28 August 2012

Ride report: The Kidderminster Killer 200

The season is going well. We've got a few 200s, 300s and one 400 km rides in our pockets. Some of them were tough, especially those in colder weather. But none of them, with the exception of the Dean 300, were particularly hilly. When I saw the elevation profiles of the Kidderminster Killer for the first time, I thought it would be a great idea to enter. This ride has been running for a couple of decades, and had just been taken over by a new organiser. People seemed to described it as one of the must-do classics, and I certainly agreed after I finished it.

The ride traverses Shropshire and enters Powys (in Wales) for a few km, before making a return to Belbroughton (south of Birmingham). Phillip, the organiser, had talked about the many meters of climb that featured on this ride. Some 3700 m, which on the maps looked more like 3000 m. Still, plenty of climb that would certainly test our legs. In a few hours I also convinced Lucy to come with me, but she would be doing a shorter version of the ride, yet plenty hilly as well with 2200 m of climb.

Kidderminster Killer 200 route
Time came and we got on a Friday evening commuter train to Birmingham. From there, after the obligatory picture (after all, Birmingham did not look that bad!) we headed down to Frankley, in the south of Birmingham, for our overnight stay. The routes out of Birmingham were not too bad, traffic was relatively light (for us Londoners!) and roads were wide. Yet we only saw one other cyclist! We set the alarms, prepared our kit and tried to get good sleep.

From Frankley to the start we had an easy 10 km mostly downhill ride. What seemed an easy spin to warm up the legs, soon turned into me being worried about an incredibly loud noise coming out of my rear wheel. With not too much time to stop and check it, we slowed down and got to the start for 7:45 am. Plenty of riders were lined up and ready for the off. On this occasion, however, there was a different vibe. No sandals, no steel frames (or very few), no mudguards, no carradices, no beards. On the other hand, loads of shaved legs, carbon frames, tiny saddle bags and super fit looking club riders. Not what we are used to in the South East. There's hills on this ride, and people know how to shave weight off their bikes/bodies I suppose.

5 min till the start and I managed to lock myself in to the toilet. I still had to check the rear wheel to see if there was anything abnormal about it. I started to sweat, as door was locked and my bike needed my immediate attention. And I did not want to be the last rider already at the start of the audax. Another guy came to my rescue, locked me out and I managed to get on my bike just in time.

Stage 1 (Belbroughton - Scott Farm Museum near Henley, 68 km)

Getting ready for the off
We set off in two groups. I got to start on the second group, but quickly managed to catch up with the others. Everyone seemed to be putting in a good average speed for the first 10 km, which then relaxed a bit once we were all in a big peloton of ~60 or so riders. This was very enjoyable, and we got a tow for a while, until the first bumps appeared. This formed the first few groups, and I soon got talking to the guys from Derby.

The Derby riders all seemed quite seasoned - no doubt, they do have a great cycling county unlike us in London. I soon learnt that one of them had cycled from Derby to the start, and intended to cycle back, making it a >400 km event. After setting off at 3 am, his plans were to finish at 1 am. Hats off to this guy!

Crossing a railway on a cycle path
The terrain was generally quite flat, although we were warned by the organiser that it climbed steadily and so we should not be surprised about a lower than usual average. I certainly wanted to take it relatively easy given the overall amount of climb that laid ahead. After I got dropped by the Derby guys, I got talking with Jim from Birmingham. He was doing this only as his 2nd 200 km ride, also his hardest and furthest (overall we will end up riding 216 km!). He was also sporting a very mediocre bike, which proved once again that the rider and not the bike makes the difference!

At 67 km we were more than ready for a quick break. Our ride also included a voucher for a coffee at the farm, which was appreciated. To my surprise, we managed to be amongst the first ones in on this control. I ordered a yummy scone with cream and jam, and had my cultural talk of the day.

I sat down with two guys from the black country which happens to be an area to the north west of Birmingham. I could tell accents were different throughout the ride. Jim was quick to point out that their accent was quite characteristic from that region, and I too was quick to mention my difficulties to understand it. After nearly four years in the UK I was embarrassed not to understand more than 25% of what they were saying! To make things more interesting, one of them made a joke about his own accent. Although funny for the accent itself, it was obvious that I would not be get anything. I tried to remind myself that I too have real difficulties understanding some of my own fellow Spaniards from places such as Almería or Málaga.

Farm stop
Being well fed and watered, Jim and I set off for the first hilly section of the day. We'd averaged 24 km/h thus far, which was not bad at all.

