Tales from the Riverbank - Part 2 - Dunk Test Results

So the bike wasn't submerged for long, maybe less than a minute but long enough to potentially write off some of the less obviously waterproof components.

  • Shimano Alfine 11 Speed Hub - the hub continued to run perfectly for the remainder of the journey home though I had visions that some small amount of water would have found it's way into the internals. But there was no need to worry, as a quick check I opened up the oil fill port and inverted the hub and there trace of water or emulsified oil.  A few weeks I did a full oil change, again with no sign of water ingress.  Good job Shimano!
  • AXA Luxx 70 Plus Steady Auto front light -  the construction of this light does not readily inspire confidence in its waterproofness, the switch and light shroud are not sealed as you might expect in an all-weather light.  However, I can only assume that the protection has been applied to the electronics rather than the housing as it survived the dunking, and the open design seems to allow any water ingress to drain away as the lense didn't mist.
  • SPA CYCLES Nidd Leather Saddle - I've ruined a Brooks B17 saddle by riding it in heavy rain where the leather quickly became sodden and ended up permanently mis-shaped.  The Nid survived the soaking thanks to the waterproof fabric lining that is applied to the underside of the saddle.  This and the extra thickness of leather on the Nidd makes it a challenge to break-in but makes for a far cheaper and more robust alternative to Brooks.
  • Garmin Touring Edge - It's marketed as waterproof and it is!

Tales from the Riverbank - Part 1 - Soggy Bottom Bolt

Earlier this year I managed to ride my bike into the River Kennett, it was an unplanned episode on a narrow section of the shared footpath just outside Reading town centre. It was an accident and I’m not looking to blame the other cyclist, lack of decent cycle infrastructure or even Reading City Council. Even at the time it was pretty hilarious, both bike and I were submerged for only a second or two, I wasn’t hurt and was able to continue the journey home with only a few strange looks from people witnessing a very wet cyclist on a warm summer’s day. But the incident has given me time to reflect on how the chances of rider and bike surviving the perils of the daily commute can be improved; so, this will be the theme for some future posts.  In the meantime and in the absence of a youtube video which would be significantly more entertaining, see if you can spot the amphibious segment on Strava?

The Bike Show - Podcast

The Bike Show Podcast from Resonance FMI stumbled across this series of podcasts this week and can't believe that I hadn't heard about it before now, it's been broadcast since 2004 and is a really well conceived show with extremely broad appeal!  Resonance 104.4fm's weekly radio show and podcast is presented by Jack Thurston  and continues to cover and uncover the intersections of cycling, culture, society and creativity. From Tour de France to roller-racing, from Brompton commuters to bicycle messengers, from Kraftwerk to hip hop, from urban design to countryside trips. Literature, history, travel, art, music, sport in a weekly half-hour show.

Windsor Chester Windsor - 600 AUDAX BRM - AUG 2014 - (a very strange affair)

My long distance cycling buddy
It was privilege to be part of this ride, which historically was Britain's first ever 600k event held in 1976 allowing British riders to qualify for entry into the legendary Paris-Brest-Paris 1200k,event.
The route had been modified from the original to avoid main roads that have now become too hazardous for cyclists. With controls placed at Eynsham, Chipping Campden, Belbroughton, Muxton, Chester, Upton Magna, and Chalgrove the route took in the very best of rural Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Cotswolds, Staffordshire, Worcestershire and Cheshire.
Although I've become reasonably comfortable in completing 300km rides, I purposefully avoiding any sort of training beyond 300km.  So it was a true adventure in the sense that as I set off from Windsor with the other 70 odd riders, I was not entirely certain if the outcome would be a success.
The outbound 300km to Chester was a blast, aware of all of the pitfalls that can scupper a long ride, I arrived at the control in reasonable shape.  At one point during the final run towards Chester I thought that maybe I was more tired than I felt when I shouted "frogs!" for the group to avoid a mass amphibious road crossing.  It was later confirmed that I wasn't hallucinating and that there was indeed a nocturnal frog road crossing activity.  However to later find this photograph of me asleep in the Chester control with other riders and a teddy bear does confirm the fact that night riding can be a very strange affair indeed.
a very strange affair...
After an hours sleep at Chester I ventured out in the early hours to press on to Upton Magna where the main "sleeping control" was based.  Like all the controls along the route Upton Magna was manned by a team of unpaid volunteers saints who cared for the riders every need.  Along with endless supplies of hot home made food there are also "hot" beds which are allocated with supreme efficiency with one rider in, one rider out, with a predetermined wake up call.  I still had time on the meter when I woke at early dawn to the strangely comforting chorus of snores, farts and general delirium of mad cyclists.

