31 December 2011

2011's Magic Moments on a Bike

2011 was a great year for me in relation to cycling. It was only my second year of cycling and there were so many new and wonderful experiences. I thought it would be nice to pick out my five favorite moments of cycling this year. Here they are, in chronological order...

#1: Big hills in the Peak District
We went to the Peak District for four days over 'Royal Wedding Weekend' in April and had a fantastic time. We had sunny skies, well-paved roads, and beautiful views. On our first day (only a half-day of cycling) we cycled from Derby to Matlock over some massive hills. And I made it up all of them! I was still getting used to the new road bike, which was so much lighter than my hybrid. I have walked up a fair few hills since then, but making the whole ride without walking was a big rush.

#2: Dawn on the way to Dunwich
The entire Dunwich Dynamo (in July) was magic, but during the second half of the ride, dawn began to break at around 4:00am as we cycled eastwards towards the sea. The ride had spread out after the halfway stop, so we were on our own, cycling through deserted roads. It wasn't quite light yet, but we could start to get a better sense of our surroundings with the sunlight coming over the horizon. It really felt special.

#3: Watching the deer in Richmond Park
In August, we went to Richmond Park to watch the London-Surrey Cycle Classic. Afterwards we cycled around the park and stopped to read in the grass in a quiet area. Soon after, an entire herd of deer came walking right past us, crossed the road, and disappeared into the woods on the other side. It was a really special moment, as the deer emerged one by one out of the woods, looked both ways before crossing the road (I swear!), and then walked on. We would never have seen that if we hadn't cycled.

#4: The last 500 meters up the hill to Newlands Corner Carpark
I had my highs and lows on our 200km audax in October, but one moment I will never forget is the last 500 meters before the finish. We were cycling up a hill so the meters were passing slowly, and Alberto was watching the route on his GPS. He kept shouting out how long we had left to encourage me to keep pedaling. We rolled into the carpark with 30 minutes to spare, and became randonneurs!

#5: That one minute in Epping Forest...
...where I actually felt like I knew what I was doing on my mountain bike! I've only had a few chances to take the mountain bike out so far, and have spent most of the time either terrified, walking my bike over tough sections, or falling off. But there was one moment at the end of our first time out to Epping Forest in October when I, just for a second, got it. I was cycling along the path smoothly, "letting the bike do the work," and I glimpsed what all the fuss is about with mountain biking.

Well, there you have my top five cycling moments of 2011. Roll on 2012!

30 December 2011

Those who can, do; those who can't... shop

The winter is making me a little stir crazy. It's been so long since we've been on a long ride and I'm really starting to anticipate the start of the cycling season when we get back to London. I seem to be responding to these feelings in a similar manner as I used to do when I was a kid during back-to-school season.... shopping!

A combination of the friendly pound-to-dollar exchange rate (friendly for me, anyway!) and the after-Christmas sales means that I am running in to a lot of too-good-to-pass-up deals on cycling clothes... but I fear I may have gone overboard.

Between my new purchases and the cycling things that Santa brought me, I will be returning to England in a few days with...

  • a new pair of cycling shorts
  • a new pair of thermal cycling tights
  • two new short-sleeved jerseys-- a bright yellow one and a super-cool Philadelphia one pictured above
  • A new lightweight waterproof packable jacket
  • A new buff
  • A new cyclocomputer (for my mountain bike)
  • Two new sleeveless base layers
  • A new little bag that sits on my bike's crossbar
Not to mention the new running shirts and shorts that I picked up, which will double as my 'civilian' clothes when we do the Camino (due to their quick-drying properties).

It's been a very successful shopping season, but I'm ready for the cycling season to start again! 

28 December 2011

A great (short) video about randonneuring

Reading stuff about long-distance cycling, touring, and the Paris-Brest-Paris has become one of my main entertainments while taking breaks from writing thesis.

One of those days I came across the Seattle Randonneurs. They seem to be one of the most well established "Rando" clubs on the other side of the pond and have published a video which describes a little bit of what we felt in our first Audax, or in any of our night rides...and yes, people still laugh at us or give us weird looks when we talk about it...Good to know we are not alone ;). Maybe we can even tag along to one of their rides if we ever happen to be on that side of the globe? Found it on yacf.

22 December 2011

Winter is no longer an excuse!

The season has come to an end for most people in Northern Europe due to the winter kicking in. Roads become icy and we may even get snowed in like the last two years in London.

British Columbia cyclists surely know how to cope with wintery conditions as this piece of kit proves:

Rear wheel and front ski

That looks pretty cool!

20 December 2011

Cross-training with Running


A few months ago I mentioned that I had tried going for a run for the first time in my life (voluntarily, I mean). Since then, I've had my ups and downs, but I still seem to be going for a run at least once a week most weeks. Not a long run, just 20 minutes or so, but something to get my heart going.

Now that it's winter (and especially now that I'm back home in Philly, sans bike, for two weeks) I think it's more important than ever to use running as a way to keep fitness levels up in between bike rides. I certainly noticed the difference over the course of the late summer / early fall.

Some advantages to running for winter training:

  • It doesn't take very long, so you can easily do it even when you're busy
  • Compared to cycling, it's not as important to have daylight -- useful when there aren't as many hours of daylight
  • On short runs, you're never very far from home, so you can get home quickly if the weather takes a turn for the worst
Sadly, despite all these advantages, I can't manage to convince Alberto to join me! He still says that 'Running is for cowards!' 

