Straight on at roundabout

What happens when you stop?
January 18, 2014, 1:41 pm
Filed under: Rambling nonsense, Why

Sometimes, when I am on a plane, I try to imagine what is going on down on the ground below me.  At the moment of passing overhead people are living their lives while I skid by overhead at 35,000 feet en route to somewhere.

Underneath me people are standing in thier gardens, tending vegetable beds, arguing, laughing or even making love.  For some reason I always picture people living their lives outdoors but they are standing around being in the ‘now’.

And sometimes I stand in mu own garden and look at the jets flying high overhead and I slightly envy the people on those flights.  But it is not the destinations that intrigue me.  It is the envy of being enveloped in the artificial snug of  the airline.

Being in transit somewhere somehow seems more valuable to me than actualy being somewhere in particular.

Riding a bike somewhere is a similar sensation for me.

I’ll happily spend many hours eating up the miles progressing towards a control point on an audax ride.  Hour after hour, mile after mile, daydream after daydream I can turn the pedals.  I’ll pass through all sorts of unremarked terrains – and, especially at night, I might not feel deprived as I roll along.  The fact that I can’t see the surrounding countryside won’t necessarily bother me.

But then I’ll have to stop.

A puncture will make me halt.  Or maybe I have to double check my directions.  And I am suddenly tipped out of my transit into the terrain.  I will stop moving and it will fee very odd.

Some years ago, in the dead of night I stopped in the woods near Sonning Common close to Henley.  My companion was lost ahead of me and I was waiting at a turning he’d missed hoping that he’d retrace once he had realised his mistake.

I had a pee while I was waiting and then I stood listening and trying to see his lights returning up the road.

And then I was struck by the enveloping quiet and peace of the moment.  I won’t call this a noiseless silence because that might imply a Dylan Thomas-esq inky blackness.  It wasn’t really deadly silent – there just wasn’t any noise that you would have noticed.  Rather it was a refreshing calm – like clear cool water slaking a thirst.

No cars, no pedal turning and no breeze shaking the trees.  Just a hush.  Couples with a few moments of rest.

At that moment I stepped out of the constant quest of becoming or moving and I was here.  In those minutes of stillness I was present in a place I don’t think I have been to before and no one knew I was there.  My existence was not contingent on making progress nor did it depend on any action on my part.  And despite my unwitnessed state I continued to be.

Just as I realised this, I saw the white glimmer of my friend Martin’s headlights and shortly heard him resuming the anecdote he had been telling me before we separated.  The moment disappeared.

Life can feel like riding a bike.  If we don’t keep moving forward we fall off.  But when you do unclip and put both feet down… I ride because of moments like that.

Is Audax destined to be a minority sport?
October 30, 2010, 6:55 pm
Filed under: Audax information, PBP, Why

A depressing afternoon watch Saracens get beaten by Exeter sent me home wishing I’d been out on the bike. At least the day wasn’t wasted as I have planned my 2011 Paris Brest Paris campaign – I think I have worked out which qualifiers I would like to ride; which is probably a bit sad in October.

Perhaps that slight obsessiveness is one of the reasons why Audaxing doesn’t seem to appeal to as many people I would hope.

In fact there has been quite a lot of debate on the web recently asking why, despite the massive growth in the popularity of cycling, the numbers of people doing audax events hasn’t really risen much in the last few years.

This has led me to a few conversations with a number of people about how do we get more media coverage for audax events and a few weeks back I did a little research into the external image of Audaxing.

On-line no one really talks about Audaxing.  According to Google Insights people rarely search for Audax events (they do search for Audax-type cycles) and a conversation with a very good friend at the excellent Evans Cycles tells me that no one ever walks into a bike shop and asks about Audaxing.

However, a review of media coverage shows that time and again the word ‘challenge’ comes up in the connection of cycling events.  People seem to buy a nice bike, get the hang of local routes and realise that they can do something more.  They realise quickly that actually riding long distances like London to Paris or Lands End to John O’Groats is actually achievable with a bit of preparation.  Whilst most of us couldn’t imagine doing something like the Marathon Des Sables, we can sit on a bike for a few hours – and actually have fun in the process.

And Audaxing should fit the bill quite nicely for people looking for a bit of a challenge.

Every weekend there are events ranging from just 50Km to astonishing distances of 600km or more – which anyone can enter.  They cost almost nothing (most events cost about £5) and they are full of friendly people who will strike up a conversation at the drop of a hat – there are few aggressive young men racing for a time.  And best of all, when you get back to work on Monday and mention that you spent Saturday cycling from London to Wales and back your colleagues hail you as some form of modern Shakleton.

Audaxing is a challenge – but it’s democratic.  All you need is a bike, a fiver and a bucket of determination.  You don’t need to be a member of the Royal Marines, a five grand bike and a year of living as a monk.

But it get’s next to no media coverage.

