Quick catch up time

It’s appalling I know. I blog briefly then disappear for ages, necessitating one of these picture heavy catch up pieces. So what have I been up to bikewise?

The first thing was the Endura Lionheart, which was a choice of 100 miles or 100 kilometres. Naturally I chose the 100km (60 miles), even so that was a stupid undertaken given my expanding girth and lack of fitness.

Not only that, because I don’t have a car, I had to cycle to the start from my house anyway – which was 11 miles.

As I lined up at the start in a sea of brand names and tens of thousands of pounds worth of bikes, I felt conspicuous due to my lack of lycra. It was amazingly fun though. Highlights included a horrific blowout 8 miles in that shredded my tyre, marmite sandwiches at the feed station, Fay thrashing me as my legs cramped, walking two of the hills and hitting the finishing straight at 38mph. A brilliant day, well organised AND medals for everyone!

Then I went with the Explorer Scouts to France and we cycled from St Malo to Cherbourg over four days. A wonderful camping and cycling trip with 165 miles covered, it’s going to be the subject of another post.

Then my car finally got taken away for scrap. I’ve been using public transport to get to my business partner’s house every week, it takes me 3 hours and costs me £32.00. So I’ve started cycling there – (or sometimes part of the way there and then the rest by train) – it takes me 2.5 hours and costs me not as much. The route has some lovely views and interesting things to see. I lost my wallet on the test ride to Gingergeek‘s but amazingly found it on the A36 the next day; hooray! then my spoke broke, meaning I had to walk back seven miles; booooo!

There’s much more cycling to come! Perhaps too much. I’ve committed myself to 470 miles over 4 days for charity – I’m going to need some sponsorship. More on that anon.

Published in: on May 16, 2011 at 8:51 pm  Comments (3)  
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Old School Shorts – Cycling Short Film Special – Riding home on moonbeams

On the last Friday of every month, the studio where I work most of the week puts on a short film night. As we’re based at the Old Church School in Frome, we call it Old School Shorts. With the Cobble Wobble looming close we though we’d ask the race organiser, Andrew Denham, to curate the event.

Andrew Denham is part of the Black Canon Collective – a group of mountain bikers who are often to be seen bombing around the forest at Longleat – sometimes dressed as superheroes – always with big grins on their faces.

Andrew chose the films for the middle section of the night. There were some crackers, from Minibike battles in Portland, to mad tricks on Scottish Streets. We managed to watch the brilliant RSA/Rapha film Two Broad Arrows by Adrian Moat (it’s no longer up on the Rapha site). As ever, we peppered the evening with music videos, vintage adverts, and amusing cat films. All projected up big on the wall of studio while we lounged around on sofas and swivel chairs, munching on pizza and nibbles and drinking beer.

Old School Shorts bicycle film night

All in all we had about an hour and half of films with two intervals. It was great to finally meet @westfieldwanderer from Radstock who I’ve been conversing with on Twitter for ages. We had a good chat about bicycle commuting, local hills and AtoB magazine.

Afterwards, Ed took some photos of the old bikes and parts that Andrew had collected to be donated for The Bristol Bike Project and we returned to the studio for music videos, Guess who games, more food and drink and good chat. People took turns on the VJ ing and we watched a myriad of films, from helmetcam madness, to Bats for Lashes videos via Vanilla Ice and Guns & Pork, my favourite part of the VJ section was a film of Andrew putting his shed up on his allotment.

Things wound up just after midnight, and I loaded up the Brompton for the ride home.The streets of Frome were doubly quiet, because I was suffering from a bit of a head cold, my hearing in my left ear had disappeared. As I’m half deaf in my right ear anyway, this meant that I could barely hear a thing. Not that there was much to hear, I didn’t see a single car moving until I left the town. I took it slowly through the streets, freewheeling wherever I could, and gently riding up the hills in the lowest gear.

On leaving the town I suddenly noticed the moon, not yet full, but incredibly bright. The wooded hill down to Oldford, normally a pitch-black potluck ride of guessing where the kerb might be, was transformed into a gently lit flight through a luminous forest. As I turned up the hill towards Beckington I pulled over to look out over the valley – gloriously rolled out before me in and picked out in sharp electric detail by the witchlight. The stark black of the distant hills, the sulphurous streetlamps of Frome itself, the deteriorating skeleton elms that lined the slope, all seemed so vibrant and hyper-real, and I was struck with an unsettling feeling that the same scene by daylight was not the true view, but merely a reflection of what I was seeing now.

