Saturday 17 December 2016

A Rather Foggy Ride
Saturday 17 December, 32 Miles

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Well it’s been a while since I lasted posted on here. I have been out and about riding a bit, though with the recent downturn in the weather and a surge of other things requiring my attention I’ve also been keeping my legs loose on the turbo trainer in my garage. This is ideal in the sense I can jump on it without much faffing about if the mood takes me or the opportunity arises. I tend to spin a high cadence (90-100 rpm) for about an hour with a few bursts at a higher intensity or greater effort (by upping the resistance). My turbo is a basic one (an Elite Travel) and is now about 15 years old – it still goes quite well but is getting rather noisy as the bearings wear. I do have a more recent one too but have yet to put it to use in anger! I’m not (yet) a convert to Zwift or Watopia or similar virtrual riding.

Now, as anyone who has ever done time on a turbo will appreciate, there are two problems – sweat and boredom. The sweat, and I sweat a lot, requires a supply of towels. Simples! I try to overcome the boredom by watching DVDs – ideally boxsets that I have been given as presents – Scandi Noir thrillers being my favourites. The only downside is that as I get engrossed in the screen my cadence tends to drop off. I’m sort of thinking that I need to invent a gadget that I can link between my Garmin and my posterior so that I receive a small electric shock if my cadence falls off too much. Only kidding!

At this time of year, with shorter days and often dark clouds overhead, I sometimes find it difficult to motivate myself to get on the bike. The irony is that within minutes of getting into the saddle and pedalling I’m just as happy as I am at other times of the year. The key is just to get on with it and resist the temptation to have another cup of tea or invent a distraction.

This morning I was up and ready for the off by 9:00am – early enough to get a good morning’s riding in but late enough for daylight to have worked its magic. Well that’s the theory. Unfortunately, I discovered that the rear tyre of my winter bike had a slow puncture. Closer inspection revealed a fairly substantial cut in the tyre so I was going to have to fit a new one. The old one had done about 5,000 miles over the last two winters without any other punctures so I guess that’s not too bad going.

The roads around here are pretty mucky (being polite about it) as the sugar beet harvest is in full swing and Old MacDonald and his tractor deposit a film of the brown sticky stuff all over the tarmac. With little sun and moist, damp air recently, the road surfaces have not had a chance to dry out. So, it’s often a case of a bike wash and clean up after each ride. After yesterday’s ride I gave my winter bike a full clean up including treating it with some silicone spray to hopefully repel the water.

With a new tyre and tube installed and a mug of coffee inside of me as a consolation I was ready to go. I could see that it was going to be misty so I decided to change my intended route slightly. However, as soon as I left the village the mist turned to quite dense and wet fog with visibility down to about 20 yards at best. I had chosen to wear some light enhancing glasses today (yellow lenses) and within about ten minutes they were covered in a film of minute water droplets making seeing where I was headed even more difficult. But having got on the bike I was determined to keep going. My Gabba jacket, which I had recently reproofed, was also covered in a thin film of shiny droplets – a good sign as it meant that the damp wasn’t getting in.

In a perverse sort of way, I quite enjoy riding in the fog. I’m not entirely sure why this is. I do sort of like the sense of being cocooned in my own little world, especially when the roads are quiet. Distances between places seem to take on a new dimension and of course there is plenty of scope for surprises to emerge from the fog. Today’s surprise was a Christmas display outside a house that I passed. In fact, I was so wrapped up in my own little foggy world that I was a few hundred yards past it before I registered what I had seen so I turned around and nabbed a photograph. That’s now going to become an objective for the next few rides – trying to spot the most outlandish Xmas display I can find. Hopefully the prospect will provide all the motivation for getting my legs in gear over the next couple of weeks …….. watch this space.

Shortage of time, the delayed start and other things meant that today had to be a shorter ride than I would otherwise have liked. But when I got home I discovered that the silicone had done its stuff. All my bike needed was a quick wipe down to remove the moisture. And joy of joys, my baselayer under my Gabba was as a dry as an old bone. I can’t praise the Gabba too highly – in these damp conditions it is a great water repellent and being windproof too means that I don’t need to wear loads of constricting layers – even when the average temperature on the ride was 4oC.

Sunday 11 December 2016

60 Centuries – Some Reflections

It’s just over a week since I completed my 60th Century ride and I’ve been thinking quite a lot about them. During the rides lots of people asked me lots of questions about the rides so I thought instead of writing a reflective piece about them I would cover some of my answers in the form of a fake interview. And I hope readers, you don’t think I’m being too self-indulgent here!

