Category Archives: Cycling UK
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…….
Ah, the magic is still there (well, just)……
I’d like to brag that I danced up this 14%er like a hormonal teenager……but the reality is, it was more like a slow foxtrot…
But I have a plan. Still riding a traditional compact double, my plan is to replace my drivetrain (which is now showing signs of terminal wear) and scale down the ratios….
Not, as some are wont, by putting on a rear cassette with ‘dinner-plate’ size sprockets (they are for the off-roaders pushing a 1x set-up), but by reducing the size of the front chainwheels. Most road bikes are over-geared these days. The biggest gears can’t be engaged unless you are doing over 30-40mph….nice to have as a ‘just-in-case’, but very seldom used and, therefore, entirely dispensable.
However, getting a non-traditional compact double, outside the normal 50/34 set-up, is not easy, but I have found a supplier in Harrogate…..
…so ‘rock on’ you hills of 14…15…16…17% and up…..some of us will not be beaten!
It is trite to say that wherever you travel in the UK, you are ‘travelling through history’…… because that is true everywhere in the world. However, around these parts, it is staggeringly easy to venture through a tiny village that spills over with significant historical events.
I have waxed lyrical before about the village of Fotheringhay, but it still prompts me to stop awhile to appreciate a little of its past. Despite its diminutive size (119 inhabitants in the 2011 census) it is famous for being the birthplace of our notorious King Richard III in 1452, perhaps the most vilified of all our kings, and whose skeleton has recently been discovered beneath a car park in Leicester
and it was in the same village that the famous would-be usurper of Queen Elizabeth I’s throne, Mary Queen of Scots, met the executioner’s axe in 1587 in Fotheringhay Castle. Sadly, the castle no longer exists, so today we gaze on the mound and re-imagine the scene of her execution.
It’s hard to imagine that this tiny community was once second in importance only to London in the 15th century……now it is a sleepy backwater deep in the Northamptonshire countryside.
Over coffee and cake one day, I asked a buddy of the road how life was treating him, and he simply answered: ‘Oh, been eatin’ a lot of cake recently’…..
Meaning of course that he had been putting in a lot of miles because, as every roadie knows, miles=cakes… Well, I have to confess to the same guilty pleasure myself recently, not just because of the miles (which have been higher than usual) but also to the fact that I’ve been meeting up with groups of cronies almost every day…..which inevitably means spending half an hour collectively emptying the display counters of some distant cafés.
The last ten days have seen me cover over 500km sampling the offerings as far away as Landbeach (Ely), Earls Barton (Northamptonshire) Oakington (Cambridge) Gamlingay and Geddington. I seem to have ventured along most of the roads within a 30 mile radius….meaning, of course, I should know them ‘like the back of my hand’.
But as I came away from Cambridge today, I sought out a hidden burial ground to find the grave of a man who had figured prominently in my research for my MA thesis back in the 1970s….
and I’d like to say he was a hero of mine amongst the analytical philosophers of the 20th century, but I wish I’d understood even just 10% of his Tractatus. I’m so glad that most of his writings remained unpublished at the time….it saved me a great deal of hassle.
If you don’t know the history of the Eleanor Crosses, now is the time to Google it. This one is the best preserved, and dates from the time of Eleanor of Castile’s death in 1290, built to commemorate an overnight stop when her body was being carried from the north to Westminster in London for a state burial.
Unlike most impressive stone monuments, this does not celebrate politics, war or religion…..just the faithful love King Edward 1 had for his Spanish wife….unlike the regard a certain successor of his had for his Spanish wife.
Geddington, the village where it is situated, is a fascinating medieval community. Amongst its many annual events, it has something on Boxing Day called The Squirt. Check it out…
A Firefighter’s equivalent of a ‘tug o’ war’?
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…)
I was once asked why I liked riding bikes so much, and I’m sure they were expecting the obvious: ‘countryside, freedom, exercise ….’. But my reply was even more obvious: ‘because I like cake’!….😃.QED
After the rains, the rivers rise, the countryside turns an intense shade of green, and the crops burst into sudden growth. Muntjac diced with death crossing roads, skylarks sang in disjointed harmony, and the last of the flowering beans still wafted their heady scents.
This is a magical time to be travelling the lanes….