I continued up the hill, my blocked up ears meant all I could hear was my own breath and the creaking of my jaw. I felt, rather than heard the steady trundling squeak of my faithful Brompton’s cranks as I spun the pedals. In the hedge to left there was a brilliant white blaze of light, as I inched closer it resolved into the shape of an old milestone. I had never noticed it before, despite passing it many, many times, yet here it was glowing fiercely under the lunar influence.

The air on the slope down into Beckington sucked the warmth from the bare skin of my arms, I had enough momentum to get halfway up the hill on the other side. Past the 24hr garage – devoid of customers, over the roundabout, devoid of traffic, past the place where the gypsies camp and hard left before the boundary stone. Ursa Major was a few degrees off horizontal, far to the West a few low and long clouds stretched themselves out above the land, the lights of a distant plane flickered on and off in the space between cloud and earth as it tracked towards the orange glow of Bristol. The lane was narrow, and the moon flung her beams directly over it from left to right, pools of moonlight settled on the tarmac, punctuating the ink-black shadows that leapt from the trees and hedges and hid the stones and cracks in the road. My Wheels seemed to find them without any trouble.

I felt I could ride on into the dawn, but the glamour of the moonlight would have worn off quickly, leaving me cold and tired to endure the long hour before daylight alone.

The village was still and silent, not even the blue flicker of a television set could be seen. The restored clock on top of the Cross Keys softly chimed one o’clock as I folded the Brompton, bid the moon a goodnight and closed the door.

In a Cycling Utopia, pedestrians and cyclists get on just fine (and you can cycle on water)

At the beginning of September, Lucy and I spent a long weekend at our local Center Parcs (Longleat). It’s like living in some sort of cycling utopia! A forest environment, a mere handful of vehicles on the road, masses of bikes, loads of bicycle parking, special bike trails and paths.

If you read the popular press these days, you will learn that cyclists are a menace in pedestrianised areas, that they don’t use their bells, that they cycle too close to people, that they cycle too fast, that they appear out of nowhere. If you unquestioningly take the opinion pages of the papers as gospel truth, you may well believe that it’s a wonder that there aren’t horrific casualties every single day that pedestrians and cyclists go near each other, I guess it’s a miracle that there are only a handful of cyclist on pedestrian deaths/serious injuries every year. We must have been VERY LUCKY to get away with it!

What’s curious about Center Parcs is that cyclists and pedestrians mix completely and thoroughly, yet I heard not one bad word exchanged betwixt the two camps. Even though cyclists were weaving through pedestrians strung out over the routes. Even though there were queues to get through gates. Even though at various times cyclists and pedestrians would have to give way to one another in an environment that was not heavily regulated. The difference is in the expectation, you come to Center Parcs knowing full well that there will be shared-use paths with bikes. There are few clear definitions like ‘pavement’ and ‘road’, so somehow cyclists are prepared to meet with pedestrians and vise-versa.

It rained a lot on the first day, which I actually found quite pleasant in the forest. I was reminded of my favourite sequence in the film My Neighbor Totoro, where the Totoro is delighted by the sound of the rain dripping from the trees onto his borrowed umbrella. To live amongst trees is a special thing indeed.

Some pics:

Lucy took her Diamondback MTB and I took my Brompton, but when it comes to being on the water, you need a specialist machine:

Keep one in the garage for when the floods come

Keep one in the garage for when the floods come

It was a surprisingly smooth ride – moving downwind anyway.

Two rides with John – ‘Eight Snorkers and a Naughty Ferret on the way to Heaven’s Gate’ And ‘How we took the canal path home despite John’s grumblings’

I really am appallingly behind with this blog, weeks behind in fact. So much has happened in that time, Team GB dominated Olympic Cycling – with riders from all the corners of this sceptred isle winning medals; I went to Wales and smuggled my Brompton over the border to sneak in a dusk ride on a deserted mountain road; John, Andy and I rode to Cheddar and back, including about a three mile climb out of the gorge on a full English breakfast with 1.5 litres of tea in my panniers and a slab of cave matured cheddar cheese.

