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Cycling

Whitstable video blogging

A few weeks ago Neil and I had a lovely ride down to Whitstable along the Pilgrims Way which I wrote about at the time.

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During our day Neil spent a great deal of time filming. I’d kind of got used to it by the end of the ride but at every opportunity he was there grabbing more footage or talking to the camera. The most amusing things is his little clip on furry directional mic. It looks like a little rat.

I remember when he suggested that they start doing these little video clips and have to say I was pretty sceptical. Having seen quite a few of them I have to say I was entirely wrong. Each one keeps getting better and better as Neil becomes more familiar with the tools and works out what works and what doesn’t. It’s also a really good way of communicating some of the things that go into running a small company and a lot of the thought processes behind things.

The below video, Episode 18, is primarily of our ride to Whitstable and records the day in a way in which I would be unable to describe as well through words and pictures, my chosen medium. Whilst it’s nice to be on camera in places I think it’s a great way of describing an enjoyable days riding and takes a lot of skill to get there.

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Photography

Taking photos again

It seems strange for a part time photographer to talk about taking photos again yet here I am tapping this out. I love taking photos, editing, sharing and so on but then somehow it all got to be a bit of a formality. Work is with a tripod, shift lens and big camera and doesn’t lend itself to spontaneity. I spend a lot of time using Instagram but then that had become largely about taking photos of cycling events, friends and silly things. To some extent I felt like I had lost that eye that searches out for a photo at every opportunity. It all sounds a bit daft but I missed that feeling of wanting to take photos I got when I did a 365 project in 2009. That is an eternity away but somehow but after that phones got a lot better and I spent less time using a ‘proper’ camera of sorts.

My favourite camera was the X100 I got in 2010. This was the original one and although a bit sluggish in places it was still very capable. The firmware was updated by Fuji and a fast SD card resolved most of the issues. But then again I stopped taking this out with me. The problem being that sitting down at a computer to edit the RAW files seemed more like work than pleasure.

An opportunity to get hold of a modern X100T came up the other day and I snapped it up – if you will excuse the pun. Whilst it’s familiar it also felt like I was learning something from scratch again. I realised I had lost that desire to see things through a viewfinder and go and hunt those pics out. It also felt strange using a camera in that way in a more social relaxed way. I’m comfortable with pointing my phone at anything yet using a camera felt a little strange.

I’m hoping that built in WiFi and a few other more modern features will help me use this to its full potential. It’s taken a day or so to get all the settings to where I like them but it’s such an incredible tool. The only downside is that the files sizes are three times the size of the original which means a little bit more of spinning beach balls when importing.

Had great fun using it yesterday and hoping to continue enjoying photography again.

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Cycling

South Downs Way, second time lucky

I like keeping lists. I use a little app called Simplenote and have it synced across every PC / Mac / Phone I use and jot down anything that comes to mind. What I need to get done, things that might come in useful, snippets of thoughts or just things that need writing down, rides, films to watch and so on. There were many things in the “Rides” list for 2016 but one which kept on jumping out at me was to attempt to ride the South Downs Way. What I really wanted to do was ride it one way this year and then have an attempt at both ways the following year. I’d seen various people do it and it’s one of those things that looks like a challenge but somewhat achievable, one way that is. There and back looks ridiculous but had hoped to be able to work up some fitness towards that goal.

So I floated the idea of it with a few friends, some London, some Brighton based and all met up in Winchester to start the journey. All pretty excited for a nice day out on the hills. Apart from we (London lot) were waiting at the station larking around and they (Brighton lot) were waiting at the King Alfred statue in the centre of town. Cue faffing, missed phone calls and starting 45 mins late after obligatory photos at the statue and chatting about a beautiful retro Marin with a man.

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So we’re off. Racing up hills, chatting, introducing ourselves to each other generally having a nice time. A few little wrong turns. Beep. Garmin check. Back on. More hills. Faffing. Gates. So many gates. Bash decides to come off in a puddle. We trundle along, generally enjoying things.

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I’m only a few weeks back from my collarbone snap and I’m not as fit as the rest of the group. Jo is recovering from a chest infection and Bash didn’t sleep. Excuses mount. Matt takes a tumble at high speed on a descent slicing his elbow open and more worryingly scratching his frame at the same time. Adam is as fit as always and doesn’t complain.

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We meet a variety of characters who we end up passing, stopping, passing, stopping and so on. One was an older gentleman who tells us that he comes out and does the SDW in little sections. He’d done routes all around the country, doing a little section then ending in a pub. From the sounds like it he had covered quite a lot of ground in the UK. He had an ancient bike and no fancy kit but the smile on his face was enormous. As we cycled away I thought that he was probably the only person I’d ever met entitled to use the hashtag #outsideisfree. What a way to spend your retirement!

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Back on with more trails. Lots of cows. Some fun descents and a lot more chatting.

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We stopped for lunch against the better advice of Jo. Ten pounds for a baguette and a coke each and we’d lost a lot of time. Back on out of the valley where we had stopped an on. Hills became tougher but I found some new strength after lunch. We stopped on a hill to help a man who was having trouble with a puncture. He’d got the wrong sized tube, the wrong type of valve and no pump and was on an immaculate £3500 bike. Sympathy faded a little more after each fact was revealed but we helped him get it sorted and wished him well. More time lost.

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By the time we got to the YHA near Brighton we were flagging. Mentally mapping out the hours we’d need to get to Eastbourne seemed to more to dampen our spirits. I was of the opinion that we must and should complete it. But then by the time we’d made the climb to Devil’s Dyke I too had caved in. Arriving at 10pm in Eastbourne probably wasn’t going to be much fun. Sure we’d have done it but it would have been a bit of a schlep and then to get the train home without any social time or laughs with our friends. Hard to believe I’m writing this but we all caved in and went to the pub. It’s not a very good pub but it was what we all needed.

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I spotted a great photo of everyone looking out to the low sun in the sky and the silhouette they were creating. As I raised my camera a kind woman literally forced me into the photo. How nice to actually be included in the photo to record the day when I’m usually the other side or there’s one person left out of the pic.

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It’s probably one of my favourite cycling photos as it captures having had a great time as well as the characters involved. Four pints (each), six packets and crisps and two bowls of chips later (between us) we rolled down the hill into Brighton and got the train home. We didn’t achieve what we had hoped but the laughing and smiling in the pub til it hurt more than made up for it.

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The following week Beth and James went out and completed it. They had horrific weather for it and ended up finishing in the dark. Congratulations to them both but I couldn’t help but feel a pang of regret that we hadn’t pushed on. Especially as it was such a glorious day for it. But there’s really no point in regret, it’s just a waste of energy. Best just get on with it and do it again. I really did want to get it done in 2016 and not regret it. Even though regret is futile.

The trouble with this idea was that the evenings were drawing in and alarmingly so. The days were getting shorter and shorter which however you set it up means finishing in the dark. Being exhausted and tired mixed with the risk of bad weather is not my idea of fun, or a particularly safe ride. Wet chalk and tiredness – no thanks. So I came up with the stupid idea of starting in the dark. Why not get the dark bit out of the way before and then end in daylight? Adam and Bash were up for it. Matt had dislocated his collarbone and couldn’t. Jo was maybe and “I’ll see” on the day. Train times were pushed back and forth and a date agreed. I was coming from London, Adam from Brighton. How best to meet and not hang around in Winchester alone was discussed.

So a few weekends back we met at Clapham Junction at 11pm to get a train to Winchester to begin our silly little adventure. As expected the train was full of drunk people commuting home after an evening in the pub. What we hadn’t envisaged was it being completely rammed. Fuck. Not that door. Shit. Not this one. Run. ‘Scuze meeeee. And just about squeezed in both bikes around the drunk people. A man was lying slumped against the door clutching his phone who appeared to wake occasionally before grinning and then falling asleep again.

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The train thinned out as we went further South which allowed a bit of repacking and faffing. I realised I hadn’t fitted my helmet light properly and was bobbing around. I fashioned a little support from a spare business card I had in my wallet and a train ticket – thanks Matt for the business card.

I’d set up my SPOT tracker for a few friends and family to follow our progress. Although this required a little faffing too. In addition we had some support from some of the Brighton lot and Vic was offering to pick us up if anything went wrong. I cheekily asked what counted as an emergency (asking for a friend). To which the response was…

Less than 999, more than a ‘bit tired’

I found this highly amusing and kept me going in some of the darker moments. The thought of others looking out for us also helped a great deal.

