Friday 27 February 2015

Snowdrops and such like

Saturday was a great start to my week (in 2015, all my weeks start on Saturday). This was the day that I completed the Snowdrop Audax for the 4th time (I think). The Snowdrop Express (as it's actual full title) is a great event and the first audax event I ever cycled back in 2010. Each time I have cycled the event, I have used a different bike. This year was the exception, I cycled a bike I had previously used (my 'best' bike). Original plans were to cycle my newly built up retro Raleigh but fear put pay to that (refer to last post). I did do things a little differently this year though - I rode to the start and cycled home at the finish. I ECE'd the event! This was the first (and probably last) ECE I had ever completed. This is what the Audax UK website has to say about ECE'sThe Extended Calendar Events or ECE allows riders to combine  a DIY Perm with a Calendar event to develop an extended personal event recognised by AUK Awards.
ECEs grew out of a desire to encourage riders to ride to/from events Calendar events to promote long distance riding generally and provide more flexibility to the AUK Calendar of events. The ECE scheme means that if you live, say,  50km from a 200km Calendar event HQ, you can ride out and back from home and claim the day as a 300km outing counting towards award schemes including RRTY and the AUK Randonneur awards.
ECEs are very flexible, so if you wanted to make your 200km Calendar into a 600km outing by riding 100km out then 300km back, or turn a 100km BP Calendar into a 200km BR, that’s fine too. You still have to ride the whole way but at least now you can have some company from other riders by being part of the calendar event. It all helps!
The regulations and process for planning ECE routes are similar to DIY Perms except the distance must scale the Calendar event up to a recognised BR distance of 200km and multiples of 100km thereafter. Alas only the nominal distance of the Calendar event counts, so if your 200km Calendar event is actually 215km ‘on the road’, alas only the 200km will count towards your ECE total.
The Calendar event and the linked ECE are recorded separately, the Calendar event being  recorded in the normal way including AAA points and championship points, whilst the ECE Permanent is recorded as a permanent event with 1 point awarded for each additional eligible 100km ridden. So a 100km BP + 100km ECE Perm will be awarded 0 calendar points + 2 perm points, a 200km BR + 100km ECE Perm will be awarded 2 calendar points + 1 perm point, and so on.

I created my Snowdrop 'There' route using 'Ridewithgps' and created a roughly 60k adventure that used Bidford as an immediate control between my address and the calendar event start. I allowed myself 3 hours thinking this would allow a leisurely trek. How wrong was I?! Not long after starting off, I turned around and headed home as I had forgotten my waterproof shorts (the predicted weather did not look good). Once off again, all fine until I reached Alcester. In Alcester, my route took me through a cycle only lane (more like a bridle path) to head towards Bidford. I knew a better way but followed this path until I came out near the dual carriageway. As dodgy as I believe such carriageways are, I took it anyway (was quiet being so early).  A quick ATM stop in Bidford and then headed towards Hartlebury. This was a pretty much fine route from here cycling along very pretty country lanes. During this trek I spotted snowdrops and much wildlife including rabbit, fox and a yellow tit (as well as road kill badger). My bike felt awesome and I was using new pedals and a new saddle. At one junction, as is usual for me, I got lost around another tangled cycle network. This was a real menace and lost me much time. After much menace, I was back on track and racing my way towards the official start of the Snowdrop.
Snowdrop ECE (There)
I reached the start, just as riders were leaving (phew, that was close), which was a first for me. Missed the opportunity to get a photo of the group start like I had done on previous years. I saw my mates Jamie, Toll and Trev and suggested I'd catch them up. Ron, Andy, Dave, John and Grif had kindly waited for me. I went I got both my brevet cards stamped and then I was off on the Snowdrop Express. I was the last of 172 people to start this event.
Card stamping (stolen pic from FaceBook)
How I would have loved a cup of tea and a bacon sandwich! Too late, 60k in my legs and a further 40k plus before we reached the first control. Cycling was relatively easy in such a large group but boy, I was so hungry! Mark Rigby was the controller at Upton which was nice. The jam and toast was super nice too! As I got to the control, Andy, Toll and Trev were just leaving - this phenomena continued throughout the whole event, right up to the finish!
All morning the weather was fine (thought Jamie et al had experienced snow when they set out). It was nice to chat, cycle and chat some more with different friends. The stop at Evesham was welcome but I dearly missed my wife and Lunar who were waiting here for me last year. After an over-indulgent feed, we set off for the final section.

