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Roadies celebrate their mileages and other related stats. Off-roaders, on the other hand, will celebrate wonderful remote landscapes and the technical stats of their routes (boulder and tree trunk hopping, riding tyre-width ridges with precipitous drops on both sides……etc). Today I re-visited some off-roading (but not the technical stuff) after a long absence. I’ve probably become self-obsessed with riding the miles, and lost touch with the sheer pleasure of riding the bridleways and byways that criss-cross our landscape.

Hartham Street

Hartham Street

Ancient rural communities left there mark by handing down an intricate network of packhorse tracks and drover’s roads. Some of these eventually became arterial routes, others remained as dirt tracks across fields and through forests that linked small communities. Those that are now designated as bridleways and byways

Red=Byway, Yellow=Footpath

Red=Byway, Yellow=Footpath

are rights of way to cyclists. But to share these routes with horses and off-road vehicles is very much a mixed blessing. Even full suspension will not iron out the discomfort of the deeply pitted surface from horse hooves, nor the water-filled ruts left by 4x4s. The only hint of suspension on my 25 year old Raleigh is the Girvin Flex-stem on the handlebars, which is an inadequate gesture in the right direction……..CIMG9835

However, the purpose-built track around Grafham Water is ideal for the ‘hard-nosed and hard-tailed’ bikeCIMG9840

and on the way round you might come across anomalies like this 160 ft crane jibCIMG9838

which turned out to be a mobile bungee-jumping outfit

I was staggered to discover that each jump will charge £60 to your plastic card which, at a rough guess, will work out at about £20 per second of free-fall………The 10 minutes I hung around, there was not a single taker. I wonder why?

But then I headed off along a bridleway, which eventually tapered into a byway called Hartham Street….not a street, of course, but a deeply pitted and rutted track that was almost unrideable. But some sacrifices are worth making if they lead you through something that poets might describe as bucolic bliss.CIMG9845

And when I reached the top of the wold overlooking my own village, this was the view that greeted me as the sun was dropping over the horizon.

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I set off early, to meet up with the Thursday crowd at East Carlton, not calculating the day’s total mileage. But it was such a glorious day, and the countryside was at its spring best, with the oil-seed rape putting on a special show of colour.

My 30 mile route out to the café was interrupted by a “Road closed” sign which, like a true road cyclist, I duly ignored…..but this time almost to my cost. After a few miles of riding on newly-laid tarmac, I began to pick up the sulphurous smell, then noticed a certain warmth rising from the road……then I saw the tarmac spreader and the heavy rollers, and realised I was riding on very hot tarmac. Had I gone another 50 metres, I am sure I would have been dealing with two melting tyres.

A few of the group.....

A few of the group…..

The group ride was a 28 mile route out and back along the stunning Welland Valley, but not all on the valley bottom. We climbed out several times, enjoyed descents as fast as 40mph, and ended up in Weston by Welland for lunch. By this time I had about 55 miles on the clock, with the prospect of at least 30 miles to get home.CIMG9816

But the wind was in my favour, the conditions were near-perfect, and the route home mysteriously extended to 47 miles…..giving a final tally of 102 miles (164kms). Since my first day on the Istanbul ride will be approximately 100 miles to Harwich, I consigned today’s efforts as a little bit of training for May 6th.CIMG9831

Answering the call of nature, I found a "loo with a view"...

Answering the call of nature, I found a “loo with a view”…

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We are blessed in the East Midlands with a huge variety of country tearooms, many of them in sleepy little hamlets, but they manage to survive, even thrive. A mainstay of the numbers that cross their thresholds is the lycra-clad brigade. We arrive, after doing a ‘chunk of miles’, sometimes in challenging circumstances, and expect to be served a gallon of tea and a selection of cakes and scones.

Today, the Old Vicarage Tearoom at Naseby beckoned, along with the pleasure of the company of other like-minded roadies. Except for me, to get my cup of tea and cake, it was the mean distance of 35 miles just to get there, with a similar distance to get back home (of course).

Now I’m not complaining about doing the miles. I mean, someone has to suffer for the benefit of mankind……. But this was suffering of a different order. There was a 20mph (32kph) wind coming from the west, and guess which way I was going………you’ve got it, due west……..all the way.

The last five miles were purgatory (ie. not quite hell). It had taken me about an hour longer to do the distance than in normal conditions, so I was ready for that gallon of tea and endless selection of cakes and scones.

But most afflictions have some compensation……meaning of course, when they stop. But in this case, my route home had the added blessing of a powerful tailwind, making me feel good about the average 20+mph speed. It’s good to be reminded of those days when that might have been an average club-run speed…….

But en route home, I stumbled across this extraordinary sight……..I leave you to imagine the story behind it.20140408_132503_Android

 

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Bluff re-visited?

