Monday, 31 January 2011

Sunday ride.... and the Butcher in a stew!!

We didn't get out until about 9.30 this morning - the delay giving us the hope of a warmer start, this was not the case unfortunately, and we departed with hands already feeling the sting of the frost.

Paul and 'The Butcher'
We headed out via Coton in the Elms, Catton Park, Alrewas and then to Kings Bromley, here we were overtaken by a large pack of fast cyclists, all moving as one, efficiently, almost silently but very quickly! - there must have been 25-30 of them, it was quite impressive. We carried on at our own pace, which this morning had been brisk. Gradually the morning grew warmer with the sun finally extending a warm welcome as we pedalled, via Fradley, in the direction of Whittington.

Suddenly we were overtaken again; another bunch of near-silent, stealth cyclists. Perhaps they weren't moving quite so quickly as the first group? - We decided to see if we could hang on to the back-end, we upped our cadence and found ourselves part of the peloton, sucked along in its slipstream. It felt good, they were travelling slightly quicker than us but the pace wasn't too painful. Soon they zipped off in a different direction to the one we needed and we were back to just the two of us.

We negotiated the bare, dry lanes towards Whittington, passed through the village and continued towards Elford - as we passed over the railway, standing at the roadside was 'The Butcher' - hardly recognisable without his cleaver, we stopped and had a chat - it turned out that he had set out early, promising his wife he'd be back by 10.30 to press on with the decorating - unfortunately a series of untimely punctures had delayed him! - Bad luck Tim!! - Soon we were off again, the homeward stretch; Elford, then up the climb to Wigginton, back round via Haunton to Clifton Campville then up the hill to Netherseal - by now it was glorious, the whole landscape bright and cheery, the effort of the climbs meant we were warm, toasty in fact! - it almost felt a shame to finish.

Mileage for this morning: 36

Friday, 28 January 2011

Dawn rides and hedges....

Out on the bike - 7.00am
So far this week I've managed to get out on the bike every day. The recent mild spell and the urge to up my mileage has provided the necessary spur. I've been out early, starting at around 5.30-6.00am, in the dark! - I've upgraded all my 'night riding' gear this winter; a new, mega-powerful front light, a flashing helmet light, additional back light, reflective gillet, reflective bands for around my ankles, night-vision reflective bib tights, yes, I look like a mobile christmas tree but my theory is that it's best to be seen. Anyway, I quite like riding in the dark, its generally quieter on the roads and I especially like it just as dawn arrives, the birds begin their cacophonous morning routine and the coming light reveals the waking countryside.
Dawn - Leicestershire - 28/01/2011

I have been noticing the hedge lines of late, I find the history in these divisions fascinating. Each has been shaped by the years and with the leaves down it is clear to see that every length has its own story. Some have been eaten away and barged by the cattle and where they have become thin all manner of ironmongery has been employed to plug the gaps. The corrugated iron, pig wire, old gates and rusted bedsteads are as much part of the hedge as the weave of living limbs.
Not all the hedges are as idiosyncratic, few have been 'laid' in parts as winter work.  the wood cut at the base so that it is severed but not completely cut, to leave a lifeline of bark for re-growth come the summer. The partially severed limbs are "laid" to the ground, the dead and unwanted material removed and then the hedge is reconstructed.  A laid hedge has time to flower and to fruit and to build up an ecology. A good hedge is a lifeline between low and high ground, linking streams and woods as a connective ribbon. It is a place in which to shelter and forage and nest, or to travel out of harm's way, as the field mice do. Some hedges can be as old as 1,000 years and the old timers reveal their age with dog's mercury and bluebell in their shadows, and lichen and fungus in their limbs. A "good" hedge is like a forest in miniature, with an upper canopy blooming and fruiting, an inner cage for protection and an understorey in the hedgerow perennials.

On any of my regular routes there is a variety of hedgerows, some are high and envelop me as I pass through their tunnel like forms, more commonly though the hedges are low and from the elevated position of a bike saddle the whole countryside is opened up to view. Trees, woods, cottages, churches all can be seen, unlike journeying in a car where mostly the hedge impedes the view.

This time of year sees farmers out trimming the hedgerows, I've seen many tractors lately pruning away at last years growth. For cyclists this is a problem; the shards of thorns that spew into the road cause punctures - I've had two already this year, its quite amazing how hard and sharp those thorns are - like small steel pins that slice through tyres indiscriminately. Certainly hedgecutting machines need a wide berth and the road avoided for a few days, preferably until there's been some rain to wash away the debris.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

More sponsorship....

A big thank you to.....

