Chew to Kew

It’s always a great sense of accomplishment to travel somewhere far away by bike. Other than commuting to work, my cycling usually involves travelling in loops from home to home. So it’s always fun when the opportunity arises to use the bike as a genuine mode of transport.

On Thursday I rode from the Chew Valley (Someset) to Kew Gardens (London), a distance of 132 miles / 213km. I left at 7.30am and arrived just before 5pm. Total riding time was 8 hours, plus regular stops for coffee, pasties, sandwiches, chocolate and more coffee.

7:30am start – 21st century “bike-packing”

I was going to ride the steel-frame touring bike, but a friend lent me his seat-pack so that I could ride the carbon fibre lightweight bike. I reckon this probably saved about an hour on the journey time compared to the heavy old steel frame plus rack and panniers. When you’re staying in hotels and buy all your food with a credit card you’re basically cheating at proper touring anyway, so you may as well go the whole hog and ride a race bike!

It was fairly mild when I left, but then I entered a thick cloud of fog which seemed to cover most of Wiltshire. For at least an hour I rode along saying “f**k it’s cold” on repeat. Travelling light has its limitations on kit so I just had to man-up and ride on.

Fog angst – this innocuous, mildly inclement weather resulted in some persistent swearing

I ended up riding through parts of Somerset, Wiltshire, Hampshire, Berkshire, Surrey and London. I stuck to quiet lanes and B-roads so it was like a trip through the lost lands of middle England; places unvisited by the fast-paced A-roads and motorways. With the sunshine it was blissful. A land of fields, tractors, thatched roofs and the raw smells of manure!

Pewsey White Horse on the hills in the background (Wiltshire)

The roads were quiet and I hardly encountered any bad driver incidents, which was good. I think the worst moment was a lorry driving too fast down a dusty lane. I pulled off the road and we exchanged un-plesantries as he passed. He was quickly followed by an old gent driving a TVR who looked just like Michael Caine, who shouted “don’t mind a bit of dust do you fella!” and sped off before I could explain that it was the out-of-control, 10 tonnes of metal that I’d minded rather than the effing dust. I spent the next ten minutes thinking that it definitely had been Michael Caine, and the next ten minutes deciding that it definitely hadn’t been Michael Caine. This is the kind of petty, repetitive nonsense that goes on in my head during a long ride. Which is a nice change from the stresses of normal life.

“Was that? It definitely was! No, surely he wouldn’t be driving a bloody TVR… “
With great views comes great amounts of climbing!

The last hour was a bit of a slog through the never-ending suburbia of Greater London and then Central London. 7 hours of quiet countryside, followed by an hour of traffic lights, cars and pollution so thick you can taste it. For all its positives there’s a lot about London that I don’t miss – traffic being one of them. I’m not sure whether I’d cycle if I lived there now. Maybe I’m just not used to the stress and intensity of that type of riding any more. It felt dangerous.

Crossing the serene Thames in Kew (f**k-loads of traffic everywhere not in the photo)

I arrived at Kew at 5pm. Timed perfectly for beer o’clock. My wife joined me the following morning, having driven in the support vehicle so there was fortunately no need to cycle home again. A great adventure and nice to put the fitness to practical use.

“Pint of Camden Taaan, guv” – Looks authentic, but was actually a pint of Cornish ale!

Bath Half Marathon – 1:22

Having big plans is one thing, but following through is another. I’ve surprised myself this year by sticking with a single fitness plan – get quicker at running! Even in the face of winter weather and the constant distractions that life throws at you. With a solid winter of training, and 1:25 in the hilly Tunbridge Wells half marathon 5 weeks ago, I arrived at the start line of the Bath Half feeling relatively confident of a good time.

I hadn’t participated in a huge race for years, probably not since the London Marathon in 2004. So I’d forgotten about the claustrophobic bedlam at the start of these events. I cycled to Bath and then jogged to the ‘Runners Village’ as a warm up. It was mayhem. I’d given myself an hour just to go to the toilet and check my bag. I nearly missed the start!

From the off, there were so many people around me it was surreal. Like running in a swarm. I ran the first km in 3:40; the second in 3:43 surrounded by a heaving mass of runners. I genuinely started wondering if the calibration of my watch was wrong as it was so busy. It was a good 4 or 5km into the race before the pack started to split up and I found more breathing space.

The atmosphere around the course was electric. The pavements were lined with cheering people and there was live music blasting out in several places. The route is a double-loop of the city centre which makes supporting more fun. In a couple of places there was such an intense wall of noise it felt enough to stop me in my tracks!

From the halfway point onwards I knew I was on for a PB so I banked it rather than push beyond my limits and risk blowing up. But with threshold racing it’s small margins – running at 99% can feel like cruising; running at 101% will make you stop and puke!

I ended up finishing in 1 hour, 22 minutes and something. A solid PB and around 6:20 per mile / 3:52 per km average. My heart-rate was at “threshold” for 1 hour and 15 minutes!

