30 June 2011

Suffolk and Norfolk Coast Mini-tour: Part 2 - Day 1 Ipswich to Mundesley

Stats: total time 10h42m; moving time 8h10m; moving average 19.3 km/h; max speed 47.6 km/h; total odometer 157+8 km(from home)

We set off on very wet roads in Ipswich. Ricardo's bike was making some funny noises which we found out came from the rear tyire scratching on his brand new mudguards! These plastic devices are good for wet days, but they seem to give lots of headaches.

Ricardo, and the girls heading to Orford

Lucy & Erin pedalling through Suffolk

Leaving Ipswich via residential roads we were soon in Woodbridge where we were able to take in some nice river sights, boats, and of course, plenty of traffic. We continued on the B1084, a beautiful road through some nice woods that leads to Orford. This little cute town had a riverfront with a nice cafe and some fishermen wandering about. The country lanes around the area were beautiful, merging the English grey skies with the yellow wheat.

Fields & grey skies

We then pushed on through a few more forests, some of which were badly infested with small beetles that were particularly attracted to Erin. Shortly afterwards he headed back east and into the Dunwich area, home to the Dunwich Dynamo which we are aiming to complete in a couple of weeks from now. The place itself is amazing, it really feels remote for being in the UK and within 2h reach from London. The beach is rocky but really long, all surrounded by wetlands. It even has a cafe (not quite a chiringuito espanyol) that serves traditional fry-ups. Only downside was that, as newbies we were, all those funny beetles were waiting for us to land on our brightly colored gear. It got so bad that Erin had to get rid of her yellow jacket to only found it covered by them 2 min later! The regulars laughed at us as apparently is very common: you just have to wear dark clothes, which in hot weather can be quite painful...tough decision!

Erin's yellow jacket in Dunwich
Uninvited passengers

We rushed out of Dunwich to escape the bugs and keep heading north, more inland. As we were leaving Norwich a few km on our left, we entered into Beccles. This riverside town would not have been special if it was not because Ricardo had heard of a good pub along the river. Off we went to find that 1) no lunch was served after 2:30 (ehhhm, right, are you not meant to actually start lunch at 2:30?) and 2) wedding celebrations were in place. Our lycras did not quite match the etiquette! At this point, Erin and Ricardo decided to not overwork themselves and take a train up to Cromor, but unfortunately the connections were so bad that they would only get there by 9:30 in the dark, with no lights or maps, definitely not a smart thing to do...so they had to leave us and returned to London.

Lucy and I pedalled then non-stop for about 3 hours through truly beautiful country lanes. Well, it was meant to be non-stop until we almost literally cycled into water! We were not expecting any ferry crossings as I plotted the route avoiding all of them. But it seemed that I had forgotten the Reedham ferry, the shortest ferry crossing in the whole of the UK! A nice gentleman in a car rang the ferry, which came to the other side of the river in a few minutes. For 1 quid we got the quickest ferry ever!

About to cycle into water!
Shortest ferry crossing in the UK

The ride into Mundesley was one of the finest we've done in the UK, with nice vistas and mostly flat. Once in Mundesley, we had a quick look at the beach, which definetely lived up to our expectations! First sandy beach in the UK! And it was hot, yet not very sunny. We headed to the B&B just on the outskirts of the little town, checked in and left for some food. Fish & Chips plus celebratory local ale were in order. A quick visit to the beach to wet our feet followed, as did some laughs from stupid local kids when we walked back: it seems that whenever we get out of London the locals laughed about our not-so-cool cycling outfits.

Mundesley, our destination beach after 160 km
Water was kinda cool

Day 2 awaited for us with sunny skies and forecasted temperatures to hit more than 30 celsius!

28 June 2011

Suffolk and Norfolk Coast Mini-Tour: Part 1 - The Prep

This past weekend Alberto and I took a mini-tour of the Suffolk and Norfolk coasts. Alberto had organised the trip as a birthday present for me and had invited our good friends Erin and Ricardo along as well.

We've already covered the route planning aspect of the prepwork. On Friday evening as we both got home from work, all that was left was figuring out what to pack and how to fit it in our limited-capacity bags.