A favourite route of mine is to take in four counties in one ride, and I can do this because I live on the borders of three (Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire) and am within striking distance of the fourth, Buckinghamshire. To boot, it passes some fascinating places, such as Santa Pod
Castle Ashby, formerly the family seat of the Marquess of Northamptonshire
on through Olney in Buckinghamshire, once home of John Newton, author of the universally sung hymn ‘Amazing Grace’, and famed for its annual pancake races
and finally through Turvey, now home of the Benedictine Turvey Abbey.
and herewith the 52 mile (83km) route, almost entirely on quiet country roads…
350 people have just dispersed from an event which has been truly remarkable.
At Waddow Hall, Clitheroe, we have just been celebrating all things special about long distance cycle touring, with over 60 presentations, workshops, demonstrations and meet-ups, all organised by some very, very special people, Laura and Tim Moss
with an army of helpers from family members, who have all been supporting this event as unpaid volunteers for five years.
Laura and Tim were inspired by their round-the-world cycle trip 6 years ago to establish this event in the stunning setting of Waddow Hall
and it has gone from strength to strength, drawing in people from all over the country (and abroad) who share one uncomplicated passion….to ride their bikes near and far, in this country and in some of the remotest corners of the planet…….
And the age range was from 9 months to 81 years, children pedalling their bikes everywhere in the grounds, camping and sharing simple food….and the odd glass in the evening.
The above image is my favourite of the weekend…..children just revelling in the freedom of bike……
And don’t let anyone convince you otherwise….’it is all about the bike’!
My journey today to meet up with the bunch at a remote tearoom took me into deepest, darkest fen country…..the absolute bane of a cyclist’s road life if the wind is against ….and let’s face it, it nearly always is….isn’t it?
As I approached the tearoom near Farcet, having followed an arrow-straight drain for about 10 miles, I was amusingly informed by a sign that the road was called Straight Drove….. ha! good to know someone on the local council has a sense of humour….
But…..and I emphasise ‘but’….for the 25 miles out there, I had a tailwind, which on the flat of the fens means you eat the miles in great mouthfuls….. But guess what? There was a 25 mile trek to get home again….so, without putting too fine a point on it, I was in despair.
But I have to admit, it was a freely chosen, and self inflicted despair….so I expect no sympathy.
Compared to the urban ‘city slicker’ cyclist, I’m a bit of a fossilised rustic from the country who still dresses up in shiny spandex to ride a machine that’s still got brakes and gears. How retro is that? Not to mention cleats and clip-in pedals….and a helmet designed specially for the cyclist.
In London last weekend, I was constantly distracted by cool-looking urban mounts like this one:
plain, unadorned, no frills or gears, no brakes (probably illegal)….I guess this one is a fixie (fixed wheel) which means the rider back pedals to slow down…..but still insufficient to be safe. Handlebars are super narrow so the rider can squeeze through tight gaps.
Riders of these bikes are incredibly agile, fleet of wheel, and they seldom dismount at lights and junctions….they are masters of the prolonged trackstand,
so they can race ahead of the traffic from the off. These bikes are a favourite amongst couriers and delivery people, and they have so few moving parts, they can be ultra light and will be very easy to maintain. I like them…..in fact, I want to live in a city so I can justify having one…..(no, just kidding).
But then the other phenomenon that goes with this school of cycling is the urban cycling boutique….what you and I know as a ‘bike shop’. Except that these are presented like designer clothes shops. You walk inside and there is no sign of grease and oil, nor of tools for fixing bikes, nor of displays of cycling accessories. The sales staff have clean hands and even smell of aftershave….you can’t imagine ever going in to ask about a mechanical issue, or even purchase a spare tube.
It’s a world of fashion and style, but it’s understated for greater effect.
Jenny has taken on the locally inspired challenge of the ‘100 miles in May’ walk to help celebrate the 100th birthday of Save the Children, and because of the celebration of her (and her twin brother’s) significant birthday last weekend, she lost nearly 4 days of her schedule, so she has been playing catch-up in the last few days.
So her ‘coach’ steps into the breech, and he decides she needs a pacer…..so now, once again, I am confronted with the differential that seems to be constant in the world of travel. What on earth am I talking about?
Several years ago, after cycling from home to Istanbul, on the flight home it occurred to me that the distance the jet plane would have taken to fly the 4 hours out to Istanbul, took me 4 weeks on the bike, and would have taken about 4 days in a car. Which meant that, in the time it took a passenger on the plane to be served drinks and a meal (about an hour), it would take me about a week to travel that distance on the bike.
