Saturday, 18 May 2019

Look who I bumped into!

Of course I didn't actually bump into my Partner in crime Andrew AKA  'Bumblebee.' I had arranged to meet up with him for a few weeks and today was the day when we both were able to venture out and meet up at the London Eye - the start point for many adventures in the past.

It seemed likes ages - and it has been ages -  since we had seen each other. Far too long but then life does tend to get in the way sometimes. I think it is no secret that my Partner in crime had lost his mojo or whatever you call it for all things cycling. I've always believed that pedalling forwards is the way to go and I suspect my riding partner might now be in that frame of mind too.

Andrew sent a text to say that he was going to be about half an hour late so I decided to take the scenic route to the meeting point. When I rolled in at about 09:15 he was already there. It was great to see him again and the wonderful thing about friendship is that it is a little like pressing pause on a film or music track you like and then pressing play. Things are resumed almost instantly.

With both of us not having breakfast before we set off, we ended up at 'Look Mum No Hands' a old favourite. It was really busy when we folded bikes at about 09:30. Wasting little time we both ordered an 'English' which we ate with enthusiasm.

Of course 'Look Mum No Hands' also does pretty fine cakes so we both had one of those for good measure.

That done we retraced our steps back past the Eye and on to Hyde Park. We talked about all sorts and naturally caught up on all the tech and Brompton stuff too.

After a lap of Hyde Park we called it a day and pressed pause. I hope to be able to press the play button sooner rather than later.

In all I cycled just over 18 miles this morning and thankfully there was not a drop of rain while I was out. It was great to see my Partner in crime again and I hope that I am writing about one of our adventures in the not too distant future.

Monday, 13 May 2019

8 Top tips for nocturnal adventures on a Brompton

If you have read my blog post ramblings over the years, you will already know I enjoyed nocturnal adventures on my Brompton and other bicycles. I have written several times that it is quite addictive and nothing has altered my view of this. The vast majority of my night rides have started at midnight and seen me cycling to the coast, arriving there at about 8:00 a.m. having cycled anything from 58 to 70 miles. The great thing about living in London (or starting these rides in London) is that you can do this quite easily and end up at a seaside town the following morning. In fact. you can also do this from almost any location in the UK.

A few readers have asked for some advice about nocturnal adventures from yours truly, so I thought I would put together some tips. I have to say straight away that I am no expert and what follows are merely what has worked for me on dozens of nocturnal adventures of over 50 miles. So, here goes. In no particular order:

#1 Lights

Lights are pretty fundamental for night cycling. You might have commuter front lights that are more for being seen however these will not cut the proverbial mustard as far as nocturnal adventures are concerned. In short, you are going to need a set of lights that are much more substantial.

There are many different types of lights with as many different price tags. If you are cycling at 03:00 in the a.m. on a dark unlit country lane, under a canopy of trees, you are going to need lights that illuminate the road ahead.

The vast majority of lights available today are the USB rechargeable type. These typically will have a number of settings and basically the brighter you have them set the less burn-time they have. I use an 'Exposure Toro Mark 7' which can happily pump out a constant 600-700 lumens for 10 hours. If I need more power - usually reserved for descending hills in darkness - I have the option of increasing the lumen count. It is probably overkill but I like this light a great deal. Its one drawback is that it was quite expensive but I recently bought and reviewed a 'Moon Meteor Storm' front light that was a great deal less and I think its a great light for nocturnal adventures.

For many, dynamo powered lights are the ultimate solution. With them there is no worry about your battery running out of juice. As long as you are peddling you have power. On my Orange Special Edition Brompton I have a SON dynamo powering a SON rear light and an Edulux II front light. I have used just the dynamo powered lights on nocturnal rides to the coast and not felt the need for another light. My new Flame Lacquer Brompton has an SP SV8 dynamo hub powering a Busch and Muller front light and a Spanniga Solo LED rear light and although not having as much power as the Edulux II is still great light.

I would however steer clear of the cheap lights you can get online powered by a battery pack, boasting thousands of lumens power. In my experience they will not last as long and if anything the beam they emit does not make you terribly road friendly to oncoming traffic.

As far as rear lights are concerned you have a little more options as you can normally still buy a descent set of rear lights that a powered by a AA or AAA battery in addition to USB rechargeable. When riding in a group it is advisable to have your rear lights on a non-flash mode and one that will not burn our retinas as it isn't too pleasant for those behind. All it needs is to be able to last the night.

Personally, I cannot stress enough the importance of a good front light, whatever option you decide. On my adventures, good front lights have  helped me see all manner of objects in the road ahead. These have included:

  • Rats
  • Mice
  • Voles
  • Weasels
  • Foxes
  • Deer
  • Badgers
  • Sheep
  • Horses
  • Bats
  • Dogs
  • Cats
  • Fallen branches and trees
  • Potholes
  • Gravel
  • Bollards
  • Abandoned cars
  • Pedestrians
  • A drunk gentleman sleeping in the middle of the road
  • A couple having a heated row, oblivious to oncoming traffic

#2 More the merrier

My nocturnal adventures have involved cycling with lots of other people, typically over 30. I have cycled to Brighton from Hyde Park Corner alone once but I didn't enjoy it a great deal for reasons that will become clear. There is definitely safety in numbers when cycling with others. If something goes wrong - normally a puncture or mechanical - having someone else around makes you feel better.

