Highway Cycling Group and The Bike Show

18:30 Monday 29th June, listen to the Bike Show on resonance FM to hear what happened when Jack Thurston of the Bike Show rode through The Highway Cycling Group’s patch on day two of his epic ride from London to Bristol. Listen in as we visit The Hackpen Clumps where the HCG founder’s ashes are scattered, and look out over the Wiltshire landscape.

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Find out what happens if you take a Lemond Etape with a cheap back tyre at speed down Green Lane, the rutted, flint-strewn, chalk scar that drops from the Ridgeway to Avebury.

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Walk with us as we make a circuit of the stone circle and speculate wildly on its origins. Join us as we drink in the pastoral scene of two highland cows enjoying the shade of a horse chestnut tree.

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And gasp in amazement as Jack interviews me whilst riding along a recently restored canal path between Chippenham and Lacock. Throughout, I invite you to smirk at my funny sounding voice and my wheezing as I try to keep up with Jack.

Finally, don’t forget to donate to Resonance FM to help keep the Bike Show on the air.

If you missed the show, you can download the podcast or listen at the Bike Show web page

Thank you very much to Jack Thurston for inviting me to be his guide through the Wiltshire landscape, and for an absolutely splendid day, including, but not limited to, lunch at the Red Lion – Avebury, a dip in the river at Lacock*, and some speedy puncture repair.

Jack Thurston prepares to take a dip in the river, Lacock, Wiltsire

Jack Thurston prepares to take a dip in the river, Lacock, Wiltsire

* Where we were joined by Daniel Start, author of Wild Swimming and Wild Swimming Coast two books I most heartily recommend if you fancy a dip in the river or sea.

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.

Tuesday Ride VII: of black cats, back lanes and cycling through the dark

It was 19:20 and I was supposed to be meeting John at that most evil of road junction types, the crossroads. However my youngest son was playing up and not going to sleep, so I sent a text to John telling him to ride round to the back of my house and I would put the kettle on while the kids settled down. John pulled into the garden with Bradley and his friend Simon. Simon looked like another super-fit chap, apparently Brad said he’d be slow because he was on a mountainbike, naturally this turned out not to be true. With the children finally in bed and the group fuelled up on fine teas, we set off up the hill, John muttered that when I had left them on the last Tuesday Ride, Brad had amused himself by sprinting after cars in Trowbridge “The thing was” said John “he was catching up with them”, I could well believe it.

Then it became apparent that I was truly messing things up as I had forgotten my bidons. I told everyone to go on ahead while I went back for the bottles, promising to catch up with them on the Wingfield Straight. With the two water bottles filled up I set off after the others, turns out Bradley and Simon’s definition of ‘slow’ is not the same as mine and John’s. I could see them in the distance but it took a sustained sprint of 24-26mph over about a mile or so before I finally caught up with them. Thereafter I was content to sit at the back all the way to Bradford-on-Avon in order to recover. John attempted to get a bit of a chain gang going, but every time Bradley moved to the front he pulled away, leaving John battling the headwind again. Through the centre of Bradford, up past the Moulton place and out towards Holt. These are fast roads with little room for cars to pass and I was glad when we turned left towards Chalisford. By then I was starting to get lost, last time I had cycled past Chalisford Manor I nearly ran over a swan, no swans in sight on Tuesday, but plenty of old folk taking an evening constitutional, all looking startled to see four cyclists hurtle into view, but ready with a nod nonetheless. On the trafficless backroads it was pleasant to hear the whirr of four chainsets working together, the different pitches of the chains on the various sprockets created a droning chord as we raced through the narrow lanes. Suffice to say that despite Simon’s 26″ wheels he was having no problems matching Bradley’s impressive speed, they kept shooting on ahead leaving John and myself to carry on at our own pace. At least John’s Brooks saddle was starting to break in. The route John had chosen was undulating to say the least and we were going very fast, pretty soon I had completely lost my bearings and given up all hope of even knowing which direction I was pointing. Various discussions ensued as to how far we were going to ride and it transpired that earlier in the week Bradley had cycled to Chippenham, Calne and then on to Avebury, impressive work. We decided to carry on to Chippenham and ride back via Melksham, John seemed confident we could get back by 22:00 and we all had lights, except Simon who only had a rear LED.

