Friday, 30 March 2012

Exciting weekend....

This weekend we won't be going out on our bikes. We'll be going out with them but not on them. It sounds like a puzzle, let me explain. Gary and I have three bikes each. Our respective partners also have bikes. My kids have bikes. All these bikes need maintaining, last time I took my bike in for a service I think it cost around £200 to get everything sorted out. So it makes sense to service the bikes ourselves. Not only will it be pleasurable and rewarding but we'll save money! The thing with new, modern bikes is that there's an aura of complexity about them. Carbon components, torque settings, tricky springs and twiddly bits around the gears etc. We figured the best bet was to be shown what and how to do things properly. To that end we have booked a weekend cycle maintenance course up in Lincolnshire - in the two days we will cover everything we need to be able to service and maintain our bikes. I'm really looking forward to it and I'll report here early next week to tell you how we got on.

In the meantime I thought it would be interesting to post a more 'visual' blog today. I keep writing about the route I take around the lanes here - what if I gave you a sort of virtual ride in photographs - my usual route in pictures...... why not? - here we go...

In the bike shed...

Heading towards Market Bosworth

The uphill road to Market Bosworth

Pretty cottage - Market Bosworth

Bosworth water park

Gated road, Market Bosworth to Sutton Cheney
Fields around Sutton Cheney
Filling up at Upton

The bench at Upton

view from the Upton bench

Shenton Church



road into Congerstone

Uphill slog from Congerstone to Barton in the Beans
more up hill!!
Barton in the Beans
view across fields at Congerstone
Almost home!

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Out with the new and in with the old.....

As 'summer' reaches drought conditions here in the midlands I decided to get my 'new' bike out. Gary has been using his regularly but so far I've stuck with my older bike. But with the roads here bone dry and, in some places, bubbling under the intense heat, it seemed right and proper to roll out the new bike. I like the way the new bike is called 'The New Bike' - I suspect that is how it will remain, at least until I buy another new bike - a bit like the 'new bloke' at work or Ronnie Wood in The Rolling Stones.

'New bike' makes its 2012 debut
But isn't it warm? - and the sky so perfectly clear. It is superb for riding at the moment and after picking up Gary's car yesterday (new MOT secured) we went for a ride taking in some hills. There was a slight misunderstanding about meeting times which resulted in me being about 5 miles in the other direction from where Gary was at our allotted meet up time - but we'll pass over that. When we finally found each other we headed out towards the mountains, bandit country and more or less immediately we were climbing - up towards the radio mast just outside Austrey, and then to Austrey itself , then the climb up towards Orton on the Hill (surely a one in 4??). Gary thought his back wheel was rubbing so we stopped to investigate, sure enough there was a slight bulge on his tyre - closer examination revealed the tyre had split next to the rim - definitely a new tyre needed. Gary let out some pressure from the tyre and we moved on if a little slower. We went through Warton and then back into Austrey and another climb back up to the mast. From there we retraced our route through to Appleby Magna and then to Snarestone. By the time I got home I'd covered 36 miles, and I could feel those hills in my legs.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Excellent for cycling...

What a glorious weekend. Absolutely magnificent, not only to look at, but also for riding. I woke early on Saturday, the birds outside were particularly piercing. It has been said that the UK has the very best dawn chorus in the world - characterised by a slow development, a kind of evolution each year, all the solo performances finally coalesce into a new sound and release an outpouring of song. It’s our own private chorus that transforms the darkness into light.

As I set off for the first of two weekend rides I'm slightly concerned by the fog - or is it mist? - what are the defining parameters I wonder? - something associated with density I suspect. Here, it looks misty - it is possible to see through it, but the ghostly vapour shrouds and obscures some of the distant landscape. Nevertheless I'm away and quickly surmise that the mist/fog is lying in patches - but nothing thick enough to suggest any need to mention pea or soup. I have been trying to take in a few extra hills lately - and so I take the option of a left-hand turn and head towards Market Bosworth and the climb up to the town from Carlton. This starts with a fast descent - I'm quickly up to 28mph and building up a decent momentum - but as the road shifts to an uphill gradient that speed and effortlessness is swiftly wiped away - it's a slow slog to the top now - but today it arrives quickly and soon I'm through the town and heading out into the lanes.

