Monday, 31 December 2012


Rapha Festive 500

I finished the challenge today! Six pedals over eight days, riding through rain and wind, sometimes in the dark, on lanes in Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Buckinghamshire.

How do I feel? I'm relieved to have finished, proud to have completed the challenge, knackered and hugely grateful to my family for their support. 

The most essential thing throughout the challenge has been the encouragement and support from my family.

I have no idea what this is.
The Willington dovecote built in 1540.

Sunday, 30 December 2012


Rapha Festive 500

Yesterday's ride hurt and my legs ached this morning, so it was a relief to see the weather was good with gusts of only 24mph.  I wasn't going to make the same mistake as yesterday so my planned route today was out into the wind with fresh legs and a return with a good tail wind.

Since it was going to be a dry day I decided to save the bib-longs until tomorrow and wore my Rapha bib-shorts, knee warmers, jersey and soft-shell jacket.  The most effective piece of kit today: embrocation, specifically chamois cream.  I planned to ride another 70 miles and (let's be honest) you should look after your contact points.

Shaw's corner

My ride initially followed the route from Christmas eve but at Codicote I continued to Welwyn village and then climbed up to the Ayots and Shaw's corner, the home of George Bernard Shaw until his death in 1950.

“Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” - George Bernard Shaw.

From the Ayots I cycled up Wheathampstead hill to No Man's Land common and across to Harpenden.  My destination for today's pedal was Simon Barnes' superb cyclists' cafe, The Hub, in Redbourn.

The Hub was suprisingly quiet today and whilst sitting enjoying my double shot latte with a slice of coffee & walnut cake I perused the selection of books and spotted The Cycling Anthology.  I had seen the 5* reviews of this before Christmas and, since I knew Lionel Birnie (the joint editor of the book) frequented The Hub, I had emailed Simon to ask if he planned to arrange a book signing event.  I mentioned my email to be told that Simon was out cycling with Lionel that morning and that he'd signed a copy of his book for me earlier. Result!

My return cycle route took me over Dunstable Downs and then home via Leighton Buzzard and Woburn deer park.

 A topiary Christmas pudding. Excellent!
39 miles left for tomorrow to complete the 500km challenge. And the weather forecast - more rain :-(

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Hedgerows are your friend

Rapha Festive 500

Today's weather forecast: 50mph winds, dry until 12pm.  So, the plan was to be out on the bike at 8:30am with a scenic route up to Grafham Water, cross the A1 and then wind my way back via Biggleswade to do a 70 miler, with a chance of getting wet by the end.

Why Biggleswade? I spent a bit of time researching the Ivel bicycle works that were based there in the 1880's and, although the factory has been long gone, I was hopeful of finding some place marker or the Ongley Arms where the founder, Dan Albone, set up his business.

Dan Albone
Me! Photographed and edited by my daughter after I returned from yesterday's pedal

True to forecast the weather was windy and I realised that it was going to be hard work on the return leg.  Riding my titanium bike with deep section wheels would not be wise so I chose my full carbon Wilier with C24 wheels.

The ride out with a strong tail wind was fast. I stopped to take a photograph of the magnificent hangers at Cardington, but I had to hold the bicycle as it kept getting blown over leaning against a post.

Cardington airship hangers - might be recognisable to those who have seen the opening scene in the latest Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises 

The lanes to Grafham Water are some of the best cycling roads in the area, with very little traffic and only a few junctions to traverse.  I reached the huge lake with an average speed approaching my personal best courtesy of the tail wind but that was all to change as soon as my route passed through Buckden and I turned into the wind.

I have never ridden for so long on the drops of my handlebars but it was necessary to make any headway into the relentless wind.  I crouched as low as I could, my chin almost resting on the bars with my head strained back just to see more than ten feet ahead.  My average speed dropped dramatically.

Then it started to rain, just a shower to start with and then harder, much harder.  The rain stung as it hit my face and it was a relief when the road turned and the hedgerows offered some shelter from the wind. 