We crossed main roads, back-roads, lanes, we cycled up cats-eyed roads, singletrack hills with gravel strewn across the tarmac. We climbed short, steep rises, hidden dips and long dull gradients, we swooped down wide lanes with wildflower strewn verges, and I sat at the back on nailbitingly narrow descents taken at 27mph with no hope of avoiding oncoming vehicles (had there been any). Finally we dropped down onto a larger lane that actually seemed to be going somewhere. I was at the back so I got a good view as Brad and Simon’s descent terrified a black cat which shot off just missing John’s front tyre in its haste to be away from the wheeled steeds hurtling down the normally quiet lane. The light was fading, it was time for the flashing LEDs on the seatposts to come into play, I was glad I had changed the batteries in my front lamp at the same time as replacing my blown inner-tube that morning. With the Hi-Viz vest on, the reflective wrist bands and my customised helmet it was highly probable that I could be seen from space. Through a short tunnel by some traffic lights, a very weird and confusing junction where we just “went”, well everyone stopped for us so we assumed it was our right of way, no one beeped anyway. We were then on some main roads, bg roundabouts, orange streetlight glow and concrete bridges spanned by massive pylons whispering their electric songs into the gathering dusk. Here the crickets had stopped, the wildflowers given way to harsh cut back grass on the verge, the hot reek of diesel working through thundering engines; serious roads. Not for us though, we spun away from Chippenham having grazed its flank and made for Lacock. Ahead on the main road I could see the flashing red LED of Bradley’s bike, we struck out for it, reaching him just as we turned off onto more lanes. By now the dark had gathered all around us, loud laughter in the clear air as revellers stepped out of a pub, momentarily framed in the golden light spilling from the doorway, gone in an instant. Some gentle but insistant gradients saw us on our way into Melksham, all four of us spread out across the road standing on the pedals and racing over the speed bumps. The centre of town was quiet, but then I suppose it was a Tuesday, past the betting shop where only two weeks ago a fight had spilled out onto the road stopping the traffic, then out to the new road. Brown tourist signs promise there is refreshment on this route during the day, it’s a greasy spoon called “The Waney Edge Cafe”, closed at this time of night a small, unassuming building with net curtains and a seventies block-font for the sign, decaying tarmac carpark, pummelled by decades of HGVs and builders’ vans, it looks excellent.

Now we were on the home straight, split into two groups, Bradley and Simon just in view ahead of John and myself. John and I chatting as he wound down, we were near to the street he and Bradley live in and they would be home soon. For myself and Simon there was a little further to go. A needless beep from a car-full of twats saw John wishing out loud that for once the wankers would stop to make their point and he could debate their imbecilic behaviour in a way they would clearly understand. It was a good thing they didn’t because the next car was a police car. Everyone gave us a wide berth when I was at the back, no doubt because I was glowing as though I was a special effects reject from TRON.

We pulled into the carpark of a local pub to discuss the evening and make plans with each other for the next rides. I took the obligatory group portrait:

the end of the ride, I glow like TRON

Then as Bradley and John peeled off for their homes, I rode directly in front of Simon so his lack of front light wouldn’t be a problem. We shot through town at 25mph arriving at his street in time for him not to get into trouble. It was then left to me to make the ride back to the village, the legs felt good and even Rode Hill was no bother. John had designed the ride so that we all got 35 miles in. It was excellent, again I hope Bradley and Simon weren’t too bored having to wait for me and John all the time, it’s good for us to ride woth them as our pace is picking up dramatically.