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:


Watch out for deers!

My friend Amar from Choronou (Toronto, but with an added canadian accent!) recently warned me of the dangers we face while on our bikes. It seems that not only cars can hit you, but running deers also!

This applies to us, especially when cycling in Richmond Park!

Watch out!

10 October 2011

I bought a mountain bike!

For a few months now I've known that I wanted to buy a mountain bike. Having just bought the Boardman in January, I wasn't ready to buy another bike right away, but I knew that I wanted one. This is despite never having actually ridden one before!

But we have ended up on bridleways and other trails enough for me to see that they're nice places to cycle  (and would be nicer with some suspension!). I thought it would be nice to not have to worry about cars sometimes. Also, Alberto and I are planning to complete the Camino de Santiago, a historic pilgrim's trail in Spain, this summer. A mountain bike is necessary for that.

So, I had been keeping my eyes open for good deals, waiting for Autumn when I knew the sales on last year's bikes would begin. And wouldn't you know it, it's now Autumn!

Alberto was just participating in one of his favorite hobbies--window shopping on cycling websites, when he came across the Corratec Expert Xvert Disc Hardtail. It was the 2009 version and was on sale from £650 to £350, and in my size! It was a clearance sale and we didn't know how many they had in stock, so I felt I had to make my decision quickly. I bought the bike!

I placed the order and then waited an anxious 48 hours for it to be delivered. Luckily, Alberto happened to be at home in the middle of the day when the bike arrived, because having to pick the box up from a post office would have been a nightmare--it was huge!

I'm still not sure how he managed to get it into the house.
Since Alberto likes to live vicariously through my bike purchases (as he has not bought a new bike in 3 years -- meanwhile I've bought 3 in just over 2 years!) he kindly unpackaged it and put it together for me so that when I got home from work it was there waiting for me.

My beauty!
I was a little busy on the road bike last weekend, so have only been able to ride it in the neighbourhood, not out on the trails yet, but I'm looking forward to doing that very soon!

08 October 2011

Fancy building your own bike (from scratch, really!)?

I have recently discovered Dave Yates frames. When looking at his website, I came across an interesting section: Framebuilding courses.

So basically, you spend a week of full-time frame building experience and you end up walking out of the warehouse (in the middle of the English Lincoln countryside) with your very own frame that you have welded over the week. Unfortunately they seem booked up for now, but I think I will keep an eye on their website and maybe get someone (i.e. parents, gf, or wealthy friends) to treat me to some to this. How amazing would it be to return to the UK on a holiday, drink tea (drink as much as you can during the course, it's free), enjoy the wet countryside, learn how to weld steel, and have my very own frame at the end of it?! Would that not be nice?

A report that appeared on Singletrack magazine speaks by itself. A Swede also wrote an fantastic article on building his own frame. The frames look stunning (images obtained from Dave Yates' framebuilding gallery)!

John Isles' fixed-wheel

Darren Wright's racer

Ben Orson's hardtail mtb

04 October 2011

Ride report: The New Uppertea 200 Audax, Stages 3 and 4

So there we were on our first audax, seemingly keeping up with the crowd as we kept meeting them at the controls. The morning had gone very well and as we left the second control we both had high hopes for the afternoon...

Stage 3: Sutton Scotney to Upperton (69 km)
...but the indian summer heat was starting to kick in, and on our first climb after the control I started to fade too quickly. I think, despite the rest at the control, that I hadn't been drinking enough water. We had to rest in the shade for a while before I felt ready to continue on... and even then I thought it would be better to go at a slightly slower pace rather than push myself too hard and need to stop again. We carried on, only pausing again in Liss when we had to wait at a level crossing for a train to go through. We also managed to convince a pub owner to fill our water bottles up, despite the pub not being open yet. It was that kind of heat that they took pity on us!

Level crossing at Liss.

We eventually turned on to the A272, which we had been worried about being quite busy. But by that time I was feeling quite strong and it was mostly downhill, so we kept up well with the traffic and the km's kicked by pretty quickly. Finally we turned into Upperton, going up the tough hill and finding the third control with the El Supremo feed station we had heard so much about!

We sensed trouble when we arrived and the organisers were already starting to pack up the feed station. They confirmed we were the last riders on the course and it seemed like there was quite a bit of time between us and the previous guys. Still, there was lots of lovely cake, a nice hot drink, and basically any other kind of food we could wish for. We tried to eat and drink as much as we could and then prepared ourselves for stage 4, which we knew would mean night riding.

El Supremo feed station.
Stage 4: Upperton to Newlands Corner (47 km)
We put on our hi-viz vests, changed our sunglass lenses to clear lenses, and switched on our lights. We had to go back on the A272 for a while, this time less easy going as there was a climb out of Petworth that really killed me! Having to climb on such a busy road was stressful and I was starting to feel very tired from the day's hard work. We took another break by the side of the road and Alberto snapped some pictures of the sunset while I tried to gather myself together for the last 45 km.

We road on into the night, keeping an eye on the clock as we knew we would be cutting it close for the final control. After Billinghurst, we were supposed to go onto the A29 which looked really busy with people coming home from their Saturday activities. Alberto took a quick look at the GPS and plotted a route on quiet lanes instead. Then we were in our element of night riding and I was feeling much better again. That is until the final tough climb of the day in Ewhurst! I had to walk it and Alberto was kind enough to ride slowly with me rather than leaving me to walk alone in the dark!

