Ride London 2015

Last year’s Ride London was a complete wash-out, but still strangely satisfying despite the diminished achievement of “only” cycling 86 miles in the remains of a hurricane. But with a ballot place secured, this year I was confident that I could cover the 100 miles and had my sights set on a better time. Both a slow 2014 time and an upgrade from hybrid to road bike in early spring made that goal achievable, but there’s no doubt that an extra year of riding, and a lot of long rides in the build-up, put me in a much better position than I was last year.

There was no way the weather could be worse than last year. In fact, I can’t think of a single way that conditions could have been better: light winds, strengthening from the south during the day to push us back into London; and the temperature, if a little on the warm side, wasn’t blazingly hot – at least it wasn’t if you kept moving.

The first challenge to overcome was the hour-long wait before the start. Chatting to a couple of other riders, stuffing some more food into me, and finding a portaloo that I figured would buy me another hour on the road all passed the time, though. The organisation at the start line seemed even better this year too and we set off dead on time at 8:15am.

I had resolved to take it easy for the first hour, but riding along with hundreds of other cyclists just seemed so much easier than solo rides that I found I was cruising at close to 20mph without seeming to need much effort. The target time I’d put on my application form was 6 hours 50 minutes, although I was confident in beating that and was hoping for close to 6 hours on the bike, and at this rate I’d be well under that time.

As well as increased speed, hill training was also paying off as Richmond Park felt much flatter than I remembered it being last year. Maybe we took a different route around it. I also felt that, in contrast to the 2014 ride, I didn’t have quite the same stream of riders passing me by and I seemed to be spending more of my time on the right hand side of the road than the left.

From the official times, my easy first 25 miles were covered with an average speed of about 18.5mph – not fast by a good rider’s standards but way above what I would achieve on the road alone, and I hadn’t felt like I was pushing myself hard either.

I stopped to refill my water bottles at mile 38 as I’d already finished the litre and a half I’d taken to the start line. My bladder was feeling the effects of that too, but after taking one look at the queue for the toilets I decided I’d push on to Newlands Corner as I remembered there being much better facilities there. Then a few miles down the road I spotted a few portaloos set up over to the right in the layby of a National Trust property. I checked behind me, moved over to the right hand side of the road and put my hand up as I slowed. Disaster nearly struck as a slower rider on the left hand side of the road spotted the same toilets and took a sudden right turn towards them, cutting right across my path. I think I might have been able to stop even if he hadn’t, but with my back wheel locked up I came very close to ploughing into the side of him.

Still, portaloo navigated with the absolute minimum of surfaces touched along the way, it was time to put something other than Soreen malt loaf and oat bars into my stomach and I broke out the sandwich I’d packed that morning. With a target to beat I wasn’t going to waste any time hanging around in a layby so I ate it on the move and, with a masterstroke of bad planning, I was cramming the last of it down just before hitting the hill up to Newlands.

Billed as one of the big three hills on the ride, Newlands didn’t seem particularly steep nor particularly long. I skipped the hub at the top and was looking forward to Leith Hill in another ten miles. My average speed had dropped slightly due to the stop for water and at the toilets, but at 47 miles I was at 2:41:33, including the two stops, which would put me at close to 5:30 for the full distance – a time I never thought I’d get anywhere near.

Trouble struck just at the beginning of the climb, though, as it was obvious that the gaggle of riders just ahead weren’t cycling slowly up the hill but were either walking or, a bit further up, just standing still. There was no point trying to ride at that speed so I got off and walked like everyone else, but within a few minutes we were at a standstill. Shouts from down the hill had us lining up either side of the road to let two police motorbikes and a support car past and it was obvious there was something happening up ahead. Although, I have to say I was impressed at how everyone cleared the road so quickly to let the emergency vehicles past.

With the summit still over a mile away it seemed possible that an accident on the descent had blocked the road, which would mean an extremely long wait or, more likely, someone had gotten into difficulty on the way up. Twice more we had to clear the road to let both a St Johns Ambulance and a regular ambulance past, and the sound of the air ambulance landing a few hundred yards away made it more likely that it was something that had happened on the climb. That indeed seems to have been what happened and news has emerged today that a 55 year old man died on the lower part of the hill.

Around 40 minutes after we had been brought to a stop a marshal walked down the hill telling us that the police would be opening the road soon and the ride would be resuming. I’ve no idea how many people were behind us by now but when we set off it became clear that the incident had only happened a hundred yards ahead of where I was and there must now be a couple of thousand cyclists backed up down the hill.

