31 May 2012

Sunday in Hell (Paris-Roubaix video)

Hello! We're still cycling the Camino de Santiago but thought we'd schedule some posts while we're away. Enjoy!

Not so long ago Lucy and I found ourselves watching Paris Roubaix up close. Now the season seems to be well underway with the Giro de Italia and all the big races coming up.

Sunday in Hell is a superb video about cycle racing, and in particular, the Paris Rouabaix. If you are remotely interested in cycling, and want to see some of the legends (e.g. Eddy Merckx) in action then it is a really good watch. It is funny to see how those seventies bikes and gear are now sooo trendy, at least here in London. Somehow they don't see outdated anymore!

Here is the video. Hope you enjoy as much as we did.

27 May 2012

Looking forward to the Dunwich Dynamo 2012

Hello! We're still cycling the Camino de Santiago but thought we'd schedule some posts while we're away. Enjoy!

It was almost exactly one year ago when we took the roads from London to Brighton, but through the night. It was so much fun that we were soon hooked up with night riding, and have been doing as much of it as possible.

Soon after that, we discovered the Dunwich Dynamo ride, an annual night outing where some 1000 cyclists set off from a central London location (London Fields, in Hackney) and cycle the 200 km to the Suffolk coast. There's no formalities required for this one, you just turn up and ride. Meet at 7 pm at the Pub on the Park and depart between 8 and 10 pm. Assuming you ride a normal pace and don't stop too much, you will get to the beach by 6-8 am.

Happy faces in 2011 after having reached the beach, and the sun was out!
Now it is a bit over a month and a half and I have already seen some nice write ups on other blogs. People are getting excited about it. This years will be the 20th edition, so meant to be a big one!

So, if you are regular-ish cyclist and want to have an amazing experience, you should come along on the night June 30th. Riders from further afield have made it to this ride, so no excuses in you're not London-based! The only three things that are needed: some sleep beforehand, a good front light, and a working bicycle. The rest is easy. Pedal, drink and eat and you'll eventually get there. Trust me, not-super-fit people reached the beach last year, some even on a 25 kg Boris bike.

As for the return to home options, Southwark cyclists provide a coach back for £14 if booked in advance. That will drop you back in central London, but we found it so stressful that this year we're riding to a station some 50 km from the beach, for a train back.

If you fancy coming along, do let us know!

Last year's write ups below

Dunwich Dynamo 2011

23 May 2012

Herne Hill revival day

Hello! We're still cycling the Camino de Santiago but thought we'd schedule some posts while we're away. Enjoy!

The 2012 Olympics are fast approaching. But did you know that also in 1948 they were held in London? The only surviving site from those games is the Herne Hill velodrome, a venue that has been used by enthusiasts since then, but that was in need of refurbishing. Only until the opening of the new velodrome in Stratford this year, it was the only one in London.

Last year, people raised enough funds to have it resurfaced, and so it was about time that we paid it a visit. Last weekend I had to take it easy due to some pain on my knee. Weather was looking up, and on Sunday they had a revival happening at the velodrome, so it seemed like the perfect time to go down there.

Plenty of racing to see, lots of interesting bikes, and my first ever cycle jumble. Interesting day we had, and below are some pictures that we hope you enjoy. Of course, we are already thinking of having a training session down there and try go at full blast on fixies trying to emulate Chris Hoy.

Classic pennyfarthing (or ordinaries as they're called here) about to kick off

Machacando on ordinaries!

Miguel Indurain on an ordinary?

It was a very close finish, but Banesto guy won

It's not easy to get going on one of these

Racing tandems, some of them fixed

Hopefully the pilot did not eat baked beans for breakfast

Family on a touring tandem

Bob Jackson tandem

Classic fixies. I will be there soon.

Fixies speeding up

Sprint finish

Every one raced!

Seriously cute bike

He really was a pro, and his bike is amazing

Tandems banking at full speed

Cycle jumbles...or how to spend even more money on stuff you do not need

Fanciest bike on display (see following picture for an explanation)
Hard gear if you pedal forward, easier gear if you pedal backwards. Smart isn't it? painful on your muscles though!

Joff on his penny. He circled round the world on it!

Two guys competed on Moultons

19 May 2012

Final Camino Preparations

It's hard to believe the moment is here -- we leave for the Camino de Santiago tonight!

With the help of a pretty exciting spreadsheet we have finalised our packing list and gotten everything into its respective bag or box!

Midway through the packing process.

All ready to go!

We probably won't be posting too much while on the Camino (trying to simplify our lives and all that), but we will be keeping a journal which we'll post after we're back.

You can view our packing list below.