As we got off in Winchester we ended up having to explain ourselves to a group of guys coming home from a good night in the pub. Rather than the idiotic reaction expected they were thrilled at the idea and encouraged on our way before shaking our hands as they left to get in their taxi. Good luck lads they shouted as they drove off.

Whilst on the train I found myself becoming more and more nervous as I often do before big things like this. My mind thinking back to a stressful week at work and that the last sleep was last night and I wasn’t going to be getting any more until Sat evening.

This is silly.

This is stupid.

Both going round and round in my mind wanting for some reason to not do this.

We got on our bikes, flicked our lights on and headed down to the King Alfred statue for a quick picture. It’s the official start so only right we started there. After that it was onwards out of town and up onto the Downs. Immediately I thought of how I hadn’t ridden for about 7 days and had a bit of a holiday with too much food and booze. Adam was immediately stronger and doing a better pace. I’d said to myself that I would plod along to get it done and not race up or down things for fear or peaking too early and / or coming off on a descent. Normally I would prefer to ride with someone next to me and hate seeing someone up ahead. For some reason being completely pitch black it was actually good to follow someone and see their light ahead in the distance. We rode together for the wider sections and chatted about work / life / cycling adventures and so on for a few hours. At around 3am I think we both stopped talking and just got on with riding.

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It was a cloudy night and really thick darkness with little light pollution. This meant it was completely and utterly dark. Pitch black. The tendency was to focus on your own light ahead to track where you’re going. Stopping allowed a broader view of the areas we were passing through and a bit more context – this is that bit or we’re near that bit. All felt completely remote and wonderfully still and silent. It wasn’t as hard as I had thought and felt pretty exciting to be out exploring when everyone else was safely in bed.

Occasionally we stopped and turned our lights off and just appreciated the silence and stillness of it all. You could hear your own breathing over anything else. Each of us was beaming from ear to ear just enjoying the isolation and silliness of it all. I tried to take a picture of the nothingness. With little light around this didn’t really happen. I wanted to record it somehow but will have to make do with the memories of it.

I was really pleased with this one of Adam though. My light off and just his lights illuminating the immediate foreground. Again I imagined people seeing these lights moving through the countryside and wondering what the hell we were doing.

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Riding trails off road was so much fun in the dark after I got over my initial apprehension and soon picked up a bit more speed descending. Tuck in and trust your judgement and kind of just go with it. One descent I did slow down for was the Butser Hill descent. Adam didn’t seem so bothered and flew down it. Each time I caught up with him at a gate he was beaming from ear to ear. He was clearly loving every minute of it.

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We surprised quite a lot of the nature around us. We saw a few owls, plenty of foxes, rats, young deer and a few badgers. I’m pretty sure we saw a few birds of prey too but couldn’t tell you what they were. Not forgetting the countless cows and sheep that we saw who all looked pretty surprised to see us. We also had spiders webs appearing on our handlebars as they had strung them across the various trails we were passing through.

Speaking of sheep, on one descent at the back of Queen Elizabeth Country Park I had taken my clear glasses off as they had been steaming up a bit and annoying me. Of course this meant that a massive lump of sheep shit went straight into my eye. Cue lots of washing my eye with water and generally trying to get it out. No I just made it worse and then for the rest of the day I spent wiping green muck out the side of my eye as well as having a bright red stink eye to show for it. Always wear eye protection!

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We had been making good progress and areas that I recognised seemed to arrive quicker than expected. Having ridden the route before it really helped. I dread to think what it would be like navigating it in the complete darkness having not ridden it before. I was starting to tire a bit though, more mentally than physically although that was starting to fade too. We’d been in the darkness for so long and I was counting down to when I thought the sun would be rising. In addition it had started to rain a bit and a thick fog had set in. This made seeing even harder as the light just bounces off the moisture in the air, more lumens doesn’t help at all.

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The darkness seemed to go on forever. 6am came. Still dark. I’d mentally been working to 6am and it threw me a bit that we were still surrounded by it all. 7am still kind of dark and then within minutes it seemed to lift and we had a little sunrise to watch. Sadly it was partially obscured by the clouds but it still felt like the hardest part had passed. This also coincided with a neatly timed descent where we stopped half way down to admire the view. This looks good so we stopped, unpacked and got on with breakfast.

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I’d packed my little Alpkit stove, brew pot and two pre-measured bags of coffee (15g each). We’d both brought little coffee pots with integral plunger which are a brilliant bit of kit. We both had fresh coffee and enjoyed the view whilst I boiled another batch of water for porridge each. Not fancy by any stretch but it tasted damn good to have something substantial sat in the middle of no where. Like some kind of sanity in the mad thing we were doing. Of course it’s all a complete luxury and could have managed without but I find these little things help to keep you going. I got a bit cold sat down and took a while to warm up again in terms of my core temp and also the legs after a stop. Of course the next thing is another great big hill to climb. Super!

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By now more people are starting to be up and about and of course we say good morning to everyone we see. Dog walkers, people out fishing and also farmers and so on. We met a lovely farmer who kindly pointed out the tap we had missed a few hundred metres back. Filled water bottles and a bit more energy in the tank from breakfast we kept on. The next thing to aim for was Bash coming to meet us with more food!

We got to the agreed spot and negotiated with Bash where we were and how his progress was. We had to wait a bit in the car park but were kept entertained by the coming and goings of a local running club made up of mainly retired folk out enjoying the paths. Black labradors seemed to be standard issue and one tried to steal a sandwich from Adam’s frame bag.

Bash arrived and was sporting a Sainsbury’s bag which had been fashioned into a rucksack with straps made from duct tape. I wish I’d taken a picture of it but was a bit broken by that point and damp and cold still. In the ghetto rucksack were pastries and bananas. Wolfed down we got on our way again.

Adam was still much faster than me and Bash and him soon disappeared which sent my mental state through the floor. I find it hard enough at the best of times being dropped but was not thinking very straight without sleep and in my tired state. Rather than chewing on it I just said something and they both dropped the pace accordingly. It’s amazing how those tiny little things get to you as well as how much I find I need the support of others to get through a tough event like this.

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I was still being really slow on the hills and just grinding away. Even my 36t on the back wasn’t enough and found myself doing that stupid thing of clicking away for more gears even when you know there’s no more. A mixture of desperation and exhaustion I think.

Having Bash arrive with fresh legs and being a little bit more mentally able helped massively. We chatted away and I found this extra energy really helped get through the next bit. We ended up at the familiar spots we’d ridden before closer to Brighton. The pig farm on the top, the Youth Hostel (more water here) and then finally the top of Devil’s Dyke.

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The next thing to aim for was George who had agreed to meet us with more supplies. I’d kind of shut down a bit mentally by this point and then I saw Adam ahead talking to someone a bit longer than you might expect for your average ‘good morning’ type chat. I got a bit closer and it was George. Brilliant, so good. I was so happy to see him (and the thought of more food). We didn’t actually need food there and then and he agreed to drive a bit further along to meet us. This was actually much better as it allowed us to cover a bit more distance before settling down for another stop.

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The weather had improved and the temperature risen and most layers had been removed. We ended up meeting George and his lovely kids in a sunny spot by one of the taps next to Housedean Farm. He’d laid on an amazing spread although admitted that it wasn’t as plentiful as before due to the kids snaffling a few bits and bobs. Coke, crisps, Haribo, bananas, chocolate bars.. everything a hungry cyclist could dream of.

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After this we’d got to the point (at least I had) of trying to work out how many hills were left. I could clearly see from the Garmin how many kms were left but this probably wasn’t the issue. FIVE lumps left. Ok, let’s do it. This is achievable. FOUR. Ok, entirely possible. THREE. Actually there’s a little extra lump Adam had forgotten. THREE again. We were getting there though. I was still super slow and my glutes were in a lot of pain. A few Ibuprofen and we’re good. We got a nice flash rain storm as we hit Alfriston and quickly sheltered and then it suddenly passed and we were on our way again. Counting down. Our next target was the end obviously but also the mussels and chips place that serves the Belgian beer. God that beer was in my mind for so long.

And then as if by magic we saw Eastbourne in the distance.

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YES! We’ve almost done it. After this we traced the SDW as far as we could looking for some form of official finish. After we while we both gave up and then sped down into town to our reward of food and beer. The restaurant kindly let us bring our bikes into the lobby to avoid getting hypothermic outside. Three orders of bread, two mussels and chips and two strong beers later it was time to get the train home.

