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.

IMG_8532

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!

A

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

a

Frothy pint of ale – perfect day

Sportives – been there, done that, got the t-shirt

The more sportives I ride, the more pointless they seem to become. Waking on a Sunday morning earlier than a weekday; paying cash money to ride my bike on free public roads and then cycling for hours within a heaving swarm of cyclists. This weekend I rode the Exmoor Beauty 60 mile sportive with my father-in-law and a friend. When we signed up for the event in the depths of winter it had seemed like a good early-season fitness target and an opportunity to ride with friends. However, by the time it arrived I was wondering why we hadn’t just arranged a long, social ride on the local roads.

Riding solo over the moors

Riding solo over the moors

I took the first 5 miles steady, unsure whether we were all trying to ride together or do our own thing. But at the top of the first hill I looked over my shoulder, saw I was alone and decided to just go for a hard 60 mile solo ride. We had arrived to the event a bit late so my day consisted of riding on my own and overtaking people. It was a lumpy route with a couple of big climbs up onto the moors and I found my recent time-trial racing had given me some significant extra strength to drive myself uphill.

Pushing it up the hills

Pushing it up the hills

At the halfway point was a feed zone and I dashed in for a quick pee and grabbed some bananas and flapjack and refilled my bidon. Then I jumped back on the bike and consumed my loot on the hoof.

The hills were mostly contained within

The climbs were mostly contained within the first 60% which meant a quick race to the finish

At 40 miles I knew I was over the main climbs and I really pushed hard to raise the pace to the finish. After a morning of overtaking I had managed to pick up a couple of stubborn wheel-suckers. I wasn’t particularly bothered but still tried my hardest to ditch them. I was on the drops for the last hour pushing as hard as I could sustain but I never fully lost them. They never came through once. I had ridden the whole sportive solo so didn’t really particularly want to follow a wheel, but it seemed strange that they were happy to just draft along in my slipstream for over an hour without doing any of the work.

Trying to ditch the wheel-suckers

Trying to ditch wheel-suckers

At the finish line they thanked me for the lift and said they were struggling just to keep up, let alone come through. In the end I covered the 60 miles in 3 hours 36 minutes (including the quick feed stop) at an average of 17 mph. I’m still not convinced about the whole sportive-thing but I had a good workout nonetheless.

Bike And Car – “why can’t we be friends”

To quickly dispel any concerns raised about my previous post, I do not intend to wipe the slate clean and start the Bike V Car graph from scratch. Having made it through this Winter with minimal damage from the car I’m hoping for another year of cycling further than I drive. And with any luck, this year I will recover the deficit and level the scores in a proper manner.

This Sunday was a gloriously sunny Spring day. A perfect day for a cycle. I wanted to take the car out for a drive so I decided to combine the two and headed down to Exmoor National Park for some riding on the moors. This was also a good opportunity to take the fancy bike on its first outing of the year. I would certainly appreciate its lighter weight on the hills.

Bike and Car

Bike and Car. Mrs BikeVCar said that maybe this car should be more friendly rather than being versus the bikes!

Despite the sun being out it was still quite cold. However I was blessed with a strong tail wind on the ride up onto the moors. It was a 400+ metres single ascent and was certainly the longest climb I’ve ridden in a while. I opted to take the Porlock Toll Road with its gentler ascent, rather than the viciously steep main road. It was well worth the £1 premium:

Who says bikes have less rights on the road because they don't pay for it? Not

Who says bikes have less rights on the roads because they don’t pay for them? The Porlock Manor Estate astutely show no such prejudices against cyclists!

The views along the toll road were great

The views along the toll road were great …

On top of the moors

… however the wind was wild on top of the moors

Within the first 30 minutes I had climbed over 500 metres and when combined with the wall of wind I then faced on top of the moors, meant that I only covered about 12 miles in the first hour. However it felt good to be covering some tough miles on unfamiliar roads with a variety of changing scenery.

Sun-dappled, forest roads

Sun-dappled, forest roads

Winding roads stretching out into the long distance

Winding, undulating roads stretching out into the long distance

Bleak moorland

Bleak moorland

Obligatory bike photo

Obligatory bike photo

In total I rode for two hours, climbing over 1000 vertical metres. And the car performed well. Impressively it managed the whole trip at an unbelievable fuel economy of over 60 miles to the gallon. The same energy-efficiency could not be said for the cyclist who opted for more ‘honest’ fuel than the usual cyclist’s fodder of energy gels and flapjacks:

A quick banana and pork pie picnic was *burp* consumed mid-ride

A quick banana and pork pie picnic was *burp* consumed mid-ride

Building a budget home gym pt. 3

This week was another clean sweep of cycling to work and no driving. After covering 150 miles of cycle commuting from Monday to Friday, I always need a couple of days off the bike over the weekend to recover. On Saturday we decided to take advantage of the glorious weather and head down to Exmoor National Park for some hiking on the moors.

Exmoor in the sun

The Southwest Coastal Path above Porlock

Sunday was wet and windy and not a day for hiking or cycling. I decided to do some weights in the Man Cave to keep myself busy. A few weeks ago I completed the third and final installation to accompany the dipping bars and chin up bar. This one is known as a Power Rack.

‘Power Rack’ in squat mode

And in Bench Press mode – Clearly I’m not tough enough to use it without a nice comfy pillow

Squatting bar supports made from part of an old steel formwork system

Bench press bar support from a heavy duty floor joist bracket with a small bolt to retain the bar

Power Rack fixed to floor using a fence post shoe

I decided to slap a bit of ‘Incredible Hulk’ green over the dipping bars too

And the chin up bar

The Green Man Cave Gym in full

Tour of Wessex – Day 3: Somerset & Exmoor

Knowing that the organisers of the Tour of Wessex had saved the toughest day for last, we awoke on Day 3 slightly apprehensive about how our bodies would react to another long day in the saddle. The 180 kilometres ahead of us would contain 2500 metres of climbing.

At least we would have 35 km to warm up our knees before the hills began

With most of the hills confined to Exmoor National Park we were looking forward to some great views over towards Wales

On top of the usual breakfast feast I also ate a few eggs and an extra cup of coffee. It wasn’t until I reached the start line with a slight stomach ache that I realised I’d hardly drunk any water since waking up. I consumed both bottles on my bike within the first 40 km thankfully easing my stomach pains before refilling at the first feed zone.

I wasn’t the only cyclist with a full tank of water. Probably the most spectacular pee Gatesy’s ever enjoyed

We blasted our way across Somerset and into Exmoor National Park in North Devon. The hills became very regular but we were rewarded with some amazing views.

On the top of the moors

“That looks a bit like Barry” “Who’s Barry?” 

We cycled up. We cycled down. The sun was shining. The views were spectacular. The hills were long but gentle. We were in a big group and everyone was enjoying themselves. Somebody was laughing. Then something in me switched – I was at the back of the group as we pulled our way up a long hill and I just started working up a rhythm. Before I knew what was happening I was past everyone and off the front of the group. I’m not sure it was a conscious decision to escape but it felt exhilarating and I just kept on pushing. Part of me imagined I was in a race breaking away from the peloton. Part of me just enjoyed the hard work. I rode on my limit overtaking a few other riders further up the road and told myself I would slow down when I was caught. In the end I was on my own for about 10 miles and was completely shattered when the group finally reached me.

“And an unknown rider in blue has broken away from the peloton….”

Gatesy celebrates reeling me in

I knew I’d never actually escape Gatesy, but I also knew he’d be extremely pissed off by my antics which obviously spurred me on! Fortunately I was caught at the start of the descent off the moors giving me ample time to recover.

I had no idea what this sign was supposed to mean but I knew it was good news

This was soon followed by a feed zone where I refuelled and accepted my mocking for embarking on such a fruitless and selfish waste of energy.

A much needed feed zone in a local village hall

Back in the pack and sucking wheels to recover

From the foot of the moors it had looked like an easy last 40 km to the finish line. However the organisers had one last trick up their sleeves with an unadvised additional 15 km. We pressed on and thankfully saw the signs to Somerton just as Gatesy leapt into his early sprint finish. Not wanting to be outdone we followed suit for one final hurrah and crossed the finish line together with much hand shaking and congratulations.

“Is it over? Please say it’s over”

Gatesy shortly before his head exploded under the pressure of 17 gallons of drained lactic acid

I don’t think there’s any way to sum up my three most enjoyable days of cycling and really do it all justice. I think I’ll just let the tan lines do the talking:

The road cyclist’s badge of honour

Paul looking incredibly pleased with the sharpness of his tan lines 

The Exmoor Beauty Sportive

Last weekend I rode the Exmoor Beauty sportive with a few friends. After riding in last year’s punishing 100 mile Exmoor Beast, I had initially been put off entering the Beauty as it sounded like a watered-down version. Then I checked the event details of the Beauty and saw it was 70 miles with over 2000 metres of climbing and I realised that maybe the Beast had needed some watering down.