Setting off up the hill wasn’t easy, especially as many were either walking or struggling to clip in and get started on the slopes but weren’t getting out of the way for those that were riding. I also discovered that my speedo doesn’t register anything less than 2mph. But within another hundred yards the road started to clear and I had a relatively free run up the steepest parts of Leith Hill. This part of the route had been missed out last year, and rightly so, but I’d ridden up it as part of a sportive a few months later. It had seemed obscenely steep back then, but this year it wasn’t too bad at all.
So, with the biggest test of the day out of the way, it was just a long descent and a few more miles to Box Hill, something I was genuinely looking forward to as I’d ridden it once before and remembered it as relatively gentle with some great views.

Progress was slowed slightly by the reintroduction of slower riders. We had surmised whilst stopped at the bottom of Leith Hill whether the short-cut would be put into use and indeed it had, no-doubt due to the sheer volume of riders that would have been backed up behind the road closure. Now riders who had been sent around Leith Hill to avoid a logjam were filtering back onto the main course, the only problem that they were about an hour ahead of where they would have been and travelling a fair bit slower. It’s hard to remember that last year I was one of those bothersome charity riders when you just want to get moving, but the point of the event, and the relatively flat course profile, is intended to encourage exactly those kinds of riders in the first place. Riders like I was eighteen months ago, or even six months ago. No doubt there were many along the way this year who wished I would just get out of their way too.

As the road turned up Box Hill the number of riders struggling with the distance combined with the climb became apparent. Box Hill isn’t all that steep, although it’s longer than Leith, and although there weren’t many riders walking up there were quite a few moving slowly and in a way that suggested their legs would keep turning but there was no more speed in them. This and the other small hills before the end were the points where the huge volume of riders on the road became apparent as there were times when there was just no way past. Still, I’d had plenty of benefit from sitting in the wheels of other riders or moving between groups so this was only a small price to pay.

Over the top of Box Hill, avoiding riders who had decided it was okay just to stop in the road to take a photo, there was another long and fast descent. Both water bottles were running low again so I stopped at the hub in Leatherhead at mile 75 and had to queue for some even less pleasant portaloos. Before Leith Hill I had my mind on a good event time as well as a good on-the-bike time, but the 45 minute stoppage had put thoughts of that out of my mind. Anyway, it seemed a good time to sort everything out at once and I figured I had enough fluid both on my bike and out of my body to reach the finish. Now it was just a case of judging my energy for the last 25 miles.

And the last 25 miles flew by. According to the stats, miles 75 to 85 were covered at 19.7mph and 85 to 100 at 21.2mph, which is a 20.6mph average for the last quarter of the entire ride. It felt good to be finishing strongly and I found myself riding along with a fairly fast group at the end and having the rare experience of riders wanting to stay on my wheel rather than the other way around.
The Mall was a bit crowded for a sprint finish so I just tried to leave myself a gap in front in case any of the photos looked half-decent. Given my bolt-upright riding position at the best of times I’m sure they won’t, but one can hope.

My legs were tired at the end, but then I’d been burning as much as I could to finish fast. There was just some food and drink to be had before the ride back home. By the end of the day I’d covered 115 miles in total, which is just a touch further than my longest day’s ride back in May.
My official finish time was 6:35:58. Take off the 45 minutes being stationary on Leith Hill and the ride was easily under 6 hours. Knock off another ten minutes for the three stops and that gives me about 5:40 on the bike, a time which I’m both extremely happy with and determined to improve upon, if I get another chance.

Already I’m hoping to get another ballot place next year, although 2015’s event is going to be a tough one to beat.

Cycling London to Eastbourne

Board games by the sea!

For the spring London on Board event, and as part of training for the London Revolution ride in (gulp) two weeks, I decided that I’d cycle down to Eastbourne rather than take the train.

The route out

For the outgoing route, I went for this one, which, with the ride from Leyton to get to the start, was something like 85 miles (I think). I wish I had it exactly but unfortunately Strava crashed somewhere around Tower Bridge and I didn’t notice until I was about 30 miles from the end. So on the Strava plot it looks like I teleported.

The route was hilly, and long, but the weather was good. I left home just before 9am and was in Eastbourne by 5pm, and I think I stopped for about an hour total along the way. The route was definitely scenic and mostly quiet, though, although getting over Beachy Head at the end was a challenge I could have done without – more because of the traffic hurtling past than the hill itself.