This is going to be a challenge in the coming months that I’ve agreed to help rectify… so watch this space.


Packing…adding insult to injury
July 20, 2010, 10:00 am
Filed under: Rambling nonsense, Why

I’ve only ever packed on three rides.  I’ve wanted to stop and climb on a train on quite a few audaxes, but I’ve only actually given up on three.

It’s such a miserable sensation that  just thinking about it makes me shudder.

The first time was probably the worst as it didn’t involve real injury or a serious mechanical failure.

It was a 300k ride on 3 April 2004 from Steyning in Sussex and I only lasted 209k.

All day I seemed to be riding into a strong headwind and making a succession of mistakes – leaving controls on my own, promising myself that I would reach certain points by set times. And they were all compounded by starting the event tired and stressed.

Mile after mile I struggled.  I couldn’t find a gear that worked, I could never find a rhythm, I kept being passed by groups of better organised and more cheerful riders.  If I tried to jump on the back of one of these groups I was dropped within minutes because I couldn’t settle.  I was too hot, then I was too cold.  I needed to pee every 10 minutes and my neck started to hurt.

If a day on the bike can be heaven when it goes well – a day when it’s going badly becomes purgatory.

In the end I decided to get the train from near Hastings back to the start to pick up my car and hand in my card.

That train ride was utterly despondent – as soon as I sat down out of the wind I felt like a complete failure and coward.  Every aspect of my character that I regret came crowding into my mind – clearly my failure was symptomatic of the multitude of weaknesses that define my personality.

And the vagaries of weekend engineering works on the british rail system on a Saturday, give you plenty of time to brood during a dark afternoon for the soul.

Finally handing in your card at the final control is doubly depressing.  Early finishers are relaxing with a cup of tea and the rosy glow of completion.  There is nowhere on earth that wouldn’t be preferable to standing in front of the finish controller and saying as I did “some days it’s not happening” especially when your reflections of the last two hours have only underlined in your mind that on most days it’s not happening because you’re a vapid weakling who will always fail in life….

But really it’s a stupid illusion isn’t it?  209k into a headwind when you’ve started knackered is pretty good isn’t it?  And cycling isn’t a matter of life and death is it – it’s meant to be fun.

I promised myself that I’ll never let myself get that despondent again about deciding that I wasn’t enjoying myself.  However, like many of the promises I have made in life I have broken it in spirit multiple times.  I console myself that at least I haven’t actually packed again when I’ve felt that low – but that might be due to the fact that rides rarely go past railway stations just at the moment when I am most vulnerable!

In 2007 I was riding a 400K event that followed a course in a figure of eight.  After 200K you returned to the start – next to a railway station and next to my parked car.  For about an hour before we reached the 200K control I found myself riding in the dark with a chap who had never ridden a 400 before and he was suffering.

But he kept talking about how cold his hands were, about how thin his socks were and about an ache in his neck.  I promised to lend him some spare gloves at the control and offered an extra pair of socks which I had in the car.  At the control I dug out a couple of ibuprofen for him.

An older rider suggested that he should lie down in the back of the hall for 20 minutes – we had lots of time in hand – and he’d feel fine.  I left with the older rider who said as soon as we’d turned the first corner “He’ll be packing then…”

His point was that the rider had been marshalling up a range of excuses for packing – the cold hands and feet; the neck pain were just ways of mollifying his conscience.  My new friend said “everyone has to pack now and again – it’s a mistake to think there’s a shame in it when you do.”

At the end, when I had ridden my 400K my gloves and socks were waiting for me unused.  I hope the young guy wasn’t so stupid as I had been to put himself through some sort of catholic self-criticism session and was glad that he’d got around 200.  Maybe I’ll need to remind myself of that the next time I get envious of anyone else in life!

Wondering about 2011
July 7, 2010, 8:13 pm
Filed under: PBP, Why

So, after a few months of silence it’s time to blog again.  Which is probably a substitute for riding – I’ve had to take a month off in the hope that a persistent achilles tendon problem clears itself up.

Which has left me time to start stressing about Paris-Brest-Paris 2011.

The event website is live and already the discussion boards are abuzz with debate and advice.

I know I want to do it.  I want to ride the 1,200 km in under 90 hours.  I did it in 2007, but this time I want to do it in the dry.

Finishing PBP in 2007 - looking more cheerful than I felt. Pic Tim Wainwright

But I don’t know if I can do it – I genuinely don’t know if I’m up to it this time.

Back in 2007 I was working from home and was able to ride a great deal in the run -up.  I lost count of the number of evening rides I did and the stolen days when I should have been working.  Yet despite the preparation I grovelled home in 89 hours and 59 minutes, with a desperately painful back, a neck that would no longer support my head and both achilles shot.

Now, I’m four years older and over a stone heavier.  My Achilles continue to play up and I’m back in the world of wage slavery which is cetrain to eat into my preparation time.

