I’ve been taking it easy this week, after last Sunday’s long ride and also because I’m busy with real world stuff, basically sorting out where I’m going to be living for the next few years. Anyway, I did pop into town on the 3-speed yesterday to drop off the one cash donation I got for my charity bike ride. A Boy Scout does a good deed every day, and all that. So I come floating out of the Katharine House charity shop feeling fully engorged with pride, only to find I’d got my first puncture of the year. The rear, it had to be the rear!
Yesterday was the Katharine House Hospice cycling challenge, which they do every year to raise money for the Hospice, which is a stone’s throw from where I live. This year I got kinda talked into it by my fiancée and some of her many uncles and aunts, as they do it every year. There’s four routes, two of 8 & 20 miles mainly on cycle paths, and two of 45 and 65 miles on roads. 45 miles was the bowl of porridge that was just right for me, longer than I’ve ridden before (previous PB was a little over 30 miles) and I didn’t feel the 65 mile one was a reliable possibility. It cost £7.50 to enter which covers their costs, and you’re encouraged to raise a bit of money for the Hospice on top. I got £50 in, which seemed a bit inadequate but I suppose it all helps. (Anyone who wants to donate a bit more can do so here)
With my week off over Easter I’d done a lot of miles on the bike, so I was fairly confident of having the legs for it. None of those rides were over 25 miles, so there was still the possibility of some unknown creeping in. The only thing I did to the bike was to oil the chain and check the tyre pressures the night before, I’ve settled on the 40-52 chainring set-up as my front derailleur doesn’t seem to cope as well with the 53, it takes ages to find a tooth changing up whereas with the 52 it just slots right in. Mine wasn’t the only old lugged steel bike on show but as you might expect more modern bikes proliferated. Most were using clip-in pedals, and there were a few who probably would have been better off with simple flats – I saw at least two fall off and a significant number struggling to clip in at times.
Here you go, you finally get to see what I look like! I’d bought some new bib shorts the day before, and I did a short 10 mile ride to check I got on with them. They’re a little better made than my other pair, and seemed to do the job OK. I was a little concerned that my kit wasn’t going to be warm enough, as the forecast was for fairly consistent 20mph winds, but in the event I was fine. I had a rain jacket in the back pocket just in case, but there wasn’t any rain. When I did the 25 mile sportive last July I wore everyday clothes (I was on the three-speed of course) so at least this time I didn’t stick out like a sore thumb. It’s curious how there’s a critical mass of cyclists beyond which Lycra ceases to feel quite so embarrassing. Sadly this photo reveals to me that the reality doesn’t quite match what I imagine I look like in the full regalia!
I made sure to have some pasta the night before, and some granola in the morning. I also had Kendal Mint Cake in my back pocket, which is essentially a solid block of minty sugar. I had a couple of blocks before I set off, and more as I stopped along the way. It’s a good little old-school energy bar, and does the trick for me – it might be a bit of a placebo effect, but I definitely get a boost. As well as the bottle in the cage I had a second bottle in my back pocket, as I didn’t really know what to expect, didn’t know whether or where I’d be able to refill, and didn’t want to risk running out and getting dehydrated. As it turned out I still had a drop left when I got back.
I reinforced the corners of my number with cellotape and pinned it very neatly to the back of my shirt:
This was taken after the ride, so it held in place pretty well! On the reverse of the number I had to write down next of kin contacts, known health problems etc, which was a bit grim but obviously necessary. It was nice having a ‘race’ number, sort of made me feel part of something. As I got round the course I also took a selfish delight in seeing numbers that weren’t fixed on as neatly and robustly as mine…
The ride started by heading down Weston Road, on to Beaconside and the back into town on the Sandon Road. I’m familiar with these roads, though there were stretches of the roads through town I would have avoided given the choice. It’s different riding on you own though, there were lots of cyclists on the roads and drivers tend to be a bit more on the ball than when it’s just me. Through town there was a couple of nasty roundabouts to deal with, the main challenge being to keep tabs on traffic while simultaneously watching out for poor surfaces – particularly where two sections of tarmac meet. Then it was out through Doxey, and on to the lanes. (this is last year’s event, just after departing)
The lanes to the west of Stafford are quite a useful discovery for me, there’s millions of them and one could devise a route to incorporate all manner of distances and difficulties, the only limitation being that there aren’t any genuinely mountainous areas. I’m on the east side of town, and here the lanes are much more limited, which is rather curious how two parts of essentially the same area could be so different. It’s safe to say future training will probably incorporate a lot more riding on the far side of town. I notice they’ve improved the rail-to-trail route out to Derrington, so that gives a good shortcut to the main business, without all the traffic lights and roundabouts.
