Friday, 19 December 2014

New Gear for Christmas?....

A scene all over the country this Christmas.....

Wishing you all best wishes for Christmas and New Year

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

To do list....

After another hectic weekend I've been working on a priority list for 2015. My two main bikes are in need of attention - the Trek hybrid is probably the most serious and needs some investigative and subsequent remedial work on the headset - not something I've tinkered with before. Plus, there is a problem somewhere in the bottom bracket area - then it needs the usual: chain, cassette, cables etc. At the moment I'm in no rush - but come the new year I think I'll want it sorted. My newer Trek - the Carbon jobby just needs a good service I think - definitely new brake blocks, chain, cassette - I'm wondering whether to change the pedals too - one came off last time I used it! In the meantime my trusty old steel mountain bike is my only option - which is fine - in fact I've been thinking of investing some time (and money) in some sort of 'restoration' - the bike is of a certain 'age' whereby it's almost worth considering.
I managed a short ride out this weekend - just 8 miles though - almost not worth bothering - getting ready took almost as long as the ride but at least it was a chance to get some fresh air and stretch my legs.
We're well underway with planning adventures for 2015 - a number of options have been tabled for our annual 'target' ride - something to aim for and think about during the cold, dark months. More to follow on those plans as they develop.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Cold blast...

At last we're getting some proper winter weather - my tin of spray-on deicer has seen some action this week. Today though is a few notches warmer and with a schedule pencilled in for Seasonal shopping I decide a short ride would be the best way to start. My bike is in need of a hose-down, but that can wait - the roads are grimy and wet - may as well add another layer of crap before attempting a clean up.

 There's a clear coldness as I set off - the recent first touch of winter and the accompanying gale force storms seems to have resulted in a mighty herding up of leaves - there are drifts of them pushed up into corners and gathered along the verges like great ragged scraps of torn, rotting paper. The sky is rain washed and clear of cloud, pale blue and infinitely clear. And on the horizon, the trees stand out, spindly and looping, iron coloured but with branches like veins that display a lace like pattern.

In the distance there is a tractor moving across a field and smoke rising from a farmhouse chimney - it feels as though something is about to happen but nothing does. I ride past heading along lanes that are traffic free and silent. My fingers and toes are cold and now I'm into a headwind which stings my eyes and slows me almost to walking pace. I'm layered up but the wind cuts through and chills me. After a few miles the weather changes - the wind rises even more and rain begins to pour, relentlessly lashing me with stinging strokes that cut through my outerwear and find a way to my skin. The wind cries and moans as I reach half-way and turn to head for home. At least now I have a tail-wind and the riding is easier, but I'm cold.

This year has been the warmest on record - ever. And with that there is a tendency to dismiss the sensible practise of dressing appropriately - I see people wearing shorts every day. Shorts?... in December? As I edge my way closer to home I realise that I must dig out my winter gear. My tick gloves, thermal vest, winter overshoes, balaclava - they're all there buried in the bottom of a drawer somewhere and I would have been much more comfortable today had I taken the time to seek them out. Too late now though. A mile to go and it feels like 5 - the last push up a gentle rise to the crossroads and the main road is laughably tiresome - I feel like getting off and walking but resist the temptation. The rain has stopped now but the wind still pushes the temperatures down and I just haven't been able to get warm even with the effort.

I push the bike into the garage and head for a hot shower. Winter riding can be fun - but preparation and suitable clothing is key. Take heed.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Cycle to work?

It's the time of year that reminds me that this island and its traditions are embedded so deeply in my soul that I can never leave - no matter what the mediterranean has to offer. Regardless of how much I could do without traffic jams or squabbling politicians or the X-factor, this time of year always leaves me with a warmth and a pride. I talk, of course, about the season of Winter Wonderlands.

In a cold, sodden field close to Birmingham, Laurence Llewelyn Bowen has launched his 'Magical Journey' I am reliably informed that, after closing on the day it opened, it is now open and in full festive swing. £100 will enable a smallish family to set off in search of a reindeer called Rudi, their experience enhanced by snow distributed from plastic bags and a skinny Santa straight from University. In Milton Keynes there is a similar set-up - except they closed on day 2 with Santa besieged by furious parents and two fathers having a scrap in the gingerbread house.

I have to declare an interest though - I am gainfully employed at my local Winter Wonderland - taking photographs of happy children and their gown-ups, sitting on Santa's sleigh with a reindeer by their side whilst waiting to enter the grotto and an audience with the big man in red. But I have to say - we do it well. I'd happily take my kids and when I see the faces of the children, many of whom are annual visitors, lit-up, wide-eyed in wonder and joy, and it makes me happy too.

I had a day off from proper work and took advantage of a bright clear morning to explore a route into Leicester City centre. I've been thinking of it for a while - but never managed to find time. My plan was simple, look up a rough guide on Google maps - then set off. In the car its about 16 miles door to door and takes anything between 30 minutes and an hour and a half. Google tells me it has a route that will get me there in just over 13 miles - using back roads and cycle-tracks. I set off, brimming with optimism.

The first 4 miles are tough - lots of uphill and I'm way out of practise. I pant up to Thornton taking full advantage of the granny-gear on my old bike. I dawdle through the village before another climb up from the reservoir, heading for the National Cycle Path route 63 to Ratby. I overtake three horse riders at the foot of the climb but hear their clip-clopping encroaching on me by the time I reach the top. The cycle path is quiet save for a couple of dog walkers. The sun is shining through dense trees spotlighting the path with patches of intense, white light. The surface of the trail is good, concrete and in places fresh looking tarmac - however there is a skin of mud and fallen leaves that renders the surface as treacherous as if an oil tanker had jettisoned its cargo upon it. I lose grip on every bend and slow to a crawl. I imagine the route in spring or summer though - with the trees in leaf and birds singing - I think it will be worth a try.

After getting muddled with directions through Ratby I find the next part of the route and head towards Glenfield, a muddy stretch recently used for filming a re-enactment of 'famous battles of World War One' - at least that's what it looked like - no chance of riding here - hop off and walk for half a mile avoiding any lone snipers. I pass a few industrial parks but its pleasant riding - no traffic to worry about. At Glenfield there is a mile or so of 'on-road' It's a busy stretch that involves a series of criss-crossing over a busy dual carriageway - but at least there are clearly marked cycle lanes and plenty of pelican crossings. Then its back onto the cycle route - a different number now - I think it was route 2 - although I might be mistaken. It's a nice surface, fairly flat and wide and for a while follows the river into the City Centre. I pop up just on the outskirts and into heavy three and four lane traffic - I cycle on the pavements into the centre proper - It's done I'm here - my milometer reads 14 miles - not bad and doable to get to work in the good weather 2 or 3 times a week - maybe.

I ride around the city streets for 10 minutes before heading back. I realise quite soon that the route has been more downhill or flat than anything else on the way in - now I'm having to work harder to keep moving. There are three or four steep rises on the way back - I calculate 15 maybe 18% - or is it just that my fitness is non-existent at the moment? - whatever, I need all the gears to make it to the top.

My final mileage is 29+ by the time I get home - Three times a week, that's getting on for 100 miles - a great way to get some miles in and build up the fitness next year. This could be an early resolution?