Bicycles outside shops #3 BATH

Sometimes I see a bike in the street that just stops me in my tracks. More often than not,the bike is orange. I seem to love orange bikes. So I had to stop to take a picture, when I saw this lovely bike parked in Walcot Street, Bath:

bicycle fixie in Bath

Really interesting tyre choice, wonderful colour, fixed gear and to top it off, a gold chain, tensioned perfectly.

gold chain - fixie

This bicycle is so fabulous looking that even standing in a pile of dogends and street scuzz cannot impinge its fundamental awesomeness. I’d love to see it in motion.

Published in: on June 14, 2010 at 8:15 pm  Comments (2)  
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Of railway cats, cycle paths, ancient mariners, cancelled trains, films and rock n roll

Way way back in October I rode to Bristol for a great evenings entertainment courtesy of the Cube Cinema and my chum Tom Stubbs. I advertised the Rime of the Ancient Mariner (on bicycle) event a while back, but I didn’t mention that I was going to cycle there. I thought it would be poetic to arrive at a showing of a bicycle film by bike. Having set off a little later than planned, I realised that I would have to cycle considerably quickly to get to Bristol on time. Not a problem, despite barely cycling at all recently, I made good time on the road between the village and Bradford on Avon, before turning onto the canal path. It’s difficult to get speed up on the towpath, not least because of the danger to pedestrians, other cyclists and wildlife. There’s no reason to go fast on a towpath anyway and I knew I could make time up on the Bath/Bristol cycle path, so I just spun the cranks at a nice even pace and enjoyed the ride. Particularly pleasing was the scent of woodsmoke from the various barges and narrowboats. I was on the Lemond Etape, which provided a none too smooth ride over the various surfaces, cobbles, gravel, dirt, broken tarmac. Suffice to say that on arrival in Bath town centre I was wishing I’d decided to wear padded shorts. I had a change of clothes in my panniers (and a change of shoes), but had elected to leave the padding at home. Bath town centre proved easy to navigate, mainly because the cycle route is so clearly and regularly signposted. Quicker than I expected I was riding along the smooth tarmac of the Bristol to Path cycle way. For a long time this was (and may well still be) the jewel in the crown of Sustrans, a beautiful route following one of the old railway lines, dipping through meadows, woodland, over valleys and rivers, very picturesque in any season. The weather was good and the riding very pleasant. Leaves lay in drifts over the path and crunched pleasingly beneath the tyres. Here are two cats I saw en route:


All the way along, the route was busy with cyclists and walkers. As I arrived at Staple Hill Tunnel, a postman slotted in behind me and began drafting close on my wheel. I yanked out my cronky ol’ camera, which was giving up the ghost the screen had malfunctioned, and took a bit of poor-quality video footage:

Music provided by My Two Toms, who I was to see playing later on that very evening.

I approached Bristol deep in the gloaming, necessitating the use of my lights. Many, many cyclists were using the path and in places it became quite congested, but unlike being in a car, it felt great. Everyone was all smiles and ‘after you’ ‘no after you’. Hipsters with messenger bags mixed with grannies on Pashleys.

It took me a while to understand Tom’s directions, but soon I was ensconced in The Cube cinema, enjoying some terrific films, chatting to people about cycling and listening to some splendid tunes courtesy of My Two Toms and Bucky. The film maker and artist Michael Smith stole the show with his introduction to the film he and Tom made, and also his drawing along live to My Two Toms music. It was a great evening, and nice to find out afterwards that a Highway Cycling Group reader, Mair had turned up and enjoyed herself.

Back at Tom and Katherine’s, we stayed up until three, drinking and talking. During an attempt to take a picture of Tom and Katherine’s bikes I dropped my ailing camera on the stone floor and destroyed it. Ah well, goodbye old friend. A few hours sleep, then we were out on a visit to the famous Bristol Sweetmart, then on to Tom’s studio. Finally, I cycled to the station envisioning a nice sit down on the train, only to find trains on that line were cancelled due to engineering works. Buses were supplied but they wouldn’t let my Lemond Etape on. Wearily I cycled the thirty two miles home. A great weekend.