Why did you decide to ride 60 Centuries Mark?
At the start of the year I set out to ride one century a month. Although I’ve ridden a century in every month of the year I’m not sure that I’ve ever ridden a century in every month of the same year. Sometime around the end of March, when I think I was in the pub with a few mates, I decided to ‘celebrate’ my forthcoming 60th birthday by riding 60 centuries. I can’t remember if the idea was mine or, more likely, it came out of our banter!

So after a quarter of the year had already passed you then decided to start the challenge?
Yes, that’s right. But I was relaxed about it as I never said I would complete the series by my birthday (31 December). It was much more important to me to enjoy each ride than to chase a target. If I ended up doing a few after my birthday, then that would still be part of the ‘celebration’.

Did it ever become a target?
Absolutely not! Most people assumed that I meant completion by my birthday and every time I explained the aim it sounded a bit like I was giving myself a get-out. But enjoying each ride was the only consideration for me. As I got closer to the end I could feel the boy-racer in me fighting to get out. I had to work quite hard to keep him in his box!

Did you enjoy all the rides?
Oh yes! Although some rides were more challenging than others I can honestly say that at the end of each one I never had any thoughts of giving up. And I like to think that as I crossed each finishing line I had a big smile on my face. I really enjoy looking at the countryside I’m riding through – the scenery and landscape and the villages and towns and their history. That’s what rewards the riding effort. And I love learning more about the places I’ve been.

You wrote a blog about the rides.
Yes. I had started blogging before I rode from Land’s End to John O’Groats in 2015 and have become quite addicted to it. The writing was originally intended to be an alternative to writing up my diary. I never thought much about other readers. Along the way I seem to have picked up quite a lot of followers and readers which doesn’t hurt the ego. I’ve also found that my approach to writing the blog has evolved as well. It’s become quite a good catalyst for some post ride ‘research’ to learn a bit more about some of the places I’ve ridden through. It’s also helped me to learn a lot more about Suffolk and East Anglia generally.

Which was your favourite ride?
That’s something I’ve thought a lot about. I’ve got two special favourites. The Tour de Môn (Anglesey) (C#33, 21 August) as outstanding. As a Welshman I’ve always enjoyed riding in North Wales and usually ride the Etape Eryri in northern Snowdonia each year. To ring the changes, I decided to ride around Anglesey this year. My other favourite ride was the one I did in the Chilterns (C#31, 14 August). This is where I first started riding seriously when I was in my early teens and was where I did my first century. It was great to go back and immerse myself in a day of nostalgia. I also get a real buzz from completing a century with someone who’s never done one before.

How do you cope with the mental dimension of long rides?
Over the years I’ve taught myself not to think about the distances in negative terms. If you start off thinking that 100 miles is a long way to go, or how long it’s going to take, then you’re already on a slippery slope. Instead I try to focus on the places and the countryside I’m going to ride through and look forward to seeing them. I also break the rides down into bite sized chunks. For example, when I think of the last 30 miles I think of it as an after‑work ride on a summer evening. And to be starting an ‘after work’ ride at 2 o’clock in the afternoon is a pretty good feeling!

Which was the toughest ride?
Probably the day I spent in the Fens (C#26, 29 July). A combination of strong headwinds and long straight roads crossing flat, unchanging countryside certainly strained my mental strengths as well as my legs!

Any Regrets?
None! Well that’s not quite true. I had planned to ride in southern Snowdonia the day after riding the Tour de Môn. Sadly, the weather was against me – it was so wet and foggy that it was too dangerous to ride. I went to Porthmadoc in my car, following part of the intended route and the road was submerged under nearly a foot of water. I also regret not doing a ride from Edinburgh into either Fife or the Borders. I lived there in the 1980’s. I did ride through Edinburgh in 2015 though when I rode from Land’s End to John O’Groats.

Why Bianchi?
At the simplest level for most people a bike is an inanimate object - a machine for getting around on. If you’re a keen rider then the chances are that you will have a love/hate relationship with your bike. For me though, Bianchi take things to a totally different level. They have character and personalities. It’s something that not many people ‘get’. But when you do get it ……. WOW! My love affair with Bianchi started when I was less than 10 years old and saw a visiting Italian team riding celeste fixed wheel track bikes in the early 1960’s at an event in Trinidad. From that moment on I was smitten. If I’m going to spend so much time in the saddle I want to share it with a friend who enjoys it as much as I do. I know some people will think this is a load of tosh and I don’t really care. But look at a group of Bianchi riders. You’ll hear the usual chatter and banter. But then look more closely at them. There’s another level of (unspoken) communication going on too. It’s love, but not love as we know it. It’s Passione Celeste!

What do you plan to do next?
Well, I’ve asked Santa for a USA Road Atlas – just for looking at and dreaming about of course …..!