16 May 2012

Riding the Trans Pennine Trail

Our grand tour of the year is approaching fast. On the May bank holiday we had set out to ride most of the Trans Pennine Trail, a mostly off-roadie trail that runs from Southport (on the UK's west coast) to Hornsea (all the way on the East coast). It is pancake flat, except the bit in the middle, across the Peninnes, where you will find some inclines. Due to train connections and time constraints, we only did it from Liverpool to Hull. The route we followed, although with some detours, can be found below:

Day 1: Liverpool to Stockport

So, another super early start and a smooth journey to Liverpool. Suprisingly, the ride out of town was quite pleasant, with little traffic and wider roads than we are used to in London. Soon we were on the official route heading East towards Stockport.

About to set off from Liverpool 
Once we cleared the Liverpool suburbs, we followed the river for a while and took in the first view of the water. This ride is supposed to go from coast to coast, but this would be the only water that we will see until we got to Hull.

Weather was threatening with rain, but stayed dried in the end
The route passed through many urban areas and was not particularly nice or what we were exactly expecting. Plenty of road crossings and gates made for a very slow progress. Also, the scenery was not the nicest as we went through industrial areas and the odd power station...

A usual sight in the UK
Somewhere half way we rode on what it turned out to be the only mountain bikey section of the trail on day 1. However, due to the heavy rains of April, we encountered lots of mud, some of which made it impossible to ride through...!

At least we could push the loaded bikes!
Once we cleared these muddy sections, we were quite near the Manchester area and thus plenty of developments. Past 5 pm we headed off the main route and into our B & B, where we spent the night. It was not the most ideal ride, but it got us there without doing much on-road km.

In Stockport we ended up eating at what it was probably the worst Italian restaurant that I can recall. Something called "Amici". If you happened to be there, I would avoid it by all means, unless you want frozen pizza for 9 quid each... Fell asleep pretty quickly after a long day, and looked forward to crossing the Peninnes on the following day.

Day 2: Stockport to Doncaster

We woke up to a sunny and cold morning. Had a hearty breafast and set off minutes before 10 am. The Peaks awaited us, so we needed the extra calories for this one.

Before hitting the Peaks proper, we encountered the first and only group of cyclists doing the trail. Some sections were relatively busy with other, more leisurely cyclists, but not much people doing the whole coast to coast. These guys happened to be from near Hull, and so the route was just too convenient for them. They finished quite literally at their doorstep! We chatted to them a few times, especially on the hills, but eventually ended up loosing them towards the middle of the day on the highest point.

We're now quite familiar to the Peak District, although this was the first time that we attempted a ride with our mtbs. I was glad to be back on some good trails, with potentially steep inclines. We really tested our legs here, and even had to walk one of them as it was just too slippery and rocky at times! Lucy did very well indeed, despite this being her only third or fourth time on her mtb. She was initially scared of some of the steepest hills, but in general made excellent progress and I believe she is a good climber!

The views were just too good, especially given the good weather. Of all the times we've travelled up here, it's only ever rained at night, so can't really complain!

Making good progress
Once we reached the highest point of the trail, nearing 500 m, we put all our warm clothes back on for what I was expecting it would be an exciting descend on trails. Unfortunately, it was all down on easy roads and well-paved trails, so we descended back to sea levels in no time. 

Admittedly, had to walk up this one...
Next, the Pyrinees...
Reaching the "summit"
Glad to be back on easy trails
The last bit out of the Peaks and into Doncaster was quite nice, along old disused railways and quiet paths and soon after 6 pm we reached our destination.

Highlights of the day included some challenging climbs in the Peaks, seeing locals without a shirt at below 10C (this included very young children!), people on flip-flops and some scenic views. We should definitely come back for some good mtb-ing in the near future!

Rail bridge into Doncaster
Day 3: Doncaster to Hull

We woke up to yet another sunny day in England. But the forecast was not so promising for the rest of the day. Heavy rain was approaching from the West, making its way East by noon and hitting us soon after that. We tried to make an early start to avoid all this, but only managed to re-join the trail at 9 am. 

After some 30 km into it, it was time for a cake stop. This time it was not the regular café on a high street, but someone else's house tucked in some random town suburbs near the trail in Braithwaith. The owner was catering for walkers and cyclists. Prices were reasonable and portions of American standards, so all good and happy faces.

Cottage full of tourer's pictures
While enjoying our cakes, an Irish cyclist turned up. We soon found out that he had been travelling from his house in Donegal to Belfast, then boat to Liverpool and he had plans to carry on to Prague. I can tell you that he made me very jealous, especially as this was our last day of the trail. Although we would have loved to chat to him a bit more, we were worried about the rain and getting late to Hull for our train back.