The only problem was trying to stay awake and not have my bike stolen. That and the stench of my kit and self. I couldn’t face the cycle back from Clapham Junction so got a connecting train to Denmark Hill. Even the short ride up the hill was painful.

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The vital stats were 162km ridden, 3525m of elevation climbed, 10.5 hours moving time and another 4 hours for stops on top of that with an average moving speed of 15.5kph. We set off at around 12.15am and got to Eastbourne around 4.30pm the next day without any sleep.

I’m incredibly proud of having achieved it with Adam and so grateful for the support of so many people who helped us get through it all.

Edit: In my haste to post this I forgot to add this little video clip which is from a service called relive.cc. You connect it to your Strava account and then it sends you a little video of your ride through an aerial perspective overlaid on Google Earth type graphics. Nine times out of ten this is boring as hell, laps of Regents etc, but this is really interesting as it traces our path along the South Downs and shows the fascinating topography of the whole area. Whilst we go up and down a lot we do traverse a ridge for quite some time.

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Cycling

Kent in the fog

Another little post of a nice weekend ride. The clocks went back, the cat woke me up at 6am and then I met bash at Gails in Dulwich. Quick coffee and then out onto the lanes on a route other Andy Matthews had showed me before. 80km planned. Not too short, not too far and hopefully back in time to have a bit of the day left and lunch with Emma.

A quick peep out of the window and weather check before we go. It’s foggy! Yes. Autumn leaves and fog. It’s going to be beautiful out there.

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After towing a few unwelcome wheel suckers along for a bit it was nice to make a turn off on our route east and into the proper countryside. We managed to get round a decent rate as it was just the two of us. We were in the Ice Hill cafe for 10.20 and had a quick coffee before jumping back on and heading back.

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We saw a few others we knew as we went a long, including the Penge and Brixton club runs. Nice to also see Mac, Clare and Si all out too. We even managed to see them twice – out and back. We also bumped into Lindsey who I hadn’t seen for a while and rode the last 30km back together towards Dulwich before heading for coffee and cake at Fowlds cafe just off the Walworth Rd.

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The pace wasn’t too shabby and not too ridiculous and managed to get back in good time without too much faff. I really do love riding at the time of year.

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Cycling Love this!

Reasons to go cycling in Scotland number 1

Another thing I used to do here was post inspiring videos or links to other people’s posts. Seems a shame not to record some of these as links shared on Twitter seem to be more and more transitory and fleeting in nature and soon forgotten. Google helps finding that thing where they went to the place that you know with the and on the…? Using obscure search terms to finally nail down what you’d been trying to recall but can’t bring back into current memory.

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This one jumped out at me the other day and is just the kind of thing that appeals to me.

Watch the video and then read the full write up. There’s so many stunning images in that post. Riding with friends in remote places like this seems like an absolute dream although reasonably accessible. An overnight train from London and then off round the wilds of Scotland.

One of the nicest things about the Pannier write ups is their little bits of research and studying of mapping. I have a massive soft spot for these little sketches of the route too.

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Cycling

A pleasant Sunday ride – The Whitstable Winder

Blog posts are now few and far between. There’s a load of events I haven’t written up and experiences I’d like to record here. It usually takes longer than the actual event to compose thoughts, pop a few pictures in, fuss over it, edit and then post. I used to use this place to record interesting videos or links but now that’s all Twitter / Facebook and occasionally Instagram.

Rides, like blog posts, don’t necessarily have to be ‘epic’ (used ironically and with a wry smile) to require a post. So it was really nice to head out on Sunday with an old friend, Neil. A quick trip to Daily Goods for a coffee and then headed out towards Kent to find Pilgrims Way and follow it all the way to Whitstable. The route is called the Whitstable Winder and I thoroughly recommend it, it’s a personal favourite of mine. I can’t remember how I came across it but it’s described as:

Quite possibly the nicest cycle to the coast from London there is.

You quickly reach the countryside south of Dulwich, & then it’s just miles of lovely rolling South Downs cycling. The stretch on the Pilgrims Way Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty is simply divine.

A couple of lung busting hills: Hollingbourne Hill being the worst by a margin.

Last year I rode with Seb to complete my Festive 500 and was a stunning last ride for 2015.

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We waved and smiled at everyone as we went out. Our average for waves / smiles back was really quite poor until we actually got to the countryside where everyone seemed to be a lot more friendly. Maybe the pollution is making everyone miserable in London.

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We had a beautiful day for it. Sunny and autumnal and with the wind blowing in completely the wrong direction. Two out of three isn’t bad. Some chatting. A few photos. A bit of filming for Bowman and their new bikes and just pushing on. A bacon sandwich in the place that wasn’t very good last time but was really good this time and then onwards.

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I love the rolling countryside and the way you traverse along the side of the ridge almost all the way there. There’s some really lovely open lanes as well as some nice tight closed in ones. It’s largely quiet and free of traffic. I bored Neil to tears with how much I loved my new Rapha Brevet jersey although I had a good laugh at the microphone adaptor he had on his phone for filming.

The wind got up just as Neil’s energy levels went down. I lied about how many hills were left and then got my head down and towed him in the last 20km or so. The last bit is particularly bleak as you turn the corner and all protection from trees is lost as you go along the coast to Whitstable. A dash for fish and chips followed by another dash for the train only to hear the dreaded words of “Bus replacement service“. Oh. Always check the trains are running! So we can still get back to London but the train goes via Dover and will take over two hours. Fine with me.

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All that’s left to do is sit back, eat our fish and chip supper, gulp 7up and relax. Oh and then Neil gets cramp really really badly suddenly moving from his relaxed stance to half way under the table writhing in agony. A first I’m concerned and then I realise it’ll make a hilarious picture.

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Thoroughly enjoyable!

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Cycling

Getting back on…

I recently broke my collarbone, had surgery to put some metal and screws in and then had a period off the bike. More about some of those things another time.

Executive summary; it wasn’t that bad and actually glad it happened. I learnt a lot and gave me a great deal of perspective.

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Getting back on my bike was something I’d really looked forward to. It wasn’t as bad as I had thought it would be. It wasn’t soul crushing and the space was good. I did really want to swing a leg over a bike again though. Fortunately this was sooner than hoped but after five weeks of inactivity and reacquainting myself with spending evenings in the Camden Head the lycra was always going to be a bit tighter. I was meant to be off the bike for 3 months but fortunately was able to get back sooner. I remember being given the news on the Tuesday I think and then cycling to work again on the next morning. Magic. I was so excited when I found out I could ride again. Genuinely moved by it. Fuck yeah.

The first time back on the bike was horrific and not what I had hoped or longed for. I had quite a bit of muscle wastage in my left arm, a real lack of strength in my shoulder, still too sore to wear a backpack and generally feeling very very nervous. I took the fixed and just took it easy even having someone ride with me the first few times. The feeling of invincibility had long since departed. Everything felt slightly threatening, intense and somewhat overwhelming. I hadn’t actually hated getting the train to work and even felt like ditching the bike and sticking with the train and a pleasant walk. This wasn’t what I remembered or wanted.

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Sure enough it got a bit easier. I used a different rucksack. I took it easy. I got used to it all again.

About the same time other Andy Matthews had also broken his collar bone although in a much more painful and complicated way. He also had surgery and we ended up being allowed to ride again at about the same time. We arranged to meet up and go on a gentle ride.

Where’s safe on a Sat morning? Well sadly Richmond Park was about all I could face at first. I avoid it like the plague at weekends usually saving it for summer evening spins but there’s no way I could face a trip to Kent. We met up in Brixton and Matt also joined us, headed out to Richmond and got on with it.

Whilst still nervous and tentative it was a real treat to ride a decent bike (the fast one with carbon round things) and put that new jersey on I’d been looking at sat on the hanger for 6 weeks. I bought it just before the off and had sat there since.

I knew I would have lost a lot of fitness but was totally unprepared by just how much had gone. Getting out of the saddle for a hill… nope. Nothing. Tank empty. Even the slightest inclines that wouldn’t have phased me before became a struggle. None of this really mattered though as I was on a bike again, rolling with two great people and outside in the fresh air again.

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Matt took this picture of Andy and I riding and it brings a smile to my face every time I see it. It wasn’t until my physio saw it that she noted about us both having slightly bent elbows. Having lost this strength the body over compensates. I’ve straightened up again now I think but shows just how weak that side had become. Anyway, both of us out. Both smiling. Both riding bikes again. Life is good (even in Richmond Park).