So what of the world of walking…. a cyclist will (very roughly) travel at four times the speed of a walker, and cover four times the distance. So what it takes an averagely fit cyclist to cycle in a day, may take 4 days for a walker.
So, how does all this sit with Einstein’s theory of relativity? Does this mean the cyclist ages marginally slower than the walker, and the jet passenger ages the slowest of all? If so, how does that affect the longevity of pilots and cabin crew?
While you are pondering the conundrum, here are the stats for today’s 5 mile walk….
Tiny English villages will throw up interesting bits of history, and connections with prominent people of the past. Easton Maudit in Northamptonshire can’t boast a past president of the USA or a Hollywood A-celeb, but this hamlet of some 90 inhabitants had Derek Nimmo as one of its residents.
Prominent in the 60s and 70s as an upper class nitwit, and sometimes a naive clergyman, he starred in several sitcoms and films, but I understand he may not have been very popular with some of his neighbours in the village.
Ah well, his epitaph reminds us he was an ‘actor, wit and life enhancer’, but it may only have been evident when he was playing the thespian on stage.
A tandem rider is stopped by a police car. “What’ve I done, officer?” asks the rider.”Perhaps you didn’t notice sir, but your wife fell off your bike half a mile back . . .””Oh, thank God for that,” says the rider – “I thought I’d gone deaf!”
So, what happens when 120 tandem riders gather together for a weekend of tandeming? (In this case, in the Wye Valley). It probably means that cafes are cleared of their cakes, and pubs have to connect new barrels in the cellar…..tandemists are seldom teetotal.
Oh, yes of course, and a few miles are cycled, and several unforgiving hills are climbed….and if you want unforgiving hills, go to the Wye Valley….you’ll be spoilt for choice. They are so steep sometimes that even descending can be a hazard on just V-brakes….when rims heat up, the scene is set for a blow-out….but it didn’t happen this time…
And we had to pay a visit to an old haunt….St Briavels Castle, a former hunting lodge of the infamous King John (now a Youth Hostel)….the last time I stayed there, I slept in the hanging room…..but relieved to learn it was only used for hanging the game…😊
As I was heading out to Gamlingay this morning, to meet up with the ‘Slugs’ to ‘chew the fat’ over enormous cappuccinos and plates of scrambled eggs, I met with one of those conundrums that frequently blights the, otherwise, joyous life of the cyclist….the false flat. Yes, I do mean the ‘false flat’….
What the eyes see ahead does not always match the painful drag of having to turn those pedals under pressure, sometimes for several miles. Your eyes tell you the road ahead is flat…..but your legs know the truth. You switch down a gear or two, and you grind your way along. It can be very frustrating…..
Even more frustrating when you are in the high mountains, of the Alps or Pyrenees, and your eyes tell you that you are going downhill, but you’re not, in fact you’re having to pedal hard. This is a serious ‘disconnect’ for the brain to cope with….and if you don’t end up blaspheming to the four corners of the earth, you’ll be in line for canonisation by the Pope himself….
Steady on, my friend….a Durham man (such as me) might take offence… But, without doubt, when it comes to wind,
no one would quibble, especially when your outward leg of the day is going west to the café at Manvell Fishery in Walgrave,
leaving you to face 25 miles of dispiriting head wind on the way home…..
There’s no justice in the world….well, in the world of cycling, at least.
Poetry it is not, but a greasy-spoon cafe does its little bit to lift the spirits
…. then open the heart
….and then tempt you to indulge your fancies in a bid to live a ‘full and purposeful’ life…
…all in the tiny space of a WC…
Ah, time to totally use up and wear out the body….!
You know you’re alive when, against a 20mph wind, you’re having to constantly work your lowest gears to even achieve an average of 10mph….
…..then, when the wind is behind you, you cruise at 40mph thinking it’s all down to you…..
After chewing the fat with a crowd of cycling buddies over coffee and cakes at Elton Hall Garden Centre, I headed home via the ancient village of Fotheringhay, with its legendary connections with Richard III and the execution of Mary Queen of Scots.
As I crossed the ancient packhorse bridge, I passed this group casting lines with metal discs into the water. And yes, I had to ask what they were up to…..and discovered they were ‘pescatorial detectorists’ doing what is commonly called ‘magnet fishing’. And no, that doesn’t mean fishing for magnets, but using strong magnets to fish for metal objects, preferably of a historic and valuable kind.
The only catch of the morning had been a rusty old horseshoe….but they continued casting their magnets with enthusiasm.