The latest acquisition

So back to the bike shop today, to get a few measurements so my search for the right bits for the build is a little better informed. It turns out I was half-right about the frame – it is Tange Champion cro-moly, but it’s Champion No.5, a non-butted (I.e. plain gauge) tubing that’s a little heavier. Here’a the proof:

In the background you can see the manky bits where they’ve brazed on the pannier fittings, a bit of sandblasting and it’ll be just fine. Seeing me take an interest in the sticker the guy in the shop had a rummage and found a fresh one:

Now that sticker’s a bit of a white lie, as clearly it belongs on a better frame, and I’m a little undecided whether to use it. Anyway, it was a nice gesture. I have seen No.5 stickers for sale, so I might just replace like for like. Or I could tell an utterly black lie and put a Reynolds sticker on. I couldn’t do that really, it’s starting to develop a Japanese flavour and the Champion tubes are an interesting feature for me.

So the all-important measurements. He said it’ll fit 700-32c tyres “easily” and might take 35s at a push. I think it was originally made for 27 x 1 1/4 wheels, which makes sense given it’s been put together for touring rather than racing. The rear dropouts will accept anything up to 135mm between locknuts (he said it had been stretched out, try doing that with carbon…) so pretty much any gearing system I want is on the menu. There’s plenty of room for fenders, and it was a bit of a job finding long enough brakes – the drop is something like 70mm though it’s more at the front than the rear.

It’s a standard 1″ steerer and a somewhat unusual 26.6mm seatpost, and the bottom bracket is 68mm. I thing given it’s a Tange frame it should be a Tange headset and bottom bracket. There’s a rightness about it. The fork is also clearly marked Tange (who made cycle forks before they made anything else) and it’s marked “5K” whatever that means. I got to take the fork home and it’s polished up pretty nicely:

I used the old “Ali foil is harder than rust but softer than chrome” trick to get a few minor blemishes out. You have to look VERY hard to spot any imperfections now. You can see from the last photo that the dropouts are just that little bit higher end (the rears are the same), which is pretty much what sold me on the frame.

So I’ve got a fork. I’m a long way from having a bicycle!


A trip to the bike shop

Yeah, it’s been a while, etc.

I got married in August and my new wife and I moved from our home town of Stafford to a place about a tenth of the size called Coleshill, just east of Birmingham. I’ve lived in Coleshill for six months, and it’s just not a very bike-able place. For starters, there really isn’t any particular reason to go by bike – it’s small enough that you can just walk everywhere. The supermarket is literally the other side of the street, and of course my wife now lives in the same house as me rather than just over 3 miles away. There is simply no pressing reason why I would need to ride a bike, and even if I did, it’s not the most welcoming place for bikes. On our doorstep is a steep, busy road and the whole town is similar. Uphill, downhill, tight, congested, busy.

Anyway, we’ve decided (ahem) that we really ought not to live quite so far from my wife’s parents…

So we’ve been looking at houses in a place called Codsall, a reasonably large village in south Staffordshire just west of Wolverhampton. To begin with I wasn’t keen, because my work takes place mainly on two sites: one in Coventry and one in Wolverhampton, and I have to get there at about 7:30am. And I’m really not a natural morning person. Coleshill is about 40-45 minutes from either, depending on traffic. Codsall, however, is probably more like 90 minutes from Coventry, and The pessimist in me is pretty sure that just as soon as we agree to buy a house in Codsall I’ll be required in Coventry every day…

However, at the moment I work 90-95% of the time in Wolverhampton, and if that was to continue, then Codsall’s just a 20 minutes bike ride from the plant. In fact the way it works out cycling is quicker than driving, and that’s got me thinking. You can tell I’ve had a lot of shitty work on lately because I’ve been daydreaming a lot. Daydreaming about cycling in to work every morning rather than being stuck in my car listening to people arguing about Brexit on the radio.

