Chew Valley Cycling Club

Despite being an area of outstanding natural beauty, with a large population living in historic villages dating back to the Domesday Book and basically being a bit of a mecca for almost every weekend cyclist who lives in Bristol, Keynsham, Somerset and Bath, the one thing that the Chew Valley lacked was a cycling club.

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The Chew Valley – home of dairy cows and now, a welcoming cycling club

I’ve been a member of Bristol South Cycling Club for years, enjoying their events and races in the Chew Valley. However I rarely attend their weekend club rides or social nights as these are all held in the distant lands of “the big city over the hill”. As a result I always felt that I missed out on a lot of the social aspect and camaraderie of being a club member. After meeting a few other Chew Valley cyclists who were struggling with the same problem we decided to start our own club.

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The Hunters Lodge – home of myths and legends

The club’s formation meeting was held at The Hunters Lodge, a lonely and slightly derelict-looking pub out in the middle of the Mendip Hills. The inside is magical: it’s like stepping into a time machine to a 1950’s pub. The place must have drifted through decades with the decor becoming increasingly dated and unfashionable. Fortunately the long-standing owners were clearly playing the long-game, knowing that one day it would just ooze vintage style! Either that or they just didn’t care. Anyway, not only does it work but there are several amusing myths surrounding the place. I’ve heard that the Kray Twins used it as a hideout, that tunnels beneath the pub lead to secret government bunkers and that if the owner catches you using a mobile phone he will either confiscate it or throw you out. Hence the lack of photos to verify the myth. I hope one day there will be a plaque outside stating “Chew Valley Cycling Club was formed here in 2016”.

By the start of 2017 we’d formed a nucleus of new members, were holding regular club rides and had ordered kit. We played around with a few kit designs with everything looking like it had been designed by an idiot using ClipArt … basically because it had. So in the end we called in the experts and asked cycling kit supplier Milltag to design and make our kit. Probably one of our best decisions.

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For posterity this needs to be recorded – the cow peering out the rear pocket is class

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Milltag nailed it

The club has continued to grow which has been really enjoyable for everyone involved. We are affiliated with both British Cycling and Cycling Time Trials which has allowed several of our members to compete in road races, criteriums and time trials this year. However, the majority of our members currently just participate in the weekend club rides for the social and sporting aspect of riding in a group.

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Club rides leave from The Crown, West Harptree at 8am every Sunday morning

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Supporting a local race

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CVCC TT flight mode

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Bath Sportive

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Beer & bikes – killer combo

We recently held our first AGM (at The Hunters obviously) which was a great way to get feedback from our members and find out what everyone wanted from the club. Fortunately people mostly wanted more of the same, with the addition of beginner / introductory weekend rides for slower or new riders. So this is something we’re hoping to roll out soon. Oh yeah, and they wanted cycling caps, presumably for de rigeur cycling cafe stops!

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Give the people what they want – caps coming soon …

 

Falling down the TT rabbit hole

I seem to have inescapably fallen down a slippery, aerodynamic rabbit hole this season. This has partly been fuelled by having a lack of time for longer rides due to work and two small children. But also a renewed desire to improve my cycling performance this year.

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Bad to the bone

There have been various catalysts for this change in focus, probably the mains ones being a lack of time, more regular use of the turbo trainer this past Winter, an improved diet, cutting down on alcohol consumption, reducing my weight, becoming excited by all the resulting improvements and then the subsequent purchase of speedy cycling equipment. The upshot of this snowball-effect being that I am now beyond the point of turning back from the slippery, aero war of time trialling!

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Shit just got real! 

I can still vaguely remember back to my early cycling days and being embarrassed about going out in public dressed in lycra shorts. Since then, experience has taught me to never-say-never with anything cycling. However, having recently bought one of those ‘penis helmets’ (albeit a slightly less ridiculous one that has a very small tail, and which I’m calling a ‘semi’) there doesn’t appear to be many absurd, cycling barriers left to cross. My aversion to aero skin-suits and shaved legs are probably the ‘last stand’ against my complete indoctrination.

Over the last few months I have been steadily improving my average speed on the local club time trail. It’s a non-standard 8.5 mile distance, covering a complete loop of the lake in our valley. It’s also a slightly undulating course with a few sharp turns so not the quickest of courses. Prior to the recent purchase of a second hand time-trial bike I managed to set a personal best around the lake on my road bike. This gave me some justification for the TT bike purchase, as I could satisfy myself that I am now actually quicker over short distances than I used to be, rather than just buying a faster bike in an attempt to keep up with my younger self!