I was familiar with the first part of the lanes, and I’ve found on my two sportives that it does help to be familiar with the beginning for building confidence and not going off too quickly, and the end so you are in a familiar place and don’t need to think too much when you’re at your most tired. We turned right towards Ranton, and from here I was relying entirely on the signs marking out the route. At Ranton the Village Hall had been opened up for us to use the loo, replenish bottles, have a sit down and they also had some cakes for sale. A couple of miles before Ranton someone had dropped their map, so I picked it up and gave it back to them at the stop. I resisted the cake but did use the loo, as I wasn’t sure where the next one would be available. I drank half a bottle and set off again.
Up until this point I’d been making pretty good time, as the wind was mostly behind us. Now we started to face into the wind a little, and I was conscious of needing to save a little for the final 10 miles which would be straight into the wind. There’d been a story on the front page of the local papers about a series of potholes that had injured a string of cyclists, so my eyes were a bit on storks when I reached that section. They were very bad on one particular corner, but I managed to see them coming and navigate around them. I did hit one pothole quite hard with the front tyre and immediately resigned myself to fixing a pinch flat, but was relived to find myself a couple of miles further down the road with the tyre still full.
Around this point a cyclist rode up alongside me and started chatting. “I seem to have stumbled into a sportive” he said. I explained to him what we were all riding for, and also about my ride in June that I was preparing for. He said the Peak Districk did indeed have some pretty challenging climbs. He also said it was his first ride of the year, which I didn’t quite believe as he seemed very fit and fresh, but I suppose he might have a trainer at home. Anyway, he gave me a cheery “good luck” as our paths diverged, possibly quite relieved I couldn’t bore the pants off him any further, or maybe he knew what was ahead of me…
As usually happens after about 25 miles, I started to notice a bit of discomfort in my feet. I’ve noticed I tend to not place too much weight on the saddle when I’m riding the racing bike, I’m usually pressing on the pedals so much my bottom sort of ‘hovers’ just in contact with the saddle. This is very comfortable for my behind, but not so much for my feet. This brings me on to shoes:
These are the shoes I wear on the bike, and they’re really not ideal. They’re pretty standard trainers, not particularly firm, but they fit ok and from a distance look a lot like old-school cycling shoes. I looked into getting some proper Vittoria cycling shoes, but the bike shop don’t stock them, they could get a pair in but couldn’t accept a return if they don’t fit, and given how unpredictable Italian sizes can be it’s just as much of a lottery if I seek them out online myself. I like these Onitsuka Tiger trainers a lot, so my ideal would be these exact shoes but with a firmed up sole. I can’t really afford any proper cycling shoes at the moment, so these will have to do for now. However, the flex in the sole does mean a degree of foot discomfort, which gets worse when strapped in because they’re fixed in a single place. This is partly why I rode without the straps yesterday.
Back to the ride, I started to consciously take the weight off my feet. Every now and then I’d lift each foot off the pedals in turn to get the circulation back, it’s not ideal but it is manageable. A few miles more and the road ticked up a little. Then I was confronted with, quite simply, the steepest, longest hill I’ve ever seen from a bicycle, which having looked to route over a few times took me completely by surprise. Immediately I bailed into the smaller chainring, then down a gear, then down again to my very lowest gear. I could just about keep going but it was very tough. I saw a few who’d stopped on a little false flat half way up, and someone else walking their bike up, and to be honest I don’t blame them. Anyway, I made it, dammit! I was quite pleased with myself, but it was definitely about time for a little break. Shortly after we reached Norbury Junction, and there was a canalside place with seating and ice cream where a few cyclists were resting. This was at about mile 29, so I pulled over.