Anyway, I thought about the sort of bike I’d need for commuting. Not a fast road bike (too impractical) but neither a heavy three-speed (too slow). That’s my two main bikes out of the picture. I daydreamed about a Pashley Parabike, but that soon passed. I even looked at Mercian’s website, but £1,200 for a frame is too much for me right now. The picture of my ideal commuter bike slowly crystallised in my head, with narrowish tyres, reasonably light weight, mudguards, hub gears, lights, carrying capacity, and a comfortable riding position.

So yesterday, rather impulsively, I popped into Henry Burton’s. I explained I was thinking of a bike build, and wondered if one of the many old frames they have in storage upstairs might fit the bill. I’ve seen upstairs, and there’s maybe a hundred old frames there. We narrowed it down to a couple that might be suitable, and in the end I parted with £150.

So, what have I got? I’d love to show you, but it needs to be painted and I haven’t got a photo. It’s a Japanese frame made sometime in the 1980s, and they’d had it lying around for some time – it’s never been ridden before. I believe, though I can’t reliably remember the sticker I saw, that it’s made of some type of Tange Champion cro-moly tubing, possibly butted. The fork is chromed so rather than have it painted over I decided to just leave it, and the frame is going to be “flam red” which should end up looking vaguely like this:

The frame was a bit messy as at some point they’d got their resident welder to braze on a few bits before he retired. I’m going to have the lever braze-ons taken off but the pannier mountings should come in handy. It’s going to be sent off, sandblasted and painted, and it’ll have some nice old-school Henry Burton branding on it too. I should have it in a month or two – I’m not in any rush, and sooner or later I’ll have to break it to the wife.

As for how planning the build is shaping up, it’s going to have a 5-speed hub, 28 or 32mm 700c tyres, caliper brakes, as much alloy as possible, a Brooks saddle and “sit up and beg” North Road handlebars. Where possible I’ll favour Japanese components to be sympathetic with the frame’s history. When it’s all done it’ll be a pretty kooky looking bike!

Eroica Britannia – the aftermath…

Eroica was my third organised bike ride, and by a distance the toughest. It wasn’t just the hills that were tough, it was the weather too. My Irish genes have given me a constitution that just isn’t comfortable with too much direct sunlight (it rains a lot in Ireland, which is why it’s such a vivid green) and any temperature beyond 30C, and I really had to force more fluid inside me on the ride than I ever thought it possible to take in. 

After the Katherine House charity ride earlier this year (45 miles) I was absolutely all in, struggling to climb stairs and I spent a good three hours just lying down watching TV. Somehow after Eroica I didn’t feel as knackered, but I didn’t really have a choice – the tent wasn’t going to fold itself and walk to the car after all, and I then had some driving to do. I did feel pretty tired when I turned in, but really nothing like as bad as I was expecting. I did have one very obvious discomfort though: Sunburn.

I think the discerning eye may just be able to detect the point at which my shorts stopped… the whole weekend had been pretty unrelentingly sunny and warm, and nowhere on the site seemed to offer a nice cool shaded area. The tents with the bars and stores and so on had very little air circulation and you just roasted, lying in the tent was prohibitively hot as well. There was just no escape, no major breeze, either you got uncomfortably hot or you got the sun on your back. This was before the ride even started! We’d brought some sunscreen but it soon got washed away with sweat, or rubbed off when it got into your eyes, so after a point it was just inevitable. Irish skin burns easy.

My other rather more worrying complaint, though less painful, concerned my hands. I’d had a bit of discomfort in my bottom and in my feet, which had each gone a bit numb at times during the ride, but once I got off the bike it soon stopped and I was really pleasantly surprised at how little discomfort I’d had in these areas. My hands though were not numb so much as tingly, particularly the right hand, and particularly the outer fingers. 

This did not go away quickly, and I would guess that this was a bit of carpal tunnel syndrome. CTS is where the nerves that run to your hand, that runs through a channel containing the tendons that operate your fingers, find themselves without enough space and cease to function properly. I could feel discomfort in my palms when I was riding, and I think some inflammation started to set in that impinged on the nerves. 