I think we only did 45km that day but that was quite enough. For some reason I wanted to ride on the Sunday too and felt an overwhelming desire to prove something to myself. Like I still had a bit of fight in me and that this fitness thing wasn’t as bad as it had been. In hindsight what I did next was unbelievably stupid.

One of the aims I had for getting back on was to have a bit more fun. Riding had all got a bit serious and even monotonous. Same, same, same. If I was honest I had started to become a bit bored of it all. How to add more fun? Go out of your comfort zone, go to different places, do different things.

So my idea for a first proper ride back… Get a train to Bath, ride along the Kennet & Avon canal to Reading and then get another train to London. I had grown up around Bath and also commuted along bits of the canal to Bradford-On-Avon previously and thought the idea of extending this further seemed like a good idea. Safer, no cars, a bit off-roady and some nice scenery.

No trains to Bath sadly. The nearest was the train to Penzance which would drop me off at Westbury adding another 35km to my route which was already looking a bit much. Ahh well, what else am I going to do. I booked some tickets, tried to convince others to come and then told Emma they were coming. I ended up riding on my own and just keeping quiet about it. I was nervous yet also kind of pleased that I would be out there just on my own doing my own thing at my own pace. Especially with my newly reduced fitness and expanded waistline.

Bike choice? Well, not the fast one. Cross bike looks ideal. Shame it’s in bits. Ok then the winter / audax / mile muncher it is. 28s will have to do.

One of the nice things about going from Westbury to Bath was that I got a chance to plan a route through some bits of countryside I’d not ridden before. Of course I ended up on some gravelly farm track thanks to ridewithGPS. A muddy end to that one and then back onto some beautiful lanes before heading to my intended target… The Two Tunnels round the back of Bath. Formerly rail tunnels bored out of the rock and shut by Dr Beeching yet recently re-opened by Sustrans. I’d wanted to ride them for a while but not had a route or reason to head that way.

Holy shit they’re good. They’re dark. Not overlit like some H+S conscious public works project but just subtle enough so that your eyes adapt to the darkness and feel it’s intenseness. Warm air, cold air and then some sounds and different lights. Some areas have little art installations in the recesses created for the workers to avoid passing trains and then dodge the locals without lights. It’s still going on and can’t quite see the end. A retina burning trip into the bright light again and then straight into the second shorter version.

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After that it was into Bath. Have a quick sandwich and a coffee and then head out onto the canal. I’d forgotten the best way to get onto it and had lost my bearings slightly. I found myself day dreaming and scuffed my front wheel on a kerb almost sending me off the bike. A quick word with myself and then got to the canal. It was lovely shifting along at a nice pace towards Bradford on Avon. A really nice surface, lots of greenery and few cheery folk around and lots and lots of dogs. I stopped briefly to admire the aqueduct as I looped around at Avoncliff. It really is an impressive structure.

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I had a glug of water and pushed on. I sat down briefly the other side of Bradford on Avon an a couple congratulated me on my bright pink chevron socks. Brought a smile to my face and made me glad to be out and about. I had in the back of my mind that I was starting to feel a little tired but really did want to finish this.

More familiar landmarks passed including the amazing Caen Hill Locks new Devises. It was great seeing these again as again such an incredible feat of engineering.

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This was still lovely smooth gravel and I’d started to think I could probably do this. I just needed to keep tapping it out, keep moving, don’t stop too long etc. Just as I thought this the surface really started to deteriorate and I wished for the CX bike to magically appear with it’s super comfy 40mm tyres. No such luck and we had to push on.

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The weather had been warm so the ground was super firm. I found myself on ridged section which seemed to activate the wobbly bits in my arms, bingo wings etc. This was amusing at first but soon wore off after my shoulders started to ache. Just as I thought it couldn’t get any worse I ended up riding through eye height grass. I could barely see the actual path. This really wasn’t funny now and was really testing my patience.

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I looked at the map for a suitable bail point and I really was in the middle of nowhere. No option to continue and just hope that the path was in a better state soon. It can’t be like this all the way to Reading surely?

On a more positive note one of the nicest things about the route was the amount of wildlife I saw. I saw plenty of Herons, Rabbits, Swans, Moorhens, Ducks and even a vole or two as well as hundreds of lovely dogs and even two cats sat adjacent to their respective canal boats. It was also incredibly green and picturesque.

Time was pressing on. I wasn’t stopping much but I had said “I’ll be back by about four”. There was still 60km to go and it was 3pm.

One of my favourite parts was getting to this beautiful brick arched bridge with a view over the Vale of Pewsey.

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This felt pretty remote as I hadn’t seen anyone for a while and had been fighting through the long grass.

Another favourite moment was helping a father and son in a boat who weren’t going to make it under one of the swing bridges. I had great fun releasing the bolt and swinging it open for them. Again more incredible engineering that one person can move a bridge wide enough to drive a car over and back again.

Things that didn’t go so well? Clipping a low branch with my left shoulder (the previously broken one) and also falling off my bike trying to slow down for some pedestrians, neatly falling on the opposite side and still clipped in. These things kind of shook me up and made me grab a hold of myself and get on with it. I threw a couple of Ibuprofen down to deal with the shoulder pain and decided to try and be less of an idiot for the rest of the journey.

I really did want to complete this little challenge. I’d set myself this stupid ride and really wanted to prove to myself I wasn’t weak and a terrible cyclist again. There’s some kind of weird pain thing going on here but like going riding hung over I felt some kind of punishment was due for being such a slack ass. Fuzzy logic applied liberally.

The time thing was starting to play on my mind as I sent my first apologetic text in response to the “How are you getting on” message from Emma. Again, I really wanted this done.

As I got to Newbury I thought about bailing. There’s a station there but then the path had improved and I was making better progress. I was already too late for dinner and pushed on to Reading.

I got to the station with the light fading, got a ticket and went straight to Starbucks for as much food as I could carry. Then went back again.

As I hadn’t booked I technically wasn’t allowed on the train but the guard kindly let me on having seen how dejected I looked. I may have hammed this up slightly but I was cold, damp from a little shower that I’d got caught in and really wanted to get home. Even though it was full she let me on and I thanked her profusely.

It wasn’t until I sat down on the train I realised how much I stank. Putrid, damp and face and jersey covered in salt marks. I managed to get in to the flat at 9.30pm, eat and drank some more and then passed out.

To say I was a little sore the next day was an understatement. However much it hurt I was so so glad to be back on a bike again. I ended up doing 153km, about 120 of which was off road. I spent seven hours riding and another hour or so stopped which is a good average as I usually end up spending much more time faffing. I’d had a proper sit down in Bath so most of the time on the canal was spent moving.

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Maybe not the best gentle introduction to riding again but god damn I enjoyed it.

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Audax Cycling Geek Guide

Lights, Garmin… Dynamo!

This is another post that is a collection of research mainly for the benefit of others. I see so many people asking about the various topics below online and then answer the question in about 30 tweets or so. It’s easier to just link to this instead and avoid spamming up their timeline.

So this post is to deal with a few issues that come from riding your bicycle over longer distances and wanting to use electronic devices. Mainly audax, but essentially anything further than designed for within your standard lightning, phone charge and Garmin design. Most of my knowledge has come from my own mistakes and research as well as the good people on the AUK Facebook page. In particular Adrian Downie from Brixton Cycles Club and also Leo Tong and Neil Phillips also gave lots of great info after dealing with some of these issues in the Transcontinental race last year. I’ll deal with each issue in turn as not everyone will need the full monty if you like. I’ve also not found an answer to all these issues in one place so collected it here for future reference.

Garmin and navigation

Garmin are a lazy company as far as I can tell. They’ve largely captured the market for cycling computers and seemingly not through excellence but from first to market and being ‘good enough’. As a bit of a nerd I hate this state of affairs. Their UI and software is terrible and often a buggy mess but it largely remains popular for being ok.

I use my Garmin (800 in this case) for two things. Recording the ride and also navigation. I try not to be a slave to it but I don’t buy into pulling out a map all the time and checking the route. I want it to show me left or right at each junction clearly and then get out of the way again so I can concentrate on enjoying the scenery or the company of those I’m riding with. I also want to be able to see a few stats and more importantly record my distance for when when I get back to view on Strava. I know some people hate Strava but I like seeing my achievements and a good bit of data.

