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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Revolutions – Calshot Velodrome

A low rumble, felt rather than heard, the roar of air in the ears, a shaking woodgrain blur across the vision punctuated by the dominance of a trembling red line which must be stuck to and followed. The rhythmic push and suck of breath, an insistent whirr of chain on cog, pressure on the right of the bar, the bike at a seemingly impossible angle, and speed, always speed. I had entered into a trancelike state, feeling like I could ride like this forever, until the voice of our instructor Ben called me to slow it down gently and come into the centre of the track where the others waited.

We were at Calshot velodrome near Southampton for an evening session on the track arranged by Andrew Denham of the Black Canon Collective, and Cobble Wobble organiser. Andrew is the kind of person who makes things happen, (more on his latest cycling venture in another post, it’s very exciting) he had promised us a trip to the track, and this had been booked in for several months. So various members of the Fancy Collective including Matt Wellsted, designer of the Cobble Wobble artwork, Jade Berry, the  design talent behind Black Ink Comms, Jennie Wood, the dynamite PR Avalanche Media, Fay Goodridge, editor of The List, had piled into Matt’s car and followed Andrew and the Black Canon Collective down the A36.

On arrival at the drome Andrew rushed in ahead in order to see our faces as we emerged from the entrance tunnel to the centre of the wooden track. At first glance it’s a daunting prospect, the angle on the berms is 45 degrees at Calshot, there was no one else there inside the massive warehouse-like structure and it’s all very stark. Two wooden benches in front of a series of racks holding the stripped down black track bikes. No brakes, fixed wheel, clipless pedals. My Lemond Etape has a classic elegance to it, despite being alluminium and carbon fibre. These bikes looked lean and hungry. they had one purpose only, to be ridden at speed around a circular track and to hold the line.

We were booked into a beginner session as most of us had never even ridden fixed before or used clipless pedals. Ben, our instructor gave us a pep talk, before quickly getting us onto the bikes and riding round on the inner, flat track. The bikes were easier to handle than I thought they would be.

Next we went onto the slight camber of the inner track, and finally he allowed us up onto the berms – it was incredible. It’s easy to see why track riding is addictive. The speed and concentration are intense, and a strange feeling of calm and well-being came over me as I circled and circled.

For all of us, I think it felt like something we want to do again.

All photographs by Andrew Denham – and big thanks to him for organising this

Published in: on March 19, 2011 at 9:45 pm  Comments (4)  
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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.

Off the back of a lorry

Spotted from the passenger seat. The lifting device looks a little extreme for getting the bike on there. But it’s a nice bicycle!

bike on back of lorry

bike on back of lorry

bike on back of lorry

Published in: on June 7, 2010 at 9:22 pm  Comments (2)  
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Three Worlds, Frome: homage to Escher

bike in water

Published in: on November 11, 2009 at 5:43 pm  Comments (1)  
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Old Smoke: The genus of Yalda’s bike

Last week I had to go to London for a meeting, in the city the air was thick with pollen and dust and the sun was baking. I was carried by foot from Waterloo to St James’ Park caught up in the flow of a mass of humanity from all over the world. The traffic was angry, buzzing, beeping, inching forwards, bullying. But in betwen the trapped motorists there flew other road users. They flitted easily between the stranded vehicles, weaving around bewildered and heat-struck pedestrians and away towards their destinations.

The jacket must come off in this weather, I love the braces

Savoring a moments gap in the traffic. The jacket must come off in this weather, I love the braces

Everywhere, bikes were outside shops, chained to railings. A lot of fixies, they’re still in fashion.

Here’s an interesting bike I saw outside borders (not a fixie):

Bike outside borders, note the loose bartape

Bike outside borders, note the loose bartape

Decal details

Decal details

Finally, here is a picture of Yalda’s bike. Yalda works for The Prince’s Rainforests Project (and I urge you to add your name to the call to end rainforest destruction here) and rides her bike into work. Often she must put up with blinkered mockery of the age of her bicycle, no doubt perpetrated by riders of more modern conveyances. Some of them may even use gears!

Does anyone know which vintage Raleigh bike Yalda rides?

Does anyone know which vintage Raleigh bike Yalda rides?

Yes that’s right, Yalda rides singlespeed (but not fixed) and scorns the use of gears, claiming that they are ‘new-fangled’. Much of the componentry has been replaced, but it still has the classic Raleigh Heron cranks, and ‘Handbuilt in England’ on the tubes. Does anyone have any idea as to the model of Yalda’s bike? I think maybe a contessa, but perhaps that’s because it’s the only one I know. Yalda rides it everywhere, and claims that the only thing that gets stolen from it is the plastic bag (for the saddle) when it rains.