I’ve always suspected, having remarkably narrow wrists, that I might be susceptible to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, but until now I’ve escaped without a single episode. Having searched for diagrams I don’t think this was actually related to the carpal tunnel, but it’s a definite nerve issue of some kind that seems to be affecting only areas governed by the ulnar nerve. I was genuinely worried I might have some permanent nerve damage, but writing this three days after the ride it is finally starting to go away. It definitely needs monitoring though, no bike ride however wonderful is worth losing the function of my hand for.

Finally, there was the bike to attend to. Overall the bike had coped extremely well, but I’d had a problem with the bottom bracket during the ride, and as I suspected when I got home I found the fixed cup HAD loosened. In my attempts to fix it I managed to actually slightly break a very solidly-made bottom bracket spanner. So I nursed the bike as it was to the bike shop, resigned to a bit of a financial hit for work I could do myself if only I had the right tools. 

The following day I got a call from the bike shop. They’d taken the cups out and found signs of wear on both the cups and the axle. Perhaps this is what had caused the bracket to loosen? Anyway, I was given three options: refit the existing axle and cups, do a like-for-like replacement, or switch to a modern Shimano sealed bottom bracket. Would this invalidate the bike for Eroica, they asked. I told them it wasn’t really that strict, but I’d know the difference, so I got them to fit replacements the same as they’d taken off. As if my bike would have Shimano parts on it. The very idea… 

I then got another call to say they’d fitted the new parts but were having trouble getting the front mech to work properly. This made me giggle a little – “Glad it’s not just me then!” This is a problem I’ve had before, as it only just about fits in with the rest of the drivetrain and is incredibly fussy about its position. It’s fine for downchanges virtually anywhere, but can seem to jam when changing up and can actually jam if it’s too far out of position. Where the real red herring lies is that poor changes on a stand are nowhere near as bad when the bike’s actually being ridden. It’s a bit clunky, but at no point on Sunday was I grinding away waiting for a change up. It was funny having to reassure the mechanic that yes, it does that, don’t worry, it’s fine… 

He suggested I switch to a conventional front mech, I.e. Low normal. This means with minimum cable tension the mech sits over the small ring, and is virtually ubiquitous save for a select few SunTour models such as my Compe-V, which is the other way round. SunTour pursued this as they thought customers would find it less confusing if both levers operated the same way, and they were right, but they lost the argument. With SunTour’s ratchet shifters there’s no danger (if properly adjusted) of the shifter loosening and autochanging up to the big ring on a climb, but since everyone else only used friction I imagine the Campagnolos of the world would have been rather prone to this if they’d reversed their mech’s action. I like it though, it’s one of the quirks/talking points of the bike and allows me to store it with both cables at minimum tension without crossing the chain over. Another little benefit. It changes fine, why switch?

I still haven’t had the heart to remove the race number from the frame, I think Major Tom’s rather proud of himself so I’ll leave it be for now… I wonder what our next big adventure will be?

Eroica Britannia – the final miles

35 miles gone, about 20 to go. Out of the first feed station we descended a small way down a main road which then rose again. It rose, and rose and rose. I was in my very lowest gear, and working hard. I wasn’t the slowest on the hill, but was pulling first 9 mph, then 8, 7, then 6. 6mph is pretty much my limit. I kept going, really getting into a strong rhythm with my breathing and pedalling, determined to tough it out. We must have climbed for several miles, and around each bend I was hoping to see the crest. Then I came round one bend and saw the hill got even steeper…

Oh no, oh fuck no, I thought to myself. There was no point fighting it, so I got off and walked. Below 6mph my efficiency drops so low that it starts to eat away at me. Kingston Hill round the corner at home is as steep, but it’s only 100 yards long so doesn’t take that much out of me. I knew if I tried to stay in the saddle here I’d be seriously into the red, putting my chances of finishing the ride in jeopardy. 