I managed to pick up a frame and a set of wheels from a friend who used to race at a top level. I then picked up various odds and ends second hand like a chainset, derailleurs, brake calipers and gear shifters so it’s ended up being a bit of a mongrel bike. But, it kept the cost down and ultimately it’s just needs to go fast, not look pretty.

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My best average speed on a road bike was 22.5mph, whereas I averaged 24mph this week on the TT bike. My next target is to try and hit a 25mph average which would result in a sub-20 minute time around the lake. This has always been my benchmark for ‘proper-quick’ and should normally result in a top 3 finish in races. My time this week put me in 9th place out of about 35 riders. The club record is 17:20 (average speed 28.8mph) which is quite frankly ridiculous and I’m not sure I could even do that in my car.

This week I managed to overtake two riders who had set off at separate one minute intervals ahead of me. At the finish I heard my two-minute-man telling his friend that he had been overtaken by a rider who had set off 2 minutes behind him. However, he explained “that’s ok – he had a disc wheel”. Suddenly it dawned on me, I had become ‘that guy’.

 

“Avon Cycleway” 100 mile loop

I decided late last night to ride the Avon Cycleway loop around Bristol today. Like some of the best and worst ideas I’ve had, this one was discovered somewhere near the bottom of a bottle of wine.

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Sunny and windy on the Avon Cycleway today

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The sun slowly broke through the clouds 

I woke this morning without too much of a fuzzy head, ate breakfast twice before then preparing my bike. I had a completely free day to myself as well as a personal point to prove after my only other 100 mile ride this year resulted in being painfully towed and finally dropped by my fitter and faster mate.

With my jersey pockets and stomach stuffed full of food I set off at around 9am heading towards Bath along narrow country lanes. The Avon Cycleway is an 85 mile loop around Bristol along quiet lanes and bike paths. Looking back this was one of the first long rides featured on this blog almost four years ago.

One of the problems on long rides in unknown territories is refuelling. Especially on a Sunday with most shops shut. I ended up barricading my bike between two signs outside a little shop and checking on it several times. The thought of it being stolen miles from home was a hassle I could do without.

Finger crossed it'll be here when I come back

Finger crossed it’ll be here when I come back

Having successfully navigated around 70 miles of twists and turns, I got lost at the exact same point as last time. Somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle of Avonmouth the signs just seem to disappear. Fortunately I could see the looming Avon Bridge and headed in the right direction. As with all 100 milers the final 20 miles were fairly tough, but the warm breeze of a welcome tailwind helped me home. I was just around the corner from home when I realised I was going to finish up on 96 or 97 miles. Putting fatigue aside I took a small detour to hit the magic 100.

Taking it steady

I am thankfully now healed from my troublesome injury and have been getting out on the bike a couple of times a week. It’s looking a bit like Winter and feeling like it too. But it was only officially confirmed as Winter today when the average speed for my ride ended up below 14mph – the true threshold of Autumn / Winter. I was slow going uphill due to the weight of winter bike, mudguards and many layers of clothing. And slow going downhill due to a cautious approach on the treacherous roads and from trying to lessen the numbing effects of cold winds blasting my bare face. For me this time of year isn’t about speed, it’s about getting out when I have an opportunity to ride. Especially on those cold, crisp, sunny days like today.

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Casting long winter shadows 

When the sun’s hanging this low in the sky, visibility can be quite difficult at times. I make sure to wear colourful clothing, have a decent set of lights and take a good look before making any manoeuvres. It’s also another reason to take it steady in the winter. I rode a 25 mile loop today, mostly along quiet back lanes. This is probably somewhere near the limit of what I want to ride at this time of year. The back lanes were filthy and despite the mudguards my bike seems to be growing a thick, brown, winter coat to keep it warm over the coming months. The signs of good winter use.

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On the quiet roads of the Mendip Hills today

Challenge complete

Last week I completed the climbing challenge which turned out to be a lot more difficult than I had anticipated. This was mostly because I’d completed a similar challenge last year while on a cycling holiday in the French Alps. Not to say that climbing mountains is easy, but having a weeks holiday to climb 4 or 5 mountains with your mates is a bit different to climbing the local hill 40 times while trying to lead a normal life.

To put the challenge in context, this year I have averaged about 70 miles a week with 3,000 ft of climbing. I went for 5 rides in the space of 8 days, riding 260 miles and climbing 29,000 ft.

All so that I’d have a little badge to stitch on my bag.

New badge on its way

A badge

A reader of this blog showed interest in my cycling badges (a blatant fabrication) and asked to see them (not true) and so here they are in all their glory:

Badgeman's bag

Badgeman’s bag

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Saumur-Amboise-Saumur was a 200km ride. Alpe d’Huez & Mont Ventoux were holidays in the mountains

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Previous Rapha Rising badges and more mountains 

It was only while taking these photos that I noticed this year’s Rapha Rising challenge was a lot more climbing than previous years. This gave me some comfort in finding it so difficult. I’m not sure why I have two Mont Ventoux badges, maybe one of them belongs to Winnie, the naughty bear?