One of the greatest pleasures of long-distance cycling is the opportunity of making friends along the road.

Almost 12 months ago to the day, I arrived in Bluff, New Zealand, the most southerly point of the country’s mainland. A few days behind me, covering the same ‘End-to-End’ route, was Steve Wesson, a director of Bike Adventures

The iconic signposts at Bluff

The iconic signposts at Bluff

not only fulfilling a personal ambition, but also doing a ‘reccie’ of the country for a future organized tour. Up to that point, we had been following each other’s progress via our respective blogs.

We met as I alighted from the ferry coming back from Stewart Island, and we shared a ride together back to Invercargill, from where I caught a flight to Sydney and Steve prepared for his trip back to the UK.

Steve has recently returned from leading that planned tour of New Zealand, driving a support vehicle for his group as they enjoyed 4 weeks of near care-free cycling. Nothing of the simple, basic life of tent-camping here. They had their hotel/B&B accommodation waiting for them at the end of each day, to be rested, fed and watered in preparation for the next day’s adventures.

In Great Chesterford

In Great Chesterford

Steve and I arranged to meet up the other day, deciding that a halfway point between our respective homes, with a suitable pub for lunch (Great Chesterford in Essex) would give us both a good 80 mile ride. Steve was interested in my recent trip to Florida, not only because he is going there himself next week, with a few cycling buddies, to put in some personal mileage, but he is also planning an organized group trip in the near future.20140310_115927_Android

And of course, the conversation over lunch was inevitably about all things cycling: from GPS technology to paper maps, from weather conditions to cycling terrain, from the cost of ferry crossings to the cost of motel rooms. These are some of the minutiae that a tour organizer must have at his finger tips for the group’s organization to be smooth and seamless. It forcefully reminded me of the dozens of foreign school trips I had organized as a teacher to far-distant countries. I loved doing them at the time and, strangely, I enjoyed grappling with the details of health & safety, risk assessments, route planning and transport, visas and passports……but all that now is a distant memory.

My principal concerns these days, when I’m on a solo tour, is the organization of one ticket, one entry permit, one bicycle and one tent……. so much easier. But the big downside of all this is, of course, when things go wrong, I can’t turn to a tour operator and seek compensation. In other words, the buck stops with me.

A Hertfordshire hill....great for gathering speed!

A Hertfordshire hill….great for gathering speed!

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My ride today took me across Northamptonshire, to the battlefield of Naseby, where Charles I effectively lost his crown….and ultimately his head.20140306_122528_Android

Rupert’s view is the spot where Prince Rupert (The Royalists’ commander-in-chief) mustered his troops to prepare his attack on the Parliamentarians, led by Sir Thomas Fairfax. The Royalists’ position commanded a high ridge, normally a distinct advantage on the battlefield, but the Parliamentarians were hidden by the contour of the land, and were able to maneuver into a position to catch the Royalists by surprise.20140306_122731_Android

This viewing platform gives you a sweeping panorama to the south, giving you an idea of the Royalists’ perspective. Despite rough parity of numbers between the two sides, the Royalists were overwhelmed and massacred. King Charles escaped, but the 100 women camp followers on the Royalist side were put to the sword, an atrocity against civilians which was almost unheard of at the time.

Re-enactment of the battle

Re-enactment of the battle

One of the King’s places of refuge was the tiny community of Little Gidding in west Cambridgeshire, which he visited on May 2nd 1646. But he rapidly ran out of options and eventually surrendered himself to the Scottish Presbyterian army. After nine months in their ‘care’, he was sold to the Parliamentarians for the sum of £100,000……..a veritable king’s ransom.

Distance covered: 73 miles

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After two weeks of cycling across the sweltering flat plains of Florida, sometimes into 20 mph headwinds, it is good to be back negotiating the ‘lumpy landscape’ of rural Northamptonshire.

Road to Deenthorpe

Road to Deenthorpe

The route out to the village of Gretton (near Rockingham) took me across large swathes of sparsely populated countryside, through tiny villages of only a handful of houses, to a village hall where the local community put on a monthly lunch, and feed us the best in homemade soups and puddings. We are usually a group of a dozen or more cyclists, who have come from a wide radius, and the lunch venue is our focus not only for the ride, but also for a gathering of like-minded people of the road, most of whom have pedalled several miles to get there.

The route back home took me and a riding companion via Woodford MillContactWoodfordMillHeader

through north Bedfordshire, where I came across this unobtrusively placed memorial on the edge of a field, outside the village of Newton Bromswold20140304_162551_Android

that must have been placed there for Remembrance Day last November, to commemorate the lives lost in two plane crashes on that field during the last war.20140304_162645_Android

There were so many airfields in this area that, not surprisingly, many accidents occurred during the routines of training. With the huge loss of manpower during airborne raids, young pilots had to be trained up quickly as replacements, and their preparation was seldom as thorough as it would have been in peace time.20140304_162634_AndroidDistance covered: 72 miles

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Homeward bound…..