So I walked to the point were the gradient relented and took this photo while I got my breath back. Some way back I’d passed a rather older rider, probably in his 70s, and then I saw him coming towards me, still on the bike, toughing it up the hill! It’s one of the most impressive sights I’ve seen anywhere. I bet he was hard as nails when he was a young ‘un. I gave him a BIG thumbs up, and I’ll never forget how he just angled his head at me in a very British jesture that said “I’ve still got it pal, still. bloody. got it…” 

I started to encounter quite a few bikes that were limping a bit, and one or two making rather a lot of ticking noises from the sprockets. I imagine it’s no coincidence that literally every such bike had Campagnolo derailleurs, but they’d never be convinced. My SunTour drivetrain worked absolutely faultlessly throughout, not a single change out of place, though I did on occasion (and for the first time ever) get confused between the two levers and put it in big/big by mistake. I was pretty tired.

By now the sun had risen even higher and it just kept getting warmer. I hate hot weather with a passion when I’m standing still, this was way beyond my comfort zone. We got to the top and it was just beating down, unrelenting, with no shade whatsoever. There was another descent, and I could feel the copious sweat evaporating from my jersey, and then another climb began. I got back in my rhytmn, kept my pedalling constant, and just kept going, trying to tough it out. At one point I could feel I was in a spot of bother so again, I had to stop to catch my breath. “You OK pal?” Said one passing rider. I was, but if I’d kept going I wouldn’t have been. I got back on but then yet again the road ticked up, my speed went down and this time walking really was the best option. No-one overtook me up that climb, they were riding at walking pace themselves.

This was absolutely the toughest part of any ride I’d ever done, but I got to the top and after another descent, whether by luck or by deliberate design, we happened upon the 25 milers coming the other way at just that point. They so obviously had a different feel to them, less serious, more jovial, many on three-speeds, often kitted out in full tweed or flowery dresses, with baskets and bunting and so on, ringing their bells as they went. It really lifted my spirits and there was a lovely feeling of mutual admiration, we respected the spirit in which they were riding, and they respected our very obvious efforts.

We separated from the 25 milers and then joined the main road again, again going uphill. I had a slightly dicey moment as I met an oncoming car without realising quite in time what was happening, but we negotiated our way around each other and pressed on. Again the road ticked up slightly and again I had to walk a stretch, accompanied by a middle-aged man on some pre-war single speed bike. “You’ve got gears!” He said, to which I replied that I’d also got the legacy of smoking for 15 years, and how true that was. Anyway, it levelled off again and before long we reached the solace of the final feed stop, just five miles from the finish.

The place was a pub that had a band on playing just for us, and the food available was the same as before, with the addition of a free beer for those who wanted it. I ate the banana I’d brought with me from the previous stop, sank another can of lemonade and refilled my bidon, then had a small drop of beer just as a sort of toast to my achievements, texted my fiancée to say I was nearly done, got my book stamped and set off again.

There was a bit of a rise up before we joined a very lumpy gravel path, which I had to walk not because I couldn’t manage the gradient but simply because I couldn’t get enough grip to stay upright. We then rejoined the road, and this followed a river through a small valley. Huge vertical banks of grass either side, with sheep bleating at us. At this point I knew I was nearly there, and starting to get a bit emotional. The scenery just added to it. Those couple of miles felt so surreal, again it was as if I was dreaming it. 

We came out of the valley and were reacquainted with our 25 mile brethren, this time going the same way. We were directed down a very narrow path with bizarre big-leafed plants either side, like something out of Willy Wonka’s factory, and it took me a while before I realised it was just overgrown wild rhubarb! The path we were on had some pretty rocky gravel, and as it started to go down hill it got rockier still. Soon we started to see more and more bikes by the side of the path with punctures, and I started to have problems staying upright again. I got off to walk downhill now, because when all you’ve got on your head is a casquette the thought of a crash is no bloody joke I can tell you. This was the least pleasant part of the ride, walking half a mile over rocky stones, the sun beating down, no shade, and not a breath of wind either. Damn it was hot.