I had a nice 20 minute break, popped to the loo, had a cigarette and a few more blocks of Mint Cake, and finished off my first bottle. I was slightly nervous that I might encounter an even worse hill later on, but thankfully I didn’t. As I got past 32 miles I was into uncharted territory, and I had to change modes on my computer as the mileage was distracting me. My bottom did start to ache a little, probably just from not having ridden for so long before, and it wasn’t too bad really. The wind was increasingly in my face, and my legs were feeling the miles, but I kept going at a slightly diminished speed and just ground out the miles until I got through Church Eaton and back onto familiar roads. I stopped, very briefly, at Red Lion Farm for some more Mint Cake and a bit of a drink, then I set off on the final stretch.
I knew all along this last stretch was going to involve a 20mph headwind, but that didn’t make it any easier! At this point I knew I had enough in the tank but I was still nursing myself to the finish a little, dropping down a gear or two when the wind was really fierce. I got to Doxey and started to encounter more traffic again. On the lanes there’d been a few cars, and a few trains of cars, but only sporadically. For much of the ride we had the lanes utterly to ourselves. I knew there were traffic-free ways of getting back but I wanted to respect the route, which took me on to a couple of busy roundabouts. By now though I had a bit of ‘Road confidence’ built up (I’d been on the roads for nearly three hours by this point) so I was ok, and the traffic fell nicely thankfully. As I got onto the Sandon Road again I caught up with a couple of reasonably experienced looking riders, obviously riding as a pair, so I decided to just stick with them to the end. I was surprised when they opted for the path rather than the road down Beaconside but followed them anyway. I got back to the Hospice where rather pleasingly a family was camped out to clap everyone in.
There were a lot of cyclists about in various states of disrepair. I turned Strava off, 45.1 miles at an average of 14.4mph, over 1,000ft of elevation gain. Not bad! I reported myself as having returned, and they gave me a little enamel badge as a memento. I sat about for a couple of minutes, then realised there’d be nowhere on the hospital site where I’d be allowed to smoke, so I finished the last of what what’s in my second bottle and headed the half mile home. Then I drank another bottle of electrolyte, did a few stretches, lied down on my bed and watched Bottas take his first win in the Russian Grand Prix. I was quite knackered but not totally finished, and in truth I possibly could have just about managed the 65 mile route, but that would have finished me off.
Here’s my badge (actually about 2cm wide!), a nice little tangible reminder that me and my bike can do some impressive things. More importantly, it means a few precious hours of care for someone who really needs it. I think I’ll be doing it again next year.
So here’s a few learning points to take forward:
- Remember to actually ENJOY the ride. As nice as it was to find myself in a complete bubble at times where it was just me, the bike and the road, I don’t think I spent enough time soaking up the countryside. It’s beautiful out there, but most of it passed me by.
- Knowing the first and last sections of the ride helps me a lot. If possible I should probably try to ride these parts of the Eroica course on the day before.
- My night before and morning preparation, and my immediate recovery, was pretty good I think, it worked. I need to do the same again in future.
- I can get up some pretty nasty hills. Just take my time, trust that I’ll get there and be a really stubborn bastard (HTFU).
- Mint Cake and electrolytes. Take plenty.
- For the love of God, remember to take some damn photos next time!!!
So I set myself a mini challenge: 20 miles a day, every day for a week. I had a feeling I wouldn’t be able to manage it, and at times maybe I should have taken it easy, but it’s Sunday now and I’ve done it. Given that up until now the most I’ve ridden in a week was 77 miles, and I’ve now more than doubled that, I’m pretty chuffed.
Why did I do this? I suppose because it was there. I had a week at home, it was achievable, and all I had to do was get on my bike and put the miles in. I’ve been a little unnerved by the fast approaching reality of a 55 mile ride in the Peak District, especially when a relative of my fiancée spoke of ‘such-and-such pass’ being particularly tough. I’ve heard that as a rule of thumb if you intend to do X miles in a single run you need to be able to do that mileage regularly per week, so I’ve ticked that box, handsomely. I learned from cricket that the most important preparation is not just the technical side but also the banking of large reserves of confidence, and I feel I’ve done that.
I’m pretty impressed with myself, I really didn’t know I had it in me. Obviously the first couple of days weren’t too bad, as I was pretty fresh. As the week’s gone on, I can’t pretend I haven’t felt it a bit, but on Friday night I went out knowing I was 10 miles short on the day, feeling pretty tired, but I still managed to get the miles in and I still found myself pushing myself up hills at quite a clip – my heavy old three-speed, doing 20mph uphill, even after 130 miles of cycling! There was a bit of a tailwind, I admit, but previously I would have reckoned 16mph to be rather strenuous up there.