This year Pig Hill (aka Phil's Hill) was missed out (due to road works) and I'm sure this is why Phil Brown bailed out?! Still think it's not the toughest hill though - the first hill out of Evesham is the killer one. Just prior to finish, the heavens opened just a little and a showering of hail came down. So, all in all, a lovely day for cycling. Dave kinda forced me to race along for the last 10 minutes but this was cut short as I bumped into Jamie et al who were now leaving the event! After a quick chat, I reached the finish and was rewarded with a sausage sandwich and a can of coke for my efforts. 170 people finished the event with 3 over the cut-off time.
The Snowdrop Express
At the finish I was offered lifts home by various folk. I wasn't (really) tempted. I knew I had another 60k to go (about 3 hours cycling) but this was necessary to complete my ECE and get the 2 (un-necessary) AUK points. I really enjoyed my cycle home and it was nice to cycle solo and just pedal at my own leisurely pace. By the time I reached home it was dark but still relatively early (about 7 p.m.) I had cycled about 250k in about 13 hours and felt just fine.
Snowdrop ECE (and Back)
During the event(s) above, I was able to further test my new Brooks Cambium C17 saddle and my new PD - A600 pedals. Both worked great. My mini review is presented below.
The Brooks Cambium C17 saddle was largely awesome. Stunning looks and beautiful colour (natural). Very comfy and flexed just right. Some say a heavy price tag for a rubber saddle, though this saddle sells for double, not triple figures (about £78 from I actually preferred this saddle to my leather Brooks! The only negative I found was that the saddle squeaked a little. As the rubber flexed it sounded like the springs on an old bed mattress. All in all, a great saddle - my favourite to date!
My Shimano PD A600 pedals were great too. A nice light weight pedal that was a great move from Look back into the world of SPD. I found these pedals sat further away from the crank arms which was great as my overshoes would no longer rub. The platform helped (but did not completely alleviate) relieve pressure around the foot and helped eliminate 'hot foot'. The only negative was that the pedals were single sided (but so were my look pedals). These pedals weren't the cheapest, but a fraction of the price of Look Keo carbon SPD's.

Skipping didn't happen this week, but I managed to run on 2 occasions. My 2 runs were identical and I ran from Bournville along the towpath into work - about 6.5k. I have ran this route 3 times to date and each time it has taken me 33 minutes.

Finished the week with my usual to work and back cycle commute. Strangely, the towpath seemed shorter on my runs. How nice would my Genesis bike be with a Brooks saddle.....

Monday 23 February 2015

Miley Oh Ryley

Skipping suffered this week. Just didn't find the time to fit many sessions in. On the one occasion I did skip, this was performed in the office where I am based.

Skip = 1 x (4 x 100)

Running took a slight hit too. I did manage a run this week but my overall distance was relatively short. However, I did my longest run over recent weeks - about 6.5k. I ran along the towpath from Bournville into work (but only ran one way).

