Monday, 30 April 2012

Flood.....

There's a flood on my most regular route - I know because I rode through it this morning. It's not one of those massive floods that you see on TV, There are no people sitting on top of houses, no one paddling around in a canoe, no helicopters rescuing stranded animals.... just a mild flood really, I think we're all kind of used to mild floods these days. Anyway, I got slightly wet as I rolled through the flood - it looked calm and welcoming as I entered it but then a swell built up and by the time I was through it my feet and legs, from the knees down, were soaked.

Apart from the flood there was little to remind me of how bad the weather had been yesterday. The roads (apart from the flood) are dry. The winds have abated, the blue sky is softened by a sea of white islands and the sun, when it peeps through is hot. It is more summery than it's been for the past fortnight, perhaps this is the change? it is, after all, almost May. All of a sudden it's warm enough and bright enough to believe in the dandelion. There is a fly that does too. As if drawn in by the flower's gravity, the fly fastens to its brassy rays, searching for liquid gold. It is softly and almost transparently jewel-like, with art-nouveau window-paned wings, bristled with sensors and both delicate and powerful. From a distance the fly seems just a blemish on the flower, but for the dandelion it is the reason for its explosion of life. This is an ephemeral solar system. Once pollinated by the fly, the flower will turn into a clock, to be blown away with the winds. 

As I arrive back home I dock my bike as usual and go to retrieve my mileage details from the computer/mileometer affixed to the handlebars - only this time there is just a gap where the computer used to be. I stare at it for a few seconds and at the floor underneath - somehow hoping that it may have just dropped off as I got back. No luck. Somewhere over the last 12 miles or so I've lost my little cycling buddy - I've become quite attached to it over the past couple of years. And it was comforting to have, especially on longer journeys, watching the miles click up, or counting them down, checking average speeds, time on the bike, actual speed - trying to get to 40mph - whatever..... I can't imagine why I didn't notice it had gone sooner? - Maybe because I was riding a familiar route I didn't look at it so much? - I don't know? One thing's for sure though - it's gone.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Early morning....

The foxgloves are thick but flowerless yet of course - but among them and beyond them, stretching as far as the boundaries of the wood the bluebells are also thickening for flower - a million spikes with dark hearts of bud - and here and there they are breaking out.

I've opted for another route this morning - just to keep things fresh - as I loop around and begin the return section of my ride I notice a stretched wire next to a copse that is used for rearing game birds. On the wire hang the game keepers victims, the wild enemies of the precious tame pheasants whose destiny in life is to be cared for more tenderly than most babies and then to be massacred more brutally than most soldiers. There they hang the enemies of civilisation. A stoat or weasel, a couple of magpies, a fur-shop full of grey squirrels - here there are no sounds - life is exterminated except for the pheasant and the rabbit who are reserved for death on a higher social plane. It seems the heart and core of this place is contained in one small space - a small oval; the pheasants egg. The pheasant is the lord of life around here - the divine sovereign of the woods - nothing must be done to upset his chances of ordained death. Like the murderer who falls sick on the eve of execution, he must be kept alive, tenderly, jealously at all costs, in order that the squire and his chums may not be cheated of the ultimate satisfaction - pre-arranged extermination.

I wonder about the game keepers - they must be brutalised by the lives they lead. By the constant ironic necessity of having to preserve to kill and to kill in order to preserve. They are victims of organised sadism and probably never realise it.

Enough ranting. It remains dull and wet here in the heartlands. I didn't see another cyclist at all this morning - not one. Even in the depths of winter there would always be at least one other madman out there. One thing though, the landscape is sooooooo green. The rain has heightened the intensity of hues and also served to add a boost to growth. Grass is thriving, trees are in leaf the landscape is pushing upwards at a rapid rate. The rape fields, of which there are many on my route, are a full blaze of searing sun coloured warmth. The wild cherries are in bloom, unlike trees in gardens these wild varieties have no shyness. The uncertainties of cold and rain and sun never seems to affect them they flower whatever - a glorious pageant of unlikely colour - the trees of poets, they are the tree versions of daffodils and lilys. They illuminate the woods and verges with stars of brightness - they look friendly - a cornucopia of soft amber, cream and ruby. The blackthorn blooms are in full flow here and the wild cherry flowers are clear and bright against the gunmetal greyness of the morning sky - a true and ethereal loveliness, visible from afar. In orchards and gardens the cherry will grow to great extent but usually be reigned back in height, but in the woods, hemmed by oak and chestnut, the cherry can manage an immense height, flowerless until the extreme tip lifts itself above the crowd of neighbours to display a thick white cluster of blossom floating above the earth like a cloud.

