I rose bright and early, partook in breakfast and was off on the overground train to Richmond. Before boarding the train I was accosted by no less than four people who wanted to take a picture of me in my new Brompton Club cycling jersey.
When on the train I was playing around with my iPhone and posting a few messages on our Facebook page informing that I was on a train bound for Richmond and four people had taken my photo. Not very interesting however it seems to be the done thing. In doing this my riding partner BumbleBee replied that a couple of mountain bikers on his train had afforded him some admiring glances. Having noticing a couple of mountain bikers on the train I was on, I looked down the carriage to see my him sitting there. Sending him a text he soon joined me where I was sitting and we chewed the fat until we arrived at Richmond.
At Richmond we awaited for the troops to arrive and memories of last year flooded back. Those who took part where:
Jenny's friend (on a big wheeled bike)
Dina (who was to join us at Waltham St Lawrence)
Just before 09:00 with David navigating we were off. I was going to Oxford again but this time things were very different...
A year ago I had already been on a few longer rides with the 'Small Wheels Big Difference' chaps. There idea was to ride from Lands End to John O'Groats on Brompton bicycles. They did this aplomb and I had joined them on a few of their training rides. There Oxford to London ride (my blog entry of which I have provided a like to at the bottom of this post) was a journey I would not forget. Read it after this and you will discover why. Added to this was last years ride to Oxford along the same route (again you will find a link to my blog entry for this below).
Last year there was a mild trepidation. Last year I was unprepared despite having already ridden similar distances. This year I felt fitter and confident. This year I could not wait to have a go at 'that hill.' This year I was all but certain that I would find not only the ride easier but the hill would hold no problems for me. After all I had conquered the dreaded Ditchling Beacon after riding through the night. I had a wrong to put right and I couldn't wait! A very similar situation to Luke Skywalker but without the Ewoks.
Riding through Bushy Park we saw scores of people partaking in the 5km park run. Many were there to enjoy themselves but a few had their game face on and meant business. I could spot them a mile off as it mirrored my own.
Before long we were riding parallel to the Thames. Even though it was a cloudy grey day the banks of the Thames always provide beautiful, picturesque views.
The choice of which of my Brompton bikes to take was very easy. I choose my Titanium Orange Brompton, now an S type. I LOVE this bike and it just seems to fit me like a glove. I am 6' 1" and as I write this the day after cycling some 70+ miles in total I feel no back or neck strain. The lower riding position just seems to work for me.
Our first mini stop was at a pretty lock. I took the opportunity to adjust my derailer as it wasn't shifting as smoothly as I would have liked. With a little tinkering I managed to get it back to the way I liked it and before long were were off again.
As we cycled further the river views competed against each other, with each stretch trying to outdo the visual treats of those just past. Dog walkers, joggers and those out for a stroll looked on with bemused expressions as a snaking Brompton peloton make its purposeful way towards its goal.
My other riding partner Mark (King of the Hill) W couldn't attend this ride and I know that he too would have liked to have had a go at 'that hill.' We have a very good riding relationship and tend to push for a quicker pace. Often like a couple of young children out on their bikes we can be seen racing to the front of the peloton, just because... As a result I occasionally relished in the role of a tail end Charlie marking corners. If truth be told there was little need for me to do this but it meant that when the last person had passed me I could clip in and zoom off, passing as many of our group as I could to reach the rear wheel of David.
We arrived at a pub called the 'Moneys Forehead' in excellent time. This was the point at which we met up with Mick Blackman co-founder of our happy little club. I ordered a vegetarian breakfast as of late I have sort of gone off meat? BumbleBee opted for a the largest breakfast they did, so large he could not finish it. With pure saturated fat flowing through his arteries he and the rest of us set off for the more demanding part of the ride.
Unfortunately I pressed the wrong button on my Garmin Edge 510 in error so I have data for Richmond to Egham (Monkeys Forehead) and Egham (Moneys Forehead) to Oxford rather than one complete ride.
