So, no pressure then

I did some more work with 220 Triathlon magazine in September. They asked if I would spend the day running and cycling in various locations around Bristol for a feature on duathlon. I assumed it would be a review of the kit, but a couple of weeks before my big European-qualifying duathlon race, the mag dropped through the door with this headline:

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1 way to tempt fate

I would have been more suited to a feature on ways to f**k up a duathlon. Doing extra laps on the bike leg, turning up late for races, incurring time penalties, not practicing transitions, eating right before the start, going too hard on the first run, going too hard on the bike … I reckon I could come up with at least 36 mistakes I’ve made this season!

Obviously I’ve come in for a bit of justified mickey-taking from friends and club mates for all of this posing in lycra for photographers. But I now had the added a pressure to ‘smash’ my attempt at Age Group GB qualification.

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The first part of the shoot was carried out on the Clifton Downs. And before you ask, yes it definitely is a nice enough area to go for a run and leave your thousand-pound bike unattended by a park bench.

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I had several different outfits to wear for the shoot. I got changed in a wooded area in the middle of the park. Item 37 in a feature on duathlon / triathlon should be “lose any inhibitions about getting your bum out in public”. Fortunately, unlike at my recent hill climb, nobody called the police this day.

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The second part of the feature was in Leigh Woods. It was starting to get a little bit tiring by this point. I’d been running and cycling short distances, before turning around and doing it again and again for several hours. We finished off with some trail riding on a mountain bike.

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My “MTB-bro’s” all laughed at me for this picture. I don’t think the shaved legs and lycra shorts are very cool in their world! Apparently I look like a complete ‘newb’. They could well be right – the last time I did a mountain bike triathlon I misjudged a jump and hit a tree stump, sending me over the handlebars! I prefer to keep the rubber to the tarmac.

Anyway, I somehow managed to learn from most of my previous 36 ways to mess up a duathlon and qualified for the European Championships next season. Let’s hope I can smash that…

GB Qual

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 …

 

Bikepacking to Brecon Beacons

I’ve just returned from a two day saddlebag tour of the Brecon Beacons in Wales. A friend and I took a couple of days off work for a self-guided cycling mini-break. It was fairly impromptu and with minimal planning. Unfortunately, the Audax Gods were clearly unimpressed by our slapdash approach to long-distance cycling and punished us with biblical downpours on Day 1. Any final hope of receiving retribution must have been dashed by the comment as we set off that “it never actually rains all day”. It did.

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Sheep and rain kept us company

We set off very early on Monday morning in a futile attempt to beat the rains. We took the most direct route to the Severn River crossing via Bristol. This meant fighting our way through rush hour, but despite the heavy rain and traffic it still felt quite liberating to be heading away from it all.

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Severn Bridge crossing – bit of a crosswind 

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I’d opted for my steel frame with pannier rack and bar bag. Mike went new school with his carbon bike and roll-bags attached with velcro and straps. There seems to be a movement towards the latter and I can understand the reasoning – you only need one bike and you can ride a lighter bike. However, if you’ve got a steely then this type of ride is the perfect excuse to rig it up in full tourer mode.

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Old school mapping 

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Drying room at the hostel 

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Pro Audax evening footwear 

Arriving at the hostel after 80+ miles in the rain was a great feeling. We immediately hung up our sodden kit, had hot showers and put on our sandals. Socks and flip-flops or bare-foot and birkenstocks? It’s always difficult to completely nail the audax haute couture style so I like to think we covered all bases between us. The 1970’s carpet definitely added to the effect.

We had a beer, ate a hearty dinner and were both in bed by about 8pm. Not exactly rock n roll.

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We set off early the next morning and headed right up into the Brecon Beacons. The scenery was spectacular and made us wish we’d gone for 3 days to allow a full day of Brecon touring in the middle. We followed the River Usk down to Abergavenny with the sun in our faces and a strong wind on our backs. Combined with the long descent it felt like just rewards after the tough previous day.

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Classic gag

The conversation was free-flowing all day. It’s one of the pleasures of long distance cycling in remote parts – you can ride side-by-side at a relaxed pace and talk. And when the conversation dried up, the more immature member of the group resorted to childish pranks.

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Fortunately the locals saw the funny side and joined in

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In the end we covered 170 miles and around 10,000ft of climbing over the two days. It was one of those epic adventures that you wish you could do more often and will remember forever. Great times.

A birthday surprise – perfect weather on Exmoor in September

For my birthday I gave myself the gift of zero responsibilities. This was mostly a gift from my wife who took care of business for the day while I skived off and went cycling. It wasn’t very “bikevcar”, but I decided to drive down to Exmoor for a long afternoon of cycling.

Glorious Exmoor

Glorious Exmoor

My previous cycling trips to Exmoor have been ‘sportives’, i.e. organised, mass-participation events. Today’s ride was the antithesis of a sportive – no early start because I do not like waking up early at the weekend, no other people because how can you enjoy the peaceful beauty of a national park when you’re surrounded by other cyclists, and no restrictions on my distance or route which was ideal as I hate being told what to do. It was perfect.