We made it to Shere, the last town before our destination and then up a gradual climb to Newlands Corner. Alberto kept shouting out distances on the GPS (1 km! 500m! 300m!) and we could hardly believe it when we turned into the carpark at 9:30pm, just half an hour before the cutoff time! We were several hours later than everyone else (and apologised profusely to Richard the Audax secretary for having to wait there for us!), but we made it! After our brevet cards are validated, we will officially be randonneurs!

For those interested in the stats:

- Moving time: 10h 7m
- Stopped time: 3h 04m
- Moving average: 21 km/h (not bad!!!)
- Overall average: 16.5 km/h (including stopping, meaning we cut it very fine to get to the last control!)
- Max speed: 51.3 km/h
- Trip odometer: 215 km

02 October 2011

Ride report: The NewUppertea Audax 200, Stages 1 and 2

"Time is miles" - quote from the Upperton control stamp

Our Audax ride started at 8 am from somewhere near Guildford, in the southwest of London. We had to have breakfast, cycle to Waterloo, catch an early train, cycle to the start and register for the ride. So alarm went off at 5:15 am but could only open my eyes at 5:35 am. By 6:20 am we were already out of the house and about to descend down to Waterloo...and then I realised that I had a flat tyre! Rushed back into the house and within 5 min I had a new tube in and pumped up to 110 psi. Apparently the valve could not hold up for much longer and realesed all the air overnight...

With all this we missed our train. Not a big deal on a normal ride, but it meant that we would be late for the start. The clock was ticking. And therefore the miles were ticking (see quote above!). We would be cycling behind schedule and also we would not be able to enjoy the atmosphere at the start, with tea and biscuits. Oh well. Got to Guildford and cycle up to Newlands Corner, met some people cycling in the opposite direction, met Dave & Richard (the organisers), got our brevet cards and without delay went back down to Guildford for stage 1. We will see Dave later at the Upperton control. Richard, not that we knew, would be waiting for us much later back at Newlands Corner for the final control. We started the ride at 8:25 am.

Stage 1: Newlands Corner - Three Mile Cross (46 km)
After a gentle downhill we were on relatively busy roads (not at this time of the morning though) heading northwest of Guildford, via Jacobs Well, Pirbright, Frimley Green, Yately & Eversley, Spencers Wood and finally Three Mile Cross. The route was mostly flat and urban, as it approached Reading towards the end. The temperatures were very comfortable and we were riding on summer clothing all the way. At some point we got passed by two other audaxers, who we will meet again at the first control. We managed to average >25 km/h and the stage took us less than 2 h, which is probably the fastest we've ever ridden in quite a while! We made it to the control with more than half an hour to spare which, considering our late start, was not bad at all! Met a few others that were leaving and as proof of passage we got two juices at the gas station, put our receipts in our pockets, and off we went on to stage 2. It seemed that were were the last ones already.

Smiley Lucy after >25 km/h average, at the Three Mile Cross control

Stage 2: Three Mile Cross to Sutton Scotney (45 km)
The temperatures were going up by now, it was 20 degrees or more, very unusual for this time of the year, when it should be more like 10. Left the control and happily rode another 45 km. This time we soon entered the beautiful English countryside, with pretty much traffic-free roads. After reaching Silchester, we rode along an old
Roman wall, after which we got to Ramsdell. The roads were very flat so far. We went past Ramsdell, Ibworth, Deane and Steventon, to then ride along a very long section of country lanes that went gently uphill (the old A303 we belive!). We made a diversion from the original route to avoid busy roads, making a few more km than necessary, in exchange for some nice views and quiet lanes. At this point we felt ready for another break, so we pushed on to the second control. It really helps spliting these kind of rides into various stages, so that you have short goals to meet to keep yourself motivated. After about 2 h of riding (>23 km/h) we got to the second control in yet another gas station. We met the same riders again, which must have got there about 20-30 min before us. I chatted about bikes (duh!) and specifically about audax bikes (duh!) as am thinking on getting/building one. I got excited about long audaxes as we spoke to the veterans. One of them had even ridden the Paris-Brest-Paris back in 2003! Definetely something I am aiming for (in 2015!)...

Lucy battling the rolling hills

Applying sunscreen at the Sutton Scotney control, not a very scenic stop

It had been very easy going so far, decent average of >24 km/h and very little stopping. We even had more than 1 h to spare at the second control, we had our hopes up, felt pretty good and got a little relaxed. 90 km and another ~125 km to go. An "El Supremo" feed in between after stage 3. The rest from now on was not that easy...

Ride report from stages 3 and 4 coming soon!

We are randonneurs!

We've just got back from our very first Audax 200 (215 km)! That means...we are unofficially (until we get the approved brevet cards) certified randonneurs!

It has not been easy though, the ride was not flat, it was hot, and we had a late start! A full report will follow in the next few days...but for now we are so happy to have joined that exclusive group of cyclists who are willing to give up a whole day(s) (sometimes literally) of their time to ride long distances!

22:20 Guildford-London train after a long day in the saddle

We rode for a total of 250 km, that is including from home to Waterloo, Guildord to the start and back (Newlands Corner), and a few loops in our neck of the woods to make it up to 250 km!