Well, no longer ‘bound’, but already there. After two long recovery sleeps (from the transatlantic night flight rather than the tour of Florida), my dear wife, Jenny, who was missing her role as trusty stoker, successfully read my mind, and popped the suggestion: “Why not go for a tandem ride?”.

Well, she always scores a bull with that kind of suggestion. She could sense I was going to head out on the bike anyway. After all, today has been the meteorological first day of Spring (note the use of upper case) and, quite surprisingly, the weather gods had heard somebody’s prayer, and given us a bright sunny day.

Of course, the first day of Spring also happens to coincide with the feast day of the patron saint of Wales, St David. The Welsh diaspora across the world will have celebrated the memory of this 5th century saint by eating a lamb and leek dish called Cawl, and will have raised a glass of St David’s ale (even though the man himself was teetotal). If you saw anyone sporting a leek or daffodil on their lapel…..yes you got it…….. they were Welsh……and proud of it.20140301_143602_Android

So we turned a pedal or two in his honour, enjoyed a light lunch overlooking Grafham Water (wondering if it was cormorants we could see in the distance), passed dozens of cyclists grinding their way around the Wiggle ‘No Excuses’ Sportive, spied the wind turbines 15 miles away at Chelveston from every angle (these things do dominate the sky-line)………and covered a respectable 17 miles in the process.

This was the beginning of more rides to come in 2014……..

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Winter blues…..

January can be the most unfriendly month of the year for cyclists. For those preparing themselves for the comingCIMG5392 racing season, many will have been discouraged by the unremittingly cold, wet, wintry weather of the past few weeks. And if their chances of getting out on a weekend club run happened to coincide with the worst of the weather, they may have confined their winter training to indoor turbo sessions, counting the numbers and putting in the hours………very boring and very sweaty!

In my own case, I’m never in training for anything…..except the next piece of chocolate cake, perhaps. Though I do like to compete against myself occasionally, my riding is entirely for fitness and leisure and, enjoying a certain flexibility during the week to pick and choose my riding schedule, I can study the weather charts and hope to miss some of the worst weather.

My ride today was a case in point. Although it was cold and very windy, I was assured by the forecasts that the rains would not hit our region before 1pm. And sure enough, as I cycled along the high street of our village at 1.30pm, having completed a 40 mile ride, the rains were only just beginning. To get wet in the warmth of the summer is one thing, but to get wet in winter, when the temperatures are hovering above freezing, that is quite a different story.

As I stepped into the house and my body began to adjust to the ambient temperature, the chill in my hands and about my face became painful, forcing me to step back out into the garage to allow a more gradual adjustment. Our bodies do not appreciate sudden changes of temperature.

January mileage: 695 miles (1118 kms).

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I tell you this little story as an example of the divide between two worlds.

Rain_drops_on_window_02_iesThis morning I headed off on the bike ‘midst the ever increasing threat of rain……not just rain, but very heavy rain. I knew the forecast…..I knew what to expect….and sadly, the meteorologists got it absolutely right…..d**n them (only metaphorically, of course).

20 miles later I arrived at a delightful country bistro cafe, in Grafton Underwood, which had only opened its doors in the last few months. After an entertaining hour spent with fellow cyclists, and a pot of tea and pain au raisin consumed, I headed north, wind behind, in the direction of Fotheringay (by now, the rain had actually stopped, and the sun was beginning to show its face). By the time I turned back into the wind, I realised I needed more sustenance to get me home (it was 1pm and I had another 25m to go).

There was a convenient ‘greasy spoon’ (aka. trucker’s cafe) at Warmington so, for £2.90 I splashed out on a bacon

and egg bap and a (free) glass of water. As I headed out of the door to do battle with the wind, there was a young manstock-footage-rainbow-winter-wheat-in-spring-gale-hd having his cigarette break and studying my bike intently. He pointed to the lock on the bike and said “Is that where you put the petrol?”. I could see I had the company of a joker.

“How many miles d’you do, then?” he asked. “Oh, somewhere between 25 and 100, depending on weather and time” I replied. “B***er me” he said, as he took another heave on his cigarette. “Is that in a week?” he asked. “No”, I said “that’s in a day”. “So what’re yuh going to do today, then?”. I said “Something like 50-60 miles”.  “F*****g h**l! I gorra a bike, but I can’t do more than 4 miles a year on it…….”. With that, he took a last heave on the dwindling butt end, flicked it into the car park, and went back into the cafe to make more bacon baps for his customers.

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To get an early start this morning on the bike, I had to battle the rush hour.

Now, in a small community of about 1200 inhabitants, you wouldn’t think that should be a problem. But then Kimbolton has a secondary school, a Prep School and a Primary School, as well as a small industrial estate and numerous businesses on the High Street. But once beyond the parish limits, the going got much easier…..

