Tuesday, 17 January 2012


This coming weekend will see Gary and I enter our cycling club's annual reliability trial. A reliability trial is something of a throwback, a historic term dating back to the early years of the 20th century when cycling equipment was less reliable, roads were rougher, routes were more poorly signposted and mobile phones had yet to be invented. The challenge is to complete a course within a preset time limit, riders need to be self-sufficient, able to deal with any mechanical problems and fit enough to complete the course. These days much of the function of reliability trials as a test of fitness, reliability and the ability to ride long distances has passed to the closely similar 'Audax' events. However a few cycling clubs still hold them, usually in the wintry opening months of the year and club cyclists use them as a training ride.

Last year we rode the event, 50 or 100km (we opted for 50), in cold and wet conditions - we completed the course in 2 hrs 40mins which is pathetically slow by racing standards - but it was a tough course with some formidable climbs. The course this year will be the same - we know what's coming - whether we manage a quicker time is doubtful.

So it was that we decided a longish ride would put us in good stead for the forthcoming event. I met up with Gary and another Paul at the usual meeting place. It was a bright day, fresh and clear, the sun was trying hard to raise the gauge but the temperature was unwavering in its refusal to move much above freezing point. We were riding early afternoon and there was still much evidence of the overnight frost. The verges and trees looked sugar coated and the roads that were shielded from the sun by hedges retained an icy slipperiness. We rode gently through quiet familiar lanes, the fields eerily empty and barren. But then this is the time of renewal, the land is dormant, resting, building up its resources for the rebirth of spring - the ritual reaffirmation of life to come in the longer, lighter days. A vision of fire pops into my mind and the phoenix rising from the ashes.

Soon we have to climb the hill up to Market Bosworth - we take a steady approach but it still hurts - the after effects of a new year cold are noticeable now - my lungs are burning by the time we reach the top. I feel slightly uncomfortable and realise I am still not fully recovered. The riding is flatter and easier for a few miles now as we head into Cadeby and the short, fast road to the outskirts of Sutton Cheney. This is a route that Gary and I rode many times last year as part of our LeJog training - but not so early in the year and at such low temperature. We manage a fair turn of speed along the road to the Upton turn-off, we stay together, a small tight group encouraging each other to keep pedaling.

Where the farmland hedges have not been cut, tall saplings are growing out of them and standing like flagpoles. They have smooth bark and already have small, black leaf buds emerging. I notice a weeping willow with some leaves still clinging on although the sudden cold spell seems to have encouraged a fall and there is a neat pile of yellowing leaves around the base. We have another burst of speed on the long but gentle climb up to Upton village. We are visiting 'the bench' our traditional stop and the chance for a rest, a drink and, thanks to Gary, a bite to eat. It is noticeable when out on the bike how much better food tastes. I suspect a combination of fresh air and physical exercise sharpens the appetite. We sit for a few minutes and enjoy a couple of excellent biscuits whilst pondering whether or not a letter to Upton Parish Council might encourage them to move the bench into a sunnier position for the winter months.

As we set off again it suddenly feels much cooler - of course the brief respite means we ourselves have cooled down and there is certainly a marked difference. We head to Shenton at a reasonable pace before making the turn up towards Far Coton. Last time we passed this way there was a collection of gypsy travellers camped on the verges - we were impressed at how tidy their entourage was. They've gone now and there is no signs that they were ever there.

We pass back through Congerstone as the light begins to fade and the temperature drops. I leave Gary and Paul before the last big climb up to Barton in the Beans and then home. Someone has lit a bonfire under a crack willow tree just beyond the canal bridge. It smoulders and glows gently with just a feint plume of smoke drifting over the field towards the canal beyond.

Soon I'm home - 35 miles covered, I feel tired but satisfied. Tonight I will sleep well.

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