The Chamberlin and Hill Castings team

The Maintenance Team, Glyn, John, Steve, Carl, Selwyn and Chris

The office team Jeanette, Leanne, Karen, Glenys, Jessie and Mark

The production control, estimating and sales team. Paul, Andy, Darren and Phil

Welcome back Joe, thanks for the sponsorship

Cheers Ian, Dave, Dave, Mick, Adrian and Gordon

Paul and Helen Lewis (Paul was invited to join us but declined, I wonder why)

Cheers All

Thanks to Jim Lacey

A big thank you for the latest sponsorship from J.Lacey Steeplejacks

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Slaughtered... by 'The Butcher'...

Now we know why Tim 'The Butcher' is so called.... He makes mincemeat of people.

Results from the 50k reliability trial last Sunday reveal all...

The Butchers time for 50k - 1hr 59min
Mine and Gary's time - 2hr 40min - he beat us by almost an hour!!!! - I want him drug tested!

But seriously, Tim is a dedicated cyclist, he uses heart-rate monitors and all sorts of witchcraft... Well done Tim!

Sad news of Patrick Kenny...

I didn't know Pat Kenny but I regularly used to see him cycling around the lanes and roads of Staffordshire, particularly Whittington/Lichfield. I am saddened to hear that Pat was killed on the A38 near Burton-on-Trent recently while out on his trike. He was 72 and and avid cyclist - In 1980 he had held the world record for Lands End to John O'Groats on a Trike - completing it in 2 days 10 hours and 30 minutes - the record stood for 2 years - even at 72 he was still riding up to 400 miles a week and was working towards his goal of cycling a million recorded miles. I know the A38 quite well - I wouldn't want to ride my bike along it - A sad warning to all of us, be careful.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Reliability Trial.....

So, we found ourselves enlisted into the Mercia Cycling Club Annual Reliability Trial - we signed on for the 50k ride, 100k being just a little bit too much for us early on a cold Sunday morning. But what is a 'reliability trial' - a quick google reveals all.

A reliability trial is an organised bicycle ride which challenges a cyclist to complete a course, passing through designated control points, within a preset time limit. Such events are often held in the wintry opening months of the year and are used by cyclists as training rides. A common test would be a 100 in 8 - 100 miles would have to completed within eight hours, including any stops.
The term is historic and dates back to the early years of the 20th century. The name was also a way of emphasising to the police, at a time when the place of cycle sport on British roads was insecure, that the mass rides they might see were not races. equipment was less reliable, roads were rougher, routes were more poorly sign-posted, and Reliability trial riders needed to be self-sufficient, adept at navigation, able to deal with mechanical problems, and fit enough to complete the course. In some cases, successful completion of the ride entitles the rider to a certificate. Reliability trials have lost a lot of their popularity although they remain a regular feature for sections, or clubs, of the Cyclists' Touring Club. 

Gary and 'The Butcher'
So there you have it, in a nutshell a long ride within a certain time. Gary and I cycled from Netherseal to the start point, Mercia Cycling Clubs most well appointed club-house in Burton on Trent - we signed the appropriate forms, next of kin etc and waited for our start time - 10.30. We watched the superfit racers depart from 10.00am on the 100 kilometer version and we met up with, the now legendary, Tim 'The Butcher' - he looks lean and mean having already lost a stone in weight for the upcoming season.

We hit the road at precisely 10.30 and swept along with the peloton - we soon became aware however that there were a lot of cyclists passing us - they all seemed to be travelling up the incline with no problems, chatting and laughing - we on the otherhand were struggling to keep up; any idea of conversation was out of the question.

Mercia Clubhouse
At least the weather was kind, by now it must have been a glorious 6 or 7 degrees - whatever it was we were sweating, working hard, pushing ourselves. There were a number of sharp climbs and those prolonged uphill stretches that seem to drag on forever and punish the legs. By now the field was strung-out, we were firmly established at the tail-end of the bunch and finding it very tough. 

We passed over Blithfield Reservoir and the first of a number of hard climbs in the latter part of the course, the second was just beyond Abbots Bromley and the worst was Jacksons Bank at Hoar Cross followed by a series of roller-coaster challenges known as the Scotch Hills - all very testing. 

Finally we passed through the beautiful village of Dunstall and quickly back to the clubhouse, being passed on the way by the first of the returning 100k riders!!! - they were showing off! - A cup of coffee and a most excellent slice of almond cake was gratefully received - then we had the ride back to Netherseal!!!

All in all it was a good day - challenging, yes, tough in places, absolutely, but we know where we are now, we can see more clearly what has to be done - basically its more riding and lose weight!!