I'm saddened to report I didn't spot a blue sign or equivalent for Dan Albone in Biggleswade.  There are cycle shaped road furniture but I didn't spot the Ongley Arms or anything else acknowledging the cycle works.  I need to explore and investigate further.

Essential kit today? My wrap around prescription Oakleys protecting my eyes from the lashing rain, but even so the rain stung the side of my eyes when hit by a sidewind between the breaks in the hedgerow. 

71 miles completed today totaling 323km since Christmas Eve and two days remaining to complete the full 500km.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Spin and rinse

Rapha Festive 500
Another 50km towards my goal of 500km before New Years day...

I needed a rest and didn't get out on my bike until 8:30am today.  I could hear the rain on the window again which wasn't conducive to leaving the comfort of a warm duvet, but the main reason why I needed a rest was because I drove a 6 hour roundtrip yesterday to see my parents.

Out on the bike it took 9 miles of spinning my legs at over 90rpm before the muscles on the back of my thighs (biceps femoris) began to warm up.  The best thing for stiff legs - a hard climb - and the road up to Sharpenhoe Clappers is one of the local 'ball busters'.

I can't be criticised for finding easy, flat routes for the Festive 500 challenge and, despite the hills and remnants of flooding, I noticed my average speed was better than on my previous two rides.  I don't have an explanation other than perhaps I ride slower in the dark.  
Today's effective piece of kit was the 'Butt Fender' fitted under my saddle.  The rain showers and standing water didn't deter me from taking my titanium bike (sans garde-boue/without mudguards) out again and the fender kept  my backside relatively dry.
Stewartby brick works - for sale. Grade 2 listed chimneys and kiln.
Back at home and my cycling clothes went straight into the washing maching in preparation for the next three days' planned 100km consecutive pedals.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Sunrise in Beds

Rapha Festive 500

Today's weather couldn't have been more of a contrast to Christmas Eve.  The only signs of flooding were the warning triangles at the road sides and some remnants of puddles. I had already plotted a local route taking me out into the headwind with a favourable tailwind for the return, like a good club man would decide. The route would add a further 50km to my 100km from Monday and take me to 30% of the Festive 500 distance.

7am and as I climbed Long Lane I could see the lights of Toddington service station lit up like a distant Christmas garden illumination.  As the road pitched up to 10% I climbed out of the saddle listening to the rumble of my deep section carbon wheels on the road surface and I realised that not even the birds had woken from their hedgerow roosts. 

It felt great to be on my titanium bike and (I must add) with dry shoes - my preparation 8 hours earlier had established that the bar tape on my Basso was still soaked and my shoes still very damp from Christmas Eve, so it was great to have a spare pair of shoes and another bike at my disposal.

 The top of Long Lane in Toddington

 It started to get lighter as I rode passed Milton Bryant and the gateway to Paris House restaurant.
 The sunrise over the fields of Bedfordshire

Monday, 24 December 2012

Yule be wet

Rapha Festive 500

6:30am and, as I lay in bed listening to the rain hammering on the window, I contemplated the day ahead... Santa is going to get wet whilst delivering the presents tonight... I wonder what sort of technical fabrics are incorporated in his outfit?  Right, less of that nonsense. Time to get out of bed and get out on the bike. 500km to cycle between today and 31-Dec. Man The Santa Up!

To paraprase the Norwegian proverb 'there is no such thing as bad weather...only bad kit', and the essentials for today's wet and dark solo ride: a casquette, a race cape and a good set of lights.

Clearly today's pedal was going to have a water theme; I knew the roads were going to be flooded, with puddles obscuring pot holes so I chose a route and roads I knew well. Especially since it was going to be dark for the first hour of the day's 100km goal.  As I left the street lights behind and dark country lanes beckoned, I reached behind to check my hand was illuminated red, giving me the comfort that the 70 lumens from the light would be seen by 'car-up' drivers.  A similar wave of my hand ahead of my front lights was unnecessary as the heavy rain was illuminated like silver rods. 

