Wednesday 28 September 2016

A Trundle Round South Suffolk (C#46)
Wednesday 28 September, 103 Miles

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Writing about last Saturday’s ride I commented that Daren (Nairo) Morgan seems to be acquiring a taste for these century rides. He denies this, quite emphatically. So it was something of a surprise to get a text from him yesterday: “Now that I’ve fully recovered and ready to look at my bike again I wondered if you were planning any rides this week?” So I replied: “Am thinking of another century ride on Weds but haven’t decided where yet, maybe south Suffolk. Are your legs twitching?” Well that was all encouragement he needed. And I think I’m right about him acquiring a taste for century riding but perhaps he’s not quite ready to announce it yet.

So on what can best be described as a bonus day weather-wise i.e. bright warm sunshine we met at my house and set off on a tour round south Suffolk with bits of Cambridgeshire and Essex thrown in for good measure. Rather than ride a specific century route, I had joined together sections from three of my favourite rides which I hoped would give us an enjoyable and varied riding experience.

We initially headed west towards Newmarket before turning back eastwards for Clare, Long Melford and Sudbury. From there we headed south to Boxford and then turned north to Hadleigh and Needham Market and finally headed north west back home. It turned out to be a very enjoyable outing, marred only by that infernally strong wind and, in my case, a mechanical. I had changed my gear cassette to give me a slightly lower range of gears but unfortunately the cassette didn’t seem to want to mesh with the chain and kept slipping – despite making some adjustments along the way. So I’m going to have to revert to the higher geared cassette while I figure out what the problem is. But on a positive note, today my Garmin behaved exactly as it should do, unlike Saturday’s experience.

We had decided in advance to have our lunch stop at the attractive village of Boxford where I had previously spotted a promising café. Boxford is a very pretty village with a mixture of traditional half-timbered and clay lump buildings. The River Box (surprise, surprise) runs through the village which has two grocers’ shops – Boxford Stores and Village Stores – almost directly opposite each other. There’s also a butcher’s and, somewhat surprisingly for such a small rural village, Carmen’s Designer Shoe Boutique. The boutique is next door to the Coffee Box, which was the café destination.

When we arrived at the Coffee Box it seemed to be doing a good trade. Daren asked if we could get a sandwich and was told that we could have whatever we wanted as they made them up to order. And they made then up as they went along! So Daren chose a chicken, bacon and avocado number whilst I opted for tuna mayo with red onions on wholegrain. As it was such a lovely sunny day we sat outside whilst our order was prepared. During a somewhat lengthy wait we watched village life pass along the busy main street. Most of the locals were pretty friendly giving us a nod or a cheerful hello. Eventually, our sandwiches arrived and we were in for a treat; triple deckers with green salad and optional dressing. So this was not going to be a light lunch. But certainly a very tasty one. Whilst taking the photo, the owner appeared to enquire if what we thought of the sandwiches – “good or bad?” “Excellent” was our heartfelt and unanimous response to which the owner said that they liked to do things properly! By now the sun was at full strength and I could feel my arms and legs warming considerably. How pleasant for the end of September. But after a ‘rest’ of nearly an hour it was time to set off again. With full stomachs I certainly found the next few miles a bit of an effort to regain my riding rhythm.

Nearing the end of the ride we passed through the hamlet of Onehouse. Now Onehouse, which is actually pronounced ‘Wunnuss’, was first recorded in the 11th century and is a translation from Old English of ‘āna’ and ‘hūs’ – the single or isolated house. Not surprisingly, today there are several houses!

Sunday 25 September 2016

A Bit of Goat Mouth on the Norfolk Coast (C#45)
Saturday 24 September, 104 Miles

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I’m in Cromer with Daren (Nairo) Morgan getting ready for today’s century ride. This will be the third time Daren has joined me so it seems like he’s getting a taste for the longer distances. Our plan is to ride along the coast road to Heacham and then turn east and ride back inland to Cromer. The route is based on the one in Chris Sidwells book (Best 100 Mile Bike Routes). We’d been planning to ride here for a while. A few years ago I walked the North Norfolk Coast Path from Hunstanton to Cromer so I was keen to try riding along the coast.