All of that stuff is fine and works quite well for rides up to around 200km or 8-10 hours in duration. After that things tend to get a bit screwy, again learnt from bitter experience of losing a 300km ride to a corrupted mess and / or the battery dying and leaving me without any navigation device.

The two issues for me have been keeping enough battery and not corrupting the recorded file. Both of these are actually interlinked and the following is my list of top tips.

Keep it off the maps page – by leaving it on the maps you’re getting the device to constantly re-draw the graphics and poll the GPS more often which uses more battery. Set the device to give you turn by turn directions which will mean that before each junction the map pops up over whatever screen you were looking at before.

Turn the back light off (or down) – this is pretty obvious. It takes more power to keep the light on and you probably don’t need it. Each time you stop / start / touch the device this comes on and uses more power.

Don’t fiddle with it – don’t flick from page to page checking your stats / seeing how long the hill is coming up.

Turn it off when you stop for lunch – if you’re sat in a cafe for 45 mins (including faffing) on a big day out just turn it off

Turn off bluetooth & Wifi – only for newer models but another feature you don’t need if you want to get maximum life out of it for the day. Apparently this isn’t necessary as the 1000 turns it off automtically. Thanks to Chris Smith in the Audax UK Facebook group for this tip.

Stop and reset recording every 150km – after 200km the file your ride is being written to is at far more risk of being corrupted. I don’t know why but I now stop the recording, reset and start a new one every 150km or so. When you get back home you can then stitch the files back together using fitfiletools.com and upload to Strava. This is also useful for rides where you need to say stop at 75km on an audax but you want to include the to and from the start in your overall route when you upload.

Break your route down – if you’re doing something like the Bryan Chapman or Paris Brest Paris the Garmin will really struggle to calculate a 600km+ route. Your planning should account for smaller routes (100-200km perhaps) which you can then use sequentially.

If you’ve done a few audax rides then you will probably have seen people with very large chunky units on their bars. These are the Garmin eTrex range of products and are known for their ability to last a long time on AA batteries which also allows you to replace the batteries as you and extend the life. I don’t have any experience of using these units to date though.

External power

All of the above is fine and will extend the battery life somewhat and will also get you clean, uncorrupted files to upload. But at some point you’ll need to introduce some form of charging into the mix.

The easiest thing is to take a little USB external battery pack. I really like these by Anker on amazon.co.uk. Pretty compact and a decent amount of power to fully top up a Garmin and a phone. These can easily be stowed easily in your jersey or a small bag. I’ve even mounted one under my stem for the Dulwich Dynamo one year.

Ankercharger

The next problem is that if you simply plug your Garmin into the charger with a normal mini USB cable it puts the Garmin into data mode and then stops recording and potentially messes your file up. There are two ways of avoiding this. If you’re having a decent stop then stop the Garmin, reset so it writes the file to memory, turn off and charge whilst you’re having your lunch / tea / cake / chat. Then disconnect, turn on and then start recording again.

The other option is to create / buy a power only USB cable. This allows you to run the charger whilst using the Garmin and not have it muck with your recording. There’s a guide of how to create your own here and involves some cutting and soldering but they can also be purchased online. I’ve also modified the end which meets the Garmin to be a 90 degree head and then sealed with Sugru to allow an easier connection into the unit when charging. The USB power pack can then be either taped under the stem or put in a little bar / stem / bar bag.

One thing to watch is that the Garmin is not now weather sealed with the little plug open.

The ideal solution is a dynamo hub. This allows the front wheel to provide free power constantly to a USB female socket and then plug in whatever you want at the other end – phone / Garmin etc using the tips above. I did a bit of research for this and found the best option for cost / value was the SP Dynamo PD-8.

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This is available from SJS Cyles for £95 at the time of writing. Alpkit also have a ‘Love Mud Juice’ branded version for £60 which appears to be the same thing.

There’s a slight weight and resistance penalty but I’ve never noticed the latter. Most dynamo hubs and accessories are based around a power rating of 6V / 3W. However the power which comes out of the hub is a little irregular and can lead to issues charging accessories. For instance the iPhone needs constant power for a few seconds before actually charging. The solution to this is a small cache battery which smoothes out these power fluctuations and provides a USB connector also. The best one on the market is the Busch & Müller USB-werk and is around £75 online. It’s pretty compact and comes with a lead to take the power from the hub to the unit via a water proof plug system so it doesn’t need to be on the bike when you’re not using it.

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The other end of the unit has a tail where you connect, via another waterproof plug, a USB female connection. Plug your power only USB here and then plug into your Garmin. After a few hundred metres the cache battery will charge and then start kicking out power to the Garmin or phone mounted on your bars. Free power!

Careful not to get the USB connections wet as they are NOT waterproofed in any way and I recently had to replace one after it went rusty. Best to be kept in the dry somehow.

One option that seemed attractive when I was looking at these was some of the stem mounted USB caps where you run a wire inside the steerer and a USB plug appears on the top cap. A few issues stopped me using this solution – they’re really bloody expensive and secondly almost every long distance cyclist I’d read about said they had failed at some point. This is not surprising due to the female USB connector being exposed to the elements.

Lighting

Historically of course the whole point of a dynamo hub is to power a front and rear light. There’s some fancy kit out there but I went with the Supernova E3 Pro 2 (in black of course). Whilst only rated as 60 lux / 200 lumens I’ve found it to be plenty bright enough on dark country roads during an audax. Whilst it doesn’t look like much in town it is more than enough to see potholes ahead if rotated correctly. The cheapest place I’ve found is Rose Bikes for these.

Supernova

Whilst it doesn’t have the brute-force-scorch-your-eyes brightness of some of the battery powered bigger Exposure units it does make up for this in a really decent beam spread. There are lots of image comparisons of the beam patterns around if you’re so inclined. I’ve never had any problems seeing in pitch black lanes with it and it also has some side light which helps for sideways visibility at night. I have mine mounted on the fork crown although it can be bar mounted. Having it on the fork crown can create a tiny shadow from where it throws light over the front tyre but the can easily be adjusted out in the bracket. It moves in two places which is neat and not being on the bars is much nicer in my opinion. The problem often associated with dynamo lights is that when you’re not moving they stop. This and most modern dynamo lights designs have a stand light built in which lasts for five mins although at a lower power. This isn’t really enough to change a puncture with in pitch black so I usually have a small head torch or mini bar mounted light for this.

I also wanted a rear light to go with this and went with the compatible Supernova E3 Tail Light 2. This wires into the back of the front light NOT directly to the dynamo and again is best sourced from Rose Bikes. Both the ewerk-usb and the light are bi-wired into the same connector that clips onto the hub. It’s worth leaving a little slack here to allow it to clip on and off.

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This comes in two versions – a seatpost mounted version and a rear rack mounted version. Both are pretty neat but the seatpost version comes with a thick rubber band mount not the metal mount as shown above. The metal mount is available separately from supernova directly and I was keen to get this as more permanent on the frame. The rear light is really really bright and also has a stand light.

I wired my light to the front light via the internal cable routing of my frame. The only visible wire is down the back of the seat tube and then goes up in the frame and joins a gear cable port on the way out. I had to modify this slightly to get an additional cable through. Internal cable routing is a huge pain but it does look so much neater.

The best thing about dynamo powered lights is that you can grab your bike and run out of the door and not worry about having charged your lights. It’s made my winter bike a joy to use and removed another source of anxiety from longer rides. I’ll always have light and my Garmin will always be powered.

It’s worth noting that running a powered device such as the Garmin and the lights at the same time is a bit problematic. The lights won’t reach full brightness and will flicker at slower speeds due to the power demands on the hub. The solution to this is to make sure you do all your charging during daylight hours and then switch to lighting during the night. So you’re back to the original power saving tips at the start of this post to get the best of this but I’ve not had any problems with this yet. You do need to actually disconnect the ewerk-usb fully though for this to happen otherwise the cache battery will still draw power.

The Supernova range isn’t cheap but if on a budget I would highly recommend the Busch & Müller system which I use on my town bike and again has been fantastic. I use the Lumotec IQ Cyo Premium T senso plus lamp which actually has a higher output than the Supernova at 80lux and is only £45 on Rose bikes. There is also a version of this which has a USB connector and cache battery built in although have not tested this myself.

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The rear light is the Busch & Müller Secula plus tail light which again is a very reasonable £13 on Rose bikes.