If you look at the ride data for the first half of the ride you will see that it was fairly flat. It was on this part of the ride I managed to get to over 25 mph on the flat after a tail end Charlie stint. The next half was going to be more demanding and have 'that hill.' The views kept coming as we cycled through Windsor Great Park, passing the famous polo field and Guards Polo Club.
|Windsor Great Park|
|The Polo Field|
|The Guards Club|
With more inclines the group started to spread out. David set a wonderful pace at the front. Hugging his back wheel and probably getting a tow, we pressed on at a good pace. We were making good time and already this group of riders were showing that they could cope with it. As we cycled along open stretches of road with hedges either side, occasionally a gap would reveal quite stunning views of the Chilterns at their very best.
|The open road - the only way to travel|
|The rear wheel of David|
|M40 - The most common route to Oxford|
As we approached Waltham St Lawrence we soon arrived at 'The Bell' a public house, again a stop off location from last year. Here some of the group had a drink, while some had something to eat. BumbleBee wisely decided not to have any food. The Bell is the stuff of picture postcards. The heavy beamed and timber 15th Century public house definitely is the real thing, traditional and not modern.
|Old world buildings and villages|
|Waltham St Lawrence|
Our bikes were parked just across the road from the pub but I made sure that I had my eye on my Titanium one all the time - just in case!
Shortly after leaving Waltham St Lawrence a railway bridge we wanted to cross was blocked due to engineering works. Signed directed us through a field and through the tattered remains of what was once a barbed fence. With Brompton bikes held aloft we carefully negotiated our off-road section of our journey which many of use won't forget in a hurry!!?
Reaching the lovely Henley on Thames rowing eights could be seen practicing. It was also the point where we said goodbye to two of our group Anne and Amanda who sadly had to return to London.
At the about the 40 mile point (the 23 mile point on my ride data for Egham to Oxford) we all stopped to take some water and a few snacks as it marked the point at which there would be a steady climb for the next 7-8 miles with good amount of this at the end being 'that hill.' The group was told that we would wait for each other at the top of the hill and that they could make their own way up there at their own pace.
We set off and David set a very purposeful pace. I briefly took a turn at the front as we pressed further on, leaving the rest of the group behind. (I must do more of this on future rides as David took the lions share). David must be at least 10 years older than I but you would not know it. He is supremely fit and looked effortless as he cycled along.
Soon the signs for Pishill...'that hill' could be seen and as we changed gear due to the steeper incline we knew that it wasn't far away. I could not wait. I had already waited a year for this and I wanted to defeat the Dark Side was 'that hill.'
It was a tough ascent but I have to say David and I wasted little time in besting it. Reaching the top I had mixed feelings. I was happy that I got all the way up without a foot touching the ground but now questioned why I had held 'that hill' with such respect? It didn't seem that bad. If it had of gone on further I'm pretty sure I could have carried on. Perhaps I had build this up in my mind as 12 months ago it WAS more. Back then it got the better of me. Twelve months on I am a fitter and stronger rider. Like Luke Skywalker I have learned, made progress and taken advice from many a wise Jedi Master (you know who you are chaps).
|My Titanium Orange Brompton at the top of 'that hill.'|
|Down there in the gloom is the road up to the top|
The next rider up was Jenny's friend on his big wheeled bike just under 5 minutes after David and myself. Next was Jenny on her two speed Brompton which was a brilliant effort!! Next was Rob shortly followed by Dina. BumbleBee reached the top about 20 minutes after David and myself which was much quicker than last year! My riding partner was a different rider and like me has grown a great deal in the last year. Finally Michael was not too far behind. After a quick rest we were off again with Oxford in our sights.
|Riders taking a rest. Isn't that Peter from the Tweed Run? He gets everywhere!|
As we progressed we were again treated to some gorgeous scenery. A field of sun flowers caught my eye as did copious numbers of Red Kites who circles overhead and at times swooped low as if to see what we were up to.
We reached Oxford in good time, much earlier than last year. Saying our goodbyes BumbleBee, Jenny, her friend and I made our way to the train station for a train back to London. It was lovely meeting Rob and Dina and I hope that they will come out to play again on future rides. Equally it was good to see Jenny again and meet her friend and perhaps he can be encouraged to buy a Brompton?
On the train it was standing room only but after the high of defeating 'that hill' I didn't care. At Paddington we said our goodbyes and I headed out for the short ride to St Johns Wood. Unfortunately, as frequently happens with me I got hopelessly lost! I cannot describe the route I took but I ended up cycling another 7 miles! Somehow I ended up in South Kensington and once there in familiar territory I found my way!!
It was a brilliant day out. I am glad that I was able to defeat the Dark Side - even if it was perhaps in my mind. In case some of you are wondering whether after reading this I now now regard myself a Jedi Master...the answer is no! I still have a long way to go. I want to get fitter, stronger, lose a few more lbs, perform better in Brompton specific races and keep pace with David!. I have still have a long way to go and my apprenticeship is not over!
Thanks to all those who came but special thanks to David for his excellent navigation and interesting route!!!