Sunday 31 December 2017

Finishing the Year with the Rapha 500

Last year I completed the Rapha  Festive 500 for the first time CLICK HERE and with some time off work in the run up to the new year I decided to have another bash.

For those of you who don't know what the Festive 500 is, it is a challenge to ride a total of 500 km / 310 miles in the eight days between Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. First laid down in 2010 by the cycle clothing manufacturer Rapha, it has proved to be very popular with cyclists all across the world.

Family is very important to me and the conditions for me participating in this event was clear. It had to have no impact on them whatsoever. In other words if Mrs Orange and the Orangettes wanted to go shopping, for a walk, visit other family members, veg on the sofa etc.., I had to be around to do all of these things too. This meant that virtually all of my rides would have be to completed at a time when they were either still asleep and/or finishing when they were just getting up. Added to this, all of the rides would have to be in London wherever possible (as it would make getting back home easier if I needed to).

Being an early riser by nature, getting up before the dawn chorus was not too much of a chore. To speed things up I didn't even shower. I just brushed my teeth, had a bite to eat, put my cycling gear on and headed out.

Setting off I would carry the following:
  • 2 x inner tube
  • 3 x CO2 bottles
  • 1 x inflator 
  • Small high pressure pump with duct tape wrapped around the handle
  • Tyre levers
  • Tyre boot
  • Pre-glued patches 
  • Rain jacket
  • Front / rear lights
  • Condor multitool 
  • Cash, credit card, Oyster card spare set of contact lenses - ironically in a leather Rapha essentials case
  • Water bottle
  • iPhone

Last year the first few rides acted as a bit of a therapeutic exercise as much as taking part in a challenge (see the blog post to find out what I am going on about if you wish). I mention this as Day #1 proved to an accidental cycle down memory lane in more ways that one!

Day #1 (24/12/17) - 72 miles

I have to report that at the end of this first day I was ready to throw in the towel. I decided to take my Whyte 629 mountain bike as my plan was to get on the Grand Union Canal in West London, cycle to Paddington, where I would exit the canal path before heading into Central London and then along the Thames Path to the Thames Flood Barrier. Once there I would cycle all the way back again.

I knew the route reasonably well but some locations looked completely different to me in the dark and subsequently I did make the odd wrong turn. I mentioned that the route would serve as a cycle down memory lane as I knew that I would pass Kensal Green Cemetery where the funeral service for both my parents took place. I had not however bargained to pass the house my parents lived in when they first got married, the hospital were they both passed away and cycling in the park I used to get up to all sorts of mischief in when I was a great deal younger. As I exited the park in question in the quiet of the early pre-dawn morning, I was almost convinced that I could hear my dad's wheezing laugh and my mum saying in pretend incredulity 'seriously?' at the thought of me cycling at stupid o'clock.

I have mentioned before in blog posts that I don't really like cycling along bodies of water too much - especially canals. I took my meaty exposure light which almost turned night into day but I found the whole experience mildly terrifying.

Along the canal path all manner of wildlife could be seen. Rats, mice, bats, Swan, Canada Geese, cats and even a badger - think? In addition to the sight the sound of owls hooting and the scurrying of unknown creatures added to the general foreboding atmosphere.

Despite there being only four photos posted here believe me I took a great deal more. I even put a few on Instagram and shot a little bit of video. If I had of taken one of my big cameras I would have taken even more. When it dawned on me that this was not the best use of my time, I resisted the urge to take a photo of anything that moved or stayed still!!

The streets were totally empty and even along the Thames Path I only saw one other person jogging with their dog  all the way up to the Thames Barrier. Reaching the Barrier I was all but ready to take even more photos but knew I had to cycle back. I had done just over 36 miles.

By the time I reached the cycle highway on Embankment I decided that mountain bike tyres and gearing - on tarmac - were a great deal slower than my Brompton or road bike. At about the 48 mile mark I hit in running terms the wall, or in cycling terms, bonked. I could barely turn the pedals and got slower and slower. I was also wobbling and weaving about which was not the best for cycling along a narrow canal path! Having eaten the last of my food and knowing that nowhere was open, I didn't really know what to do but stop. Looking in my saddle bag in desperation more than anything else I managed to find a Mars Bar and gel that I must have packed for the overnight ride to Brighton I participated in back in October but didn't use! After a few minutes I felt fine again and continued.