The route back

For the journey back, I went mostly by a different route. I’m still not sure I shouldn’t have just left it for another day as it was raining when I set off which meant my phone shorted out for about 45 minutes and I was navigating by guesswork and trying to remember the route down, and wondering at what point I might just have to find a station and get on the train.

I also didn’t fancy the traffic around Beachy Head again and relied on Google’s directions to take me out of Eastbourne, which proved to be a mistake as I spent five miles or so bouncing along a muddy bridleway aka National Cycle Route 21. It was not the way I wanted to start an 80 mile ride. I’ve also learnt now that a hotel breakfast is not the way to fuel up for a long ride; I didn’t feel like any useful carbohydrate made it into my system for about the first four hours, so it was quite a slog. It did, however, mean I had some pace left in my legs when I got back into London.

The full journey, apart from the bit where the phone didn’t work, did make it onto Strava though and you can see it here, if you are interested in such things. Particular highlights would be rescuing a lamb that had its head trapped in a fence and having to walk through newly laid tarmac over a level crossing (that was closed as they were still laying the tarmac) with steam from the rain falling on it around me. I hope my cleats didn’t leave too big imprints in their nice new surface…

Other things

– Beachy Head road, as mentioned before, is not pleasant, although the downhill is rather fun
– Pains Hill and Titsey Hill are pains in the titseys. (Or actually legs, but that doesn’t really work.)
– The area around Biggin Hill is rather nice for riding in, if you can face the hills
– I really should have taken some photos
– Hills: why? Just why?

So would I do it again? I’m not sure, but only because I couldn’t take any games with me. The October meetup will likely be when the days are short so I’d have to leave earlier in both directions, so we’ll have to see how much I’m riding next spring.

The links again

Long and mostly quiet London to Eastbourne route
Shorter but still quite quiet Eastbourne to London route
The route I actually took back

Cafe Finder Website And App For Cyclists

Halfway Coffee - Cafes for CyclistsI’ve been out riding with the Lea Valley Cycling Club a few times now and the route planner, John, has a good stock of cafes in his head that we can use as drop-off points. The problem is, I’m not always going to be out with the club, and I’m not always out in a part of the country I know.

Now, I might be able to find just any cafe, but it seems that cafes that are welcoming to cyclists have a few special qualities: plenty of space to stash bikes, even if you won’t have a lock with you, generally out of town, and a good selection of high carb food and tea.

There seem to be a few websites that try to list cafes. Cake My Ride is pretty good and BikeHub claims to be, but I couldn’t really find much apart from route finding.

Anyway, of course I decided to build a website myself, and an app to go with it. It’s called Halfway Coffee and you can search for cafes by location or add a new one. The iOS app or Android app show you cafes that are nearby or let you add or rate one that you’re sitting at.

Will anyone apart from me use the app? Possibly, but probably not many. But at least I’ve got no excuse for not being able to find a good cafe stop in the future.

My Prudential Ride100 Experience

Ever since I had the confirmation that I’d gotten a place in the Ride 100 ballot I’d been viewing August 10th with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Excitement, because it was going to be a great challenge, and trepidation due to the distance. I’d been building myself up since the beginning of the year, but given how exhausting even the lift from a 50 mile ride to a 60 mile one was, I wasn’t too sure about the idea of making 100 miles with anything less than complete exhaustion and, not to put too fine a point on it, severe bum-pain (not a technical term).

In the last months before the event, though, I’d put in a few much longer rides, including 94 miles about 10 days before the event. This put me in a much more positive frame of mind and “I think I might be able to do this” was being replaced by “I might actually enjoy doing this”. Trepidation started to recede and excitement came to the fore.

Then, with a week to go, trepidation was given a major boost: the remnants of Hurricane Bertha were going to be heading across the Atlantic and they might – only might – be hitting the UK on Sunday August 10th. Of course, this meant they were certain too, and indeed they did. Obsessive checking of every weather site in the days leading up to the event and trying to believe whichever forecast was the most forecast didn’t really help as they all trended downwards as the day approached. On the Saturday afternoon, the rain forecast from the Met Office was the picture below:

There were weather warnings in place regarding rain, flooding and wind. Perfect cycling conditions.

On the day, things didn’t look too bad. Rain had fallen overnight but, even lining up at the start, there were grey skies but not too much wind and only a hint of rain here and there.

One thing for sure: there were a lot of cyclists. The organisation involved in getting some 24,000 away was impressive, and I set off a bare 10 minutes after my allotted start time, although a couple of hours after the first fast riders had left.