Exmoor Beauty 2012 - not a lot of flat riding

The route map shows the scale of Exmoor National Park

Like all sportives, the day started with a hearty breakfast at some ungodly hour. Eating porridge at 4.45am while your stomach is still sleeping doesn’t exactly feel natural, but I guess that’s what coffee was invented for.

The week before the event I had replaced the rear tyre of the Fuji bike. It had slipped several times during climbs and had started to show some significant signs of wear. It irked my inner thriftiness to be replacing something which wasn’t actually broken, but seeing as this is almost certainly the first time the words “thriftiness” and “cycling” have ever being used together, I once again ignored my instincts. Once you can feel comfortable turning up to work on a building site wearing tights, then nothing else in cycling can really phase you! Nonetheless, once I had the new tyre on, it was pretty obvious that the old one had been ridden to within an inch of its life.

New tyre looking very ... erm, new?

Old tyre looking very old

I took the first few miles of the event at a relaxed pace, riding alongside Justin and Rachel. The night before the event I was reminded by Ms BikeVCar that I hadn’t given my body any rest recently due to the “stupid Strava challenge” and that the last thing I should do at the Beauty was engage in “willy waving” by trying to match Andy, and potentially injure my depleted body. With these wise words still ringing in my ears, and only 5 miles into the event, I put the hammer down and set off to chase down Andy.

Managing a smile at the top of a steep climb

It took about 5 miles but I eventually spotted him ahead. From 10 to 50 miles we rode together through savage weather on the moors. At times it was a struggle to keep moving forwards against battering winds and rain. We formed a group of about 10 riders and took it in turns to suffer the worst of the headwinds while the others sheltered behind. I was mostly riding on my limit which meant that a couple of times I was forced to drop off the back in order to recover, before expending a colossal amount of the energy I had recovered, just in order to catch back up. This certainly wasn’t the most efficient way to ride but it was all I could do to keep going.

Focussed on a fast descent before the storms arrived

At 50 miles, with frozen fingers and soaked to the skin, I felt a loss of control to the rear wheel and looked down to see a flat tyre. Not seeing the need to make Andy freeze himself further I let him go and pulled over to carry out the repair. Being a brand new tyre it was a complete bugger to remove, and I was almost in tears on the umpteenth occasion when a tyre lever pinged off across the grass verge. A number of riders passed by asking if I was ok, to which I shouted back “Yes, thanks” – this was clearly a lie.

And when a local kindly stopped to ask if I needed a lift anywhere, it took inner strength I didn’t know I possessed to politely turn him down. “No, I don’t want a lift in your nice warm van, I want to be kneeling down in this river of a road, close to tears and fumbling with a non-compliant tyre, but thank you” 😉 Eventually I got the blasted tyre off and completed the rest of the repair with surprising ease.

15 minutes of my day were spent swearing on this exact spot

The last 20 miles were a war of attrition. I found myself preferring the climbing to descending as it gave a chance to warm up my frozen bones. I eventually made it to the finishing line in 5 hours & 5 minutes where I was able to calculate that my puncture repair had taken 15 minutes, and not the hour it had felt. I was only 20 minutes behind Andy, 6 minutes ahead of Justin and 13 ahead of Rachel putting us all in the top 100 of over 700 entrants. A great result all round, but also some real lessons in suffering.

The event had started and ended in Butlins, Minehead. After putting on some dry clothes we sat at a cafe to refuel and silently surveyed the hideous nightmare of a Butlins weekend in full flow. Suddenly my puncture experience didn’t seem quite so bad!

The end of a big cycling week

I cycled over 300 miles this week. This is my biggest week ever and has seen a few notable events along the way:

300+ miles for the bike. A nominal amount for the car

The (insane) Strava Challenge continues at a good pace

A rapid blue line recovery here too. Go bike!

My first roadside puncture. There's surely never a good time to get a flat, but during a 70 mile Sportive in the wind and freezing rain wasn't great. It took me 15 minutes to replace the inner tube. I'd like to get quicker but could honestly do without further practice!