Sunday, 3 February 2013

London to Cambridge on a Brompton - From Start to Finish!

London to Cambridge was a ride a went on last year with the Small Wheels Big Difference chaps and another Brompton Club member. On that occasion the ride took place in the middle of May on a sunny day. This was to be an altogether different weather experience.

Last time I took my Raw Lacquer S2L with me. This was a mistake for me as the two gears on the many inclines (more about this later) was not enough. This time my beloved Orange Brompton was order of the day and I felt much more comfortable, happier with my old and trusty friend.

One thing I wanted to do today was to travel light. I knew that there would be a headwind and didn't want even my S-bag to slow me down. I decided to take the Carradice saddle bag and even abandoned bringing a camera.

The meet point was 09:00 at the Royal Festival Hall. I met with a veteran of the this ride Geoff and Tobias. Soon we met my partner in crime iCrazyBee, the navigation expert that is David, Anne, the speed demon that is Mark and his friend Matt who I met at the Nocturne with his brand new red and black Brompton.

I was navigating with the Garmin Edge 800 and after pressing start we were off. Navigation is not my strong point and mainly due to user error I caused the group to take the odd wrong turn. The Garmin however politely buzzed to tell me I was off course and I obliged by turing tail and going back the other way.

In East London we met up with Alan and Nancy and our riding group was complete. Mick (co-foinder of the London Brompton Club) decided to sit this ride out and provided support via his car.

As always getting out of London was slower than we would have liked but soon London, urbanism was left behind. Our route took us for several miles along canal and riverside paths. When I did this ride before they were totally dry and I didn't even have to clean my S2L afterwards. Yesterday was a different story!

The recent bad weather had rendered the paths wet, waterlogged and in many placed covered in a thick layer of mud! This made riding slow and arduous. There were lots of places where grip next to nothing. On a few sections my back wheel slide out in a not that dissimilar way to Tom Selleck's Ferrari in the opening titles of his most famous television programme, 'Magnum.'

Looks nice but that mud!

On the weather front it was a very crisp, clear day but very cold. This was magnified somewhat by the icy wind that was relentless throughout the entire ride. Weather reports for yesterday vary but at its highest it was reported at 17 mph.


Matt's new Brompton seemed to have a few teething problems as a few items fitted after purchase became loose. Like me on the last time I attempted this ride, Matt suffered a puncture. In his case a front wheel. A repair in the field was made very quickly and efficiently and before long we were off again.


Oh no!



My new Brompton!

Just before Ware we said goodbye to David and Anne. It was great having then on the ride and in the back of my mind I hoped that we would not require David's quite brilliant navigation and map reading skills.


Looking at the Garmin and how many miles we had covered many of use could not quite believe that we had only travelled 23ish miles. Sanctuary came in the form of a pub called 'The Bull Inn' at Much Hadham. This was more or less at the half way point and we tried to quicken the pace, the incentive being food, warmth and rest.

Lunch and sanctuary

Soon we approached the village and saw Mick waving at use from the roadside. I cannot tell you how pleased I was at seeing him and a pub. I am not really someone who often frequents pubs but I was delighted to be at this one! We arrived just after 14:30!

The food, in my case fish and chips, was good. The dessert, a cameral apple pie with iced cream was just what I needed. With over 30 miles to go iCrazyBee, Alan and Nancy decided that they had had enough and rode the rest of the way in Mick's car. This left five of us stoically soldiering on.

Lovely country cottages but I'd rather the urban sprawl strangely enough.


Riding through the rural England did enhance my belief that I am a totally urban creature. There really didn't seem to be anything...but countryside. What do people do here? Shops seemed non-existent and those that were around invariably closed? Added to this no phone signal and not a hint of 3G. No, the countryside is not for me as beautiful as it was.

The next 20 miles were perhaps the worst of the entire day. Now on the open road and in a smaller group we attempted to increase out speed. I cannot count how many fairly steep inclines there were as they seemed to be never ending. It was very tough going made worst by the relentless wind that sapped energy and rendered the speed we desired all but impossible.

We stopped for the last time at the just below nine mile point. From here on it would be flat and the copious steep inclines experienced during the previous 20 miles were gone. Mick offered us some donuts from the ample supply he had been trying to get us to eat since lunch and we took him up on their offer. I suspect no donut before this or after will ever taste as good! We set off again and iCarzyBee decided to join us for the last leg.

There are cycle paths and there are cycle paths!

The last nine miles were very easy compared to those after lunch and before long we approached another cycle path. This was lit up and had a great coloured strip all the way down the middle, separating the two lanes. As we cycled I saw the trains heading south back to London and knew that the end was close.

Cambridge Station was a welcome sight and we headed in. Plans of heading in to Cambridge were abandoned long before we reached the station and home is what all of us had on our minds. Because of the train times, we had to be quick and could not hang around. I was bound for Kings Cross with iCrazyBee while the others bordered trains for Liverpool Street.

The train to London

It was a good ride but the weather conditions / time of the year conspired to make this demanding and not for the faint hearted. I did enjoy it and the challenge was more than enough for me. I suspect that in April (this ride was a recce for that ride) will be much more enjoyable. The clocks will have gone forward so daylight will last longer. The weather will probably be better and if we go on the canal / river side the paths won't be as muddy.

As I write this I don't actually feel that bad. A hot bath last night and a good nights sleep have all helped. I do like these longer and more demanding rides. It gives me some encouragement to know that if I could complete this ride in these conditions, I have a good chance of completing rides like the Dunwich Dynamo and the Nightrider successfully. I am a very different rider to this time last year and felt much more confident. (Navigation is still going to need lots of work). What is certain to me however is that I need to up my training and that leaves me with one question...when's the next ride?

The ride data from the Garmin Edge 800 can be seen by clicking on the link below.

London to Cambridge - All the way!

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