In places the mist swirls around fields and spills over into the road, like steam from a giant cauldron of regeneration. Gradually though the sun is seeping through the haze. breaking it down, burning it off - but it never quite manages to complete the job - for the rest of the day there will be a gentle haze. As my ride comes to an end I pause to stand my bike against a wall and take the photograph herewith - a symbol for spring time.

My sunday ride was compromised to some extent. I had my mother over for Sunday lunch and decided a late ride would be the best solution. The day was even warmer than Saturday, no mist and a bright blue sky, clear of cloud and with a pure morning clarity that lasted all day. We sat out in the garden sipping wine and eating strawberries and cream - it really was warm enough - more like summer than spring. After I'd taken Mum home I got back in time for a quick 15 miles - the clocks went forward last night, the extra daylight in the evenings is welcome for cyclists wanting to maximise training. or just simply enjoy the countryside on a beautiful warm day. I couldn't wait to get out - to get the wheels rolling, feel the breeze on my skin, the sun in my eyes and feel my spirit roar - it's as if the bike wants to help too, it wants to move. It's a short ride but I notice that flowers are appearing like stars on a clear night. Things are definitely getting better.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Busy Friday....

Gary has an old car - it's one of his toys. A Lotus Elan 2+2 I think it is - custard yellow with headlamps that pop out of the bonnet and a growly engine. It's over 40 years old and although it is exempt from tax it still needs an MOT - So it was that we travelled in convoy down the M42 to Bromsgrove to a drop the car off at a Lotus specialist. Gary is a biggish chap - well over 6 feet and it looked like a challenge for him to squeeze into the car - I imagined seeing his toes pushing out through the front of the bonnet like someone lying in a bed that's too small. But we got there okay and then I brought him back and we arranged a ride for later in the day.

The day had started with a murky covering of fog - but by 1.00pm the sun was bright and the sky a brilliant blue. We met at our usual place - and rode our usual route through to Market Bosworth, on to Sutton Cheney, Upton, Shenton, Far Coton, Congerstone then back. Gary was on his 'new' bike while I am still riding my older bike - and we were moving at a fast pace for the first half of the ride - 32mph was my fastest and up to the Upton bench and a well earned breather, we didn't let up at all. After that we slowed to a more sedate pace and my Cateye Bike Computer stopped working - I'll try changing the batteries over the weekend see if that makes any difference. Now that the weather and light is improving we are able to ramp up the training - I have covered 420 miles this month so far - I'm aiming for 600 by the end of March. We are both aware that we need to get serious with some hill training - Mont Ventoux is only about 10 weeks away!!

Gary has purchased new wheels for his best bike - he hasn't fitted them yet but I've seen them - and very fine they are - made by Mavic, one of the most famous wheelbuilders, they are a combination of alloy and carbon fibre - they feel light. We wait with hungry anticipation of a full report from Gary once he has them installed. Will he notice a difference? - Will he go faster? Wheels are probably the most significant upgrade that can be made to a bike. Most reports and reviews will recommend this as the first course of action to improve your set up - the cost can be scary though - top wheelsets can easily be thousands of pounds.

Here's a picture of Gary's bike shed - easily the best I've seen with a tiled floor and neatly painted walls. His wife Val bought him the sign for outside it......

Friday, 23 March 2012

Warmest day....

It's only March and yet already the TV weather pundits are telling us that 'yesterday was the warmest day this year....' and that today could be even warmer - but it's the time of year when we are shifting from winter to spring - obviously it will get warmer. I know what they mean though - yesterday was truly 'warm' - more summer than spring I thought. I donned a short sleeved jersey and shorts for my ride to visit my mum - and I was flying. There are occasions, for every cyclist, when everything clicks together; body and machine working in perfect harmony, the bike seems to float and powering it along takes no effort. This happened to me today - from the moment I set off I felt good, within yards I was hammering along effortlessly at over 20mph. At one point I was travelling at 30mph - I was eating up the road, hills didn't worry me at all - everything was perfectly synchronised. When I arrived at my mothers I checked the timings - I had averaged 18.3mph over a 22 mile distance - good for me! - I wondered if I could have made 20mph average if I had used my 'best' bike??? - I'll never know.