Peering out from under the peak of my cap I had a huge grin on my face; no work for over a week, a green-card from the family to take on the 500km challenge and I was on my bike!  Rain, what rain?

'Hi yih, yippity-yap, merrily I flow' - from The River God poem by Stevie Smith.  At Whitwell water cress farm on the river Mimram.
A brief stop on the bridge over the river Beane in Watton-on-Stone.
Nearing the end of the 100km wet ride :-)

Sunday, 23 December 2012

The League of Veteran Racing Cyclists

I have joined the LVRC to race in 40+ age category groups.
The membership is only £20 per year and entry to each race is £10 so I've joined :-)
At LVRC races, you can choose which age category you want to race in but you can only score points for places in your own age group. I fall into Group B, the same as another cycling friend who happens to be 2nd Cat (so I'm going to struggle just holding his wheel in a race).  Knowing my luck, I'd go up a few groups and end up on the start line with someone like Malcolm Elliott.

Next steps - which team/club should I ride for?

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Preparing for precipitation

Let's face it, it's going to be a wet Christmas holiday and the year is going to end like it started.

My Basso fitted with Crud RoadRacer guards got the most use at the start of the year and it is likely to get wet again during my attempt at the Rapha Festive 500 starting Monday.  My contingency plan should I have problem with the Basso is the Chinook or the Wilier or the fixed wheel or one of my mountain bikes or the Brompton or the recumbent or one of the many other bikes in my garage.

If one of the other bikes comes out to play and it is precipitating then I'm going to get a wet bum :-)

Or am I?  For a measly £6 I've removed the risk of having a rooster tail sprayed up my backside...

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Warming up

The organisers of The Hub Christmas pedal managed to book good weather today, a lot warmer than the freezing temperatures experienced the preceeding week.

Flitwick Tri and Chinook-o members (Chris & Rick) decided to join me (and Eddy Merckx) on Simon Barnes' ride from his superb cafe in Redbourn.
The pace was a leisurely 16mph and the route and company were great.
We regrouped at the top of Tom's Hill.
And the three of us were first back at the Hub for coffee, cakes and hot chocolates:

The distance was about 40 miles and a great warm up for the Rapha Festive 500 starting on the 24th December.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Another kindle book

You know what its like, you finish a great book and desparately try to find something equally as good to stick your nose into.  I didn't have a book lined up so I wandered into Waterstones, passed Michael Palin doing a book signing and bought 'Eddy Merckx the Cannibal' by Daniel Friebe.

I should have bought Michael Palin's book on Brazil because the Eddy Merckx book didn't match my expectations.  I'm not sure what I like about cycling books, maybe revelations like Tyler Hamilton's, perhaps epic rides (possible challenges to consider), great stories or insights, or suggestions on technical improvements.  Either way Daniel Friebe's book on Merckx didn't tick my boxes and I think because it lacked any input from the great man.

In defence of Daniel Friebe, he does state that he tried to involve Merckx but his requests were rejected because of an official autobiography being written. I wish I'd waited.

I did, however, also find a fun book on Kindle which was well worth the 77 pence...

Dave Barter - Obsessive compulsive cycling disorder.
Basically the book is a blog, which appealed to me.  Whilst reading I realised that Dave was similar to myself; a lot of mountain biking progressing to road cycling and trying to find challenges and building the bike and training for the goal.  I liked it. 

It also sparked the competitive instinct in me; I read about Dave's average speed on his road rides and they were similar to mine.  But then I read about his trip up Ventoux and half-wheeling his friend with a final time to the top of 1hr 30mins.  I had to read it again.  My time in 2011 was under 2hrs and I'd have to train some to knock 30 minutes off that.  How did Dave do it?

I looked at the Kindle book cover and then saw why...he's a (sub 12st) whippet.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Game on!

