Category Archives: Cycling UK
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…
…..disguise yourself as a cyclist? he said. As I stood there in my lycra, astride my Litespeed Ti, I looked up at him and replied: ‘Oh, I’m not sure about that…..how do I do that?
I had gone out for a Sunday morning spin (yesterday in fact) and had forgotten all about the Tour of Cambridgeshire, a sportive that was being run on closed roads to the north of my village. I came across the first road block, and blagged my way through it. I took a diversionary turn off and came across yet another road block (‘Damn these cyclists’ I muttered under my breath……ah, said a little voice over my shoulder, but you are one!). Yes, but don’t let the truth spoil a good curse…….
I took another diversionary route until I had to come back on myself and, of course, met the first road blockage yet again on my way back…..but this time the thick end of an 8000 rider peloton was just coming through.
‘Am I OK to just drop down this stretch to the other end of the village?’ I asked one of the marshals. ‘Can you disguise yourself as a cyclist?’ he asked. ‘How do I do that?’, I said, playing along with his sense of humour…….
He laughed. ‘Well you look like a sensible sort of guy…..just pretend you are a stupid sportive rider who’s paid £80 entry to come and ride his own bike…. that should do you fine’.
So I hopped into the 8000 strong bunch, pretending to be stupid, for about 1km……saving myself about 50p on the entry fee…..
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.
I celebrated the summer solstice this year by cycling out to a decommissioned church and spending the night in its hallowed emptiness. This was followed by a ride home as the sun’s orb rose above the north eastern horizon at 04.44am.
A few days ago, on the 21st, as the northern hemisphere reached the nadir of its tilt away from the sun, I set out on a symmetrical ride to observe the winter solstice, and found that Santa had solved his transport problem in the event of a snowless Christmas…
…he misses nothing in his forward planning…very impressive. Present deliveries are now assured…
I wish you all a very happy Christmas, and many happy miles in 2019….and thanks for your company.
Waresley Garden Centre cafe, where I met up with one of my mid-week groups, has the best scones in the area, and today they were offering an unusual raspberry and chocolate variety…..but I resisted the clotted cream…..don’t ask me why….I must have been on a mission to appear virtuous.
And the quality of the cafe offerings was matched by the perfect autumnal weather, the countryside bedecked in the orange, gold and crimson of a soon to disappear seasonal feast. Carpe diem…..
Ah, the familiar highways and byways of home, and remembering to ride on the left…..
You see, we Brits know we’ve got it right by driving/riding on the left, but most of the world just doesn’t agree with us. I mean, did you know that riding on the left owes its origin to ‘dexterity’ (right handedness)? Approximately 85% of people are naturally right-handed….so, if you were a knight in medieval times travelling the country, which side of an oncoming knight would you pass? Of course, to their left, so you could defend yourself using your right hand.
So my question to the rest of the world is….how do you defend yourself if you drive/ride on the right? Learn to be ambidextrous?
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…