At the bottom I got back on my bike, we went up a little embankment and joined the railway. I knew I was close. I also knew I still had a bit in the tank. I started to press a little, doing about 16mph and passing virtually everyone in sight. I got in the drops and pedalled for home. We crossed over the road, went past the brickworks we’d passed on the way out and at last I knew – I’d only bloody done it!

Approaching the finish there was a guy on the trail clapping us in, and he high-fived me as I went past. We turned left, climbed up to the finish line and as I crossed there were some children with outstretched hands, so I reached over to give them a high-five too. I was there! I was home! The ride I’d been nervous about for so many months, my Big Hairy Audaceous Goal was ACCOMPLISHED!

I met my fiancée, who being who she is was thoughtful enough to great me with a bottle of water first and a hug second. We wandered over to the HQ tent, were I picked up my final stamp and a free can of beer for finishing. I drank the (rather warm) beer pretty quickly, and had a somewhat colder shandy too, while I jibbered relentlessly to my fiancée about what the ride was like.

While I was having my beer, I heard a noise that could only be one thing. I know a V12 when I hear one, and I definitely know a Rolls Royce Merlin V12! The flypast! They’d booked a Lancaster bomber but, unknown to me, had had to substitute it at the last minute. We rushed out to watch as a magnificent Mk1 Hawker Hurricane, of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, flew by, turned, and flew back past us again. Always a glorious sight and sound. Lest we forget, the machine guns in that Hurricane were, likely as not, made by a certain Birmingham Small Arms… I must confess I got slightly irritated by the kid behind me who was yelling “Ooh look! A Spitfire! Look it’s a real Spitfire!” No laddie it’s a real Hurricane. What do they teach kids these days? When I was his age I knew the bloody difference! I’m turning into one of those cantankerous old gits…

I took the bike back to the car and headed to the campsite to start getting things ready to go. I went for a quick shower and happened upon the lovely guy who helped us with our bags on the Friday. He’d just had his shower. I was so pleased to see him, he’d done the 55 miles too. We exchanged our war stories and compared notes on how our similarly-equipped bikes had performed. Just before we parted ways he asked me simply “Would you do it again?”

In a heartbeat I would! Hills and sunburn and all!

Eroica Britannia – ride day

So I left us looking longingly at the sunset and thinking ahead to what ride day would bring. Actually before I went to bed I had a little work to do fixing my front tyre! On my little shakedown ride I must have slid down the side of a lump of stone somewhere as on doing my final inspection of the bike I found a bulge in the sidewall, where the tyre had been cut through to, though not actually through the canvas. So I got the tyre off, stuck a patch on the afflicted area and refit it to the wheel (all achieved by torchlight) and hoped for the best. If I’d spotted it earlier I could have gone to the Continental tent and bought a fresh tyre, but they were shut. Well I won’t leave you hanging – it held up ok.

So we were up bright and early at 6am, aiming for a departure time of 7:15. The 100 mile heros had started leaving from 6 and we heard the Tannoy announcing each group as they left. I got my outfit on, which felt a bit like putting on a fancy dress costume. I had a bowl of granola that I’d brought along specially. Then there was time for photos, including this little detail:

I had a generous helping of my own favourite energy bar – Kendal Mint Cake. It’s basically a solid block of minty sugar and I’ve found it makes an excellent old-school way of boosting my sugar levels. I had even more of it in a tin stuffed in my back pocket!

Here’s my outfit. ‘Crack’ is a Belgian furniture company (meubelen is Flemish for furniture) and the jersey seems to have originated in Leke, a tiny town in Flanders with a population of barely more than a thousand. The shorts are De Marchi and made of merino wool with a modern chamois inside, and they cost more than the bike did! The socks are also De Marchi, also merino wool and very comfortable. The cap is a reproduction St Raphael, which I chose to match the gloves. The shoes are Onitsuka Tiger Mexico 66 trainers, not ideal and the one weak spot of the outfit but they look about right for an early 80’s cycling shoe, and I saw several other riders wearing the same.

