Thursday, 29 June 2017

The Tour de France - Now and then.....

Here we are then - a couple of days from 'The Grand Depart' of this year's edition of The Tour de France. According to the experts this years race could be interesting, the organisers have tinkered with the route to hopefully provide something finely balanced and that offers possibilities for everyone - they're hoping for the excitement witnessed in this years Giro d'Italia which saw the leaders fighting for victory right up to the final day. That would be good.

Realistically there are probably a handful of riders in with a chance of overall victory - favourite is Chris Froome who will be looking for a fourth win and three on the trot. However, his form so far this year has been below par, is he still the strongest rider?

Lately I've been reading an interesting book - 'The Unknown Tour de France' by Les Woodland. Mr Woodland is a long-term cycling journalist and Tour devotee and he has put together a succinct history of the Tour. Originally published in 2000, this book has been around for a while although because much of its content is historical that doesn't really matter. I'm always interested in the history side of cycling - so this is a book that was always going to resonate well  - the style is engaging and humourous - combining well researched historical facts with the many Tour legends and myths.

The first section was the best for me - looking at how Henri Degrange started the Tour, the early races and the 'star' riders of the time. It's a real eye opener in terms of what the actual race was like back in the early 1900s. We all know that the TdF is tough - probably the hardest event in the sporting calendar - but reading through this book will open your eyes as to how hard it was - todays race is a breeze by comparison!

The book is replete with amusing stories - such as the story of Londoner J.T. Johnson who rode in the first Tour of 1903 -

He wore a jockey's silk shirt and coloured cap and carried a whip 'to keep off the dogs'. He was in second place after 60 miles but paid for his enthusiastic start when he ground to a halt at Vaudreil. Local cyclists managing the control station ran up to him...
'What's the matter Johnson?'
'I'm shattered'
'Get off your bike"
'I can't'
They carried him, literally, to the home of Monsieur Duval, the head of the train station, where he was laid down, undressed, massaged and given warm wine. Johnson told them he'd ignored the Doctor's advice and eaten just two sandwiches before the start. Duval fed him and left him to sleep. When word spread a local moneybags insisted on taking Johnson home for dinner. The Londoner, no worse than many a cyclist who has ridden too far and eaten too little, was happy to oblige. An hour later, fed, washed and content he told his host - 'Well thanks a ot, I'd better be going'
He scampered up the road passing one competitor after another - regained the hour he'd lost and finished seventh.

Riders in those early Tours often completed stages approaching 500km - starting at 2.30am and riding through the night, on bicycles with no gears on roads with no real surface - the book really gets into describing the hardship in some detail.

'We chatted for a while and he said he'd ridden the Tour de France 40 years earlier, in the 1920s, - I said the roads must have been very different - he said 'Qui monsieur, they were very rough surfaces then' I pointed at the way the riders would be coming and said I'd seen the climb in the days of Bobet and Coppi, when there were holes in the surface and stones and rocks on the road. Now of course they're in a very good state, more or less smooth like any other road. And he looke very surprised - Non monsieur, you don't understand. We didn't come up there. And he turned and pointed to a tiny goat track behind us, all rocks and tufys of grass and no more than two yards wide - 'We came up there'

Of course, for the testimonies of those like that forgotten cyclist to be given due weight, the investigating journalist must attempt to convey their experiences as completely as possible. Woodland doesn't disappoint, devoting six whole pages to the cycling technology of the day. Three of them go to a French bike, reputedly a veteran of the first Tour of 1903, which he turned up in the Midlands.

It was fun to read the many tales of the early years of The Tour, and I recommend his book wholeheartedly, it doesn't boil each year's race down to an anecdote and then sprint on to the next year. Instead the book is structured along thematic lines which gracefully move forward in time. So you get a chapter about the beginning of road racing and a chapter about the beginning of the Tour. You get a chapter about the mountains. A chapter about the yellow jersey. Chapters about doping and cheating. There's a chapter for the Brits and a chapter for the Americans and the Australians. You also get the (inevitable) chapters about Coppi and Anquetil and Merckx.