Before I start a ride I have a little routine I go through – checking my tyre pressures, pushing my bidons into the bottle cages, putting the essentials (phone, money, camera, gels etc.) into my jersey pockets, donning my helmet and so forth. The last thing I do is mount and switch on my Garmin. Now, I've been having some issues with the battery life on Garmin which seemed to expire after about 7 hours riding. (It’s supposed to be good for 15 hours use.) On the drive up here I'd been telling Daren that I’d got it all sorted and had eventually realised that having the backlighting and Bluetooth permanently turned on had been the cause of the trouble. Once the penny had dropped my battery life had shot up. Gone were the days when I’d have to worry about losing all my data at the end of a century ride. And the added bonus was that I could use the in-built navigation without any fear of the battery dying mid-ride. So I was feeling pretty smug about this, which Daren picked up on but was too polite to point out that I should have read the user manual in the first place.

So the last act of my pre-ride routine was to press the on switch of the Garmin which I duly did. Result – nothing. Zilch. Not a peep from the Garmin. It was completely dead. I was pretty sure that I had fully recharged it after my last ride so began to wonder if it was destined fro the Garmin cemetry, wherever that is. Nothing I did could bring it to life. So I was resigned to riding without the Garmin. All this meant that I would have to keep up with Daren for the whole ride and borrow his data when we finished. Daren is a rather faster rider than me, a petrol engine to my diesel motor, so I knew I was in for a serious workout when he set the pace.

We eventually rode off after my faffing around and for the first few miles I was not a happy rider. I found the absence of any information on speed, cadence, heart rate etc. fairly unsettling. And as the wind was blowing very strongly (c 18 mph with harder gusts) I was concerned about pacing my efforts. The added lack of a map also meant that I felt quite disorientated in terms of our progress and location. The coast road was quite busy so I couldn’t ride alongside Daren and sneak a look at his screen.

No matter, we made good progress with Daren pushing on quite hard and I was able to hang on the back. The winds were coming at us sideways which meant that we had to keep a good grip on the bars to avoid being blown over when we rode past gateways and gaps in the hedges. We were through Blakeney, Stiffkey (pronounced Stookey) and Wells pretty quickly and paused at Brancaster so I could get a photo of a rather fine old AA Phone Box. While we were stopped I gave the Garmin another nudge and, would you believe it, it sprang into life. The two downsides were that I had been ‘robbed’ of about 30 miles riding and the battery life was only 35%. So it rather looks like I hadn’t recharged it after all. Doh!  So much for my earlier smugness. My late mother was fond of using a Creole expression for situations like this: “Mark, you’ll put goat mouth on it if you say things like that.” So, memo to myself : “In future be careful about what I say when I think I’ve ‘fixed” something.”

Leaving Brancaster us behind we carried on Hunstanton where we stopped at a café for a drink and a slice of rather tasty apple cake. A passer-by let slip that the café was soon closing so we’d better make the most of it while we could. Sadly, it’s likely that this will be our one and only visit here. Feeling suitably recharged we turned southwards and directly into the teeth of a gale as the wind speed had increased significantly as we had approached Hunstanton. But coming from the south at least it was a warm wind.

Passing through Heacham we turned east for what we thought was likely to be a fairly tough slog back to Cromer. And we weren’t wrong! Added to this were a few stretches on busy major roads which made the riding less than enjoyable. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom; we did have a few quieter and more scenic stretches including passing through Little Walsingham with its famous shrines in honour of the Virgin Mary. The village is often referred to as England’s Nazareth and pilgrims have been coming here since the eleventh century. Today seemed to be very busy with a steady flow of people who had come to visit and seek spiritual comfort.

Great Walsingham, just up the road, is a delightful village with some spectacularly half‑timbered buildings. Unfortunately, time did not allow us to have a look around as we still had about 40 miles to ride back to Cromer – with the prospect of about 20 miles into the strong wind. As it turned out, the ride wasn’t as tough as we had feared and we made good time to Aylsham before turning north for the final leg back to Cromer. This last stretch was pure bliss. with a tailwind we were able to wind it up and were riding at 20-25 relatively effortless miles per hour. What bliss. The only downside was that with about five miles to go my Garmin’s battery finally ran out. With a small kick up at the end we were soon back in Cromer, enjoying a welcome ice cream and posing for a photo with Cromer Pier in the background.

Thursday 22 September 2016

In Praise of the Local Bike Shop (C#44)
Thursday 22 September, 108 Miles

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With a second day on the trot which promised fine weather I decided to go for it and ride another century. With the increasing likelihood of inclement weather as the year rolls on, grabbing any fine day is a must. Like most folk, I prefer not to ride in the rain. I decided to head northwards into mid Norfolk on the Ride of the Three Hams Route (C#23) which I last rode in mid-July. And to ring the changes I decided to ride it in reverse. Now as I’ve already written about the route a couple of times I’m not going to repeat myself here today. Suffice to say that I paused in Wymondham for the customary photo stop – of the rather fine Market Cross which was built in 1617 after the previous one was destroyed by fire. So that’s it, no more about today’s ride!