All ready, it was time to go…

I went to the start and got my first stamp, then was urged to take my place on the start line. Would you believe it, the guy lined up next to me (in the Faema top) was riding EXACTLY THE SAME BIKE!!! There was at least a third BSA Prima in attendance as well, a slightly older one with a different cable route to the rear brake.

I had a brief chat with him, and the announcer chatted to us while we waited for our time slot. “BSA, what does that stand for? British er…” to which I snapped back “Birmingham Small Arms”, and resisted the temptation to curse his ignorance! Then in no time at all the flag dropped, and we were off…

We turned right on to the railway trail, past my tent and out into the countryside. The guy on the other BSA was riding with a friend, and another rider surged past us all. “There’s a break on Johnny!” “Chase him down Nev…” It was all good fun. We crossed over a road onto another trail and things started to settle down as everyone got into their stride, some overtaking, some being overtaken. I was very careful not to let the adrenaline get the better of me, and spent a few miles in the wake of a woman in a billowing skirt even though I could have upped the pace a bit.

We climbed gently up a hill and went passed a farm, and I had the most powerful attack of Deja Vu I think I’ve ever experienced. I know I’ve never been to the Peak District before, let alone on a bicycle, so I concluded it must just be that the actual experience of the ride was so similar to what I’d imagined. Breathtaking scenery abounded, all manner of livestock in the fields. At times we could see for over 20 miles, and it was a crystal-clear morning with the sun shining relentlessly down. The first 10 miles were absolute bliss.

We were then warned by marshals about quite a steep descent, still on unpaved muddy trails, and we seemed to descend for a very long time under a high canopy of trees before we arrived at the first water stop. We’d done less than 15 miles at this point, and I hadn’t dipped into my bidon at all, so I quickly drank half of it and refilled. Some poor guy unwisely propped his bike up next to a large thistle and heard a sudden “pssssssssssssss” from his vintage tubeless front tyre. There but for the grace of god…

Well I know we’d descended a fair way, and suspected some uphill was now in order, but no. Just to tantalise us the trail from the water stop continued to descend even further. I was enjoying the descent (not going much above 25mph as the surface wasn’t perfect) but all the time a sense of foreboding was creeping in. Exactly what manner of alpine torture was lurking further down the road? The ascent did come at last, but it wasn’t as bad as I feared. I was climbing fairly comfortably at my own pace, and even though I did at one point start to approach my limit I got to the top without having to get off. The view once the road started to level out was a sight I’ll never forget, a panorama of a huge horse-shoe shaped valley to our left bathed in sunshine while we rode along in the shade. No photos sadly, there was a job of work to be done…

My recollection of the next few miles is a bit of a jumble, middling ascents followed by short descents, then back up again. Don’t imagine for a minute that the scenery got any less lovely, I think I just got a bit lost in the zone. We climbed up toward the Chatsworth House estate, over a couple of nasty cattle grids, and I remember spending a fair bit of time admiring one bike that looked exactly like the type Roger De Vlaeminck used to ride. There’s another part I remember of a climb past long queues of cars waiting to get into a car boot sale that was happening. Also a long only very slightly uphil stretch were I could just feel we were high up above everything. 

At this point I became conscious of a regular banging coming from my bike, and pretty soon I established it was following the movement of the crank. It didn’t seem very serious at that point and I knew neither I nor any other rider would have the tools to fix it so I pressed on, but it was very annoying. I’d probably been pedalling constantly for an hour by this time, and it was amazing how subconscious it all became. I really was in my own little bubble. I saw the guy I’d started with on his BSA, sadly it seems a mechanical had done for his friend.

At about this point we started to merge with some of the riders doing the 100 miles, who had done a slightly longer route to get to that point. On the long descent down some twisty lanes you could tell that some were more serious cyclists than others, on the whole the ones who really let the bike have its head and who tended not to bother telling you when they overtook. There were a couple of near misses but I didn’t see any crashes. We kept on descending until we were diverted on to the Monsal trail, another former railway. 