13 December 2011

Getting from A to B

Winter has officially come to London this week, marked by such ceremonies as turning on the heating, getting caught in a downpour, and breaking out the long johns. It also means that it is getting harder to go on our long rides, both because of the weather and because we have so few hours of daylight (sunset is at 3:51pm today).

In these bleak times for cycling, all I have left are the rides that get me from A to B. I don't cycle to work everyday, but when I do, I try to appreciate the fact that I'm able to be out on my bike -- even if it is my crappy commuter and even if it's only for twenty minutes.

This past saturday, I cycled down to Covent Garden for a bit of Christmas shopping. I left on the early side, and the roads were generally calm, the sun was shining, and London was looking its very best. I was thankful for the opportunity to ride though the streets of London at my own pace and take in everything the city has to offer.

Christmas in Covent Garden
 After a few hours in the shops, I got back on my bike to ride home. Now I was thankful for a different reason--the Christmas crowds had come and I was glad I didn't have to fight my way on to the tube to get home!

Between our trip to Thailand in November, Alberto's PhD writing-up, and our trips home for the holidays, it will have been a very long time before we go for a long ride again. I guess we will have to be content with our 'A to B' trips for now. It's a good thing, then, that "winter miles count double!"

10 December 2011

Pootling around Mueang Chiang Mai

It was only two weeks ago that we came back from Thailand. Unfortunately we did not take the bikes with us this time, as the logistics were complicated, but could not resist the temptation of hiring bikes for a couple of days.

At £1 per day, we got our bikes sorted from one of the shops in central Chiang Mai. I got a very old-fashioned chinese steel singlespeed bike with a good number of miles/kms on it. The braking system was interesting, and never seen it before. Instead of cables, it had metal wires that connected the brake levers to the brake calipers. The brake levers run along the length of the handlebars and by activating the left (in theory front) you could actually operate both front and rear simultaneously. It was only later that I realised that the front brake was missing a nut, and therefore was not operable at all! oh well, too late, just try and not pick up too much speed. Also, the bike featured a very worn in leather saddle, not a Brooks of course, but something similar. And when I asked the guy at the shop to raise the seatpost, he said it was at its highest position already! I guess they were not originally intended for "tall" Europeans! The tyres were quite substantial, which made for a comfy ride along the streets of Chiang Mai.
20 kg of chinese steel
Lucy's bike was a Westernized Raleigh, dutch-style and same brand as her current commuter. She felt at home on it. And it had semi-functioning brakes.Unfortunately, helmets have not yet made it to this part of the world...We later learnt that even on motorbikes they're not mandatory in the centre, so no one wears one.

Locking up the bikes
We initially got familiar with them in central Chiang Mai, where traffic was pretty quiet. After a short while practicing, we ventured out the inner ring towards the east side of the city. The loop looked like this:

After we visited the train and the bus stations to get our tickets to Bangkok, we headed back into the old town. At some point we got a bit lost, but locals were always helpful and pointed us to the centre. The traffic was not too bad as it all seems to concentrate on the big avenues and the rings around the city. The roads were nicely paved too and looked like this

Lucy, where is your helmet?
We then crossed the old town, just under 3 km, and headed out west towards the University area. We ended up cycling around the nursing and medicine faculties, a compact maze of narrow roads packed with cars and motorcycles. Locals do not seem to use the bike that much in this part of the city, but get on motorbikes instead.

Ride on the left hand-side of the road. This could be anywhere in the UK!
The traffic was generally very civilised to us, and I guess it is because they're very used to two wheeled vehicles. As temperatures rose, we went for a coke, and after a bit of misunderstanding with the locals we got this take away drink

Coke in a bag!

On the way back we stopped to see the mountains on the west side of Chiang Mai and started dreaming about our next visit to this part of the globe. This area in particular is famous with cyclists, who head for the mountains early in the morning or late in the evening, to avoid the heat. Lots of them travel from Malasya and Singapur (on a plane, of course!) to enjoy the challenge of the Thai hills. We also spoke to the Chaitawat bike shop staff, and they told us about their cycling club and annual events such as the climb to Doi Suthep in Dcember. Next time we will definetely bring our own bikes.

Fields & mountains

If you want to know more about cycling and touring in Thailand, here are some of my favourites sites:

Travelling Two: Thailand

Shane Cycles in Thailand

Bicycle Thailand

03 December 2011

Bring on the Camino!

It's official -- we will be cycling approximately 1100 kilometers in France and Spain this summer on the Camino de Santiago!

The Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James in English) is a historic pilgrimage route to the city of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, northern Spain. There are actually several routes but we'll be taking the traditional Camino Frances, starting from St-Jean-Pied-de-Port on the French side of the Pyrenees. We're actually flying in to Bordeaux though, so we'll start cycling from there. Hopefully we can stop off at the Dune du Pyla before making our way to the route of the Camino.

Dune du Pyla (source)

We leave London on the 20th of May and have a flight from Madrid back to London on the 5th of June. That should give us plenty of  time to complete the Camino and hopefully spend a few days with Alberto's family in Madrid as well.

Now that the flights are booked, there is just the small matter of training so that we can actually make it over the Pyrenees!