Straight on at roundabout

Struggling around
January 23, 2011, 7:37 pm
Filed under: 200, Rides

In anticipation of Saturday’s Willy Warmer 200 I spent all week monitoring weather forecasts and with growing alarm saw the risk of icy conditions get stronger and stronger.  So by the time the big day came around I had all but decided not to start.

You see I am of the belief that cycling and ice don’t mix.  I was converted to this view on a cold December day when my front wheel disappeared from under me twice in a matter of few hundred metres.  Even if you’re rolling slowly because someone has warned you about the black Ice ahead it’s an unnerving experience that I have no intention of repeating.

But I’d promised Paul the organiser that I’d make tea and toast at the start (Pictures from Els here)so I was always going to turn up at the start…and on Friday night, as I froze on my homeward commute, I reasoned I might as well load the bike in the Landie in case it wasn’t as dire.

So, at 6 am there wasn’t any ice – and despite the fact that the heating in the Landie has taken an extended sabbatical/left the country to visit relatives I was thinking a 200 might be on the cards.

But this is where the psychological bit gets interesting.

I’d already told myself I’d be at home in the afternoon to get my hair cut and do a few jobs.  And at the start a couple of old friends were doing the shorter 125 course…which Paul has adapted a bit…

So before I knew it I’d switched to the shorter event and later start.  And I’d grabbed a card for on of the non-starters and I was off up the road with Ian Oliver.

The funny thing though I how the mind works when it comes to thinking about distances.

125 km is not really very far – it should be relatively easy in between five and six hours.  And Paul had laid on a course that managed to avoid any significant hills or climbing apart from a few road hums around Maidenhead.  It’s an easy ride.

It’s 50km to the first control at Pangbourne – you share the control with riders on the longer 200km ride (it’s the point where the two rides split).  For them it’s the first quarter done – for us it’s coming up to the half way point.  And we arrived there quickly – there were still plenty of the slower 200km riders in the café when we got there.

Over the years I have become convinced that how tired you feel is a function of how far you still have to go.  I am sure that those riders on the 200 looked like they had done a quarter of a ride – the rest of us looked like we’d done nearly double that.

Later on, as we rolled through Winnerish past the Sainsbury’s that is the final control for the 200 riders I felt as spent as if I’d ridden 160 km – not the 85km or so that I had managed.

Perhaps this is one of the secrets to long-distance riding – not to focus on how far you have travelled or what proportion of the ride you have to go.

The ride did have a couple of high points.

The Non-starter, whose card I’d grabbed at the last minute when I set off, turned up in the Pangbourne control.  I’ve known him for years through swimming and this was his first Audax.  Chris is giving Audax a try as part of his preparation for Lands End To John O’Groats in August.

And I discovered a new climb out of Maidenhead via Mill Lane – which I used again today after I’d dropped the Landie off at the garage (they are going to start a hunt for the missing heating).

Paul is asking me if I fancy trying the 200 again next weekend – I am tempted, Els’ blog post here suggests that it might not be a waste of time!


Getting through the week
January 9, 2011, 8:45 pm
Filed under: 200, Rides

A friend of mine once commented that the problem with commuting to work by bike was that you had two high points in your day – neither of which had anything to do with work.

In the first week back after the long Christmas break the truth behind these words really rang true.

Everyone knows what it’s like – the short hours of weak daylight, the getting out of the habit of late rising and the general fat-induced lethargy make the early days of January a struggle.  Any distraction, no matter how feeble is leapt upon and any work that doesn’t come with a life-threatening deadline gets put off.

So for me, the challenge this week was to stop looking at weather forecasts for Saturday (yesterday), the day when I rode the Poor Student – my first 200k of 2011 and possibly the beginning of my PBP campaign.

I’ve hardly ridden my bike since the end of November.  Freezing fogs, snow and ice have provided easy excuses to concentrate on the more important December business of drinking, eating to excess and drinking.  My fear of slipping on black ice or being run over again by skidding motorists has allowed my natural gluttony to create over half a stone more of me.

Through the week I have been watching weather sites, praying that ice wasn’t going to show up on Saturday.

And watching weather sites can be a full-time occupation.

Firstly there is the BBC weather site – which changes quite a lot, especially when you research weather that is more than a few days away.  Accuweather has a better track-record for a week ahead although Metcheck offers a few interesting details about wind direction and chill factor.

Secondly, the sites change a lot.  Over the course of a day they can shift their predictions by small increments – but enough to warrant rechecking.

And finally, for a ride of 200k you need to look at the forecasts for several places.  I was checking Oxford, Cirencester (because I keep confusing it with Malmesbury – understandably I think) and Chipping Camden.  Plus I want to keep an eye on the conditions here in Rickmansworth and also in Central London where I work.

Which, when all things are considered is a pretty poor alternative to working – especially when the weather on the day was so ordinary.

Apart of course from the torrential rain that was lashing down when I left the house at 6 am for the drive to Oxford.

The windscreen wipers on my Defender were struggling to cope as I charged along the motorway.  But it all miraculously stopped as I arrived at the car park on the outskirts of town.

The Poor Student 200k is an institution in Audax cycling.  It’s the first ride after Christmas and you’ll normally meet all the regulars from all over Southern England.  It feels a bit like the Charity Shield – the start of the new season, a prologue to the coming year – a year which includes Paris Brest Paris.

In the gloom of the car park bikes are assembled and gossip is exchanged before, just as the day arrives we’re off.

Through the Centre of Oxford, around back alleys behind colleges before escaping the City up Cumnor Hill into rural Oxfordshire with its yellow-stoned houses and quiet lanes.