There were some non-Eroica cyclists out and about and I got chatting to one local who was riding around to check us all out. I was saying how tough I’d found some of the hills and he said it was hard to make the adjustment from modern bikes to old ones. “Oh no,” I said “this is my daily driver!” And of course it is. Around this time someone saw my shirt and as they rode past chirped “I could really do with some crack right now…” the trail included two rather long tunnels, quite dark and obviously totally shaded, so nice and cool after over three hours of hot sun and sweat it made me think that it would be lovely if future events could be held exclusively inside tunnels.

Finally we rolled out of the last tunnel, over a viaduct and came to a station platform, where the first feed stop was set up. I have never seen so many bicycles in one place! And all lovely old steel beauties too!

So I was 35 miles in and feeling reasonably good. I immediately took my bike to the volunteer mechanics for a look at the bottom bracket. My cranks were see-sawing a bit but maybe only 3-5mm, the next guy to come in had an expensive-looking Alan bike with exactly the same problem, but his was epically rocking, moving a good inch or so. “Yeah I’ve had to nurse it a bit, bloody Alans!” How he managed to get that bike there I will never comprehend! Chapeau!

I got my food while they sorted my bike, they didn’t seem to have the right tool to hand but they found it eventually. At the feed stop there were bottles of Burton’s water, cans of lemon or orange San Pelligrino, sausage rolls, pastries, brownies and bananas. I refilled my bidon with water, drank a can of orangeade and ate a banana, then went to pick up my bike. They’d tightened the adjustable cup, which I wasn’t sure about as I suspected it was the fixed cup that had moved, but they’re the experts… They prompted me for a donation to the Derbyshire Dales Park Authority, whereupon I was a little cold and calculating. I had £20 stuffed in my phone case, but didn’t know if I’d need to donate to the next mechanic, and wanted to hold on to a tenner for any other contingencies. I gave them £5 which seems rather inadequate, but felt like the rational thing at the time.

I picked up a second can of San Pellegrino and gulped it down, conscious of just how much sweating I’d been doing. I also stuffed a banana in my pocket and munched on a few chunks of Kendal Mint Cake. As I had a cigarette the Mavic Peugeot 504 set off down the trail, sounding it’s old klaxon. They waved at me and I waved back, then I finished off the first half of my mint cake, got back on the bike and was off.

to be concluded…

Eroica Britannia – preamble

Last weekend was my big target for the year – a 55 mile ride at Eroica Britannia. The past month has been so busy with real world stuff that I hardly had any time for proper training, so I went in feeling very underprepared. I did manage to get about 60 miles in during the week before, spread across three rides, so I knew I wasn’t a million miles off. The Friday we went I was incredibly busy having to move house, so after dismantling my bed, loading it into the car along with loads of other stuff, driving 40 miles, unloading, reassembling, then doing the same trip again, I had to pack the car ready for the weekend and drive just over an hour to Fiden Grange in Derbyshire.

When we got there we discovered the campsite was quite a considerable walk from the car, about half a mile over lumpy fields and paths rather crudely made of large lumps of limestone. We decided to pitch the tent first, as the light was fading, then had a look around the festival site. We got a green plastic wristband for the campsite, and I got a beautiful Union Jack coloured ribbon which said RIDER. It made me feel pretty special. After such a long day I fancied a nice cool gin & tonic, and my fiancée had never tried it before, so we had one each at the Hendrick’s Gin bar as the sun began to set. It was so very nice.

We went back to the car to retrieve everything else, and were struggling a bit on our way to the campsite when a very nice man indeed offered us a hand and then absolutely insisted he help! This made things a little easier, and after unpacking we settled down and I made some tea on the camping stove. We were hoping to turn in, but hadn’t reckoned on the music coming from the festival, which was a stone’s throw from the tent. We discovered with some horror that this wasn’t due to stop until 2am… see that marquee behind the tent? That’s where it was coming from.