Since it was such a short trip it wasn't too hard to pack effectively. We decided that Alberto would take his Carradice and we'd fit my bike with the Ortlieb Saddlebag that Alberto normally takes on day rides. In addition to the cycling clothes we would wear on Saturday morning, each of us brought a change of clothes to wear in the evening, plus an extra pair of socks and underwear, and packable rain jackets just in case. We also had to bring shoes (the lightest we own!) since it's not comfortable to walk in our cycling shoes. Apart from that, we had to make space for the bike tools and spare inner tubes, and a small bag of toiletries. I wanted to bring my chamois cream, but the container was too bulky and heavy, so I had the pleasure of scooping it in to a ziploc bag to bring along!

Good view of the Carradice bag

Oh, and Alberto packed his swim trunks because he was being very optimistic about the weather and about having enough time to go for a swim!

The other main element of our prep work was to make the wraps. We stuck with our traditional breakdown of peanut butter, banana, and raisins for me, and yummy veggies for alberto (sweet potato dip, red pepper, and rocket). We tried to pack as many cereal bars and bananas as we could as we knew it would be a long two days in the saddle.

The final bit of prep work was a bit of a fail. I set the alarm for the wrong time! We were supposed to wake up at 5:50 in order to get to our 7:30am train, but I think my brain would not compute that time so I accidentally set it for 6:50. Luckily, Alberto had set his alarm for 6-something so we were able to get out of the door with relatively good time.

We had to get to Liverpool Street Station which is about 5 miles from our house. But shortly after we left home, Alberto realised he had forgotten to bring our pump. He decided to turn back while I kept going, figuring he would catch back up with me as I tend to ride more slowly. I kept riding towards the station but he never caught up with me. I was a little worried that he might not make it in time, as I got to the station with only 10 minutes to spare. But when I walked towards the platform, there he was with our friends Erin and Ricardo! He had somehow beaten me to the station despite me having a head start, and he also somehow managed to put on a cloak of invisibility as he passed me, since he claims he took the same route as I did! One of life's mysteries.

Anyway, we made it just in time to catch the 7:30am train to Ipswich where we would begin our journey....
The train we were on was a little outdated... to open the door to get off the train you had to open the window and use the outside handle!

Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Suffolk and Norfolk Coast Mini-Tour, which describes Day 1 of our ride!

24 June 2011

Fancy a traffic-free ride in London?

Back in November 2008 I joined my first Critical Mass (CM) cycle ride in London. In simple terms, CM provides cyclists from as many as 300 worldwide cities
with traffic-free cycle rides on the last Friday of the month. In political terms, it is a monthly reclaim of the streets for cyclists. According to Wikipedia, it was born in San Francisco in 1992 and has spread out to many other places in the past 20 years. What is amazing about it is its non-existing organisers, no membership, nothing. No leaders on the day other than the people that go in the front of the group, which can potentially be you! Only a location (South Bank under Waterloo bridge in London UK) and a time (6 pm). You just turn up and wait until everyone gets excited, bells start ringing, and audio-systems-on-a-bike playing. The route changes every time, and it usually passes through politically hot places such as the Spanish Embassy on the last May ride (to show support to the Spanish ex-pats demonstrating in London) in Belgravia. Of course it always includes visits to Trafalgar, Big Ben, Buckinham Palace, and other emblematic places.

The pictures on this post were taken last summer in one of our CMs in central London. It is quite common to do a "bike lift" at some point during the ride, as well as corking (blocking cars to allow the mass to cycle safely as a group) along the whole way. Not everything is perfect though: some dudes take it as a drink-as-much-as-you-can event on a bike, while others jump all red lights not letting pedestrians cross when they have a green light. It gets especially bad in the good weather, but on the other hand the turnout for these months is massive!

The variety of people (from bmx kids, to fixed E1, Bromptonians, mums and dads with the whole family on Christiania/Dutch bikes, oldies with amazing steel old-fashion touring bikes and to bike freaks like us), atmosphere, and interesting routes make for a nice alternative (or pre-warm up) Friday in the pub. Some cars get annoyed when being held up, just put a smile on your face, thank them for their patience and keep riding. If you happened to be in London (or in Madrid, Philly, Chicago, or even randoms such as Leicester!), do join and you will certainly have a great time.

Happy Critical Massing!

We're off!

We're off to enjoy the Norfolk and Suffolk coast ride that Alberto has planned in celebration of my birthday! We'll be taking an early morning train tomorrow with a few friends and will hopefully arrive back in one piece Sunday evening, roughly 17o miles later!

