Sunday, 17 March 2019

Orange Brompton overnight London to Southend

Friday marked the end of the long wait from October last year for the season of night rides to the coast to start again. This one was the classic London to Southend.

The proceeding week was a bit of a blur and very busy. This meant that thoughts of night rides to the coast were put to one side until more or less close of play on Friday.

Sticking my head out the front door ten minutes before leaving to see what the weather was like (my preferred method for weather forecasting) I could see that out was raining lightly. Heading off I took the short tube journey to the start point in central London. En route I passed the old meeting point - Hyde Park Corner - and could not help but get a sense of excitement about what was to come and a pang of nostalgia for all the rides that had started from this location as I cycled under Wellington Arch.



When I arrived near the Royal Festival Hall Dr John and Geoff were already there - both on big wheels. It was good to catch up and that we would be cycling together for another nocturnal adventure.




Our ride leader was the gentleman that is, Bob. After a brief set of instructions and the always welcome interactive guidance for signals that included: left, right, stopping, bollards and bungalows (don't ask about bungalows) we were off at the stroke of midnight.




For this year I want to go back to my roots as it were and have decided to do as many of these rides as is practically possible on my Brompton. Knowing that I was going to have to carry my own food and more substantial waterproof jacket, I decided to take my larger Carradice saddlebag. This worked out rather well and I can see me repeat this setup when attempting the Dunwich Dynamo in the summer.



The weather was changeable throughout the ride. The rain fell consistently for the first few hours but it was not that heavy or a problem. We also had luck on our side for most of the ride with regards the tailwind, which although strong at times, was not a headwind all the way.

The first half of the ride was fairly flat and we cycled at a nice conversational pace. This suited me fine after the last few weeks of Audax rides.



There were fortunately few punctures or mechanicals so the ride progressed well. As always the front pack stopped every few miles so that the tail could catch up and when the words 'all up!' were shouted out by the Tail End Charlies, we were all off again.




At roughly 25 miles we reached the services at Junction 31. This provided sanctuary from the slight chill - mainly due to the strong winds - but little in the way of refreshments. There was almost nothing open but a Costa and one poor, lone barristar was for about 25 minutes worked off his feet as a stream of cyclists ordered various hot beverages.

I ate the sandwiches and small cake I had brought with me and found it hard to stop yawning and keeping my eyes open, my body obviously protesting at being kept up at this ungodly hour.

When 05:00 arrived we headed out for the second half. As is often the case, I felt the cold a little and cycled purposefully for the next few miles as a way of warming up. In next to no time I felt fine again, with the chill being left behind.




The second half of the ride was at a slightly quicker pace as we pressed for Southend. I enjoyed the long stretches where red lights could be seen in the distance and for several minutes I was alone in my own thoughts. Saturday morning would have been my late dads birthday and I found it hard to believe that it had been three years since he passed away. In fact I remembered back to that time when I went on one of these rides to Southend only a few days after he passed away, as I felt it would do me some good. It did. I am a firm believer that cycling had many benefits apart from trying to get/maintain fitness.




One of the more gleeful moments on these rides is the opportunity to cycle through rolling countryside, where all is calm in that transition into dawn. Apart from the noise the bicycle makes the only other sounds are the many birds singing away almost announcing that a new day has begun.




The second half also featured a few more hills but these were quite tame and not really anything too exerting. With all the wet on the road from the rain I could hear that the chain of my Brompton was filthy and I made a mental note to clean my bike at some point during the remainder of the weekend.




At Rayleigh we ascended our last hill and the back of the ride was well and truly broken. Surprisingly  there were lots of cars about for this time of the day and sadly many drivers were impatient and not prepared to give a great deal of room to go around anyone. A shame really.




As we approached Southend the famous 1.34 mile-long pier came into view. It was about 08:40 and I knew that I could not stay for breakfast as I needed to be back home for another engagement.




Ascending the very steep hill on the way to Southend Central I took one last photograph. This had been a very enjoyable ride covering 62.6 miles. Many thanks to Bob for leading, to the Tail End Charlies and to the always welcome company of Dr John and Geoff.



Getting the 09:03 train I arrived back at Fenchurch Street station at just after 10:00 and was to arrive back at home just before 11:00 so all rather good. As the train got busier the closer we got to London, I was glad my Orange Brompton could fold and take up hardly any space at all.




This was a great start to the season of night rides to the coast. The next official ride is to Whitstable - a particular favourite of mine - in just under four weeks time. I look forward to that one greatly. I hope to be able to do something before this date, which at the moment is looking very likely. Until then, watch this space.



Sunday, 10 March 2019

Another Orange Brompton Audax!

