London to Luxembourg 2017: dictation

London to Luxembourg 2017: dictation

Team Kendall edged the Send-Off. With bacon sarnies, not 1 but 2 support vans, a mechanic, masseur and team photo (starring a badly constipated Chard). Not forgetting the 25km less riding than Team Missile riding out from Missile Towers had to knock off before they could even begin to think about catching up with Kendall’s Cohort.

Fuelled by a few donuts leftover from the Missile’s pre-ride midnight feast and verbally abused by 1 of the Missile’s Roehampton neighbours as he drunkenly staggered out of the William Hill (the neighbour not the Missile) the mood was edgy in Team Missile as it battled the South Circular.

No surprise really when you consider Chairman Kendall (Junior’s) ominous designs for the Bicycle Moaning Collective’s Annual 300/3 Tour. Yes, there was the preferential treatment for the Chairman’s Cabal, but even they were not to be spared the ardours of a route that tested then broke, then broke some more even the most gnarled veterans of past BMC tours.

Not to mention the Bear’s newbies, heartlessly abandoned to fend for themselves by their host after the super-hot ride to Dover.

The London to Dover route, familiar and welcome in the unique way that it combines tranquil Kentish lanes with frenetic Kentish A-roads populated by angry Kents*, is nevertheless effective in getting the job of catching a ferry done. The only shadow cast by the scorching sun was that damn Danton Lane climb, never disappointing in its brutality or its picture-postcard view of the Eurotunnel terminal from the top.

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(Dover looked splendid too, that’s not a typo).

 

Don’t mistake this as a letter of complaint or an expression of dissatisfaction. To the contrary. This is the very ideology of a BMC Tour. And we’ve not even got to the Feared (in a good way) Day 2. Day 1 was still to be enjoyed, our BMC Life President had surpassed himself with a quality lakeside retreat (that wouldn’t disappoint an African Despot), to rest weary legs and unwind after the totally unnecessary and wholly predictable race to the finish line by BMC elders who should know better.

Only the most autocratic leader could devise Day 2. 200km gruelling, cooking miles across the Northern extremes of France. Yes, it was flat, yes there were peaceful canals but there were also grassy fields (to be crossed on foot) steep flights of stairs (for bikes to be carried down) crystal meth tunnels to be negotiated. The oppressive heat meant that the BMC was spread out across the length of the bonus cycle tracks, bottles ran dry, sweat poured out – creating a Thai-dye cycle kit of a fashion not seen since the late 1990s.


We’ll never know if those camels were real or a sun-induced mirage.

After avoiding a ‘trench-of-death’ and admiring the Missile’s solo chase to catch the riders he’d generously afforded an unconventional ‘half a kebab head start’ the post-Apocalyptic silhouette of Charleroi was a welcome vision. Towering, derelict industrial relics marked our finish line. More importantly it meant rehydration. Rarely have endurance athletes quenched their thirst so voluminously as Mechanic Glenn worked on the street, attracting a following amongst the interesting locals (that’s interesting not interested).

All that was left of a Day 2 that lived up to its billing, was for Dave-O to have his customary ‘Cycling-Induced Whitey’ and for the really dehydrated to head to Charleroi’s best Irish bar, surely just a coincidence that it was located next to the hotel.

Day 3 should be easy by comparison (if you could get out of the lifts). We even had a local guide. Not since Cologne had the Tour enjoyed indigenous participation. Erwin rode into town on what quite possibly (but was probably not) Cavendish’s spare Cervelo. With its gold chain hinting at superior performance, Erwin’s bike and fresh legs were the envy of the group.

The temperature had dropped but the total scheduled ascent had not. The route profile looked as inviting as a dragon’s back. Only the most heinous Martinet could impose a Day 3 that topped Day 2. 190km better. 3500m ascent much much worse. It was no wonder that the minions dropped their protected ride, it was every man (and minion) for themselves.