Reaching home before Mrs Orange and the Orangettes had woken up I had a shower and retired to my bed for 40 winks before later getting up and carrying on as normal. Thankfully, we were eating at a relatives house later in the day and believe me I made up the calories I lost.

Day #2 (25/12/17)  2 x 10 miles. Total so far 92 miles

Christmas Day was wonderful. After opening the presents at an ungodly hour - despite the Orangettes being teenagers - they retired to their beds with their respective haul. I popped out for a quick 10 miles which basically meant me doing circuits around my local area which is quiet and not too hilly. This I completed on my Condor road bike. When we got home from visiting family and everyone had gone to bed I competed another 10 miles.

Day #3 (26/12/17) / Day #4 (27/12/17) 48 miles and 50 miles. Total so far 190 miles

For day 3 and 4  we were based not too far from South Kensington. Knowing this the Brompton was brought out and my target area was simply Hyde Park itself. I had thought about going out to the Barrier and back again but I knew this would take a great deal longer so I opted for laps of my beloved Hyde Park. At just under 5 miles managed 10 laps on day 3 and 10 and a bit on day 4.

I have to report that this was my favourite route bar none and if I do the Festive 500 next year, I am going to start at midnight on of the days and see how far I have got by about 07:00. Some of the poor Police Officers on duty didn't really know what to make of a chap at speed on an orange Brompton and kitted out in lots more orange. I nodded as I went past them and by the third lap they waved back every time I cycled by.

Day #4 28/12/17) 64 miles. Total so far 254 miles

Day 4 was back on my Brompton well before dawn and cycling to my old haunt of Richmond Park. Normally the park opens at 07:30 but the pedestrian gates are open which...ahem...allows pedestrian access. I was rather worried about my path being blocked by or being chased by Red Deer (Fenton) but there was something much more terrifying in the park I can tell you.

Having completed three circuits all was going well. My Exposure front light did a wonderful job of illuminating the path ahead and in front of me I thought I saw an apparition. I was terrified! The being in front of me seemed to be walking but floating? Not really wanting to turn round the other way - in case I caught sight of it face on when completing another circuit - I pressed on. As I got nearer I build myself up to say, 'speak spirt...I am not afraid' but to my relief I saw that the ghostly form was in fact someone on a par of dry skies. As I passed by I nonchalantly said, 'morning...lovely day for it.' I didn't see them again after this but I was amazed at how fast they could go.

Cycling back - after eating some leftover Christmas food - I made it home in good time

Day #5 (29/12/17) 44 miles. Total so far 298 miles

Day 5 saw us back near South Kensington having stayed overnight. Early morning circuits of Hyde Park were the order of the day back on the Condor. Despite loving the route the weather was terrible. It was freezing cold, windy and raining. Even though I wore lots of layers and had good waterproofs I could not get warm and felt cold for the entire time I was out. I was very pleased to get back inside however my plan to cycle a little further was abandoned.

Day #6 (30/12/17) 7 miles. Total 305 miles

Yesterday I had calculated that I only needed to cycle 7 more miles and the Festive 500 would be mine. I simply took the Condor out and did circuits around where I live which didn't take me too long. I had done it...or had I?!

Day #7 (31/01/17) 7 miles. Total 312 miles...phew!!!

When doing the write up for this blog post earlier this morning I discovered that I was short by 7 miles. I couldn't believe it. I got the Brompton out and did a few circuits starting and finishing at my front door until I had done the required 7 miles. I had done it.

Next year

If I had a go at this next year I really do think that my idea of picking suitable day and starting just before midnight and completing circuits of Hyde Park, moving on to Richmond Park if I got bored until about 07:00 might just work. To do this I would try and enlist a few friends as cycling solo has its plus points but can also be very dull too. In doing this I would build up a large tally of miles with a view of not having to be out every day.

Next time I would use my Condor road bike as much as possible and where not my Brompton. The Brompton is quite nippy on the road and incredibly comfortable. It also has the bonus of being able to fold up and put on a bus or train if I got fed up cycling. Despite enjoying it, the mountain bike would stay at home, unless conditions were terrible and I felt safer using it.