Then yesterday I rode out to Church Eaton, which is about a 19 mile round trip. Stafford Cricket Club is my local team, but over the winter a lot of my team-mates have jumped ship for one reason or another and gone to Church Eaton, so I thought I’d pop in and say hello. It was a pretty warm afternoon but I felt pretty good, I made good time on the way out, and it was just a perfect day and a lovely route. There were a few cars but they were all pretty considerate, and I’m gaining a lot of road confidence now. I stayed to watch a few overs, but I’d missed by all accounts a rather comical diamond duck* for the new captain, who was good enough to let me use their toilet before heading back.
Just shy of 160 miles in a week, and over 125 miles on my road bike without any problems. I did pick a small sharp flake of stone out of the back tire today that probably wasn’t far from penetrating through, so that’s a bullet dodged… other than that everything’s working just fine, and I’m now very at home on the bike.
There’s one elephant in the room though – my left knee. It’s been barking a bit the last few days, although curiously it seems to settle down when I’m actually riding. It’s not to do with fit, as I’ve had my saddle higher, lower, forward and back and have settled on what feels right, and while it tends to happen more on the folding bike (where the saddle won’t physically go quite high enough) there’s no difference I can detect between my two other bikes. It’s also not hurting where I would expect poor fit to normally manifest itself. It’s towards the inside, not quite at the back of the knee and in my upper leg. I have a suspicion, just a suspicion, that it’s to do with very short-lived overstressing when starting off in too high a gear, which is then exacerbating longstanding issues that arise from historic cricket injuries** and driving a manual car. Like I say, once I’m a mile or two into a ride it vanishes, then comes back after I’ve finished.
Anyway, I’m back at work tomorrow so the knee will have a few days to rest up. I’ve entered myself in a ride next Sunday in aid of a local charity, a hospice called Katharine House that cares for the terminally ill. If you’re feeling generous (and it’s a brilliant little charity) the Just Giving page is here. The ride itself is 45 miles, so about 50% further than my longest ride to date, but also a good little tester before the 55 miles of Eroica. I’ve mainly been talked into it by my fiancée, who wants a little reassurance that 55 miles isn’t too much for me. The route is mostly out to the west of town, fairly flat apart from the odd short climb here and there. Wish me luck!
*diamond ducks are quite rare in cricket. A duck is getting out without scoring a run. A golden duck is out first ball. A diamond duck is getting out without even facing a ball, usually because your partner has run you out. **cricket’s a very one-sided game, and if you bat and bowl right-handed (like me) you can put a fair bit of stress on your left knee. As a spin bowler there’s also a rotational aspect that makes this worse.
Since it’s Easter, and my birthday was on Tuesday, I’ve taken the week off. Obviously, it’s the perfect opportunity to do all that wedding planning that I’ve not had time for until now (invites are on their way, rings were sorted today) but it’s also a time to get some serious riding done. So I’ve set myself a little challenge: 20 miles a day, every day for a week.
Sunday was day one. I went out at about 10am so I wouldn’t miss the Grand Prix in the afternoon, and headed out down my old favourite lane, turning right towards the village of Salt. I was feeling pretty fresh, and I carried on through until I got to Weston Bank, just opposite Weston Hall restaurant. I turned round and stopped in Salt for a drink and a breather. I stopped here last week and met a nice old cyclist who seemed very interested in my bike, but I think he’s a fairly recent convert since he didn’t seem to know much about old bikes. I came back well in time for the race, having seen more cats than cars on the lanes. I timed it well as I knew there was a shower on the way, and it arrived just as I was half a mile from home.
Later on I rode my folding bike over to my fiancée’s with my track pump on the back so that I could pump up the tyres on her bike and ride that one back, while she brought my folder back in her car. On the way my folder turned into a two-speed, as I couldn’t engage the middle gear. I’ve opened up the hub since and nothing’s broken, so I don’t know what happened there. Riding her bike back I was trying to find things that might need fixing, but it was just absolutely bulletproof! The chain probably needs changing but apart from that I always say it’s the best bike in terms of condition out of all the ones I’ve bought. The one thing I have changed is I’ve pinched the rear rack for my own 3-speed, as I do actually have a need for it.