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These are powered by a very big and heavy Shimano DH-3N31 NT dynamo hub that had a bolted axle for my fixed commuter bike – this was £20 on Rose although is considerably heavier than the SP Dynamo PD-8.

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If I’ve missed anything in this post or something isn’t clear then please email me at info(at)andy-matthews.co.uk and I will update it.

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Cycling Love this!

For the love of cyclocross

I guess this isn’t really about the bike as such but more about the ridiculous amount of fun I’ve been having on it and a new found respect for Cyclocross and riding silly bikes off road. It’s a bit of a ramble but I’ve done lots of fun things on a CX bike and wanted record it in some way.

At the end of last year I got hold of a prototype Bowman Foots Cray frame and forks in bright orange. A trip to the parts bin, Wiggle for a few items, a borrowed chainset and a further borrowed set of wheels later I had a little CX ripper for playing about on. The intention was to race a season of cyclocross over the winter but this never really happened for a variety of reasons. I managed a long commute home on the towpath to test it out and loved it.

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My first proper ride of the bike was around my favourite MTB loop round Surrey. It’s not super technical, apart from a few lines here and there but by and large could probably even be done on a road bike, albeit quite slowly. I used to ride round here on a six inch travel monster with a backpack full of stuff and think it was amazing. Freeride really was a load of old cobblers. Bikes got super heavy and took a lot of the actual riding out of riding.

I convinced Steve and Aggie to join us and had a brilliant time riding unsuitable bikes on mountainbike trails.

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See the smiles? So much fun being had on a misty autumn day.

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I came off in a thorn bush, we had loads of punctures between us but we all had an amazing time and managed a 45km off road loop. Sweat, mud, blood but no tears!

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Bizarrely my first proper CX event was on a Boris Bike at Incredibly Cross. On the way back from Surrey we’d been discussing the US CX events and the inspiration for them. A bunch of friends, secret locations, beer hand ups, dressing up, inappropriate bikes… Basically a lot of fun larking around on bikes and no Cat 3 nonsense. The last two piqued my interest.

How about I do it as Boris on a Boris bike?

Steve (the organiser) seemed keen so the following week I got a charity shop blazer, shirt, tie etc, a wig and hired a Boris bike before heading out south to Mitcham to ride the course.

A slight pang of self consciousness arrived as I cycled into the park where 60 or so other riders were all in the usual CX get up, lycra, proper SPD shoes, nice bikes etc. Too late to back out now I guess.

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Lot’s of giggles were had though with everyone being very funny and saying how nice it was to see the Mayor of London riding CX. I had a go riding the course. It went surprisingly well with the massive tyres although lifting it over a log and pushing it up a massive hill was less fun. It’s heavy, real heavy at 23kg! The big tyres did help though.

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I did actually manage to race it though and did even manage to overtake a few people. After a few laps I was exhausted. Jacket off, beer hand up and a few more laps. Loved it when people shouted “on your left Boris” as they rode past. I was pleased to ride the up hill section with turn to the right. The people watching were great too with more shouts of encouragement.

The end couldn’t come soon enough and I was so glad to finish. I won a prize for ‘most inappropriate bike’ with fellow BCC ride Ben winning ‘best outfit’ for his space suit and helmet!

Sam Melish was out with his nice medium format camera and got this portrait of me which is great.

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Boris bikes also are good for carrying packages, large and small as the next photo demonstrates. I couldn’t get the elastic over Adeline securely in place and eventually she got tipped off.

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After this I did actually want to ride the CX bike again and took it out to Swinley Forest. As I was getting ready in the carpark another rider said to me…

Stick to the fire roads and blue trails and you’ll be fine

I smiled and nodded. Not a chance. I wanted to go and have a blast round the trails. All the trails. Again there’s nothing too crazy there and if it was I could just slow down. I did the blue then onto the red, down the tank traps, down the trails by the reservoir and loved it. Sure, my back hurt when I got back but it was great fun. It’s also so much fun rocking up to the top of a trail with everyone tooled up with big bikes and goggles and then saying ‘morning’ to them before heading down the same trail. The ridiculousness of it all brings a smile to my face every time.

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I’ve been back for another trip round Swinley recently and had a similar reaction although with one person telling us off for going too fast and wanting to go past him. Why go slow on amazing trails? Strangely I’ve ridden a lot of the trails faster on a cross bike than my usual MTB!

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There was another Incredibly Cross event before Christmas which happened to be on the same day as my office Christmas party. Fortunately they were both in the same part of town and close to our flat. So I left the party, got home, changed and got the bike ready to head down to Christmas Cross. After the Boris ride I fancied riding a decent bike and just enjoying it. However my concession to dressing up was to cover the bike in a set of cheap LEDs from Amazon. Christmas bike!

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Having a large dinner and a lot of beer during the day wasn’t the best plan for racing but I had a great time on the course. There was a tight bend where everyone had congregated which meant lots of shouting whilst trying not to stack it riding round a mucky corner. Fortunately Robin had a megaphone which meant he could shout even louder in your face each time. This is by far my favourite photo from the evening as taken by Roland Ellis.

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Others turned up with various fancy dress outfits including PK as a chicken and Bash with some badly placed antlers on his bars. I’m sure it seemed like a great idea at the time.

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I finally entered what you might call a proper CX race. The New Years Day madison at Herne Hill. I tried to not drink too much the night before but Will and Marta had other ideas. Hangover in full swing I had a go at the course with Will as my partner. Muddy and sketchy but great fun. Pushing up big bob round the back and trying to do mounting and dismounts for the again was fun. More practice needed for sure!

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There was one more Incredibly Cross event to end the season which involved more mud. More heckling. A stupid little crash on the way there and most importantly smoke bombs in a field in North East London.

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A smaller turn out but just as much fun!

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The next event was the White Hills Chalk Ultracross ride down near Brighton. It was meant to be 75km offroad round the wonderful hills of the South Downs National park.

This is a ride on Cyclocross bikes; a nod to The Three Peaks but with the attitude of Boulder Ultracross and, well, more English – there’s extra kudos for turning up on a single speed. The ride ends in the pub – a place where all good rides should end

There’s a post on the Morvélo blog which explains it in a bit more detail and has a good summary of the day. Mine is as follows though. The weather was pretty horrific. The ground was gloopy. The wind was windy. It was really quite cold. It was so windy that we all got blown off our bikes a few times. I’ve developed some riding skills over the years but until now not had to try leaning at 45 degrees into the wind just to stay upright.

Having said all that our cross bikes did take us to extremely beautiful spots which made the effort well worth it.

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Fortunately others were also suffering and the ride was cut short with the last few hills skipped. After warming up in a friendly pub, eating all the chips with cheese we headed back to the end of the course and to the warmth of the van. One for a slightly nicer day perhaps.

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At some point over Christmas myself and few others from Brixton signed up for the Dirty Reiver event in Kielder Forest. A 200km off road event on cross bikes. It sounded like fun at the time but now it’s only four weeks away and I’m thinking of all the fitness I might not have for this. I did a 200km audax last Sunday and really felt it the next day. That was on smooth roads for the most part.

So on Thursday night I headed to Richmond Park with Rob, Matt and Ed to do some ‘gravel laps’. It seemed like a good idea. Ride the cross bike, get used to it a bit more, ride off road a bit, ride in the dark (as no doubt we’ll end up in the dark on the Dirty Reiver). I expected it to be fairly boring and tame. But riding a cross bike offroad in the dark is great fun. The best part, it’s accessible from work, is a better work out, is actually quite fun hooning it around at night on a loose surface and you can stop at the pub on the way home. More importantly it’s not as mind numbingly boring as laps of Richmond Park on the road!

It does seem like CX bikes or the new gravel type bikes open up a whole world of possibilities for riding. I stopped using my MTB as it was such a ball ache getting anywhere to use it from London. But this allows you to ride there and mix up roads with off road as well as go a little faster.

Next up? Well there’s this Dorset Gravel Dash I have my eye on, especially after reading this ride report from last year by Jo Burt.

This quote amused me…

Gravel Racing has become A Thing in the USA where they have vast amounts of endless horizons and vast miles of unmade road to reach them by, and they’ve invented Gravel Bikes to ride them on.

I say invented, I mean marketed a new bike for something you could have done on all sorts of bicycles that have existed for the last 100 years or so. Think of a cyclocross/29er mountain/touring frankenbike and you’ve pretty much got a Gravel Bike, just add carbon and an arty Vimeo. It’s most like a ‘cross bike but with fatter tyres and lazier all-day geometry and maybe the capability to bolt epic adventure all-day stuff to. It’s all about the Epic.