‘He gets a phial from his bag. “That, that’s cocaine for our eyes, and chloroform for our gums…” “That,” says Ville, emptying his shoulder-bag, “that’s horse ointment to warm my knees. And pills? You want to see the pills?” They get out three boxes apiece. “In short,” says Francis [Pelissier], “we run on dynamite.”’

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Eroica Britannia 2017 - done!

Ready for action!
We're back from a suberb weekend at the Eroica Britannia festival, held at Frinden Grange in Derbyshire's Peak District.

And what a weekend it was - the weather was unbelievable - someone said hotter than Thailand? - whatever, it was uncommonly hot. Gary and I had decided it was fitting for such an event to cycle there, on our old bikes, and dressed accordingly. This seemed a reasonable idea - around 45 miles in good weather with no rush to get there and the promise of a country pub stop (or two) along the way. We set off from Gary's heading to Burton on Trent, after eight miles or so Gary's bike developed a mechanical problem which clearly could not be resolved roadside. International rescue were called - Thunderbird 2 with the bike pod was duly despatched to make the pick-up (thanks Kate).

Fortunately Mike Spratt who built our bikes was attending Eroica too - he would be able to fix the problem once we got the bike to him. So with Gary travelling with his bike via Thunderbird 2 - I decided to stick to the plan and continued on my own - this would be a good test for the Garmin Edge Touring device that I'm hoping will help us navigate through France later in the year.

Around Ashbourne
I rode steadily through Burton centre and then out to Rolleston on Dove, from there I turned onto a quiet lane which was more or less traffic free until just south of Ashbourne. The route was good although there were plenty of sharp climbs to test the legs. At Ashbourne I met with a gradient that was impossible on the old bike - I had to walk for a hundred yards or so. Then I hooked up with the Tissington Trail to take me within 5 miles of the final destination. The Garmin did a great job - except the last two miles I'd put into the route were along a track that was totally unsuitable for cycling - pretty much a hikers footpath across fields - I pushed the bike until I reached the next road.

Chris Boardman
Oooh Arrrr - my next bike maybe?
By the time I got there Gary had managed to get his bike into hospital and repairs were being carried out (Thanks Mike! We decided to spend the evening at the Eroica site - there was sunshine, music, food, pop-up pubs and gin and cocktail bars - all with an authentic vintage/retro atmosphere. Then there's the 150 or so 'shops' - offering everything from Maserati sports cars to vintage clothing and bike parts and handmade arts and crafts. There really was something for everyone.

On Saturday, I took my bike out for a short spin round the lanes before breakfast - just to keep my 'every day is a bike day' new year resolution going. Afterwards we all got changed into our daytime costumes! - If you're going to attend an event like this, it's better to go the whole hog - get dressed up! - Gary and I had opted for fairly simple 'farm-worker' type outfits - I had a bowler hat, waistcoat, grandad shirt, puttees and boots. He had similar but with a flat cap and no puttees! The ladies were dressed up too, polka dots and floral patterns.

We had a laugh with these costumes - but noone gives you a second glance on site - everyone else (or most) have done something similar. The problem was the weather was so hot - dressed in thick waistcoats and heavy cotton workshirts we were soon soaked in sweat - we were thankful for the beer tent and a shady spot! We wandered round the shops, made a few purchases, saw Chris Boardman and Ned Boulting and then went back to the shady spot!

We had a break for a couple of hours in the afternoon - and then got changed into our evening wear - Gary in a dinner suit, Union Jack dicky-bow with two-tone shoes and spats - me in a straw boater and striped blazer. We spent the evening watching 1980s popsters ABC - they had more hit tunes than I remembered!

On Sunday we all met back on site for the Eroica ride - 4500 cyclists on all manner of machines setting off for either 25, 55 or 100 miles along the tracks, trails and roads of the Peak District. There were people dressed in early twentieth century bathing costumes, there was a man riding a 'stop me and buy one' ice cream bike - there were tandems with midwives, there were onion sellers, 1950s policemen, a man on a penny farthing, someone on a Chopper, a man dressed as chimney sweep riding a Raleigh bike from 1916 - whatever you could think of it was there! - the mood was fun and laughter all the way.