Expect a full report soon!

23 June 2011

A Real Machaca

Just in case you were wondering what a real machaca is, you can read this article about Ryder Hesjedal, a Canadian pro cyclist.

My favourite bit:
"To race bicycles is to drink greedily from the chalice of agony."
... and that's why I don't think I'll be entering a race anytime soon!

21 June 2011

memories of the night ride to Brighton

Amazing video from one of the FNRttCers

On Friday, May 13 Alberto and I had our first go at a new form of cycling adventure--an overnight ride.

We rode from Hyde Park Corner in London to the seafront in Brighton on a ride that was organised by the fabulous Simon from Friday Night Rides to the Coast (FNRttC). We heard about these rides last summer and Alberto was quick to make sure we signed up as soon as registration opened this year. As the date approached, there was a slight concern that I would have to be away for work that evening, but everything worked out in the end.

On the week leading up to the ride I felt quite nervous. I wasn't sure what to expect. I think I had a vision that everything would be pitch-black except for the beam of my light (we had purchased some good lights!). I was worried about riding in a large group, as its not something I do often, and I didn't know if I could keep up with them. Luckily, I had already been to Brighton a number of times so I knew the distance would not be a problem, but I had never gone over Ditchling Beacon before (having always chosen the other main way to get over the South Downs just outside of Brighton -- Devil's Dyke).

On Friday I arrived back from a work trip at about 5:30 and started to get everything ready for the ride. It was really strange to still have a whole evening at home, as we didn't need to leave our flat until 11pm. Alberto cooked a delicious pasta--stir fried farfalle with butternut squash and pine nuts. Eventually, it was time to get on the bikes and head to Hyde Park Corner.

Arriving at Hyde Park Corner a few minutes before midnight, at first we couldn't find the place where the cyclists had assembled. Then we turned and saw them: a hundred red lights blinking in the distance. We headed over to register ourselves with the ride organisers and Simon gave a safety talk, which I was a big fan of, as I was quite worried about safety in the darkness of the night!

The sight of 100 or more cyclists navigating their way through London after midnight on a Friday night must be impressive... many pedestrians asked us where we were going, and it was so much fun to see their faces when we answered, "Brighton!".

The first two hours or so we spent getting out of London. I have come to see the wisdom of this as it means that you have streetlights for the first few hours of the ride, and daylight comes early as well, meaning you really only have to deal with a few hours of darkness in the countryside.

I was in awe of Simon, the organiser, and the other volunteers, who marked the way and stayed with the slowest riders to make sure that everyone stayed together. To me, it just demonstrated everything that I love about communities--people coming together and giving their time in order to create something greater than the sum of their parts. Everyone on the ride was friendly and supportive, pointing out holes to one another and making small talk at the rest stops.

I felt great for the whole ride. I needn't have worried about being too slow, I think I was right in the middle of the pack and passed a fair number of people, though I was passed by many as well. Being in a group encouraged me to ride faster, and I think the fact that it was dark and I couldn't see my speedometer or what gear I was in really helped me to find my natural rhythm.

Alberto and I shortly after dawn. I stole this picture from someone on the cyclechat forums, but I can't remember who!

As the sun rose and the traffic began to pick up a bit, we approached the South Downs. Just before Ditchling Beacon, Alberto gave me a pep talk and we said goodbye as it was clear he would make it up much faster than me! I was working hard and in my lowest gear almost from the very beginning, but I just kept going, and even passed one guy! I really wanted to make it up and I think it was the mental will that kept me going more than anything else. I felt so proud when I made it the top. Having middle aged machacas congratulate me on a job well done was a nice bonus as well :-)

Cresting the Beacon!

We made it to Brighton at about 8:30am and ate the most delicious and welcome breakfast I think I have ever eaten at the Madeira Cafe in Brighton. But shortly afterwards, I started to hit a wall - having not slept in more than 24 hours, and cycled 115km as well, was starting to get to me. Although I would have loved to stay with our new cyclist friends, I just couldn't take it anymore, so we left and headed back to the station, tired but happy and definitely hooked on the night ride!

20 June 2011

Etape Cymru

I have finally registered for the Etape Cymru, the second only UK event with closed roads. It is very pricey indeed, but I have been wanting to do Etape Caledonia up in the Highlands for years and I could not get a place this past May. I thought I would give it a go before next May 2012.