As I get closer to home I pedal more slowly - almost as if I want to make the last couple of miles last longer. It may be dull and damp but there is still plenty to see..... and dream about.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Rain Rain go away!!!....

Getting out has been limited this week. The rain here has been incessant - We've missed the Wednesday beer ride - again. I know some of you will think we should just get on with it and get out there - stop being wussie - but there's no fun in getting soaked through, cold and miserable. Last year we rode through whatever the weather could throw at us in the sure knowledge that when riding LeJog we might have to cope with adverse conditions - but this year the challenge is somewhat different - we need temperatures upward of twenty five degrees and long hard climbs.

Anyway, I've managed to sneak a few short rides in between the showers. Yesterday I managed 12 miles picking a route I hate which includes a couple of sharp climbs. Today I've been looking out waiting for a suitable chance - as I look out right now it's stopped raining - for the first time today - so I'm going to take a chance. It's cold and miserable - the roads are wet; puddles everywhere, the bike is going to get messy and so am I - no mudguards!

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Why does the rain always fall on me?....

No matter what time of day I choose to venture out it seems I'm destined for a soaking. No matter how sunny it is when I set off, I can be confident that by the time I get home I will be wet through. The weather is weird here at the moment - one minute bright, searing sun the next black and teeming with rain - or even hail.

I went out this morning - encouraged by a bright start to the day. However, just a couple of miles from home the sky was dark violet, inky, scary..... I veered off in a desperate attempt to avoid yet another dousing. It became a frantic race as the clouds loomed ever nearer....

I made my way on a round robin route back towards a glowing sky. I noticed that the recent rainfall has increased the flow of the small brook that I pass regularly. Recently the water has been reduced to a mere trickle, this morning it danced and jiggled, rippling over a bed of stones and sand, running clear as wine.

As I reach the final climb towards home the sun breaks through the branches, casting a net of shadows - Suddenly everything seems lit up. There is a mass of burning branches, of buds about to break into the first flame of summer. It is extraordinarily beautiful.

Towards the top of the climb I spot a lady pushing her bicycle - as I get closer she calls out - "Excuse me, do you have a pump?" I stop and quickly see that she has a flat back tyre. She is riding an old bike and I suspect my pump will not fit the valves on her tyres. I dismount and take a closer look - I was wrong - my pump will fit, but the effort will be in vain. Her tyre is pancake flat - a puncture for sure. She has no pump or spare tube. I valiantly attempt inflation but after 5 minutes we can both see that I'm wasting my time. Luckily she only has a couple of miles to walk - and it's not raining. Not yet.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Taxi boss angers cyclists....

It's all happening in London... 

The head of London's largest minicab company says cyclists should think more about their own safety before "throwing themselves on to some of the most congested spaces in the world" 

John Griffin, the founder and chairman of Addison Lee, blames the rising popularity of cycling for the increase in accidents and says cyclists should pay road tax.

The rest of us occupying this road space have had to undergo extensive training,” he said.“We are sitting in a protected space with impact bars and air bags and paying extortionate amounts of taxes on our vehicle purchase, parking, servicing, insurance and road tax.

“These cyclists are throwing themselves on to some of the most congested spaces in the world. They leap on to a vehicle which offers them no protection except a padded plastic hat. It is time for us to say to cyclists: you want to join our gang, get trained and pay up.”

Mr Griffin also criticised campaigners who claim that cyclists are being “murdered” by motorists, saying they should take responsibility for their own safety.

“Should a motorist fail to observe a granny wobbling to avoid a pothole or a rain drain, then he is guilty of failing to anticipate that this was somebody on her maiden voyage into the abyss,” he said.

“The fact is that he just didn’t see her and however cautious, caring or alert he is, the influx of beginner cyclists is going to lead to an overall increase in accidents involving cyclists.”Mr Griffin has already courted controversy by telling his 3,500 Addison Lee drivers in London to ignore the threat of criminal prosecution for driving in bus lanes and to flout the ban, promising to reimburse them for any fines they incur.

Jenny Jones, the Green Party candidate for London mayor, joined a Twitter campaign to boycott Addison Lee taxis. Cyclists are planning a protest outside the company headquarters next week.

Sarah Fatica, of Brake, the road safety charity, said Mr Griffin was right in calling for cyclists to get more training, but said ultimately motorists had to be more careful because they were in charge of such dangerous vehicles. “If a cyclist makes a mistake it is usually the cyclists themselves who are worse off but if a motorist makes a mistake it can lead to a number of casualties,” she said.





