Saturday 31 December 2016

Ending 2016 with the Rapha 500

It was back in March that I lost my dad, having lost my mum less than a year before. Subsequently the Christmas period has been hard at times and there has been much reflection on the memories of years gone by - it being the first Christmas without both my parents. Many are saying that they are glad to see the back of 2016. I don't really subscribe to that view but 2016 has been a difficult one for yours truly and I look forward to 2017.

I have had some time off work over the Christmas period and this coincided with the arrival of a new mountain bike that is very different to the bicycles I own already. I have taken to it with more than a little enthusiasm and have enjoyed being able to tackle routes not considered previously. Perhaps having this new toy and wanting to keep myself occupied over Christmas I decided to have a go at the 'Rapha 500.'

The 'Rapha 500' was a challenge the clothing company of the same name made to customers back in 2010 to cycle 500km on the eight days between Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. I have not participated in this during previous years but with a new bicycle and new possibilities wanted to this year.

Grand Union Canal

Lots of people have taken up the challenge but the weather has not been wonderful during the past few days with fog and ice on the road. More than a few have come off their bikes. My plan was a rather simple one. I would use my mountain bike as much as possible on surfaces that were best suited to its ample attributes  - off road.

Off-road easy on a mountain bike
In addition as I am an early riser, I wanted to be out and return home having done the necessary miles at the point where Mrs Orange and the Orangettes would be just about ready to venture out somewhere. This way I would not inconvenience them and would be able to have the rest off the day as normal.

Setting off each morning I only took the bare essentials. This consisted of:
  • 1 x inner tube
  • 2 x CO2 bottles
  • 1 x CO2 inflator
  • Small high pressure pump (with duct tape wrapped around)
  • Tyre levers
  • Emergency tyre boot
  • Pack of pre-glued patches
  • Light rain jacket
  • 1 x multitool 
  • Small amount of cash
  • Credit card
  • iPhone
  • Front/rear lights
  • Garmin Edge 820
I didn't bother with a water bottle as I knew that I would be able to find somewhere I could buy a cup of tea. A camera was also left at home as I had the iPhone if I wanted to take a picture.

One early Christmas present was a 'Quad Lock' case and bicycle mount for my iPhone. This has been brilliant and allowed me to see where I am on a map at all times, get turn by turn directions - if required - via google maps and work hand in hand with the navigational features of my Garmin 820. As a result I have actually been able to cycle into uncharted territory with greater confidence and without getting hopelessly lost. 

Knowing that I take too many photos when cycling as stated I decided not to take a separate camera. If I did I would be a great deal slower, so I rationed myself to a few photos using my iPhone. As the protective cover was on the phone most of the time to keep it from being splashed with mud - something you have to get used to when cycling off-road on a mountain bike - I couldn't be bothered to faff around with it.

Almost all of my Rapha 500 km's were off-road and on the Grand Union Canal. My longest journey was from my home to Little Venice, then back out as far as Berkhamsted and finally home. This was a particular favourite which I completed twice.

When passing Ladbrook Grove I passed Kensal Green Cemetery - where both of my parents had their funeral service.  As always when cycling alone ones mind races with all sorts of things. I could imagine my dads wheezing laugh if he had of been told of me cycling on a mountain bicycle along the Grand Union Canal for a small piece of cloth - you may or may not get in the post - to sew onto a cycling jersey or similar.

Kensal Green Cemetery

For a few days I cycled each morning to Richmond Park and back. While there I took advantage of its off-road Tamsin Trail. I found this very agreeable and will definitely return in the near future. The trail is just over 7 miles and completing a few circuits - if early enough to avoid dog walkers, joggers and the walking dead who can't quite make their mind up what they are doing - doesn't take that long.

Tamsin Trail
Another route I hope to do again in better weather was cycling to and from Windsor. I really enjoyed this and it also provided the best halfway stop in terms of shops selling tea, bacon rolls and cake!

When trying to make up the miles of an evening, I would complete circuits of my local area. I mainly did this on my Condor road bike but also enlisted my trusty P-type Brompton. In all I was able to cycle around 80 km a day. This combined with me getting lost and therefore adding a few additional miles in order to get back on track resulted in me completing the challenge with a day to spare.