I closed out the challenge by taking the little one up our local hill for a picnic. It was nice to be back to quiet and slow cycles with no purpose other than to just enjoy the ride.

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“Let’s not ride any hills this week”

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Picnic in the sun

New climbing challenge

Now in its third year, Rapha and Strava have once again teamed up to challenge cyclists to climb a dizzying height on their bikes. This year the challenge is 8,800m (28,870 ft) in nine days. This equates to three stages of this year’s Tour de France and is roughly the same height as Mount Everest. The prize for completing the challenge is a commemorative woven badge which has been quite rightly mocked by a club-mate for being a bit Boy Scouts, but sometimes you’ve just got to geek-out and stitch your badge on your cycling bag with pride.

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Today’s ride was a full tour of the steep Mendip hills

Knowing that time-constraints later in the week will probably lead me to the evil but efficient practice of hill-repeats, I started off with a ride I’d been contemplating for some time. A complete circuit of the Mendip Hills going up or down every road I know. It turned out to be a 62 miler, but the horizontal distance was inconsequential. The real result was over 6000 ft of climbing. This took me four hours and provided some spectacular views of Somerset and the Chew Valley. It also left me battling the mental challenge of the oncoming ‘bonk’ for the last hour as my energy reserves depleted.

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Heading down towards the Somerset Levels 

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I may need to replace my brake blocks after this challenge

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Another narrow, windy descent

Towards Blagdon

Towards Blagdon Lake in the Chew Valley

Cake consumption was the immediate priority on my return home

Cake consumption was the immediate priority upon my return home

After today’s 62 miler returned 6000 ft of climbing, and yesterday’s 35 miler gave me 4500 ft I’m about a third of the way into the challenge. Tomorrow I will be giving the legs some much-needed rest, knowing that there’s still some way to go before I can reach for the victorious needle and thread.

Random riding

I’m not commuting or training at the moment. Previously my cycling has always fallen into one of these two categories; commuting to work, or training for some kind of climbing or time-trialling. I’m still getting out a coupe of times a week, but now for a mix between pleasure and keeping fit. It’s difficult to ride exclusively for pleasure – as with most forms of exercise there needs to be a certain amount of discomfort to make it worthwhile. Fortunately I’m starting to feel fitness levels improving which brings a level of satisfaction and pleasure to cycling.

This morning I headed out to ride a random route along unfamiliar roads. Using the GPS as a digital compass it’s possible to create a new route on the hoof without getting completely lost. I never pre-programme routes on the Garmin – the less interaction I have with complex computer software the better for everyone. I did try once and spent an evening frustratingly asking my “stupid computer” why-wont-it-do-this and why-wont-it-do-that until my wife finally pointed out that maybe it was the operator who was stupid. Using a £350 GPS for a compass and using an expensive laptop purely to write inane blog posts and watch ‘epic fail videos’ on youtube she might have a point.

I was up and out the house early. Despite the weather forecast showing a warm day ahead I felt a nasty bite in the air when I went to fetch the bike from the shed. So I added an extra layer and set off. East.

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First decision – none of these place names took my fancy so I carried straight on

The sky was blue and it seemed to be warming up, just as predicted by the weather forecast. But then I saw a field full of cows laying down. And I thought: who do I trust, the clever computers or the dumb old cows?

Rain coming ...

Rain coming …

The cows were right. It started to rain and I got wet. Then I made a bad decision and ended up riding up a flooded and mucky road.

I got wetter

I got wetter

At some point or other I popped out in the City of Wells. It was still early so I decided to go via the cathedral.

Familiar ground ahead

Familiar ground ahead

A bad picture of Wells Cathedral

Not the brightest street light in the world – just a bad photo

I headed back home over the hills via a little road above Westbury-sub-Mendip. It was no hidden treasure unfortunately – 2 miles of evil steepness with a fair dose of gravel and potholes. But it felt good to reach the top. Typically, the fine weather seemed to break through the clouds just as I neared home.

Home in sight

Home in sight

Despite a few dodgy moments it was a nice to add some spontaneity to the ride and experience some new roads. And to get back home after an hour and a half in the saddle for a well-earned breakfast. Fortunately my wife had completed breakfast duty with the little one and she was patiently reading the paper and waiting.

Little Miss contemplates the tricky Wiggins / Tour de France issue

Little Miss contemplates Team Sky’s tricky Wiggins / Tour de France issue