Briefly, we will be in for over 100 milles of traffic-free roads in North Wales on a Sunday in October. Yes, it will probably be wet and windy down there...but skin is waterproof! The ride itself seems pretty challening, with over 2000 m incline with hills of up to 20%. My memories of the 25% Peak District hills (very short and intense ones though) are telling me that perhaps I should change my 12-25 cassette for a 11-28? We will see if nearer the time I feel fit enough... One of the passes is about 6.5 km long, which is not terrible, but certainly the longest I have ever attempted since I moved to the UK. All this has to be completed with an average of at least 12 milles/h, nearly 20 km/h. Not easy.

My aim is to complete under 6:30 hours. I will start doing long distances with decent inclines as often as I can. Hopefully all this training will help me unwind after long hours of writing-up? Here we come Cymru!

19 June 2011

Hertfordshire: The land of machacas

Today we discovered the land of machacas--Hertfordshire, to the North of London, on a Sunday morning.

We had somewhere to be in the afternoon so Alberto planned a quick 68km loop (42 miles) in Hertfordshire, starting and finishing at Potter's Bar train station. It was a lovely route, with many quiet lanes, and though mostly flat, it had a few challenging hills, especially towards the end. The only negatives were two non-paved sections, which were especially hard to navigate after yesterday's rains.

However, the most notable thing about this ride was the number of other machacas we passed! There were loads of cyclists out on the lanes, of varying levels of ability (from what we could tell), and we also passed (or, more accurately, were passed by) three pelotons of club rides. Two in matching jerseys, how professional!

We normally try to get a bit further away from London for our day rides, but today we learned that sometimes cycling closer to population centres also means you'll be close to other crazy cyclists. From now on, when we need to do a quick ride that doesn't take too long to get to, we'll definitely think of Hertfordshire!

18 June 2011

Quick Rides in the Neighbourhood

Ever since I have first gotten in to cycling, I have viewed it as a day-long activity, usually done on a weekend. From the beginning, when it would take most of the day to cycle along Regent's canal from my old flat in Shadwell to Alberto's place in Kentish Town, to two weeks ago when we completed our 100 mile ride, I've always needed to set a day aside in order to have fun on the bike. Of course, I do commute on the bike (though not every day), but it just isn't the same, especially now that I had my Boardman -- which only ever comes out on the weekends.

However, I've been reading a lot of cycling blogs recently, and they are showing me that it doesn't have to be this way. One of my favourites is Bike Noob (probably because I'm such a newbie myself!), and there the Noob always talks about going for rides after work in his neighbourhood. Now, I'm sure his residential area is a lot bigger than ours, being in Texas while we're in central London, but I started to think about the hills in our local area which I sometimes have the misfortune of having to tackle when just riding around town.

Today, I needed to do a short ride to see whether my shoulder would give me any trouble while cycling (it's been bothering me since I took that clipless fall two weeks ago, but I haven't been able to see a doctor yet). So I decided to head out into the residential streets to the north and west of our flat. The roads are relatively quiet, but there are a fair number of intersections so it is difficult to build up any kind of speed, since I want to be ready to stop suddenly if a car comes along. However, there are several short streets with relatively steep climbs--not a problem the first time around, but I can imaging I could tire myself out if I kept going round them!

According to Map my Ride, I can do a series of three small concentric loops (each loop has a climb) with the whole thing adding up to 2.5km. So, my new goal is to make time to do 6 of these loops--a total of 15km--at least one night a week to start with. This is not much, but setting such a low goal makes me more likely to actually get out on the bike when I get home from work. This will probably take me an hour to complete due to the low speed I mentioned above, so at least in the summer months it should not be a problem to do in full daylight.

My hope is that this will help me stay fit between weekend rides (especially when we don't get a chance to ride every weekend!) and maybe I'll improve my hill abilities as a bonus! But really, I just don't want to have to leave my Boardman behind 6 days out of the week :-)

Why are cycle lanes not always safe?

We "londoners" are very used to crap cycle lanes all over the place. Cycling instructors do not recommend cycling on them unless there are wide enough to travel comfortably. In fact, most of the time they are just an indication for cars to be aware of cycles. This great video from New York not only shows why cycles lanes are sometimes unsafe, but also that you can get fined for not using them!