But as brutal as it was, Day 3’s route was cycling perfection. Where there was beauty it was swiftly followed by pain. Every mini-alpine-like descent, was cruelly followed by a punchy ascent. Big climbs. Long climbs, stretching for kilometres-climbs.

From ‘kilometre ridiculously early’ the notion of the traditional front, middle or rear group melted into irrelevance. The Ardennes was exacting its toll. Groups were strung out such that membership of any 1 group was a loose concept. This was before Ming the Merciless played his Ace: Montagne de la Croix (Dinant). Short, sharp and wall like. Not great on a bike, not great on foot (in cleats) either. Crampons would’ve been more suitable.

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Post the Wall, inevitably the first rumblings of discontent could be heard. The Regime was close to crumbling, with the battered Peloton reduced to eating 2-day old sausage rolls on the pavement, maybe the Generalissimo had gone too far this time. The grip of his iron fist showed signs of weakening as riders dared to disobey his authority and escape off the front of the subjugated peloton on the final awesome descent into Luxembourg.

But this being a BMC 300/3, when the beers started to flow in the centre of Luxembourg (after a few inevitable diversions), the Wall, the near starvation, the enforced captivity of a young masseur in the back of a van, the double ‘sting in the tail’ climb into Luxembourg was forgotten. Dear Leader that was the toughest 300/3 yet but it might just have been one of the best.

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Thanks to all the BMC Riders, Support Crew and of course Stevo for making London to Luxembourg 2017 some if the best fun you can have for 3 days (on a bike).

 

*Kents: residents of Kent, when positioned behind the wheel of a car, easily mistaken for….

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New Year new cycling challenges

New Year new cycling challenges

New Year, New Challenges. Life will throw its usual curved balls our way.

Previous experience suggests that setting cycling challenges and goals is as good a remedy as anything or simply a positive distraction.

I don’t have a crystal ball but I do have the Strava.com Route Planner and it foretells 2017 will not lack for cycling:

  • 5 -7 May. The 1st Bicycle Moaning Collective Brecon Beacons Climbing Weekender, with over 4000m climbing in just over 200km of cycling through the most scenic mountains this side of the English Channel and South of the Border (and not including the Lake District or Snowdonia).  Whether it’s a first time face to face with a real live mountain or fine tuning before heading to the Alps later in the Summer, if the weather is kind there aren’t many better places to round off Spring-cycling / welcome Summer-cycling.
  • 19 – 20 May. Kew Riverside Primary are the first school through the (playground) gate participating in the BMC’s Sponsored Rides for Schools 2017  Programme, heading from Kew to Bruges to raise money for a new Eco-Garden for the school children.  Supported by BMC riders and road crew, over 20 of the school’s parents will be cycling to the coast (the Port of Dover to be exact) to catch a ferry to Calais before heading up the coast of Belgium to Bruges for copious well-earned Moules Frites, Belgium Beer and a fair chunk of Bruges’s finest chocolate.
  • 01 – 04 June. The Big One. The annual BMC 300 miles in 3 days, the 9th edition (just 1 off the even bigger 1 next year).  Just outside of the 300 mile target lies Luxembourg, the destination for nearly 40 cyclists and crew.  The route down to Dover will be familiar but after that Belgium will no doubt spring up its own surprises (Cobbles?) before descending into the Grund for the best Guinness Luxembourg can offer in Scott’s Pub (getting back out again could be a problem).
  • 16 -17 June. The turn of Thompson House Primary to hit the road.  This time the destination is Amsterdam.  The road on the Dutch side is familiar from a BMC 300/3 ride to Amsterdam but the London to Harwich route will be new (an excuse for a training ride recce?) the route promises to be fast and flat, with some of the THP Team already out training the BMC Support Riders may have their work cut out keeping up.  Hopefully there will still be some gas in the tank for the party at the end of the ride.
  • 23 – 24 June. No time to rest.  This time its Henley to Paris with Henley Trinity Primary.  However hard we try we can’t get the route from Henley to Newhaven below 145km.  It’s going to be a tough 1st day.  It gets tougher, as this is the ride where we crash on the floor of the Newhaven to Dieppe ferry and start riding again at 5am (or is it 4am?) I Either-way the clock is ticking on making it to the Eiffel Tower by the afternoon.  2 hard days riding but the routes are exceptional and worth the pain!
  • 19 – 23 July. There’s only 1 Tour de France but this will be the 5th BMC Chasing the Tour.  The definition of pleasure and pain.  With Col du Telegraph, Col d’Iseran, Col de la Croix de Fer, Lacets de Montvernier and Col du Grand Colombier all in the sights (plus a few optional extra ‘little bumps’ thrown in for good measure) this year’s edition promises to bring the BMC’s touring season to a close on a high.