A couple of old scrubbers!
As we queued for the start ex-professional racer David Millar came skidding past on his old bike - Gary chased after him and managed to get a selfie. Finally we were off, in a huddle of bikes and clouds of dust from the bone-dry tracks. The route was well marshalled and there was never a danger of getting lost - it was easier riding than I'd anticipated, just the heat being the main obstacle - some of the hills were a little testing but nothing as steep as the one I'd got stuck on around Ashbourne. Some of the off-road trails were tricky and very rocky - easier to walk on those stretches. Soon we were stopping for lunch - a quintessentially English village with a lovely pub and a field at the side offering free local beer and a lunchbox for all riders. No sign of any energy gels here - Cheese and Pickle cobs, Sausage Rolls and Bakewell pudding!! - perfect! - The whole thing had the feel of a village fete from 1954.

Lunchstop - the village of Moneyash
The last section before arriving back was fairly flat and we picked up some speed in places - soon we were back at the site with the commentator announcing our arrival and a Hurricane fighter plane flying overhead. We picked up a free beer for finishing and settled down to watch other riders arriving back - while desparately trying to find a spot out of the blazing sun.

And that's Eroica in a nutshell. It’s a far cry from your average sportive - completing the course in a record time is not an option: enjoying the sensation of having cycled into a time machine alongside like-minded riders is the name of the game. So often cycling events seem to ostracise children and spouses, but not here, everyones welcome and all can enjoy the fun.

Essential refuelling

Every rider gets a lunchbox

Mike Spratt - Vintage Bike Builder extrordinaire!
Phil looking retro!

About to embark on the ride

Gary with David Millar

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Eroica is looming - which bike to ride?...

At last a break from the turbulence of late - I'm in my office; it's 7.45am, the sun is shining. The trees display none of the violent animation of late - it looks like a good riding day.

I'm on the Colnago today - I have to make a final decision on which 'old' bike to use for Eroica - Yesterday I went out on the Bianchi and that went well. However, I'm pretty sure it will be the Collie - but a long ride today will help the decision ...maybe.

The outward part of the trip is great - the bike is riding well, smooth, quiet and remarkably quick. I cover the first ten miles easily, the sun is behind me, it's warm and no wind to delay progress.

At some point I will need to pause, catch my breath, give the legs a rest, but the clear sweet summer air is somehow exciting with the feintest tingle of freedom. The sky is clear and bright blue, a few white clouds unfurl vapour trails marking the journey of aeroplanes overhead, but here on the ground it seems that all of England is laid out before me, shaken out across to the horizon like a proverbial summer quilt. Each blade of grass seems to catch the sun and toss it back to the sky and meadow flowers are weaving a tapestry of subtle colour through the fine grasses. Islands of Ox-eye daisies reach upwards, their spindly, delicate stems swaying gently in the lightest of breezes.

I stop with 18 miles covered - I decide a lie in the grass would be a good thing. I stare up at the empty sky. There's nothing to do, nothing is moving, nothing is happening. the June grass is long and cool to lie on, entagled with wild flowers and spears of wild wheat, coiled with clambering vines and the whole humming with bees and the flicker of scarlet butterflys. I lie there, chewing on a piece of grass.

The sun is high in the sky as I set off for the return journey. It's hot now. Bees and butterflys fly back and forth amongst the vegetation, the hedgerows are alive with buzzing. The hardest part of today's ride is the return journey, taking in a number of stiff climbs, all challenging, especially on the Colnago with it's racing gear configuration. The first climb: up past the forgotten apple tree, in abundant leaf now with green fruit forming, past the climbing rose with its dizzy scent displaying bright mauve and pink blooms, past the ash and hawthorn hedges with glimpses through the gaps of the rolling countryside beyond. The climb drags on - I'm feeling tired, but I finally make it to the top - a gentle roll now for a few hundred yards as I catch my breath. The next few miles are okay, although I notice a distinct headwind - no wonder the pace is slower.