Yalda would love to know how old her bike is, if you think you know the model of her bicycle please leave a comment below, or even if you just like her bike, leave an appreciative comment here and give her some ammunition against her faithful steed’s detractors.

Published in: on June 5, 2009 at 11:36 pm  Comments (6)  
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Uncle John’s Bike

Uncle John rides a mountainbike round the Devon lanes now, but a few decades ago he was one of the legendary Corsham Roadmen, time-trialing around the Wiltshire countryside early on a Sunday morning before the world was properly awake. Now his racer hangs from the ceiling, yet I feel it still seems to retain a certain power, a pent up energy perhaps suggested by the tension in the retaining straps, or maybe it’s the stripped down cleanliness of its lines, it just looks ‘ready to go’.

The Falcon hangs from the ceiling

The Falcon hangs from the ceiling

Steel clips and leather straps

Steel clips and leather straps

The well worn Brooks leather saddle show damage from Uncle John's Really Bad Accident

The well worn Brooks leather saddle shows damage from Uncle John's Really Bad Accident

Uncle John is a very busy man, every time we come to visit he’s hosting a family event, shifting something round, or sorting something out. One day soon I will talk to him at length about his days as a Corsham Roadman, and if he is willing, post about it here.

That bike has stories that must be told.

Published in: on May 1, 2009 at 10:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
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John’s Bicycle Maintenance Clinic

My good friend John Hayes, who long term readers will remember is my summer cycling buddy and who works for Moulton Cycles, came along to one of our Explorer Scouts meetings in order to give a talk on ‘looking after your bike’.

He turned up with a toolbox and stand, looking lean and keen, and I provided tubes, lubes and cleaners. First the Explorers gathered round while John took everyone through cleaning the bike, lubing and simple maintenance. He talked about the basic mistakes that people make, damp in the cables, dirty chains and soft tyres. Then he moved onto how to get some longevity out of your bicycle, mainly through the use of GT85 to chase out water and give a teflon coating. Mike’s chain was pretty filthy, so it was a good opportunity to use it as an example of how to clean and maintain a chain.

All the Explorers had brought along their bikes, and soon we had them all upside-down and John was getting everyone to check over their bikes, clean out the water and muck and relube.

The chain is clean, now the dry lube goes on

The chain is clean, now the dry lube goes on

John then got out his spanners and went round adjusting brakes (including mine, the back blocks had been worn right down in a month by the grit from the muddy roads), sorting out gears and recommending which bikes needed attention from a bike shop (including one that needs a complete wheel rebuild – but that was a 1980s Peugeot). He also shortened Howard’s bike’s chain by two links and sorted out his gear problems.

John sorts a rear mech

John sorts a rear mech

By the end of the night the Explorers departed with bikes in a much better condition than when they arrived, and hopefully John’s talk has inspired them into looking after the bikes a bit better. It was good to see teenagers who had no real bike knowledge gaining confidence as they found their way around the components. Even the simple act of inflating the tyres to the correct psi (45 for knobblies, 85-100 for slicks) gave an instant and marked improvement to every bike. They took them for an excited spin round the car park at ten, and I think all of them were delighted, the thanks they gave John was certainly ethusive and genuine. From Mike’s and my point of view, we certainly felt a lot more confident about the forthcoming cycle trip to Belgium and France, knowing John had given the bikes a good look over.

Afterwards Mike and I took John to the pub for a couple of pints. We left at 23:30 and, as Mike and I both had our steeds and full kit, we briefly considered a quick night ride, luckily the cold wind instantly disuaded us from this excellent, but ultimately foolish idea.

A great evening, cheers John.