(the small print: All subject to requisite ‘cycling-passes’ being authorised by home management)

On top of all of the above are the training and club rides which means an annual distance target of 7500km and elevation gain of 50,000m should be achievable.

More importantly a combined target of £50k raised by the BMC Sponsored Rides for Schools Programme would be an even more laudable achievement in 2017.

christmas cycling

christmas cycling

Something has happened to Christmas.  Not commercialism, nor loss of its true meaning (that happened in the 4th Century AD when the Christians hijacked various Pagans’ Winter Solstice festivals).  No Christmas has changed because of the rapha.cc/feature/festive-500 on www.strava.com/.

Everyone is cycling.  Every day between Christmas and New Year.  Trying to rack up a cold, wintry 500 km.

Christmas used to be incarceration by family, with no escape as friends were similarly imprisoned, seemingly for the full 12 days of Christmas.  This year, everyday there’s been rides with organised or available for the riding with good mates (or with someone you vaguely know on the cycle club’s WhatsApp).  Even on Christmas Day (if you wanted/needed one).

Only Daley Thompson used to train on Christmas Day!

Winter cycling kit has been tested to the extreme.  Motivation is equally tested by an increase in punctures from dirty winter roads.

Starting with Hurricane Barbara, the weather systems have thrown everything at festive cyclists:  rain, wind, sub-zero temperatures, deep fog and stunning early morning sunrises (it may be Christmas but seasonal goodwill does not extend far enough to grant cycle-passes outside of the statutory hours of 7-11am).

It would’ve been great to stop for a photo but the riding has been fat, fast and suburban (to keep clear of rural ice roads), no time to stop for snaps.  The energy burn has been high too, as fast as the turkey and spuds are shovelled in they’re burnt off the next morning (that’s the theory, par is probably the best that can be hoped for).

Best Christmas ever!

(and I didn’t even sign up for the Festive 500).

(Photos courtesy of @kieranhc)

sweat out Brexit

sweat out Brexit

I’m loving indoor training.  I get it. It’s my new favourite evening (in).  A cycling variation on Netflix & Chill.  Just sweatier. For 1.

Netflix & Spin.

It’s OK to change your mind.

Select interval training program, clip in and sweat.  I’ve always loved a good sweat – somehow cleansing.  This is sweating of a different magnitude – puddle on the floor sweating, I’m considering wearing a McEnroe-esque head band.  Just considering, I’m not there yet.

It helps that I can overlay a box-set on to the trainer control panel, positioning it over the ever slow ‘time to go’.  An episode (or 2) of Vikings later (I’m fully up to speed on Game of Thrones) and with total mileage spun loaded up to Strava.com, keeping the annual mileage ticking up – it’s an hour well spent.

I admit I was wrong about indoor training.  I’m not going to stop now even though my hand is healing and ready to get back on the road.  As I mop the floor, I ask myself what else might I be wrong about?

Might I be wrong about BREXIT?  What if…

Britain is a trailblazer (BREXITEERS would love that), the sparks of the EXITEER-movement shows signs of catching alight in Continental Europe.  Amongst the post-truth hysteria there are some incontrovertible truths.