But, friends, let us start with a couple of rides I went on with John. the first was a Tuesday ride. Unfortunately, my father in law had fed me from his barbeque that evening. In my lust for nosh, I had consumed no less than eight sausages of fine pedigree. As I eased onto the tarmac with the bike I knew this was a mistake. John took us round the back of the Longleat estate, and didn’t need much persuading to make a short detour to The Bath Arms and a pint of Naughty Ferret. Then we slipped into the Longleat house grounds and took a right to tackle Heaven’s Gate Hill. In the gathering dusk I struggled up in John’s wake, my ribs were near bursting with agony and those eight snorkers(1) were banging about in my stomach. Somehow, I made it to the top where John stood looking out over the landscape. Here are some pictures of that ride:

Naughty Ferret and a Guinness Please

Naughty Ferret and a Guinness Please

Riding towards Longleat House

Riding towards Longleat House

The view from the top

The view from the top

On the way out of Longleat

On the way out of Longleat

The next ride was, I believe, a Friday ride. We took to the lanes around Melksham – and were bullied into the verges by endless streams of fast traffic. So fed up did I become of cars screaming past too close, or overtaking on blind corners, that I persuaded John to ride back to his house along the canal path. He was not happy about this at all. Worries about puncturing proved unfounded and we were soon safely ensconced at the table back at his garden. To my great surprise and delight, he pulled out the tea set and some biscuits. Cue endless jokes from John about proper strength tea.(2)

Manor house

Manor house

By the MOT Centre - Outskirts of Melksham

By the MOT Centre - Outskirts of Melksham

Proper Tea (3)

Proper Tea (3)


(1) My use of the word Snorkers when referring to sausages can be traced back to this article in Fortean Times about the Wild Man of Sutton, known locally as Bark Foot:

“Patrick Sheehy told how his cousin Oliver was jogging through the 2,400-acre (970-ha) nature reserve one morning last May and was cutting through one of the holly groves when he collided with a man crouching over a pan full of sausages as he put out a fire. The man’s breakfast went flying. Oliver apologised and quickly departed as a gravelly voice shouted: “My snorkers are ruined!”

(2) Note that, as we shall see in later posts, John returns time and again to the issue of proper strength tea. One feels that he may be unable to move on from the whole ‘tea not strong enough’ incident. Had I known it would have scarred his psyche so deeply, I would certainly have checked the tea strength before pouring.

(3) Why did Chairman Mao and Karl Marx drink herbal teas? – Because all proper tea is theft.

Wednesday Ride II – Et in Arcadia ego

John repairs the spokes

John arrived outside the house with the sound of toe clips dragging through chippings and the sharp hiss of rubber finding purchase on tarmac. He never can resist getting up speed on even the smallest downhill gradient. I had just been wiping the mud off the bike and relubing the chain. We had a brief chat about wheels for the shopper, he reckons the rims can be salvaged. As long as I can work out the spoke length of the back wheel, and we can source the spokes, he will attempt a wheel build, which is very good of him.

On with the ride. John had it in his mind that he wished to cycle up a shade dappled hill with little traffic to make the most of the sun. Often John is a man after my own heart, yes he likes a hard ride and to push himself a bit, but often the simple pleasure of riding through tree shadow on a hazy summer evening is enough for him. I thought the idea sounded excellent so we set off on our quest. John knew of a road that could possibly provide what he needed – although it was a good ten or so miles away. With the time at six fifteen in the evening, commuters were still heading home, the traffic was too fast and angry, not liking two cyclists being on their road. We got a few beeps as people got too close too quickly, then thought it would be easier to honk us into the verge rather than actually slow down and wait until the opposite lane was clear enough for them to overtake. It was a relief to get off the Frome bypass and head towards the forest roads. The trial part of the quest was not yet over though. We were in a headwind on a road surface that seemed to suck the life from our legs. We hammered on and upwards, the road was straight and although the going was hard we were in good spirits.

John on the straight road

We took a left and then suddenly, we were in arcadia – the road was quiet and drifted upwards into the treeline. The evening sun was stretched out richly across the ploughed fields behind us, and then we were riding through a tunnel of trees. The tarmac was a patchwork of leaf-shadow and brilliant sunlight. John was out of the saddle, and going well, when suddenly ‘ping’ a spoke went on his back wheel and it started to buckle. We found a flat bit half way up the hill and John upended the bike and got busy with the spoke key. It gave me an opportunity to catch my breath and look back at the route we had traveled. The sun was lowering and a gentle haze flooded the horizon, distant hills faded into blue, swallows and swifts danced and called to each other as they dined on the feast of insects bourne up by the evening’s warmth. The long deep drone of a distant tractor drifted languidly up over the hedges and hollows, the scent of wild garlic mingled with the rich scent of freshly ploughed warm earth from the fields. A perfect English summer evening in the countryside.