Anything even slightly uphill feels like a chore now - legs are aching slightly but feet are worse - not helped by being squashed into my old pair of Patrick Poulidor cycling shoes - these were fine 35 years ago - they're tight now, I'm sure my feet have swollen with the heat? I try to focus on the landscape - it's a beautiful day - the swelling slopes of meadow, the sunlight lying like transparent gold among the gently curving stems of feathered grasses summer has arrived and we must make the most of it.

I'm 8 miles from home when i'm suddenly awoken from my idle thoughts - a front wheel puncture that went off with a distinct bang - I'd recently filled my tubes with anti-puncture sealant - this white latex concotion spurts from the tyre as it revolves - it's like sitting on a catherine wheel - within seconds both me and the bike are covered in sticky white goblets. I pull over and access the situation - will the tyre seal or do I need to change it - I get the wheel out anyway and sit for a moment on a convenient bench. A cyclist passes and calls out - I tell him I'm okay - he turns and comes back anyway just to check - 'Just a puncture" i tell him - and he's soon on his way - 'Nice bike' he nods towards the upturned Colnago on the grass next to me.

I try pumping up the tyre - still more white stuff oozes from the hole. I decide to change the tyre. Not as simple as with a 'normal' bike though. These tyres are glued onto the rim - first thing is to release the bond and prise the tyre off - then spread new adhesive onto the rim (I'm carrying a convenient tube of glue!) Then get the new tyre onto the rim in the right position - it all goes well until it comes to trying to pop the last part of the new tyre onto the rim - it's tight - I have to really stretch the tyre to get it on - it slips and pops off the rim - the rim spins as well landing on my lap and depositing the newly applied adhesive all over my shorts. This glue is mighty sticky - fine strands stretch from the wheel rim to my clothing like a spiders web. More from hands back to the rim, it's getting messy!

Second time I get the tyre on - I try to wip the spilt glue from my clothing but it's a hopeless task - I pump up the tyre and carry on. The final few miles are hard work and I arrive back feeling drained. One good thing though - a tube of 'sticky stuff remover' makes short work of the glue on my shorts - and when I pump up the punctured tyre it seems to have sealed - looks like I should have waited longer for the sealant to act?

Will I ride the Colnago at Eroica? - still not sure!

Friday, 9 June 2017

Gone with the wind.....

The past week has been a bit disappointing weather-wise - Not so much flaming June as flaming washout - particularly unseasonable was Tuesday last - whereby we were relentlessly battered by rain and gales for the whole day. Regular visitors to these pixels will know that I am attempting to ride every day for a year - a challenge that is beginning to lose its initial allure - on storm-day I managed 5 miles and was escorted home by a lifeguard.

Interestingly I've been keeping a daily cycling log, it includes; mileage, which bike i'm riding, if the ride has been long one, where to? - and also a record of the weather.

So far, this year has seen a paucity of good cycling days - there has been but a meagre three that I would proffer as perfect for cycling. I ride to my mothers once a week - a round trip of some 44 miles - only once has that ride been an utter pleasure. Mostly I seem to be fighting against a headwind or else subjecting myself to a thorough drenching. But at least it's not cold at the moment! - not comparitively.

This week, Wednesday was my ride to see Mum. The day before was massively stormy and rained all day and whilst today was at least dry, I set off into a cruel headwind wind and made the slowest of progress.

As I labour along at least I have time to look around. The lanes are frothing with creamy white cow-parsley - hard to believe it has survived and remains defiantly upright after the gales and constant downpour of yesterday. It peppers the lanes for mile after mile, a luminous highlight against the hawthorn hedgerows. As I pass the Church house-martins are careering around the steeple and poking under eaves like builders on speed, I guess they're busy surveying suitable spots for nest sites. A little later I hear a cuckoo - the first for me this year - and always a joy.