Mileage today - 57

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Now the work must begin....

With the damp, cold, post Christmas misery of January well underway it is time to realise that this is where our cycling plans begin. This is the time to start thinking about hard training, long rides, diet, nutrition, equipment.... you name it we need it all.

There is always some satisfaction in reaching a goal, and our goal this year is going to need much dedication. The steady improvement in fitness, the capability to ride 100 miles day after day - can we do it?

Cycling, it seems to me, is a sport that requires physical fitness and physical ability but not much else. Mostly it boils down to 'having the legs'. This is something of a frustration for those who don't have the legs and lack the inclination (or the time) to go out and get them!

There is not a lot to be gained from technique or skill, despite the various articles written over the years, none of it really makes that much difference. It's about the legs and everything else is simply 'tweaking'. Getting fit is a daunting task though, hence the urge to try the odd stuff; weird diets, weird helmets, shaving the leg hair etc.

I suspect the answer is the one suggested by an ex 100 mile champion, who when asked what was the secret said : "You see that pedal, when that sod gets to the top I kick it to the bottom as hard as I can. And when it comes to the top again I kick it again. And I keep doing that"

I think that might be it!

It's booked!.....

That's it then, no going back now, Gary has booked the motorhome and his annual leave, we're committed!!!

Swift Escape 686 - our accommodation!
We'll be travelling to Lands End on June 4th, starting the ride the next day.

Gary is working on the routes for each day and I'm hoping we'll be able to post them on this site, along with a map, for those of you interested.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

The Greatest rider....

We all need heroes and inspiration. Not least those of us crazy enough to undertake Land's End to John 'O Groats. In the February edition of 'Cycle Sport' is a feature on the 50 Greatest Cyclists of all time. I read it with interest.

Everyone who has seriously ridden a bike knows the answer to the question 'Who was the Greatest'... Who has won most races, dominated the sport etc. It was of course Eddy Merckx - The Cannibal. Eddy was insatiable, he won 40, 50 races a season. He dominated Grand Tours and Classics and everything in between. Merckx was the most complete rider of them all, a figure who loomed over the late 60's and first half of the 70's - it could get mighty chilly in his shadow. Many of his records are unlikely to be equalled.

The great Eddy Merckx
So, just as we know that any countdown of the greatest bands of all time is going to conclude with The Beatles, we know that whichever way we cut it, Eddy Merckx is always going to be top of the pile. Amazingly latter day hero Lance Armstrong could only make No 33 in the top 50!! with a total of 74 victories. To put things in perspective Eddy Merckx made No 1 with 333 victories. 

By any criteria Eddy was the greatest, the finest man ever to race a bike. He holds the record for the most Tour de France stage wins - 34, the most days in the yellow jersey - 96, the most Grand Tour overall wins, 11, he won all five of the sports single day monuments. His tally is simply jaw dropping - Milan-San Remo - 7 times, Liege-Bastonne-Liege 5 times, Paris-Roubaix 3 times, the Tour of Flanders and Tour of Lombardy, twice each, the World Road Race Champion three times, The World Hour record holder - the list just goes on and on. Count all the criteum and kermesse victories and Merckx's total is an astonishing 445 victories!!

Merckx's appetite and strike rate are unrivalled. In 1971 he won almost all the races he entered. There will never be another like him.

We all need heroes - just call me Eddy from now on.

A warm Sunday and tired legs!....

I woke early and was heartened to note that my toothpaste didn't need to be defrosted under the hot tap - today was going to be warm - an almost tropical 11 degrees according to the thermometer in the courtyard - great.

No base layers then, a vest and cycling top only, one pair of socks and lightweight gloves - and I was on my way. My old 'winter bike' has been showing its age of late and I have an annoying squeak and a kind of crackling sound from the back wheel (I think) - I suspect bearings but I'm not entirely sure. Anyway I carried on regardless, after 7 miles or so Gary called to say he'd got a puncture - he had two choices; fix it or use his new bike!!! - I encouraged the latter option and it was arranged that we'd meet somewhere on the road.

Sure enough, after about 11 miles I spotted a black and white blur heading toward me - Gary on his new 'Specialized Roubaix' - soon we were off and heading out via Shackerstone to Austrey and then up the 'big hill' to Orton-on-the-Hill - I hadn't climbed that one before and just before the top as I tried to change into a more comfortable gear my chain came off, slipping between the gear and frame at the back and dropping off the small ring at the front - I quickly fixed that but then had a standing start on quite a formidable incline - the result was I misjudged the effort required and fell off into the road!! - falling off is becoming a habit for me. I managed to keep moving at the second attempt and soon we were at the summit. We quickly traveled on to Twycross and then dropped down via Bilstone to Congerstone where  we joined our usual route around the outlying villages of Market Bosworth - the sun was out, we had worked up an admirable sweat and it all felt good; spring-like in fact. The sun popped out for a while to put a smile on our faces and we made good progress.