Seems like lots of people have been having fun on these kinds of bikes and I just didn’t know it was out there. Viva le Cross!

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Cycling

#Festive500 2015

I love a good Strava challenge. I like the monthly Fondo and Monthly Training Series things and the ‘stupid little badge’ and so on. I know Strava winds a load of people up but I like it. I like the gamification and social aspects of it and I’ve found it inspiring and get a great deal out of it. I love seeing the big adventures people go on as well as the small improvements people are all making. I don’t sweat about KOMs or anything like that but it’s a great tool for motivating yourself to work a bit harder or drag yourself out before work.

Also, I don’t care what you think.

For the last few years Rapha, in association with Strava, has been doing an event over the Christmas period called the Festive 500. Any cyclist who has a web browser cannot have escaped it in the last few years through the prevalence of the hashtag #festive500 and various media surrounding it.

Since 2010, the Festive 500 has challenged cyclists to ride a total of 500km on the eight days between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Once again we invite you to join tens of thousands of riders in testing yourself on the bike over the holidays as part of this growing festive tradition.

2014 was my first full year of riding and recording on Strava. I went from riding 80km per week to 350km fairly comfortably by the end. That was a massive personal achievement for me and also meant I went down a dress size or two. But at the end of it all I felt that I didn’t need to do another challenge, I’d achieved enough. I wanted to spend time with my family who had been so supportive throughout and just relax doing some of the #festering500 instead and #alloutforgout.

This year I felt slightly different. I’d got into longer audax rides and felt more comfortable on the bike. I floated the idea with Emma and she didn’t have a problem with it. I did resolve to try and not be too antisocial about it though and still spend plenty of time with them but get out in the downtime bits of the day where everyone is asleep or watching Coronation Street. It also fitted in with hitting my riding targets for the year and making a nice round number for kms ridden in 2015.

So I made a plan. I listed out all the days available in SimpleNote as I do each month except from the 24th to 31st. I spent time looking at routes and working out where best to go depending on where we were staying at the time and then packed a bag full of all the riding kit I thought I might need.

24th December

This was to be the first ride obviously but I was constrained by time. We were due to drive to Bath as well as picking Grandma up in Weston-Super-Mare. I wanted to get a quick 60km in before we left and thought a quick trip to Kent would be good. I have a little pre-work loop I sometimes do but felt confident enough to not plan anything and just take a turn here and then do this bit or maybe that.

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It wasn’t too exciting but out to Pilgrims via Beddlestead, along a bit and then back up Brasted hill, which never seems to get any easier. It was incredibly windy and even riding with Will it was hard work. I didn’t have much in the legs but made it round and back for a quick coffee with Will before heading back to Bath for Christmas.

63km / 437km left.

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25th December

I had hoped to get up early, get out, do 60km and then be there for everyone waking up and getting breakfast. Turns out I couldn’t be bothered. A ride the day before, a long drive, a warm bed and a wet outlook conspired to keep me at home. I was kind of glad I did but still felt a pang of guilt. We enjoyed the day, I had a few beers, a glass of wine and loads and loads of food. I don’t normally drink that much at Christmas as around family and I’ve usually eaten too much. By the time everyone was dozing off on the sofa I found myself wanting to get out and turn the pedals. My jacket felt a little tight around the tummy area after that massive meal. The route I had planned for the morning wasn’t suitable so I just headed into Bath on my old commuting route – it’s down the A4 but it was so quiet it didn’t matter. Into Bath, a quick look at the Cathedral, a look back to Putney Bridge and then back through Batheaston. Getting to my usual turn I decided to take the steeper Bathford Hill. As soon as I turned onto it it started to get significantly darker. No more streetlights and just my dynamo light which was more powerful than I’d seen before on the streets of London. Even so it was pretty isolating at first with a kind of slight feeling of sensory deprivation. I could hear my breathing more than I remember and I don’t think it was just due to the big lunch. I carried on up, past the Kingsdown golf course which was a brilliant flat out descent, again in the pitch black. The corner at the end came up a little quick for my liking but fortunately made it round. Over the roundabout and then turned right at Chapel Plaister and around Wadswick lane. As I came round the corner I caught sight of a flashlight ahead which turned out to be a family out for a walk. They were equally as surprised to see me appear out of the darkness – I bid them a Happy Christmas and carried on. It was still pitch black but then I started to see Melksham and Chippenham glowing on the horizon which lifted the light levels considerably.

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Back up Park Lane and home. It was surprisingly warm out and I really didn’t need that winter jacket, even with only a baselayer. It was still windy although not as bad as the previous day. Kit in the wash and back in time to catch up with all the soaps and a celebratory beer.

I’ve been posting a pic of each ride to Facebook from Instagram during the Festive 500. I normally refrain from doing this but thought I would for this. Only one per day but you know, some people offer encouragement there which is nice. And then…

More to life than clocking up miles mate. Go see your family.

Ahh, I knew it would come at some point. That ride was a total of 1hr and 10mins away from my family – all of whom were asleep as far as I could tell. My mother was furious when she saw that! Fortunately she refrained from commenting.

34.4km / 393.6km left.

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26th December

Although I didn’t manage the super early start I’d hoped for I still managed to get out just before 9am. I did the route I had planned for Christmas day heading out towards Westonbirt and the famous arboretum. I’d completed a similar route with Dad before towards Sherston previously but managed to add a few different fun looking roads when planning it on ridewithgps.com, by far my favourite part was riding the beautifully straight Fosse Way with a tailwind. The Fosse Way is a Roman road stretching from Exeter to Lincoln and large parts of which are still used as B roads today. Much like Pilgrims Way in Kent certain sections are gravel roads or even just bridleways now but the form of the historic way is largely traceable. My route planning failed to take account for this and almost took me on the muddy path it turned into. A quick check of the Garmin and I neatly carved around it. Normally I’d just give it a go but I was time limited and didn’t want to tempt punctures. After that it was an extremely muddy series of lanes which took me further into the Cotswolds, beautiful houses and fancy cars aplenty. I ended up at Westonbirt and realised the road I was intending to take was private and didn’t look like a goer – another route planning error on my part. Never mind, back to the main road to smash it up a bit further to get back on track. I’m getting good at re-planning routes on the hoof now having cocked it up so many times.

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It was windy as hell all the time I was out, which was great on the way out, but having made it to the top of the loop it was now time to head back. Ugh, that really was horrid. Facing into hit along rough country lanes with the wind in my face and little shelter was horrid. Not having someone to share the pain with made it even more frustrating. Just try and tuck down, make myself as aero as possible and keep pedalling away.

I was rewarded for my earlier poor route planning decisions with some fantastic country lanes which guided me back towards Colerne and the now somewhat run down RAF base there. Amazingly I’d had so many lovely drivers give me so much space on the lanes that day. People literally throwing their cars or land rovers into the hedge to give me plenty of space. I really couldn’t believe it and greeted each one with a smile and a wave.

Having hit Colerne I knew what was next. A back road which is not for cars / access only which takes you from the valley floor right up to the top of Box Hill in a fairly short and brutal climb. It peaks at about 20% and was also covered in farm muck. Having made it up I wiggled back round the Quarrymans Arms and the lanes and home.

67.5km / 326.1km left.

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27th December

Again not quite the early start I had planned. After driving from Bath to Cambridge the day before and a big meal and plenty to drink in the pub I finally dragged myself out at around 10.30. It was raining, more was scheduled for the day and there’s a gale blowing. Super. At least it wasn’t too cold.

I’d ridden most of this route before but again had a bit of a play in ridewithgps to see what I could do to remove some of the less pleasant bits I’d done last time. I realised that I was pretty close to the Blue Egg Cafe with my loop so dragged it down a little further on the off chance it was open. I wanted to make it just over 100k to get a good chunk of the distance done and get past that half way point in terms of distance.

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You can see how grim it was from the above picture. 10.30 in the morning and barely light with all the cloud and rain. The first hour was horrid. That sinking feeling of, oh god what have I put myself up for. It was fine rain at first. The kind that soaks you through little by little. Sure enough my soft-shell was soaked on the forearms and chest and reducing it’s ability to keep me warm. On goes a rain jacket and try to keep warm. I passed pretty quickly from Cambridgeshire into Essex. The roads were good, drivers were generally considerate and after the first hour of pedalling I’d warmed up and got into a bit of a rhythm.

