Saturday 31 May 2014

Cheltenham Severn & Estuary Audax (AC) & other short stories

Only last week, I equipped ‘Jenny’ my commute bicycle with some DT Swiss quick release skewers and put correct sized tubes in my saddlebag. Not sure whether this was good ‘forward thinking’ or a way to ‘jinx’ myself. Either way, Jenny suffered her first puncture on the next trip she took out. This trip was my usual commute to work. I got to work ok, it was only during a work break that I noticed Jenny had a flat. Could not find the cause of said puncture, so just replaced tube. Removing the wheel from this single-speed bike was a little menace as the chain had little give (to get it off the teeth) and the chain tensioner screw ‘things’ were a new addition that I was not accustomed with. Jenny made it back home ok and tyre remained inflated.

My next adventure was a 200k audax.  This was the ‘Cheltenham Severn & Estuary 200’ permanent audax organised by Steve Poulton. I cycled this event back in 2012 but this time around there were a few big differences. First off, I rode solo this time. Cousin Aid had had previously cycled this event with me. Secondly, I used a different bike. Previous trip used my Focus Cayo which has now been converted to a single speed bike. This time around, I used ‘Slinky’, my Specialized Roubaix S-Works SL3 (would not have completed this route on a single-speed)! Thirdly, I rode in an anti-clockwise direction this time. Oh, and the weather was pants this time too!
Just like the first time I cycled this event, I set off from Cheltenham. The skies were grey and visibility was quite poor. Thankfully the temperature was fine. It wasn’t long before the rain started though which was a trifle menace. I bounced the first control in Coleford and continued on my way not really stopping until I was outside of England. Once I reached Wales, I stopped to take a photo of what I believed was Monmouth Castle. I took this photo whilst stood on a bridge over the River Wye. At one end of bridge was a welcome to Wales sign and the other a welcome to England – I guess I was stood on no-mans land?! Just after bridge was my first sit-down-and-eat control, a lovely ‘spoons pub. I treated myself to a full English breakfast. I was hoping to dry off in this pub, it was a shame this didn’t happen.
Monmouth Castle
Other side of bridge
Leaving Chepstow, I passed Bulwark, which reminded me of the BCM 600k audax I completed a few years back. The BCM is a truly tough but classic event that every hardened audaxer should complete! Ha! This section was awesome as 2 big fat bridges were crossed. These bridges were the Severn followed by the Avonmouth. 
Crossing the Severn
View from the Avonmouth Bridge
I always get a buzz out of cycling over these enormous feats of engineering. The Avonmouth Bridge was great as 100’s of cars could be seen parked neatly as I cycled over bridge. A little further on, same cars were passed (within feet) on cycle track as it passed factories. 
The very same cars
This section was nice and relatively flat and fast. Reaching the control in Portishead, made me think about Portishead (the band). Thinking about Portishead (the band), made me think about work as my current work place has a sign very similar to Portishead’s third album. How bizarre!
Portishead 'Third'
The Axis (my work place)
Only a short stage of about 20km took me to the next control in Chew Magna. Was pleased this stage was short as Naish Hill took some climbing and got me out of puff! I visited the P.O. here and used an official stamp for control purposes.

Next stage was shorter still at only 12k!  Similar story, big hill! Stopped at Tesco’s here for much needed refuelling (or was that the next control?)

Can’t recall an awful lot about the stage between Keynsham and Wotton-under-Edge. This was probably because I was tired and cycling in some nasty wet weather. Only chose to cycle this event to keep my RRtY award going.

Final stage led back to Cheltenham, obviously. I often thought when driving to Stroud (to start the ‘stroud 5 Valleys’ audax), how it might feel cycling the big ascent up to Painswick. What I hadn’t realised was that I already knew! Aid and I cycled this on our adventure in 2012. Chapeu to us both! – that was some big hill! Nice thing this time around was the fact that I had a tasty descent to the finish! I was real pleased to finish this event as I was soaked right through and had a full days cycling.
GPX route
Am not sure which way around the Cheltenham Severn & Estuary is most desirable. Both routes are hilly (despite no AAA points being awarded) with some 2000 plus metres of climbing. I guess the clockwise version gets the major climbing out of the way early on when legs are fresh. Definitely better to ride this event in good weather. The speedy descents had to be taken quite slow as my brakes were not stopping well in the wet weather. Maybe I should ride the clockwise version again this year and compare notes. Anyone interested?!
Hilliness profile of Cheltenham Severn & Estuary 200k Audax
Completed my cycling for the week with another to work and back commute. This felt quite tough on my tired audax legs but I’m glad I cycled it anyway. Just to be different, I took a more road (less cycle way) route home. In all cycled 326 this week. Total distance cycled this year is now 3,701k.