However, I wonder where I’ll be at 10pm on the night of August 21 next year?


What is Paris Brest Paris?
August 9, 2009, 8:16 pm
Filed under: PBP, Rambling nonsense, Why

I first heard about Paris-Brest-Paris, or PBP, about ten years ago when I’d only just started riding my bike on the roads and entering organised events.

I’d joined Audax UK and got a copy of the the magazine Arrivé and there was a story of someone’s epic 1,200 bike ride from Paris to Brest on the tip of Britanny and back again – within the 90 hour time limit.

I think that’s equivalent of riding from London to Lands End and back and then returning to Basingstoke (give or take a bit).

Like most people I thought that sort of ride was all but impossible – what sort of person in their right minds gets on a bike on a Monday evening in August and rides almost solidly until Friday?  They grab sleep where they can, but it has to come out of the 90 hour allowance….

But, every four years, quite a few people give it a go – four to five thousand people turn up from all over the world to give it a go in fact.

And if they didn’t demand that riders qualify by riding shorter distances earlier in the year I guess quite a lot more would turn up on the start line.

You can read all about the history of the ride and about some of the heroics of the past – before the days of lightweight bikes, lycra and sensible nutrition – on the official website run by the organising body L’Audax Club Parisiene.

If you are thinking of riding PBP (which is probably within the reach of anyone who is reasonably fit, has a bit of time to train and has an understanding family) there are a few things you need to do to get you to the start line.

Firstly you have to qualify – which is both entirely achievable for a novice and an endless source of bragging rights.

Qualification entails completing a ‘Super Randonneur’ series of rides in the first half of the year.  This means that you have to ride events of 200, 300, 400 and 600 kilometres – an impressive achievement in itself.

Finding such rides in the UK isn’t too much of a challenge – most weekends there are Audax UK sponsored events all over the place.  Book early to avoid disappointment and you’ll be in.

Once you’ve completed your rides and all your workmates are convinced that you are both super human and bonkers you get a doctors’ certificate, pay an entry fee and you’re on the road to Paris in August.

The first year I qualified I didn’t ride PBP – too much pressure at work meant it would have been rather unfair to ask my family and as 2003 turned out to be one of the hottest Augusts on record I was rather glad to have stayed at home.

I’m not sure why I had a crack at in 2007 (one of the wettest Augusts on record) but I’m glad I did.

PBP StartWhen you’re a slightly overweight 45 year old there’s a tendency to find a challenge.  I’m never really got running so marathons were out and somehow those charity rides to Paris never really appealed (I thought I was too lazy to raise the minimum sponsorship!).

But I suppose I got rather sucked in.  I started doing the shorter rides and each time you discover that you can actually manage 200k, then 300K and even 600k you are left begging the question… ‘I wonder…what is 1200k like???’

There’s certainly very little competitive element to it all.  There are few badges and nobody cheats because there really isn’t any point.  As my old house master would have said: ‘you’re only cheating yourself’.

For me, it’s a personal test.  I clearly have an unresolved issue with quitting or giving up too soon and even though my CV bears testament to my lack of patience with pointless jobs or stupid bosses, I take a perverse pleasure at hanging on in there on in the drizzle 300k into a 400k ride.   And I get disproportionately depressed when I climb on a train back to the start having ‘packed’ early.

I’m not sure if it’s the same for other audaxers but that’s about it for me.

If you are thinking about a major challenge for 2011 – one that you can build up to – then PBP is worth thinking about.

Liam FitzPatrick

What am I on about?
August 4, 2009, 7:08 pm
Filed under: Audax information, Why

Riding my bike is my hobby.  Riding it long distances is my obsession.

For anyone not familiar with the world of Audax riding a visit to is a good place to start.  There you can see details of tens of rides that happen every weekend all over the UK.  There are rides varying in distance from 50km to 600km or even more.

It works, like this.  You sign up for a ride and pay a pathetic sum of about £3 and you get sent a route sheet.  Then you turn up at the appointed hour on the designated day at a remote rural village hall somewhere and meet a bunch of other riders.  You’ll be given a ‘brevet’ card and you ride your bike.

The route has to be ridden between a maximum (no racing!) and a minimum speed – the time limit is generous enough to allow tea stops and even the odd snooze on a bus shelter if needed.  And to ensure that you have ridden the right distance you have to get your card stamped at certain points (usually a tea shop somewhere).

And that’s it.  Well apart from the fact that you get to meet some interesting people and to see some of the most amazing parts of the country.

And the routesheet?  Ah, well that takes some getting used to.  It’s written in a funny sort of code that simply tells you, step by step, where to go.  R@T means turn right when you get to a T-junction, R@T (effectively SO) means “this road ends on the corner of another road, you’ll be turning right, but really you’re going straight on” and SO at RAB means… Straight on at the next roundabout…

Log on to the Audax site and find a ride to try out…we might meet up ‘up the road’