  • The EU is a project that needs a reboot for our times. A post war concept born out of disaster it has served to preserve peace for 70 years.  But nothing lasts forever.  European Federalism looks tired and outdated.
  • Globalisation needs the brakes applied. Globalisation is super-efficiency, super-low-cost, super-I-want-it-now.  Is it worth it?  Are the jobs lost making jeans in the UK* to 3rd World Sweatshop using child labour worth it?  Globalisation isn’t by the people for the people.  The Globalisation we have allowed is for the ever-demanding consumer by the stateless corporations.**
  • Political and Civil Bureaucracy needs trimming a back. Central Governments are weighed down by unnecessary self-fulfilling bureaucracy that has lost sight of its original purpose.  The gravy train is running at full speed, no one can jump off (even if they wanted to), it’s impossible to get on.  Maybe it’s time to drain the swamp.  Just not if it’s to build a parking lot (that’s not progress).

We don’t need the same-old capitalism, liberalism, socialism (see above outdated project needing a re-boot), we can’t turn back the clock but we can work out a new modern international dynamism.

I hope the UK can be at the vanguard, sweat out the clowns (boris, farage, rees-mogg) and show the right way through smart thinking, hard work, no cutting corners.***

*Substitute with any Developed World country

** http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2016/12/05/mark-carney-warns-first-lost-decade-150-years-brands-eurozone/

*** I’m not convinced we’re heading in this direction.

making everyone happy

making everyone happy

My friend was knocked off her bike Yesterday and ended up in A&E.  It was a classic car/bike accident where a car turning right down a side street cuts through static traffic but doesn’t anticipate the cyclists still riding up the inside. Car/bicycle meet at 90 degrees.

Or was it the cyclist not anticipating a car turning right down a side street cutting through static traffic.  It’s rarely clear cut.  I’d put the onus on the cyclist to anticipate – they’re the most at risk – and they can’t rely on anyone else to look out for them.

The London Mayor is going to drop £770 million on cycling over the next 5 years to make cycling a “safe and obvious choice for Londoners or all ages and backgrounds”. That’s £17 per Londoner (whether they want £17 to get them cycling or not!)

http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/sadiq-khan-announces-770-cash-injection-for-london-cycling-infrastructure-a3412221.html

This will buy new segregated cycle superhighways, extensions to existing cycle superhighways and mini-Holland schemes in the suburbs.

Car drivers and the Daily Mail are no doubt in outrage – why are cyclists so indulged? But put this in context: its only 5.5% of total TFL budget.  Cars, Trains, Buses, Underground are still hoovering up the lions share.

What’s the solution? Segregation is great (of bikes and vehicles) until the segregation ends, then chaos breaks out. Cyclists become complacent, forget that the risk factor has just turned up.  Cars have forgotten that they’re sharing the road with cyclists and have a duty of care (NB. a cyclist is a real live person (just on a bike)).

The solution: cyclists need to be controlled and drivers need to be educated – the best way is to get drivers on a bike.  Which will only happen if they are incentivised to do so. How? Penalise them?  That won’t help. Make it safe? We’ve tried that.  Make it easy?  Easier said than done.

What about paying them?

Smartphone technology could make a carbon offset scheme work.  What about £10 of your road tax for every 100 city miles cycled? (Paid for by: VAT on bike sales, decreased NHS costs from a fitter, healthier population and reduction in pollution/respiratory related illnesses).

Surely it’s worth a try.

the name isn’t important

the name isn’t important

We failed. Failure tasted sweet: a bag of M&S Percy Pigs consumed on the floor of the train to London Euston from Milton Keynes Central (with zero guilt).

Royal Leamington Spa was the ambitious destination for our Grand Union Canal based cycling adventure – because it sounded grand – by Sunday lunchtime, somewhere between Tring and Leighton Buzzard we’d settled for Milton Keynes (by then not caring that it sounded crap).