When I cycled alone to Brighton there was no one else to share the ride with, no one to talk to and generally a feeling of being alone that was very different to when I cycle alone during the day.  Cycling with at least one other person is the way I would go. I have cycled on several night rides last year with my friend Dr John - and plan to do the same later this year. With a good friend the journey shared is just more enjoyable.

#3 The right gear not the wrong weather

I can still remember a ride to Brighton where I met my friend Geoff at Charring Cross. We cycled to the start of the ride at Hyde Park Corner which was just over a mile away and didn't take long to get to. It was raining so heavily by the time I got to Hyde Park Corner I was wet through. My waterproofs were the cheap and cheerful type and not really up to it. Luckily, knowing this I had a spare in the saddle bag and had to resort to using straight away. A lesson learnt. I invested in a jacket that cost a little more but offered more in the way of waterproofing but with that magic ingredient of breathability.

Over the years I have tried waterproof gloves, socks and overshoes but don't bother with such items anymore. The only waterproof items I bring are a jacket and if the weather is predicted to be surly awful, over-trousers.

I find that a good pair of gloves with gel inserts on the palms, neck-buff and a packable gillet are all I need.

#4 Reflective elements

For me at least, I like to wear something that has some reflective qualities. The 'Proviz' range are perfect for this but thinking about what I wear the following items also have some reflective qualities too:

Cycling helmet
SPD shoes
Bib tights
Top - usually stripes or piping that is reflective

I know many cyclists who go on these rides don't care for this at all and wear darker colours. I just prefer something with lots of orange on it some reflective bits on them.

#5 Tooled up!

The vast majority of my night rides have been on one of Myanmar trusty Brompton bicycles. As such I am aware that I need to bring a few Brompton specific items.

For me the Brompton toolkit is just brilliant. Stored in the frame I don't really have to think too much about it but know that I have the spanner needed to take the wheel off if I had a puncture and all the Allen key bits and other spanner bits needed for anything else.

I always carry a spare chain. Yes you ready correctly, a spare chain. It does't really take up a huge amount of space but if you want to find out why, CLICK HERE!

The other items I take:

Pump - it is actually attached to my Brompton so a no brainer
Couple of spare tubes
Spare tyre patches in the Brompton Toolkit
2 x CO2 bottles and inflator valve

#6 Fuel

It is probably important to say that no one  has ever starved to death on a nocturnal ride. I always carry at least one bottle of water (more in the summer months) and a snack to keep me going. If I know that there is nothing open at all, I will take some food with me.

#7 The route

The route is important. With a nocturnal ride that starts at midnight by the time you are an hour or two into the ride traffic is going to be a greta deal lighter than daylight hours and sometimes non-existent. You can - for limited stretches - stray onto busier roads if you have a larger number of riders. When it has just been myself and Dr John I have deliberately chosen routes that are on generally very quiet roads wherever possible. 

For planning the route I use Ride with GPS which creates a route with turn-by-turn directions that I can load onto my Wahoo Bolt. This has worked well. I have been on lots of nocturnal rides and always choose the route I feel better suited to this. 

On rides where there are several riders I out my faith in the ride leaders, knowing that they will have chosen the route very carefully. 

#8 Everything else

On nocturnal rides I always take a phone with me and more times than not I have ensured that it is fully charged before I step foot outside the door. In addition to this I always carry a some cash - £20 and a credit card.

There you have it, 8 top tips for nocturnal adventures on a Brompton. Of course much of this applies to those you without a Brompton.  If you go on a nocturnal adventure do drop me a line as I'd love to hear about it. So, what are you waiting for?!

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Brompton Bristol to Barry Island ride

This ride was slightly different to the night rides to the coast that I normally do insofar as it was to start in daylight. From my base in SW7 I decided nip across the road to Hyde Park where I would cross the park on my way to Paddington Station. The evening was mild and hundreds of people were taking advantage of the good weather, perhaps delaying their journeys to spend some time in the park.

I arrived at Paddington just before 20:30 and when I took the photo below I could see my fellow Bromptonians Geoff, Mark (King of the Hill) and Dr John waiting inside the station. Parts of the station and the main track shed was build by Brunel in 1854.

Where is all starts

No sooner had I got in, the notice popped up to say that our train was at the platform and ready to be boarded. Wasting little time we made out way to our reserved seats. By chance I was to sit next to veteran night ride to the coast, Adrian. With my Brompton locked to the nearby luggage rack, I retired to my seat for the couple of hours the journey would take.

