Category Archives: Cycling UK
The advertising world is awash with advice on how you can do everything ‘from the comfort of your own home’, from running to nowhere to cycling to nowhere, eating in as if you were eating out, going to the cinema via a subscription channel. You get the drift. We are slowly being persuaded that we can live a full and rewarding life without ever stepping over the threshold. The marketing giants have subtlety infiltrated our imprisoned view of the world to persuade us to buy the expensive systems to make living life ‘from the comfort of our own homes’ the holy grail. If you have become an unwilling victim, how can you save your ‘soul’?
You may be disappointed to learn I have no distilled answer to the conundrum but, like you, I endeavour to fight the good fight to stave off the enemy. My own little psychological trick has been to begin a virtual tour of the world, but never more than 50 km from my home so, in a sense, I’ve never really left the ‘comfort of my own home’. After more than 8000 km, I now find myself virtually in Mumbai, on the west coast of India, heading towards Sri Lanka. Why India and Sri Lanka, you might ask?
Well, I once had a plan to spend a few weeks riding the Goa peninsula, before crossing to Sri Lanka, but it never happened. The great ‘virtue’ of doing a ‘virtual’ tour is that I haven’t had to address issues like visas, crossing territories in conflict, doubtful street food, rainy seasons, and the whole plethora of reasons that help to make adventure cycling what it is: adventurous. Which all appears counter-intuitive. After all, the very stuff of the adventurer’s way of life is ‘taking the rough with the rougher’, which then creates the stories that become the ‘click bait’ of the world of social media. The world is not interested in seeing me holding a glass of wine with a crimson sunset in the background. No, they would much rather hear of me sitting miserably in my tent during a rainstorm, and cutting my finger on the sharp edge of a sardine can. For some dark reason, readers take great consolation in the misery suffered by others, better known as the syndrome of “There but for the grace of God…”.
The solace that I feel on a wet November day in England is that I arrive in Mumbai during the dry season, the temperature is 30ºC, the sun is shining in a cloudless sky, and I am assured of at least 11 hours of daylight. So I can now bask in the virtual comfort of my own home.
You may have picked up from previous posts that I began a virtual World Tour when most countries were putting their citizens under ‘house arrest’, and now that it is autumn (my favourite season for boxing up the bike and taking it to some far-flung corner of the planet), the migratory instinct in me begins to stir once again.
This time last year I was crossing 8 nations on my tour of the Baltic and Eastern Europe when, such was my disappointment at not being able to return home by train from Vienna because of lack of bike space, the seeds of owning a folding bike were sown. My attempt to take my new Tern Verge folder on a three week sortie along the French and Spanish Mediterranean was cut short by the pandemic in February so, rather than cry into my bedtime cocoa, I decided to continue riding throughout the period of confinement, but always within a 30km of my home. ‘Boring’ you might say, but you’d be surprised how many hundreds of kilometres of roads that comprises, and I’ve learned never to fall into the trap of thinking I know my own patch like the proverbial back of my hand, because I didn’t then, and I don’t now. It has been a veritable journey of discovery the whole way.
To add to the intrigue, I’ve been converting my daily rides into a virtual tour of the world, and doing what I would normally do on a long ride, which is to stop in places of interest and discover things by happenstance. Like an indoor spinning machine, which doesn’t exactly replicate a ride in the great outdoors, ‘virtual happenstance’ via the internet cannot replicate an authentic ride across a country or continent, but they are both pretty good substitutes in time of need. So my virtual World Tour, which began in Paris, has taken me through places like Cologne, Nuremberg, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Sofia, Istanbul, and Tehran, and in each place I have used the internet to learn of the history, geography, cuisine and outstanding monuments of each city. Every country has its heroes, so discovering the ‘movers and shakers’ in each country has added another dimension.