Why, here are some pictures:

Great Pultney Street, Bath

Great Pultney Street, Bath

Cafe Kino Bristol

Cafe Kino Bristol

Tom and Michael Smith introduce their film

Tom and Michael Smith introduce their film

Bucky Unplugged - Joff wearing my Walz Cycling Cap

Bucky Unplugged - Joff wearing my Walz Cycling Cap

Tom with bikes my smashed camera in his hand

Tom with bikes, my smashed camera in his hand

Street scene - Bristol

Street scene - Bristol

The menu at the old station halt cafe

The menu at the old station halt cafe

Getting the miles in

I am currently three rides behind on the blog – it’s 00:01 on Saturday morning here in the UK, and the computer is on, so I’ll make a start on rectifying the situation.

Chippenham 18 mph

On Tuesday I worked right up until the bell, before getting the bike ready at the last minute. John and Brad arrived outside the front gate in a squeal of brakes, sending a small spray of chippings into the wooden fence. At the time, I was adjusting the panniers on the bike, they looked on in disbelief “What have you got those on for?” “Are you joining the CTC?” etc. etc. I wheeled the bike out to more mockery this time directed at my plus fours, Brad and John were of course lycra’d up from head to toe, clipless pedals, energy drink branded bidons, shades, the works. “Meh” is pretty much my response to that sort of attire. The mocking being completed we saddled up and rolled out to the A36 heading for Bath. The road was now open to traffic, fresh tarmac slipped easily under the tyres and we took control of the road on the descent into Limpley Stoke, with the speed limit on forty no one was going to overtake us on the hill. We took the corners fast and wide and arrived on the viaduct with big grins and verbal high-fives.

Unfortunately the unrepaired stretch of the road to Bathampton was a nightmare of frost-smashed chippings, potholes and cracks that jarred our hands and arms and sucked the life out of the wheels. Hurtling towards Bath on the downslope put me in mind of an old bomber command style war film, flack exploding around a Lancaster Bomber as it heads for the target, the pilot desperately trying to keep the plane pointing in the right direction as the fuselage is breached and the air is wracked with turbulence. The bike threatened to bounce off its line or suffer a buckled wheel, smashed on the anvil of the A36, it was a relief when the tarmac became smooth again. Rounding a switchback corner I saw a  Jay rise from its perch on a fence on top of the bank, a brilliant flash of colour from the wings as it took to the air. Across the toll bridge, riding behind Brad, I noticed him standing on the level cranks to deal with the crumbling road and slewed across to draw level with him.

“You can always tell a mountainbiker, level cranks on the rough stuff” I shouted into the wind of our forward motion. Then a cross voice sounded from just behind me:

“You can always tell a roadie, because they cut you up” – exclaimed John. I had thought him a good five metres behind when I drifted across the road, instead I had moved clean across his path as he was about to race in between Brad and myself. Whoops, bad road etiquette.

We cranked out the miles towards Box, entering the village then turning up a long, long hill. Not steep, just long, almost two miles long. On the way up I slipped in behind John and changed gear whenever he did. The hill was long enough, and shallow enough to generate a reverie as I spun the cranks and concentrated on maintaining my distance to John’s back wheel.

It occurred to me how easy it is to change gear on a road bike now. A motion of the thumb or finger, barely lifted from the bars, an imperceptible movement only given away by the whirr and clunk of the chain moving over. How different it is from the cycling of my youth with the original Highway Cycling Group. Then, a gear change was a measured decision, involving the hand dropping to the down tube, a leaning forward and, eyes still on the road, the easing of the lever until the grating sounded and the chain went over. Maybe, if it had been a hastily snatched imperfect change on a steep hill, desperately hurried as every millisecond with a hand off the bar meant the bike was barely in control, the hand may need to return to the lever for some micro-adjustment to stop the chain rubbing or the deraileur ‘ticking’. I used to like making the change slowly; waiting for the moment when the chain would start to move over, which could be felt through the bike before it could be heard. I also used to love the feeling of cranking out the power and moving the hand down to change up, sometimes keeping my hand on the lever as the cadence increased, ready for the next change. I remember on the Highway Common, riding the length of it at speed, going up through all the gears until the bike skimmed over the chippings, and it was both hands on the drops and head right down; panting with the exertion, calves aching as I approached the ninety degree bend at the end at what seemed like an impossibly fast pace in top gear. Now it’s all so instant, indexed gearing means a single push and the gear changes immediately, the effort required somehow seems less than the physical effect achieved.

