31 mile commute

I decided to ride to work in Salisbury today, I estimated it would be a journey of 30 miles and it would take me about two hours. The route was through the Wylye Valley though I started off on the A36, it was just before seven in the morning and there was not much traffic on the road. I reckoned I would be out of Warminster and going through Sutton Veny by the time the traffic on the main roads started hotting up. The weather was beautiful, already at the early hour the day was warming up nicely, having said that, there was still a morning chill, not that I suffered, for I was wearing my Swobo merino wool jersey – cool in the heat, warm in the cold.

national cycle route 24 sign

Arriving at Sutton Veny I was locked right into National Cycle Network route 24, and a splendid route it is, wide roads and next to no traffic. Every car with any sense is on the A36 which runs near enough parallel to this route. The road weaves around, over and under the railway line like a tarmac double helix, the only thing to look out for are farm trucks, tractors, diggers and local buses. There even appears to be a weird deficit of 4x4s on the road. I made it door to door in exactly two hours, it was thirty one miles.

The return journey was into a nasty headwind which had sprung up at about 2pm, it had clouded over as well. I hadn’t eaten enough for lunch so by the time I reached Wylie I was suffering. The rucksack – my father’s mountaineering backpack from the 60s was damn heavy, to top it all off, the post office was shut for half day closing. I limped into Boyton and slewed into the farm shop there. Immediately I was accosted by an assistant urging me to try some lime curd. Of course, in my starved, low blood sugar state – the taste was as though heaven had flooded into the fibre of my very being, as the subtle flavour exploded over my palette I practically had a religious experience and immediately added it to the pile of cheese, meats and flap jacks I had already hungrily picked up. I rode down the road with my purchases, stomach gurgling and legs hardly able to spin the cranks. Collapsing into a grassed gateway I clawed open the bag of tuck and began to devour everything bar the lime curd. Ten minutes later I was sated and back on the bike. It was still heavy going but at least I had some energy. I cut through Heytsbury and into Warminster that way thinking it was a shortcut, but in the end it added another 1.5 miles to the total. I knew Lucy and her mother were at the curves gym in Warminster at some point in the evening, so I meandered hopefully into the carpark to find they had just arrived. Thankfully they were able to take the incredibly heavy backpack leaving me much lighter for the final six miles back to the village. I arrived at the boy’s grandparents’ house 2hours and 40 mins after setting off from Salisbury – a huge difference from the journey there. Total 64 miles.

Some pics from the ride:

Mutha Uckas on bikes

I have to admit, I’ve lost fitness. John was thrashing me on the hills yesterday and today I just felt tired. Couple the tiredness with a really hard day, involving edge of desperation learning on the job style ohmygodthismustbedonebycloseofplaytonight and Idon’tknowhowtodoit style action, and one has the recipe for a day from hell. rarely do I feel so close to The Bonk when I’m not on the bike. However, it all came good by the evening, mission accomplished workwise and hey, I found this on You Tube, it summed up my day, too many mutha uckas ucking with my shi’ –  and it has bikes so I can post it here:

Both my wife and I had particular trouble with aching sides and difficulty breathing due to laughter, particularly when it gets to the dropped out words in the last verse… Granny Smith… Mango…

Published in: on May 22, 2008 at 11:58 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Tuesday Ride is Dead, Long live the Wednesday Ride!

Yes, it’s official, having sent an email to John after months without contact (“The days are getting longer, I’m not getting any thinner. Let’s ride!”) we were on the open road again. Occasionally Brad kept us company, but a lot of the time he was off the front, a mere speck in the distance that John and I worked in a chain gang to try and catch up with. Tuesdays are now off the menu, so it looks like we’ll be going out Wednesdays, and probably a little earlier than we have been. This will allow me to put in 25-30 miles and still get back to the house to help put the kids to bed.