After more than 7,000km, I now find myself in Karachi, Pakistan, a huge cosmopolitan city which, despite being the largest city in Pakistan and the seventh largest in the world, ceded its position as capital of the country to the newly-built Islamabad back in 1957, some ten years after partition. The Partition, in fact (when Pakistan was created as an independent nation) saw the biggest migration of people the world had ever seen, when Hindus made their way to India and Muslims to the new Pakistan. Up to that point, Karachi had had a majority of Sindh speakers, but after partition, when the city had tripled in size with a huge influx of Indian Muslims, the demographic changed completely, promoting Urdu as the most spoken language, and ultimately as its official language.
Whatever virtual world you have created to keep yourself doing the things you want to do, I wish you bon voyage!
Please do share thoughts on how you have survived these months of constraint in the Comments below.
Whenever I go out on the bike, which is most days, I sometimes get the feeling I’m pedalling one of the many well-publicised virtual turbo systems where I can virtually climb Mont Ventoux, or race with a bunch of elite cyclists. The fact that you can now do this without ever having to leave the ‘comfort of your own home’ is testament to the versatility of technology these days, but there is a striking paradox here: riding a bike is absolutely all about ‘getting out of the comfort of your own home’, and getting into the countryside. Don’t rely on virtual wind and hills to get your kicks, go out and feel a real 30kph wind in your face, attack a real 15% hill just a few miles from your home, and above all, feel the autumnal sun on your face, smell the early wood smoke of those first fires, and fend off the wasps as they try to eat your energy bar before you do.
My experience of ‘the virtual’ hangs on two things. Firstly, the fact that I have continued to do all my riding on my home patch since the beginning of the pandemic restrictions, and secondly, the fact that a real 6 week trek on some distant continent is just not going to happen this year. So, I have imagined myself riding the world as I have climbed on the bike each day.
On my virtual ride around the world from Paris, I reached the border of Turkey after three months of lockdown, but that was three months ago. A quick re-calculation now shows me to be in Tehran, and I’ve had no fuss at the border with visas nor have I had my luggage checked for illegal substances. But the one thing I have really missed is being able to sleep wild in my little tent. That is definitely something you cannot do in the comfort of your own home.
‘It’s déjà vu all over again!’
You get the old hack resprayed and you are reminded of that moment, many years ago, when it was ‘love at first sight’.
But we’ve been through a lot together.
Bicycles and human beings have a lot in common. We both have moving parts that either break or wear out. I can probably hear you say: ‘tell me about it!’ You may have broken a bone, which is likely to be an arm, leg or collar bone if you are a cyclist. Some of your joints may have worn out, and you’ve had a hip or knee replacement.
Well, my Litespeed Ti has suffered similarly from progressive age and constant use. I recently picked it up from the ‘bike hospital’, having had most of its moving parts replaced. In fact, the only original bits left are the frame and two wheels (including handlebars and saddle, of course). I have known for months that the whole drivetrain was edging towards the precipice of no return, but the closure of my local bike shop during the pandemic prevented the ‘surgery’ being carried out. So I kept riding and riding, clocking up the miles during lockdown, keeping fingers crossed that the drivetrain wouldn’t suddenly collapse…..but it did. The early symptoms included an overstretched chain jumping on the razor-sharp teeth of the front chainwheel. Just like many of us, the old bike was getting ‘long in the tooth’. Still unable to get it booked in at my LBS, I found another (equally professional) business that could fit me in.
With the complete re-fit, I have taken the opportunity to revise the entire range of gear ratios, bringing everything down several inches. Most of my cycling life, I have ridden the standard range provided by the compact-double chainring of 50/34, coupled with an 11-30 cassette at the back, giving a range of approximately 120″-30″. A good range to have, and it has served me very well over the years. But, as is the way with all human beings, the anno domini have been marching on almost imperceptibly, until I realised one day I wasn’t climbing the local hills with quite the same ease I used to and, like a lot of male cyclists of my ilk, I was refusing to accept the inevitable. Until now….
So, the bottom line is, I have had fitted a 40/24 crankset, with an 11-32 cassette, now giving me a gear range of 96″-20″, which means that some of the bothersome hills have mysteriously flattened out. In fact, I climbed one this morning that would have had me in my lowest gear with the old set-up, and now I find I have 3 ratios to spare!