Published in: on March 27, 2009 at 12:15 am  Comments (2)  
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Howard’s way

Your author about to make an unfortunate wrong turn

Your author facing the wrong way, halfway down the wrong hill after an unfortunate wrong turn

A ride had been arranged for early Sunday morning, until it became apparent that it was of course Mothering Sunday and lie-ins would, quite rightly, be expected. So the ride was re-arranged for Saturday. At 07:45 I rode down the gravel track at the farm to meet with Mike. It was freezing; there had been an unexpected (by me anyway) frost in the night and cold hung in the air, numbing my fingers as I rode downhill. Seconds after my arrival, Group Scout Leader, Howard arrived on his hybrid. He had sensibly put a coat on and had full finger gloves and long trousers. Mike was immediately out through the door, zipping up his bright jacket and putting on his helmet, deciding on the route as he mounted up. Up the track and left over the mill bridge, then we were out of the village and heading for Colliers Way and Radstock. We followed the same route I took last Sunday, albeit at a slightly quicker pace than my meandering speed. Howard was going to take us through the middle part of the ride as he knew the route well. Howard is a keen cyclist, often to be seen riding the Tellisford-Farleigh Hungerford hills just for fun, he has a great level of fitness and an observer taking note of our riding from a distance would be hard pressed to place his date of birth in the 1950s. Mike was riding at his usual pace off the front, a nice steady 15-17mph, I’ve heard Mike described as a Mountain Goat by more than one other person. I flitted between them both, sometimes riding up with Mike, sometimes dropping back to chat to Howard.

Pleasingly I can feel my level of fitness improving after just a couple of long rides. This time I was not dropped on the hills and could actually take the lead on some of the steeper efforts. It just goes to show that you can quickly return to form (or something like form) after a short time off the bike, even if, like me, you are carrying two stone more than you should be.

The cold was starting to evaporate in the morning sun. Even so, there was a haze on the horizon that the sun had not yet climbed out of, and the shadows still sparkled with a light frost. There was no wind save the chill we created when pushing through the air on the way downhill. There was little traffic around save the odd tractor here and there, easing out of farm gates or chugging gently along the narrow lanes. The Buzzards were out in force, finding pockets of warm air and spiraling up high above the trees, calling to each other across the landscape. By the time we reached the Colliers Way cycle path it was really warming up. This is a short but really pleasant stretch of railway path, oddly with much of the railway track still left behind. Howard, a bit of a railway buff, told us it was because the quarry railway is still in operation at the terminus. Apparently, the plan was to open the railway line alongside the cycle track and have it as a tourist attraction, but it never happened. Now trees have pushed their way through the sleepers and brambles have crawled over the tracks.

On the railway path

We stopped at the top of a rise where the path departed from the tracks and mused on the navvies and men who had physically built the line. In the days of great engineering feats, behind every great man, there were thousands of other blokes who did the actual work.

We followed the path into Radstock, then Howard led us over and round the roads until we pulled into what seemed to be a carpark, but at the last minute it turned into a tiny route through to a main road. A few yards on the tarmac then a sharp right and we were suddenly on a lovely straight lane in the quiet of the countryside again.

All went well, until we came to a crossroads where the cycle route was clearly marked as straight ahead. Howard insisted that our path lay down the hill to the right, and it was a steep hill. Upon our, quite reasonable questioning of the navigation, Howard explained that he was 100% certain it was down the hill. Mike and Howard then launched themselves down the slope, followed by a fat barking dog lolloping down the hill in a garden parallel to their descent. I was yet to be convinced that this was the correct route so I hung back a little, knowing full well that what goes down, in the event of a mis-navigation, would have to come up again, probably in the granny gear. I dropped gently down to the next crossroads, in time to gaze down the awful slope and see that Mike and Howard were turning around on the bridge at the bottom. Slowly, they climbed the hill back towards me, standing up out of the saddle and wrestling the reluctant bikes so that the handlebars pointed up the dreadful slope. I took the opportunity to have a break and swig from the water bottle. I took a picture of my reflection in a handy convex mirror used by residents to check the road is clear before pulling out, then leant over the handlebars to watch Mike and Howard draw level. I let them puff past me, before ambling up in their decidedly slow-motion wake. The lardy hound was still in the garden bouncing around and barking with what seemed like delight, but in retrospect could easily have been apoplectic rage.

Howard explained his mistake, it was of course the next turning right, and indeed that’s exactly where the cycle route sign was pointing when we arrived at the correct junction. Luckily we saw the funny side. Actually, no we didn’t, at least not until we had our breath back.

A few more wiggles of the road, and to Mike’s and my surprise we emerged right next to the house by Stoney Littleton Long Barrow with the pillbox in the garden. Howard pointed out that pillboxes are usually in pairs, and sure enough there was another one on the horizon that Mike and I had missed last time we rode through. We rode into Wellow and I raised my head to see if I could detect a whiff of bacon, for I had a craving for its heavenly taste. Just as I thought I had perhaps caught the faintest hint of frying procine goodness, Mike peeled off to the right and downhill to the ford. This time we took the left fork and avoided the endless grind of Baggin Hill, electing instead to cruise to Norton St Philip. The road was beautiful and free of traffic. Winding uphill through some woods, I saw a photocopy of a map on the ground and stopped to scoop it up. It was for the exact area we were riding through, which makes perfect sense really.