I headed west, first into Bedfordshire, then into Northamptonshire, and wound my way through dozens of little villages, through rolling countryside, crossing numerous swollen rivers, until I arrived at Naseby Old Vicarage Tearoom (tantalisingly close to the site of the famous battle of Naseby, which proved to be the downfall of King Charles I).

Cottesbrooke Hall

Cottesbrooke Hall

Once beyond Brixworth, with its beautiful Saxon church, I found myself crossing the old estate of Cottesbrooke Hall, its parkland still preserving the open aspect of so many aristocratic estates, with tree lined avenues, gated roads, and flocks of sheep roaming at will. Red kites were in abundance and, amazingly for mid-January, the birdlife was in full song. In the absence of a prolonged cold spell this winter, much of nature hasn’t yet realised that winter is upon us.

Gated road

Gated road

On the return, I chanced by Kelmarsh Hall where, close by, there is a Buddhist Centre. It hosts meditation sessions, retreats and study courses. But it also has a cafe which is open to all, and is a particular favourite amongst cyclists.

Kelmarsh Hall

Kelmarsh Hall

After 6 hours on the road, I managed to get back home just before the heavens opened. A rare example of the ‘winds of fortune’ being on my side.

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Ask a group of experienced long-distance cyclists what would be their ideal expedition bike and, I guarantee, there would be little agreement about the detail. 2014-01-12 12.17.00We might all agree that it should be a (roughly) diamond shaped frame, with two wheels, a wide range of gears and the capacity to carry luggage. But beyond that, everything (I mean absolutely everything) is open to discussion. And that is one of the things I love about cycling and associating with fellow cyclists……there’s never a dull moment! Never a chance to be smug or complacent……2014-01-12 12.20.45

Some will study the following vital stats of my new Dave Yates, and throw their hands up in horror, and shower me with suitably corrective advice. Some will agree, and quietly say “good choice”. Others, who haven’t given much thought to the equipment on their bike, might find some useful tips for a future machine. So let’s risk it and reveal all:2014-01-12 12.21.07

Frame: Reynolds 525 chromoly steel (sturdy and comfortable on long distances and easy to repair)

Wheels: 26″ Mavic rims with Chris King hubs, and 35mm Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres (26″ are easier to replace than 700c)

Brakes: Shimano Deore XT V brakes (disc brakes are arguably better, but harder to repair and replace in remote areas)

Transmission: Shimano Deore XT throughout, with rapid fire shifters (durable touring stuff)

Gearing: Rear: 11-34, Front: 48/36/26 giving a gear range of 19″- 106″ (high enough for rapid descents, low enough to climb Everest!)

Headset: Chris King Sealed Bearing “no Thread”

Bottom bracket: Chris King MTN

Handlebars: Ritchey Pro (straight bars with bar ends….my preference for long days in the saddle)

Stem: Thomson Elite x4

Seat post: Thomson Elite

Saddle: Brooks Pro (when it’s broken in, it should be the best)

Pedals: Shimano XT (with a platform for some comfort, and recessed cleats for walking off the bike).

In a nutshell, my choice of bike design was guided entirely by a need for comfort and stability, and my choice of materials and equipment was guided entirely by performance and replaceability.

I rest my case……2014-01-12 12.18.542014-01-12 12.19.28

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Ah, the gestation period of the child in the womb….. nine months, give or take a week or two. Even the most impatient expectant parent would not dispute that those nine months are worth the wait.

In that period of time you could also grow 4.5 inches (120mm) of hair, watch the extended edition of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy 532 times, or cycle the length of the equator doing 92 miles (148 kms) per day.

Now, did you know that the gestation period of a bespoke bicycle can also take nine months? Well, to be honest, many bespoke bicycles take much, much longer than that. I have heard of two and three year waiting lists.CIMG9696

The broken bicycle I nearly dumped in Melbourne, Australia, nine months ago, has finally found its replacement. The gestation period included my somewhat lengthy search for a frame-builder, the four months it took for my frame to enter Dave Yates’ “to do list” and be built, and the remaining months for the protracted delivery of the parts (from across the globe) and then the kitting out of the bike itself. Of course, I could easily have cut down drastically on the time required for each of these phases, either by simply buying a bike ‘off the peg’, or alternatively, buying a ready-made frame and having it kitted out with parts off the shelf.CIMG9699

Well, that had been the story of my cycling life to date. Every bike I had bought in the past had been ‘off the peg’: ridden and tested thoroughly, comparisons made with multiple other models, before the pin number released money from the plastic card. This time, every minute detail of the final product would be pored over and discussed, measurements would be taken (and then taken again), subtle braze-ons for the frame and colour scheme had to be decided. Would it have disc brakes or V-brakes? 26 inch wheels or 700c? What angle of rake for the forks? Would I be doing off-road as well as on-road? Two or three bottle holders? Front and rear panniers? What finish would I like on the paint?CIMG9703