This week, John and Brad led me all over the backroads around Trowbridge, Devizes and Melksham. We paused only to watch a Hercules fly slowly over Keevil airfield and drop a box onto the runway. One thing was made absolutely clear to me, I am still not that fit yet. Hopefully, with the discipline of a regular ride in company, that will change. Last year the Tuesday rides started to improve my metabolism and my breathing – especially when we went out with the human greyhound that is Brad.

John (foreground) and Brad (in front) sign at speed, West Wilts

It felt great to be out on the bike in company again, for me it’s a lot of what cycling is all about. We varied the pace, sometimes gliding along chatting away, other times drafting and pedaling hard (usually to try and catch up with Brad), sometimes we’d just be merrily trundling along, then suddenly someone would change up a gear and start sprinting, provoking a sudden burst of speed in us all, then we’d wind down again and go back to the chat. That lovely melodic sound of three chainsets whirring in unison was a pleasure to hear, as was the drone of three pairs of tyres over the tarmac.

Left John and Brad in Trowbridge and cycled back to the village solo, no energy by the time I hit the Wingfield straight, on the verge of The Bonk. Arrived back at the house with 33 miles on the clock for the evening.

Hopefully there will be many rides like this throughout the coming summer.

Winter into Spring

Tuesday the 12th of February saw me take to the bike for a forty minute ride in a desperate attempt to blast away the cobwebs and force some oxygen into my stalled brain. Work has been hectic of late, which for a self-employed person is of course brilliant, but it does mean my riding time is sparce, right at the point when my waistline indicates it should not be.

redwood tree and bikeAs I pedalled out of the village I attempted to formulate some sort of plan for riding. A time trial? An attempt on my personal best average speed? A pootle? Of course, the pootle won out, though I threw in a couple of sprints in an attempt to convince myself I was getting fitter. Leaving the chill in my wake I hit the A36 at speed, hands on the drops, high gears, the wind whistling through the vents of the helmet and roaring in my ears. By the time I turned off to Dilton Marsh I had reached the point where it was too late to go back and get my wallet in case I needed food to stave off the dreaded ‘bonk’. No matter, with the sprint out of the way I could take the rest of the ride at a leisurely pace and a sensible cadence.

The light was absolutley beautiful, bright and clear, but somehow slow. The sun, preparing itself for Spring, stretched out and gently flung its beams across the earth, sending light dawdling across the landscape, almost rolling over itself as it happened upon hedges and furrows in the frost-cracked fields, wrapping itself slowly around shattered elms at the roadside. The ferocity of the winter storms collapsing with a sigh into the outstretched arms of Spring. Again the hedges were alive with birds, their chatter swelling through the lukewarm air, forcing life into the ice-rimmed road shadows still claimed by Winter.

This was a day made for cycling to lift the spirits. It seemed to me that the earth itself turned beneath the tyres, compelled by the revolution of my cranks to continue its slow tumble through space, guiding the earth’s orbit towards the waiting, welcoming sun. This is why I ride.

At Southwick I pulled into the chruchyard to examine a young redwood, at its mighty base the first flowers of Spring had emerged. Redwoods are, I think, my favourite type of tree. I do not know why this is, perphaps it is their sheer size juxtapozed with their soft bark and relative fragility that I find so pleasing. Even this giant sleeps through Winter, the sap reduced to a sluggish crawl. But now this behemoth, though small for his species, was shaking off the frost to begin another year of incredibly fast growth, for though he towers above all other trees in his vicinity, he can be not much more than one hundred years old.  If left untouched and unchecked he will keep growing, perhaps for another 2,900 years or so. Then, even he must succomb to his winter.

The wheels keep turning.