Unfortunately the journey home didn't go so well - A couple of hours cooling down at Mum's probably didn't help - and there was certainly a headwind to hinder me, plus my Mum had filled me with boiled ham rolls and bread pudding - I didn't feel comfortable - in fact the last five miles were a drag. But that outward trip was a memorable one - it's a pity that synergetic phenomenon doesn't happen more often though.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Folding bike...

Here I am on Tuesday morning - 9.30pm. There's a man here fixing a satellite dish to the house and I've just got back from an early 12 miles 'around the block' The sun is shining, it feels warm and welcoming, a real pleasure to be out riding on such a beautiful morning. Once again I had pondered about wearing shorts - I didn't, but it would have been okay, the sun creating enough warmth to justify it. I was out yesterday afternoon for a long ride and it surprised me how many cyclists were wearing shorts - but then it was warm and sunny yesterday too. I even saw one cyclist riding without a shirt - that's right, totally bare from the waist up - and from the waist down he had shorts.

The Sky team, high after winning the recent Paris-Nice classic were brought swiftly back to reality last weekend at the Milan San-Remo. This is the longest single day classic - around 300km. Mark Cavendish had been widely tipped to win and join the few riders who have managed it whilst wearing the rainbow jersey of World Champion. But sadly it wasn't to be - from all accounts Mark was crippled by the climbs - he simply couldn't keep up. We all know he's the daddy when it comes to a sprint - if he can get into the right position with 500 metres to go there's no one in the world to touch him - but climbing? - well lets just say he struggles. I imagine he'll do well in the Tour de France though, at least on the 'sprinters' stages and then there's the Olympics - he's one of the favourites for the road race event - we'll see.

I was reading an interesting article about folding bikes. Now I know that these small-wheeled collapsibles are ingenious and practical - but they've never appealed to me, they have never been head-turners and I have never had the need to consider buying one. That may be about to change though. Mark Saunders, a British cycle designer, believes he has developed a machine that combines 'fold-it-into-your-boot' usefulness with a 'look' that will bring you out in goosepimples.

The iF Urban 700c is claimed to be the first folding bike to feature the same wheels as a road racing bike - hence the 700c designation. It certainly looks the part. The engineering is, apparently. flawless. You'll find it on the web - here's a couple of photos.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Things to do while out cycling....

Perhaps the first of an occasional series? - sometimes, when I'm out there pedalling, my mind drifts - all sorts of things pop in to my head - I thought it might make an interesting blog post to note down some of them - but that's for later. Today may I suggest this as an idea...

When you're next out on the bike. Try to spot accidental anthropomorphism in man-made structures. That is, look out for buildings that have faces... here are a few to get you started.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Well done Bradley!...

Great news for Bradley Wiggins and the Sky Pro Racing Team.

Bradley Wiggins on the final time trial
Wiggo achieved his potential and came away the victor of the recent Paris-Nice road race. The final stage last sunday was a time trial up The Col d'Eze mountain, high above the Riviera coast between Nice and Monaco, it is one of cycling's iconic locations, having served as the climax to the eight-day Paris‑Nice for over a quarter of a century, from 1969 to 1995. It has smiled on greats such as Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche, Miguel Indurain and Eddy Merckx, and Bradley Wiggins is now racing in their ranks having achieved the double of stage win on the Col and overall title in the "Race to the Sun".