No photos. I am terrible for this. The first ride on day 1 was ridiculous in many ways. London just looked so lovely it was hard to resist the urge to take lots of photos.  When doing circuits of Hyde Park there was a group of soldiers on horses riding near Hyde Park Corner. No guesses who stopped to take photos and video.

Strava. I don't do Strava but I suspect I am going to have to at some point. I think it would make logging the rides easier and I can perhaps see friends who might also be doing the challenge.

Thank you to Rapha for putting this mad idea out there. This is not an easy challenge but if you have the time, it is worthwhile.

Not too long from now some of you reading this we will be entering in to 2018. I wish you all a very happy and peaceful 2018 and hope that you get on your bicycles and have lots of adventures.

Saturday 28 October 2017

Onoto Magna Classic in - you’ve guessed it - Tangerine!

I have been a bit of a fountain pen fan boy for many years and lots of pens have come and gone, while others have remained faithful companions. A new purchase was just too special to ignore!

The pen in question is an 'Onoto Magna Classic' in Tangerine with silver trimmings. The Onoto company goes back over 100 years to 1905 when it was first established. The original Magna was first made in 1937 and sited by many as the best fountain pen ever made. Sadly, things came to an end in 1958 and the Onoto brand was lost (but not forgotten by those in the know) until we zoom forward to 2005 when James Boddy bought the dormant Onto Company. 'The Onoto Pen Company' was formally re-laucnhed at the London Stock Exchange in May of the same year and since then things have gone from strength to strength.

Onoto has been a company I have some fondness for as my late father used one throughout his time in the navy during the last few years of WWII. My dad only had one pen - a Magna - and used it until it was no more. I have coveted one for ages and attending the recent London Pen Show at the start of October and seeing these wonderful pens brought me to the conclusion that I had to have one.

Putting lots of items on Ebay I soon had just about enough to buy one. I toyed between the tortoiseshell and the tangerine but of course for me, it had to tangerine. After a little email correspondence with Emma at Onoto to check specifications and delivery times, an order was placed.

My pen arrived Friday morning and I have to say I was up bright and early to anticipate its arrival, despite the fact I had a day of work. The doorbell rang and my package had arrived.

Instead of ripping the outer box open rapidly with my bare hands - or teeth - I carefully, patiently cut the packing tape to discover that the box had been wrapped in royal blue tissue paper.

Taking that off revealed the outer, heavy-duty cardboard box emblazoned with Onoto in gold.

Lifting the lid revealed the actual pen box itself, this wrapped carefully in a thin foam protective sheet.

I have owned lots of pens in my time, many with lovely boxes but this one is possibly the best yet. The only ones to touch it are the wooden Platinum boxes used for some of their choice pens. It is gorgeous!


Opening the box I could see the pen. I instantly loved the colour. My pen is apparently edition number 6 of 200.

Ta da!

The tray on which the pen sits on is a soft blue velvet and user this is a whole host of leaflets and information about the pen and the company. The Onoto blotting paper with old advertising posters is a nice touch.

Also inside is a leaflet about the silver hallmarks as the sliver cap bands, clip, logo in the cap and silver barrel button are all sterling silver.

The pen in terms of looks is a stunner. Just looking at it I loved it. The photos really does not do the colour justice. If you like orange pens, you'll love this!

And I even like the colour!

The pen has the engravings 'Onoto THE Pen. Made in England' on the barrel. The material for the pen is a polished acrylic and thicker and to my eyes a higher quality than almost all of the pens I own.  The attention to detail is very high. I could not spot any imperfections anywhere on the pen on in the packaging. All was perfect and I suspect that quality control is given a high priority at Onoto. This extends to little things that I know other pen manufacturers might let slip. For example the engraved 'Onoto THE Pen' logo lines up perfectly in line with the nib when screwing the barrel back in place. Similarly, it also lines up perfectly with the clip when putting the cap on.

The clip is very firm and bears the Onoto logo. The logo - which looks almost Art Deco -  carved into the silver cap. It is done really well and just screams quality.