With the spokes repaired we continued up the hill, through an impossibly picturesque village, the pub was tempting, but we resisted. Then more hills – it was becoming clear that John is now considerably fitter than I am, he led easily. Then past Longleat, a swift diversion into the little track that runs parallel to the road – exciting at 20 mph on a road bike. Then we headed to Chapmanslade, down The Hollow into Dilton and parted company at Brokerswood, by the time I freewheeled into the village I had completed 24 miles.

An excellent ride and to me, exactly what cycling is all about.

Published in: on May 21, 2008 at 10:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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From tiny seeds do mighty giants grow

Bank Holiday delivered me the opportunity to ride in the evening, the sun was still hazy in the sky, and the roads were damp from earlier half-hearted showers. Meandering out of the village I breathed in the scent of dank roadside foliage; cow parsley, oilseed and dandelion combined to create a rich heady fug, redolent of late Spring. Easing the racing bike onto the thrumming tarmac of the main road, I felt relaxed and at ease, content to turn the cranks and let the bike take me where it wanted. So pleasing was the atmosphere, that I was not daunted when the bike decided we should climb Black Dog Hill again, even the cars seemed somehow laconic in the evening warmth, unhurried as they overtook me on the slopes. At the top I turned left towards a sign for bedding plants, and found another ghost road leading to a farm. This was the old main road, with dandelions growing where once cats-eyes kept motorists in the right lane.

Ghost Road - Dead Maids

Back at the junction, a huge rat lay smashed across the tarmac after an ill-timed sortie onto the road. I headed for Warminster, then swung right at through drifts of dandelion seed onto the bypass. Not much traffic around, so I was easily able to get into the right hand lane at Cley Hill roundabout and start the depressing faux-plat that leads to Longleat, it wasn’t too bad this time, and pretty soon I was heading up the hill towards Longleat Forest. Last time I was here, I found the atmosphere quite oppressive, but here on the left hand side of the road the woods were much more open. This was the Center Parcs side. Mixed woodland, dominated by evergreens and pines, but opened out, laced with beech and carpeted with green. There was a hint of the cycling utopia inside Center Parcs’ chainlink fence here, a little track into the forest that I took. Parallel with the road, but much more pleasant, weaving in and out of the trees before depositing me at the gate to Longleat.

Me and the Redwood, Longleat Forest

A little way into Longleat’s grounds stands a mighty redwood, regular readers of my blog will note that this is probably my favourite type of tree, though they are of course not native to Britain. I pulled the bike up next to the, very tall but still a relative baby, tree and took a quick snap. I’m not sure why it is that I love these trees so much. I have been captivated by them since reading Simon Schama’s Landscape and Memory- which has a long chapter dedicated to them. Over in this country they are but saplings compared to their American brethren, and often councils will chop them down, citing disease and the danger of falling branches for their reasons. I think they are daunted by the sheer size of these titans. Most in this country are around a century or so old, yet they tower over most other trees in their vicinity, indeed here in the village there is a grove of them, visible for miles around, even from the Wingfield straight. Recently a council on Trowbridge cut down two in a residential area, much to the disappointment of the residents, who demanded that replacements be planted. Center Parcs has a grove of quite old ones surrounded by a boardwalk. When my youngest was a mere babe, I woke early and top him with me to visit them before anyone else was up and about. It was one of my most favourite moments from that holiday, the forest alive with early morning birdsong, my son, awed by the majesty of these trees.