I didn’t feel too bad the next day. But two days later and I’m feeling shattered, with really sore feet. I ran in ‘flats’ which are arguably a bit lightweight for this distance. I race on feel, and likewise I train on feel. So right now my body is telling me to rest and I’m heeding that advice. And of course just enjoying the feeling of accomplishing a goal. Time for a break before the next challenge …

Chewy-Roubaix 2019

I organised a Spring-Classics style club ride last weekend. I’m heading out to Belgium next month with a few friends and club mates to ride the Paris-Roubaix sportive and to watch the pro race the next day. So I decided we needed something grimy and gnarly to prepare ourselves for the onslaught. And so ‘Chewy-Roubaix’ was born. 13 people decided to take part. They were warned it would be a nasty ride!

Chewy Roubaix ‘Sector 1’

The route was a series of grimy back lanes, punch climbs, farm tracks, forestry trails and even a bit of token pavé for good measure. Albeit pristine, Cathedral Square pavé!

The Hell of the North, this is not

Everyone made it to the midway coffee stop but it became a bit attritional from then onwards. The wind was brutal and the weather kept switching between sunshine to rain and hail. On a normal club ride we’re more civilised and wait for dropped riders, but Chewy Roubaix was an unmerciful ride. To be fair, most dropped riders pleaded to be left to die alone in peace. We rode on and wished them luck in finding their way home.

Bastard hail – this shit hurts your face
‘Zing zing’ – under siege

With 10km to go we were down to 6 riders. We stopped for a reviving snack and a serious debate about finishing the course or just calling it a day. Everyone was broken. We resolved to finish the madness we’d started and rode on, two short but brutally steep climbs finishing us off. It started hailing again.

Through the woods

Next weekend’s club bun run will be the usual friendly, sociable riding on smooth tarmac with all riders back home at a reasonable hour to fulfil their family duties. But the memories of Chewy-Roubaix will live long …

Hitting the deck

It’s a funny sensation taking a fall on the bike. One minute you’re flying along the road, thinking nothing. The next thing you know, the road’s rushing up at your face at an angle. Then you realise you’re laying on the wet ground, legs tangled between a bike and you should try and stand up.

I took a spill today. Nothing major. The inevitable bruised hip and torn kit. And a big scuff to my helmet. Good thing I was wearing one, I remember it bouncing into the floor. The fall was within the first 10 kilometres of a planned 60 km ride. I got up and readjusted my glasses, straightened my skewiff bars and gave my body and bike a quick once-over. Finding no significant damage to either, I got back on the bike and carried on for the remaining 50km. Like a pro!

Today’s ride – featuring mud, grot, a mechanical and a crash. Spring Classics or what!

Tunbridge Wells Half Marathon 2019

I was back in Tunbridge Wells this weekend, catching up with family and friends … and running my hometown half marathon.

The race has grown in popularity since I last ran it 15 years ago. Back then it was just a handful of runners – yesterday’s race had over 1500 entrants. It was a bit of a spontaneous opportunity to see my family so the race itself was very much a low-priority event. Therefore my goal was to have a low-stress race and enjoy myself … but to reap the rewards of a solid Winter’s training and beat my younger self obviously!

It was a fantastic event by the TW Harriers getting all the important details right like marshals, signage, bag-drop and lots of toilets! And there was great support out on the route through some beautiful and hilly Kentish villages. A brute of a mile-long climb at Fordcombe did some damage to my pace and energy reserves but that’s what makes this such a notoriously tough race.

I ran with a group for the first half of the race, clocking an initial 10K PB of 38:53. Certainly a lot faster than I had intended but the race is mostly downhill to start before the climbing begins so it felt quite manageable.

The course profile with my pace overlaid
At the halfway point I found myself breaking from a nice little group, without it necessarily being a conscious decision


A Royal Flush of PB’s

Racing at threshold is as much a mental as physical battle so I try not to overthink decisions during a race. Fortunately I had judged it well and didn’t see the group again. To the extent that I had the luxury of an empty stretch of tarmac over my shoulder for the final mile and could cruise home for a solid 31st place and a personal best time of 1:25:09.

Eyeing up the finishing line

My priority early season race is the faster and flatter Bath Half in 3 weeks time. So my goal for this race was to reacquaint myself with the longer distance and survive without any cock-ups. Saying all that, writing this the evening after the race I’m definitely feeling pretty tired. I guess there’s no ‘easy’ way to run 13 miles … especially when you give your wife a weekend to herself and wrangle the children on top! On to the next one …

Tunbridge Wells Half Marathon – still smiling!

Going tubeless

I decided to go tubeless. It’s all the rage apparently. Excellent puncture resistance and ride quality, they say. A small sacrifice in weight apparently, but on a steel frame commuter bike it’s all just extra training! Why the bloody hell not. Embrace modern technology you old fart.