Getting back on the bike was not as nearly as painful as I'd expected, but exactly as I had expected it began to rain in biblical proportions.  My extravagance earlier in the year in buying the best in full waterproofs was now justified and I couldn't help feeling a hint of smugness sympathetic when I witnessed those who were experiencing the misery of the incredible abrasive properties of wet lycra on a wet leather saddle.

The final stages back to Windsor were a slog, but the rain stopped for long enough to pack the goretex away and the AUK gods took more pity and provided an astonishing tailwind up and over the Cotswolds into the familiar terrain of South Oxfordshire.  My back tyre had become prolapsed following a reckless descent on a rutted road and was the only thing that threatened to prevent me from finishing within the 40 hour time limit.  A fellow rider at Chalgrove, had given me his tyre repair boot in a typical act of selfless Audax generosity, but by now my arms felt they had lost the strength to effect any sort of repair, so I offered a quick prayer to Saint Vittoria and promised that I would forever buy her tyres, if only this one did not let me down.  And it didn't.
Arrivée at Chester - 38hrs 20 mins

With sincere thanks to Keith Harrison and Sue Gatehouse for organising this ride, all of the "saints", all fellow riders and Audax UK
The Route - Click here for more detail

Hammerhead - The Future of Bike GPS Navigation?

This unlikely looking gadget could be the future of Bike GPS Navigation. Hammerhead is used in conjunction with a Smartphone and displays turn information via a simple array of LEDs. The advantage this provides is that the smartphone can be stowed safely in the pocket with the screen turned off preserving battery life.  The unit is powered by a battery, chargeable through a micro USB port to provide around 20hrs operation between charges.  The Hammerhead also also doubles as a bike light for night visibility, incorporating a headlight and two side lights.  

Hammerhead is a crowd funded project, to find out more and back this project visit https://www.dragoninnovation.com/projects/23-hammerhead

Graeme Obree Sets Prone Cycling World Record

This story should not be overshadowed by Wiggo and the Tour of Britain. This is a tale of British ingenuity and cycling at its best... or should that be beast? Graeme Obree Sets Prone Cycling World Record

The Long Way Home - "3 Down" Audax 300km - 6 Apr 2013

Sliding ever further down the slippery slope of audax riding the alarm clock was set to go off at 4:30 on Saturday morning. The “3 Down” was to be my first calendar 300km event and the 6am start meant that there was a reasonable chance that I might get back into that nice warm bed before Sunday.
Last August I rode 300km for the first time and it took me over 21 hours, and it was reflecting on this ride that made me realise that a place in this year’s 1400km "London – Edinburgh – London" was really not for me. One of the things I find most rewarding about long distance cycling is arriving at the destination knowing that a journey that might normally be made by car or train or plane, was made by human effort alone. The problem I have with Audax rides is that the destination is ultimately the point at which you started and that it could be argued that the ride has no other purpose other than as a personal challenge. Although the satisfaction of completing a challenging ride is still there, you could argue what’s the point of doing a 300km ride purely for the challenge if you've already completed that distance before. I have to admit that a couple of weeks prior to the ride I nearly won this argument with myself but after taking a closer look at the route that traversed the Chilterns, Kennet Valley, Hampshire Downs, Test Valley and the New Forest, I changed my mind again and decided in favour of what promised to be a grand ride spurred on by the challenge of completing it in less than 20 hours.

This was my 4th calendar event and I was getting used to the pre-ride drill the night before of generally faffing about with the bike, double checking the gps and making up rations. I try and aim only to take essentials like tools, tubes and food but do find room for a few luxuries like my camera and mp3 player. The latter might surprise a few people but I do find listening to music or the radio through a single open earpiece to be completely safe and does help to get through those times when the weather or terrain conspire against you . It is also really useful in preventing a random and annoying song getting stuck in your head for hours on end... Lena Del Rey has a lot to answer for.