Cycling fared much better. I cycled Ryley (the retro Raleigh bike) on my first work and back commute using this machine. She rolled fine but I just can't seem to power her fast over long stretches. It took me nearly an hour and half just to cycle into work. I had fumbled with the bars on Ryley and they weren't set quite right. As I cycled under one of the bridges on the towpath, another cyclist was heading my way. I couldn't apply my brakes because in my daydream haze I couldn't find them - I had them positioned way too high. Luckily the other chap braced as I mouthed some words of panic. Cycling back home was interesting as once again I took the towpath. At night it is not uncommon for me to see rats. This night, the creatures weren't rats but what I initially thought were mice. Sure enough, a few k along the towpath and this creature zoned right out in front of me and then disappeared. It was tiny, too small to be a rat. A few k further along and another one of these creatures zoomed out in front of me again. I had a better look at this one and it sure looked like a mouse. The behaviour of this mouse thing was crazy - not only did it run out speedily before me, but it jumped straight into the canal. Now I'm not sure whether it jumped in panic, or whether it was crazy or kamikaze, but in it plopped and I never saw it resurface. Can mice swim? Was this really a mouse? 
After research on the BBC Wildlife site, I'm led to believe the aforementioned mouse may well have been a water vole. This is what said site had to say: Water voles are widespread around Europe, living in the banks of slow moving rivers, streams and other waterways. The waterside burrows of these strong swimmers have many floor levels that hinder flooding, as well as nesting chambers and a food store for the long winter months. Although water voles are a quick meal for many predators, the UK population suffered a catastrophic level of predation by the American mink. Water voles are often mistaken for rats. Ratty, in Kenneth Grahame's 'The Wind in the Willows', was actually a water vole.
I took Ryley out again the following day. Initially I had plans of using Ryley on the impending Snowdrop audax. However, after this past few rides I had changed my mind. Ryley was rolling fine but I hadn't set her up quite right. The bars were lowered again but this time the brake levers were too low. As awesome as Ryley was, I thought back to the time I was 16 and came off another Raleigh Esprit, pretty much identical to Ryley.
Yup, you got it. I had 'the fear'. The fear was here! Oh dear, oh dear, but never fear...

After deciding I wasn't going to use Ryley for the Snowdrop audax, I decided I had better take 'Slinky' (my audax bike) out for a quick test run. Slinky hadn't been ridden in a while and she was now fitted with different pedals and a different saddle. The pedals were PD - A600's and the saddle was my new rubber Brooks. I will blog about saddle and pedals in another post. Anyways, wow, this bike felt great and rocketed along just fine. After a period of cycling heavier bikes and single-speeds, this bike just felt so much more comfy and speedy. Oh Slinky, I had missed you (more than I thought).

Saturday 14 February 2015

Velodrome/Cycling blind/Skip/Retro/Specialized BG Comp shoes/Run/Rapha Festive 500

Saturday was great. I had my first experience of velodrome cycling and I had my daughter Lunar with me. This wasn't overly energetic at all. We were racing using a Scalextric velodrome cycling set! My buddy Chris had given this set to me as a gift during Christmas 2013 - it had taken me till now to open it! Wasn't sure who was having more fun out of the 2 of us. Lunar kept shouting 'Daddy's bike' as the cycle flew around the track. Great stuff!
Monday was an awesome day. I met up with my new found friend - 'Roger'. Roger was a top guy who happened to be totally blind but that didn't stop him from being a keen cyclist. Better yet, Roger owned his own tandem - 'The Beast'. Roger and I had spoke via phone and communicated via text and email but this day was our first meet. Not only did I meet Roger, I was also greeted by his adorable guide dog 'Ollie' and his lovely wife 'Margaret'. After a quick chat, I got to meet The Beast - a beautiful red coloured custom built Longstaff tandem (with Reynolds 531 tubing no less).
Now this wasn't the first time I had ever been on a tandem. When SJ and I were on honeymoon in Xi'an, we cycled tandem along the city walls. The tandem we rode in China was a real doodle to operate and had flat bars and wide tyres. Aww, how nice to look back on those days...
The Beast had relatively fat tyres for a cycle but skinny compared to the Chinese tandem and this bike had drop bars too. It was almost as if The Beast was waiting for me because I didn't need to change saddle height or anything, it was set up just perfect for me. Roger gave me a quick briefing and off we went. I can't really describe the first 5 or so minutes on this bike. It was terrifying but exhilarating at the same time. Steering was so difficult and the bike didn't respond like expected or how I wanted it to. I felt I had a duty to keep Roger, bike and myself safe. This bike felt (and was) real heavy and cycling with such a load behind me was certainly a new experience. Cycling this tandem was like learning to drive!