The nib is a number 7 and I opted for the gold-plated steel version in a medium. I did this as I could not afford the extra £120 to upgrade to the 18ct gold nib. Perhaps another time.

The pen is filled via a standard ink converter so nothing special there but at least it keeps things simply. The writing experience is excellent. The nib is incredibly smooth! While testing it out I had to double check that Onoto had not put in the 18ct nib by mistake. The ink flow is consistent and there were no hard starts or skips. Leaving it uncapped for a few minutes and coming back to use the pen did not halt its generous ink flow. After several hours it wrote first time. It does make one wonder what on earth the 18ct gold nib is like if this gold-plated steel nib is so good?! I fancy all nibs are tested and tuned before going out?

Yeah, I know my writing is bad!

The pen is about the same size as my Sailor 1911 large / Pelikan M800 but if anything more comfortable to hold and use over extended periods of writing. This is perhaps as the section is a little thicker.

I have quite large hands and although the pen posts well, I had no reason to do so and found it comfortable using uncapped.

Comparing it to a Lamy AL-Star in - ehem - copper orange there isn't much in it in terms of size.

Length capped 137.98mm

Length posted 162.15mm

Length unposed including nib 122.79mm

Onoto provide a lifetime guarantee for their pens. I think this is for the original owner only as a small registration card needs to be sent back to Onoto. A lifetime guarantee is very old school and in a world where even fairly expensive items can be disposable, this harks back to a bygone era. I think Onoto can offer this as quite simply they get things right first time and judging by the pen I bought, nothing goes out of the door unless it is absolutely perfect. It was an expensive pen - for me at least - but for me definitely worth the price tag.

This pen is a keeper. That isn't me just having a new pen that is flavour of the month until something better comes along. This is going to become a permanent part of my collection; that very special bunch of pens that are rarely left without ink and used frequently.

Link to the Onoto website

Monday 23 October 2017

Do small wheels and football mix?

I am not really a football fan. I don't have a team and can't even be bothered to watch the World Cup when it is on. At school, football was not my thing either. I was more into rugby, cricket, tennis and athletics. I mention this it is quite important to what is about to follow.

Yesterday I was cycling in SW7 and went down a fairly quiet road which acted as a short cut to where I was heading. As I cycled down this road the little football knowledge I possessed informed me that several Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool football supporters were squaring up to each other. I presumed that their respective teams must be playing a football match later that day but for the moment at least they were shouting, swearing and spoiling for any excuse to throttle each other. It was at this moment yours truly came waltzing down the road between them.

My bicycle and to some extent me, became the object of their attention and all hostilities between the two opposing football supporters came to an end. It was as if the 'Pipes of Peace' by Paul McCartney was being played at full volume. 

My bicycle and its small wheels, its colour, and its suitability to be ridden on the open road were all quite loudly discussed by both sides of the football divide - now united as one. Once this was discussed the attention turned to the type of person who would actually ride down the street on such a  contraption. It was then the ensemble started to sing 'who are you' at such a volume I felt I was somehow standing on the terraces with at least 10 thousand other supporters! 

Riding a Brompton in London over the years does mean that you have to have a fairly thick skin but the language, which was rare to say the least, reached new heights. Thankfully, I am a quick rider and upping my cadence I rode at speed towards safety.

The only consolation to this this all too brief encounter was that like a UN envoy I managed to broker a lasting peace as I could hear different ascents still talking - in friendly terms - about someone cycling down the road on 'that bike!'

Saturday 21 October 2017

End of season London to Brighton overnight

A couple of weeks ago - 6th October - I embarked upon the last of the night rides to the coast for this year. The very thought of this almost brought a tear to my eye as it would mean a wait of perhaps five long months before we would be able to do it all again.

The first of these rides was to Southend - I think - and I completed that on a Brompton. I had decided ages ago that it would only be fitting for me to complete the last of these rides on a Brompton. Dr John had I think deliberated on whether to take one of his road bikes but me talking of small wheels made him pause for thought and he too brought a Brompton for this ride.