My new mountain bike has clocked up the most miles towards reaching the Rapha 500 challenge and I have enjoyed getting to know the new addition to the stable. It is a brilliant bike and I can see us becoming close friends. My Condor road bike is just lovely on the open road, swiftly gliding over any distance and my Whyte is I suppose the the off-road equivalent. I also love the fact that I have done most of the miles on a mountain bike - not perhaps the image that comes to mind when thinking of Rapha!

I have enjoyed the challenge of doing the Rapha 500 on many levels and sure that in better weather my off-road adventures along the Grand Union Canal and Thames will be tweaked and added to. I think that this time next year I would also like to give this another go. My cycling has obviously wained in 2016 and I hope that 2017 will see me back on track somewhat.

Some of you out there have already entered into 2017 but I wish you all a very happy and prosperous new year. Keep cycling and make sure that you go on adventures of your own.

Thursday 29 December 2016

Tamsin Trail Richmond Park

Yesterday I was up bright and off for a cycle around and old haunt, Richmond Park. It seemed like ages since I had been there but it was to be a very different route to my usual.

Taking my mountain bike - which I have to report is more fun than I had ever expected - instead of my usual circuits on the road, I ventured to something called the Tamsin Trail.  This is a trail just over 7 miles in length going round the outer edge of the park. The surface is pretty good and it is shared by other cyclists, joggers, walkers and what appeared to be the walking dead (those without a clue where they were going or any sense that other people where walking, running or cycling past).

I got there quite early and my first lap was a great deal faster as there were fewer people about. I have not included any ride data for this as my journey started from a friends flat in South Kensington.

The second lap was a great deal slower as lots of people were quite rightly taking advantage of a lovely morning.

The trail itself is rather good fun and although I did see a few road bikes on it, I would say that it is definitely best for hybrids or mountain bikes. The latter were certainly out in force and there were as many uber expensive mountain bikes as there were equivalent road bikes on the road circuit.

At a few points on the ride around deer were quite happily munching away and blasé about humans taking pictures of them.

When I reached one of the cafes within the park I could not resist a bacon roll and a tea. These were consumed with much enthusiasm.

My new mountain bike and I are getting on rather well so far. I do like being able to cycle over the rough stuff quickly and being able to cycle quite happily to Paddington via the Grand Union Canal instead of take the tube has been brilliant. I have done this on a Brompton a few times during the summer months but this has been a quite slow and jittery affair. I am much happier doing this on big wheels and especially ones with such grip.

I do still like my Brompton bikes a great deal but they have been resigned to what I suppose they are intended for - convenient folding bikes for ones commute. For the moment at least the fun is definitely with my Condor road bike for distances/speed and my mountain bike for urban rough and tumble...

Map and ride data

Monday 26 December 2016

Dirt stripe on a mountain bike adventure

Those who know me in a cycling capacity would probably say that I am a little OCD as far a my bicycles are concerned. I am not alone in this. You know who you are. I mean, my Condor road bike has not been allowed out in the rain and would not leave the house even if there the slightest prediction of precipitation. Yes, I like to keep my bikes clean. My new mountain bike has taken me to a state of being I had not thought possible. More on this later.

An early riser and one of those people who do not like to waste a day, I was soon up and out on my new bike. It was a little before 07:00 and it was still dark. I took my powerhouse of a front light - Exposure Toro - with me as part of my route involved navigating a woodland trail. Yes you read that right. Me on a woodland trail, off-road and in the still darkness of dawn.

I am glad that I brought it with me as proceedings would have been terrifying without. Strange little creatures ran across my path. Unknown flying objects, tweeted and flew as I glided past. One very small section has an extremely steep incline but even going halfway up the chainset it was a piece of cake.

Much of my route saw me cycling along the Grand Union Canal. I am liking this little route into London as it is traffic free and on this bike does not take too long.

I really like my new bike. On the open road it is very comfortable and although I am slower on it compared to my road bike, I am can still happily cycle along much faster than I can on any of my Brompton bikes. Once on a canal towpath, trail etc.., things are a very different picture and it is in its element. There is just no way I on these surfaces - although others I am sure might be able to - could cycle as fast or as confidently.

There were a few people out an about, mainly dog walkers, joggers, other cyclists and what appeared to be a few people walking to work. The vast majority of people I passed were very pleasant and responded in kind to greetings of, 'good morning.' Unfortunately I encountered a couple of walkers who walked shoulder to shoulder and would not give way to any cyclist or jogger. I watched this from afar and when I got close I simply cycled on the grass to the right of the path and shouted out, 'Merry Christmas!'