A few good examples in the UK below (from Guardian crap cycle lanes):

17 June 2011

Cycling the Suffolk and Norfolk coast

We have always wanted to cycle the Suffolk and Norfolk coast of England, but never found the right time to do it. Although the route has no difficulty gradients-wise, I have planned two relatively long days on the saddle that will at least build up some strength ...in our butts.

We will be taking the train to Ipswich, East Suffolk, from Liverpool St. Buying the tickets in advance we have got four one ways for about £20, including bicycle reservation. Apparently they are a bit funny with bikes on the East Anglia trains, although I doubt they would bother on a Saturday 7 am train!

The route out of Ipswich visits some nice beaches along the Suffolk coast, which I am very much hopping to swim if weather is not too bad. I will be carrying my Carradice with swimsuit in it, just in case. I have also put in Dunwich just to see the beach we will be cycling to on the 16th of July with the Dunwich Dynamo machacas. Apparently this tiny town was once upon a time a major port in the East Anglian coast. The sea coastal erosion has eaten the old bustling city, but there is some ongoing projects that will maybe reveal the lost city.

The route on day 1 will cover 100 milles from Ipswich to the coast village of Mundesley where we found a bike-friendly B&B that gets great reviews. The climb is about 600 m which is as flat as it can get on a bike and that is why Lucy was always attracted to this route!

The route on day 2 continues on from Mundesley heading west along the north coast into King's Lynn, where we will catch the train back to London. First Capital Connect is the only company that links this town with the capital, and so the discounted tickets are still fairly pricey to buy in advance. It is a flat 70 mile route with a slight climb 2/3 of the way over farmlands that rise over 80 m, giving a decent view of the seaside apparently. It totals about 600 m of incline, so overall it seems a bit "steeper" than day 1. We do not expect the last bit to be very nice, but maybe we will be surprised?

16 June 2011

my comfy saddle

I spent all of last year riding my Raleigh Venture hybrid, with its original saddle. Since I was (am?) a slow rider, with a heavy bike, we used to spend 9 hours in the saddle easily when we went out for our weekend rides. I never had too much of a problem with that saddle; my butt would be a bit sore at the end of the day, but I never got saddle sores.

Then, I bought my Boardman. It was great in every way, except for the saddle. The saddle was awful! It looked good--white, smooth leather that really looked like it belonged with the rest of the bike, but it hurt my lady bits quite a lot! There was no groove or hole in the middle like most road saddles out there, and not much padding either. We cycled about 30km in Richmond one weekend and I vowed never to get on it again!

I did extensive research on saddles because I really wanted to find the right one. I read the reviews for every women's saddle on Wiggle! The one that was hands down the most well reviewed was the Selle Italia Lady Gel Flow. Actually, the Selle Italia Lady Diva Gel Flow was equally well reviewed, but it was £20 more expensive and the only main benefits seemed to be weight and a more sleek appearance.

I bought the Selle Italia Lady Gel Flow without trying it out, and I don't regret it at all! It's been immensely comfortable. Even on the 100 mile ride we did two weeks ago, my butt really wasn't that sore! I did have one ride of soreness, in the Peak District, but I think it was due to the warm weather (hence sweating) rather than the saddle itself. I'll be waiting to see if it behaves the same way next time we go on a ride in hot weather (that is, if it ever warms up again!!).

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!

08 June 2011

On our way to Audaxing

Sunday 5th of June. Weather forecasts predicted a lot of sunshine on Saturday and above 25 degrees, which at these latitudes, is somewhat way too hot. Sunday had overcast skies and a maximum of 18 celsius in the Cambridgeshire/West Suffolk area, so we were in for yet another grey day.

I had been looking at several routes on the internet to the southeast of Cambridge, area that we have already cycled in a few times before and felt in love with. Time has come to test Lucy on her first attempt to cover 100 milles in a day. East Anglia is mostly flat, so it should not really be a problem...right? We chose one of the very many good gps routes from Bikely (yep, it's a pain of a website when it does not work, but very useful when it does!)

Alarm ringing at 7 am. Oh well, as we say back home "sarna con gusto no pica" meaning you chose to do this for fun so no excuses or complains accepted. Still, we managed to miss our fast train up to Cambridge and ended up getting on the slow one. We shared the ride with a fellow bike polo machaca on his way to playing this unique cycling discipline. East London and Brick lane seem like a good place to practise as shown on this video...they do have good control over their fixies!