Never before had I done so much decision-making in the production of a bike. Never before had I acquired a new bike without having test-ridden it several times beforehand, studied its finished profile from several angles, and been absolutely happy with the “feel” of the finished article. Making the commitment before seeing the finished product is, for me, a leap of faith into unchartered waters. But it couldn’t have been achieved without the expert input from professionals in the trade: both Dave Yates and Simon Nix of Grafham Cycling were the backbone to this process, and I owe them both a huge vote of thanks. I also owe a special vote of thanks to Ian Rushton of Cambio Ltd for his company’s generous financial support, both in donations to Save the Children’s Syrian Appeal, and for help in replacing the bicycle that came to grief in New Zealand.

For the cycling nerds among you, I will post the vital statistics on another post. But you have a few photos here to whet your appetites.CIMG9704

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Is this man going soft? What’s wrong with traditional paper maps and following your nose/instinct/wind direction, or even being guided by the sun? Is this just a bid to clutter up the bicycle handlebars with yet more junk, and find that on long journeys I have to carry yet another charging cable?

I have side-stepped the inevitable for several years now. I have watched my club mates progressively acquire their Garmins over the years, progressively become more dependent on, and attached to, the stats, and now find that they can’t find their way around the Sunday morning route without the directional promptings from their handlebars. In fact, they can become so dependent on satellite navigation that, if the device begins to malfunction, they are lost……….I mean, absolutely and completely lost. Do I really want to be like them? Dependent on stats and navigational hints?

Garmin Edge Touring

Garmin Edge Touring

Well, the short answer is a resounding “no”! So why get one (you might ask)? Well, I suppose I could use the excuse that I found it, quite by chance, at the bottom of my Christmas stocking……… but then I would be hiding the fact that I used my cyclist’s discount to get 20% off in my local bike shop (Grafham Cycling). OK, so I had a hand in it.

I could say that I didn’t want to appear different from anybody else, to be able to join in with the stats comparisons and join the Strava road wars. I mean everyone at club level wants to be a Strava warrior (see their website for details). But I have to confess that none of the above is really me. The only stats of any interest to me are distance and, very occasionally, time lapse. But all that could change. If it does, I hope it will be subtle and in line with my kind of cycling.

As many of you know, my cycling terrain is in the long distance, endurance stuff. Nothing can beat a good 8-10 hours on the road, whizzing through open landscapes, visiting new towns and villages, meeting people from different countries and places. The Garmin Edge Touring (as the name suggests) is a navigational device for the long-distance rider, who may be riding through unfamiliar terrain. This is an opportunity to become unhitched from the soggy paper map, to have a neat little device that can feed me more information about my immediate surrounds, and give me directional hints as I negotiate tricky places like city centres or outer suburbs when directional signposting disappears altogether.

So, will I get rid of paper maps? Not likely. I will always carry some, probably deep inside a saddlebag, to serve as a handy reference and, of course, to substitute the flash Garmin which will eventually suffer any one of several adversities: break, run out of power, suffer a technical glitch, get lost or stolen…….. or just simply give up the ghost.

We do, of course, live in an imperfect world.

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I’m not one of those bloggers who likes to do a long, detailed summary of the last 12 months (thank goodness, I hear you say….). They usually end up being tedious “boasts on a post” (sometimes you get Christmas letters just like that). But I have noticed that it is many weeks since I talked about anything cycling-related. And having changed the header photo on my blog to an image of a walker (a picture I took in the early morning just north of Sheffield), you may be wondering if this man has hung up his wheels. Well, the short answer to that is…… no chance!

With Lake Pukaki, leading up to the base of Mt Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand

With Lake Pukaki, leading up to the base of Mt Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand

Despite the gales and heavy rains of the last few weeks, I decided not to be deterred, and December has turned out to have been a busy month on the bike….. even allowing for the interruption of Christmas (just shy of 1000 miles/1600kms). But it is also at this time of the year when I cast an eye over mileages, places visited and routes taken over the previous 12 months, that I may be guilty of ‘waxing lyrical’. If I do, please excuse me. If it bores you, just hit that little x at the in top right hand corner of your screen……

I was riding with a couple of cycling buddies a few weeks ago, and one of them said: “Frank, what mileage are you aiming for this year?”. I replied: “Well, there’s an outside chance I might hit 11,000 miles, but I’m not banking on it with these weather conditions”. Someone else teasingly said “Well, I shouldn’t tell you what I once did many years ago”. Well, of course, it invited the question from everyone in the group “So what did you do many years ago?” Almost soto voce, he said “26,000 miles”. My immediate response was “so you mustn’t have been working for a living……”. Well, of course, he did hold down a regular job, but was still covering more than 500 miles a week (including commuting and racing).