As many had said it would, the ride started much faster than a casual ride in the country. I was overtaken by pretty much everyone as I stuck to somewhere between 15mph and 20mph, making as much as I could of sitting behind anyone going about the right speed and big enough to make a hole in the air for me to follow. The roads were wet so if they had mudguards it was even better.

Rain came and went, but the weather didn’t seem too bad. By the time we were in Richmond Park there’d been a few light showers but nothing to complain about. There was also a hundred yards of walking due to an accident that didn’t look very nice at all.

Once on the southwest side of London, however, the heavens really opened. The waterproof jacket held up for a while but nothing could keep that amount of water out, and soon my pedal strokes were accompanied by the feeling of water sloshing in the bottom of shoes. We kept going, of course, trying to avoid the rivers that were running across the road.

By about mile 35 the energy levels had dropped, though, and for about the next hour I didn’t hear a single rider speak a word. It was like we were all cycling our way across the river Styx and no-one was in the mood to talk. Also, I was dying for a wee by that point, and also hadn’t eaten as much over the past half an hour because I didn’t want whatever I consumed to be ninety percent rainwater. The top point at 40 miles were advertised by the marhalls (that must have been suffering at least as much as the riders) as “water and toilets; long queue for toilets” so I kept going. The next five miles of country lanes were strewn with men peeing in hedgerows.

Somehow, I managed to cycled up Newland’s Cornder, supposedly one of the three big-ish hills, without knowing that that’s what it was, and I was suddenly at the halfway point. I needed water refill, bladder emptying, and stomach filling, so I went into the “hub”, as they were called. Thankfully there were no queues, and after the water refill I ate my way through a ham sandwich whilst sheltering under a large tree that was keeping the worst of the horizontal rain off.

Fifteen minutes later I gave my gloves a good wring out and set off again. The rain had eased by now and was just rain rather than a waterfall, but the roads were often flooded to the point where the riders had to slow to a narrow filter to weave around lakes. The organisers had taken the decision to shorten the route to avoid the two steep hills – not because of the climbs, but because of the descents – which I don’t think anyone could disagree with, although it was disappointing that now the Ride 100 would only be the Ride 86 as there were 14 miles lopped off.

As a result, after some rolling hills and drying conditions, I found myself at mile 81 (which was really mile 67) rather quickly, and stopped for a last water refill. I ditched the rain jacket as well and took out the spare gloves that I’d wisely packed in the inside pocket for when conditions dried out. These were, of course, almost as soaked as the gloves I’d been wearing, but they were lighter material so they couldn’t hold so much water.

With only 19 miles to the finish, and having had the distance shortened, the last hour and a bit was a very pleasant fast ride into town. Again, I skipped from back wheel to back wheel, and by this point I was only being overtaken by 50% of the riders on the road rather than 100%, which made me feel better about a more moderate easy pace. The wind was strengthening too, but it was coming from behind so it was easy to keep close to a 20mph average, even with all the wet corners we had to slow down for. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the flooded tunnel beneath some railway tracks that many of the cyclists walked around. I cycled through, but at every pedal stroke my feet dipped into the water which was a good four or five inches deep.

The Mall appeared in next to no time and then it was time to dismount, collect a medal and then suffle through to the goody bag collection and out. At least I had the ride home to top the miles up, and I think I totalled 98 miles by the end of the day. I’ll just have to do the 100 miles some other time then.

Ride London Medal

Despite the atrocious conditions, I’d completely do the whole thing again, and now need to find another cycling target to aim for. Maybe something a bit shorter, but a bit faster… maybe.

Anyway, things that I learnt:

  • As many have said, riding in a big group is a lot faster than riding on your own. Solo training is much harder than the event, and the speed you can cruise at in a group makes travelling such a long distance very satisfying.
  • If you see someone doing something like this on a Brompton, it’s likely they’re extremely fit. I know I overtook some people who passed me early, but Brompton guy was off into the distance never to be seen again.
  • Starting off slow definitely pays off towards the end.
  • If you ever get the chance to cycle on closed roads, just do it

Now I just have to see if I can get in for 2015 somehow.

Le Tour de France? Non, c’est le Tour de Leyton

The Tour de France came through Leyton earlier today. I had a very productive afternoon watching it on the telly before deciding I’d better go and grab a spot to watch it go past in the flesh. Orient Way was empty enough to get some photos and provide a nice long view of the peloton, although at the speed they go through it was all over in a few seconds anyway. Still, I can say: I was there! And I have photos to prove it.