Stage 2 (Scott Farm Museum - Montgomery, 37 km)

Traffic had been pretty light since the start, but it was going be even lighter from now on. Country lanes and the first few hills appeared on the horizon very soon, although nothing too serious just yet. Plenty of sheep were seen along the lanes in this very rural part of the UK.

Rural Shropshire
Long Mynd was the only climb of the day that I had ever heard of beforehand. Passing the little village at the bottom of it, we were soon confronted with silly gradients that got me immediately out of my saddle. The UK does not have big mountains like we do in Spain, but the gradients are as challenging if not more than down there. I was soon on my biggest brand new 27 rear cog, without noticing any difference with my old 25, but tried to remind myself that it must be a little easier. Yet with that gear, I found it difficult and had to zig zag along the road on a few occasions. I observed how my fellow riders from the black country were too struggling, despite having a triple chainring!

Long Mynd, at last
The climb went on for a while, although the gradients relaxed quite a bit after the first few sections. I made it up in one go, passing a few others who had easier gears and were taking it easier. Also saw a few mtb-ers, which always make me extremely jealous on these sort of terrain.

The summit, or that's what I thought!
Once at the top of the climb, or somewhere near, I stopped to wait for Jim. I had reached the summit of the day, with nearly 500 m height. The downhill section looked nice from my spot, but I feared my rear hub making those ridiculous noises and having to take it easier. As I had earlier found out, I needed to keep pedalling if rolling faster than 30 km/h. That's fine if on the flat, but not on a descent. Pedalling while braking isn't nice. Also it does not feel safe to keep pedalling and braking when the downhill gradients are 20% and you want to stick your butt out of the saddle for added safety. This is why I do not ride fixed gear.

Descending the Long Mynd

The sun is trying to make an appearance on our way to Wales
In one of the downhill sections of the Long Mynd, we spotted a group of audax-looking guys coming out of a car park. I then thought that it may be a feeding station or even a secret control, but then I reminded myself that there is not such thing on UK audax. As it turned out later on, these guys were part of the CTC annual meeting which was being held in the Shropshire mountains that exact week.

After a few more climbs, we entered Wales. It was rather obvious as the signs were now in both Welsh and English, which always give you a sense of how far (and fast!) you can travel on a bike. 

In Powys, Wales

I think I will stick to Montgomery for now...
Montgomery was our second nominated control. We had one last hill into the town to climb. With a few other riders we decided to have some food at the Ivy House Cafe. Weather was magnificent now, and I somehow felt strong and wanted to press on, but then having food was equally a good idea.

A few other sweaty riders were already enjoying some of the nice meals in here. We got our stickers as proof of passage and I ordered the soup of the day, worrying that anything else would upset my stomach later on as it sometimes happens on audaxes. The service was rather slow, but the food was yummy and not too pricey for our London standards. 

Rather scenic paintings at the Ivy House Cafe in Montgomery with fellow audaxers
Almost an hour later we set off again. I texted Lucy, who was on the her 120 km ride, and made an estimate for my arrival time back in Belbroughton at 7:30 pm. "More hills to come" said the sticker, and another 107 km to the finish. 

Stage 3 (Montgomery - Ludlow, 52 km)

It was rather hot now, surely above 23C, and sunny, at last. Jim and I worked together with a few Breacon Beacon CC guys against some light headwinds for quite a while, until the hills started and we parted separate ways. The terrain was very nice around here, all bright green, with plenty of undulations, and no cars. Having this on your doorstep is something that I would love to able to enjoy, one day.

Montgomery, Powys, Wales

The sun is finally out!
These sections promised more hills, although not as high as the Long Mynd. The legs were starting to get a little tired, or perhaps were not as fresh as before the food stop? In any case, the first proper hill was the most challenging of the day. Most of the riders ahead of me were already walking and that worried me a little. The hill did not look particularly steep from where I was. It was all covered by thick vegetation, so you really have no sense of gradient.

I cannot walk on my road shoes with their big cleats, so walking is never an option. I have never walked any hill on this bike, not because I have not wanted to sometimes, but because it really isn't practical. At some point though, I was overheating, legs were hurting so much, and I became very thirsty. It was time to stop for a drink and some deep breathing. One the guys, who was already walking, went past and said he always walks the steep hills as he has not enough strength or the desire to tire himself out so badly. Fair point. I later learnt that he was a very experienced hill walker and he'd only taken up cycling a couple years ago! I reckon he got up most hills walking at an average speed similar to that of many of us on the bike.

The hills were short, steep, and relentless. The good thing was, we were approaching Ludlow, a town well known by foodies, with a couple of Michelin-starred restaurants, and the last official control. We were well within the times, but to keep the calories levels up, we stopped at the suggested café for yet more cake.