I headed off with the first riders at 6am on the 300km “long way home” with thoughts of reaching my destination just 30km from the start at Chalfont St Peter at some time before the early hours of Sunday morning. I had set the gps to display distance traveled rather than distance to destination, this way it is easy to check distance to the next control stage. Audax control points tend to be planned at 50 km intervals and this was true for the first control at Little Henry’s Café at Pangbourne.
Bozedown Alpaca Farm - Whitchurch
I had learnt enough from my recent rides that although my pace tends to be steady rather than brisk it does mean that I don’t need to rest for too long at control points.
Control Point at Little Henry's - Pangbourne
So it was a cappuccino to go at Little Henry’s, a quick feast on my own rations and onwards to the Test Valley and Kimbridge. I had intended to take a break at the 100km point but with the help of a modest tailwind pressed on to reach the control at Kimbridge at 120km. By now the temperature had warmed enough to restore the feeling in my feet and my progress had been brisk enough to allow a longer stay at the café, check the bike over and take on more food.
Kimbridge - photo by Mike Hecken
Leaving Kimbridge the halfway point at Fordingbridge was reached via a fast and spectacular ride across the New Forest. The control point was a far less spectacular but functional petrol station which in exchange for a purchase of a bottle of water provided me with the required receipt to provide proof of passage. Up until this point the ride could not have gone better, it had taken me around 7.5 hours to complete 150km, but the modest tailwind had been deceptive as I slogged it back across the New Forest into the now prevalent headwind.
New Forest Ponies
Every ride of this length has its low points and the tiresome headwind was now compounded by an increasing need for the loo. This wouldn’t normally pose a problem, but I really needed a sit down and the New Forest, despite its name, lacked trees or any form of cover required for such an activity. Salvation and immense relief came 70km later at the control point of Arlesford in the form a well-appointed public loo with something of a shady past in that it had been associated with spying and rings. Thankfully it transpired that this was nothing to do with cottaging… the loo had been used during the cold war as a collection point for secret information by the Portland Soviet Spy Ring, fascinating stuff!
Arlesford's infamous toilet
Leaving Arlesford a couple of pounds lighter, it was a brisk ride to the penultimate control at Winnersh in the company of a pair of tandem riders that I’d passed and been passed by throughout the ride. By the time I reached Winnersh I was on my own again for a final rest stop before the final stage back to Chalfont St Peters. By now it was dark and the many unlit roads required extra concentration, there were pot holes like moon craters everywhere, even around the swanky haunts of Gerrards Cross. Hopes of making it back to Chalfont by 10pm were dashed when I realised that the total distance was actually 308km, but the extra 8km added only a small amount of extra time as I reached the arrive at 10:30pm, delighted and frankly amazed that I’d somehow manage to “shave” 6 hours off my previous time over the same distance. With Brevet Card validated, I put the bike in the back of the car and negotiating the much trickier task of the 20 mile drive home. Happily it was still Saturday night when I walked through the front door and there was still time to round off the day over a bottle of wine with the lovely Alice!

Water, water, every where...

Decided to take a chance on the scenic route to work for the first time since the flooding in November.  It's still looking more like the Thames Estuary than the Thames Valley Park, I'm just glad that the ground was frozen.
Meadowland at Thames Valley Park - 19 Feb
Thames Valley Park Foot/Cycle Path - 26 Nov

A Challenge Too Far

The prospect of entering this year's London-Edinburgh-London 1400km epic was an enticing one.  It only happens every 4 years and being coincident with my 50th year it almost seemed to be a message from the gods that I should enter.  However the inescapable fact of this ride is that it constitutes 4 consecutive days of riding 300km followed by a  200km ride on the 5th day.  
In July last year I completed my longest ever journey within a 24hr period; riding a distance of 320km in an overall time of 22 hours.  If this was the LEL it would have meant that I would have had less than 4 hours sleep before setting off and doing the same distance again and then again and then again before the final 200km.  If there's one thing to be said about sports tracking tools like endomondo, it is that they preserve the reality of a ride, long after the hardships have been forgotten.  As I recall that ride now, it all went perfectly and despite the constant 10-12mph headwind I felt that I made swift progress throughout, however the stats below show how the final climbs through Devon devoured my average speed... and there's plenty of hilly stages on the LEL.  So, by the time entries for the LEL opened in January I had decided that the challenge for me far outweighed the potential for enjoyment and so gracefully chickened out.  
Good luck to the 1000 riders who are madder and faster than me and to all of the volunteers. The LEL is a fantastic feat of organisation and a credit to British Cycling!