Tuesday, 17 April 2012

A ride into history....

The light is a kind of spring half-light, not shadow and not sun, a soft and treacherous glimmering from behind a cloud. The wind is chilly and finger cold and there is a continuous dancing everywhere of branch and flower. The trees have yet to come into full-leaf and so there is nothing to take out the sting from the wind - it comes straight across, rippling the puddles into small seas with fitful waves.

So it is as I make my way up the drag into Market Bosworth for what seems like the thousandth time. At the junction in the town centre I am momentarily undecided - turn right for the fast drop down towards the water park and then through Congerstone - or left and on to Cadeby and Sutton Cheney - I go left and up the short hill past Bosworth Hall and then out to Sutton Cheney. Small groups of mauve flowers stand in companies and dance and fret incessantly. As I turn it is instantly better, the thick high hedges of holly, maple, hawthorn shelter me and for a moment I cycle in stillness, in a primrose world of absolute spring. I pass a small wood - it stretches like a black carpet towards the horizon - there is a look of sombre ruddiness as though branches had been dipped in burgundy. There can be no doubt that spring is upon us - despite the recent reversion to a more wintry outlook - the green leaves of the birch tree display an infinite tenderness that will never be displayed again this year - like soft paint splashes among a dark sea of branches. The leaves have a luminous brilliance, youthful and fresh and bursting with life - as the year progresses they will dull and tire. There’s a small nest - a miracle of moss and feather built into a precarious stump - the work of robins, tits or wrens perhaps? - these nests are usually only found by chance or great patience - or by the accidental rousing of the birds themselves.

I cross the canal bridge beyond Sutton Cheney and make an impulsive left hand turn - up a road I've never travelled previously and signposted Dadlington and Stoke Golding. There's another canal bridge and a short upward pull into the village of Dadlington - I pass a pub and a village green - there are some boys playing football and a group of young girls playing under a cherry tree - it looks like a happy scene. I carry on and then make a sharp right turn signed 'Stoke Golding' - there's a steep drop and for a minute I'm flying along smiling with the exhileration. The road is winding and then I am alongside the canal; there's a lay-by with parked cars and, on the canal, there are some boats moored - this seems to be something of local attraction, there are people with children feeding the ducks, people walking dogs, people sitting in cars just looking at the scene.

I carry on. Now the downhill ease has turned uphill but not too taxing - soon I'm entering the village -  the sounds of the normal world are dim - there is the clap of pigeon wings, the squawk of blackbirds, the church bells are ringing. These sounds have a quality of excitement, maybe mystery - they seem to magnify the silence, an expansive hush, the wind has died, the strange silence of a small confined village - my senses are keen - I have not been here before - I notice everything; the red phonebox, three pubs, a network of alleyways - then I come upon a sign which intrigues me - I stop to look at it and take a photo.

I make my way home and with immediate alacrity set to on some research - it transpires that my ride today covered some historic ground, Stoke Golding's unique historical claim to fame is that in 1485 the people of the village witnessed the coronation of King Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch, after defeating King Richard III at the battle of Bosworth Field, marking the end of the Wars of the Roses and heralding the Tudor dynasty. The battle took place on the marshland known as Redemore between Stoke Golding, Dadlington, Shenton and Sutton Cheney. Henry's entourage retired to hilly ground near the village of Stoke Golding - here the impromptu coronation of King Henry VII was performed with a crown fashioned from a nearby thornbush. The area became known as Crown Hill.

I ride around this area most days - I pass the Battlefield site regularly - but riding through this village today, and then finding this information has certainly made the day's ride extra special.


Monday, 16 April 2012

Uphill slog....

I've been working on a some new routes lately. With our trip to Provence and the mighty Ventoux looming up, I know that I need to ride uphill more - simple as that really. There is of course nowhere in England that can offer the prolonged torture of riding up steep gradients for 20km or so, all I can do is seek out the hilliest routes possible and ride them over and over.

My first route starts with familiar roads into Market Bosworth, then I turn around, ride down the hill I've just climbed and back up the other side. From there I ride to Newton Burgoland by the most direct route - it's a lumpy ride with a series of short steep pulls. Now I turn right and climb up to Heather - (pronounced Heether). This is part of the Sustran routes - marked The Bosworth Trail - a winding climb that I hadn't done previously - with a couple of nice views from half way up. I always thought it looked tough when driving up it but surprisingly it wasn't too bad. Then it's another brief drop before a longer climb along a busier stretch of road to Ibstock - I found this one quite hard and was glad when the top arrived. From there I go through the town, turning left before the main road and again climbing up towards home. This road was a pleasant surprise, some attractive old buildings - Ibstock Manor House being one of them, plus a short drop down to a ford in the road - I slowed up and decided to cross it without dismounting - just about made it although I could feel my wheels sliding on the slippery concrete under the water.

