Sunday, 28 September 2014

Cotswold Circle on a Brompton

Normally I look forward to rides but I have to confess my heart wasn't really in this one - certainly at the start.

The day before, along with several other work colleagues I attended the funeral of another work colleagues 21 year old daughter. She had lost her very brave, almost year long battle against leukaemia. It was a very sad afternoon for many reasons. Seeing an entire family saying a dignified goodbye to their daughter with all the raw emotions that entails was not pleasant.

The added element of seeing her contemporaries, all a similar age mourning the loss of a friend was as bad. Many of these young people I knew and had last seen when they were 11 - 12 years old. As I listened to the service I glanced around to see many faces I recognised and detected the tale-tell sign of young people confronted maybe for the first time with their own mortality. It was quite a poignant moment.

Twenty-one is far too early an age to die, especially for someone who obviously had so much to live for. Sadly that future is now a hypothetical one of what if...

So, I put my Brompton into my car and headed off to Charlbury station car park in the hope that a good ride would set me straight. I pumped up the tyres with a foot pump and noticed that the front tyre showed a lowly 65 psi. I pumped it up and went to investigate further. Finding a small  2cm long gash in the tyre wall I consulted those with superior knowledge and was told all would be okay. I half hoped that they would say, for you the ride is over.

We set off and my worst fears were realised. My heart wasn't in this ride. I hung back and thoughts of turning round and abandoning the ride took over. By the time we had completed five miles I was ready to throw in the towel. Sentimental is not a word often associated with yours truly. When we stopped to regroup I was aloof, solitary and didn't really care about engaging in small talk with anyone. I was still dwelling - perhaps too much - on the events the day before.

While still cycling - albeit very slowly - I telephoned Mrs Orange for a brief chat and spoke to my Orangettes. This was perhaps all I needed and gradually I started to enjoy the scenery, fine weather and the ride.

As we cycled along we passed quaint little villages, complete with church almost trapped in time. The dry stone walls - such a common feature of the Cotswolds were also in abundance.

The weather was really good. It was hard to believe that it was late September and it rendered the scenery to stunning hues. The Cotswolds are a part of the world I have a particular fondness for as I have driven the route from London to Ross on Wye countless times and spend part of every summer holiday there and thereabouts for the last 20 years.

As we cycled on the ever reseouceful David spotted some hedges laden with blackberries. While we waited for the tail to catch us up many of us sampled quite a few. They tasted devine and were near perfection in terms of ripeness.

The ride had quite a few downhill sections and I travelled as fast as I dared considering the state of my front tyre.

On one short section of road, all the participants of the ride were bunched together. It reminded me of The Tour and the tight pelotons so often a feature of the race.

The ride was billed as being for those who like hills. The ride was certainly not flat but it wasn't particularly hilly either. There wasn't a killer hill for all to attempt but it was a good 30+ mile ride that was demanding at times and one where you had to be on top of your gears.

Out front David was as usual navigating the way. His Brompton was sporting a new rear wheel and is undergoing a makeover.

Conversation was dominated by the new in thing, namely dynamo hubs. It seems that everyone and their uncle are getting one or thinking of getting one.

The stop off point at just over 20 miles was a pub and sold pretty good food. I opted for a sausage and chutney ciabatta with skinny chips and it certainly hit the mark. With luncheon over we headed off for the remaining 10 miles or so.

I took my Orange P type and again I really enjoyed riding it. It is fast becoming my favourite Brompton and fast overtaking even my Titanium Orange Brompton - perhaps as it is the Brompton I use most often. I am fast wondering if I can truly justify a fair weather Brompton?

Before long we reached Charlbury station car park where we started the ride. Our ride leaders were Rod and Dina  were excellent hosts and a bespoke cupcake - which was perhaps meant for the end of the ride - was consumed with enthusiasm at the start. Many sensibly ate their one having completed the ride. Rob also gave up granola-type bars and brownies which were excellent. A very big thank you to Rob and Dina in particular and to David for his navigation up front.

I really was quite awful company on this ride and I liken myself to the late Greta Garbo wanting to be alone. We all have these moments I suppose. Every year I make a charitable donation to a chosen charity. It isn't a huge one but I always do. 2015 will bring a few charity rides and I suspect I will quietly try to raise what I can for suitable leukaemia charities.

By the time I was heading home I was feeling much better and my usual eternal optimistic self, which many find quite irritating, had returned. Once reunited with my family I was even happier. Next week there is another ride and I am looking forward to it greatly.

Cotswold Circle map and ride data

Sunday, 21 September 2014

The Best Cycling Jacker Ever...Just Got Better!

I recently wrote a review about the Proviz Nightrider in which I described it as the greatest cycling jacket ever. (Link to that blog post/review can be found below at the end of this post). I stand by those words. It is a brilliant jacket and will serve me well. However, the very kind people at Proviz sent me a similar jacket in their range called the 'Reflect 360' so that I could review it too.

The Reflet 360 is similar to the Nightrider and putting it on it felt as well cut and sized as the Nightrider jacket. The addition of a couple of very useful chest pockets is perhaps the only cosmetic difference between the two jackets.