Saturday 3 December 2016

That’s So Last Century (C#60)
Saturday 3 December, 108 Miles

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Well here we are. The 60th and last ride in my Century Series has arrived. I’d thought quite a lot about what to do for it. Should I try and get a chain gang together to ride with me? Or perhaps ride somewhere other than East Anglia; maybe the Chilterns where I started riding as a teenager? Eventually I decided to keep it simple and ride locally. So after last Monday’s foray east to the coast I figured I would head in the other direction today – west to the Fens. Planning the route I realised that I could pass right by Daren (Nairo) Morgan’s house so I persuaded him (it didn’t take much persuading) to join me for part of the ride. Daren has ridden more of these rides with me than anyone else so it was great to share this last century with him.

By 08:00 the sky was light enough to ride without lights and the grey clouds meant that there was no frost to worry about. Opening the back door to my garage I was nearly knocked over by the rush of my Bianchi family who were all eager to do the ride. Cries of “mee”, “meeee”, “meeeee” broke the silence as the Impulso, Infinito and Oltre vied for my favour. The great thing about Bianchi’s is that they always want to go for a ride. In the end, my trusty Impulso won the day, mainly because I had already fitted my swan neck guard to it to ensure my bum stayed dry. The Impulso and the Oltre took things with reasonably good grace and didn’t sulk too much.

So at 8:05 sharp and I sent a text to Daren and I was underway. My 60th and final century of the series had begun! I made good time for the next 25 miles and found Daren riding slowly ahead of me along his road as I approached. Perfect timing. As I caught him I mimicked a hand sling but he wasn’t biting. It’s been a few weeks since we’ve last ridden together so we started to catch up with some chatter and natter and the miles ticked by relatively effortlessly. Our first landmark was the sugar beet refinery south east of Downham Market. It’s quite a distinctive feature at this time of year as it’s the peak time for beet deliveries and there’s always a cloud of steam streaming from chimney. Depending on the wind direction it can get quite smelly too! I was interested to see that the entrance signs were written in several Eastern European languages including, with the help of Google Translate, Russian, Croatian, Romanian, and Polish (I think). I can’t quite fathom why though, as the beet is hauled locally from East England farms. Surely we’re not importing raw beet from Eastern Europe? Of course it might just be that there’s a higher proportion of Eastern European drivers working for local haulage firms? Anyway, time to move on!

Big skies, big country. Is Nairo big enough to ride two Bianchi's?
From the beet factory we headed over to Denver (see blog for 14 July) and then on into the Fenland heartlands. As always this sweeping open countryside, where you can see for 20 and more miles without interruption, takes my breath away. On days like this with grey skies and cold temperatures the Fens take on a bleak and forbidding atmosphere. But at least today the light wind was in our favour. Riding a 5-mile (or longer) straight into a headwind here is a pretty tough call.

Going up - sort of!
Most of this part of the route is at sea level and even below it in places. As we rode along, our chatter turned into a bit of a history lesson about how the Fens were originally created. I won’t bore you with the details as there’s loads of information on the interweb. Suffice to say that we were able to cover several miles on the subject! Our nattering was sharply interrupted by the arrival of that exceptionally rare thing in these parts. I’m talking about a gradient or what in these flatland boonies substitutes for a hill. Now readers, those of you who know these parts will of course realise that I am grossly over exaggerating. But after many miles of riding on a pan flat surface reminiscent of a snooker table, the prospect of a 5% incline can and does get me excited. Ten yards at 5%! That’s all it takes - wow! I was so fired up by this that I turned around and rode it again so that Daren could get a few photos of me in full climber mode. By my reckoning this was definitely a ‘Sous Category’ climb.

With several more miles of flat we needed to keep moving. Our route took us southwards including a navigational challenge. Well, not exactly a challenge but rather more the result of me not paying attention to my Garmin so we had to double back adding an extra 4 miles to the route. Once we were back on track we passed through Little Downham with its ‘Califiornia’ suburb before reaching Littleport where we stopped for a quick drink. From there it was a steady pull past Queen Adelaide, Prickwillow and Isleham before parting company at Freckenham. Daren had now been with me for about 50 miles and it had been great to have his company.

After a quick handshake and a final few words of wisdom we each headed our separate ways. Daren northwards and me eastwards. I used the last 30 miles to think back on my previous rides, thoughts and motivations. Rather than write about them now I’m going to pause for a few days and reflect before trying to sum the series up.  Arriving back at home I found the Infinito and the Oltre waiting to greet me. So, to mark the occasion we all had a little song which had one of my neighbours looking at me as if I had lost my marbles. And to ‘celebrate’ I decided to christen that rather fine espresso cup that Uncle Andrew and the team at Bianchi Towers presented me with when I rode from there (see blog for 13 October).

Passione Celeste readers!