The first 80K of this ride is pretty-well a straight line westward to Malmesbury – into a constant and forceful headwind that carries a chilly bite and which gnaws away at your hands and feet.  Remembering the first time I did this ride when the wind carried a driving rain and I discovered what people meant when they talk about ‘grinding it out’ I was glad of the company of two old friends who had caught me on the climb out of Oxford.

Paul, Martin and I talked nonsense – but distracting nonsense.  I remember discussing brake callipers, web site content management systems, the work of Helena Bonham-Carter, the Sea Cadets and the absence of hills on a ride that Paul organises.  It got me to Malmesbury and to the turn northward.

The wind sort of helped a little as I rode alone through the tourist-board designed villages of Hankerton, Oaksey and Poole Keynes en-route to Cirencester after which the Cotswold Hills threw some big climbs at me.

It was around this point that the additional volumes of me that were created over Christmas really started to make their presence felt.  My heart-rate thumped through my ears and my inner thighs started to scream as one short brutal climb followed another.  Somewhere along the way there were some descents – I don’t remember them apart from the sheering cold that they brought.

But almost as suddenly as they seemed to have started they stopped for a rolling ride into Chipping Camden (which arrived at the bottom of steep winding exhilarating pot-holed descent).

After an outrageously expensive cup of tea, it was time to spark up the lights for the final leg back to Oxford.

I hooked up with another rider for more chit-chat about lights, Manchester, snobbery about universities and cars as the villages of Broad Campden, Draycott, Evenlode, Kingham, Shipton and Leafield flashed by unnoticed.  Before I really noticed we were flying through the last 20k of Finstock, Hanborough and Yarnton back to the car park and the finish after about 11 and a quarter hours.

In January you couldn’t really ask for much more.  A challenging route that wasn’t sadistic, stunning scenery through Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire, good company and no rain, snow or ice sort of justifies the endless weather watching of the preceding week.

The problem now is going to be getting through the next fortnight until the next one!


For another, far better written account of this ride check out what Els has written here

All this for a fiver – 200K on A November Saturday
November 7, 2010, 1:48 pm
Filed under: 200, Audax information, Rides

Yesterday I rode a 200K audax – the Upper Thames – on a perfect November day, through some of the finest bits of the country, with some nice people.  And for the cost of a fiver.

I’ve been riding my bike on Audax events for some time – you ride between designated points within maximum and minimum time (it’s all about the challenge) and have normally enjoyed them.  But yesterday was rather special.

It all kicked off at Cholsey, which isn’t a million miles from Didcot.

A grey 7.30 start for a mixed collection of roadies gathered at a village hall.  Away in a big group of about 50 that quickly started to thin out to a long line along the main road.

To the left the line of the Chilterns rose above up above us through the weak November light.

Almost as soon as we started I found myself chatting to someone I’d met about two years ago and hadn’t spoken to since.  Then, we turned up a climb into the Chilterns towards Ipsden and Stoke Row.  And on the climb another rider introduced herself as someone whose blog I’d Twittered about.

Soon almost all the traffic had disappeared as we worked around in a loop toward Stoke Row.  We were riding through wooded lanes, which occasionally opened out to give stunning views down valleys and into open vales.

Red carpet at Bix

Despite the winds of the last few days many of the trees still held their leaves; creating vast banks of reds, golds, russets and greens.  And near Bix, to the north of Henley woodland floors were rich carpets of copper beech leaves.

For quite a while I chose to ride alone – climbing the long drag up to North End and Christmas Common where I stopped before the fast decent into Watlington.  At the top of the hill the view opens up South Oxfordshire and today allowed a glimpse of the Cotswolds.

After the first control near Wheatley I hooked up with two old friends and ploughed on towards Bicester swapping news about jobs, illnesses and bike components.  One lent me a spare inner tube as I’d already used all my spares.

Then, around Bicester, through the strange acres of the garrison, before turning up through the Oxfordshire villages towards Chipping Norton.  Here the Cotswold stone dominates everywhere bringing a brighter light.

South Oxfordshire from Christmas Common

A fast descent into Chipping Norton for a crowded and busy café stop.  And one of the pleasures of these rides for me is to sit at a table with people I rarely see and chat for 20 minutes about nothing in particular.

Over the years I think I have made dozens of friendships which exist only in the punctuation of these long rides.  In time I have met a wide range of people – a serious minded partner in a City law firm, a generous and warm builder (who welded together his own bikes) and countless other people who have made me laugh, think and resolve to carry on when I was feeling like giving up.

Other roadies joke about the cake eating obsession of Audax riders when in fact the cake is just the excuse – it’s all about the ten to twenty minutes of comradeship that happen when a bunch of people doing the same challenge stop at the same time.  I’ve not experienced another area of life where Brits are so easy to meet and connect with.

As I left the café, I hooked up with a friend from earlier and downwards into the Thames Valley at speed though Minster Lovell, Brize Norton and Stanford in the Vale as the light went.  Driven by my companion’s desire for a pint at the finish we hurtled along dark back lanes and watched firework burst in the sky from far away.  From high ridges we saw the orange glows of November bonfires picking out vales and valleys as we swung to the south and Didcot and returned to the start just before 7 pm.

And I marvel that we got all this for a fiver.  For such a tiny sum someone worked out a fantastic route for us, organised a starting point with a car park, laid on coffee and Danish pastries, bright together a large number of friendly people and provided fantastic soups and cakes at the finish – next door to a pub!

On top of that we had clear and mild weather all day, amazing views by day and spectacular entertainment in the sky after dark.

All this for a fiver.