Before the cyclists came through there were dribs and drabs of cars. This one at least has the logo on the front, but note the French determination to persist with speaking their own language also carries over to driving on the wrong side of the road even when we know they could keep to the left if they really wanted to.

You can’t get much more French than a Carrefour car on the wrong side of the road:

Although a quirky little van with the Tour de France logo on the front comes a close second.:

I’ve always thought of French as having too many language constructs getting in the way of saying what you really mean. This gets around it by only having the important words on the bonnet and no niceties of language at all. There can be no doubt what “FranceTVSport” does”:

This is the last of the car shots honest… It’s the neutral service vehical, driving well in front of all the cyclists because… well, I don’t know why. In case one of them teleports down the road and then breaks down, I guess:

Not only are they sending cars with their supermarket logos on over here, there were a few gendarmes that snuck in with the rest of the vehicles:

As the TV helicopter came into sight I knew the peloton must be getting near and things started to get exciting:

The breakaway of Jean-Marc Bideau and Jan Barta comes around the corner. I hadn’t seen the race pictures for half an hour and my phone had given up on having a data connection so I was surprised they were still in front:

Another shot of the two valiant breakaway riders. They were soon doomed to be swept up by the chasing bunch, but they lasted longer than I would have expected just two riders to have managed:

Shortly afterwards the main peloton came tearing around the corner surrounded by motorbikes:

The main peloton came tearing past with the whirring of mechanical parts and only a few organising shouts, and within a few seconds they were down the road and out of sight again. It’s a shame it was too early to see the sprint lead-out trains forming but there was a tricky turn up ahead so they were still in a racing frame of mind:

And with that the Tour de France had been and gone, and I rode home and went back to the telly to see the conclusion on the Mall.

Update 8th July

I was on the telly! If only just. Standing on an isolated stretch on the wrong side of the road had the advantage of making me easy to spot. I’m the one in the yellow t-shirt on the right:

Cycling A Long Way

I’m due to cycle 75 miles on June 22nd as part of the Capital to Coast ride for Norwood. Although, as the event starts at the London Eye, I also need to cycle there, so I’ll have covered close to 85 miles by the time I reach Brighton in the evening. That’s a good 20 miles farther than any ride I’ve done in the past.

To follow it up, I have the 100 miles of the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 on August 10th. Although that starts only a couple of miles away, I’ll have to make it back home in the evening so it’s likely I’ll end up with 110 miles by the end of the day. This is officially quite a long way.

I’m obviously raising money, since it seems the done thing, so this is the pimp my JustGiving page section. The whole thing is actually going to be quite a stretch for me, I think, and if the few longer rides I’ve been on are anything to go by there are a couple of long days in the saddle that will not be fun by the end.

I’ve never previously taken cycling seriously. I’ve commuted and generally zoomed around London, but with the prospect of some proper rides on the horizon I thought I really should find out how to make it through them. My revelations so far are:

  • The poncy clipped shoes and pedals really work. Now I can’t imagine going back to my all-purpose shoes
  • Likewise, shorts and jerseys and wicking t-shirts are really good. I save the shorts for when I’m in cyclist-only company, but the jersey is worth wearing for anything more than a few miles
  • It’s really important to eat and drink whilst cycling. Maltloaf has been my food of choice and I can fit a few slices in each jersey pocket.
  • Don’t try to eat or drink whilst cycling up a hill.
  • For fitness, rides should either be intense efforts or long and slow. The inbetween state of getting generally tired at a middling speed doesn’t really do much beyond a certain point.
  • From riding with Lea Valley Cycle Club, and being passed by many other road cyclists, it’s obvious that there are some really fit people out there. I will not be keeping up with them on either ride.
  • However, I am better prepared now than I was last time I did a 60-mile London to Brighton ride
  • Cycling a long way is really tiring. This is probably not news.

My standard route has been growing and started with a slow ride up the Lea Valley towpath and then a loop back along the road. I’ve been lengthening it by adding loops so that the last two rides took in Waltham Abbey, Epping, North Weald Basset, and then out to Matching Green. It’s about 50 miles in all, which was plenty, especially the first time I attempted it.

Longer rides are going to be needed, especially before August, and I’ve now got about four weeks where I reckon I need to fit in at least a couple of 70 mile rides. So if you fancy encouraging me, here’s the JustGiving page again.