The following day we had a bit of a lie-in to compensate for the booming music keeping us up, then I collected my bike from the car and wheeled it over to the tent. Conveniently there was a pole right behind our tent to lean the bike against. Here’s my mighty steed all ready to go, only the computer and the saddlebag spoiling the vintage aesthetic.

We went into the festival site and found some breakfast – I had a crepe with lemon and sugar, and a butterscotch milkshake. Everything at the festival was crazy expensive, but to be fair the quality was excellent. My fiancée’s main preoccupation was getting to the show ring in time for best-dressed dog, whereas I was obviously more interested in the bicycles. This little chap was her favourite:

We had a good look at everything, then decided to split up for half an hour so we could avoid boring each other. She sought out the cake marquee, I checked out the bike jumble. There was all sorts there, in all states of repair. If you needed anything for virtually any old bike, no matter how obscure, you could probably find it here. I took particular interest in one old seat post and a SunTour BL rear derailleur, but resisted temptation. The rear derailleurs on the bikes on top of the old Mavic neutral support car caught my eye. The car was a perfectly preserved Peugeot 504, and it looked amazing.

Next we headed over to the ‘headquarters’ tent and got a drink. I lined up to sign on, 9 desks arranged each servicing 500 out of the 4,500 riders who would be taking part. After registering, which included signing a disclaimer which said I was allowed to ride without a helmet at my own risk, I was handed an envelope and a musette full of goodies. The musette contained:

  • A small bottle of Jagermeister
  • A can of Jameson Irish whiskey mixed with ginger and lime
  • A small bottle of Hendrick’s Gin
  • A bottle of Double Dutch tonic water
  • A Danish pastry
  • A 500ml bottle of Buxton’s water
  • A pin badge advertising Jimmy’s Iced coffee
  • A pot of Rump bottom rub
  • A sachet of Swish To Go powdered tooth cleaner
  • A chunky guidebook to hostels in the UK

The envelope contained:

  • A page of instructions, information, hints and tips
  • A road book to be stamped during the ride, folding out into a map of the three routes
  • A race number to be put on the bike, with two pieces of string
  • A race number to be put on the rider, with five safety pins
  • Stickers to attach to the race number indicating 25, 55 or 100 mile route

My number was easy for me to remember as 12/8 is the day I’m getting married, so all I had to remember was the 6! I did um and ah a bit before finally deciding to put the 55 mile sticker on, I was pretty nervous about what lay ahead both for me and the bike, and I knew I was going to be a little short of sleep on acount of the nearby music. This is probably the main reason why my tent was so far away from everyone else’s!

I did go for a little ride to see how I was feeling, down the former railways that were part of the routes. Last week I’d done a 38 mile ride, about 25 miles of which was down one particular railway line. Given how flat it was I thought it was pretty poor training, but it turned out that experience on unsaved trails was perfect! What was interesting was that that on my 18 mile shakedown ride I encountered three or four subtly different types of gravel that each felt different. Some smooth, some tending to potholes, some bumpy and very tricky, and some just very slippery, like riding on ball bearings. The views though, the views were AMAZING. It really helped me stop feeling nervous and actually look forward to the ride.

So I got back, got showered and changed (the showers and toilets were very good by the way) and we went back to the festival to eat dinner – a large pot of chicken chow mein which I forced myself to eat every last bit of – and then we sat around the stage to see 1980s band ABC. They weren’t bad. We headed back to Hendrick’s for a nightcap, a lovely pink thing with ginger ale in it, and we got invited into a room where some peculiar gentlemen got us to make music using cucumbers, before handing us another Gin and tonic free. I didn’t drink it all, as I knew I needed to go to sleep sober.

Before we headed back to the tent we watched the sunset behind the start-finish area. It was a lovely sight, and it filled me with all sorts of emotions as to what lay in store.

To be continued…

Go home karma, you’re drunk…

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!