I had an idea; if we stopped by my house on our way back to the finish point I could get my new bike out for it's inaugural spin - this we did, and I tentatively explored the gearing and the general 'feel' of this highly strung machine - it felt okay - although a few tweaks maybe needed to saddle and handlebars and possibly the shoe cleats - I noticed on the computer that i was traveling at the dizzy speed of 37mph on the flat stretch out to Barton in the Beans, I was disappointed when I realised the speedo had been calibrated in Kph and not Mph.

After getting back home and adding up the two distances for both my bikes I had covered a very reasonable 50.5 miles this morning - trouble was I felt totally knackered - tired and aching, the more aggressive riding position of the Trek may have contributed to that - certainly the saddle is a lot harder than my 'softies' gel filled version on my other bikes - we'll see how I feel tomorrow - meantime, check out Gaz on his new machine here...

Saturday, 15 January 2011

A New Trainer and some advice from 'The Butcher'

I have set up my old Raleigh Pioneer bike up on an indoor trainer, ideal for the dark cold nights. I managed to spend a bit of time this week giving it a go, but how to get started......
Tim, known as... 'The Butcher' (N.B. All great cyclists have nicknames, Eddy Merckx was the 'Cannibal, Fabian Cancellara is 'Spartacus') advised me to fit an old bike to the trainer, set the resistance of the trainer to low and use the gears on the bike to generate the resistance and finally most important of all, get a heart rate monitor !!!
The way I did it, a bit like a bull at a gate ! Most important of all, get my Ipod and get an appropriate playlist. Sort out a stop watch and get started. A short easy spinning warm up then into the 20 minute routine... 30 seconds fast spinning... 30 seconds slower... repeat a number of times.... then repeat the lot with higher resistances. Not exactly scientific but I felt that I had a good workout at the end of it.
The playlist, Radar Love - Golden Earring, Silver Machine - Hawkwind, Born to be Wild - Steppenwolf, On the Road Again - Canned Heat. I laughed when I realised that the old Raleigh Pioneer was a silver machine, not quite the same as the one in the song. No wonder my legs were plaiting at the end and I thought my body had sprung a leak !!!!!

Thursday, 13 January 2011

New Bikes...

I think we need to inform you all about our latest 'toys' - Gary and I have both invested (heavily) in a new bike each.

Well, it was the January Sales, these were bargains that couldn't be ignored! - Anyway Gary started it - whilst visiting his mother in Plymouth he spotted an excellent deal on a Specialized Roubaix - when he told me about it I knew that I'd have to do the decent thing and get one too! - I've bought a Trek Madone 5.2.

Both these bikes are completely different to what we ride currently, they're essentially carbon framed race bikes - we ride hybrids at the moment. Will we use them for 'LeJog'? - well we'll see, I suspect that we'll take them and use them, but probably not every day. The gearing is such that we may struggle on the steeper, hilly sections. But there's a long way to go yet, maybe we'll be so fit by June that we'll just fly up the hills.....

I shall be working on an additional page(s) for the menu at the top of this blog - this will be about our bikes and kit - it might be interesting to some of you - look out for it in the next week or so.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

The fastest sprinter....

I've just been reading an article in the newspaper about Mark Cavendish - surely the fastest man in the world on a bike - here's what he says about going fast.

"To be quick, you really have to enjoy cycling. If you love something you are going to do it, even through driving rain and bitter winds. Going out in bad weather isn't my first choice but its still not a chore. If it were I'd know my time at the top was over. I just love to get on my bike, I don't get carried away with heart rates and power outputs I just go out like a kid and ride - even if I do that at 25mph for 8 hours. When I was growing up on the Isle of Man I would go out with my friends all day and blast about on our bikes, we were pretty competitive always racing to the next signpost and the terrain over there helped me get where I am today, there's not one yard of flat over there. The fastest sprint I've been clocked at is 47.5mph - which was the fastest time ever recorded. To do that time after time takes a certain amount of balls, especially when you see what happens when riders crash. Going downhill I have been clocked at 79.5mph during the Tour of Switzerland 2009. Another secret to my speed is the stiffness of the bike, mine is so stiff it gives me a bad back, my body takes all the impact, this way as much energy as possible is transmitted through the pedals instead of being lost through flexing. I train my mind as well, I make about 1000 decisions in the final minute of a race and you can't do that if you're thinking too hard, its got to be hard wired. There's no guarantees though, I still crash out!"