Upon arrival to Cambridge, we headed straight away onto the roads leading East and past the airport, following Sustrans route 51 towards Bury St. Edmunds. The route becomes very quiet through country lanes after that. 50 km later we headed south of Bury and into Hartest, were we spent a few days last summer. Right outside Hartest we hit the steepest hill in Suffolk apparently! It was quite short, but such a killer. The route from here to Lavenham was amongst the best ones we have ever done in the UK.

Heading out of Lavenham we were pretty much half way, and I was starting to feel really tired. I knew this could be either lack of sleep or that I was about to bonk. We stopped and ate as much as I could before continuing, and luckily I managed until Cambridge. The last third of the route was very flat with smooth tarmac and little traffic. Our average of 22 km/h dropped a little, but eventually we were approaching our starting point with a respectable 21 km/h over 8 h of riding time, with 9.5 h of overall time since we left the station. The saddles, bib shorts, and our tight culitos had done a great job! The final odometer said 171 km (103 milles) from door to door, including getting lost in shouthern Cambridge...We were both very pleased to have achieved this distance for the very first time and are wondering whether we should think about Audaxing? 200 km is next in our calendar, perhaps even before Dunwich Dynamo in July? 300 km sometime soon?

07 June 2011

my first century

On Sunday, 5 June, I rode my first 100 miler! It was actually more like 106 miles including getting to and from the train station in London. This was my goal for the whole summer so I am excited to have completed it so early on. I'm not sure what caused me to ask Alberto if we could plan a century ride for this weekend, but I felt ready for the challenge, as long as the route was relatively flat!

We got a late start (as always) and missed the first train to Cambridge, so we only got started on our route at 9:30am. I was feeling quite good at the beginning of the ride, and as we got out of Cambridge and into the countryside I felt like we were flying along at a much faster pace than normal. It helped that Alberto was leading and I was finally figuring out how to stick to his back wheel. We had talked about the fact that we would need an okay pace in order to finish the ride at a reasonable time, and I think I spent much of the early part of the day focusing on keeping my speed up... glancing at my speedometer marveling at its high numbers, chasing Alberto's back wheel, and enjoying the smooth road surface, good visibility, and wide roads of East Anglia which allowed me to gain good speed on the downhills without worrying too much. We were averaging 22 kph (14 mph) at this point, whereas for instance on our way to Brighton we only averaged 17 (11 mph).

The thatched cottages and cathedrals in the villages of Suffolk were really pleasant. An early highlight of the day was cycling through Hartest, a village near Bury St Edmunds where some friends of my parents have a house. We were cycling along and suddenly passed their house, which we had visited last year! They weren't in, but we snapped a picture to show them later and continued on our way, past Lavenham which we were also familiar with from our trip to Bury last summer.

The terrain got a little bit hillier after that, which may have been the beginning of my struggles. I remember feeling that I couldn't quite keep up the pace we had set earlier on. A little while later, we stopped because Alberto was feeling quite tired and wanted to make sure he ate a fair amount of food to avoid bonking. I think it was shortly after this that I started to feel quite rough and for a little while I needed to go quite slowly. We still had about 50 km to go at that point and I had surpassed my longest difference ever so far. My back and neck were sore, my butt was starting to get uncomfortable, and my hands were experiencing a numbing sensation every now and again. I just kept looking at the cycle computer and feeling bad that I wasn't going faster.

I never really doubted that I would finish, but I did doubt whether I'd be limping to the station or finishing strong. After a struggling for about 20 km, Alberto gave me a lecture about not obsessing about my speed all the time and just riding at a comfortable pace. We adopted a strategy of constant chit chat, which did help to take my mind off the ride and the next kilometers passed much more quickly. I was uncomfortable, but by the time we got on to the main road leading back into Cambridge my legs were feeling quite good again.

We always seem to get lost looking for Cambridge's train station and this time was no exception. We turned down a 'road' which turned out to be pretty much a parking lot, and as we were turning around to head back out I somehow managed to fall over! I tried to change direction too quickly while going quite slowly, and suddenly found myself losing balance. I didn't have time to unclip so I fell over instead! This is the first time I have properly fallen over as a result of the clipless pedals. It was only slightly physically painful, but quite a bit more demoralising, coming at the end of such a long ride. I just wanted to get to the train station and be able to say that the ride was complete! I picked myself up and got back on the bike, and soon after we found the train station and made it safely on board with some snacks for the return journey. I was wiped out but happy. It feels so good to rise to a challenge and accomplish a major goal.