Rapha Festive 500 - 2012.

My plan:
  • Monday 24th  - 100km
  • Christmas day  - 0km
  • Boxing day  - 50km
  • Thursday 27th  - 0km
  • Friday 28th - 50km
  • Saturday 29th - 100km
  • Sunday 30th - 100km
  • Monday 31st - 100km
I'm going to have to take 4 days annual leave and keep my fingers firmly crossed that the weather doesn't deteriorate.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Unexpected expense

It has been a crazy week.  Kicking off on Saturday, I cleaned and prepared my Brompton ahead of the planned LBC ride on the Sunday and, whilst pumping up the rear tyre, the entire Schrader valve snapped off.

My wife came to my rescue and I got an early Christmas present:

Monday morning I was about to set off to work on my Brompton and realised my front tyre was completely flat.  It was too much effort to fix at 6am and I needed to be in work early, so the DLR beckoned. £8.40 return ticket.

Monday night I set about fixing the puncture, found a small piece of flint in the tyre and realised that the tyre had had its day. It was the original tyre from new with approximately 5,000 miles under its belt, so I can't grumble. Without a replacement tyre to hand I have given the Schwalbe Marathon a reprisal. I previously criticised it when fitted to the rear so I hope it offers better grip on the front.

I patched the inner tube with my last Lezyne stick on patch - note to self to buy more - but didn't have to re-fit it as my wife gave me two further spare inner tubes as advanced Christmas presents.

Tuesday, my legs felt fantastic in the Silly Commuter Racing from a day off the bike. I got home from work at 9:30pm and as I drifted off to sleep my wife mentioned something about the weatherman forecasting sleet overnight.

Wednesday morning, up at 5:30am and I was shocked to find it had been snowing during the night and virgin snow, 3" deep lay everywhere.  There was no way I was going to risk cycling in it, so a quick check on-line that the trains were running ok and I set off sans Brompton. The DLR beckoned - another £8.40 :-(

As well as some new puncture repair patches I need to buy a Presta to Schrader valve adapter. My wife had done her homework and bought new tubes with the better Presta valve and although I carry a CO2 cannister with adaptor to fit both types of valves, I think the standard Brompton frame pump only fits Schrader.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

London Brompton Club adventure in Central Bedfordshire

My organised guided cycle around some of the lanes of Central Bedfordshire was today.  It was an almost perfect day, slightly tainted by an accident on black ice near the village of Upper Gravenhurst.

I tried to deliver a bit of information about some of the villages and sites on the route.

Start and finish: Flitwick:
  • Flitwick was made famous by J.K.Rowling in her Harry Potter books.  She named her character Professor Flitwick by allegedly randomly sticking a pin into a map of the UK to come up with his name.
  • Flitwick (East End) water mill – there has been a water mill on this site on the river Flit as far back as 1065. It is mentioned in the Doomsday book as being run by the monks from Dunstable priory.  The current building dates back from the early 19th century and up until recently was owned by the Goodman family, generations of which have lived on the site since 1720.
  • The church in Flitton dates back to 1440
  • Behind the church is the de Grey Mausoleum, built in 1614. The Mausoleum contains over 20 monuments to the de Grey family who lived at Wrest park
  • It has a bit of a hill and everyone had fresh legs and made it up