At some point we saw a bunch of cyclists going past us through the window, and we guessed those must be the group we saw the day before. Indeed, they were. Again, we engaged into interesting conversations and got an invite to join them (20 of them!) for lunch. They had a support vehicle! They really insisted and we could not refuse the offer. Nice people up North. Even had some fantastic conversations about statistics with one of them, an statistician himself, who gave me good advice. Who would have told me?

Again, we worried about making slow progress (they were literally heading home, in South Cave, while we were due to catch an 8 pm train from Hull!) and set off on our own. My wheel was feeling a bit weird, and it was here where I noticed my first ever broken spoke. As it usually happens, it was one from the drive side...Luckily I have 32 spokes on both my mtb wheels, so after a bit of re-adjusting of the other spokes, we carried on without much delay. I will fix it back at home. 

20 km out of Hull, with the Humber bridge in the background
It's not the Golden Gate, but still, quite impressive!
The bridge from below, over the river Humber
For the last 50 km we met up with the Irish cyclist again, and between the three of us battled some head and crosswinds on our way to Hull. Apparently this area is always windy, but still, quite nice with the farmland, rolling roads and the bridge. Most of the day we were on really quiet roads and very few trails.

At 6 pm we arrived in town, after some pretty boring stretches of roads into Hull. Being a bank holiday, everything seemed deserted and closed, so grabbed some quick snacks at the station, waved our Irish friend off and wish him well.

It had been a good trip, not particularly adventurous or challenging, but we really enjoyed the second day through the Peaks and some good company along the way. It is still quite impressive that they have managed to join some 360 km through the midlands, full of industrial towns and suburbs, with most of the way on trails or super quiet lanes. Good for families and novices, maybe not the best if you're looking for something challenging, scenic or country-sidey. For us, it was more a test of the bikes and the luggage than anything else, but we did have a great time, and most suprisingly, did not get rained on for the whole trip!

Next stop, El Camino Francés.

The stats for the trip:

Overall odometer: 315 km (split in three days)
Moving time: 21h 23 min
Stopped time while en route: 5 h 25 min
Overall average speed: 11.7 km/h
Moving average speed: 14.7 km/h
Maximum speed: 42.9 km/h

15 May 2012

30 Days of Biking Wrap Up

It's been too long and I have neglected to write up the final days of my #30daysofbiking challenge. Better late than never! The last ten days started off with our 300km audax on Day 21, which unfortunately resulted in a pretty sore knee. So on Days 22, 23, 24, and 25 I was basically cycling just a few hundred meters each day to check out my knee's progress. It was probably for the best, as I was away for work a couple days, resulting in silly things like having to head out at 6am with waterproofs over my work clothes for a lap of our street before heading to Edinburgh (that was Day 24).

My knee felt better enough that I could resume my normal commute to work for Days 26 and 27. The weather has not relented -- it has been windy and rainy for the entire month of April. That didn't stop us from heading out on Day 28 for The Big Ride that we have already posted about. We had a good time standing up for cyclist safety but it felt good to get home and out of the rain. On Day 29, with the weather at a particular low point, I just went for a local ride around the neighborhood.

On the Big Ride
I was a bit dissapointed that on Day 30 I couldn't cycle to work as I had to attend a meeting at another office in London. It turned out to be a beautiful day and Alberto and I went out to dinner after work. Since he had his bike with him, I decided to get a Boris Bike (as London's cycle hire scheme is affectionately known). I turned out to be a great way to end the month!

Because I'm the kind of person who keeps spreadsheets, I can tell you that I cycled 902km in the month of April. 784 of those were on my road bike, but this only accounts for 8 days of cycling (riding a 300 will do that!). The remaining 117km were mostly spent on my commuter, although 4 of the days were on the Sevici and Boris Bikes.

I'm really pleased with the results of my #30daysofbiking. I have definitely gotten into the habit of cycling to work more. Although I don't think I'll be cycling every day for the next 30 days, I'll definitely be cycling much more than I otherwise would have been.

12 May 2012

We have been published!

Arrivée is the official magazine of Audax UK. It's produced on a three-month basis for us members of the UK Long Distance Cycling Association. It will never be as big or popular as other fancier magazines, but we enjoy it so much. Yes, it may be a bit nerdy, but it is so much fun to read about others adventures-long rides.

So, when we went to the Peak District last March to ride the Monyash Monster 100 km Audax, the organiser asked me to send some of the pictures to the Arrivée editors. To our surprise, some of those got published!