The scenery was pretty good as the weather cleared slightly. Lots of old farms, oast houses, windmills and water towers. Although it’s pretty flat round there it seems to be rolling countryside which is deceptive. You don’t get a good go at a hill like in Kent or Wiltshire. It’s these long slow rolling climbs which are deceptive in terms of effort required and you don’t really ever seem to get a good flat section to have a break. It would have been nice to stop and admire more of the concrete water towers but I was aware of time away from people and wanted to push on.

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I recognised a few places as they were on the Dunwich route. The lovely green and bridge of Great Bradfield was lovely to see in the daylight. Round the corner was the Blue Egg which was sadly closed. I was kind of counting on this but couldn’t find anything on their website or social media saying they were closed. No bother. Had a bar, a glug of water and got back on with it.

The route had been brilliant so far, lots of villages, quiet lanes and not many cars. Of course this had to come to an abrupt end at some point. After successfully navigating around a short section of muddy road I didn’t fancy I found myself on a much longer section that looked like this.

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Fuck it. It was a bit warmer, the weather had cleared a bit and I thought it can’t go on for that long can it? I rode through the first one using the logic that the middle of the puddle is the hard surface and would mean I wouldn’t get stuck in the mud. Woo, it’s a deep one. Past the bottom bracket and covering both hubs. Err, keep going, try not to lose too much speed. Cleats are a bit sticky, almost fall in. The sealing on the dynamo hub is pretty good as it’s continued to work since despite being fully submerged.

This went on for ages and finally the ground firmed up and was more rideable and then turned right onto a proper road. I couldn’t help feeling smug about having ridden it and enjoying the stupidity of it all. It’s the kind of thing I’d normally ride on a MTB or CX bike. The bike was completely filthy.

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The loop back was a bit easier. A bit of a tail wind and I’d managed to find myself on more lovely quiet country lanes. As I headed further west I passed more cyclists and a club run out on their local loop. After a final detour round the back of the main road and over the railway line I was back on the road towards the pub. I was so filthy I had to strip off most of my kit in the yard, wash myself down and then go for a shower. Food, a tin of coke and a pint of IPA later I felt brilliant. I felt like I’d really achieved something on that ride and was so glad I’d gone out.

113.1km /213km left

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28th December

A rest day! A trip to Cambridge with Emma and her Mum, a nice lunch in the pub and then a drive back to London. I cycled the pizza bike to meet Richard and Tom and hear about their festive 500 at the Spitalfields Cycle Club which serves beer rather than just the coffee at the Soho one! Tom had already completed his – he’s ten years old. So it gave me an extra incentive to complete it. Sadly my phone didn’t record the ride there but an extra 10km back didn’t do any harm to the overall total. It felt like it was achievable but I really didn’t want the last day to be about getting extra kms in to just nudge it over the 500km mark.

10.6km / 202.4km left.

29th December

It felt good to be up nice and early for this one compared to the rest. An RCC ride had been organised to head out to Kent for ‘about 100km’. No route was available and the ride was fully booked. It was being run by Will who I’d emailed the night before to see if it was ok to tag on to. If it was full on the day I wouldn’t go with them and just do my own thing but had a sneaky feeling that not everyone would turn up to a mucky ride round Kent over the Christmas break. My suspicions were correct and we met with a considerably smaller group at Gails in Dulwich. The coffee is considerably better than the thick brown liquid served at Cafe St Germain in Crystal Palace. Off we went, and it was so good to be riding in a group and with wheels to follow as well as not being too worried about directions. That’s someone else’s problem. Plenty of people in the group didn’t have mudguards and the lanes were filthy. I managed to move around the group so that I didn’t have to sit on anyone’s wheel which was spraying up crap. It meant spending a bit more time on the front but a small price to pay for not having a face full of crap.

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Whilst thinking about mudguards it struck me that those ass savers are the most selfish thing you can buy if you’re riding in a group. You’re making sure your ass is dry but showering the person behind in crap. Get some proper guards! I also used to think it was just about keeping spray from going up your back and chin but having used them two years in a row they significantly reduce the amount of crap that gets thrown over your legs and body, improving your chances of keeping warm and clean(er).

The route was taking us East and towards Tunbridge to an amazing coffee place Scott (Mr Caffeine Mag) knew. A few roads were familiar from a previous Knatts Valley loop but most were new to me which was great. Most were strewn with muck which had been washed off from the fields in the recent rain and storms. Some people winced at it but I loved it! Big tyres, disc brakes and mudguards were perfect for this.

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One person was plagued with punctures and left the group fairly early as he needed to be back in time. The rest of us pushed on to Tonbridge where we were treated to a decent downpour for the 20km leading up to. At least there’s posh coffee there! We get to Tunbridge and said posh coffee place is closed. So the next stop is the train station which has a little coffee shop out the front. Beggars can’t be choosers and all that. Cue 12 wet cyclists huddling in a station foyer trying to warm up with bitter coffee and cake.

On we go and back onto the final set of lanes heading back towards London, legs spinning to try and warm up from the stop. Again more new lanes to me. Neil and I lose the group slightly but carry on what we think is the route. I give a bit of a push up a hill out of the saddle and snap a rear spoke which makes the wheel all out of shape and a bit egg like. It’s certainly not round anymore. A quick roadside wheel bodge with a spoke key and it’s enough to get back. We catch up with the rest of the group at the Ide Hill cafe where we bump in to Will and Marta who’ve just come out on a bit of a jaunt for cake and fresh air. A banana and a Tunnocks tea cake provides enough fuel for the return leg.

After this the group forms a more organised bunch as we head on the main road around Biggin Hill airport. The pace rises with Will and Tim on the front. 45 – 50kph and we’re tanking along. Oooooh this is what I’ve missed from the laps sessions. Feels great to be in a bunch again. All that remains is the final sprint back into Crystal Palace and up Annerly Hill. I’m pretty much done by this point and can’t muster the energy for a sprint up the hill. We end up with coffee, coke, beer and cheese toasties at Cadence / Fee & Brown whilst the mechanic there kindly repairs my wheel.

122.3km / 80.1km left.

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30th December

Another rest day. A trip into town with Emma, two exhibitions, a trip on the Thames Clipper and a burger on the way home. Not a bad way to recuperate really. My legs were sore though.

31st December

This is it. 80km to do. I’d talked Seb into riding and the weather looked surprisingly good with a slight chance of rain. The temperature was dropping compared to the previous warm days but looking like not a bad way to end it. Rather than stretch out a Kent route or go out to Surrey I thought a ride to Whitstable would be good. The route follows Pilgrims way for the majority of it, at least for the sections which are rideable.

After a chilly start the weather turned out to be glorious. We had a slight tailwind and managed to tank it along Pilrgims lane although again was strewn with mud and puddles. Kent was beautiful in the sunshine though. The furrows, vineyards and farm houses all looked incredible in the winter light.

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We had a few spots of rain but no more than 20 mins in total. I celebrated when the Garmin ticked over 80km knowing that I’d completed the challenge! Dan left us 20k before the end with knee issues and we pushed on to Whitstable. As you crest the corner off Pilgrims and onto the seafront the wind hits you. Seb seemed to surge into it and I struggled to keep up and even hold a wheel. My excuse was that he hadn’t done as much riding as me the week before. We got there, fought our way through the Whitstable traffic and found the best chip shop in town. A long queue had formed but it was well worth the wait.

A quick trip to the seafront for a terrible staged photo and then a dash for the train.

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In our haste we hadn’t purchased any beer to celebrate and there was no trolley on the train. Never mind. The fish and chips was amazing. I day dreamed of a hot bath and a cold beer.

122.1km / 533km completed!

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All that remained was a slow limp home from St Pancras south and to upload that final Garmin file. At times I really thought I wouldn’t do it. It was far further than I thought it would be. I know what 500km feels like but doing it in winter was more of a challenge than I thought it would be. The hardest thing was doing rides solo and into horrific headwinds. It’s done. I have a real sense of achievement and my legs have just about recovered.

Including the ride back from the station I covered 543km and managed to not fall off or have any punctures. The only mechanical was a broken spoke which isn’t bad going really. It also meant I’d hit my riding targets and passed 12,000km and almost 100,000m of climbing. Pretty pleased with that.

Next year? Maybe not, I feel I’ve done this challenge now and ticked it off the list. We’ll see.

It’s time to clean the bike.

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And here’s a pointless heat map generated from Strava of all the rides.

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