Ludlow, only 55 km to go
Aragons restaurant had an interesting cake menu, yet at very steep prices. Even for London standards. But looking at my companions' cakes, I had to try one. The sticky toffee pudding is perhaps my favourite cake in the UK, and so the choice was simple. Although it took them quite a while to serve it, it was well worth it, with locally-made strawberry icecream that would definitely challenge the best of italian equivalents.

Superb sticky toffee pudding
Stage 4 (Ludlow - Belbroughton, 60 km)

Jim and I set off just after 5 pm to tackle the last hills. The arrival in to Ludlow had preceded an amazing descent, that I could not enjoy fully due to my rear hub. Loosing all that height could only mean more hills to come. When you've done more than 100 miles, hills are not longer (that) enjoyable and you wished you had a triple chainring or even some mtb gears. 

The sun was still up, it was warm, and there was no traffic. Lucy had already finished her ride, so I felt I had to press on a bit in order not to make her wait for me more than necessary. Jim, however, was feeling the km and we took it a bit easier. I was still feeling ok, no stomach problems during the whole day, and legs going strong again. I think for the first time in a while I had done the correct thing with the food and drinks, avoiding dodgy food, sticking to soup, cereal bars, fruit, nuts, plenty of water and the occasional chocolate bar. I do not recall what town it was, but as I was riding along a lane, another rider pointed at some strange looking tower on the left. It was a replica of the Big Ben!?! 

Maybe this was day-dreaming?
Over the last 20 km the route got flatter, going through some nice country lanes. Towards the end I somehow noticed that I had accidentally dropped Jim behind. He did not have a front light and the sun was setting. I stopped, retraced and could not see him anywhere. He seemed rather confident with the routesheet and was local to this area, so I was sure he would find his way back to HQ. 

The last few km I tried to press on a bit. I was feeling hungry and the organiser had announced plenty of food upon arrival, yet I tried to make the most out of empty lanes, sunset and 20C.

I eventually made it back to HQ at 8:45 pm, 12:45 h after I had set off. I indulged on bacon baps, cake, more cake, tea, and plenty of water. It had been a tough day on the bike, yet I did not feel particularly tired or sore like I did last year in North Wales. 

The food at the end was a nice end to an amazing route. Philip, the organiser, and his helpers had done a great job and we will do our best to be back for more next year. Also well done to Jim and Davvy, both new to long rides. Not an easy 200 km, but they both finished it in good spirits.

Riding back to the hotel was uneventful, but in complete darkness. Yet I truly enjoyed cycling on country lanes in the dark. Need to put a few more night rides in before the end of the summer!

The stats for the day were as follows (plus around 3000 m climb):

- Moving time: 10h 25 min
- Stopped time: 2h 10 min
- Moving average speed: 20.7 km/h
- Overall average speed: 17.1 km/h
- Total distance: 216 km (plus 20 km to and from hotel)
- Max speed: 65.9 km/h


  1. "Jim" here. Thanks again for the company. Near the end I had started to de-hydrate and had nothing in the legs. Cereal bar was no use, and finally stopped for a pint of milk. After that went down I was back on form again. Sorry for getting you to re-trace your steps.

    Thanks for the company and for sticking with me - company was much appreciated.

  2. Hi Jim. Glad you read the report! No worries, was a pleasure to ride in good company. I will add "pint of milk" to my recovery drinks list! And congrats once again on finishing that ride - certainly the toughest 200 for me to date!

    Will let you know if we are up in the Birmingham any time soon. I am still toying with the idea of going up to the cycle show in the NEC, but I recall you said you might be in Oban by then?

  3. No, I'll be in Brum at the time of the Cycle Show. Life is moving quickly at the moment - hoping to move house soon so I haven't committed to going to this yet, but I'll be in town and would love to see you again. Must go out for a decent Ale, and I guess I am your best guide in Birmingham for that. Contact me on CC.

    One tip for Oban. If you get caught in the Whisky tasting route, don't be afraid of adding water. Whilst some may turn their nose up at this, there are many connoisseurs of the "Water of Life" that see nothing wrong with adding water, even up to a 50/50 mix, especially if the water is the same as that they use in making the Whisky in the first place. I prefer it like that - more taste, less alcohol burn.

  4. Many thanks for another great report. I enjoyed reading it and glad you enjoyed the day. Hope to see you next year.

  5. Thanks for the advice Jim. Leaving in a few hours...hope the weather/midges behave themselves! Will be posting some pictures when I get back. Also, I think I will not be able to make it to the Cycle Show this year as I may head home for the weekend instead. Will let you know if we plan something up in Birmingham.

    Best of luck with the house and baby