Myself at the top, pretending to be under stress (took us three times to get this picture right!)
Lucy making good progress on the hills

Doing the Audax thing: ordering tea & cake

05 May 2012

Camino de Santiago trial run

Only two weeks till we head down South, to Bordeaux, to start our Camino de Santiago. We've been doing some planning and are taking our mountain bikes to the North of England this bank holiday weekend, to ride the Trans Pennine Trail.

We'll be putting some more information nearer the time, but for now these are our bikes in Camino mode, or bikepacking as it is known nowadays. We're each carrying about 6 kg worth of stuff, including sleeping bags. After this ride we will hopefully be able to introduce some last minute changes and assess whether this set up is appropriate for off-road cycling.

13-years old (the bike, not me!) and still going strong
Lucy's mtb ready for El Camino

03 May 2012

Ride report: Green & Yellow Fields 300 km audax

For the first time that I can recall, I did not wake up to an early morning alarm to catch a train to the start of a ride. Instead, I had handed in my PhD thesis that same morning, and worked pretty much all day. It seemed like I was going to be productive. We had also signed up for an unusual ride starting at midnight, from a random town called Manningtree in the Essex county. It was going to be Lucy's first attempt at riding a 300 km, and only my second one following the Dean 300 in March.

Left work on time to have a siesta, having not had enough sleep during the week. Riding all night meant I had to catch up on sleep or else it will turn into a unpleasant experience. From our previous rides with the Fnrttc folk, we already knew how tired we feel after a long night of riding. Similar to when you go out all night, you can easily fall asleep anywhere and anytime, and the same applies here. Somehow managed to fit in a two hours siesta and were soon on our way to Manningtree. A few riders were going on a pre-ride curry, something very English it seems, and we decided to join them.

Once at the station, we asked a local about the location of the High Street and he dared to ask what we were doing in full lycra at 9:30 pm. After Lucy explained our intention to ride from there to the top of Norfolk, and back down, he just wished us luck. This, together with a facial expression of "you're mental/what?/get a life/why?" seems normal when we get asked about where we're going or came from. After a short ride we arrived at the restaurant and had the promised curry with another 12 riders, some of who had ridden a good number of miles from places such as London, Greenwich or Cambridge, to the start.

Bike park at the curry house
The ride itself was not meant to be particularly challenging or over difficult terrain. The overall climb was just about 1000 m, which is rather flat, given the distance. The only problem would be riding through the whole night, and into a great deal of the second day. And of course, the great English weather. All those problems will make a presence at various points during the ride.

Left the curry house and headed for the station to meet up with the rest of the riders, about 40 in total. The atmosphere was nice, and once again,  good reassurance that we are not the only crazy people in this part of the world getting ready for a ride, with forecasts of down to 3C and potentially heavy showers. While chatting to one chap about his custom made Roberts frame, we saw people leaving. It was 00:01.

23:55 at Manningtree station, ready for the off
The first leg of the ride involved 75 km to the first garage control. The weather seemed rather good, and I was still feeling optimistic to those comments over dinner "I've checked the forecast and it said dry overnight, with the occasional shower the following day". We managed to stick to one group, but were left behind shortly afterwards and ended up riding with a Scot and Paul (with whom we've completed Up the Uts earlier in March). I did not attempt to talk to the Scottish guy, as literally could not understand a word of what he was saying. After all these years in the UK it was very discouraging. Paul kept him entertained until we somehow dropped him, never to see him again on the ride.

At some point rain started and we decided to put some waterproofs on. It turned out to be a good decision, as it was very cold by then, and the last thing you want is a soaked, cold body in the middle of the countryside. Paul had stopped a bit earlier and we thought we had lost him, so ended up going round in a roundabout waiting for him in order to keep the warmth up. A police car was resting nearby, and surely wondered what the hell we were doing past 2 am in that heavy rain. Luckily they did not bother to ask. At around 4 am we made it to the garage control, which we were all looking forward to. Warmth and hot coffee were waiting for us. We later learnt that the nice man in the garage had actually opened the shop for us, as it usually only serves through the hatch. What a huge difference that hot drink made!

A typical audax photo. Garage control, 4 am.
Lucy's GPS predicted sunrise in 2.5 hours from now. We set off again for yet another 75 km to the top of Norfolk, where a hot breakfast would be waiting for us. It was on this section were I hit my first down of the ride. I cannot remember much of it now, just feeling very tired and trying to avoid looking at the GPS or anywhere other than the horizon. Luckily for us, rain had stopped and we were dry, but still very cold.