On Monday my fiancée and I FINALLY went for a bike ride, in my neck of the woods this time as I think it’s easier to go for a ride when you don’t live at the top of a hill. I offered her some gloves as we set off as it was a bit fresh, but she refused. Less than half a mile later she was very glad I’d brought them with me as her hands were freezing! We went down to the bottom of Tixall Road, across Two Waters Way and then along the canal, before heading towards the shopping centre on Lichfield Road for tea at Costa. My fiancée is always more suggestible when there’s tea…
She’s still a very slow, timid rider, which is a bit of a nightmare when I have to keep looking over my shoulder to keep an eye on her. I was regularly having to slow down to let her catch up, and when I say slow, I mean so slow my computer was struggling to display a speed! It’s not a problem I ever had, I was always going above 10mph on the flat, but it has the advantage that she can cover quite a large distance for a beginner. It’s got to be said, she does look very lovely riding that old bicycle. Sadly she’s not getting on well with the saddle, it doesn’t seem to fit her right, so I’ll need to sort that out if we’re going to do this more regularly. I’ll try her on my Brooks B66 and if that goes down well I’ll find a ladies version for her.
Later on I went out through Doxey on a road I’ve been meaning to ride for some time. I’d just got out of Stafford when I was engulfed by a peloton of riders from Stafford Road Club, which is the local cycling club. They all said a cheery hello as they passed me, and I figured I’d follow them for a bit as I didn’t know the road and would be a bit safer with regards to oncoming cars. It was a fairly gentle ride they were on so I was able to keep up with them, while keeping a polite distance back. I managed to maintain a pretty consistent 17mph for several miles behind them and felt I could have kept that up indefinitely, which might in part be down to slipstreaming, but also because my cruising speed has been increasing of late.
Eventually I peeled off for a drink and they pressed on down the lanes, leaving me by the side of the road apparently in the middle of nowhere. Joining a club had crossed my mind but I thought about it a bit more having learned I could keep up. One thing I was curious about was that while I was riding behind them I was very conscious that I kept freewheeling, but they never did – or never seemed to. I know modern freehubs are much quieter (mine makes quite a racket!) but they did seem to be pedalling consistently. Is this a standard technique thing? Or is it to do with a naturally different way of riding different types of bike? I rode back home without much fuss, having done about 16 miles there and back. The weather was just how I like it, slightly overcast but dry, with just a slight breeze.
Tuesday was my birthday, and I popped into town for a coffee, nosed around a couple of shops and came home, then later I rode out to Aston Marina again. I was still feeling pretty fresh considering this was Day 3, and I’d arranged to go out for pizza later so I had that thought urging me on. I stopped at the Marina and noticed something I’d not seen before, a little box for people to leave and borrow books from. Maybe when I next pop down I’ll leave a book in there, it’s a nice little community-spirited thing. I absolutely demolished the pizza when I got back…
Yesterday I first of all cycled round to my fiancée’s to meet the woman who was selling us our wedding rings. That’s now a 20 minute ride but still gets me every time. I’m not good at taking it easy on a bicycle, I’m always going as quick as I reasonably can! After we’d looked through all her samples and picked our rings (and handed over a serious chunk of money…) we decided to go to a cafe to ‘celebrate’. I rode through the Rowley Road estate, which is a private road though still passable by bicycle. I got a bit lost and ended up at Rowley Hall hospital, which I hadn’t seen since I was 7 and having my tonsils out. It looked much the same. I remember all I was allowed to eat was vanilla ice cream, and I still have a slight aversion to it. After that I found the right road, went up Rowley Bank and along the path by the railway line to the same Costa we went to on Monday.
Later on I rode out through Doxey again, down the same road I’d seen the cycle club, but turned off to Derrington. I cycled past my Grandad’s old house, and then stopped for a drink by the church where his funeral was held. It’s a nice little church, I haven’t seen it in 18 years.
Today I tidied up my car, which was long overdue. Several months of commuting had left it full of junk. I packed my folding bike into the back, dropped it off for a service and rode back. Later on I’ll be back in town catching up with an old friend and taking him to see former England cricketer (and professional Yorkshireman) Geoffrey Boycott at the theatre. So I’m just off to fit in another few miles before that. This ride will take me over 100 miles for the week, and it’s only Thursday!