After a while, basic principles were adhered to and cycling became less terrifying and dare I say, a little easier. Such principles (or rules) included things like counting 1-2-3 when we 'took' off or stopped, remembering left foot down when stopping and right foot up to take off. Turning was difficult and the turning arc was much larger than my solo bikes. Gear shifting was initially hard but became easier. The gear shifters were located on the bar ends. It took me a while to comfortably take my hand off the bars but once I was able, changing gears went relatively ok. I only changed gears on the rear cassette (right shifter) and remembered it was up for a lower gear and down for a higher (strange logic). I never used the left shifter for the triple chain ring on the front - maybe next time?! The Beast had 27 gears in all and 2 very long chains. My chain (i.e. the front chain) was to my left which felt somewhat unusual. Equally unusual were the brakes. I had control of front and rear v-type brakes. Roger had control of another rear v-brake (so 2 sets of rear v-brakes in all) and a rear disc brake too. Roger would not use his brakes unless I needed him to (not required on this adventure). Between us we decided that it was best for Roger to indicate left or right.
Track log of our first tandem adventure
We cycled just over 60k on this, our first outing together. Confidence grew the further we pedalled. On route we spoke largely about cycling related stuff, particularly our adventures or events and spoke about people we had met. We had both participated in some of the same audax events (including 400k epics) and had both cycled Land's End to John O'Groats (Roger having rode these adventures on a tandem). I thought about my friend 'Gary the Cobbler' who also rides a tandem with a blind friend of his. Of course we spoke about our families too. We also spoke about ourselves. Roger was registered blind at the age of 16, back in 1976. His story is quite wonderful, I don't think I could do it justice enough recounting it here. I'm sure the more I ride with Roger, the more I'll learn and the more I'll share here on this blog. Both Roger and I seemed to have got the cycling bug whilst we were in our mid to late 30's. We also spoke about food and sure enough our (just over) half-way stop was at a lovely cafe. I think this cafe was called 'The Grande Olde Cafe' or something similar.
Roger and The Beast
Roger had spoilt me so much during this day - he let me steer his tandem and now he insisted he buy me breakfast. His wife Margaret gave me a gift at the start (for my baby) which was a pleasant surprise too. These 'Greens' were such a lovely family. The bacon and eggs and cup of tea at this stop were quite lovely also!

After fuelling up we headed back. Roger was like a living GPS unit and despite being blind, knew the roads well. Rogers headspace could be likened to a huge map which really blew me away. My friend Jamie said 'with your navigational skills Tim, it really was the blind leading the blind'. We made a few navigational errors on route but this was largely down to communication - I would take a turn at the Y-junction rather than the T-junction or similar. A few of the roads we travelled were familiar (and included part of my commute), Roger appeared to be familiar with them all. Oh, except for a short 'extra value' section when I attempted to take us to Knowle.

It felt strange when we finished. Strange because it felt de-real. I could not believe I had cycled over 60k on a tandem with a blind friend. Is rare I even spot a tandem around Birmingham and yet here I was this day, cycling one. I felt truly blessed to have met Roger and felt very privileged to lead him out on his tandem into a great adventure. So very nice to meet Rogers wife too. At then end of journey we spent a period of time discussing our day with Margaret over a cup of tea. I can't wait to meet up with Roger, Margaret, Ollie and The Beast again!

Despite being off work for the week, I only managed to skip on 2 occasions. I would liked to have skipped at least 3 times throughout the week but that didn't happen. Continued to have rope troubles, despite having a new rope. Will discuss more in a future blog post.

Skip = 2 x (4 x 90)

Took my MTB out for a spin on Wednesday. Ron accompanied me on his road bike. It had been a while since I had last pedalled with Ron and longer still since I had used this bike. In fact, this was the first time I had cycled my MTB this year!
With so many bikes, I need to think about storage options...
On Thursday, I cycled another bike for the first time this year. 'Ryley', my retro Raleigh build had her debut cycle. Ok, so she had been around the block before but not a proper spin out. I cycled only a short trip, about 20k, but that gave me long enough to get a 'feel' for the bike. It also allowed me to complete my minimum cycling distance for the week, in line with my PBP training plans.
Not being one to get my knickers frame in a knot, but within the first 1k disaster struck and I kinda panicked! I reached the first junction, applied my brakes and the handle-bars fell off! They didn't completely fall off, obviously, but the drops dropped! I didn't stop at the junction as I couldn't find the brake levers and pulled out in front of a car. I wiped the sweat from my brow and took the bike back home. After a quick tighten up, I was off again with no real further menace.