As I cycled along the sun came out and I spied the familiar and welcome sight of Trellick Tower. This is a Grade II listed building in the brutalist style designed by the architect, Erno Goldfinger. It is a love it or hate it sort of thing I suppose and I am in the former camp.

When I reached Paddington Basin which has been and is still being developed I stopped for a cup of tea bought from one of those coffee establishments that happened to be open and a few sweets I had brought with me.

Two states of men, one standing and the other walking by artist Sean Henry caught my attention for a few moments. I do like these but he does seem to be a one trick pony as much of this other work is along a very similar theme.

After taking these last pictures I turned round and headed back home. In all I cycled 27.93 miles at at average speed of 12.2 mph. The maximum speed was 19.5 mph which I did on a section of flattish road just after entering / exiting the canal section.

When I got home the rear of my jacket was covered with a splattered mud stripe and only then did it dawn on me that the seat of my shorts was wet. I will have to invest in one of those Ass Savers, although the wider version for mountain bikes.

My bike was filthy so before us all having to venture out I gave it another therapeutic clean. It is really strange but I still don't care what state this bike - or I - get into. It would seem pointless buying it if I did. I just love the fact that this bike really can go over almost any surface - however steep - and if it or I get a little dirty in the process, well that is half the fun!

Saturday 24 December 2016

A new steed for the hard stuff

Of late my cycling adventures have been few and far between as have my blog posts. On the cycling front I mean to put this right. As far as blogging is concerned, we shall have to see.

I own three bicycles. My Condor Fratello road bike which has been a revelation. My trusty P6L Brompton which is my commuter hack and a super light S6L which I rarely use. Do I need another bicycle? Probably not but I have been itching for a very specific type of bicycle for very specific adventures for ages.

I have written before that I would never spend another Orange pound on another Brompton. I have to say that I stick by this for several reasons.

First of all, Brompton in their wisdom have halted orange as a colour option. Mentioning colours, I have been very underwhelmed by the copious 'special edition' colours which seem to be released at an alarming rate.

Colour is one thing but with regards the components of the bike itself there just doesn't seem to be a huge advance. Now I know that there are new shifters, M-type bar, new grips and a wider saddle but I cannot help but recall seeing a blank wall at the last Brompton World Championships I attended where participants could write up suggestions of what they would like to see on Brompton bikes in the future. It just seems that many of the better ones are unlikely to see the light of day anytime soon. Companies like 'Kinetics' appear more innovative with options for disc brakes, twist-shift gearing and greater range of gear options.

This all probably reads as though I am bashing Brompton. I am not. The truth is, when I took my Condor road bike out for its first long distant ride I could sadly see the shortcomings of my humble Brompton. Gearing, brakes, ride comfort, speed and maintaining that speed on my road bike wasn't just better, it was a lot better. I could also add quick release wheels and a lighter package to this as well.

Of course it would be foolish to compare them. I still love my Brompton bicycles and nothing out there is as user friendly with their ability to fold and go anywhere, however  for longer rides I now relish the chance to use my road bike over my Brompton any day.

Owning a Brompton has been nothing but a positive experience and laid the foundations for adventures I had not thought possible let alone contemplated. In addition I have met and made friends with some wonderful people - some of whom are like me spreading their wings as far as cycling options go.

Isn't it lovely!

So, my new steed is a mountain bike by the British company, 'Whyte.' Lots of research went into what bike I was going to get and what I wanted to use it for. When I started looking one thing that shocked me was that the prices of the higher end mountain bike was equal to and in many instances exceeded its road bike equivalent.

Essentially I wanted a mountain bike capable of confident riding over the rough stuff - canal paths, riverside paths, bridal ways, trails and Sustrans routes which can turn out to be navigating through an open field with lions, tigers and bears, oh my! I also wanted it to have good brakes and gearing that made ascending hills easy. It also needed to allow me to participate in light cross country / off road events in the future.

The bike I eventually went for ticked all those boxes and more.  The fact that it had lots of orange elements was - ahem - coincidental.

The brakes are certainly impressive. Hydraulic with 180mm discs on the front and 160mm on the rear, it certainly stops!

The front shock absorbers- a RockShox Recon Silver -  are excellent and like most mountain bikes can be dialled to different degrees of travel which makes things firm or more absorbent. I took my new steed for a ride along the Grand Union Canal with some awful surfaces at various sections but all felt as though I were riding on a pretty good road surface.