Tommy @odwin 1912-1975

Tommy Godwin 1912-1975

Of course, anything achieved by anyone in the light of what Tommy Godwin did back in 1939-40 pales into insignificance. He began on January 1st to ride 200 miles a day for a whole year, covering more than 75,000 miles (120,000 kms), and then proceeded to do the fastest 100,000 miles(162,000kms) on record, which he achieved in only 500 days. ‘Chapeau’ to him…… and remember, nearly half his mileage was during the first 6 months of the War, and he was riding a Raleigh weighing over 30lbs(14kgs)!

Anyway, let’s climb down from the dizzy heights of the super-achiever, and dwell in the realms of the ‘wannabes’ and the ‘might-have-beens’. This humble crank-turner did hit 11,000 miles just 3 days before the end of the year, which is just as well, because in the closing days and hours of the year, an annoying head cold is keeping him (almost) confined to quarters.

Outside the 2,500 miles/4000kms of my expedition Down Under, my biggest month of the year was the 1,250 miles cycled in August (including the CTC Birthdays Rides), and on only 6 days of the year did I exceed 100 miles/162kms (though many were just 5-10 miles short of that).

At the top of Mam Tor in Derbyshire

At the top of the Mam Tor road in Derbyshire

Jenny, my wife, constantly tells me I shouldn’t push myself so hard, and maybe I should listen more carefully to my body. Oh dear, the beginning of a new year means resolution time. Is it time to grow up and settle down…….? Slippers and pipe maybe…..? A good resolve for the coming year might be to find ourselves a more comfortable tandem, and to spend more time pedalling as a twosome with Jenny.

Now there’s a thought…….

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I have to say, if it hadn’t been for the excellent guidance from a neighbour, and my earnest need to solve a technology issue on my last cycling expedition (New Zealand and Australia), I probably would never have entered the world of smartphones.

Maps

Googlemaps

My day-to-day need for a mobile phone is very limited. Like many, I carry one around for convenience and safety. Only a handful of people know my number, so I expect few calls. However, in my quest to keep my luggage super-light on the bike, I jumped into the smartphone environment and, to my surprise, I found I could (learn to) do all the things I needed to do on this tiny hand-held device: email, blog, facebook, skype, take photos, read e-books, use GPS, send SMS texts, surf the net, listen to the radio, catch up with the news headlines…….. In fact, though

Wordpress

WordPress

called a smartphone, the least useful facility turned out to be the phone itself……..

Many of the great mysteries of modern communication can be solved by the burgeoning App market.  It would seem that, whatever you want to do in life, there will be some App to provide a solution. Although ‘Latitude’ is now a ‘retired’ facility on Google, my wife could track me on my journey on the sub-continent via this layer in Google Maps. When my phone was connected to 3G, she could see where I was (though a weathermargin of error was detected when, one night, she thought I was somewhere offshore!).

From the tiny confines of my tent, in a remote corner of New Zealand, if I could pick up a 3G signal, I could communicate with the world. And it required no more than the touch of an App to call up my blog and write the day’s post; to open Facebook and catch up on the latest messages; to open Google Maps and find my way to a friend’s house in Sydney; to log on to the BBC and read the news headlines, and get a weatherBBC-News- report for the following few days. Instead of carrying books, I connected my phone to my Kindle archive; with a built-in camera I could take photos and directly upload them to my blog or Facebook; and with WiFi connection, I could Skype home without incurring any cost.

For those of you long-distance bike riders who feel bereft if you aren’t carrying (in addition to a smartphone) a netbook, GPS, SLR camera and MP3 player, with all the required leads and transformers, learn to detach yourselves and have faith in that small hand-held device that goes

Translation App

Translation App

with you everywhere. You will experience a surprising level of liberation.

And if you have a challenge with a local language, the Google Translate App has VOP (Voice over protocol) which allows you to say something in English and will provide a written version of what you say in the foreign language. Though frequently inaccurate in its detail, it should be readily understood by any sympathetic listener. Try it. It is surprisingly good.

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Whether its the influence of the grand tours, or simply the enjoyment of the continuity of the ride, I have found myself increasingly completing solo rides without the usual stop.

f256_star_trek_uniform_ladies_cycle_jersey_pocketMy habit has nearly always been to ride about 30-35 miles (50-60 kms), have a short stop to snack and drink, and then resume. So a typical 100 mile ride would include two stops. Now, for the boys in lycra who ride the grand tours, riding a continuous 150 miles (without a stop) is a normal ‘day at the office’. Some have even mastered the tricky art of answering the call of nature without stopping…………. (click here).