Brentford to Milton Keynes by the Grand Union Canal Towpath.

the canal

115km barely scratched below the surface of the canal and its mystique – I can’t do it justice in just one post.  Nor its humble towpath, the supporting act to the main event of the dead calm canal waters, that transported us from urban to rural, through town and country, through industrial wastelands and into open fields.

There was no need for complicated navigation, minimal turns, few junctions, no competing vehicles or traffic lights, it guided us all the way.  Not quite an autopilot but close, leaving us to enjoy a journey through Autumn’s clear skied, golden leaved explosion of colours; doubled up in sublime reflections in the canal waters.

the riding

Canal towpaths are flat. Easy then? Not exactly. You’re pushing on all the time.  No coasting as the terrain is too rough, no drafting as you need to see the obstacles on the path ahead, no relaxing either as a frozen puzzle or greasy cobble could pitch you into the November-cold canal waters.

Hunger was a constant, gnawing at our stomachs – the result of constant unrelenting calorie burning on the ever-changing surface, morphing through smooth-ish tarmac, squirming gravel, rutted track, smooth mud, sumptuous leaf carpet (hiding tree roots), thick grass.  We all complained that our chamois cream hadn’t lasted the distance. Mine had barely made it to Watford (and I was double-shorting!)  We weren’t in control.  This was the antithesis to road biking.

the bike

The bike did well.  Nothing fell off.  Not even a puncture.  Clearance was an issue at the end.  It’s ‘steel is real’ frame clunked over any terrain the towpath could throw its way. It’s weight probably an advantage as it soaked up and ironed out the unrelenting ruts and bumps, not bucking up and down but ploughing onwards stoically, without drama. What more could I want?

I want a proper adventure bike like the other 2!

the end?

To the contrary, this felt like the start of something new, fathoming out the canal, its history, secrets and ways of life.  France by Gravel Bike may have to wait for Little England by Canal Towpath.

you’re fooling no one with that

you’re fooling no one with that

Adventure Road Bikes are still not a satisfactorily scratched itch.  So, I got one.  If it looks suspiciously like my old steel commuter with 32c size tyres and thick handlebar tape. It’s because it is.

This itch has got worse, more irritating, more urgent as I’ve stumbled upon an adventure for an adventure road bike: Riding the Grand Union Canal north from Brentford (London) as far as we can get in 6 hours (which might only be Milton Keynes).

Why’s the itch so bad?

Because I don’t have an adventure road bike.  I’ve got an old steel commuter with too-big tyres and zero clearance.  Or more accurately only 2mm clearance between the rear tyre and the front derailleur braze on the downtube.  Or even more accurately: a perfect mud/dirt/leaf/stone-catching bike clogger.

The guys I’m riding with are armed with bona-fide Adventure Road bikes.  They’re early adopters and evangelical with regards adventure road bikes.  I’m worried that having roped them into the Grand Union Adventure I’m going to ruin it by grinding to a slow, painful clogged up stop.  Probably in the outskirts of Brentford.

The itch got so bad.  In this afternoon’s driving rain, I went for a test ride on the Tamsin Trail around Richmond Park to ease my fears or at least realise them early.  The Tamsin trail is for runners and leisurely cyclists – not somewhere the serious cyclist would venture.

Except that in the rain the 7-mile perimeter trail is suitably gravelly-muddy and littered with sodden, slippery leaves, an appealing blazing carpet of red, oranges and golds that distracts from their treacherous slipperiness.  A nightmare for a road bike.  Perfect for an adventure road bike.

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Conclusion A) My old steel commuter even with big tyres is not an adventure road bike and 6 hours on the Grand Union Canal starting at 6am this Sunday morning is going to be an adventure (of sorts…)

Conclusion B) You don’t have to go far or spend big to enjoy yourself in a whole new way.  Try some big tyres and thick handlebar tape on an unloved old bike and make something unexpected out of nothing, turn routine on its head and see what you take for granted a little differently.

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