Still, I was glad that it was easy to change gear up and down willy-nilly on Box hill. It seemed to go all the way to Corsham. Brad was of course way out in front, both feet off the pedals, legs stretched out backwards superman style, clowning about. We were going at a cracking pace, helped by the steep drop into the back end of Chippenham. We turned for Melksham and more bad roads via Lacock. Heavy freight revved horribly close to us, drenching us in diesel fumes and blasts of hot engine air, the road throbbed with the weight of HGVs, the air pulsed with the sound of their gear changes as they overtook us. A moped whined past John and myself with an engine that sounded like an angry bee caught in the greaseproof liner of a cereal packet. I shouted to John “This’ll be good, watch Brad!” Sure enough as the moped drew level Brad stood on the cranks and applied the power, staying level as the moped rider tried to increase his speed. Point made, Brad slacked off and dropped back, then continued at his usual pace.

On arrival back at Trowbridge John offered me a cuppa and I gladly accepted, much in need of a rest before the final ride home. We sat outside in the gathering dusk with steaming cups of tea and talked bikes and bikeshops. Twenty minutes later I saddled up again, bid John farewell, and meandered home.

37.5 miles at an average speed of 16.4 mph, not bad considering we only managed 8-10mph on Box hill.

Friday Ride II: Of hills, bad tarmac, roadworks and weak tea

Friday Ride

The Friday Ride – L-R, your author, John, Brad, Andy. This was the only time I was out in front on this ride and then only for about forty seconds.

I’d managed to negotiate the afternoon off on Friday, although it turned out that due to a colleague being ill, I had to work up until the bell anyway, so at a quarter of an hour to go before I was meeting John and Andy, I shut up shop for the day and quickly got changed. My faithful Tesco plus fours had given up the ghost the night before – they were holed and torn as it was, but they split completely, unfortunately beyond repair. As I’ve lost a stone over the last month, I feel a lot less self-conscious about wearing the ol’ lyrca, so I felt fine donning the full length bib and my running top. My trusty IPath bigfoots had also gone the way of all threads, the sole having come away from the right shoe, so I wore my running shoes. This proved to be a bad choice, they have pretty aggressive grips and it made sliding in and out of the clips problematic. So now not only will I have to keep an eye out for some plus fours with a popper button for tightening the legs at the calves, but I will have to look for some cheap shoes with limited grips and a good profile and small tongue. Tricky.

I grabbed my Hi-viz waistcoat on the way out and ran the bike up the garden path, leaping on as I pointed the handlebars down the hill. I arrived at the pub car park a little ahead of anyone else, but within three minutes, first Andy, then Brad close behind rode up. It was good to see Brad out with us, and I think this is the first time in a long time that there would be four of us on the road together. John wasn’t too far behind, so he pulled into the carpark and we discussed the day’s ride. John wanted some hills so we elected to go out to Norton St Philip and then into Bath – coming down Claverton hill and onto the (hopefully deserted) A36. We quickly discovered the flaw in the plan. The A36 was closed at Limpley Stoke which, although potentially giving us some traffic free riding on that road, meant that the Norton stretch was an absolute nightmare. Not only that, but the road surface was appalling – Enfer du Nord stuff. I trusted the speed to carry me over the shattered tarmac, pushing hard to stay close to Brad and Andy as they led out. The bike jarred and skittered its way over the crumbling asphalt and chippings, the aluminum frame amplified each bump and crack sending shockwaves through my arms and shoulders. The traffic was angry and impatient, I watched in horror as the huge wing mirror of a truck passed mere inches above Andy’s head at twenty-eight miles an hour, causing Brad to sit up in disgust and shake his head. We pulled over at the hills crest to wait for John who had not yet shrugged off his cold so was wheezing and coughing as he come up. We stood breathing hard, sucking diesel fumes, our faces coated in a thin film of road-dust and sweat, Andy looked back at us over his shoulder, there was not enough room to turn the bikes around “I’ve just realised the size of the hill we’re going to be climbing” he said. He turned back to face the angry, bruised road, but even against the hard thrum of traffic I could hear him exclaim “shit!” – This was bad news, two weeks ago Andy had taken Brassknocker on his racer – a double chainring machine, if the forthcoming hill was daunting to him, what did that mean for me? I had ridden Midford Hill with John before and it was bad enough, but on that ride the traffic hadn’t seemed so angry and the road so against us as it did today.