Geoff with a rather fine S6L Flame Lacquer

Geoff and Mark were in another carriage while Dr John and I chewed the fat about all sorts. A message came through from Mark that sort of indicated that there might be a buffet car. Dr John and I were out of our seats heading towards the carriage of Geoff and Mark wondering what we might be able to purchase. Sadly when we got to Geoff and Mark its became obvious that there was no buffet carriage. Later - back in our seats - a lady came down the isle with one of those miniature trolleys. As far as the buffet carriage was concerned, this was it!

Our train rolled into Bristol Temple Meads station - also designed by Brunel - at 22:28. When I tried to unlock the cable lock I had used, to my horror I could not get the key into the lock! I attempted to do this a few times, slowly and carefully and then more frantically. I had visions of the train departing with me still trying to get the key into the lock. Thankfully it eventually worked much to my relief but I will not be using this one again and will think about buying one a little more expensive than the £2.99 I paid for it!

Bristol Temple Meads railway station

On the way outside I saw the Brunel inspired mosaic I had seen last time round and could not resist a photo. There was also one of the Clifton Suspension Bridge in which Brunel had a big part of play.

We made our way the the meeting point near Bristol Cathedral, with Mark giving us some information about what he remembered when he lived in Bristol several years ago. Bristol city centre looked busy to say the least. The presence of a couple of police officers on police horses hinted that things might get lively!

Of course I wasted little time in taking as many photographs as I could of the surroundings and if I am honest, using them shamelessly as the background of photos of my Orange Brompton!

Our ride leader Steve provided some very good interactive safety instructions and when we heard the chime signalling midnight from the Cathedral bells, we were off.

The ride would feature us crossing several bridges and liking bridges this was a very big plus point. The first was the Clifton Suspension. The original bridge was designed by Brunel with heavy design input from Willlam Barlow and John Hawkshaw. It now has a Grade I listed which will hopefully preserve it for future generations.

Not too long after the Clifton Suspension Bridge we saw the next in the distance. This was the Avonmouth Bridge. Opened back in 1974 it is almost 100 ft above the water below. I'd wager it would be an impressive thing to see in daylight but for our nocturnal adventure I could see little.

The Severn Bridge - 154 ft above the River Severn - had a great cycle lane segregated from the M48 motorway that it shares.

At the other side of the bridge we entered Wales and a sign on the other side of the road confirmed that we were in a different country.

It was great riding in a Brompton quartet again. It felt like ages since this had happened. Sadly I fear it a rare occurrence as we have all dipped our toes into all that is road bike.

At about 35ish miles we reached the halfway stop which for us was a 24-hour McDonalds. It seems rather strange eating there in the early hours of the morning but it was functional.

When we emerged from McDonalds dawn was approaching and I felt a little chilly. Nothing too bad and all I needed was a neck buff to see me through the first few miles. I had decided to take my Orange Brompton rather than my new Flame Lacquer. No particular reasons for this other than I didn't want to neglect my Orange Brompton. Geoff was sporting his new S6L Flame Lacquer so whenever I thought about my new bike, I just gazed at his.

At Newport we arrived at the Newport Transport Bridge. With less than ten of these left, this particular one is fully operational. It must be great fun to travel across on the platform.

Wales is beautiful. The early dawn sky gave us many colours and few could resist taking a photo of the scene you can see below.

One of the things I saw the last time round were lots and lots of little ponies at the side of the road, tied up happily munching grass. This time I made it my business to try and get a photo of one or two of them.

The Brompton peloton rides again

When I was on the ride last year, I decided to bail at Cardiff. This year as we were making excellent progress I pressed on and I am glad that I did.

Wales Millennium Centre in the distance

We cycled around Cardiff Bay with blue skies and the sun shining. It looked so pretty and I wish that I had of brought a better camera than that on my iPhone.

We approached Barry Island just after 8:00 a.m. and the clouds seemed to almost disappear from sight. With almost 69 miles clocked up it was a very enjoyable adventure.

Barry was used as a location for the BBC television programme 'Gavin and Stacey.' This was not really my thing possibly as I have never found James Cordon remotely entertaining. As far popular culture is concerned I was more impressed that the third, forth and fifth series of 'Being Human' was filmed there.

Barry Island

Geoff stayed to have some breakfast as visit relatives and would make his return later in the day. Mark, Dr John and I had to be back at Cardiff for out 9:26 train back to Paddington. Saying our goodbyes we made out way to Barry Station to get the train to Cardiff Central.

Thirty minutes later we arrived at Cardiff, got some food and boarded the train. On the platform there were loads of people with suitcases and when the train pulled in we ran (as best you can with a Brompton) to the carriage with our reserved seats. Being such a long train we were all spend out evenly and our seats were next to the racks.

The journey was two hours and during that time the three of us nodded off more than a few times. Pulling into Paddington Station at 11:30 a.m. we had made good time. Saying our goodbyes we made our separate ways home.

This was a lovely ride and thanks to Steve for leading and Adrian for his tail end Charlie duties. As I wrote previously it was great for Geoff, Mark, Dr John and I to be riding together on our Brompton bikes. Mark likened us to a band getting back together again. I wonder whether the same metaphor would have been used had we all been on road bikes all those years ago when we first started this night riding to the coast lark? Until next time...

The route