If you are not familiar with ‘gear inches’ (as opposed to gain ratios), on my old set-up, to engage with the top ratio of 120″, I would have to be going at more than 80kph. Given that I seldom exceed 50/60kph, the top four or five ratios were useless and dispensable. Now, with a top ratio of only 96″, I can still pedal at speeds over 50kph, but it now gives me the benefit of a much bigger range at the bottom end, where they are most needed. But, playing around with chainwheel and cassette sizes can bring other changes as well, especially if your front and rear changers are no longer up to the job. Mine weren’t, so they had to be replaced too.
The nett result has been that I now have a bike which continues to be utterly familiar in every respect, except for its range of gears and its new-found ability to drag me up the hills without me complaining too much. What is there not to like?
My Litespeed Ti has been admitted into the A&E of a local bicycle hospital. It’s getting on in years, like so many of us, but came to an almost terminal halt recently about 10 miles from home.
Fully aware of its condition, I decided anyway to continue riding it until its last gasp, driven by the fact that my local bike shop has been closed for the duration of the lockdown, and unavailable to do the work.
With age and miles, the whole of the drivetrain wore out, and a stretched chain was clinging for dear life onto the razor-sharp teeth of the chainwheel. But then it started jumping, and grinding, and being generally uncooperative, so the bicycle doctors are currently performing radical transplant surgery which will change the whole drivetrain in its entirety.
So, in the meantime, I renew my acquaintance with my Tern Verge, a nifty machine with a wide range of gears for a 1x set-up, but only really designed for more sedate long-distance stuff, carrying luggage. But it could be the future of my adventuring escapades….
Who, outside the world of Himalayan climbing, would ever use the word ‘Everesting’? The fact that my spellcheck underlines it suggests that it hasn’t yet been elevated from ‘urban dictionary’ status to the heady heights of an Oxford English Dictionary entry. Since you know this website is all about matters cycling, you will already suspect it figures in the world of bicycles.
The fact that you can ‘climb’ Everest on a bike without straying too far from your front door is testament to peoples’ ingenuity at adapting modern technology to create new and exciting challenges. So, step out of your door, ride to the nearest substantial hill, and climb it non-stop enough times until you have ‘Everested’, in other words climbed to at least 8,848 metres. That is what Tom Stephenson, a 20 year old Cumbrian, did recently on his local climb, the Kirkstone pass, and broke the UK record in just over 9 hours, climbing the pass 38 times.
If I were to do something similar on my nearest proper hill in West Cambridgeshire, with only a 26 metre elevation, I’d have to climb it 340 times, not something I aim to do this week, nor any week. But this has kept a lot of keen cyclists busy during lockdown, it would seem. I mean, what else is there to do during a pandemic? Just nip out and spend nine hours climbing Everest, and then brag about it to the rest of the world via Strava. Am I sounding a bit cynical? I do apologise.
In the meantime, if you have followed any of my Without Words series of posts, you will know I have been ‘lane-bashing’ in my local area during lockdown, never straying more than 25km (15 miles) from my front door. All my rides have been shortish rides of 40-50km, occasionally exceeding 60km, and always in the morning as a pre-lunch escape from the house. I have ridden just about every lane, passed through every village, stopped in many of them to find something out about the community, always started from home and finished at home, and learned a lot about what lies on my doorstep. It’s been a fascinating venture, and it’s come up with an equally fascinating statistic.
Today is the three month anniversary of the start of lockdown. In that time I have clocked up a fairly modest 2,416km, but stringing all the rides together I discover that I have ridden from Paris to Edirne, just inside the Turkish border. Having ridden from my home to Istanbul in the past, I know just about the whole of that route, and it’s a long way.