My orange Nightrider jacket had a huge coverage of reflective elements, making it a brilliant commuter jacket, night rides or winter when the days are shorter. The Reflect 360 as you can see from the pictures takes this further...much further!

The Reflect 360

Rather than a few reflective elements, the entire jacket has a 100% outer shell. Everything reflects. When I tried the jacket on for the first time I found this astonishing. Any light falling on to the jacket seemed to reflect back. Even in daylight the jacket seems to reflect any available light.

The reaction of my family as I stood in our back garden wearing the Reflect 360 as they shone LED lights and torches at me was very telling. They couldn't quite believe how much I was lit up. I ended up staying outside longer than I intended while my two daughters experimented.

The pictures do not really do the reflective qualities justice. In real world use the jacket appears near white in the dark.

Useful chest pockets

The jacket is highly water resistant and like the Nightrider it has zipped air vents under the arms for when you get too hot. The inside is lined with the mesh and everything seems well thought out. Many cycling jackets often overlooked key features such as fleece lined collar, longer cut tail and arms but they are all present and correct in the Reflect 360.

Build in ventilation on the shoulders

I do have a confession to make. A certain high end cycle clothing manufacturer was having its end of season sale and yesterday I was in their London shop trying on one of their waterproof commuter jackets. It was a lovely jacket but I couldn't help thinking that I preferred the Nightrider and this Reflect 360. I ended up leaving the shop without it.

Velcro cuffs are adjustable 

On my blog post about the 'Nightrider' jacket I had a few comments about the breathability. The Nightrider and this Reflect 360 are not going to compete with high end, more expensive jackets with all manner of special coatings etc.., but they are pretty good.

I pointed out to one person who commented that I cycled 67 miles overnight from London to Whitstable at an average speed of 12.8 mph with an average temperature of 12 degrees C and didn't suffer from sweating or feelings of being too hot . The underarm vents, built in ventilation on the shoulders/back together with opening or closing the front zip, all work well.

Adjustable waistband

Our recent warm weather spell has meant that the Reflect 360 has more or less stayed at home and it has been too hot to use it. I have used it when having to return to work for a late meeting and it does almost feel as if the jacket is powered by batteries. I caught my reflection in a shop window and the top half of me was bright white. At some point I will take a photo of this and post it on here.

In a few weeks time my daily commute will see me cycle to work in the dark and cycle home in the dark. This jacket will certainly make me more visible to other road users. If you add the waterproofing, well thought out cut specifically tailored for cycling, you have a winning combination.   I go on quite a lot of night rides in addition to my daily commute and this jacket when cycling on a country lane, in the rain at say 03:00 a.m. is going to help me be more visible.

The Proviz website shows lots of other items in the Reflect 360 range - rucksacks, vests, filets, running jackets - and I hope to bring you a review of some of these items in the future.

Useful rear zipped pocket

I wrote that the Nightrider might be the best cycling jacket ever. I stand by that but have to say that for £79.99 the Reflect 360 is nothing short of a bargain. The Reflect 360 could actually be the Holy Grail of cycling jackets. Proviz sent this jacket for review purposes but I have to say if they want it back they are going to have to come and prise it out of my hands. The best cycling jacket ever really has got better!

Link to Proviz website

Link to my first Proviz Cycling Jacket Review

Monday, 8 September 2014

A Birds Eye View of London

A few weeks ago I have the opportunity to gain a birds eye view of London few are fortunate enough to see. Of course I took my camera with me so I could take a few snaps.

I have seen this view a few times before but little prepares you for it. In many ways it is somewhat overwhelming and there is so much to see, so much that is familiar one doesn't know where to start? A first port of call is to pick out the many iconic London landmarks - River Thames, Gherkin, Canary Wharf, St Paul's Cathedral...the list just goes on and on.

After doing this my attention turned to spotting where my mum and dad lived and various other family members.

One of the features of London over the years is that it mixes the old and the new. It is ever changing and evidence of the new is all around.

From this vantage point I could see St Paul's Cathedral and it looked tiny. I could just make out tourists who had made their way to the outside dome and they looked like tiny ants.

Another thing I did was to trace some of my cycle routes from central London out east, past Canary Wharf and towards Greenwich. One of my favourite rides is Mark's (King of the Hill) 'Thames Triple Chaser.' This is where we traveled along, on, under and over the River Thames. I could just make out the route and in the distance could even see the Emirates Skyline over the Thames.

In the distance I would make up Alexandra Palace to the north and Crystal Palace to the south. From up here I could not believe that in the summer as part of the NightRider, I cycled from Alexandra Palace to Crystal Place and back to Alexandra Palace!

While I watching Tower Bridge, I saw tall ship sailing close and the bridge started to raise, allowing the ship to sail by. It was the first time I had ever seen this happen.

The new 'Walkie Talkie' building does look quite stunning from below and from high above its windows reflected the light in strange ways. I definitely like it which is more than I can say about The Shard. It still reminds me of one of those ghastly crystal ornaments you see in jewellers shops.

I actually look over 300 pictures while up there and could have taken much more! The one thing that struck me was the many memories of various Brompton rides and adventures which came to mind when I looked at various locations.

London is a great city and I am very pleased that I was able to experience in a different way.