Around about the middle of March I usually start getting quite excited. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, the shift to British Summer Time is imminent which means that I can start and finish my rides in daylight. Usually the move to BST also means that the weather is improving – less rain and wind and more sun. I say ‘usually’ because I have learnt from past experience that it is preferable to adopt a cautious mind-set – better to be pleasantly surprised than disappointed. But the time to don bib shorts and a light jersey has arrived.
The biggest excitement however is because the end of March means that our first family party has arrived. For the last three years I have travelled down to Basildon in Essex to ride with my Bianchi cousins on the first BOCUK iRide of the year. Today’s ride was arranged by Steve Richardson with help from Rick Gill and Steve Rose. The ride goes from strength to strength and this was its fifth year with a record turnout of 31 riders.
|Getting ready to go ...|
While we were waiting to start and posing (mostly for the photos) I had a look at the range of Bianchi’s on show. The trusty and reliable Via Nirone seemed to be the most popular model, closely followed by several Infinitos and Oltres (all variants). Celeste frames dominated – no surprises there. There was lots of happy chatter as people caught up with each other. Although we all regularly chat virtually through social media, the iRides are a chance to catch up at a much more personal and personable level. There were a few folk who were attending their first iRide and they all seemed to be enjoying themselves.
With such a large attendance we set off in a couple of separate groups and the short sharp ascent of One Tree Hill, which has loads of trees, soon after the start helped to space us out a bit more. Our route today (click here to view a flyby) took us north to Hanningfield Reservoir before turning east to the café stop at a garden centre near Ashingdon. We stopped here a couple of years ago when I got into a spot of bother with the proprietor who took exception to my Infinito leaning against some of his garden furniture. He didn’t really appreciate my comment that any marks would add value by creating a ready weathered look! I also decided that a comment about my Infinito being worth more than his bench would fall on deaf ears and not help matters.
A cappuccino and a slice of coffee and walnut cake (the cyclist’s staple?) were just the ticket in the refreshment stakes while catching up with a few riders that had been in a different group. While I was waiting to order the coffee I heard a voice behind me saying “hello Mark”. When I turned around I eventually spotted Bev and Chris Bish. I say eventually, because without my glasses it took me a few moments to focus on them. I first met Bev and Chris a couple of years ago at another iRide – in Kent (read my book for more). Although they weren’t riding today they had travelled down to join us and say hello. When I say travelled down I don’t mean from just a few miles away. They hail from the ‘north’ so it is a measure of the strength of the BOCUK family bond that cousins will go to exceptional lengths to get to the parties. I should add, before Bev and Chris pick me up on the point, that for some people (not me) anywhere north of the River Thames is a distant land known as ‘the north’. And in the interests of accurate reporting, Chris and Bev live in the Midlands which are halfway to the north! It was really great to see them again, albeit briefly.
All too soon we set off on the return leg for what for many would be a highlight of the event. Patience readers, I will explain presently. As we rode along I started chatting to Rick and Jo about sat navs. Rick has just acquired a Garmin Edge 1030 and is really pleased with it. Jo has recently got a Wahoo unit (great name that) and is still getting to grips with it. I am using a Garmin Edge 1000 which today was misbehaving. Although the map and route had loaded it was not giving out any turn by turn alerts and it was telling me that the distance to my destination was 3,263 miles. But apart from that it was working fine.
At one point Jo and I were so engrossed in our conversation that I stopped looking at the route on my Garmin. When I eventually realised that we were “off course” I zoomed the map out and could see immediately that getting back onto the route would be pretty street straightforward with no need to backtrack. With a confident shout to the group of “follow me, I know where to go”, we set off. Reaching a busy dual carriageway, I realised that my optimism and confidence might be misplaced. The challenge was that the central reservation was marked by a substantial concrete barrier. After about half a mile of riding along the pavement against the oncoming traffic we were able to cross over onto the other side. Fortunately we eventually arrived at a roundabout and re-joined the proper route. I guess in future I should talk less and concentrate a bit more. Or better still pay closer attention to those cousins who actually know the area!
In a complete contrast to the previous few miles we then rode along the Southend-on-Sea seafront past the pier which stretches out into the Thames estuary for 1.3 miles – it’s the longest pier in the world. The last leg of the route took us back inland with another short sharp climb and eventually a nice fast descent which bought us to the end of the route at South Benfleet.
For many, reaching the end of the route was akin to arriving in the promised land. For here in South Benfleet is what every Bianchi rider cherishes – a bike shop. But not just any bike shop. JD Cycles is a Bianchi dealership of some renown in these parts. Owned by Jason White, who was a highly successful rider winning several national titles, JD Cycles is every Bianchistas dream. Walking through the door is like literally walking on to the pages of a Bianchi catalogue. Ending the ride here, which we have done for several years, means that it has become a bit like a pilgrimage. Everywhere you look, your eyes are met with the shine of celeste. Even the matt finished frames have a sheen.
|With Jason White and that book!|
Jason very kindly let me sell a few copies of Passione Celeste and has even taken a few in case any of his other customers would like a copy. As we all gathered together again there was no shortage of happy chatter and laughter. I had a blast and really enjoyed getting together with my cousins again. To Steve, Rick, Steve and Jason I say thanks – big thanks. You organised another wonderful family party – a Bianchi party!
Fino alla prossima volta – passione celeste miei cugni! (Hopefully Google Translate has done its stuff here?)