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.

Sunday 7 September 2014

Last London to Brighton Overnight for 2014??

It had been a very busy week at work and on Friday I was looking forward to another nocturnal Brompton adventure later on that evening.This particular adventure would take the form of a London to Brighton overnight.

Saying goodbye to Mrs Orange and my Orangettes I made the short journey to the top of Hyde Park near Marble Arch. Hyde Park at night, for me at least, has always been eerie, unearthly and perhaps sinister. I am no believer in ghosts or any such nonsense but it certainly has an atmosphere. Tyburn Tree was only a few yards away from the top of Hyde Park and heaven knows what has gone on under the cover of darkness over the years.

I recall as a student using it as a shortcut on my way home when in the distance I saw a chap dressed as Jack the Ripper - top hat, tails, doctors bag...large knife! When he started running towards me, I took flight. I have to say that I did show myself up ever so slightly for two reasons. First, the chap dressed as Jack the Ripper was part of a Japanese television documentary on London being filmed.  Running at full speed in a pair of country brogues and shouting out, 'bloody hell!' was not my finest hour. Second, I unashamedly let out a banshee-like wail a 12 year old girl would have been proud of. It was therefore with some urgency that I peddled towards Hyde Park Corner as the memory was still very much with me!

Yes, quite an atmosphere at night!

I had Hyde Park Corner to myself when I arrived so decided to take a few photos while I waited for others to arrive.

Our ride leader and organiser was Olaf. He is a serious cyclist, all round good egg and has been on some stunning rides in Europe. We were in safe hands. After the customary and interactive safely talk we headed off for Brighton on the stoke of midnight.

I was very pleased to be joined on this ride by Geoff, David and Anne and as always they provided excellent company. It was also great to see Mark (King of the Hill) but only briefly. He was on his way home from work and came to say hello but sadly could not join us on the ride.

The route was very similar to those we had done before and I actually remembered some of the route. The weather was great too. There was no mention of rain in any forecast and the temperature seemed to stay pretty hot for the entire ride. I had intended to wear a new PROVIZ cycling jacket but knew that it would be too hot for it. Another time.

I had opted to take my P Type with me for this ride. I have to say that I am really pleased with it. (I have possibly written this already)! Having the SON dynamo hub and lighting made it the best bike for this type of ride. Again I found the lights to be more than adequate and the bright, whitish light worked well to illuminate the road ahead. I also used my Hope Vision front light but kept it on flash mode for the entire ride. The only time I didn't was on a long and fast downhill where I needed more light out in front to see what was up ahead. Apart from that I was again very pleased with it. The rear dynamo light I also find very good but always back it up with a flashing rear light attached higher up on my saddle bag.

The stop point was Gatwick Airport at about 30 miles in. To my amazement everything was open and it was quite busy. I bought some sandwiches and a bar of chocolate and happily eat it. Anne having returned from the toilets remarked that they were excellent and that we really should see them. I wondered how good a public toilet could be and was instantly curious.

When the time came I strolled to the toilets expecting to be sorely disappointed. I was not! Sliding frosted glass doors allowed you to enter your own personal ablutions area. Toilet one end, sink and personal Dyson-type hand dryer at the other.

As public toilets go, they were magnificent. Pipped music that was jazzy and possibly Jamie Cullum only enhanced the experience. There are toilets and Gatwick Airport toilets! The only letdown was that there wasn't an attendant of some sort offering a welcome and goodbye. I suppose it was 03:30 in the a.m. and you can't have everything.

I did want to take a picture of the frosted glass sliding doors but not wanting to be arrested and be the cause of a scene, I thought better of it!

Setting off from Gatwick I didn't suffer my usual feelings of cold and if anything I could have worn just a cycling jersey for this ride.

One of the great things about these rides is meeting and having a chat with lots of different people. It is great to find out why they like cycling, what sort of rides they go on and often their reaction at seeing a Brompton on a ride like this. Mr Mac a fine gentleman who lives in Northampton, initially took the wrong train but made it in time for this ride.  

With dawn approaching, birds started to sing and other forms of wildlife - mice, voles, frogs - ventured out of the darkness.

Just before the dreaded Ditchling Beacon one of the participants wives was waiting in a car park handing out cups of coffee. This was quite lovely of her and I cannot tell you how good it tasted!!

Seeing that David and Anne were heading on to the road leading to the Beacon, I decided to head for it too. I wondered how my P Type would fare - with me on it of course? I have attempted the Beacon twice before. The first time saw me having to stop and then continue - fail. The second I managed to do - just about. Would I be able to do it this time? After last weeks very flat as a pancake ride at the Bikeathon which was as demanding as unfolding my Brompton, I was looking forward to some proper hills and something with a little more bite. 

David was off into the distance and I knew that he would easily do it. He is a quite amazing cyclist. I saw Anne motoring away confidently. I soon ran out of gears and actually found the granny 44T chainring a hinderance as I was spinning too much and not covering enough distance for my liking. (50T is going on at some point methinks).

I used the lower riding position for some of the ride and found this to be very good at shifting weight forward. It is much lower than even my S Type and I wouldn't fancy using it all the time. For this purpose it worked well. The Beacon is quite a formidable climb for a Brompton and just like last time I thought I had done it and finished but it was in fact a false summit!

Cycling on the Beacon just went up and up but I was pretty confident that I would make it. It felt easier this time round - but only as it wasn't raining. Last time it did nothing but. I had done it. Ditchling Beacon conquered. Some of the fellow riders on road bikes were mightily impressive and took the Beacon in their strides.

I celebrated my conquest of the Beacon by taking a few photos of the views and my P Type at the top. It then dawned on me that my pre-booked  train ticket back to London was 08:19 and it was 07:15. Saying goodbye to David I made a hasty exit and headed off for Brighton station.

Using my trusty Nexus 5 with Google Maps to navigate me, it stated that it would take 35 minutes. I would just about do it and have time to get my prepaid ticket from the machine - assuming I didn't get lost!

Thankfully, I made it there without too many wrong turns. My train was on time and shortly after 09:00 I arrived at Victoria.

This was a good ride and I enjoyed it greatly. Many thanks to Olaf for taking the lead on this. As I type this I feel pretty good. The legs and the rest of me for that matter feel fine. Roll on next week when I will return to Brighton for a very different ride. This could very well be the last overnight ride to Brighton this year but you never know a few brave and intrepid types might just fancy giving it a go?!

Yet again a Brompton proves itself to be a highly versatile bicycle. It is as happy doing longer distance adventures as it is on an urban commute!

Map and ride data