I parked the car at a place called Watchet, mostly because the name made me laugh but also because I’d had enough of driving. And then got on my bike and climbed straight up into the moors. The roads around Exmoor can be bonkers-steep – a 20% gradient seems fairly standard for these parts. At one point I almost fell off when the road ramped up so suddenly that I was caught with my hands relaxed on the tops of the bars and didn’t have time to switch to the hoods so that I could stand up. Clearly my concentration and bike handling skills still need some work.

Up up and away

Up up and … then round the corner and up some more

There were a few notable climbs that I’d wanted to find (Dunkery Beacon and the Porlock Toll Road) but other than that I had no aim. Just a photocopy of a road map to avoid getting lost and jersey pockets stuffed full of food to keep me going.

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The moors

The moors

In the end I managed 70 miles and around 6,500 feet of climbing. But it was just one of those days that I’ll remember for a long time. Exmoor in September in crisp, beautiful sun. A glorious 5 hours on the bike followed by a pint of ale in a classic English pub garden beside a river. For a man who loves to moan,  it’s fairly epic when I have a day with nothing to moan about!

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The White Horse Inn, Washford – post ride beer in a pub garden beside the river

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Frothy pint of ale – perfect day

One way traffic

Family BikeVCar went on holiday to Wales this week. Pembrokeshire to be exact. Coming from the outskirts of Wells in Somerset, most of our journey was accompanied by the sounds of our toddler daughter’s mantra: “Not goin’ Welz … goin’ Way-Uls”

"Where's my bike?"

“Where’s my bike?”

Whilst there’s been a significant drop in my cycling mileage over the last 2 years (and let’s not even mention the significant increase in car miles …. nor my very recent acquisition of a new “family car”), there has however been an enjoyable last few weeks watching a new cyclist arrive on the scene.

Look out cat!

Look out cat!

This has resulted in needing to make space in the shed for a new bike – obviously it was some superfluous gardening equipment that met the chop. I’ll gladly have a jungle for a back garden if it means I can still get out and cycle at the weekends.

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New little addition to the shed, threaded through the Merckx 

I set up the little bike and stabilisers on my flat workshop floor. It was a textbook novice-Dad manoeuvre: as soon as she encountered some uneven ground the rear wheel spun in the air like she was riding a turbo trainer. Before I’d had a real chance to contemplate the possibility of setting up the bike as an indoor trainer during the coming winter months, she started shouting to come and rescue her. Initiative test number 1 – go fix it yourself:

Making a few minor adjustments

Making a few minor adjustments to some incompetent Dadsmanship 

Anyway, holidays are a time to try new things. So Mum had time to relax. Little Miss showed off on a trike . . .

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“I go this way” 

. . . and I found some time to squeeze in a few decent length rides. With beautiful weather, the coast of Pembrokeshire to explore and a toddler who requires an afternoon nap, I had a brainwave: one-way cycling. If we went out as a family for the morning I rode home. And if we were going out for the afternoon I set off after lunch and met them there.

Exploring the Welsh countryside

Exploring the Welsh countryside: castles, hills, sheep and more hills 

Even compared to Somerset and Southwest England, the roads were quiet. And the idea of one-way riding allowed me to squeeze in 100 miles of cycling over a weeklong family holiday without being too selfish.

Seaside towns - the beautiful views are just about worth the effort

Seaside towns – beautiful descents, tough escapes 

The coastal roads were stunning. Although the hills and the winds made for some challenging cycling too. I took the steel frame bike so that I could attach the baby seat for local rides. This added an extra element to the challenge. But, after all – it was a holiday so I mostly ignored my average speeds and just enjoyed the beautiful weather and the change of scenery.

We lucked out with the weather

We certainly lucked-out with the weather 

“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.

My cycling season has finally begun

If you want to ride your bike on a regular basis, don’t have a child, start your own business or embark on a home refurbishment project. And especially don’t do them all at the same time. Only an idiot would do that. Anyway, this particular idiot has finally complete the refurb project and so took the opportunity to go for a long ride today. 70 miles to be precise. Continuing the theme of biting off more than I can chew, I’ve signed up to do a 100 mile sportive in a couple of weeks time with an old mate so thought I’d better condition my bum to endless hours on a saddle. I’m generally not so interested in sportives these days, but they can be a good reason to meet old cycling friends who live in different parts of the country so thought I’d sign up. This will be the first time I’ve ridden 100 miles in about 2 years so I’m looking forward to the challenge.

I was putting my bike back in the shed with my toddler daughter when she spotted the bike she’ll hopefully be learning to ride on one day. She seemed pretty keen to have a go but couldn’t reach the pedals yet. I think I’ve still got a few months before I need to fit the stabilisers.

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She seemed very adroit at eating a biscuit while sat on the bike – a key still for long distance cycling!