Beefy brakes

The quick release on the front fork has a through axle rather that a standard quick release skewer. This adds a big of extra beef to proceedings and also means that alining the wheel first time is all but guaranteed.

The gearing was a concern. It has a SRAM NX 1 x 11 groupset so there is only one chainring and no derailleur to worry about. Very much in vogue in the past few years. The cassette at the rear is 11-42t and the 42t is bigger than the 160mm brake disc.

I write worry as my concern was whether I could live with a 32t chainring and whether I was just going to spin out on the open road? Well the good news was I didn't have to worry. Now this bike is not going to compete with my road bike in terms of acceleration/speed but I could quite happily cruise along at 20mph on the flats without turning the pedals like a maniac. I suspect that I would spin out at not much more, perhaps 22mph but so far road conditions have not allowed me to put this to the test.

For the last two days I have cycled quite a bit on the Grand Union Canal. Yesterday saw me cycling to Little Venice. A few very steep canal bridges with those raised groves used in the past for someone to get purchase when dragging a barge by a rope, provided no fuss at all. This was due to the gearing which is astonishing. I love hills and I fancy on this bike, with this gearing I could ascend just about anything.

One section on this mornings adventure of about 2 miles going towards Denham was nothing more than thick mud. On my Brompton (no way with my Condor road bike) I would have been off pushing through and in the process of having a fit of the vapours as it was getting dirty. On this bike I simply moved the chain up to a couple of larger cogs and was able to easily cycle through the near treacle-like mud.

The wheels are 29r's and the tyre choice is differentiated from front to back. The front is an ultra aggressive Maxxis, Ardent and the rear an only slightly less aggressive Maxxis, Crossmark II. These tyres and rims are tubeless ready so if I take that route in the future I can.

The huge tyres together with the front shocks seem to work some sort of magic on terrible surfaces, making them seem like a good road.

I was concerned that the tyres being so big and butch would make things horrible for when using on the road. They don't. Yes I will be slower on the road when compared to a thinner road tyre but their ability to let you go much faster over awful surfaces is wonderful. The grip they afford is immense and this does instil confidence.

The stock seat is light and very comfortable and I have no plans to replace it.

The handlebar is wide at 720mm. This is really comfortable and good for road and off road cycling. It also provides vast real estate for lights, Garmin and phone mounts. I like it. In fact I one of the reasons I have felt confident in cycling off-road and into new territory is because I can mount my iPhone 7+ and get turn by turn navigation.

The grips are very...grippy and I suppose like all hydraulic brake levers, only the slightest touch is needed.

The headset is silky smooth and very different to that of my Brompton which by comparison is not. It is also better than that of my Condor road bike.

This is obviously a much larger bike than my road bike but despite the beefy tyres, front suspension and heavy duty rims it weighs in at 12.5kg. My P-type Brompton is heavier.

This morning I headed out again on the Grand Union Canal and when I got home the bike was splattered in mud, as was I. This did not bother me. A mountain bike is meant for journeys you wouldn't or couldn't do on other bikes. (I did give it a clean naturally). I won't be wearing my finest Rapha on this unless it is in the summer and dry!

Perhaps you can understand why I would not buy another Brompton. If they made it considerably lighter, had better brakes, better gears and reintroduced the colour orange...who knows? 

I can see me using my new mountain bike quite a bit in the coming months and I am already planning the routes for several adventures that I would be terrified to contemplate on a Brompton or my Condor road bike. 

The last time I owned a mountain bike was when I was a young teenager. I recall going everywhere on it as it was fun to ride. This new bike is as much fun if not more - perhaps also because of all the rather lovely technical goodies that all work well together. With this added to the stable I think there will be many more adventures ahead.

Friday 23 December 2016

RidePac - the king of cycling wallets?

When cycling I have stored my iPhone, credit cards, Oyster card, cash and other bits and pieces in everything from posh leather cycling wallets, saddlebags to freezer bags. The lovely people at sent me one of their RidePac's in Day-Glo orange no less for review purposes.

When I opened the padded envelop the first thing that struck me was that the packaging was rather good.

The colour of the RidePac was not just orange it was my kind of orange! It was light and the form factor was spot on. A really nice touch was to include a handy RideClean wipe, just in case I suppose.

Look at that colour!