Published in: on February 18, 2008 at 1:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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I rode it up to the top of the hill and I rode it down again x10

As I type this, the air outside is nearly still, but at 2000 hrs today the wind was blowing hard enough to send small twigs and branches skittering down onto the road. Inspired by Jez who wrote about going for a run on his blog I decided to get in a few Hill-Circuits. In his blog post, he quite rightly (in my opinion) rants about spinning, the intensive exercise bike training. I went on a sponsored ride once with some team members who thought they could build up cycle strength by ‘spinning’, they had done weeks of intensive sessions at the gym, but when it came to the crunch they fell apart. You get no wind resistance in the gym, how can you prepare for a big bike ride without confronting the biggest enemy of the cyclist who wants to go at speed? Above 14mph you are losing power as you expend energy trying to overcome the barrier, you yourself create, to pushing the bike forward; namely your own wind resistance as the shape of your body smacks into the air you are attempting to move through. You will get fit travelling over 14mph on your bike on a regular basis, I guarantee it! I get a lot of hits to this site from people who have been searching for the average speed you should be going on a bike. I’m going to build a separate page soon to cover that question as there are so many variables. What I will say now is that if you can keep your average speed above 14-15mph over around ten miles of variable terrain (and I’m talking road riding here really, but if you can find a nice track like the Ridgeway in Wiltshire then you could do that on a Mountainbike offroad for ten miles too) then you are not only ‘spinning’ the cranks, driving you forward and giving you some nice exercise, but at that speed and above you are fighting enough wind resistance to give you a really good workout. It will also be better, more fun and a damn site cheaper than hitting the gym on a regular basis.

Anyhoo, the wind was blowing UP the hill so that was a good enough incentive to actually get out and ride. I managed ten circuits and was a bit amazed to discover that was about 4 miles or so. Varying the pace going up the hill seemed to work well, I could ascend out of the saddle easily at 10mph. 14mph meant I was gasping by the time I reached the top and the final ascent at 16mph nearly did me in. I took two circuits at 9mph sitting down in lower gears, and after a fast ascent I freewheeled on the descent to get some rest or take on water. Here’s a satellite picture of the circuit for your viewing pleasure:

My route on the hill circuit.

The hill runs upwards left to right, I ascended on the bottom road and went down on the top road. After circuit ten I raced off down past The Mill onto the freshly relaid link road. What a contrast from my ride down the same route of a few days ago. For much of the way I was stood on the pedals battling against a brutal headwind and a light spattering of rain. Then left at Woolverton onto the main road and round the outside of the village again. By the time I hit the Beckington roundabout I was blown and not just by the wind. Funny things happen to your mind as you start to experience the bonk like “which button changes my gears again?”, luckily I recognised the signs of fast plummeting blood-sugar and was able to slip down a few gears and just trundle back slowly, conserving as much energy as possible. I made it back just as the cars were putting on their headlights.

Finally here is my regime for getting fit on the bike: Eat less; Ride more. That’s it.

Published in: on June 28, 2007 at 11:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

Of Hill Circuits and Fresh Tarmac

Disaster, in the form of only one lolly in the freezer and two children wanting to eat it, was averted today with a quick scoot over to the local garage and a rummage in their chest freezer. A bit of a sprint but it wasn’t going to do for the day’s cycling by any stretch of the imagination. I had a bit of a sniffly cold and a headache, but careful ingestion of Lemsip was keeping the symptoms at bay (apart from a grumpy mood). After the sprogs had finally been dragged in from the garden, bathed, read to and put to bed I pulled the racer out of the workshop and changed into my cycling gear. As I wasn’t feeling so good I didn’t want to go too far, and in any case, I hadn’t had my tea yet (I didn’t want to suffer ‘the bonk’ any more than a couple of miles from home). As it happens there is a hill in the village which has two roads running parallel from base to crest. One of them is residential, the other skirts the outer edge of the houses and they are linked at the top and bottom, I thought it would make a nice circuit. It seemed sensible to cycle up the residential road and down the country road, they are both 30mph limits, but that way I wouldn’t have to cross any oncoming traffic as I would always be turning left. It’s a reasonable hill, not too steep, but fairly even, a sprint up it feels tiring by the time I reach the top and there’s just enough space on the downhill to hit 32mph before having to brake hard enough to make the left turn without ending up on the wrong side of the road. A left by the Green and a very tight turn back up the hill just where it starts to get steeper add a bit of interest.