It was only as far back as 24th February that I completed my first ever Audax. If you have read my blog post for that event CLICK HERE you will have read that I was unsure as two whether or not I would do another Audax. Well, zoom forward to yesterday and I found myself taking part in a shorter event that if anything was harder!

The event on question was the 101km 'Kennet Valley Audax.' It was organised by fellow Bromptonian and gentleman that is, Bob. With the start location at Grazeley Village Hall, near Reading, I got in the car and drove there bright and early. I made very good time and eventually found my way to the start location. The village hall was a hive of activity with lots of people having some refreshment before the 101km event started at 9:00 a.m.

I signed in and said hello to Bob who was busy getting other riders ready for the big off. Dr John was already there on on the ballet barre doing his stretching. Also there as a volunteer for the day was Daniel, another fellow Bromptonian. I had not seen him for ages and it was good to catch up.




With the start time drawing near, Bob marched us outside where we were given brief instructions. At 9:00 a.m. sharp we were off in excited pelotons. Dr John and I were the only people foolhardy brave enough to participate on Brompton bicycles!




We set a good early pace and didn't really want to go hell for leather. We had to complete the ride (including any stops) by 4:30 p.m. Our aim was to stop a little as possible and do so when we wanted some fuel, water or a stretch in Dr John's case.

My normal photographing of just about everything that moves and does not move had to be restrained. The only photos I took where when we had stopped somewhere. At one location we stopped for a snack, I saw a 'Huf Haus' almost complete. It was on an extremely good plot and will certainly look lovely when complete.






The last Audax had a killer hill and had an overall elevation gain of 2,631 ft. This ride didn't have a particularly major hill to ascend but it did have an overall evaluation gain of 3,717 ft. This was felt! The ride was never truly flat, with lots of ups and downs.

Somewhere before the halfway point I saw my front dynamo light hanging and knew that this meant the bracket had sheared off...again! I don't know how many times this has happened but I would say this might be the 8th time. I did actually have a spare bracket in my saddlebag - they are that unreliable - but as it was not a night ride I simply taped it to the mudguard and carried on.

Up until the halfway control at Hungerford roughly 29 miles there was a strong headwind pretty much all the way. This made things hard going at times. At one point near Hungerford after cycling over a cattle grid, a gust of wind almost brought me to a halt.

Hungerford was a lovely little town. We got our Audax cards stamped at the official control in a cafe that was filled with other riders. Dr John and I walked our bikes up the high street to find somewhere else. We chanced upon a great little place that sold, sandwiches, cakes and hot drinks. With one of each purchased I consumed them with enthusiasm.






With our comestibles finished we set off for the last half of the ride. We had hoped that as we had ridden into a headwind for all of the first half, the second half might have it at our backs. We didn't experience that but the wind certainly seemed to subside slightly.

The countryside on the entire route was beautiful. Quaint villages came and went and it was all very pleasant cycling through it. At the location below I decided to take the front dynamo light off altogether as it was rattling away and making an annoying noise. As the scene before me was so lovely I took the view that it was the best place to do this.




There seemed to be even more ups and downs for the second half. Again, nothing overly challenging, just lots of it. On the last ride we both experienced quite severe cramp after the ride and not wanting to have a repeat performance, neither of us were taking chances. We took on more fluids that before and Dr John was seen almost limbering up for his solo in Swan Lake when the mood took him.




The last few miles were great. Again the scenery was English countryside at its best and it flattened out slightly. Grazeley Village Hall came upon us rather unexpectedly as a result. We had done it. We stepped inside to get our Audax cards stamped and my second Audax was complete.






Dr John stayed back a while to have a cup of tea and rest his legs before cycling back to his car. I decided to say my goodbyes, get to the car and head for home. Many thanks to Dr John for his company and Bob for the organisation and a great route.





I really enjoyed this ride. It was hard work and in many ways more demanding than the previous Audax. We averaged about 12 mph which considering the headwind for the first half and the ups and downs of the route, is pretty good going I think. The scenery was incredible and it would make a lovely ride in its own right. I don't have any more audax rides planned for the moment but if I can convince Dr John to do another, I am sure we will.

I will see Dr John and Bob next Friday when the season of night rides to the coast begin again, this time to Southend.




Sunday, 24 February 2019

Orange Brompton 113km Audax

During the week Dr John kindly invited me to an Audax that was taking place yesterday, starting and ending in Aylesbury that would be 113km or about 71 miles in old money. The ride would be Brompton bicycles and apart from the challenge of it all, my two old Orange Brompton bicycles that I had sold to the gentlemen that are Steve and Simon, would be ridden by said gentlemen. Checking logistics, I was in.