John didn’t stop when he got level, but carried on and dropped down the hill. I was last out of the layby and watched the others hurtle down the slope, level with the traffic. With the motor vehicles restricted speedwise by the tight curves and steep slope it was easy to take command of the road and I left a white VW van far behind as I leaned into the bends, near grounding the pedal at one point. Brad and Andy had overtaken John, but even they were hammered into a crawl by the daunting climb that we now faced. I tried to hit the granny ring on my triple, but the cables must have stretched and the damn thing wouldn’t go down. Cursing, I locked in a good ten meters behind John, who was stood up and pushing hard to get the bike up. The others were around the corner. Traffic backed up now as we struggled up, as a Shogun passed me I seriously considered holding onto the back and getting a pull. I thought the others may have frowned on such behaviour.

Nevertheless, I crested as the others were just setting off again and we headed around Bath without incident, bar a moment when Brad suddenly took a corner at incredible speed and a weird angle, he’d actually got his finger trapped under the brake lever and couldn’t slow down.

Down Claverton hill, the others shot on ahead, all being accomplished descenders. I nearly came a cropper when a car suddenly lurched round a blind corner – the driver looked as surprised to see me, as I did to see her. Past that obstacle to the junction at the bottom where the others were touching the burning hot wheel rims. Then, oh yes, is it time for the usual shot of John repairing his wheel? Yes I think it is.

John's wheel repair as usualFor those not in the know, every week at some point during the ride, John’s spokes will go wrong or he will puncture. No one knows why this is, but it always happens. The wheels had even been rebuilt in between rides this time. It had been a pretty punishing ride for the bikes, those rough, crumbling tarmac stretches, followed by a long, hard ascent, then a screamingly fast downhill. In truth, it had been a punishing ride all round. Even the mighty Brad was not 100% having had to work some ridiculously long shifts through the night. Now we had come to our reward for the agonising ride we had suffered thus far. With the A36 closed at Limpley Stoke we should practically have it to ourselves. I was a bit worried about how we would get through the roadworks, but John said there was a path across the viaduct, then just a patch of roadworks that we would be able to cruise through and past.

We did indeed have the road to ourselves and road four abreast, this was more like it, the sheer magic of group riding, the melody of eight tyres thrumming on the road surface, the swish of the cranks and the click clack of a gear change, rippling through the group like a wave of wind across a cornfield. We took the roadworks, squeezing over the viaduct in single file, then walking the bikes past the tarmacing that was going on – acid stench of hot asphalt and heat of straining diesel engines as we remounted to take the long but relatively untaxing climb out of Limpley Stoke.

Crossing the viaduct - Limpley StokeOut of the roadworks - Limpley StokeA36 Riding the chain gang

I suddenly realised I had an hour spare, so suggested we head for the village via Farliegh Hungerford and Tellisford. As we trundled up the biggest and longest hill, I got the chain to drop onto the granny ring with a triumphant cry of “yes!” and sat back to watch everyone else weaving over the road with their double chainrings, all stood up out of the saddle. Something suddenly occurred to me, I had taken this hill with absolute ease on the Brompton – and it got me thinking… well I’ll save that for a later post, once I’ve done a few tests…

We arrived at the village, a full fifty minutes before I was due to be back, so I offered a cup of tea. We piled the bikes up on my lawn, and I made some tea while we all talked, bikes, bikeshops and John’s illnesses. Unfortunately, I had not made a pot of tea before with the new brand of tea bags I had been using. I am sorry to say that the tea was nothing short of weak, and much mock was made of the mugs of warm milk, while I tried desperately to squeeze more precious brew out of the ailing bags. In the end the tea was merely insipid, and a second round was refused, leaving me with the burning shame of serving up a poor cuppa, and no chance for redemption! A full enquiry will be launched to discover how this substandard tea got through the filter. Drat.