My only problem now is that a century was my goal for the year. Now I need to set a new one!

04 June 2011

essentials on the night before a ride

We have learned the hard way that if we don't get everything ready on the night before a long ride, we will be seriously delayed in the morning and possibly have to cut our ride short as a result. In fact, the reason we're not on a ride right now is that we didn't feel like prepping last night! So here is a list of our essential prep on the night before a day out on the cycle!

  • Route: We usually have casual conversations about where we'd like to go on a long ride throughout the week, but when it comes to the night before the ride, we need to find an actual route we like. Luckily, Alberto has a Garmin GPS so this is mainly a case of finding the right route and downloading it to his device. We start by looking up routes in the area on Bikely, GPSies, or the Garmin website, and sometimes Alberto modifies them himself as well (I'm sure a post will follow on this topic!). Then it's normally a case of fighting with the computer, as downloading the route is never as seamless as we would like!
  • Food: We like to bring a variety of small snacks that we can eat throughout the day. In addition to bananas and cereal bars (which don't require much prep work!), we like to make sandwiches or wraps to take with us. Alberto's often include canned tuna fish, which I can't stand! He likes healthy options like beans, hummous, rocket, or rice. I tend to prefer the slightly less healthy combination of peanut butter, bananas, and raisins! For me, it really works to keep my energy up on the ride. Although the truth is, when you are working that hard, everything begins to taste amazing!
  • Water bottles: It really does not take that long to fill up four water bottles, so we used to leave it til the morning. But whenever we did that, we'd forget about the water bottles until the last minute, and then risk missing our train because of it! So it is best to do it the night before.
  • Bikes: Alberto is the mechanical expert so he usually checks over the bikes and makes sure that they are roadworthy. This normally just involves making sure the tyres are inflated to the right pressure, but it's important to check that the wheels, brakes, gears, chain, handlebar, seatpost, etc are all as they should be!
  • Clothes: I like to lay out my clothes the night before so that I know where it all is and can easily get dressed in the morning. I don't have a very large lycra wardrobe so for me it is usually just a question of what the temperature will be. There are usually last-minute revisions in the morning based upon the ever-changing British weather forecast!
  • Bike tools, etc: We usually keep all of the important bike tools, like spare inner tubes, multi-tool, tyre levers, patch kit, chain link, and pump in our saddle bags, along with a first aid kit just in case! As we only use the saddle bags on long rides we always have them ready with the essentials. This is a great timesaver as it would be a real pain to search around for all these bits when you're trying to go to bed!
  • Batteries: We have rechargeable AA batteries which we charge overnight for the Garmin. Before a night ride, we charge extra to use in our lights as well.
And last but not least....sleep! This is the one we usually fail at. We don't start prepping early enough in the evening and as a result we usually end up going to bed a bit later than we would have liked. But of all the things on the list, sleep really is the only one you can skimp on--the others are too important to a successful day's ride!

03 June 2011

Training rides in London

Here we go, my very first post in a blog!

London is arguably not the best place to go for a quick training ride. For most of us, the beautiful English countryside is too far for a spin after work. But there's life out there for all those hardcore machacas that want to go ease their legs after a boring day sitting in the office or running never-ending experiements in the lab.

