riders come around the bend. There was a long gap where no one came past... except for some normal Richmond Park machacas who had somehow managed to get on the road without being stopped by a marshall--the crowd was cheering them on unwittingly! During all this time, the marshals didn't have any more information than the spectators, except they knew that the sweep vehicle had not come past yet. Finally, a marshal somehow heard that there were two riders at the back, who had been involved in a crash. We waited for this last rider, gave him as much encouragement as we could muster, and watched the sweep vehicle come past.

It was more excitement than we had planned for and a lot of fun to watch the pros in action. Although I do hope they sort out the communication with the marshals for the next time around!

17 August 2011

WnrItp (Weekday night ride In the park)

What a great way to finish off a regular Tuesday. Bring the bike into work, put lycra on, carry jeans and underwear in the backpack. Take the overground and 40 min later you are in one of the most beautiful places in London: Richmond Park.

One of the main downs is that it gets very busy with cars fighting for space against the hundreds of roadie machacas that hit its roads every day. But, at 8 pm the doors shut for cars, and remain open for the rest of the unmotorised population.

Light beam, blinking red lights, sunset, and trees on both sides of the road. Long exposure moving picture
So, shortly after 8 pm you hardly see any car, only the few that were not aware of the restrictions and are trying to get out. The deer seem to relax and we saw literally hundreds of them, of all sizes. By 8:45 pm it was so dark that we had to use our proper night lights to see a few meters ahead of us. Despite the delayed start due to a mechanical on Bec´s Trek, we managed to put in two laps of the finest riding in London, making some 28 km at an average of 22 km/h.

This park has it all: fast descents, a couple of proper-ish hills, flat bits, abrupt turns, and a fantastic sunset (or sunrise, if you are brave enough!). We were obviously not the only ones experiencing this, as it seems that lots of people enjoy the quietness of the park after 8 pm. We spotted hikers, night mtb-ers, night roadies and even a girl on a unicycle!

Definetely have to try and make this a regular weekday out throughout the year.

15 August 2011

Caught in the Rain: Friday Night Ride to Bognor Regis

Last Friday night, Alberto and I went out on our second Friday Night Ride to the Coast (and third ever night ride). This one was to Bognor Regis in West Sussex, with about 80 of us in attendance.

As with all Friday Night Rides, we met at Hyde Park Corner at 11:30pm and departed at midnight on the dot. Due to the recent disturbances, we took a different route out of London, and it seemed to me that we stopped less than on our previous rides as we were able to stick together a bit more.


When we finally got into the countryside it was past 2am. We rode along on country lanes, making small talk with various of the other riders, until it started to drizzle slightly just before the halfway stop at the Cabin Cafe in Faygate (which had opened especially for us!). No problem, I thought... we'll go inside for a snack and it'll clear up!

WRONG... It was still raining when we left the cafe and it was still raining when we arrived in Bognor Regis four hours later. I remember when we were in the cafe, BBC news was on and they showed the weather forecast. A huge groan rose up from the entire cafe, as we realised we were in for a night of terrible rain. Although my jacket was waterproof, after four hours of riding in the rain, the water had started to be absorbed on the slightly-less waterproof areas like the hems, and then slowly seeping upwards so that only my arms and waist were wet. And my feet! Oh, my feet were soaked. I was peddling in puddles inside my shoes.

Because of all the rain, Simon (the group leader) decided to alter the route a bit. Rather than walking through some fields and over a kissing gate (which would have avoided the hills of the South Downs) we stayed on the roads, going up and over on the A217. It was tough, but I actually LOVED the hill. In fact, I loved all the hills on this ride. They were rolling and not very steep, and I really felt that I could keep up my speed on them (and even pass some people!) which made me feel good.

My fingers and toes became wrinkled as if I had been in a long bath, and we both had to take our sunglasses (well, actually they are sunglasses with clear lenses, which we wear at night to protect our eyes, because we are that cool) off because it was impossible to see through all the water droplets. Without mudguards, the rain came right off my rear wheel and onto my butt. The water even went through the hole in my saddle making it feel like I had wet my pants! At one point as we were stopped in the rain waiting to regroup, I turned to Alberto and said, "this is what we do for fun..."

Wet ride!

It was a little unpleasant, but it was fun. It felt like much more of an achievement to have to slog through the rain, and it made the reward of a breakfast at The Lobster Pot on the beach in Bognor Regis so much more satisfying! In fact, I actually think it was one of the most enjoyable routes I've ever done!

130 km in all, and it took us almost exactly 8 hours including all the stopping time. Can't wait for the next Friday Night Ride to the Coast!


Sun starts to come out... just as we are ready to leave!

13 August 2011

Triathlons in our future?

Last saturday, Alberto and I went to watch my friend from work, Rachael, complete her first triathlon.

Rachael hamming for the camera before the swim.
It was an olympic-distance tri in Hyde Park as part of the London Prepares series of events this summer, which are like test runs for the Olympics next summer. So the pro's competed in the morning and the amateurs in the afternoon.

Rachael has been training for this triathlon since before I even met her, and she did amazing! It was so exciting to cheer her on and we had a great time watching the many fancy bikes go past.



But I knew what would happen... I was expecting it.

Alberto turned to me and said, "Maybe we should do one!"

My first thought was NO! NEVER! But then I saw how happy Rachael was when she finished, how training for it for so long had made it an even better achievement, and it made me think twice...

Rachael encourages us to cheer louder!
I think it will be a long time before we make up our minds about this. But just to see where we are at right now (call it a triathlon audit), Alberto and I went for a run on Thursday after work. We lasted 13 minutes, for a total distance of 2.16 km (1.34 miles). So... I guess it will be a while longer before we think about a tri!

10 August 2011

1,000 Miles!