  • Clophill is probably known for two reasons; Firstly the A6 murder in 1961 by James Hanratty who became the last man hanged in Britain and secondly for the remains of St. Mary’s church at the top of Dead Man’s hill, a well known site for black magic and witchcraft.
Haynes Park:
  • The park and a stately home have been here since 1312. The current manor house was built in 1720 and lies in 800 acre of parkland. The house was originally owned by the Carteret family and then was the home of Lord John Thynne. In 1929 it became a public girl’s school and then was bought by Clarenden School. After the school went into liquidation in 1992 the house and park were bought by an Indian mystic sect for £1,000,000 – apparently raised by £1 donations from each of its members.
  • RAF Chicksands was used during WWII as a signal intelligence collection unit, known as Y station. If you look on an OS map you can see where there was a huge ring of radio masts which were used to intercept German signals which were then passed to Bletchley Park for deciphering.
  • Rowney Warren woods is a well known mountain biking centre - and we received a few race challenges ;-)
Old Warden - Shuttleworth collection:
  • Everyone said they would like to return and spend more time exploring the museum and the bird of prey centre.
Warden Winery:
  • Free mince pies and lots of wine tasting
  • £4 for a bottle of very good wine. Say no more.
  • A puncture repair
  • The name Shefford is derived from sheep-ford due to the fact there had been a sheep market and ford crossings over the river Flit and the river Hit that run through the town.
Wrest Park:

  • Wrest Park is a grade 1 listed home and gardens. The manor house was built in 1834 by the Earl de Grey. The 92 acre gardens were designed by Capability Brown.
  • We had a great off-road cycle/walk:

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Brompton upgrade

I have been in a dilema for a while. 

My S2L Brompton is over 2 years old and has covered approximately 5,000 commuter miles and about 25 race miles with little fettling required and certainly no upgrades. I have been considering whether to embark on some changes or buy a new bike.

Possible upgrades (with a focus on improving the bike for racing - clearly the priority):
  • Gearing - I contacted Graham at Tiller Cycles about his 8-speed conversion and Graham even kindly offered to lend me his demo bike to race at the BWC.  Sadly it was set up with a small chainring and I wanted a longer race gear, so I declined his offer and deferred making a decision on the £275 upgrade which would also add about 1.5Kg to the bike weight.
  • Handlebar grips - purely cosmetic and the Tiller 8-speed kit comes with new grips, although I still like the idea of having a matching Brooks saddle and grips (collar and cuffs, so to speak).
  • Brake levers - the Brompton brake levers are cheap and nasty. I'm lusting over a set of Paul Components Love levers
  • Titanium replacement parts: I love titanium bikes and components! In no particular order I was thinking of replacing the handlebar, the seatpost and then one by one swap the Brompton frame extremeties for the (-X) available titanium extremeties (2nd hand).  All of these might offset the 1.5Kg incremental gearing weight.
I suspect all of the above might cost me nearly £1,000 before I even start to look at a Chris King headset, Velocity wheel rims and any Brompfication goodies.

Alternatively a new bike (with a more practical consideration for my ongoing commute and a little bit of racing)...

Brompton's marketing department started teasing would be buyers with pictures of their planned 2013 upgrades as early as August this year.  The brake lever and chainset got a complete makeover and I began to think about a new bike, possibly a 6 speed, maybe titanium and a change of colour.  Brompton had increased the price of the 2013 bicycles by about £55 and a casual look at a bike with the specification I dreamt about revealed a price tag approaching £1,500. Ouch - that would take nearly 2 years to be cost effective over the price of using public transport for my part commute.

Then my firm's annual cycle scheme came around and the provider confirmed they could offer me a Brompton :-)  It was a no-brainer, I could choose a bespoke 2013 Brompton providing it was under the £1,111.11 price limit.

I have gone ahead and ordered a bespoke S6L at a cost of £970.  The cycle scheme operates so that I make 12 monthly repayments out of my gross salary and my firm have confirmed they will gift the bike to me at the end of the year (sometimes there is a final payment).  I will end up making a saving of about £460 when you consider the tax.

And the colour...I've chosen Black extremeties with Turkish Green (which looks very much like Bianchi celeste).
 The downside:
  • I will have to wait approximately 12 weeks for the new Brompton to be built and delivered.
  • Brompton are reporting supply issues with the new chainset, so there is a risk that my bike will not have it.  This will be a huge disappointment so I have asked for the order to state that I'm prepared to wait and I have also sent an email to Brompton marketing.
  • I will also have to sell my current S2L Brompton :-(