Over the last two years I have been frecquenting two well-known places that are never too far from central and west London-based people: Regents Park and Richmond Park.
  • Regents Park's outer circle makes for a 2.8 m (~4 km) of mostly flat and well paved surface. Cycled anti-clockwise, you do not have to worry about dodgy intersections, but only a few traffic lights. Highlights of the route include the zoo in the northeastern corner, the American's ambassador house (with its heavily armed British police!), the London central mosque and the poshness of the houses along Albany street. Best time of the day are either very early in the morning, or late at night. At rush hour it can get quite busy with traffic, that's when the inner circle comes in handy! Although it's a very quick 0.6 m (1 km) loop, it's quite fun to keep 30 km/h average. Best to be ridden clockwise. Some London cycling clubs have quick runs on weekdays here, when it's very quiet with only the occasional sleepy cabbie having a rest. Starting in May, it gets a little busy with people attending the open-air theatre, so watch out for walkers!
  • Richmond Park is the largest of the Royal parks within London, and relatively accesible if you are coming from West London. However, the ride from central is not the most pleasent experience on two wheels, especially at rush hour after a long day at work. Alternatives exists however, and you can reach Richmond rail via tube, overground and nationalrail. It is actually a lot of fun getting on the commuter trains wearing lycra! The ride to the park from the station is an slighly uphill via Church Rd, Friar Stile Rd and Richmond Hill which will leave you well warmed up for lapping around. The views coming up Richmond Hill into the Park, on your right overlooking the Thames, are pretty awesome. The recommended lap is about 6.7 m (11 km) and can be ridden in either direction. We mostly do anticlockwise because of less intersections, although clockwise is great fun too, if a bit more demanding. If you are able to complete one lap in less than 20 min you fall into the machacas category! Again, can get busy in the evening and mostly at weekends, but I have ridden it at dusk on weekdays and the views of London together with the deer and other fellow cyclists is just too good for an after work training ride...Sometimes I wish I lived in West London! Some serious London teams have their regular rides here, so watch out for the pros!
  • Quiet loop around London (taken from the Cycling-Intelligence blog). This one I have not cycled yet, but will do in the near future. It takes in some of the North London hills, as well as some canal-paths along the way.
  • North London rides are also amongst my favourites, especially for hill training. Unfortunately, they involve heavy traffic and plenty of traffic lights. Only recommended in the early morning or late at night. A few examples with good inclines (kindly updated by fellow machacas on the internet):

Happy lapping!

01 June 2011

A Rough Ride

I guess some rides are just more challenging than others... Sunday's ride to Brighton, despite being quite short at 105km door to door and despite the fact that I'd ridden to Brighton three times already, was a rough one.

The difficulties started early on when the route that Alberto had planned (we didn't want to follow the same route we always do) had some massive hills in it just outside of Croydon. Sometimes there is a reason that routes
stick to the big roads -- these residential ones were soooo hilly. I just wasn't prepared to work that hard so early on, and I was worried about saving some strength in my legs for Ditchling Beacon.

The ride was really pleasant as we left the M25 and continued through the Farthing Downs, but I just wasn't feeling my usual self. Maybe it's because I hadn't ridden in two weeks, as my commuting bike was having mechanical difficulties as well, or maybe it was the windiness or some other unknown factor, but I never quite got into the groove of the ride.

Struggling up Farthing Downs... not a good sign!

It didn't help that there were some parts that were quite literally ROUGH -- the 'road' leading towards Hedgecourt Lake near East Grinstead was more of an obstacle course than a road...it was literally full of huge bricks and rocks and would have probably been a challenge even on a mountain bike! Then later the route took in a public bridleway (unpaved, obviously) which was another adventure!

The whole ride I just wasn't feeling confident about making it up the Beacon and obviously if I was doubting myself then there was no way I'd have the mental perseverance to keep going. Despite the fact that I made it up the Beacon two weeks ago having just cycled through the night, I didn't make it this time. I had to stop for water about a quarter of the way up the hill and then again at about three quarters of the way. The second time I stopped, I wanted to just walk up the rest of it, but the cars were coming quite aggressively from both directions and it didn't feel safe to walk. Instead I found a place where I could rest, ate half of a peanut butter wrap, and waited until I really felt my heart rate had come back to normal, and then continued up the hill.

It was unbelievably windy at the top of the Beacon, but I had to stop and catch my breath and eat a bit more. Alberto was there waiting for me and he had gotten out my windbreaker, as we figured we'd both need the extra layer on the downhill. We proceeded on the downhill against some serious wind, which was both a challenge to the legs and also to safety, as the road heading into Brighton is quite busy and cars were passing us quite closely. I couldn't really keep a straight line against the wind sometimes, so it was really a challenge.

I was so grateful when we finally arrived into Brighton. We got to the train station almost an hour before our train was due to leave, but the weather was really rubbish so we just stayed in the station and got some food.

All in all I wasn't too impressed with my performance on Sunday. There were however a few minor victories:
  • I have finally learned how to drink water while on the bike! I still feel a bit nervous about it but am very glad I learned before the hot summer days kick in (if they ever do). I know practice will make perfect!
  • Got to try out my new windproof gilet from Condor. I bought it on sale on Saturday and boy was it a lifesaver! Don't think I'll ever go on a ride without it now
Oh well, here's to the next ride!