Mark Cavendish is regarded as the fastest sprint cyclist in the world. He holds the record for stage wins in the Tour de France by a British rider, six in 2009 and five in 2010.

Monday, 10 January 2011

First week in January.... done!

After the Christmas excess and the spate of unrelenting bad weather the first week of 2011 was always going to be onerous - finding the opportunity to get out on the bike let alone the necessary willpower to face the elements was, as I expected, something of a drudge. However, somehow I managed 90 miles up to yesterday - even more surprising is that I managed it whilst suffering from 'man-flu' or at least an annoying cold.

Yesterday saw me up at 6.00am determined to brave the icy conditions and cycle to Burton-on-Trent where we had arranged to meet a 'man about a camper van' - This plan was on course; 15 minutes to apply the necessary layers of clothing, thermal vest, T-Shirt, Cycling shirt, reflective vest, two pairs of thermal sock, overshoes, windproof thermal bib-tights, two pairs of gloves, wind stopper headband, thermal buff and finally, helmet (with helmet light - a new toy). Outside then to the garage, get the bike out, - Oh no! - a flat tyre. I stand and stare at it for a few moments, suddenly the idea of getting back into bed seems most appealing, but no, I am reminded that work put in now will make things easier later in the year. Okay, tools out, spare tube and on with the job. I decide to take the wheel into the kitchen to make the tube change, makes sense, no point in freezing outside. I change the innertube then its back outside to the garage where I have a track pump - I pump up the tyre.... it immediately deflates.... now I'm running late - and seriously consider abandoning the plan... No! - I must persevere.... Ok, another tube - I have one more spare.... I do the change again, this time its okay, I look at the one I had installed previously and can see it has a leak along the seam of the tube - must be faulty I assume. At last I think I'm ready - by now it's 7.30 am - still dark and I need to cycle 12 miles to meet Gary - I set out, lights ablaze and head through the lanes toward Barton in the Beans, I notice there's a lot of frost on the back roads, glistening white jewels flickering as the lights of the bike hit them - before I know it I'm off the bike and sliding along the road surface, didn't expect that - didn't think it was quite that bad - I mount up again, no damage done, but looking at the road I begin to wonder whether this is such a good idea, certainly I'll need to curtail any idea of speed. In the end I decide to head back home - I've covered less than 5 miles but any further is going to be risky. A shame but its for the best. Instead I get changed and we make the trip by car

On arrival at Gary's he has a breakfast ready, Bacon, egg and bean - tea and toast - fantastic! - Once we have polished that off we drive to Burton and meet the man with the campervan - it really is ideal, perfect for what we need - we negotiate a price and a provisional date - this to be confirmed over the next day or two - we leave feeling we have made good progress and that it's all suddenly very real!

Later in the afternoon we manage to get out for a decent leg spinner - with the 5 miles from this morning my total was just over 30 miles for the day.

Hopefully we'll be able to confirm dates for the trip in the next posting.

Thursday, 6 January 2011


With the arrival of 2011 our total pledges have now exceeded £1000 - a big thank you from us to everyone who has offered sponsorship so far.


At this time of year it is customary to make a few 'resolutions' - and with LeJog looming mine are all going to be associated with that task!

1) Ride more! - there's nothing that is going to prepare me for the challenge better than getting out on the bike - The bad weather in December limited the opportunity to get out - and at the time of writing I have a cold! - but I'm hoping for fair weather and the chance to build up my mileage soon

2) Lose weight - I've lost a fair bit of weight over the past couple of years - but a further stone or two would make riding over 1000 miles so much easier (especially the hills).

3) Healthier eating and less drinking! - enough said!!

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Frustration, A Manor House and Cycling at Last !

The Christmas break was frustrating at first, the ice and snow making it impossible to get out on the bike. However the last few days have improved a great deal so I have been able to notch up a few miles on the bike. Every over indulgence in the last month or so seems to be transmit itself through the pedals on the bike, but thankfully after each ride everything was getting a bit easier. Of note this holiday Val, Spyder (our latest guide dog puppy) my Mum and I spent two relaxing days at a Manor House B & B near Saltash. Cornwall. Nick and Jenny who own the Manor made us feel so welcome !! The place was built in the days of Edward III and is absolutely perfect, a wonderful place to stay.