Whilst reading the news this week, I stumbled across the following headline: 'Wearing a bike helmet is useless'.  Essentially, a leading neurosurgeon claims they've done little to help crash patients he’s treated. The article claims motorists drive closer to those wearing helmets as they seem safer. In another article I read that motorists give more room to cyclists with long hair, believing they are female. Not sure of the truths contained within these stories and would like readers comments. The first article can be read in full here: For what it's worth, I wear a helmet. I know only too well how fragile one's head is and how delicate 'head-space' is. I'll do whatever I can to protect the wonders inside my head!
Thank You for reading my blog!

Sunday 25 May 2014

All MiXeD Up

This week saw me complete 2 there-and-back work commutes. I decided to use more of the tow path on these commutes and avoided the Rea Valley Cycle route. This was a good plan on the first run as the path was flat and fast. The second run was much menace as the path was very wet and 100's of puddles had appeared. Suffice to say I was covered in mud. Parts of the tow path are being repaired but a new bridge has finally been built just after Arrow Valley Lake.
My new wheel was finally hand-built and delivered. This wheel was for my audax bike and has a dynamo hub with a super H PLUS SON rim and sapin spokes. Doesn't it look just great?! I can't wait to take Slinky out for a spin now. Am thinking of completing the Severn and Estuary 200k perm next week.
Made slight changes to Jenny and Scotty this week too. I was never really happy with the DT Swiss skewers on my MTB but these quick release jobbies were much better than Jenny's bolt on skewers. So, said DT Swiss skewers are now on Jenny and they match the bike just fine and obviously make the wheels quick-release too.
I also added some jingly jangly spoke reflectors to Jenny's wheels. These spoke reflectors were as cheap as chips, look great and are a good safety feature. Said spoke reflectors now appear on a few of my bikes. Jenny certainly looks pimped up now!
So, what about Scotty?! Well, Scotty was fitted with some awesome looking Halo skewers I had. These were packaged as Porkies MTB skewers so are surely fit for purpose!
My spare wheel will now be fitted to Kay-O. Kay-O will then be an awesome single-speed road bike with a dynamo hub and be useful for audax purposes or night riding. It's all mixed up.

Cycled 116k this week (all commute).
Yearly distance to date is 3,374k.

Saturday 17 May 2014

Jenny and The Cotswold Corker

Am enjoying my cycle to work now that I have started to commute by bicycle. Even on those days when I don't cycle in to work, my head space is more-often-than-not thinking about bicycle related non-sense. On one particular day when I took the train, I checked my Face-book and saw that my dear wife had posted this:
My wife knows me so well
On another occasion, I started to read the free 'ShortList' magazine. This is a magazine often found on empty train seats. Interesting thing was that this magazine contained numerous bits and pieces about bike related stuff. 
Maybe check this out at the flicks?!
One whole page was dedicated to the movie shown above. Sounds like a worthwhile watch. Hmm, let's see what the Mrs thinks... Another page had a column about commuter bikes. At £2k a pop, I'm pleased I had already purchased my new commute bike (sub £700).
£2k a pop, no chance
Indeed, I purchased a 'Genesis Day One Disc' - a hopefully perfect cyclo-cross bike for my commuting. I purchased my bike from Evans Cycles simply because it was super close to where I work and because they offered a price-match scheme. They also threw in a free 'bike fit'. This bike fit was pretty pants - it involved someone holding the bike whilst I pedalled backwards. Weird. I got the Evans staff to change the freewheel too, from a 18t down to a 16t, just because I wanted the gear ratio to match my single-speed audax bike. Evans staff nicked the 'old' freewheel (with all the buzz of a new bike, I didn't realise till following day). So, my point is, Evans is pretty naff but my bike was great!
I took a train from bike shop but got off at Longbridge and cycled 'Jenny', my Genesis bike for the first time. She felt great. I took her on and off road and was happy with her performance. Once home, I changed her pedals to SPD's and cycled her a little more. Better yet! Last of all, I fitted a rear mudguard and looked forward to my first cycle to work and back commute.

Friday was my first work-and-back commute with Jenny. Work-bound and all was OK until I reached just past Kings Norton. For some reason, the tow path was closed. I cycled some main road (and found jumping on and off the pavements no bother) until I rejoined my usual route a little further ahead just before Cannon Hill Park. Jenny felt slower than Kay-O did but I got to work in pretty much the self-same time. I cycled her home following as much tow path as I could find, following the canal from right where I work. This was fun and maybe 10k+ was flat tow path. As expected, the tow path near Kings Norton was closed (repairs I believe) but I was able to pick up my usual route not far after. Again, Jenny felt slow but I reached home in a quicker than usual time.

Jenny's verdict: A beautiful looking bike. The wheels are well suited for both on and off road hacking and pot holes and kerbs are now no menace. The disc brakes are better than rim brakes but are not as awesome as I had hoped. Maybe they need to bed in a little. My hydraulic brakes on other bikes are sharper. The steel frame is great and there is wide clearance for fat tyres. A little heavier than other bikes but not big time. Saddle is fine. Drop bars are fine and preferred to flats. Am pleased with my new steed and hope we can share a lot of miles together!