Redwood cones

Back to now, I gathered up a pocket full of redwood cones and head back to the house. On arriving home I had gone twenty one miles, not too shabby. Later on as my eldest son watched from his bedroom (instead of going to sleep), I shook out the tiny seeds from the cone and planted them in a seed tray. I understand it’s very hard to get redwoods to germinate, so we’ll see what happens, but at the moment I have fantasies of pots of redwoods being grown on in my garden…

Tuesday Ride X: of stupidly fast descents, chasing mopeds and a stately home

Tuesday evening came round quickly this week, not least because I had spent much of the week suffering the effects of a debilitating illness, the details of which I will spare my reader, save to say that I lost nearly 4lbs over four days. Considering how awful this summer has been, the weather had remained uncharacteristicly dry so at seven-thirty in the evening I met with John and Bradley at the Bell Inn. The Lemond is starting to play up a little, the rear tyre had gone slightly flat and the bottom bracket was still knocking with every turn of the cranks. This matched Brad’s steed, his bottom bracket was squeaking with each revolution, John’s bike of course was fighting fit. We elected to go towards Longleat with some notion about climbing a hill or descending, I wasn’t sure which. Black Dog Hill had become a bit boring (neither John nor myself fancied watching Brad demolish us on the climb again) so we decided to go via Chapmanslade. There was no way we were going to get away without a climb of some sort, the first major one came just as we were overtaken by a moped. I was on point as it pulled past me, with Brad in hot pursuit. Pretty soon Brad was on his back wheel and the guy was looking behind in panic, trying to shake Brad off to no avail. It wasn’t until we got halfway up the first hill that the stricken scooter managed to pull away and Brad gave up with a laugh. Without the hill I’m convinced Brad could have sat one foot behind him for miles, it gave some indication of Brad’s fitness that the scooter engine was straining so much to put out the same amount of power Brad’s legs were generating as he churned the cranks in the big ring.

The road to Cley Hill was undulating with several short, sharp, shock hills splitting the riders up and giving our legs a going over. I’m finding the hills easier now, I can ride them faster with Brad off the front giving me something to aim at, even when he vanishes round a corner. Soon the mighty slopes of Cley Hill were rising to our left and the shadows were fading into the fast approaching night. We rode on past tiny turnings that promised to lead to places with names like ‘Longhedge’ and ‘Temple’, roads pointing up and roads dropping down. We stuck to the road we knew and took the roundabout up towards Center Parcs, the air filled up with the sharp scent of pine tar and freshly sawn timber as we climbed yet another hill. Soon we were turning into the barrier-controlled entrance to Longleat Safari Park. Now we were in cycle utopia, no cars, tarmac roads, beautiful trees and an amazing view. The distant lights of Frome burned hazily in the last embers of dusk, far to the West we could see the orange glow of Shepton Mallet.

Past a green, weed covered pond that looked like it might contain pike as big as coffins and twice as deep down, either that or some monster carp rolling lazily beneath the surface. My fishy reverie was disturbed by John shouting back “Check your maximum speed now!” before droppping off down the hill. The air accelerated past me with a deafening roar, Brad and John were way out in front but I could barely see through the water streaming from my eyes in the wind. Trying not to lock my arms was difficult as the speed sucked the warmth from my limbs, but the super-smooth tarmac kept the wheels running true, there was no vibration and the speed was incredible. Too late I saw the sharp right and just about managed to scrub some speed off before I shot onto the grass. Now I was riding for two hundred yards in a field as I struggled to point my errant steed back towards the tarmac, thank goodness there were no fences. Back on the road with the speed up, a cattle grid registered as a brief thrumming metallic chord beneath the tyres. The others were waiting in front of Longleat House and we compared maximum speeds. I had managed 46.5mph before coming off the road.

Longleat House at dusk, three cyclists in front

There then followed ten minutes of cycling round carparks, sporadic tannoy announcements that may or may not have been directed at us, and wondering if John actually knew were he was leading us. Past the adventure castle, the minature railway, the butterly house and the famous maze, onto a clearly defined track and yes John did know where he was going thank you very much, this was the way out of the park. More climbing, more descents, winding our way out of the valley and into the next one. Aroma of pub food mingles with stagnant water, orange glow of streetlights. The roads are busy, cars coming too close for comfort, not noticing three cyclists, time to stop and pull on the Hi-Viz Tron jacket in order to go nightwatchman at the back. Now the cars are slowing down, pulling wide as they see me. Onto the frome bypass, John’s rear light is fading but in his backpack he has spare batteries. As soon as he is recharged we head back onto the main road, now Bradley takes off but we don’t worry, we know he’ll wait at The Bell. Five minutes later we’re all grouped together, it’s the end of my ride but John and Brad have to cycle back to Trowbridge.

Next week, Bradley chooses the route – imagine the carnage!

Published in: on August 29, 2007 at 11:47 pm  Leave a Comment