I’m with the residents! – Velo Birmingham…

The tale of a train wreck 

Which residents? The NIMBY residents. The ones who say “cyclists – YES 15,000 cyclists – NO!” such were the placards alongside the roads in many lovely Worcestershire villages on the 24th of September. The day I finally decided to launch a campaign against the mass participation cyclo sportive, the day of the utter train wreck shambles that was the first Velo Birmingham.

Now look, I accept that this being the longest I’ve ever (and by a long way) taken to cover 100 miles on a bicycle will have coloured my judgment, but honestly, whilst I am embarrassed by that, it is not the reason I am utterly opposed now to this and Ride London. My dreadful time is merely a by product of this silly event.

 

Billed as a nice rolling ride through Birmingham’s surrounding counties, it was anything but rolling and just about the only flat sections, were the roughly 9 miles within the boundaries of Brum itself. It was brutal. Stupidly “ we are going to be the Billy Big Bollocks of all Sportives” brutal. Hills that were indicated as average 2%, but kicked up to over 15 and 17% brutal. It was a route that would have seen a walk out by a pro peloton.  Stopping and starting again and again because of accidents or the inexperienced falling off, poorly maintained bikes with gearing they didn’t understand, up one track (square peg in a round hole) 8% lanes. Spills and tumbles on hair raisingly long fast descents. Now my fan will be aware, that I love a fast descent, but at roughly 8 miles in is the cyclists dream downhill. Mucklow Hill between Brum and Halesowen. It’s about 15% of arse over the back wheel hands off the brakes “ yeh baby that’s what I like “ drop down, that is unless you have 8,000 or so terrified (and justifiably so) begginers grabbing hands full of brake on the steepest fastest line….mad!! But there were many more. You should only tackle hills like that with exceptionally good bike handling skills and frankly a good local knowledge of the roads. Many of the fast descents were on poorly maintained roads with a very sharp turn at the bottom.

That’s the route. To recap, Innacurate info on gradients and total climbing. Lunatic descents for the inexperienced. Bottlenecks that were inevitable on single track roads, most with at least one climb of between 2 and 5%.

The rest of it? Try this. The best part of an hours delay at the start. The reason, huge amounts of tacks strewn across the route along with oil, callously dumped on descents and thorns from hedges clearly from the day before. Ok. That sort of thing is not the fault of the organisers is it? Weeeell..yes, it is. Not the actual dropping of debris ofcourse, but when there had been so much opposition to the event…so strong that the route through Herefordshire and part of Worcestershire was eliminated. When I submit proposals for a 120 rider time trial, I have to provide the local police and Cycling Time Trials with a highly detailed risk assessment. I am then expected to recce the route early doors on the day of the event and quite rightly so. Ofcourse 100 miles is 75 miles longer than an inter club TT, BUT, They have a large staff and a huge budget, from entries and sponsorship, with a history of similar sabotage on other closed road Sportives, a small convoy of vehicles precededing the riders, could have cleared this away quite easily and with their boast of being the best ever, ought to have reckoned in their planning. It didn’t ofcourse, because like the London-Surrey it’s organised by people with no experience of organising a cycle event. Ask yourself the question why Human Race and U.K. CYCLING, to name two, manage to host Sportives by the dozen on open roads every weekend with barely a hitch. The answer is simple…EXPERIENCE. So forward planning and risk assessment were barely a consideration. The cash cow mentality won out.

The biggest complaint though in a list of horrendous cock ups was truly the most unforgivable. The later starting waves were quite simply “ effed over” when it came to food. I’d decided in advance to go until the 50 mile pit stop, with the lure of a sausage roll and a banana and maybe the much touted bacon rolls, even at the rumour 6 quid a pop. That and gels should’ve seen me through even with the hills to a creditable 7 hours. Except that there was nothing left. Not a gel, a piece of cake, a sausage roll. Or even a humble banana. There was food debris everywhere, but none for us….beyond disgusting, especially considering the entry fee and the quickly gleaned fact that the first feed stop had also run out before our small group had ridden past. The same story at the next one and both were filling peoples bidons from the overflow buckets….i kid you not.