I did five circuits before carrying on down the hill and out of the village into the dusk, along some freshly laid tarmac barely a few days old. For two weeks the route had been closed to traffic as work took place, the new road felt good to ride. With no traffic around I powered through the half-light sustaining 26mph for a mile or so before turning back. Where there had been wheel-eating potholes less than a fortnight before, there now lay a utopian cycling surface, gleaming, black and unworn. The day’s storms had left a rich, damp road-smell, heady and pleasing when mixed with the scent of rain-gorged roadside grass. Only the faintest hint of a breeze stirred the air and the warm-up on the hill had left my legs feeling strong. It seemed to me that my cold and headache had been left behind somewhere on the short ride, unable to keep up. Or perhaps the endomorphins that cycling creates in the body simply crowded the fledgling illness out sending it spinning to the kerbside. The only sounds were the squeals of swallows looping and diving over the corn, the swishing of the cranks, and the tyres humming contentedly as my bike carried me homeward.

Published in: on June 23, 2007 at 10:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

Upping the Average

Rode-Dilton-Westbury-Yarnbrook-North Bradley-Southwick-Rode

It was 20:24 when I set off this evening, the bad weather had all but gone leaving a few bewildered looking dark clouds scattered about the setting sun. Lights on from the start and Hi-Viz jacket, a race against the failing light. From the outset I put some effort in, leaving the village at 24mph and joining the main road 5mph faster than I normally do. Turning off towards Dilton Marsh I was averaging 17.3mph already, not bad, I normally only start reaching that when I go through Westbury at 21mph. Even so I guessed that the short but sharp hill into Dilton Marsh would disabuse me of the fanciful notion that I might be able to up my average speed for this fourteen mile ride. However, even though I climbed at a rubbish 9.7 mph, the average was still sitting on 17.2.

Right, I thought, I’m going to see if I can manage to reach 17.8 as an average for this ride. Powering (for me anyway) out of Dilton and into the back end of Westbury I saw a fantastic sight. There are a couple of huge evergreen trees in the middle of a field of long grass and tonight the low branches were supporting around twenty or so children playing noisily. Against the background of the sunset it would have been a great photo, but it’ll have to stay a little magical memory as I wouldn’t let myself stop to take it.

Through Westbury at 24mph, some cheeky kids shouted gleefully that I was going the wrong way as I hit the A350. There’s a whole section of that road, from the turning to the cement works to half a mile along, where the surface is incredibly bad. It’s like a micro Enfer du Nord and it’s not much fun on an aluminium frame, there’s no flex to absorb the vibration. Past the weird roundabout at Yarnbrook, site of a recent fatal accident and still festooned with flowers, into North Bradley. By now my legs were aching and I had hit 18.6 mph as an average. It’s a bit of a slow drag into the village and I was trying to gee myself up to keep above 18mph. By the time I turned onto the A361 the gradient was beating me and breathing was hard, I had a double stitch, but my legs still felt strong. The hardest thing was trying not to think too much about Rode Hill, I knew that quarter of a mile rise would strip the mph off my average and I was dreading watching the digits fall on the computer. With that in mind I tackled the straight at 25mph.

As soon as I started Rode Hill I knew I was reaching the limit of my endurance and was in danger of hitting ‘the bonk’. Only the thought of the ignobility of trickling up the hill in the Granny Ring or, God forbid, walking the bike up, had me out of the saddle grinding up. Sure enough the readout was falling, I hit the base of the hill at 18.5mph and crested at 18.3. I kept the average up to 18.3 all the way home. There was still plenty of light around as I put the bike to sleep in the workshop. Recovery time was good, I was showered and sat down within ten minutes of arrival at the house. I’m really pleased that I managed to get my average up for that ride (14.3 miles) by a whole mph. I’m a long way off Time Trial standard, but I feeel it’s a step, or pedal stroke, in the right direction.