Regular readers will know that I despise public transport when it is busy. With almost aversion-type therapy I have been trying to use public transport more and more, especially when travelling to and from these sorts of rides. Sadly, my worst fears were realised. The tube carriage I was in was soon filled with middle aged men having running battles with each other in a alcohol fuelled scene. It seemed that the cause of all this anger was a lingering look towards one of their partners. I tried not to give too many lingering looks as I knew that a look would turn into a full on stare to see if they all fixed the description of the missing link? Thankfully the looks I were giving out - knock into me or more importantly my Brompton and you'll regret it - were enough for me not to be bothered, unlike some other poor unfortunate members of the carriage.

With the Jeremy Kyle tube journey over I found sanctuary in London at night. Crossing the Millennium foot bridge I made my way to the agreed meeting point near the Royal Festival Hall. There were already quite a few participants there when I arrived and one gentleman - who asked if I were Mr Orange of that Orange Brompton blog - said that he had signed up for this ride as a direct result of reading my past ramblings.

Soon thereafter Dr John arrived on his Brompton and we were to be the only riders on small wheels. Sam of 'Skye Caps' also joined the ride and before long we were listening to Adrian, our ride leader go through the safety talk. With this done we all got ready for the big off which was to come at midnight.

Normally I press the start button on my Garmin 820 but I have been testing out two offerings by Wahoo - the Bolt and the slightly larger Elemnt. I will almost certainly be sticking with the Bolt but I have to say both are excellent and as far as ease of use and navigating, totally kick the stuffing out of the Garmin. Navigation has always been an issue for me but using these devices from Wahoo over the past few weeks has allowed me to navigate with more confidence. I will write a blog post about them at some point. So I pressed the start button on my Bolt and we were off into the night for another adventure.

Our first stop was at the familiar Clapham Common where we regrouped for the tail to catch up. We were illuminated somewhat by the tail end of a Harvest Moon.

Progress was good and the ride felt purposeful and brisk, with few mechanical issues or punctures to slow proceedings down. Dr John was as always excellent company and yet again I have my Brompton to thank for meeting him. It is lovely that simple and lasting friendship have been established thanks to a small wheeled folding bicycle.

The weather was pretty good all night and the very faint drops of rain didn't get started. It was quite mild too which all made for pretty good riding conditions.

At about 30 miles or so we reached the halfway stop that was Gatwick Airport. Those on big wheels left their bicycles outside - watched selflessly by a team of fellow riders - which allowed them to head inside to get some food and refreshment. Dr John and I simply folded our bikes and headed in.

After some deliberation we opted for and M & S food outlet where Christmas had already made an appearance! After being suitably fed and watered we all got ready to go for the second half of the ride.

Starting off on the second half can be a time where one really feels the cold. I felt fine and didn't see the need to layer up. After a few miles I was warmed up.

The ride progressed really well and Dr John and I stayed with the front pack for almost all of the ride. Not too far from Devils Dyke, Adrian offered an alternative route - slightly flatter - for those not wishing to ascend a hill. Dr John and I opted for the hill.

On a previous ride a few year ago that was Brompton exclusive our route to Brighton took us up Devils Dyke. It was demanding but for me easier than Ditching Beacon. Dr John was off ahead of me but after about two miles of climbing I slowed down to see others at the top.

While we waited for others to catch up lots of photographs were taken and through the early morning haze the sea could just about e made up in the distance.

It may seem like madness to ride all through the night to the seaside however once you have it is addictive. It is has a draw that is hard to explain but you do find yourself wanting to do it again and again.

When we set off again, much of the remaining miles were flat or downhill. Cycling at speed a gentleman on a road bike behind me shouted out that he never thought he'd see the day when he would be drafting behind a Brompton. I almost felt like shouting back that if he thought I was fast, he should meet some of my friends!

The breakfast stop was not too far from the station but as the journey back to Victoria was double the time it normally takes due to I think engineering works, Dr John and I decided to head straight for the station and the first train back to the big smoke.  Our journey went quickly and at Clapham Junction we said our goodbyes.

I was glad that I took the Brompton with me. I enjoyed using it and have to report that I didn't really miss my Condor road bike too much. I suspect that when the new season of these rides start again in 2018 I will probably use the Orange one a great deal more.

Many thanks to Adrian for being a good ride leader and to his team of TECs. Also many thanks to Dr John for his excellent company throughout the ride and the journey home.