First outing on the space-age tech was this morning’s 20 mile commute to North Bristol. With my reformed stone-age mentality, I set off at 6.30am to be at work for 8am. Half an hour in and I felt the unfamiliar sensation of a flat. I’d previously been riding on the same Conti 4 Seasons for almost 2 years without one. Why oh why would the evil Puncture Gods choose to smite me now. After several years being a devout retro-grouch and resisting all change to tubeless I’d finally made a sacrifice to the Gods and killed off my clinchers.

Spadge leakage

No drama I thought. Just stick in a bit more air in and wait for the magic sealant to fill the hole. This didn’t work. Therefore, drama.

Luckily I had a couple of spare inner tubes so I decided to ‘just’ whip off the tyre and stick in a tube. Ho-ho. It went roughly like this:

  1. Struggle to remove tight-as-fuck tubeless tyre
  2. Legs and shoes get sprayed with sealant
  3. Struggle to remove valve with freezing fingers
  4. Insert tube getting sealant all over hands
  5. Struggle for ages to get tight-as-fuck tubeless tyre back on rim.
  6. Break a tyre lever.
  7. Realise that I will probably split the inner tube with the lever but also realise I have no alternative so press on
  8. Once tyre is on, use ‘magic’ CO2 canister to reinflate tyre.
  9. Notice that tyre is not reinflating, therefore realise I am simply polluting atmosphere with magic CO2
  10. Look around, see that nobody is nearby and shout “FUCK” at top of lungs
  11. Realise that some of the cars that are driving past are probably thinking “ha ha, stupid cyclist”
  12. Repeat steps 1 – 5 with second tube
  13. Locate backup mini pump. Try to reinflate second tube. Pump is broken. Haven’t used it for years.
  14. Stand on side of road for 10 minutes waiting for another cyclist.
  15. Flag him down and kindly borrow his pump
  16. Inflate tyre and say big thanks bro etc.
  17. Recommence journey
  18. Notice that tyre is going flat again.
  19. Repeat Step 10
  20. Phone a friend who laughs. Decide to ride to friend’s office as there is a bike workshop next door
  21. Ride 5 miles on a flat tyre. Almost fall off on a couple of corners
  22. Get to friends office at 8.15am. Everything is closed.
  23. Reception opens at 8.30am and they have a magic bike repair box
  24. Take a new inner tube from magic box
  25. Discover that someone has borrowed the pump from the magic box and not returned it
  26. Get friend to help install 3rd tube.
  27. Repeat steps 1 – 5, being thankful that friend also finds it a massive effing struggle and it’s not just me being a puny woos-bag
  28. Wait for bike workshop to open and borrow track pump
  29. Go to friend’s office for a nice cup of coffee
  30. Continue journey to work and arrive at 10.15am, almost 4 hours after setting off
  31. Be grateful that first meeting at work is not until 11.30am
  32. Eat food and drink coffee
Thumbs up for tubeless

Luckily my journey home was totally non-eventful. General advice from people I’ve spoken to is that new tubeless tyres can take a couple of rides to ‘bed in’ properly. Maybe I should’ve done a couple of local rides on them first.

Broken lever, pointless CO2 – rescued by a proper Conti tube

Change, eh. Who needs it!

Luckily, sometimes things are so bad that they end up being funny. And you realise that if this is the biggest hardship you have to deal with in life then you’re doing pretty well.

N+1, the full scientific rationale

In the name of science (but mostly marketing) I recently landed the gig of pedalling and posing in a wind tunnel. I got a call from 220Triathlon asking if I’d be interested in a day’s work being prodded, poked, photographed and tested at the new Boardman Performance Centre in Evesham.

future

The morning was spent with a physiologist who carried out a biomechanics analysis of me. I had a bunch of electrodes stuck to my body and rode a Watt Bike with state-of-the-art pedals to analyse every conceivable force in my pedal stroke, while sat on a pressure-sensitive saddle to electronically map every squeak of my bum. It produced a wealth of information – probably more data than was needed to send man to the moon, and certainly more than I would know what to do with. But nonetheless, it was pretty cool to geek out and have an insight into all the technology that’s being used by professional cycling teams these days.

The afternoon was spent playing in the wind tunnel.

img_1646

The real-time feedback was incredible. You can see from the image above that there was a screen on the ground in front of me. This displayed a side-on profile (with a baseline silhouette) and gave a reading for my current aerodynamic drag (CdA). Making small adjustments to my position told me the difference this was making to my drag.

img_1658

All of this data was being analysed by the technicians in the lab. We then ran a series of tests trying out different positions. For this they used a Boardman rig, partly as it was easier to make quick changes but also because they understandably wanted to get their branded bike in the magazine. They also had a selection of helmets for me to try.

There were a few quick fixes to improve my position, and others that may justify n+1 bike purchases. More on that in future blog posts!

As well as appearing in 220Triathlon, it appears I’m the also face (or more accurately the legs) of the new Boardman wind tunnel website. Luckily my face isn’t taking it too personally.

boardman site