We then joined the A1065 for almost 40 km. Although a busy road during the day, it was very quiet at night and we enjoyed it very much. It is on one of these roads where I think to myself how nice it is to be doing this. The scenery was fabulous, with trees lining the road on both sides. The sun was also trying to break through the clouds. I had to stop and take a picture, while seeing Lucy and Paul get lost in the horizon. 

Light beam and the A1065 at sunrise, 5 am (ish)
The kms went past very quickly. We were in good spirits and very much looking forward for a sit down meal in the halfway control. Not much happened here, just kept the pedals moving, fought a little bit with my sleep deprivation, and tried to enjoy the ride as much as possible. The scenery was quite nice and I kept myself entertained (and hot) sprinting up to take pictures of the scenery, Lucy and Paul.

Well worth the effort!
Paul in night riding mode
We made it to the café control, near Burnham Market at 8:30 am, and seemed to be at the back of the peloton. 153 km down. Another 150 km to go. Not too bad, and weather was holding up at this point. We were well within the time limits, with more than 1.5 h to spare. The next section, however, was not very enjoyable due to traffic along the B1355. Surely this road should have been fine for the faster riders, but for us it was not. Being an area with plenty of quiet lanes it was a shame that the organiser had picked the faster route instead of the more scenic. We tried to keep a decent average to the suggested control, a Waitrose in Wymondham. It was on this part of the route where my tummy problems started, with quite a lot of pain and the visits to the toilet. Once at the Waitrose, we got another receipt as proof of passage and enjoyed 5 minutes of sun.
My Canyon in audax mode, having a break
Left the Waitrose past noon, while seeing some threatening clouds head over us. Rain started hitting on us shortly afterwards, and did not really stop for the next 2 h. Next control will be in another 60 km, or 3 h of riding. The roads seemed a lot better now, more scenic and with plenty of green and yellow fields (thus the name of the audax, duh!!!). Rain stopped and I had a chance to take a few more pictures.

Lucy 's still going strong
No idea what the green is. The yellow is rapeseed.
Although we rode pretty much on our own for the entire day legs, we met a few others on this section. In fact we were pleased to see that we were not the youngest ones on the ride, as two other audaxers appeared to be in their early twenties, which again, is good for reassurance. Once again, I started to feel pretty crap here, in need of sleep and/or caffeine. I would have gone for a short nap here, but then I thought...20 more km and you can have tea and cake to keep you going. Easier said than done though. 20 km is not that short when you're tired, hungry and with stomach aches. I stopped thinking too much about it, stuck to Paul's wheel and carried on.

Shortly before the stop, we saw a very nice sign of what audaxing is. One of the riders had a snapped chain, and was covered in grease. That, together with the rain, had made it impossible for him to re-join his chain with his power link. However, another rider had stopped, took his gloves out and fixed the chain in seconds. Made a note on the tools to carry while out audaxing: nitrile gloves. Carried on for a little while to reach the last control: a Farm Shop.

First ever visit to a (posh) farm shop
It was a shame to be in this very nice farm shop in lycra and somewhat in a hurry. I was not feeling great and wanted to get going. But it was the right call. Lucy too was feeling tired and we stopped for some cake and tea. The menu looked great, but at this point, and with only 30 km left, I just wanted to get back to the station and have a beer.

Left the control to find ourselves on a dual carriage way. Weird, we thought. It did not appear as such on the maps, but somehow it was. Our thoughts were the same again, why would the organiser put us on these unpleasant roads? Lesson learnt for the next ride though: pick your own route if it does not look great.

The last 15 km went by very quickly, again on quiet lanes. Hit a few short hills, which were good to keep us awake. Pulled into Manningree station minutes past 6 pm, and a gigantic storm rolled in literally minutes behind us.

A pub in a train station. What a great idea! It actually got featured on the guardian as one of the best 10 railway cafes in Britain! Got our last receipt upon ordering a beer and an icecream. To our surprise, we happened not to be the last ones, as two more riders turned up after being hit by rain and hail from that storm we had just missed! Got on the train and fell asleep pretty much immediately.

Job done. 300 km. What's next Lucy?
Although the legs were feeling absolutely ok, I think it was the toughest ride I've ever done. It was not the distance nor the terrain, but the night riding and the lack of sleep from previous days. Also, have to sort out food habits while out on long rides. They say food is one the most difficult thing to master in long-distance events. I am certainly not surprised!

That's it for now, until my 400 km event in June.

The stats for the day as shown on the GPS screen:

- 47.2 km/h max speed
- 14 h 55 min riding time
- 3 h stopped time
- 302 km (plus another 20 km to & from the station)
- Rolling average: 20.3 km/h
- Overall average (including stops): 16.9 km/h