Weak tea scandal

John and Andy – clearly disgruntled at being served weak tea (mug of weak tea visible bottom left, note poor colouring and general milkiness).

Bristol to Rode by Brompton part II; The Ecstasy

A mural by Bristol Temple Meads

I was hugely relieved to arrive at Bradford-on-Avon train station, I bought my ticket, folded the Brompton and hauled it over the footbridge to the opposite platform. The ride to the station had left me feeling very down, it was the first ride for ages where I had just not enjoyed myself at all, not even the sight of some pretty nice looking cruisers in the bike racks on the other platform could cheer me up. There was plenty of room on the train so I kept the Brompton next to my seat, it sat there folded up like a sleeping pet dog, resting against the bag. On arrival at Bristol Temple Meads I carried the bike down into the underpass and through the ticket barrier to the front of the station. There in the shadow of this epic temple to Brunel’s mighty railway, I woke the Brompton, unfolding it and launching myself onto the cobbled road.

Turning right, I headed towards Old Market via the gargantuan new developments towering over the road and dwarfing the remains of the old Victorian buildings. It started off well, nice clear mixed use pathways with bike symbols, bike lights added to the crossings, but then suddenly I wasn’t sure if I was on a pavement or a bike lane, it just ran out or something. At Old Market I got off and pushed the bike up the pavement past drifts of paper and litter until I found the studio. Once inside I was able to use the bike racks. As the studio director is a cyclist (Rapha kit and a Condor bike) cyclists are very well catered for.

I worked until gone three, then the director drew me a map of how to reach the station via the back route. I set off again through a maze of building works and half completed flats, dodging cranes, front loaders and works vans until I reached the station, only to find I had just missed a train and there wasn’t another for an hour.

strange drifts of litter how to get to the station by bike racing past the building sites on my brompton

I had seen signs to The Bristol to Bath Railway Path on the way to the station and noted that it was fifteen miles to Bath. No, that it was only fifteen miles to Bath.

Now obviously if I waited for the next train it would be an hour, then half an hour on the train, then twenty minutes on the road, a grand total of one hour fifty of traveling time. If I rode the thirty miles back to the village it was going to be two and a bit hours if I was lucky. Plus there was a distinct headwind and it was a bit squally, with showers racing in. Putting logic aside, as I often do, it was obvious that I was going to ride home by Brompton. If nothing else, I needed a cathartic ride to remove the memory of the mornings slog to Bradford on Avon (see previous post). So I set off for Bath, it took a little bit of time to find the entrance to the railway path, I ran out of signs quite quickly, but realised that the number 4 I was seeing on lamposts denoted cycle route 4, the Bristol to Bath Railway Path. For those not in the know, this is considered to be the flagship cycle path created by Sustrans, and, another reason why I wanted to ride it as soon as possible, it’s under threat. The West of England Partnership plan to install a Bus Rapid Transit along this green corridor, to send hybrid diesel buses down the path next to walkers and cyclists. This smacks of what I like to call SAHOGI (Someone At Head Office’s Good Idea) – it will be a colossal waste of money and time and severely degrade the experiences of walkers and cyclists. It will carve up some fantastic wildlife areas not to mention push pollution and noise down this path. What’s interesting is that Bristol is a hotbed of radical activity, so the communities had claimed the cycle path as their own. The protests and petitions were immediate and pretty effective.

So what’s it like to ride? Very nice, no slope too steep, the tarmac is in pretty good condition and public artworks pop up all down the path. The area is rich with wildlife and greenery, and there’s not much litter, not compared to the road anyway. The path was pretty busy with walkers and cyclists despite the cold wind and sudden showers, I lost count of the number of times I exchanged nods with cyclists going the other way.