Last weekend while cycling through Richmond Park in southwest London, I reached a very special milestone.... 1,000 miles on the bike this year!


(Or, more accurately, 1,610 kilometers since that is what my cycle computer measures... but 1,000 miles has a better ring to it).

I bought the Boardman in September 2010 and probably only had the chance to ride 30 km on it before winter began, so the majority of these miles were done in 2011--which is not even finished yet! And since I (well, Alberto if we're honest) installed the cycle computer on my Boardman as soon as I bought it, the odometer also displays the lifetime distance that the bike has done.

The first 1,000 miles of this year has included:
  • 2 punctures (both as a part of the puncture from hell)
  • 2 clipless falls
  • 3 rides of over 100 miles
  • Approximately 5 hills walked up
  • 10 counties of England
Fittingly, Richmond is where I put the first miles on the Boardman back in September when I was still getting used to the drop handlebars and skinny tires.


Wonder how many more miles I can fit in in 2011?!

08 August 2011

100 miles in Essex

Saturday July 30th, Liverpool Street, Central London, 8 a.m.

Twelve machacas meet up in this London hotspot for a 100 miles of superb riding to Maldon, a coastal town on the Essex county. Amongst these riders there were all sorts of bikes, including a very fast Optima recumbent with aero wheels that put all of us to shame on the flat and downhill bits (and without pushing too much)!!


Photos courtesy of simgsxr from the Cyclechat

The way out of London passed through Stratford, Woodford, Chigwell and soon into quiet country lanes. The route was put together by the leading rider Abs

About 40 km from the start, we had our first stop at a very nice tea rooms in Blackmore, where another rider (on a very nice old roadie from the late eighties) joined up. After topping up on caffeine and cake (still working on drinking tea! like most Brits seem to do) rolling countryside followed.

Photo courtesy of simgsxr from the Cyclechat

In less than 4 h riding time we reached the shore in Maldon, or rather, the canal shore. Pints, fish & chips, bacon rolls, and other delicacies were eaten under the gorgeous sun.

Bike rides 005

After Maldon the group split into people riding to southeast London, north London and central. The second bit of the route was busier than expected, and we even had two incidents.

The first one featured by a couple of jerks jumping red lights on a big car that then decided to threaten us with a big wooden stick?! Only a few miles after that we encountered another group of idiots that pulled out on us. Luckily enough, these guys got told off by one of the riders, who happened to be a police officer...at least they seemed to get the message! The vistas coming from the very east London of Canary Wharf and the City were superb, as was seeing all the new developments of the Olympic Park. Unfortunately we were riding fast and I did not have the time to take any shots. Not long until all this area is brought to hectic Olympic life! Nearly 2 h after crossing the M25, we got to our starting point in Liverpool St.

Overall, I rode over 180 km, 7:20 h riding time (almost the same amount I dedicate every day to writing up the bloody thesis, but a lot nicer!), 23.8 km/h average, 6 water bottles (and 8 wees).

05 August 2011

5:30 am, cycle ride and on time for work

5:35 am: Alarm sets off. Two alarms set off. I am well known for not hearing alarms. My mum used to vacuum clean my room while I was sleeping in it...and I would not notice...nothing new!

5:50 am: Attempted to cook myself some Scottish porridge, but failed when I realised that my fellow machaca Duncan would be waiting for me at the tube station.

5:55 am: Put all lycra on and stuck my head out to test the outside temperature. It is damn hot!

6:00 am: Lucy's terribly annoyed at me because I forgot to turn off my alarms...I told ya I was bad with them!

6:05 am: I am already waiting for Duncan at the tube station, not much traffic on a Tuesday morning. Wish it was like this every day!

Bike rides 007

6:10 am: Set off towards Hampsted Heath passing via my favourite pub. Damn they are not open until noon!

6:13 am: We have already hit the worst hill of the training ride, Highgate West Hill. Good warm up! Almost run out of gears! What a killer that hill is!

6:20 am: Rain starts to fall down in London, but it's warm, so it's kinda pleasant despite making the roads very slippery.

6:20-7:00: Riding through Hampstead, pretty and posh houses. Competitions about showing off the biggest/most expensive/noisiest car starts early at around 7 am. Some of them fly past us. Soon riding up Alexandra Palace.

7:05 am: Gorgeous views of the city, Canary Wharf and central London. Really worth it getting up early! Traffic´s getting busier.

Bike rides 012

7:30 am: Duncan speeds up towards the city to put his suit on. I head towards home for a well-deserved breakfast.

Bike rides 008

7:35 am: Lucy seems awake, but she has not made me porridge. She has not been able to fall asleep after I left! Adrenaline's pumping through my veins at silly am hours. Dude, come machaca with us next time - I said to Lucy!

8:30 am: Heading towards the sauna, the newest RVC addition. Estates department seem to do pretty bad with "extreme" weather, so we get the free sauna ticket while at work.

Overall, 30 km of hilly-ish terrain across North London, 22 km/h, 1:30h riding. Great company. Good feelings!!!

02 August 2011

Please wear a helmet!!!

Lucy and I have always been advocates of helmet usage. Without excuses. Even if it's too hot or you think you look silly...

I still remember the time I had to call 112 while riding a mountain bike in my home town. A fellow mtber had fallen off his bike while training on a hill and had a massive open wound on his head. It was a very hot August afternoon in Madrid. He said it was the only day he had not been wearing his helmet...Luckily he only got stitches.

We do not want to get into hot debates about using it or not, there is plenty of it on the net. We do not call to make it compulsory either, it should be everyone's own decision. But it would surely not do you any harm. So please please do get yourself one even if it is to go to the bakery shop ;)

Alastair, one of our favourite bloggers, has recently posted this video that we too would like to share: