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 …

 

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

“Knog Blinder” review

Over the course of this blog I’ve written a handful of cycling product reviews – I try to buy as few cycling products as possible so generally don’t have too much to review. Unfortunately I am now in need of a new rear light as the old one broke. It was a ” Knog Blinder 4 Circle Rear LED” and I can’t say I was too disappointed when it died. I haven’t been overly impressed by it and now have good reason to purchase a replacement. Hopefully I’ll make a better choice this time.

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The Knog Blinder – style over substance?

First the positives – it’s very bright and lives up to the name ‘Blinder’. It has about 5 functions, one being constant and the other 4 being various flashing sequences. Arguably 3 of these are superfluous but maybe some people like to have a choice. It’s easy to clip onto the seat post via a rubber band and metal clip, but it probably wouldn’t attach securely to smaller tubes such as the seat stays if you have a saddle bag. And you certainly couldn’t clip it onto a saddle bag or mudguard. It’s rechargeable via a flip-out USB connector. Onto the negatives. Battery life has always seemed too short. It’s difficult to know exactly how long it lasts, but it’s somewhere between 2 and 3 hours. I’ve been on a few 3 hour rides where I’ve come home to find the light not working. Not only does this seem unsuitable to a sport where people often cycle for several hours, but it also means you need to charge it after every ride. When I was using it for commuting in the Winter I used to charge it twice a day, once at work and again at home just to be sure. This was obviously a nuisance. The USB connection is also a bit temperamental and there have been times when it was plugged in but not receiving charge. The final and terminal flaw with the design was that the rubber band clamp perished. I think I’ve had the light for 18 months. In that time it’s had good use and been subjected to lots of rain, but still, for a light that costs somewhere between £25 to £30 you’d expect better.

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Perished rubber band

I also own a Knog front light, and similarly this has a battery life of about 2 hours. So, going forward I will be looking for a light with a longer battery life. And probably not a Knog. Clearly all of that removing and reattaching to charge this one up has contributed to it wearing out. If anyone can recommend a good rear light (or has better experience of the Knog Blinder) then please feel free to respond in the comments section below.

* After writing this post, I checked out the Knog website and read that all of their products have a 2 year manufacturers guarantee. So I sent the product back to the distributer and was issued a full refund. So despite not being completely happy with the quality of this particular Knog product, I can’t fault the integrity of the company.

Farewell old friend

After 10,000+ miles and many happy years together I decided it was time to bid farewell to my oldest bike. I wasn’t being forced to implement  the S-1 Rule where my total number of bikes was causing matrimonial disharmony, it was purely to free up a bit of space at home and because the old fella wasn’t getting any miles these days. I felt sad seeing him collecting dust and cobwebs in the back corner of the shed and thought he’d be better served as a starter bike or winter hack for another cyclist. The fact that old bikes seem to hold their value on eBay was an added incentive.

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eBay selling photo

I took the time to give the bike a thorough clean, and then probably went above-and-beyond the call of duty by dismantled the head-set to clean and re-grease it. The last time I’d ridden the bike was a rainy day and the headset had spluttered rusty gooze over the top tube. I didn’t want the buyer to think they’d bought a lemon if the same thing happened to them, so it gave me peace of mind to fix the problem.

Buyer beware

Buyer beware – the brand name has worn away from the side of the saddle. Which isn’t the original saddle that came with the bike. This bike clearly has some miles in it

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I made sure to include photos of wear to forewarn potential buyers

With 5 days to go, bidding is already fierce so I’m expecting to recoup some of the expense that’s gone into this bike. If I still lived in a city I think it would be handy to have a number 3 bike for locking and leaving without worrying too much. But living out in the sticks, it would appear that the correct number of bikes to own is 2. One carbon-fibre bike for training and racing, and one steel frame bike with mudguards and rack for winter riding, baby-carrying and errand running. However … I’m not completely ruling out the possibility that the freed up space in the shed could be nicely filled by a shiny new bike.

Spectating a professional cycling race

I made my way into Bristol yesterday to watch the finale of Stage 4 of the Tour of Britain. When compared to other sports, watching a cycling event is quite a strange experience. You hang around on the side of the road not really knowing what’s going on in the race, eventually a procession of police motorbikes and press cars come through with sirens and horns blaring which excites the crowd and then finally the riders stream past with everyone clapping, cheering and seeing if they can recognise any of them. Which is generally difficult with their faces concealed beneath sunglasses and helmets. It’s a very fleeting experience which can feel like a bit of an anti-climax. Everyone mills about afterwards for a few minutes chatting about what they thought they’d seen and looking on their phones to find out what was actually happening. And that’s it. It’s finished.