The tunnel - great fun

One of my favourite stretches was the tunnel, this is lit for most of the day and it’s great fun to ride through. I could also mention the station halt that has been converted to a cafe so you can sit with your feet over the edge of the platform while you chew a bacon roll – I see I have just mentioned it, great. For steam railway fans there is a stretch of track with steam trains and rolling stock in various states of repair (and disrepair). Rust, charred wood, steam, the smell of bacon from the ‘buffet car’, a carriage with an internal light on and what looks like a home made office in it. A splendidly chaotic place that I feel much be explored fully in the future.

Then through some bluebell woods as I neared Bath, all too soon I was spat out into a residential area and industrial estate at the back end of the city. I followed the cycle network signs through the city centre then puffed up the hill to the beginning of the tow path for the next stage of the journey, the Bath to Bradford-on-Avon canal path. The Brompton is not really designed for this kind of rough cycling and to begin with it was like riding the cobbles of the Paris-Roubaix – my arms were jarred so much that I had visions of them suddenly popping out of the sockets. Luckily the path became smoother.

Ah the canal path – often when you see imagery of canal life you’ll see pictures of retired couples or families laughing gaily as they ease their pristine narrowboat through the lock, or wandering lightheartedly down the towpath, net in hand, big healthy grins. Thus:

The reality is often more radical – this stretch of the Kennet and Avon Canal is a hotbed of alternative lifestyles, from the the filthy-faced smiling old man in a santa had pulling a squeaking trolley of wood, to this boat here:

narrow boat on the Kennet and Avon canal

Look at that figurehead! Check out the doors, the tarp, the trike parked next to the craft! You don’t see that in the Canal Holiday’s brochures do you?

I continued onwards, fewer people on the towpath than on the Bristol to Bath stretch, but a few brave souls were out on bikes. There was also a lot of wood chopping going on next to the boats. On and on I went, by now my shoulderblades were aching a bit from the pummeling. The magnificent Aquaduct at Dundas was a pleasure to ride over, breathtaking views. Round the corner, a heron had had just been disturbed by a passing boat and was flying down the river at eye level. I matched it’s speed and for a good fifty or so meters we kept pace with each other before the heron headed for the left bank and stood looking for fish. Now the Aquaduct at Avoncliff, this one is quite exciting as there is a steep hill to go down and another to go up, right by the Cross Guns pub. Now on the final stretch of the towpath, and soon I could see the twinkling lights of the Lock Inn. Unfortunately there was no time for an epic Boatman’s Breakfast or the Captain Pugwash (smoked mackerel and eggs) as I had to hit the open road.

So there I was, on the final five to six mile stretch, possibly the most dangerous section of the ride in traffic. But now, strangely, going home, drivers seemed less willing to try dangerous overtaking, seemingly content to wait until the road was clear. I guess it must have just been bad luck on my ride in earlier that morning.

And so, purged of the memory and bad feeling from the morning’s ride I arrived home, tired but happy having ridden around twenty eight to thirty miles on the Brompton.

John’s Circuit: hills, traffic and the Makka Pakka

Having failed to go out on Thursday with John (he claims Bradley slaughtered him) due to illness, I was eager to get out with him today so at 1700 I cycled through Trowbridge to his house. He was already rolling down the street to meet me so we set off in the direction of Bath. We clipped Bradford on avon by the Leigh Park Hotel, a gentle but determined gradient warmed us up and John warned “This isn’t an easy ride by the way”. Out of Bradford on Avon and towards Sally in the Woods, the road surface was terrible and the traffic appalling. Considering it was Sunday evening there was an astonishing amount on the roads. The thing I hated was when a car would start to overtake, see another car coming the other way, sort of slow down like “I don’t know what to do now” then decide to just accelerate and cut in closer to us, great! “Ah I’m on the wrong side of the road with a car hurtling towards me and I may kill these cyclists I stupidly decided to overtake when I couldn’t even see if the road ahead was clear, I’ll just slow down and have a think for a minute!” Being killed by a moron is not my idea of a noble end. Pop-clunk-GRIND! My anger was immediately diffused by the fact that my chain had come off and jammed. A bit of brute force and an oily pair of hands later we were on our way again.

John comes up the hill

There was just a middle length gradient to the top of Sally-in-the-Woods and I dropped the camera down to ankle height, leaning right over the bike and pointing the camera backwards to get the shot above, I’m quite pleased with it. For more cycling photos see my Flickr page. The descent was great fun, a few switchbacks, some steep sections and with no traffic behind us we were able to position ourselves nicely on the road to take the corners. It wasn’t as steep as I expected, but it was quite a long descent. We crossed the Batheaston bypass and made our way into Bathampton. The traffic was very dense, I saw something tiny and white flash past my wheels on the road, somehow I registered the shape of The Makka Pakka. This extraordinary character can be seen on the cbeebies programme ‘In the Night Garden’, there is a weird amount of symbolism surrounding him. For example, he lives in an earthen barrow (similar to West Kennet Longbarrow) and sleeps with a pile of stones. He calls the forest denizens with his horn, then cleans them with his sponge. There’s something decidedly psychedlic-folk about him and I like him very much. I picked up the tiny figure, he was a bit dirty and dented, but I put him in the hi-viz vest and carried on with the ride.

Makka Pakka found in the road

A hideously sharp left and we were heading down to the toll bridge. Marvellously it’s free for bicycles to cross, to the left was an iron waterwheel turning away sedatley. Our ride over the bridge was ruined only by a cheeser in a range rover who thought he couldn’t be bothered to give us priority as he’s supposed to, and as a result had to drive on the pavement of this historic bridge in order to squeeze past us in his outsized twatmobile. The hill up to the A36 wasn’t as bad as we’d led ourselves to believe, it wasn’t easy though, the final few yards were steep enough to provide a real danger of the bike stalling. We both got up there and continued down the main road back towards the village. It was an undulating ride and it had been a while since we’d ridden it together. Interestingly I think we both found the hill up from Limpley Stoke to be easier this time, showing that the gruelling pace Bradley puts us through on the Tuesday Rides is having some effect in making us fitter. I still run out of breath before I run out of legs though. A nice fast blast down the remainder of the A36 stretch and onto the smooth new tarmac by Woolverton.

I arrived back at the house in time to wash and present the Makka Pakka to the children just as In The Night garden came on the TV. What better way to wind down from a ride than with some gentle, psychedilc dream-garden action?

Published in: on August 20, 2007 at 12:20 pm  Comments (3)  

Tuesday Ride IV: The Mountain Stage

A text popped up on my phone this morning, it was John Hayes “It’s the mountain stage today”, gulp! Was he going to take me up Brassknocker Hill? The Alpe d’Huez of Bath and North East Somerset? Thankfully not, he did, however, take me up every other hill available in the area. This was, in John’s mind, to honour the start of the Tour De France, but he was four days early. No matter, The Highway Cycling Group was up to the challenge.

The sky was semi-clear as we met up by the mill and ambled up the road, sporadic showers had been the characteristic weather of the day, but the clouds currently floating overhead seemed to be uninterested in delivering rain. We crossed the A36 and rode at a gentle pace through Norton St.Phillip towards Midford, only speeding up on the downhill into Midford village. John had fitted a new bike computer, he hit 44 mph on the descent and I hit 40 trying to catch him up. What he didn’t tell me was that we would be climbing Midford Hill as soon as we were in the village. I had just pedalled like mad in my highest gear to catch up with him and arrived breathless at the base of the longest hill of tonight’s ride. Damn! Next time we do this route (oh yes John, there will be a next time) I will work out the length of the hill because it seemed to go on for ever. Round about halfway up my mind started wandering as it often does on a steep hill, anything rather than thinking about how much further there is and whether or not I’ll make it. I couldn’t find a comfortable position on the bars, hands on the brake hoods? Hands gripping the straight part of the bars? Hands near the stem lightly touching the tape? One hand off as I tried to stretch my back? I began to think back to the birth of my first son, five years ago. By the time my wife had got to the birthing bed she was in so much pain from the contractions all she could do when they came was wriggle her legs around. She said later that her body was desperately trying to find a position that eased the pain, I think I was trying to do the same thing with my hands on this hill. Not that I’m equating climbing Midford Hill on a bicycle with the pain of childbirth you understand, more that it was one of those situations where I felt that if I tried to keep my hands moving it would hurt less, for the record I don’t think it did.

There were stretches of road where we stood on the pedals and ground away, there were strecthes where we could sit, spin and take on water, but mostly it just seemed to be somewhere in the middle. John was in front all the way, when we reached the top I took the lead and gave him a brief respite from the headwind. We turned right at the double roundabout by Coombe and stopped at the beginning of Bradford Road for some Mint Cake and a photo.

Myself and John.

Then some fast riding through the outskirts of Bath, over the junction at the top of Brassknocker Hill, then onto Claverton Hill. The trees at the top of the hill curled and crowded over the road forming a dramatic archway, a maw about to swallow us down into a screamingly fast descent replete with hairpins and variable road width, true Tour de France stuff. Again John shot on ahead, he really is a fearless descender, particularly in the face of uncoming traffic, I just can’t open the bike up like that. On joining John at the bottom he told me to touch the wheelrim, the constant braking had left the rim incredibly hot, too hot to touch for anything more than a split second. A quick conference and we decided to head back along the A36 to where the Iford road joined, head across the valley to Westwood then turn for home. I decided to lead on the ’36, setting a cracking pace into the headwind (we decided that the wind changes as we ride, we always seem to be going into a headwind. Always!), but John reminded me there was one more hill before the turn off. Just after the lights on the crossroads at the bottom of Brassknocker Hill, the A36 winds it’s way up the hill past Freshford. I forgot how long the hill is and after timing the traffic lights perfectly I started taking it at 14mph, burbling on to John who seemed to have gone quiet, pretty soon I was down to 12 mph, I looked behind and John was in the distance. I had totally misjudged the length of the climb and now had to tough it out to keep my momentum. As articulated lorries heaved their way round me, throttles full open, I ascended seemingly ever upwards, John was a long way behind but my speed was dropping fast. John had said at the base this was our Ventoux, and I very nearly became our Tom Simpson, the post mortem would have shown large intakes of caffeine, bananas and two ibruprofen. We made it, regrouped, then John took us left off the main road and pretty much back down the hill (again John with the speedy descent) into Freshford and on a search for the mysterious ‘third road’ into Iford (see previous post). The road surface rapidly deteriorated and we were soon cycling through mud and gravel in the middle of the tarmac, the width of the road was diminishing at an alarming rate, particluarly considering the reckless speed we were going. An overgrown cast iron signpost with white paint peeling into flecks of rust told us we were headed the right way, and it wasn’t long before we were resting by the bridge under Britannia’s imperious gaze, admiring the manor house at Iford. More mint cake was taken on, fortifying us for the final and possibly shortest, but certainly steepest climb of the ride, the road out of the valley and up to Westwood.

We started well although it got steep terrifying quickly, all I could see in my head was that 17% gradient sign at the top. Then the strains of a string orchestra started playing, I asked John if he could hear it too, thankfully he could and the applause that followed told us there was a concert in the folly at Iford Manor. John suggested we imagine the applause was for us, he laughed, and lost concentration and momentum enough to have to put his foot down. I crawled on ahead, determined not to use the granny ring (it’s called Begging the Granny), in any case, I wouldn’t be able to get into it without stopping the bike, and stopping the bike would mean I was walking the rest of the hill. Unlike the other side of the hill which I rode up last time I was here, there is a bit of width to the road so I could move side to side on the tarmac, making the ride slightly longer, but also fractionally less steep. So zig-zagging away and breathing like an asthmatic hound I managed to get to the top, where I spent a good few minutes wheezing until John rode up.

We were spent, legs like jelly we rode through Westwood, parting at the crossroads outside Bradford-on-Avon. An excellent ride, but not one I would want to do on a regular basis.

I said to John, and I’m saying it here, that we will do Brassknocker Hill sometime during the mountain stages of the Tour de France. There John, I’ve said it, it’s here on the internet. We cannot back out now.