Eroica’s approaching fast now, just two months away. Everything I do on Major Tom at the moment is done with that ride firmly in mind, and today I replaced the bar tape. I had some foam tape on that felt nice and cushy but I didn’t make the best job of putting it on and it just didn’t look right. When I got the bike originally it had some rather faded cloth tape fitted, which I imagine must have been original. So I’ve swapped back to that.
With the rather limited facilities at my disposal this is the sort of job that can become rather fiddly, and my previous bar wraps have been hit-and-miss affairs. This time I decided to try it with the bars removed from the bike, and it was a much easier task. Having stripped the tape off the bars I lined the brake levers up, marked the position of the bracket with a whiteboard marker, took the levers fully off the bars and fastened the brackets in place. Then wrap, and put the levers back on:
Obviously, the next step is to put it back on the bike, and reinstall the brake cables.
You’ll note the bar ends aren’t anything fancy, just bits of cork. They actually started out as Brooks branded bar ends but the wooden outer bits fell off and they still worked fine, so I just left them on. Cork is nice and light – weight weenies take note! I’ve got a champagne cork with a nice logo at the bottom which would work if I chopped the top off, I just need to drink a second bottle of champagne so I’ve got a matching pair…
The feel of the bars is quite different now the cork tape’s gone. They’re much slimmer and with less padding, but the grip’s perfectly good so you don’t actually grip the bars as tightly and in terms of shock absorption I haven’t discerned any noticeable difference in hand comfort. Even if I had, I’d still have had to put up with it for the look!
A brief one today. My new chainrings arrived, and thank heavens, they were the right BCD for the crank. Curiously when I got them out I was somewhat dismayed that they appeared to be aluminium, and therefore more prone to wear. I got my magnet out and yes, they are aluminium… but so are the original chainrings! I’d assumed those were steel as there’s very little sign of wear on them. Perhaps this means my bike hasn’t actually gone that far prior to my ownership? Or perhaps they’re hardier than I give them credit for. There’s a slight weight saving over the originals but I think that’s just the lack of a chainguard.
I whacked them on the bike as soon as possible, and I had a little ride of only just over a mile to test them out, joining my fiancée and her maid of honour for dinner at Pizza Hut. The bike looks a little alien with the new rings, also lacking the chainguard that the old rings had fixed to them. I was expecting a bit of a jump in gearing starting out on the 53, but by the time I got there I’d practically forgotten about it. I was early so I rode around the housing estate nearby, it shifted fine from big to small (40) and I prefer the size of the jump now, that should work nicely when I suddenly encounter a steep hill.
Changing back to the big ring I wondered wether it would take, but it picked the chain up ok and I was just about to congratulate myself on a decent change when the chain came completely off the ring! Thankfully I’d taken the precaution of not testing it in a situation where it was likely to cause a problem, and I stopped to refit the chain and resolved to adjust the limit screws when I got home. I think the chainguard has been spoiling me a bit. If all else fails I can put the 52 back on, as while so far I like the feel of the 53 I’m more interested in the climbing abilities of the 40. It just depends how reliably I can get the front derailleur to work.
I was reminded of the opening song of the film Easy Rider today, as yet again I left the bike shop with a bag full of stuff and a slightly lighter wallet. The song’s called ‘the Pusher’. My own particular pusher is the guy in the bike shop, and it’s becoming a bit of a problem. Here’s my latest “score”:
So we’ve got a set of ‘new old stock’ Weinmann brake pads for future use, some cable ends, a sprocket to lower the gearing on my fiancée’s three-speed, and bottom left are four of those little wedges to help you shove the tyre between the brake blocks when changing wheels. Nowadays they tend to be integrated into the pads themselves. Here they are on Major Tom’s rear brakes:
Obviously they’re designed principly to save vital time when you’re in the latter stages of a race such as Paris-Roubaix and get a puncture, and as such they are officially very pro. I’ve been looking for them online for quite a while without much success, but Henry Burton’s just had them hanging around and threw them in for free! (The rest cost £20) A happy side benefit is they also make it much easier to adjust the brake cable as you can more easily pinch the brakes tight.
What did I go in for? Old school cloth bar tape, which they didn’t have! God damn the pusher…