There was a final hill up to the main street in Norton. It was unexpected and painful. Even my bike seemed to be protesting as I weaved back and forth across the narrow steep lane behind Mike the mountain goat and Howard. Finally we headed for Tellisford. As we passed an enormous pile of brown stuff in a field to the left,there was a horrific miasma, a foul and noiseome acrid stench that tore the breath from our lungs. Mike explained it was poo, human poo from the sewage works that would be spread on the tilled ground as fertiliser. The fug seemed to stay with us so we upped the pace and attempted to finish the ride at great speed. Down the hill we sped, first a weasel darted over the road in front of us, and as we neared the village, a blur of movement exploded from the hedge and crossed the lane mere feet before Mike’s front wheel. Persistence of vision had imprinted the tell-tale shape of a running hare on my eyes.

Mike slipped to the post office to pick up a paper (and no doubt a free cup of coffee and cookie for that’s what you get if you go to the post office on a Saturday morning) while Howard and I sped on ahead to his house to ready the all important finale of the ride, the coup de grace, the dénouement.

Mike joined us just at the hallowed point when the bacon was coming out of the grill and onto the bread, the perfect end to a great ride.

A quick ride around Highway on a borrowed bike

After work today, I took my youngest son over to my sister and brother-in-law’s new house in Hilmarton. During the course of the afternoon, my brother-in-law opened up his shed and pulled out a couple of mountain bikes. One of them, a Trek full suspension, was a bit of a frankenbike, with Alivo shifters and XT rear mech. Manitou front forks and v-brakes where there had once been discs. The cranks were mismatched and the cogs worn down, but the frame looked good. The other bike was a blue Claud Butler. Everything looked pretty new on it, in fact it had only been ridden a few times in the two years since it was bought. This was clearly a crime. I asked if I could take it for a quick spin, and promptly rode the three miles to Highway, the spiritual home of the Highway Cycling Group.

This tiny linear hamlet in North Wiltshire is where the genesis of the group took place. My father lived in a semi-detached 1930s cottage here in the eighties, and as he was the founder member of the Highway Cycling Group (or Cycle Group, it changed almost daily)  it was from here that we struck out on many club outings. Not much had changed in the hamlet, apart from there being more cars parked on verges, I guess nowadays the two or three car family is a normal thing. There were still daffodils lining the road by the farm, the old barn had rusted further and seemed to contain more holes. The farm track next to it that leads up to the ridge looked the same. Taking that track will lead you six miles to Avebury stone circle without touching a road.

After the barn the road turns left and then the rider is on Highway Common. This supremely straight stretch of road was a joy to cycle, it still is. The Highway Cycle Group would ride side by side or strung out chatting. very rarely did any cars appear, but they could be spotted over a mile away and evasive action could be taken with ease. In the summer this road is heavy with chalky dust from the dried up mud on the verges, as teenagers the boys in the Highway Cycle Group would hold sprint races here, and great clouds of dust would follow in our wake. Ideally, a rider would pull such a terrific skid that the dust would obscure him from view for a few seconds, only to reveal the rider posed heroically with one foot down and a defiant look on his face. More often than not the dust would clear to reveal the rider sitting on the road next to his crashed bike, wheels still turning.

This road is the antithesis of the typical winding, steep banked, occluded country lane. On Highway Common one can see uninterrupted for maybe a mile or more.  A real treat, was to ride this stretch by the light of a full moon, when the dust seemed to glow and sparkle. Long shadows would reach across the fields, and perhaps, if a rider was lucky, he or she might see a barn owl or a hare.

I saw a hare today, some twenty feet into the field, it crouched down low to the soil when it saw me, ears flattened against its back. I had my compact camera with me and took some video footage as I rode through the hamlet and along the common. The result is posted below.

Then I was back onto the Bushton road. It was much busier than the golden years of the Highway Cycling Group, and I lost count of the cars that flashed past me in both directions. Where Highway seemed to have been in a state of stasis for the last twenty four years, the Bushton Road had been reworked and promoted. New signposts were dotted everywhere and the fields had been rearranged, hedges grubbed out and replanted, ditches drained and fences reset, only the route itself remained the same, the route and its memories..

Published in: on March 21, 2009 at 12:55 am  Comments (2)  
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