The wind never subsides, not totally, although I notice there is a 'tidal' quality to the onslaught - with stronger waves punctuating slightly weaker ones, like breakers rolling up and hitting a beach. On a positive note at least it's a good workout - whilst I'm not travelling at any speed I am pushing a hard gear, the wind makes it tougher and my thighs have developed a constant ache which surely translates as 'doing me good' ?. And I comfort myself with the knowledge that the return journey will feel 'rocket-powered' with the wind behind and pushing me home.

Quite often my mind drifts whilst out on the bike - today I'm musing over Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles. There was a most excellent programme on telly last weekend, in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the release of what is considered the most important album in popular music. I thought I knew the album quite well - I can sing along and know some of the stories: Paul getting the parking ticket from 'Lovely Rita' - John's circus poster that inspired 'Mr Kite' etc etc - But this programme opened up a whole new world!

The presenter - Howard Goodall - did a fantastic job of unpicking the album; track by track, layer by layer. Brushing away like a fevered archaeologist at all the delicate bits, uncovering hidden secrets and explaining them expertly. This isn't any old site though, because of the quality of the treasure and its influence, and the stories it is the best dig ever. Tutankhamun basically. 'What can you hear in there Howard?......"
"Wonderful things!"

Of course, I did what everyone else did after watching this programme - I played the album - and there was so much new to listen to - even though I've heard it about 5000 times before - and now those songs are whirling around my head as I cycle along. Check it out on BBC iPlayer or catch-up or whatever configuration you watch - 'Sgt Pepper's Musical Revolution with Howard Goodall' - Fantastic!

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

The best birthday present ever!...

Some considerable events have occurred recently -  most significantly being my passage into a seventh decade of existence. I did my best to remain anonymous in the face of such a startling proposition and yet to no avail - those 'in-the-know' about such things made sure it would be an indelible and memorable occasion.

I did my best to avoid any temptation for organised celebration - much preferring to let the 'event' pass with a quiet whisper. When Gary suggested meeting up for a birthday ride at 9.00am followed by a beer at his house - at 10.00am I suspected a rat! - Beer at 10.00???

In the end though, after much cajoling in the pub on Friday with Gary and John both piling on the pressure, I caved in and agreed to the plan - then Gaz decided to change his mind and said something along the lines of "we'll leave it" - by now I'm confused? Although we did agree to an evening meet-up in June for a night out with the girls.

So, I drive back from the pub, I get home whereupon I follow my usual routine: A trip to the loo. Then ask the blonde if she'd like a drink, I walk through to the kitchen to prepare a G&T or glass of wine, or both. I switch on the light, standing in front of me, leaning against the kitchen units is the most beautiful surprise.....

Regular readers of this blog will know that our latest cycling craze centres on classic vintage steel bicycles. The cycling 'gang' here in the Midlands have been building a formidable collection these past six months - so much so that our supplier and most excellent craftsman, Mike Spratt of Vintage Cycle Sport has probably the fastest growing and most successful cycle business in the South-East. For my own part I have purchased a classic Colnago and Bianchi - Gary has a MacLean and a Sun. Last time I saw Mike I talked to him about my desire to find a Holdsworth, an English classic which, once acquired, would complete my 'holy trinity' set.

.... there it is, in front of me! - a Holdsworth Professional - 1971, lustrous orange and kingfisher blue paintwork, Campagnolo gears, brakes and hubs, beautifully restored, gleaming, luscious - I'm speechless, can't take it in, what?, how?, when?... The blonde sneaks in behind me - "Happy Birthday"

Then there's the explanation - she overheard me talking about the Holdsworth - she contacted Mike and arranged for him to sort it out - Gary picked it up a few weeks back and had it stored in his garden house. The idea to meet up for a birthday ride was a plan to get me to his house for the reveal - then because I seemed reluctant they changed it; the blonde went over to Gary's in the car and picked up the bike while we were in the pub! I'm listening to the story, still gazing at the bike trying to piece it all together - wow! - what an unbelievable surprise - the best birthday present I've ever had. The bike is magnificent - thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you - to all involved.