Having finished a close second in the opening time trial, he took the race lead with a commanding performance as the race split on the windswept plains north of Orléans on day two, and did not put a foot wrong thereafter, never panicking despite the fact that his lead was never more than 6sec, first on the American Levi Leipheimer, and then on Westra after the Dutchman won the toughest hilltop finish of the race at Mende last Thursday.
Gradually, the triple Olympic champion is producing a stage-racing record of achievement that approaches that of the other British greats in this domain. His fourth place in the Tour de France in 2009 equalled the British best of Robert Millar. His victory last year in the eight-day Dauphiné Libéré stage race put him in the company of Millar, and the British Tour pioneer Brian Robinson.
He has already bettered the late Tom Simpson's Tour best of sixth; before Sunday, Simpson had been the only British victor in Nice, and that triumph dated back to 1967.
"I know the history of the sport and to be on that list and to become the second Brit after Tom Simpson to win Paris-Nice means a lot for me," said Wiggins. "I'm on that list of riders who won Paris‑Nice, the Dauphiné. There's just one left now to win."
Wiggins earlier during the Paris-Nice
That reference to the Tour de France underlines that while Nice was his big target for the early season, the goal at the back of his mind is in July. To that end, he will ride no one-day events this year, including declining the chance to defend his British national title in June. If Nice was a key goal, that is because he will start only three more races – the Tours of Catalonia and Romandie, and the Dauphiné – before the Tour. Every chance has to be taken.
Those close to him say that while he has hit this season in fine form, there will be more to come in a few months. "I don't know if I'm a favourite [for the Tour] but I'm one of maybe five riders who can do something there [overall] this summer. I said Paris-Nice was a stepping stone, no disrespect for Paris-Nice. But I must continue that progression to July now. Lance Armstrong warned me recently not to burn too many matches for July. It's certainly a long trail."

Monday, 12 March 2012

Enjoying the sunshine...

What a morning. I love waking on a sunday to find clear blue skies... and warmth and calm. I felt excited to get dressed, throwing on my riding attire as quickly as possible. I simply couldn't wait to get out. As I dress, all the time I am looking out willing the weather to stay. I notice three cyclists ride past - that just makes me more eager to be out there... with them. I can't help myself. I am overwhelmed by happy feelings: the unexpected kiss of clemency and a certain sense of spring. Before I knew what I was doing I was on my way down to the garage to get my bike, and then, at last, I'm away.

The sky is a simple bottomless blue with a few feint whiffs of fluffy white cloud. Immaculate England gently going green before my exhilarated eyes. I pedal hard and fast - I'm almost laughing with the heady intoxication of it all - it just feels great to be out on the road, early, quiet, warm and free. A heron rose off the pond and skirted the woods low, heralding my arrival. All the confusing undergrowth has been removed, just a few handsome specimen trees are left. A couple of huge oaks as old as the hills plus one on its side, host to a hundred kinds of creepy-crawly. Ditches that have sat stagnant are gurgling and bubbling. Nature is active and waking from its slumber.

I freewheel down the long hill to the first village. Quite often the joy of this is hindered by the sure knowledge that I have to labour up this same hill to get home - today it doesn't matter - it can't hurt me - not today. It suddenly dawned on me that everything here, the whole shebang, is always moving – changing drastically. It's a massive green engine, particularly at the moment. The view is different every day and when it rains the whole thing changes colour. I often wondered how Isaac Newton felt when he realised everything in the universe was in motion. "Alles movit," he stated, the greatest ever soundbite, possibly the cleverest two words spoken in history, much snappier than e=mc2, too, even in Latin. Anyway, now I know how he felt.

Clear skies stretch on forever, and I wonder if I should have worn shorts; suddenly, the warmth seems to invite a dawdle. Time to slow down a bit and take a note of that previously inaccessible patch of woodland, or the overgrown spinney, and suddenly the endless, bottomless complications of life and living all unexpectedly make sense; the big machine we live in paying out one of its occasional jackpots. Beguiling scenery; the enchantment of middle age; the transporting smells; the weather all of a sudden overwhelming. The visceral thrill of the throb of nature more than enough for now: Where else would I want to be?

