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!

The Willy Warmer

It was only by the expressions on other peoples faces when I mentioned that I had entered an event called the "Willy Warmer", that the realisation that I'd slipped even further into the unquestioning and accepting underworld of distance cycling dawned on me. It was some time later that I learnt that "The Willy Warmer", a 200km Audax winter ride, got its double entendre of a name from its promoter the Willesden Cycling Club.
I have to say that I wasn't hugely disappointed when then the ride initially got cancelled following the first snowfall of the year. It's one thing to register online for a winter audax ride from the comfort of your armchair by the fire,large glass of port close at hand, to dragging yourself out of bed in the early hours of a Saturday morning in January and actually getting on your bike.
Baptastic!
And so, when it was announced that the ride would be rescheduled for the following week with the option of a shorter ride in the form of a 120km "Brevet Populaire" I was enticed, even thought it did mean that I was about to sign up for "The Little Willy"! Even more enticing was that the arrivee for the ride would be "Halls Patisserie" in Chalfont St Peters with the promise of a tasty snack to start the day.  Halls did not disappoint and was able to summon up a noteworthy hot sausage bap at 7:30 on Saturday morning . However, eating a sausage bap in a tiny cafe in close proximity to a bunch of blokes wearing tights, some of whom that were clearly wearing three socks and about to do something called a willy warmer, is not an entirely conducive to a comfortable dining experience.
As there was clearly no plans for a mass start I set off alone in pursuit of the Little Willy.  The route had been well planned to avoid roads that might be affected by the winter weather and despite being largely on my home turf I found myself on many stretches that I'd not cycled before.  The first control was at the "Lou La Belle" cafe in Pangbourne which conspired against me by having changed its name, for sure there was a cafe named "Little Henrys" en-route in Pangbourne and full of cyclists but I never connected the two and left in a state of confusion looking for the elusive Lou La Belle.
The second control was at the far less evocatively named "Sainsburys" in Winnersh.  Again I failed to check-in to the control, but this time it more an act of defiance; the choice being a grim supermarket sandwich or a splendid English Breakfast at the Lockley Farm Coffee Shop at Arborfield.
"The Rooster" All day Breakfast at Lockley Farm!
By this time I was well and truly in familiar territory and how tempting was the fact that I was only 5 miles from home.  But to shorten the already little Willy would have been in excusable, so with a fair tailwind and some welcome winter sunshine I pressed on for the last 20 miles.  Apart from the splendid breakfast there were few new photo opportunities, but I did have to stop and snap this picture of the Castle Inn at Hurst noticing the old Cyclists Touring Club Winged Wheel on the facing wall.

Arriving back at Halls Patisserie it seemed foolish not top off the days calories with another French delicacy that is a wedge of bread pudding.  This time I observed the rules and obtained proof of arriving at the control with a cashpoint receipt, though it remains to be seen whether my previous transgressions at controls shrivel my chances of being awarded the most coveted "Brevet de Petit Guillaume"!

Team GB - Call For Support

There are 8917 cyclists in 113 teams across the world taking part in the endomondo most km in 2013 challenge.   Embarrassingly "Team GB" currently has only 9 members and is languishing in 46th place; all miles count in any category of cycling count, so why not sign up today!  Note: I have no commercial afilliation with endomondo, I just think it's good fun!  Update 20 Feb: "Team GB" is now 16 strong and has regained 46th place and are in hot pursuit of the French and German Teams.  So sign up today, every mile counts!

A grand ride on a grand morning!

Small preparation for next Saturday's Willy Warmer!  Just a 35 mile loop from Wargrave through Henley Ipsden and Caversham, but enough to make coffee and cake at the Caversham Cafe (loacted in the precinct close to Costa Packet) feel well deserved.