If you’ve ever wondered why cycling jerseys have 2/3 back pockets, the answer is very simple…….you can feed on the run. Professional cyclists use a lot of ‘scientific’ energy gels and bars, which can be carried easily, and opened and consumed in a matter of seconds. I, on the other hand, being a ‘normal’ human being, prefer to eat real food, like bananas and fruit bars. If I need an instant sugar boost to the blood stream, a handful of jelly babies does the trick. And, instead of expensive and highly dubious energy drinks, a mixture of water with 25% fruit juice is great for

Nakd fruit bars, great on the bike

Nakd fruit bars, great on the bike

hydration and restoring energy levels.

My longest non-stop ride this summer was 65 miles/105 kms, which took about 3.5 hours, and the food and drink I had ‘on board’ was sufficient to get me home. Yesterday’s non-stop ride was 50 miles/80 kms. A drizzly morning, with a strong early headwind, saw me struggle down to Olney in Buckinghamshire, but once I turned about to head home, that tailwind restored the energy levels and provided that psychological boost which is a fundamental part of any endurance activity.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAA large bowl of porridge for breakfast, mixed with dried fruit and nuts, provided the fire power for the first 35 miles. Then out came a large banana from the back pocket, easily peeled with the teeth and, more importantly, easily consumed. Then what do you do with the peel?  Because it is bio-degradable, you just throw it under a headgerow (unlike the wrappings of sports energy goods).

And what of the post-ride recovery food? What better than a Spanish potato omelette (tortilla) with a mixed salad, followed by banana cake with yoghurt? Can it get any better…….?

Tortilla española

Tortilla española

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“The breezes taste

Of apple peel

The air is full

Of smells to feel”

(John Updike, September)

In my teaching days, the end of August heralded the reining in of the wanderlust of summer, and the girding of the loins for the onset of the new term. The first few days of September saw all the systems firing up to receive the returning pupils from

Extracting a JCB from our garden......

Extracting a JCB from our garden……

the previous year, and the new pupils making their hesitant start in a new school environment. Since retiring from teaching, I’ve noticed how many of the ‘silver haired’ generation seem to disappear in the early days of September, presumably heading off to those very same resorts and hotels recently vacated by departing families heading home for the start of the school term. Not for them the exorbitant prices of the high season; not for them the noise and boisterous fun-making of children.

We stayed ‘chez nous’ for the duration of the month, primarily to be around when the garden landscapers moved in to dig a huge hole in our back garden, and then begin the process of filling it in again with a new patio. Having lost our patio 6 years

Blackberries....!

Blackberries….!

ago when we had a conservatory built on it, we decided to regain it once again……….in time, of course, for the promise of any warm lazy autumnal days that may lie ahead………….. ;0)

Cycling in September jostled for space alongside the obligatory blackberry picking and apple scrumping along the country lanes. This is the time for filling the freezer with the autumnal harvest, and the hedgerows this year have been awash with ripening fruits. Many has been the time I’ve got back home with the three back pockets of my cycling jersey stuffed with apples……….only to be met by the uxorial admonishment of “Oh no, not more fruit-for-free! What are we going to

Castle Ashby

Castle Ashby

do with it all?”.

In terms of cycling, the month started with descending temperatures, to the point where some domestic heating systems were fired up (not ours, of course………being post-war babies, we remember well the benefits of simply putting on multiple layers of clothing) and winter cycling layers were dug out from the depths of drawers. After a glove-less summer, applying brakes and gears with gloved hands seemed a little strange. But then a promised Indian summer appeared on the horizon, and the last two weeks of the month provided perfect cycling weather.

Somewhere in Staffordshire

Somewhere in Staffordshire

This is the time of year when cycling mileages normally tail off a bit. The days get cooler and daylight hours get shorter. Unlike July and August, when several of my day rides exceeded 160 kms/100 miles, my longest route in September was only 130 kms/81 miles. But I numbered 23 riding days in total, averaging 75 kms/47 miles per day………giving a total for the month of 1,735 kms/1,078 miles.

Which reminds me……’tis time to check the chain for wear, and get it replaced before it begins to do irreparable damage to the cassette and chainwheels. My last change of chain required a new cassette…………the guys at my local bike shop told me I was doing too many miles……

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We’ve all seen them. Their visibility increases by the day. For many, it all starts on January 1st………

Let’s reveal gender early in the story. A man somewhere near you (maybe a neighbour) wakes up with a hangover on January 1st and decides that something has to change. He’s in his middle years, had his 2.1 children, changed the world in some small way in his business/professional capacity….and then realizes he is beginning to lose the edge. He needs a new target in life, something new to live for.

He takes a look at his profile in the mirror. The waist line is expanding, the hair receding, bags are appearing under theFat-Man eyes. He thinks about his lifestyle: poor diet, too much drinking, not enough exercise, burning the candle at both ends. Something has to change.