Instead I want to chat about something that’s both very close to my heart and absolutely essential to my continued pedaling success in this Century Series. So readers, today I’m going to sing the praises of the Local Bike Shop (LBS). I hope you enjoy, and can relate to the tune.  With the relatively high annual mileages that I do it’s inevitable that my bikes take a pounding and need quite a lot of tlc. Now, I can do most of the routine basics but I’m not especially mechanically minded so having the back up and support of my LBS is pretty critical.

My LBS of choice is Madgetts Cycles in Diss.  I’ve been visiting them on and off since I moved to East Anglia in the early 1990’s and over the past few years as I have increased my riding they have seen quite a lot of me. Madgetts is best described as a traditional bike shop. It’s not a flashy place, with lots of bright lighting and polished chrome displays. Quite the opposite. But what is (thankfully) missing in glitz is more than made up for in other ways as I’m going to tell you. It shares similarities with the first ‘proper’ bike shop that I can remember visiting as a teenager when I lived in the Chilterns and was getting into ‘serious’ cycling. So I feel comfortable there.

Now here’s the thing. Madgetts first opened its doors in 1924 and Mick, the present owner is the third generation of his family to run the shop. In fact, its roots go back further than that to the 19th century when a family ancestor used to run a cycle repair business. So that in itself says something – this is a business that’s been in it for the long haul. They stock a range of bikes. I’m pretty sure that there are people who got their first (kiddy) bike there, perhaps as a Christmas present, and over the years, have come back time and time again as both they and their cycling needs grow and evolve. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there are customers now buying bikes and bits there for their own children who were bought stuff by their parents. As I said, this is a long-term business.

Like most cyclists I do buy some gear off the internet – either special items or consumables where cost is a consideration for me. But in recent years I have bought my all Bianchi’s from Madgetts as I am strong believer of supporting local businesses where I can. But money isn’t everything, as they say. Ultimately, it comes down to relationships. And for me this is where Madgetts have the edge. Their knowledge and the quality of their service is, in my opinion, second to none. Let me back this up with two examples.

Last year, a few weeks before I rode from Land’s End to John O’Groats, I thought it would be a good idea to get my Via Nirone completely stripped down, cleaned and rebuilt with some essential replacement parts. In the five years since I had owned it the Nirone and I had travelled about 25,000 miles. And we’d had a lot of fun together. So I took the bike over to Madgetts and Mick said it should be ready in about a week. Well, by the time I got home a couple of hours later there was a message on my answerphone from Mick asking me to call him.

When I called he said there was good news and bad news. The bad news was that the frame had an irreparable crack on the bottom bracket where the chainstay was joined. My heart sank. Apart from the loss of a dear old friend I now faced the cost and hassle of having to get a replacement. Well not so, because the good news was that Mick told me the frame was covered by a 5-year warranty and he’d checked his records and could confirm that the warranty still had 17 days, yes 17 days, left to run! Phew. But what really put the icing on the cake was that Mick had already photographed the crack, emailed Bianchi UK with the information and a replacement frame would be sent from Italy in the next few days. Well, to cut to the chase within a fortnight I was riding on a brand new Impulso frame (the Nirone no longer being available) and fine tuning my Lejog preparations. Now that’s what I call service!

But it isn’t just about service, it’s also about knowledge and Mick and his team have it by the bucket load. Shortly before I went to ride in Tuscany earlier this year I was checking and adjusting my gears after fitting a new cassette to the rear wheel. Try as I might I just could not get the rear derailleur to engage the lowest gear on the cassette. So in desperation, and with more than a degree of embarrassment, I made the trip to Diss. Mick, who was there on his own working on a bike had a look at the problem and within seconds had worked out the cause. The gear cable, where it attached to the shifter in the brake hood, had become frayed. So no matter how hard I pushed the changer paddle all that was happening was that the cable was stretching. Now that’s what I call knowledge!

The Madgetts team - (l-r) Sean, (Me) Mick and Tony
I’m guessing we all have our favourite bike shops and our reasons for liking them. Mick and his team, Tony and Sean, are all cyclists. So there’s a natural affinity there backed up by solid professionalism borne of decades of experience. I’m looking forward to benefitting from many more years of their knowledge and service. Chapeau Madgetts!