I've cycled a big loop at this point but it's not far enough. When I rejoin the main Hinckley Road I cross directly over heading into Odstone village and rejoining the road to Market Bosworth - another short but steepish climb and then - I turn off at Carlton and another loop which takes me back to Market Bosworth from a different direction, this way includes a climb from the Wellsborough side up into the town - quite steep and by now i'm tired. Then it's back down (and up) towards Carlton again - second time up this climb! - From there I turn off right and head for home. About 25 miles or so covered.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Wednesday Beer is back....

Oh yeeeessss!!!! - ladies and gentlemen, let's hear it for the welcome return of the wednesday night beer ride. The light nights are here, the weather is mild, we've all got a terrible thirst!

Actually this wednesday was the second beer ride - but Gary and I didn't make it last week - you might remember it was snowing!! Anyway, this week was looking good - I took the car to Gary's with my bike loaded on the new Thule bike carrier - just wanted to give it a test really - and there lay the first problem, the key that locks the rack onto the towbar is a duplicate - unfortunately it is of inferior quality and managed to get quite bent within the locking mechanism - Gary, utilising his engineering background, rescued the situation with a pair of pliers. So, at last, we were ready for the off. Paul, from across the road, joined us and we made our way up Hunts Lane towards Grangewood - It's been a while since I've ridden around here - didn't seem any easier. Quickly though we gathered speed and hurtled recklessly towards Coton in the Elms and Rosliston beyond. Then we noticed the sky up ahead. It was dark, like night, its wet greyness swirling and bleeding into the surrounding clear sky. 'Looks like rain' someone said. That turned out to be the understatement of the evening. Within a minute the rain began falling, gradually becoming more intense. Now it was cold too, my gloves were soaked, in fact everything was soaked - poor Paul from over the road - he was in shorts.

We got into Burton on Trent just in time to see the only other cyclist who'd bothered to turn up - leaving. We shouted to him and he turned round and joined us for shelter in the shopping arcade. We stood around chatting while watching the weather. After a while the rain stopped and we decided to take our chance - duly setting off towards the Black Horse at Coton. Then it got worse still. This time it was hail - not just a few sporadic bits - this was the real deal - we were shot-blasted for about 10 minutes - the roads were white, we were white... and blue - Pete spotted a rainbow to the left and as we moved uphill Gary announced that we were heading for the shallow end.  A piece of hail hit me in the eye with a ferocious sting. Paul from across the road decided he couldn't carry on - he was cold and soaked and opted for the road home. We waved him off as gradually the darkness gave way to a lighter, gentler scenario - it seemed unreal that there could be such a difference in so short a space. Now the roads were dry, as we approached the pub the sun was shining - no sign of bad, wet weather anywhere - except for the wet drips falling from us.

The Black Horse
The Black Horse is a typical local - situated in the pleasant village of Coton-in-the-Elms - famous around here for having a resident flock of ducks quaintly wandering about the place. The pub has been much chopped and changed over the years, it was closed for a while, then opened, then closed, opened, closed and now open again for the past five years or so - and doing well. Even in these hard times there is always a place for a village local, selling good beer at a fair price, with a warm welcome and a cheery smile. The pleasant sounds of laughter and people chatting greeted us as we stood at the serving hatch waiting for three pints of Joules' Bitter. Strange as it sounds we sat outside - the sun was shining, it was pleasant and we chatted for twenty minutes or so. Then I noticed Gary had started to shiver - not in the odd, occasional, one-off way, this was more the full blown shakes, like I imagine Keith Richard shakes in the morning. It was time to make a move - we need to be moving to keep warm, and it was getting dark. We pedalled on to Lullington, down to Grangewood and then to Netherseal. I was home by 9.30 - unheard of for a wednesday beer ride - and I needed a hot water bottle.


Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Exciting....

I hope that some of you out there have been able to catch at least a few events from the World Track Cycling Championships held in Australia over the last week. Having recently switched to a Sky TV package - cycling is a predominant feature on both Eurosport channels - and when it is broadcast in HD on a big screen there is a definite 'wow' factor. The BBC broadcast the highlights last Sunday which was a good way of seeing all the key moments. I find track racing exciting - the tactics combined with the explosive speed and 'to the wire' finishes is an exhilarating amalgamation.