Which reminds me of a little anecdote from that journey. I stopped at a crossroad somewhere in Germany to consult my map, and two pretty young girls on bicycles stopped, and asked if they could help me. I was flattered, of course, but I had been waiting for a moment like this. I scratched my head, pretended I was really lost and a bit confused, and said: “Can you tell me the way to Istanbul?”. They were completely flummoxed by my question. I kept a straight face, waiting for them to find an answer. They looked at each other, then at me, and one of them eventually waved an arm vaguely in a south easterly direction and said: “Oh, that’s a long way from here, maybe 2000-3000km”. I did my best to look thoroughly crestfallen, and said to them: “Damn! I wish someone had told me that before I set off”.
Like most avid cyclists in the UK, I take my regular permited dose of exercise most days, taking advantage of the fine Easter weather, and going for a circular ride from my home, never straying more than about 10 miles (16km) from my house. And there is a growing number of people doing the same, both old-time roadies and newbies alike, enjoying the relative quiet of the traffic-free roads, and the burgeoning wildlife all around us.
In my ‘off-duty’ moments (and there are many of them during this lockdown period), I frequently gaze out of our front window at the two wild cherry trees just coming into flower, and I am reminded of the day I arrived back from Japan in 2015, having completed the end-to-end of the country, and enjoyed several days following the famous ‘sakura’ (the cherry blossom season) from south to north.
I remember thinking then, as I gazed on the riotous blossom of our own cherry trees in mid-April of 2015 on my return from Japan, that I actually had a mini-Japanese ‘sakura’ on my own doorstep, but like a lot of travel-addicted romantics, I had to go chasing it on
the other side of the globe.
Now, with long-distance travel curtailed for an indefinite period of time, when travel romantics like me will find it hard to justify most forms of recreational travel that include long-haul flights to far-off destinations, when all the while, if we could just change the way we think about our more local destinations and try hard to look for ‘the extraordinary in the commonplace’ and the ‘diamonds in our own backyards’.
As I continue to struggle to develop this attitude of mind, I think of my not-so-distant ancestors, most of them living in Ireland, who were so poor and limited in their resources, they would seldom have strayed more than 5 miles from their homes, and then only to go to the local markets and cattle auctions. If you are a cyclist like me, are you going to allow yourself to be locked into frantic spinning sessions on Zwift or Peloton inside your garage or conservatory, or are you going to get out into the wide-and-wonderful, breathe in lungsful of scented spring air, and find your challenges in the local hills and your thrills on the inevitable descents?
Think about it.
Total distance for year: 6,325 miles/10,179km
Nobody wants to read a blow-by-blow breakdown of a full 12 months of cycling, and I am certainly not going to indulge myself to that extent. But casting an eye back over the previous year can reveal some interesting things. Annual mileage can be influenced by a host of different things, but I’ve learned that there is a threshold beyond which you will find yourself riding the bike primarily just to increase your total mileage. In other words, it becomes the driving force. The last couple of years have seen me come to recognise that threshold, pull back from it, and settle into what is a more comfortably managed limit, but which still surpasses the number of miles I drive by a substantial margin.
Separating out local mileage from adventure mileage, it’s no surprise to find that the bulk of my annual distance is still in the day-to-day riding within a 50 mile radius of my home (1,802 adventure miles v 4523 local miles). To get further afield on a morning/day ride, I am now not averse to broadening that radius and using public transport for part of the return journey. This has the benefit of opening up new terrain and new areas to explore. So, for instance, I took a train out to Norwich for a two day 125 mile summer solstice ride back home, with a generally supportive wind behind me.
The adventure miles last year were made up by my Biking the Baltic ride (crossing 8 countries and visiting 9 cities in the late summer), a week on the tandem in Holland in July (the hottest week in Dutch recorded history), a tandem rally in the Wye Valley, and the summer solstice ride. My local mileage is almost totally made up of solo-riding, but with the added benefit of meeting up with fellow cycling cronies at country tearooms to chew the fat. So today, as I write this, I have just come back from a 50 mile jaunt out to Fermyn Woods near Brigstock, where there is a café that amply serves the needs of hungry cyclists.
