Thursday 2 November 2017

Normal for Norfolk and Some Other Musings (LGD - 192 Days)
Thursday 2 November 2017, 104 Miles

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Despite the lack of writing here for the last few weeks there’s been no lack of riding on my part. I’ve also been quite busy out of the saddle so before I tell you about today’s century ride I thought it would be good to catch up on a few of my recent events and adventures.

First up – progress has been made on the top-secret, hush-hush project. Real progress. The last few weeks have seen a flurry of activity making a series of minor adjustments. All a bit like fine tuning the derailleurs. You know – the chain is running slightly roughly so a quarter turn of the tensioner in top gear and all sounds sweetness and light. Changing down a couple gears and you can hear and feel the chain running roughly so another minor adjustment of the tensioner, perhaps only an eighth of a turn. On you go until eventually things are running smoothly across the whole gear range. Over the years I learnt that patience and a soft touch are the key to success. Unless of course the problem is more fundamental like a frayed cable.

This is how it’s been with the top-secret, hush-hush project. Making a minor tweak here created a new minor fault somewhere else. Tweak that and, worst case scenario, the original fault reappears! But with patience and persistence we finally got there. All the work is now finished, I’ve signed it off and handed it over for production. The official launch date is likely to be towards the end of January though a limited supply may be available sooner for the “special few”. There’s still some work to do on the PR and marketing fronts and I’m going to be immersed in this over the coming weeks. I’m getting quite excited at the prospect of being able to see and touch the finished product – it has been a long time coming; much longer than I originally expected.

THE Map!
All this has meant that opportunities to get some centuries in have not been possible. I’ve had to stick to shorter (c50-mile) rides. But no less enjoyable and I’ve been using them to ride along lanes I haven’t ridden before so that I can colour them in on my map of East Anglia. The map is looking pretty busy now. With the generally good weather and the onset of autumn, most of the rides have been very enjoyable. As I write, the autumn colours are probably at their peak so I’ve been making the most of enjoying them. The sugar beet harvest is in full swing now but the dry weather has meant that the road surfaces are generally clean and free of the cloying clay that seems to have a magnetic attraction to my frames and wheels.

It hasn’t all been sweetness and light though. On one recent ride I experienced a bad case of the infamous ‘Mavic Death Scream’. Let me explain. I’ve got a set of Mavic Ksyrium Elite wheels which I bought a couple of years ago. I was freewheeling downhill at about 20mph when there was the most fearsome screech from the bike. Just like the sound you hear when there’s oil on your rims and you break hard. Eventually I worked out that the sound was coming from the hub on my rear wheel. So a trip to Madgetts in Diss was necessary. The cause of the problem seemed to be the nylon seal that Mavic use on the freehub, or possibly the pawls in the freehub itself. Anyway, to cut a long story short, Mick removed the freehub cleaned the seal and replaced the pawls. Whilst he was working I chatted away to Mick, Tony and Sean about some of my recent rides and showed them some of the photos on my phone. They seemed quite impressed with the Fford Penllech 40% climb that I’ve already written about (8 October). I guess they were less than impressed with my admission that I hadn’t actually managed to ride it. Sean, who had been holidaying in Snowdonia recently, knew about some of the roads I described. Repairs finished, Mick pointed out that there was still a bit of movement of the cassette on the freehub so I may have to face up to the wheel reaching the end of its life. Although it’s only two years old I reckon it’s done about 10,000 hard miles so I suppose I shouldn’t complain. When I asked Mick what I owed him for the work he said there was no charge, adding that it was worth it to hear me talk about my rides and share some of the photos. In my book that goes beyond good service. Way beyond. Next time I’m in the market for a new Bianchi I wonder how many photos and ride stories it’s going to cost me? (Only kidding guys!)

Well, there you have it - a glimpse of some of my recent adventures. What about today’s ride?

The cause of the puncture
With dry roads and the hint and hope of some autumnal sun breaking through the early morning mist and light cloud I decided to head north into south Norfolk for a century through Watton, Swaffham, Dereham and Wymondham. I decided to leave the Ksyriums in my garage to test on another occasion when I would be riding closer to home so I fitted a pair of Fulcrum Quattro wheels to the Infinito which I had decided to ride today. Off I went, looking forward to the ride. After only 9 miles as I was passing through East Harling, I could feel the tell-tale sponginess of a rear wheel puncture. A false start! The cause of the puncture was a tiny piece of grit which had lodged itself in the tyre and worked its way through to pin prick the inner tube. I must have picked it up en route as the tyre was clean when I left home. The most annoying thing was that this was the first puncture I’ve had this year. Not bad after riding over 13,000 miles since January. I had even started to contemplate the prospect of a year’s puncture-free riding. Silly me! A quick tube change and I was soon underway again.

A Norfolk 'hill'
The rest of the ride was really enjoyable. I took it at a steady pace savouring the countryside and soaking up the views. Although the sun didn’t materialise the crisp, cold air gave the ride a welcome freshness. I especially enjoyed the long straight lanes that are a defining feature of Norfolk.  The views at this time of year are simply magnificent. Although I do really miss the mountains of Wales the broad sweeping and gently rolling Norfolk countryside has a lot to offer for enjoyable riding. There was a real sense of nature getting ready to hibernate for a few months before spring reappears and the natural cycle begins again.

So that’s it. I hope to be able to get a couple more centuries under my tyres before the year ends. Watch this space…

Sunday 8 October 2017

Team Super Six’s Tour of Snowdonia - Day 2 The Dolgellau Loop (LGD - 217 Days)
Sunday 8 October 2017, 62 Miles

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Today was going to be rather special – for me at least – as we would be heading into an area where I lived and worked in the early 1980’s at what is best described as a formative time of my life. I have many, many happy memories of the area and countless fabulous rides there so I was looking forward to a day of nostalgia and also to sharing some of my memories with some great friends. Whether their anticipation was similarly heightened is not for me to say.