I wheel the bike into the lounge so that I can look at it while sitting on the sofa with my glass of wine - the blonde tells me she's organised a meal at our local gastro-pub. Blimey, another surprise I say - is it just us going I ask - yes she says - I tell her I've planned a night out with Gary and John as well - but that won't be until June, after we've been on holiday.

Next evening we drive up to Sutton Cheney to The Hercules Revisited, a nicely presented country dining-pub, we've been before so we know it to be good. We get a drink and are shown to our table - I follow the waitress, up the stairs and round the corner to an alcove table - there are people at the table - at first I don't realise - but it's Gary, Val, John and Jane - ha! - they've got me again! - didn't see it coming at all! - to round off my birthday 'surprise' a night out for the six of us - perfect!

Thanks again to a great gang of friends for their part in such a memorable and exciting weekend - and especially to my darling wife - known in these pages as 'the blonde' - whose astounding sculduggery has bowled me over, left me speechless, astounded, euphoric and overwhelmed all at the same time!

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Old bikes - same old punctures!...

If spring is about looking forward and autumn about dying back, summer is surely about the present moment - a long, hot now that marks the sultry climax to the year - roughly bookended by haymaking and harvest, it is a time of fruition and plenty, of promises fulfilled. Spring's generative riotousness slows and ceases and a stillness settles over the land.

Summer seemed to arrived here - in all its warmth and glory - and the opportunity to dress up in retro clothing and ride the classic bikes is something to savour. So it was that Gary, Phil and I met up for a morning 'test'. Phil was riding his fully restored BSA Tour of Britain machine, resplendent in a colour coordinated woollen jersey parading the BSA logo and completing the 'look' with a pair of hand-made leather shoes. I opted for the Bianchi today - giving a chance to don my recent eBay purchases; retro styled Bianchi jersey and shorts - with matching socks and cap! On the way to meet up I stopped roadside to adjust the Garmin on my handlebars (absolutely not a period feature!) - two riders whizzed past as I stood there - I heard one say: "Bloody hell, have we gone back in time?"

We met at the usual cycling rendezvous and quickly set off for Market Bosworth. The sunshine was strong and bright, a slight tailwind helping us along as we reached 23mph. These bikes move fast - I can't really notice any difference compared to my carbon bike - until the road rises - uphill they're harder, but only because the gearing is much higher with a 53 chainring and the largest rear cog only 22. No matter - we managed to climb the hill to the town centre without any heart attacks.

At the cafe
We decided a coffee stop would be appropriate - opting to sit on the bench outside and enjoy the sunshine. There was quite an interest in the bikes, a couple of cyclists leaving the cafe stopped to examine, then a couple (not cycling) came over for a chat, he said he rode a Boardman hybrid, but remembered fondly his old Raleigh with Campagnolo gears. Then a man from the house adjacent to the cafe came out - he was interested in the old bikes, he had an old racer originally made in Leicester - he went to fetch it - it was probably built late 1970s or early 80s, he was interested in getting it restored - we chatted for a while and he gave us his email to pass on to Mike at Vintage Cycle Sports.

`You fix the puncture, I'll pretend to be an aeroplane'

We left for the return journey and split up at Congerstone with me taking the high road to home. At the top of the hill - Pffffshhhhh - puncture! The perennial problem with tyres and, consequentially, punctures on these old machines is two fold - 1) They are fitted with tubular tyres - no inner-tubes, so roadside repair means removing the old tyre and replacing with a new one - which has to be glued onto the steel wheel rim. 2) The tyres don't have the same level of anti-puncture protection afforded by modern clincher tyres - in other words they are more susceptible to punctures!

The immediate problem for me was that I'd forgotten to bring a spare tyre (aargh) - thankfully I wasn't far from home and I managed to slowly ride there on the flat tyre.