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The race finally arrives

I had a good day out, meeting up with some friends and cycling 40 miles in total. It was also a beautiful, sunny day so hanging around on the side of a road for an hour wasn’t too much of a hardship. It’s also quite amusing to overhear the typically banal chat from other cycling fans discussing the intricacies of their equipment. Being a cyclist really brings out your inner nerd.

There’s definitely something unique about how close you can get to the race. It would be chaos if football fans could touch the players or shout in their faces while they were playing. And it was good to head over to the finish line afterwards and see the riders cooling down outside their team buses. Formula 1 fans pay thousands for that sort of access. Watching cycling is free.

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The Team Sky bus was pulling the biggest crowd

I got caught in a bit of rush hour traffic on the return home. For someone who lives in a little village and does most of his riding on quiet country lanes this is fortunately a rare experience. I was faced with a dilemma: sit behind a mile-long queue of cars breathing in their fumes, or ride up the middle of the road with the motorbikes and face a few shouted comments from white-van-men about riding on the wrong side of the road etc. Nobody likes sitting in traffic so I guess cyclists can provide a focus for some people’s frustration. But I’m not quite sure I understand why nobody minds a motorbike doing the same.

Saying goodbye to the city

Saying goodbye to the city

25 Mile Time Trial

Last night I rode our club 25 mile time trial race. Not only was it the furthest I had raced, it was also the first time I’d pinned a number on my jersey this year so I had no idea what to expect. The course is 3 laps of Chew Valley Lake, a single lap being the usual weekly time trial distance. My personal best over a single lap was an average speed of 22.5mph, however that was last year and after lots of training. My goal for last night was to average over 20mph, known as “evens” in time-trialling.

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Race number 2

I got down to the lake early and chose number 2. Number 1 seemed a bit too symbolic and too much of a scalp for all the following faster riders to enjoy taking. I then headed off to warm up after a bit of a chat with a few other riders, including PJ who the previous week had been racing Bradley Wiggins and several other professional riders in the National Time Trial Championships and finishing 28th. A very impressive result for a club rider.

We set off at one minute intervals and I caught Number 1 within the first 5 minutes. Rather than seeing this as something positive it just made me think I’d set off too fast. For the next few minutes I kept asking myself whether I could maintain the pace for an hour. “I don’t know … I don’t know … I don’t know” was like a worrying mantra going round in my head, until I remembered reading somewhere that this is actually the correct answer when time-trialling. If you answer “yes” you’re going too slow and if you answer “no” you’ve overcooked it! I pushed on.

Not only is the course undulating but it was a breezy night which manifested itself in a slight headwind along the uphill back straight which was quite energy sapping. I completed the first lap at an average speed of 21.5mph which I was pleased with. My tactics (or lack of) were to push it hard on lap one, try and maintain the pace on lap two and then hammer it home on the final lap. Basically I had no tactics.

On the half-hour mark I was overtaken by Number 3. It was a strange feeling but I was actually glad to be overtaken purely because it was nice to feel the camaraderie of another rider. For half an hour I’d been suffering alone. Plus he was wearing a pointy helmet, had a disc wheel and TT bars so I consoled myself by saying it was probably just his equipment which made him faster than me. I do own some clip-on TT bars and have used them before but they gave me terrible neck ache from the strained position so I didn’t contemplate attaching them for a one hour race.

On 40 minutes I was overtaken a second time. This time by Number 8 who was going super fast. By the end of my second lap my average speed was down slightly to 21mph which was good. I knew I had +20mph in the bag and pushed on. But by the end of the difficult back straight my average was down to 20.6mph which gave me a new determination to try and finish on 21mph. With a couple of downhill stretches I felt the wind in my sails and gave it everything I had. On 23 miles I was overtaken by PJ. I hadn’t known what race number he’d taken but always knew he was somewhere behind me tearing up the tarmac and closing the gap. Number 14. He had started 12 minutes after me so was definitely on for a sub-hour time for the course which requires an average faster than 25mph.

By the final straight my average was up to 20.9mph and I gave it everything I had. I was riding at 25mph and with the finish line in sight had one eye on my average speed waiting for it to change. It did. 21mph average and a time of 1 hour 11 minutes.

I felt trashed and after hanging around at the finish for a while I headed home. Cold sweats, pain in the butt like I’d been kicked repeatedly and an inability to ride faster than 15mph without feeling like I was about to collapse. At one point I even brushed against a patch of stinging nettles on the side of a country lane, my brain working too slowly to adjust my riding line. The satisfying feeling of giving it everything you have.

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