Over the weekend, I completed the Cotswold Corker, a hilly 100k audax event for the umpteenth time. I didn't use Jenny, that would have been silly. Scotty was my steed of choice for this event.

The weather was great for my audax event - the hottest day this year, thus far. I have even got a cyclists sun tan to boot. Shame I forgot the after sun cream.

This was a great ride and am aware I have blogged about it extensively before. Up Cleeve Hill and fast descent into Bishop's Cleeve. Why is there a bat on the sign post?
What's with the bat?!
Completed the 'corker' climb of Bushcombe Lane - about 30% in parts! Hot and sweaty. Down Cleeve Hill and up some more. Undulating is the nature of this ride. Not sure what was up with Scotty but she had developed a terrible creaking sound that sounded like the frame is cracked. Must check this out.
Just past Northleach and I was reminded that I was 'All Alone'. Or so I thought. The bright sun had brought out some other friends of mine...
Sorry mother, I think it's an adder
This snake was sun-basking in the centre of the road. Funny thing was that I had dreams about snakes earlier in the week! This was the second time I had encountered a snake during this audax event.

Remainder of route was snake and spider free! I had started this event early and was back in time for tea! What a grand old day - yippee!

Cycled a total of 179k this week.
Yearly total to date is now 3,258k.

Sunday 11 May 2014

Bridge (or not as the case may be)

First adventure of this week was a quick blast on my single-speed MTB with Aid. We cycled up Callow Hill to the Jimney Ring, took a left and returned home. Nice and easy. About time Aid made an appearance!
Old habits die hard!
Continued to commute to work on bicycle and made 2 there-and-back cycles. The first commute was straight forward and as pleasant as usual. The second commute was a tad more menace.

The second commute was menace because as I followed the usual route through Arrow Valley Lake, the bridge crossing the river, leading to Churchill, had gone! Vanished, missing, gone! There was a sign stating the bridge was going to be rebuilt but not finished till end of month. There was no way to cross the river and no diversion instructions. I was lost and took a gamble in finding my way. A slightly busier road took me as far as King's Norton before I picked up my usual route. 

My commute home was also a wee bit different because I deliberately took a change of route. I added significantly more distance but that was ok. Once at King's Norton I headed for Earlswood Lakes just because they are so pretty. A bridge just after the lakes had been newly built (seems to be a theme here) which was nice to cross. As I cycled home, I thought, will this be my last commute using Kay-O?

Cycled 161k this week. Total distance this year, thus far, is 3,079k.

Sunday 4 May 2014

New paths to BTP

Quite a bizarre week to say the least. I started my new job and started to commute to work by bicycle! Oh, and my folks had returned from their lengthy visit overseas - nice to have them back.
Enjoyed my commutes to work and completed 3 there-and-back trips this week. Changed the route a little bit from my practice commute and avoid the lung buster hill completely now. By missing out the menace steep hill, I cycle cleaner better conditioned roads on a slight ascent adding maybe just 0.5k to my trip. My commutes mostly followed a similar pattern whereby I cycled from home, around Arrow Valley Lake and then picked up the Rea Valley Cycle Route which took me straight into town and hence to my work base. On my return, I would miss out the lake and take the more urban route following buss/cycle only lanes from Churchill to Washford.

For the time being had decided on using Kay-O as my commute bike of choice. Although both single-speeds, Kay-O had better gearing compared to Queenie my MTB which 'topped out' too easily. I changed the pedals to SPD's which was a good choice and only the brakes, tyres and wheels prevent Kay-O being a perfect commute bike. Although Queenie has better wheels, tyres and brakes for the commute, her weight and gear ratio let her down big time. Great thing is, I have ordered what I think will be the ultimate commute bike - a Genesis Day One Disc - a single-speed cycle-cross bike.
My commute into work is quite varied. Almost at the start I cycle past Arrow Valley Lake which looks so pretty and tranquil. It is nice to cycle the cycle-ways and avoid motorised traffic. Once I reach the tow-path, despite being mucky on occasions, it offers a nice view and is good to see so much diverse wildlife. Once onto the Rea Valley cycleway I am amazed how much greenery is hidden in Birmingham and enjoy following this path and see the tower blocks get ever nearer but in a non-oppressive manner. Cycling through Cannon Hill Park is lovely, the gardens are very pretty and the wonderful colours of the planted flowers look majestic. Praise to God indeed! The last section, racing through town is nice as cyclists start to appear from everywhere. The cycle home is awesome too, especially as it leads home! The return route is more descending which is a bonus!

My new job is different... Bonus points are that I am able to cycle to and from work, I am near 2 bike shops and one of my team members cycles also! 

Cycled a total of 174k this week (all commute). Yearly distance to date is 2,918k. Let's hope my commute is the way forward.

Happy New Year 2022

Happy New Year folks. I wonder what's in store for 2022,  - something crazy, something new? It's a shame Covid is still here and I&#...