I've now ordered a couple of spare tyres and have just completed a repair of the punctured one - a lengthy process involving pealing off the cloth tape glued (welded?) to the underside of the tyre, undoing the stitched tyre casing to reveal the tube, repairing the tube with a patch, re-stitching the casing and supergluing the cloth tape back on - took me over an hour! - hopefully should be okay though?

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Old Bikes....and Beer!

With the Easter festivities behind us, Gary and I found ourselves conveniently free on Tuesday. The ideal situation then to get the 'old bikes' out and give them a blast. Eroica is just around the corner and we know that riding these old machines requires some practise.

To be fair, I've already been out a couple of times on my Colnago - each time making a few vital adjustments: raise the saddle a few millimetres, lower it again etc etc - fine tuning is key here. In the end I changed the saddle completely and now the ride is altogether more comfortable. Likewise changing gear - no easy, simple-click-of-a-button with these babies - oh no - it's a case of reaching down to the levers mounted on the down-tube and then pulling and pushing until something happens, all the time attempting to keep eyes on the road and remain in a straight line. Invariably there's lots of crunching noises and I've ended up on the opposite side of the road.

But the hardest thing (at least for me) is getting my feet into the right position on the pedals - remember, no cleats here - we're working with metal toe clips and leather straps - the whole resembling some sort of poacher's trap. The technique seems to be to get one foot in and secured while still stationary, scoot off and then perform a series of flicking and tapping movements with the (still) free foot on the remaining pedal. The weight of the clip and strap means that it's always hanging down, so much so that it scrapes the road - it requires the dexterity of a tap dancer to accomplish the required action - most times it will take me half a dozen attempts before I'm in. Then there is a further lean down to the pedal to tighten the straps and finally we're off. By the time all this is done you can bet that we've arrived at a junction - and there's a frantic, flailing display to reverse the above procedure and get a foot out before coming to a halt. Failure to do so will result in the embarrassment of simply toppling over, both feet firmly clamped onto the pedals and with just hands and arms to cushion the fall.

We met at our usual rendezvous location - Gary had managed to get there without once changing gear - thus alleviating half of the problems. On the journey from my house, my bike had developed an annoying problem that resulted in the axle holding the pedals moving horizontally about a half inch - this was deemed serious and there was much staring at the offending parts. Gary thought it best to repair to my workshop whereupon a more calculated appraisal could be made - I stared a bit longer before we agreed to cycle a few miles in that direction and 'see what happens'.

At Congerstone we halted next to the bus stop and I turned my bike over on the conveniently situated patch of grass. I was then able to tighten the loose locking nut that holds the axle and pedals in place - just using my fingers - I couldn't get it really tight but I did manage to solve the immediate problem. All good then? - we decided to carry on.

Before setting off on this ride we had planned to avoid any hills - the gearing on these bikes is such that only men with proper thigh muscles could possibly move these machines up any kind of a gradient - so I was surprised that Gary suggested making our way to Market Bosworth - not least because the hill to get there is formidable. Even more surprising was that I agreed to his ludicrous idea. But we managed it - and (the most surprising surprise of all) it wasn't bad! - we got up it relatively easily.

We called in at Velobici - a designery cyclists apparel establishment, very cool, very 'with-it' and very expensive - nice stuff though - and an interesting collection of old bikes used as part of the shop display. By now it was past lunchtime - we decided a pint would be a good idea and after another five minutes of scraping toe-clips and flicking feet we arrived at the Black Horse - essentially a restaurant but with a quite welcoming patio area round the back, ideal for this (mainly) sunny Tuesday afternoon. Gary bought out a couple of 'Doom Bars' - he thought they were cloudy, which they were, but seemed to taste okay. We followed that with a couple of Italian lagers and a bag of Kettle crisps each and then it was time to ride back. We headed back to Congerstone and I pealed off for the 3 mile climb back to home, All in all a good few miles - Gary has now used all his gears, I know I need to tighten that lock nut and we've both enrolled for tap dancing lessons.