As I dawdle along the worst thing happens. I am overtaken. He snook up on me - came out of the sun - its something cyclists don't like - almost to be feared. But today it doesn't matter. I'm on my old bike and he's riding something slick and carbon. As he goes past he shouts "morning" and I reply with the same. He isn't going much faster and I up my pace - I can tell that I could keep up with him, but I don't care, I ease off and spend time looking at the scenery. It seems utterly silent, perfect,  I work my way along the road at a stately pace, quite alone, tripping along, lost in my thoughts, I caught sight of another vast and stately heron unfolding itself, not with the startled panic of a deer, but calm and statesmanlike. An improbably exotic creature the colour of liquid steel, stretching its wings and walking up an invisible ladder to settle at the very tip of a Scots pine, like a tasteful reinterpretation of a Christmas tree fairy announcing the festivities of the new season. I am sure that just before spring is the best time of year: all sweet anticipation and unfulfilled potential. Promise is always so much better than the real thing.

Up ahead now I spot three cyclists turning into Derby Lane - my route. I wonder if I can catch them? - I up my cadence and give it a go. Soon I'm right up with them - but there're more of them - a club run. As I join up one of them shouts to warn the others to make space for me to pass - but I decline - I'm happy to ride along with them for a while. They are riding out from Nuneaton, a regular Sunday morning crowd. The chap I talk to is an ex-rugby payer who has taken up cycling to keep fit after retiring from chasing the egg. His friend is riding a Specialised single speed machine and goes into some detail about how riding this type of bike has improved his fitness over the winter. It transpires he rode LeJog two years ago and we exchange notes as we make our way towards Shackerstone. Riding with this crowd has increased my overall speed - I don't notice the effort though and soon I'm at my turn off point - I wish them well and turn off for the last long climb toward home. For some reason I notice the complex geometry of roofs, gables and alleys amongst the buildings at the junction – elegant  Georgian houses and farm buildings. And rising above them all, on the far side, the tower of a distant church with a backdrop of wooded hills beyond.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Achtung Spitfire!!!!

Gary called me to say he wouldn't make it today - he was held up at work. So I was out and about on my ownsome lonesome. I'd already decided a longish ride would be the order of the day and I set off under a fluffy grey duvet of sky. My route was to be exactly the one we rode last week - for no other reason than I enjoyed it and it had been a while since we rode those lanes.

The warmer weather has brought a spring flourish to the verges and hedgerows - daffodils are out everywhere - and dandelions. Bold as brass they burst from the muddy paths. Out from a dark winter place, rudely sunny. When looked at closely the dandelion is an astronomical image of the sun in all its boiling, flaring power. One day of warm sunshine and its flower is an entire landscape, a day star around which other planets orbit.
In the trees a song thrush oils his tunes – not quite ready yet, but his creaky phrases mean something wonderful to all who hear them. Even the bullying jackdaws leave the thrush alone, out on a limb, lost in exultant reverie. A couple of robins and a coven of long-tailed tits pass through the trees, and their calls and early songlines are clear - but nowhere near the pitch and intensity of the thrush.

As I ride through the lanes past a copse of tall alders I hear a sound which leads me to think that there's someone in there with a strimmer. Then my peripheral vision catches a flash of something through the tops of the trees - it's an aeroplane - a spitfire to be precise. Someone is flying a model and I stop for a moment to watch. I can't see the 'pilot' but whoever it is and wherever they are they are skilled and I watch for a while as the plane is pushed through a variety of aerial acrobatics. I'm joined by two other cyclists and we all enjoy the display. I remember having a petrol engined stunt plane when I was a lad. I built it from a kit out of balsa wood - endless struts and doped tissue paper - it all comes back to me as we stand watching - then I remember how disappointed I was after months building the thing I crashed it on it's maiden flight.

I circle round to the spot where the ghostly tree was last week. Now the sun is setting and the scene is much warmer and more friendly - but still with drama - photo posted herewith. Then it's the homeward stretch - 35 miles covered and I'm ready for a shower and, seeing as it's friday, a bottle (or two) of wine!

Friday, 9 March 2012

Wiggo looking good....

Allez Allez Bradley!!!!

Great to see that our man Bradley Wiggins is leading the overall classification in the Paris-Nice race at the moment.

After Stage 5 he retains a slender lead - but barring accidents and mad breakaways he should hold that until the final day on Sunday - then it's a time trial - 9.6km up the Col d'Eze

Bradley Wiggins - in yellow at the Paris-Nice