29 January 2013

Ride report: The Willy Warmer 200 audax

January is always a funny month when it comes to cycling. Not only do we have the Christmas celebrations to attend (which they extend to the 6th in Spain!), but also try and get used to be being proper cold when out on the bike. Add to that that I got a bad cold and you rule out two weekends out of four. And then we had heavy snow the third weekend.

With just one weekend in hand, I had to do my best to keep riding one 200 km audax per month. After a last minute decision, I decided to join a postponed Willy Warmer (snow) audax. I am always reluctant to do rides to the West of London, after having experienced a few not so nice routes around the area, but this one seemed to be a good one according to some reports on-line. Some 20 riders would be joining on the day on the route shown below.

After another 5:15 am alarm, I almost managed to miss my train out of Marylebone due to getting lost in an otherwise pretty straightforward route from home. In any case, I was still sceptical about this ride. The snow had been melting nicely throughout the week (Monday started with lots of slush on the roads, in central London), but as soon as we got out of London, there were loads of ice on the station platforms, and on the fields.

Came 7 am and I made it to Gerrards Cross with three others on the train. Our fears of a cold and icy day were luckily disappearing as soon as we rode to the start of the ride: it really felt warm!

Had a quick coffee and a croissant, chatted with some of the riders about audax plans in 2013 (not LEL for me!) and soon afterwards we got going. It was 7:30 am.

Still plenty of snow in the fields, but otherwise dry roads
For the first 53 km or so I rode with Jordan and Mike on relatively quiet roads at this time of the morning. There was no sign of ice or snow/slush so far, but I kept a very careful eye on any indicators. The day was warming up by the minute, and I soon was feeling hot with all my winter gear on. Henley-on-Thames was up next on the list of controls, but we somehow managed to miss it, possibly due to the nice scenery and all that.

We pressed on and encountered some of the first bumps of the day. We three were still going strong and made it to Pangbourne at the front of the pack. Although I was not feeling hungry or in need of a proper stop, we agreed to go to the recommended café (The LouLaBelle café). Their service was pretty damn slow, but the cake was good. Other riders arrived as we set off.

No snow on the roads meant a lot of grit and dirt, far more than usual. My brake pads were diminishing in thickness by the km and I worried the rear ones were not going to make it round (note to self, bring spares ones in conditions like this and/or long rides!). The bike was covered in mud/grit and the chain was soon out of grease. The bike was taking its toll, but we were enjoying a great day out, with temperatures going near the 10C scale.

In need of a proper clean
Mike and I made good progress to Hungerford, while Jordan fell a bit behind. A few hills kept us entertained, and luckily the traffic was relatively light. It was nice to see snow-covered fields, which made for a nice change. We took it easy on the descents though, fearing to hit some slippery surfaces, which luckily did not happen.

Hungerford (the intermediate control) was a typically English town on a Saturday morning. Traffic jams and lot of exhaust fumes everywhere. Still do not get what's the fun in getting stuck in yet more traffic on your day off...We did try to find the suggested café, and after some faffing, we located it. I quickly pulled some of the rear cable down the caliper to counterbalance the worn out brake pads.

The Tutti Pole café in Hugerford was another good example of bad/slow service, bad/overpriced food and rude staff. Yet it too was completely packed. After a painfully slow service, and £4 less in my pocket for a minuscule beans on toast, we left with a receipt in hand. Another note to self, avoid these kind of cafés!

Half way done by now, and the sun was shinning. The lanes were lovely, the traffic light and we were still making good progress, although surely no longer at the front of the peloton due to too much sitting down time. Mike and I rode to Kingsclare while chatting about future audax plans and potential tours. He mentioned about riding London-Budapest along the Danube - something to put on the to-do-list.

Quiet lanes
As always, I start faster than I can keep up for 200 km. I could stick to Mike's wheel and at some point we diverted on different routes. He took the fast (and busier) roads to Winnersh (the last control) whereas I took on the lanes. My chain was so bad that I had to re-apply some grease.

A tandem went past also, which re-assured me I was on the right route. For the remainder of the 85 km I rode on my own. It was nice to have the company for most of the ride, but I also enjoy the solitude of a nice sunny day, and allows for stopping when I fancy doing so - for pictures mostly.

I made it to Winnersh at 4:30 pm and was glad to meet the tandem people, who had set off 40 minutes after us, but yet had managed to catch up. We'd spent far too long at cafés this time.

Riding sole through the night
After a quick refuel consisting of rice pudding, coffee and some home-made sandwiches, I got all my night riding gear on and set off on my own. Riding into the night (or out of it!) is my favourite time to be on the saddle. It feels like I have achieved something, or rather, that I have pedalled for quite some time.

The roads were smooth and fast till the end, with a few sharp hills to keep me entertained. I only rode about an hour in full darkness, but enjoyed it quite a lot - I cannot wait for those long and warm-ish summer months riding in the dark!

I surely averaged more than 25 km/h for the last 40 km, which got me quickly back to the start, via a very steep Wanders Lane 2 km before the finish, for a final proof-of-passage receipt.

It had been a great day out on the bike. Legs felt good, and I was glad to be back in audax mode. The ride was, to my surprise, much better than others I've done in the area. Still, well above 10 hours, but this was mostly due to too much time faffing at cafés.

Stats for the day

- Overall distance: 210 km
- Time pedalling: 8h 51m
- Time stopped: 2h 05m
- Moving average: 23.8 km/h
- Overall average (including stopping): 19.2 km/h


  1. Good stuff - pleased you managed to get a 200k in January! I cycled the Willy Warmer in 2010 (I think) and got lost on parts too. It was a great audax but some poor soul had his bike stolen from start/finish control.

  2. Thanks Tim. Yep, it was good to be able to keep the RRTY thing going, having almost given up due last week. Now on to February - will try and get it out of the way this weekend, with the Man of Kent perm.