My instant thought was whether my iPhone 7+ would fit. The quick answer is yes it does. Inside the RidePac there is a phone slip pocket and a soft padded microfibre-type lining to keep your screen free from scratches. It is a tight fit initially but after taking out / putting in the phone a few times loosened things up. The fit is very good and I imagine that if you have a phone of similar size to an iPhone 7+ it will fit. Smaller phones fit well too without a great deal of rattling around.

On the other side to the phone slip pocket is a zipped pocket which I found useful for coins. In addition to this is a credit card holder.

The outer zip is excellent. It has short zip puller with a rubber 'V' for VeloPac. This makes opening the closing the RidePac easy in cold weather or when wearing gloves.

The zip is water resistant but then so is the outer fabric and inner materials. I know that many phones including the iPhone 7 are now waterproof but knowing things are safe from water ingress does provide a degree of security.

The RidePac fits perfectly in the rear pocket of any jersey/jacket and with dimensions of 100mm x 185mm it is just an excellent size.

The RidePac costs £28 which I have to say is ex ellen value for what you get. It looks bulletproof to me and will definitely stand up to many years of faithful service.

I also own the Rolls Royce of cycling phone wallets in the form of a plus size 'All-Conditions Phone Pocket' by Bellroy. This is a waxed leather number that is also waterproof and the mention of Rolls Royce has probably given you a clue that it isn;t exactly cheap. In fact it retails for £89.

Which do I prefer? For there is no competition. The RidePac wins. I do of course love the colour (other colours are of course available) but the form factor is just better in terms of size and weight. It is comfortable in ones rear jersey pocket to the extent that you forget it is there. I cannot say that with the Bellroy.

If you are in the market for a great little cycling phone, cash, credit card wallet that is waterproof, tough as nails and looks great, you should give them a go. Sorry VeloPac but if you are wondering why I have not sent this back to you, it just might get lost in the post!

Link to the VeloPac website

Sunday 11 December 2016

Back along the Thames Path

It seems like ages since I was out and about on one of my bicycles. The prospect of clear skies and no rain brought me to the conclusion that I should get out of the house and go for a ride. So that is just what I did.

I decided to cycle along a tried and tested route that always seems to bring a smile to my face. From the photos and title to this blog post, it was of course the Thames Path, heading east from St Paul's Cathedral to the Thames Flood Barrier and back again.

I used to come here when it was all fields! 

As of late the usual suspects have all gone off in their own directions and if honest, so have I. We rarely seem to ride together now, so this was a solo effort.

Crossing the Millennium Bridge there were already scores of people about. People taking selfies, photographers with tripods and heavy SLR cameras taking arty shots of the London skyline, joggers, dog walkers and other cyclists.

As I neared Tower Bridge I got off my bike and started walking with it. Some sort of security guard, who I suspect was the village idiot from where he came, abruptly informed me that I could not ride my bike across the bridge. I politely informed him that I was halfway across the bridge and that he had seen me from some distance walking with my bicycle?!

At various points I decided to do the touristy sort of thing and take a few photos while there was no traffic.

I cannot tell you how many times I have cycled along this stretch of the Thames Path but I always enjoy it.

This morning did seem rather busy and it was as if everyone had the same idea I had.


At the Greenwich Foot Tunnel the sign just outside of the lift stated that cycling was permitted, so I cycled its entire length.

At a point along the Thames Path a large riverside development forced a detour along the main road that heads towards the Blackwall Tunnel. The traffic was gridlocked and I was glad of the shared cycle lane / pedestrian walkway.

As I cleared the diversion I chanced across a great view of the upside down electric pylon. A couple of gentlemen seemed to be selling potted plants?

The Thames Path has lots of large artwork structure dotting along its length. One I like is the half boat. You see less or more if it depending on the tide.

A piece of artwork

Arriving at the Thames Barrier I made my way to the 'View Cafe' where I had some refreshment. It was also the place where I was joined by a group of tourists from Norway who were bewitched by my folding bicycle.

Part of the Thames Paths that used to be almost like a muddy field, seems to be finally getting developed. There is tarmac on some stretches and they had kindly placed gravel on the rest. As a result my usual cursing about my bike getting dirty was kept to a minimum.

I enjoyed my morning cycle and I really should do this more often. There are a couple of rides next week, one on Friday night and the other on Saturday night. I have yet to decide which would be best for me or if I even want to go at all. I suppose I will see how the week ahead goes and sleep on it.

Until next time...

Link to map and ride data