As I was reflecting on annual statistics, I decided to do a quick retrospective of my 11 years of retirement, and discovered (unsurprisingly) that I had accumulated a lot of miles, namely 90,467 miles/145,588km, about 25% of which were achieved on my many adventure trips around the world. As impressive as any of this may seem, it all pales into utter insignificance in the light of the lifetime mileage (1 million miles) achieved by Russ Mantle at the age of 82, much of it during his years of retirement. Very much a man of his generation, he would have spent most of his waking hours turning pedals.
So what of the coming 2020? Perhaps like many adventure cyclists, I will be trying to honour our collective need to add our grain of sand to saving the planet. Even though riding a bike is an ultra-green form of transport, getting to and from our destinations can be fraught with multiple flights. So for this purpose, I have added this little beast to my stable of bikes
The Tern Verge P10 is designed for long-distance, has ten ratios on a 1x gear set-up (ie. just one front chainring) and, most importantly, folds for transportation. This means I should be able to hop on and hop off trains and buses at will, and use non-aviation transport to get to some of my distant destinations.
Watch this space. I am currently looking at Flixbus that might take me down to the French Mediterranean in a few week’s time.
In the shadow of the triple peaks of the Eildon Hills, the River Tweed carves its way from the Lowther Hills, through the Cheviots, reaching its estuary at Berwick some 160km later. I chose a mid route stretch from Galashiels to Inverleithen, covering some 50km on both sides of the valley, steep and challenging on the southern flank, fighting a strong westerly wind, but fast and undulating on the northern flank, ushered along by the very same strong westerly.
Stunningly beautiful in the autumn sunshine, I will let the photos tell their own story….
It was a pleasure to be invited to speak again at the CTC Birthday Rides, the annual festival of cycling celebrating the club’s birthday, which this year is 141 years old. It is taking place just 10 miles from my home village, at Wyboston Lakes, near St Neots.
They seemed to be enjoying unusually luxurious accommodation and catering, and the conference room where I gave my talk was easily the most technologically advanced I have ever used, and well able to hold over 200 people…..a blessing given that they numbered over 350 attendees in total.
And it was the first time I have ever given a talk in a room with not just one projector screen, but four…….! It was also refreshing to speak to an audience which was well-versed in all matters cycling…..they already knew a lot about the pleasure and the pain of the long distance cyclist.
As usual, at the end of my talk I was asked about my next exploits. And yes, I was able to say they were already set in stone, and in fact, will begin in less than 10 days time. So if you are intrigued, watch this space…….
Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do,
I’m half crazy, all for the love of you,
It won’t be a stylish marriage,
I haven’t got a carriage,
But you’ll look sweet, up on the seat,
Of a bicycle built for two!
1930 Rudge, similar to our first, costing us £10
The idea behind a later design was that the gentleman would ride on the back seat and steer, while the lady could perch in the front with enough room for her skirts. That meant that all the controls were loaded to the rear passenger, and the person in front could simply enjoy the ride.
The modern inheritance of these designs can be seen in the Hase Pino
where the ‘stoker’ becomes the front rider, leaving the ‘captain’ to do all the steering, braking and gear-changing.
But as ever, today out on the most popular iteration of the design, I was informed (yet again) by a bystander and a passing cyclist for the 1000th time that ‘she’s not pedalling on the back’….so Jenny did stop pedalling…..(I say no more…)
Cycling groups get their mid-ride carbs and caffeine fixes in some remote places…..like Conington Airfield this morning. Surrounded by flat featureless fenland, it’s only saving grace are the bacon butties served to the flying crews that pass through…..and, of course, the satisfaction of knowing that you are sitting directly beneath the air traffic control tower.
But when 20 cyclists descend, all wanting to be fed immediately, that sends the serving staff into a frenzy….from serving the odd flying instructor and trainee, they are suddenly confronted by a baying mob of lycra louts…..we need to practise patience…
Two things of note on today’s ride…..
Look at the elevation profile during the video (top left): for a flattish part of the country, there was scarcely a flat section during the entire ride……..
Then look at the aerial shot of the route at the end…….make you think of anything?