Old man on old bike cries 'rape'

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Cycling with angry motorists.....

I've been pretty lucky with regard to experiencing any sort of run-in with motorists while out on the bike. Nothing really ugly - maybe a couple of verbals - like today.

I'm out enjoying a 20 miler, just ambling along quiet lanes enjoying the fair-weather as spring gradually unfurls.  As I make my way down a single-track road I become aware of a vehicle behind me - it seems close... there's repeated revving from the engine. I wonder why he doesn't come past me (assuming it was a 'he') - I think there's room? - In any event it's a downhill stretch, I'm moving at about 20mph, there's nowhere to pull over and in any case there's a junction up ahead, I figure he can get round me there.

As I approach the T-junction I move to the middle of the road and turn right, it's a short, steep climb now - as I step up onto the pedals I'm startled by a long, hard horn blast from whoever it was behind - It's loud! - I glance round and see a Range Rover turning in the other direction at the junction - the window is wound half down and there's a colourful outpouring of invective - I can tell now that it is indeed a man.... or a woman with a very deep voice. In the heat of the moment I could think of no worthwhile reply without resorting to similar obscenities, all I managed to shout back was: 'nice language' - which resulted in a further volley of abuse as the car sped off in the opposite direction.

It's a shame how incidents like this can colour your day after a delightful start and some pleasant miles. What is it with motorists who react like that? I don't think I was doing anything wrong - i was in front, he couldn't get round in that big motor so he had to wait - maybe thirty seconds, probably less - until the junction. If I'd been able to pull over in a suitable spot I would - but as I say, it was a short distance to the junction anyway.

I don't ride round looking for a fight and I can't remember anything like this happening before? - I generally believe that it can be best to let inconsequential instances of other road users' stupidity or carelessness slide - rather than getting revved up into confrontation mode - this pacifism has stood me in good stead over the years I think. After I got home and thought about it, why did he react like that? - why so impatient? - why so angry? - and what had been achieved? Was this driver now going to turn into a homicidal maniac towards cyclists? (maybe he already was?).

Unfortunately motoring these days does not create an environment that rewards courtesy or consideration - drive like a complete idiot and you will get there quicker. Add to that the common pattern of aggressive, mean-spiritedness and over-estimation of driving skills, all combined with a general disregard for just how dangerous a fast-moving tonne of metal really is and the fact that there's a bit of Mr Toad in all of us and you can understand the problem.

Of course, this is not to say that cyclists are any different. There are plenty of people who ride bikes with much the same mentality; it's just that it doesn't usually affect anyone else - and they just get sweaty. Except when they get into slanging matches with motorists. If you go out with the right (i.e. wrong) attitude you could have a fight with someone every time. But I'm happy to continue in my own way - if a motorist cuts me up i'll count to ten and ride on by - it's my traffic karma measure - I'll let you know how I get on.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Proper cycle touring - our next challenge....

I've posted plenty about Eroica, which will be our first 'challenge' later in the year - but after that we have designs on a real adventure! Since riding Lands End to John O Groats we've been struggling to find a ride that offers the same sense of trepidation, impossibility and perceived satisfaction. But we have a plan for this year that will, hopefully, tick all the boxes.

We intend to cycle across France - end-to-end, top to bottom, Calais to the Mediterranean - however you care to describe it - it will be a decent test - and comparable to LeJog. We're thinking late August or early September will be the departure date - giving us plenty of time for planning routes and gathering equipment. Unlike LeJog, this time our endeavours will be totally unsupported - no support vehicle, no-one to help us if we get into difficulties - we will carry everything we need: camping gear, cooking equipment, clothes, spare parts, tools etc. In other words - proper cycle touring!

I've got a touring bike already and I'm upgrading the wheels to ensure I'm confident with their load carrying capabilities, I have panniers as well - just need to get the stuff that goes in them! The coming months will see us bickering over which tent will serve us best and who's carrying the cooker! We'll keep you posted on progress and decisions we make as well as updates on the route.

Meantime - here's the bike that will be carrying me!