At exactly the same time as yesterday (to the minute) we rolled away from the Royal Sportsman and across the Cob. The causeway opened in 1811 that crosses the estuary connecting the old counties of Caernarfonshire and Meirionydd. It used to be a toll crossing until 2003 and the Ffestiniog Railway runs along the seaward side. On a clear day the view inland is one of the most spectacular in Snowdonia as I explained to the Team. Today, low cloud meant I had to use the full extent of my descriptive vocabulary and the team had to exercise the full powers of their imagination. I suspect they may have tuned out as I waxed lyrical; but they tuned out politely!

Where's Vincenzo?
We made our way up the valley towards Maentwrog where we turned off the surprisingly busy main road and headed up to Llan Ffestiniog. I say headed up quite intentionally as this was another of those classic Welsh climbs – steep at the start and getting steeper the higher you ride. The climb averages 4% over 2.5 miles, peaking at around 15%. We paused to regroup in the village square and discovered that Vincenzo had decided to hold on to his lanterne rouge title for the day. When asked he said that he felt fine – his head and heart were willing but his legs weren’t.

From Llan Ffestiniog we headed back across rolling terrain to re-join the main road at Trawsfynydd for a short stretch before turning on to a minor lane which looked like it had been surfaced with sheep droppings instead of stone chips. Within 5 minutes we were riding in a wilderness where, when we stopped not a sound could be heard. The stillness was uncanny; there are few places in Britain where it so quiet. Not a car engine, not a sheep’s bleat, not a bird’s song and not a puff of wind. Bliss.

It's all downhill now boyos...
We rolled along a succession of short sharp ascents and descents. I had promised the team that we would enjoy a long (c10 mile) downhill run but they gave up believing my “this is the last climb” claims. Clearly my memory was not as good as I thought. Eventually we entered the top end of Coed-y-Brenin Forest passing sites that I had worked on back in the day. I spotted a stand of larch trees that I had helped to plant over 30 years ago and they looked in good shape, ready for some thinning. From the top of the forest it really was all downhill through an ever-deepening valley alongside a briskly flowing stream. Some of the more mature trees (Douglas Fir) had been planted in 1926 so they are nearly a century old. Quite a humbling feeling.

Hmmm, what shall I have?
A nice little climb through Llanfachreth which peaked at over 16% was the final test of the morning and a fast descent where I got over the 40mph threshold brought us to Dolgellau and the day’s café stop. The Crasdy’r Gader was open, ready and waiting for us. Hot food, pies, pasties and tea were the order of the day and hit the spot exactly. I decided the time was right to introduce the team to another Welsh culinary delicacy, bara brith. The café had their own secret recipe and freshly baked slices were soon being consumed with gusto.

Parlwr Bach - my former home
The centre of Dolgellau hasn’t changed much since I lived there. A few of the shops have come and gone but the rest of the town is largely as I remember it. With time to spare we popped round to see my old cottage and I was delighted to pose in front of it with the Infinito. With my reminiscing over it was time to get underway again with a ride down the southern side of the Mawddach estuary to Fairbourne before crossing over to Barmouth on the wooden train bridge. This was a re-run of one of my standard after work rides of old – down one side of the estuary, across the bridge and back up the other side. Roughly a 20-mile loop, which on a summer’s evening after work was the perfect fuel for recharging my batteries. The views are just stunning.  Sadly, for me at least, we had an appointment with a hill so we had to turn away and follow the coast to Harlech. The team were impressed by the view especially the vast expanses of sandy beaches totally devoid of people. Away in the distance we could just pick out Bardsey Island off the end of the Llyn Peninsula.

Last year’s Tour of the Lakes was notable for many things. We had faced and overcome some severe weather and we had also faced some severe hills which we had mostly overcome. I felt that Wales had given the Lakes a reasonable run for the money in the weather stakes but what about the hills? Well, I had kept the best until last. Fford Penllech. Simon Warren says: “Forget Rosedale, forget Hardknott – Fford Penllech is the steepest hill in the land.” Its average gradient is 20% and it rises to 40% at its steepest point. It’s a one-way road – downhill. The sign at the top says ‘Unsuitable for Motor Vehicles’ so oncoming traffic was unlikely to be an issue. The challenge was on, if anyone was brave enough to try it. Michael was the only one who did and he succeeded – in style. The rest of us found just the descent challenging enough. The steepness of the slope, a wet, greasy, leaf covered surface and slick tyres were not the best conditions. I did have a go, but within just a few yards the combination of a front wheel trying to take off and a back wheel spinning wildly meant it just wasn’t going to be possible. And in any event I doubt I have the strength in my legs to carry me to anywhere near the top. Michael totally earned and enjoyed his moment of glory. The rest of us were content to bask in his reflection.

Post-ride fuel
After our mid-afternoon’s ‘sport’ we headed back to Porthmadoc via Penrhyndeudraeth. Although today had been overcast, it hadn’t rained and there was little wind. Everyone agreed that the two rides had been great and gave the team a real insight to Snowdonia. After a shower we adjourned to The Australia for some more of the Purple Moose’s finest fluids where we relived some of the highlights of the weekend. I can’t wait to come back – riding up here is some of the best available in Britain. Meanwhile we are all looking forward to next year’s Tour of Tuscany and Umbria. Hopefully Andy will have laid the man flu to rest and the Famous Five will be the Super Six once again.