I never get this when I speak to Rotary, the WI or Probus…..a captive audience of 300 at the CTC Birthday Rides at Yarnfield in Staffordshire. An amazing crowd of seriously experienced and knowledgeable cycle tourists, many of whom have had their own extraordinary adventures in various parts of the world.
I regaled them with my cycling adventure in Cuba recently, discovered that several had already had their own adventures in Cuba, and many others (both during the talk and afterwards) plied me with questions in readiness for them to take the plunge. For some reason, many people are worried about safety issues in Cuba, which has prevented them from thinking about independent travel there, so they have used cycle travel companies to provide the moral and material support. I assured them that Cuba is one of the safest countries in the world for independent travel….within the limitations of my own experience.
Today, I headed into Stafford to spend a couple of very enjoyable hours with Claire, a former student, and a flying visit to both the Ancient High House and the Castle, both bursting with fascinating history.
When you put 300 seasoned cyclists in one place with their bikes, you are going to meet all shades of the cycling spectrum. From cool sleek carbon frames to ‘sit-up-and-begs’ with electrical assist….it is all there.
There are three-wheeled recumbents, two-wheeled semi-recumbents, a tandem trike that has been customized according to the owners wishes, conventional tandems, and solo bikes that have been specially adapted to the owner’s physical condition.
Take a glance around one of the two bike storage rooms and you are looking at most of the possible permutations that can be applied to the cycling machine.
Today’s route took us down to Haughton, Gnossal and Norbury Junction, the point at which two canals cross each other. And two excellent cafés en route…..what other reason is there for riding a bike?
You may think a nocturne is a musical composition and, of course, you would be right….but it’s more than that. In the world of cycle racing it is a city centre evening criterium, and Newport is the place where it all started in this country.
On Saturday Newport will host the next nocturne, and several of the High St businesses have incorporated a cycling theme in their displays, including this café where I had a pot of tea….poor girl, she is in the process of falling off her bike which is on the other side of the hedge….the fallen ‘star’ of the nocturne…..
The countryside is settling into the post-harvest stupor where the only activity seems to be the watering of a late foraging crop….but not sure what. But what I find staggering about the Staffordshire and Shropshire countryside are the miles of lanes that seem only to connect farms, and maybe the odd village, which are virtually traffic-free. Perfect for the likes of us roaming cyclists…..
The proximity of the RAF museum at Cosford made a visit during this 100th year of its existence obligatory….and a fascinating place it is too, especially the huge hangar dedicated to the period of the cold war.
Since I will be giving a talk and presentation later this week on my cycling adventure in Cuba last january, the displays on the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 made poignant reading, and video footage of the events demonstrated just how close we came to all out nuclear conflict.
That aside, the cycling was relatively flat and wind-assisted on the journey home, and I grabbed this photo in case my cycling buddies just happened to fall off their bikes into the ford…..which they had done last year on a tandem. (Sadly) they failed to provide the entertainment….😊
A thousand metres of climbing over 76km is a challenging day in itself, but frustratingly more challenging when I couldn’t change down to my lowest gear at any point of the day, no matter how much fiddling and fettling…..so I ground my way up the hills fighting to maintain momentum, only being defeated by one especially brutal climb, limping into a cycle shop when the day was nearly over…..to be told the cable was completely ‘shot’. “Should I put a new one in for you?” he said. Is the pope a Catholic, I muttered to myself….so, within minutes it was re-cabled and the gears ‘retuned’…..and I left a happy bunny.
The ride took in the 13th century Croxden Abbey, whizzed through Alton (of the famous towers) and headed back through Oakamoor…..a lumpy bumpy route…..but it was exciting.
The countryside of Staffordshire is a well-guarded secret…..like it’s oatcakes, it’s appreciated by the conosseurs….and, of course, by cyclists like ourselves.
I shared the ride with 7 other fellow roadies from the bunch of 300 attending the Birthday Rides at Stone in Staffordshire…..but met up with others both on the road and at the café….a great social experience.