I set off early, driving to Aylesbury. Parking the car in the recommended car park I could see lots of other cyclist on all kinds of bicycles. Steel, titanium and carbon were all very popular but Dr John, Steve, Simon and I would be the only people mad enough to do it on a Brompton!

This would be my first Audax. In truth apart from knowing it was long-distance cycling I didn't know too much about it other than people did it to qualify for famous events like Paris-Brest-Paris. It was therefore a shock that this ride had to be competed in a set time, answers to questions only participants who had complete the could answer and proof that you had been to certain locations by obtaining a receipt from a shop. 

Where I arrived at the official start, Walton Parish Hall Dr John was already there along with a few participants getting ready. There was a very friendly atmosphere and tea and the light refreshments were provided as part of the entry fee. 


My Orange Brompton All Black

Soon thereafter Steve and Simon arrived with some familiar friends. It was lovely to see the old bikes again and I was happy they they had both gone to great homes.


I recognise this one!

I recognise this one too!!

I had stupidly left my water bottle in the car so had to make a mad dash to go and retrieve it as we were nearing the 0900 start!

With bottle secured we headed off. For me this would be the unknown. Enquires as to whether this ride might qualify for a place on Paris-Brest-Paris were greeted with a polite no and hearing about what one does need to qualify for it, a cold shiver travelled down my neck.


A very friendly setting off point
  
Our progress was brisk and the countryside was lovely. My usual weakness of stopping to take photos was impossible as we were on a strict time limit.

Country lanes

After a few miles we stopped to regroup. Steve and Simon were formidable cyclists and set a great paced for the rest to follow. When we did stop Dr John proceeded to prop his leg up on anything that didn't move so that he could stretch his legs. It was for me but a step away from the late Dame Margot Fonteyn.


After only a few miles the roads were engulfed in a heavy fog that brought temperatures down a tad. For me this only added to the adventure.




At roughly 20 miles in the hill that on the ride profile looked formidable, proved to be formidable! It was a long and gruelling climb well and truly up into the Chilterns. I soon bottomed out on the 6 gears my Brompton possessed and then it was a case of just trying to keep going. Large Red Kites who had been our constant companions throughout the ride almost seem to be laughing overhead at four people doing this ride on Brompton bicycles.

The the top finally arrived we headed towards Reading and passed a large common of land where the fog was back and even worse than before.



Yes he's at it again


The next few miles proved to be easier and at Caversham we arrived at the official Audax control where one had to buy something and get a receipt to prove you had been there. I am not sure I have ever stepped a foot inside a 'Budgens' before but it was an oasis. The ploughman's roll was eaten with enthusiasm on a park bench not far away.

While there we talked to a lovely lady who asked about what we were doing. She told us that the last time she had a bike was during the war. It was a heavy steel affair with a metal seat. I could relate to what this might have been like as I eyed the Brooks saddle on my beloved Orange Brompton All Black. When I cycled to Whitstable on it, I would have suggested it might have been made of metal too!




As we started the return back to Aylesbury the sun shone, the fog was gone  and it was a glorious day for cycling. Snowdrops and crocus were out in bloom adding to the countryside idyl.





We came upon the hill that we had climbed earlier in the day and descended this at speed. As I made my descent I could not believe that I had cycled up it at all. The descent seemed to go on and on and and as I got glimpses of cyclists making their ascent on the other side of the road, I could see how hard it was on their faces.

We stopped briefly at the final control which was a garden centre where again we had to buy something and get a receipt.

I have to confess I found the last 30 miles hard going and could not seem to go faster than the pace I was feeling comfortable at cycling. Dr John almost at the end of the ride was complaining of cramp. With about 5 miles to go I had a second wind and found that I could keep just about pace with Simon and Steve. We remained in a little peloton until Walton Parish Hall came into view.




We had done it with some time to spare. I had completed my first Audax. We retired to the seating area and had a few cups of tea, and light refreshments that were in abundance for those who had completed the event. After chewing the fat for a while and hearing the truly epic plans Steve has - some on his Brompton - we went our separate ways and headed home.




This has been my longest ride this year and it was hard earned. When I got home my legs were telling me that I had just done 71 miles. I didn't take enough water was my first thought and if I do something like this again, one bottle isn't enough for me at least.  I enjoyed this ride. It was a challenge, the company was great and it was my first Audax. Would I do another? I am not sure that anything longer than the 100km events is for me if I am honest. I like doing things on my terms rather than to a schedule. If I could find a 100km event and get someone to go with me (I wouldn't like doing this alone) I probably would give it a go.