Sir Chris Hoy, so long the leading protagonist at these events looks to be nearing the end of his reign as a world champion - he seemed easily beaten in the sprint events. That said I don't think anyone would write him off and with the Olympics looming he could be tapering his preparation entirely towards a fitting swansong to an illustrious cycling career. Certainly the team selectors now have something of a quandary - Hoy the reigning Olympic champ, so long at the forefront, a hero and a world-wide acknowledged ambassador for cycling versus Jason Kenny - the young turk, upcoming (for the past three or four years!) maybe a little immature for the big event? - but consistently racing faster than Sir Chris?? - We'll have to wait for the outcome.

I've suggested to Gary that he and I should have a go at riding on the track. Our cycling club has an annual trip to the Manchester Velodrome where you can hire a track bike and ride around the banked arena and get a feel for it. I suspect it's much harder than it looks on TV.

I've grabbed a couple of photos off the web to add to this blog - I really like the look of track cyclists in photographs - there's an elegance and refinement about the way they hold their position.

Also on Eurosport I've been enjoying watching the Spring Classics - Milan - San Remo, The Tour of Flanders and, last Sunday, the Paris - Roubaix, The hell of the North - with long stretches of racing at incredible speed over medieval cobblestones!! - Well done to Tom Boonen for winning the event for the fourth time in his career. 





Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Cycle maintenance weekend...

Gary was at my house by 8.00am on Saturday morning - and it should have been a relatively simple task to get my bikes loaded onto his car. Of course it wasn't that simple, there was much tooing and froing, the bikes were lifted up, taken down, roof rack adjusted, bikes up again.... and back down again etc etc - until finally we managed to get them all on, with just the handlebars kissing, we were on our way to Stamford in Lincolnshire for two days tuition on how to look after our bikes, under the expert tutelage of Mr Neil Exton from 'All Geared Up' which is a mobile cycle repair and maintenance business.

We were a little bit late arriving due to the problems loading up - but we were immediately made welcome with a nice cup of coffee and a quick introduction to the course; what we'd be covering, what tools we'd be using, safety in the workshop and the workstations we would be using. I scribbled hasty notes as we went along and soon we had our older bikes up on the workstands ready for action. I had the most to do on Saturday; remove my crankset and bottom bracket - replacing both. A new rear cassette and chain, new gear cable and brake cable, new brake blocks and check and adjust the gearing. It doesn't sound much but it took the rest of the day to work slowly through the list. We were fuelled by more coffee and sausage rolls courtesy of Mrs Exton before we had a short break for lunch. We worked on until around 4.30pm, then we loaded our two older bikes onto the car and headed for home. When I got back I quickly took my bike out for a few miles just to see how it felt. The brakes are fantastic now - especially the rear one which wasn't doing a job at all of recent. The gears all seemed crisp and accurate, no annoying rattles or clicks - yes - it had been a good, worthwhile day - and the prospect of more for tomorrow was certainly pleasing.

We were early getting to Neil's on Sunday, but no matter, our newer road bikes were there waiting for us, already cradled in their workstands - Neil had took the time to sabotage our front and rear mech's - our first job was to diagnose and remedy the problems he had created!!! Once we'd worked through that my day was relatively easy - remove chain, clean and reattach (no need to replace) tweak up the gear indexing and adjust accordingly, check brakes, remove and lubricate gear and brake cable, and replace the handlebar tape. A pretty easy day then - Gary had it tougher - he was replacing two of his chainrings, a new chain, rear cassette, fit new wheels and add a new cassette to his old rear wheel - plus servicing of breaks and gears. It was another thoroughly enjoyable day. At the end Gary purchased a work stand from Neil and we stocked up on brake and gear cables and grease!

We both feel confident enough to carry out a future service now - I have to say both of my bikes have never felt better!

If anyone is interested in booking a Cycle Maintenance course speak to Neil on 01780 757359
or visit his web site at www.all-geared-up.co.uk

Here're a few photo's and some video of our weekend there.

video


Car loaded, about to set off


Gary at work


Gary admires his handiwork

Neil and Paul


Sunday, 1 April 2012

Celebration....

Today is the two-hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the invention of the cow.

One of my distant relatives Sir Algenon Muff became aware of how empty the fields on his estate were. "I was struck by the notion that large, grass-eating, milk-producing, edible mammals would be a positive boon". he later proclaimed.

After several early attempts, including a winged version that immediately flew away, Sir Muff came up with a prototype of the mooing creature we know and, in some cases, love today. A superb example of great British knowhow.

Early prototype of the cow