Ryley rode quite smoothly. It felt strange using gear shifters that were attached to the down tube. These shifters reminded me of The Beast as they too were indexed and 'different to the norm'. The gearing on this bike appeared to be more race orientated as there were no real low gears. Maybe that's how bikes were back in the 80's?!
Ryley was fitted with a new saddle - a Brooks Cambium. I have not cycled long and far enough to give a proper review as yet. However, the saddle looked amazing! The saddle was made with vulcanized natural rubber which made it sound like it was from a Start Trek set. An organic cotton canvas covered the saddle. Watch this space for a more in-depth review.
A further new addition this week was my shoes. Since my decision to equip my audax bike(s) with SPD's, I required new shoes. For that purpose, I purchased a pair of Specialized MTB Competition shoes. Is not-so strange to use MTB shoes on a road bike and  that was a deliberate intention of mine. My shoes were tested on my adventure with Roger and on my Ryley ride. The shoes were comfy as soon as they were placed on my feet and required no 'breaking in' or 'settling in' period. The shoes were considered by some to be a wide fit, to me they were a fine fit. Cycling shoes are generally on the narrow side in my humble opinion. Shoes look great and the locking system worked fine too.
Completed the week with a run. One of my more irregular runs, up the Slough and back. Am pleased my running has continued into February and hopefully it will continue into next month too.
The above was the reverse side of a rather funky postcard that Rapha had sent out to me for completing the Rapha Festive 500 challenge last year. I liked this challenge and now that I had received a small woven roundel and a lovely postcard to match, it made those cold winter treks worthwhile. Have now completed this challenge twice to date.
My lovely roundel
A side of post card

Friday 6 February 2015

Fox in socks

Cycle commute to work on Monday and boy was it cold. Brrr. It was -2C on my trek to work. What better way to test out my new Prenda Winter Thermolite socks. I wore these socks as a solo pair inside my shoes that were fitted with toe covers, as opposed to full overshoes. These socks looked fine and a had a good height on the cuff. Extra but not excessive material was on the toes, heel and contact points. For a winter sock, these were relatively thin and certainly not bulky which was a real winner. Socks felt comfortable and my feet, despite not being toasty warm, were not frozen either. 
My verdict, a great sock that would be ideal for long distance cycling when a warmer sock is needed during the colder nights. Because the socks are relatively thin they would fit easily into regular cycling shoes. For those extra cold days I would try adding a silk sock or other thin sock and test the warmth then. Am not sure how these socks would fare if they get wet - perhaps time will tell. Oh, and these socks were relatively cheap at £7.95 a pair. Commute home was also cold but at least it was just above freezing then. Commuted by bike on a further 2 occasions during the week. Exceeded my target distance again which made me smile.
Lunar had her 2nd birthday on Tuesday. We (that is me, SJ, Jackie, Melody and Lunar) spent some time at Imagination Street. Rest assured, some of us had a mini workout here!
On Friday, I ran to work and back. Not the whole distance obviously, just my usual 5k route (so 10k in all). The run in was real cold again and patchy ice was about. The return run was hard work and my legs felt heavy. 'Iron legs' Jamie commented, haha, if only they would carry me through an Iron Man event! 
Only managed 2 skipping sessions in the week. Both my workouts followed the formula 'skip = 4 x (4 x 80)'. Don't think my skipping has improved too much and I blame the rope. I have a RDX rope but the leather keeps twisting around the handle. I know a workman shouldn't blame his tools, but hey...  My evidence is concrete and I am convinced a non-leather rope will work better.  I plan to buy a new (non-leather) rope and test out my theory.

Happy New Year 2022

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