For some, there is a Damascene experience that can have one of several outcomes. Some buy themselves a powerful bullet bike (motor), with the accompanying leathers and attitude. You see them at weekends, ‘hunting’ in packs around the country lanes, breaking the speed limit at every opportune moment. Some take up jogging, but they do nothing to disguise the pain and the suffering……but all for a higher cause. Still others equip themselves with all the expensive gear needed for an arduous day’s fishing (and that includes the folding chair and six pack).

But then there is that unfit, paunchy middle aged male who begins to take an unusual interest in how his wife shaves her legs. He can be caught secretly surfing webpages of spandex clothing, reflective shades, fingerless gloves, shoes with metal plates protruding from the soles. But more worrying still, he begins to head off on secret shopping trips. He doesn’t come back with anything…..he says he’s just been window-shopping. He obviously wants to do something different, to change something in his life, but he doesn’t want to make any bad choices in the process. When he starts this new activity, he has to do everything right, so that he will (at least) look uber-cool.

3You’ve probably guessed by now, that these are the early pangs of a middle aged man getting into (or back into) cycling and, having experienced success as a professional and family man, he expects to go from ‘zero to hero’ overnight. If he’s not going to burn rubber at the speed of a Mark Cavendish, or dominate the peloton like Sir Brad, at least he can look the part.

Not for him an old steel bike that has been found at the local tip, and lovingly restored over weeks. Not for him anything less cool than a full carbon bike, weighing in just above the UCI legal 6.8 kilos; not for him the clothing that doesn’t stretch with every movement of his soon-to-be sleek body, and have enough elastication to help hold in that protruding gut; not for him a pair of sunglasses that he might wear for driving, or an old pair of skiing gloves. Everything has got to be right…………..right from the start.

The Cav, Wiggo and Froome effect has got this sub-species of the human race buying hyper-tech bikes with all the latest ‘tricknology’. Their beer1 bellies may yet be resting on the top tube as they ride, and they may be carrying an excess 30-40 kilos but, boy, they have the lightest, super-cool machine on the market; their clothing is head-turning; the electronic shifters are the best thing since sliced bread; and that Garmin 800 on his bar stem monitors his every heartbeat and pedal turn, every change in elevation, every detail of speed……it will even tell him when he’s missed a turning on the clubrun route.

This MAMIL (middle aged man in lycra) is now ready to impress the world. Watch out for him at the weekends cruising along with his buddies. Like (motor) bikers, they ‘hunt in packs’…………..except the posh word in this case is ‘peloton’. If you overtake them, give them a friendly ‘beep’……

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If you’ve already seen this on Facebook, I do apologise, but I feel stirred to also share it in the context of this blog.

We stayed at Wortley Hall for three nights (in South Yorkshire), and one morning I woke with the dawn, saw the sun rise over the open countryside from our bedroom window, and felt immediately inspired to go for a pre-breakfast cycle ride, to catch the best of the day.

2013-09-05 07.22.19

Click to enlarge

Half an hour into the ride, climbing and descending several narrow country lanes, I came on this scene. The brakes automatically locked on the bike, I fished around for my camera and, as I got ready to catch the moment, a walker appeared from behind me and proceeded up the hill.

It was the perfect moment. In the early morning sunlight at 7.30am, his shadow must have measured 30-40 feet long. If photographers ever talk about a ‘eureka’ moment, this was mine.

Hope you like it. If so, just click the like button below, or even syndicate it to your Facebook and Twitter page.

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2013-09-03 14.44.14The Peak District in Derbyshire used to be blighted by all kinds of mining and mineral extraction, mostly in the last 150 years. The inheritance today is that most of that industry has now closed, and old railway tracks have been converted into cycleways that cut through the rugged countryside, providing traffic-free routes that are (for the most part) either flat or with gentle gradients.

The three most prominent are the Tissington Trail, the High Peak Trail and the Monsal Trail. We chose to cycle the length (and back again) of the latter, starting in Bakewell, the town famous not for its ‘tart’, but for its ‘pudding’. The choice of Bakewell as the starting point was a happy serendipity, because most of the 9 mile trajectory to Topley Pike (near Buxton) is gently uphill, so the pay-back was on the return, which was fast, taking only half the time of the outward journey.

Cressbrook Mill

Cressbrook Mill

Unlike a lot of converted rail tracks, which can enshroud the riders with deep cuttings through the landscape, affording few views of the surrounding countryside, the Monsal Trail is very different. Yes, there are tunnels to ride through, but none of them are intimidatingly long, and they frequently open out onto wide, expansive views over valleys and dales.2013-09-03 14.44.47

And along the way you discover a lot about Wye Dale’s recent industrial past. All quiet now in the 21st century, but in its heyday, this area must have been a bustling, noisy, dirty and very smelly place to live and work. Now it is endowed with all the beauty and tranquility that we expect from a major National Park.2013-09-03 15.24.33

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