VELO BIRMINGHAM, IT IS NOT POSSIBLE TO RIDE 100 VERY STEEP MILES WITHOUT FOOD. A gel every mile or two is all very well, but those and my beloved Marks and Sparks Percy pigs ain’t enough fuel, beside which there is only so much of that stuff you can eat before you want to hurl. I hit the wall around mile 65, my average dropped from 15mph to just around 12, it was sheer bloody mindedness that kept me going, that and that alone. The last stop had managed to keep hold of bananas and cake …….yes. That stop was ( by then) sarcastically at the bottom of a 5-7%er.

God alone knows what time they opened the roads, but those of us determined to finish or bust, were on the receiving end of some close calls and abuse from previously penned in drivers, that for once I could sympathise with. We got our medals, despite being out of time…thanks to the boys and girls at the back of the by then closed N.I.A. For staying on with warm welcoming hugs, medals and much needed cool bottles of water.

My opposition to ride London-Surrey is well known, so you’d be forgiven for asking “why the hell did I ride this?” Put simply, optimism…yes, I know. Optimism that my native city would get it right. That and the fact that as well as it being the city I’m proud to have been born in, my Dad and Mom were very popular as Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress…it was a given that I had to ride it and if nothing else, the NSPCC will have the money I raised for them.

Were there any positives? Yes, the indomitable spirit of the British in adversity, the overwhelming support to get people through. The magnificent support from the local people all the way along the route. Calling out riders names….they’d printed them on our numbers. It got many weary souls to the top of many a climb that followed a sharp turn. People around me loved it.

“goo on bab. Yo can do it” “come on Mark nearly there cocker“

VELO BIRMINGHAM. You let my beloved city down. People who hate these hyper Sportives, here is one lifelong cyclist who feels that hyper Sportives harm the already  tarnished reputation of our sport and pastime badly. Look out, there is a petition coming when I can figure out who it should be addressed to. Oh, I nearly forgot. Thirty or so of us were locked out of the organised car park. An official got permission from the old Bill to cut the lock off after the owner refused a fee to keep it open or come and unlock it.

Jo Ann Carver

Jo Ann Carver

Cyclist, Actor & CyclingShorts.cc Writer

Jo Ann Carver is a 65 year old born again granny. She used to be known as Jon Carver and was on a failed mission to live and die as a man. She was the brains behind all of his successes and due to extreme boredom, fell asleep during his failures. She guided him through a moderately successful amateur racing career and later as the father of a European champion BMX racer and coach.

He has thanked her for  getting him through a degree in Drama and English and an M.A. in acting from Oxford. He’d have been lost without her emotional insight into all of the characters he has played on T.V. big screen & stage.

Jo will live her life doing what she loves best. Cycling and acting. She is the Secretary of Bedfordshire Road Cycling Club and lives with Carol her and Jon’s partner for 24 years and their LaChon Dog Wilf. Jon, having relinquished the body has gifted his bikes. Records, C.Ds and love of Jazz and Northern soul. He also gifted her his Alfa Romeo Spider, but did not give her any money to get work done on it.

She intends to carry on writing the same drivel for cycling shorts that he thought was his witty prose. Now though it will contain a lot more references to pink shoes. As she continues her journey via hormone replacement and surgery, she hopes you will come along with her as she pedals her way from bloke to the woman she should’ve always been.

Review – AFTERSHOKZ TREKZ Titanium Bone Conduction Headphones

A couple of years ago now, our lovely editor Anna asked me to cover an outdoor leisure show at London’s Excel. It was an enjoyable show and I remember giving it a thumbs up. I also remember giving solid reviews to several products given to me to road test and a cautiously positive review to a product that I was enthusiastic about sufficiently to purchase. That product was the AFTERSHOKZ  BLUEZ bone conduction headphones.

I bought them, because I thought it may be nice to have some tunes on a ride and I’ve always felt headphones whilst riding to be insanely dangerous. AFTERSHOKZ are different though, because they use an ingenious transducer device, developed initially for military use and now under constant development and refinement by AFTERSHOKZ, which transmits the sound through the cheekbone, eliminating the delicate inner ear, leaving your ears open to what’s going on around you. They are also Bluetooth. Though they now have a cabled option in their range.

 

My initial review was full of praise for the technology, it’s safety first approach and the outstanding if bizarre (it’s going through your cheek bones not your ears) sound quality. The shortcomings of the original set I put down to me, sweating a lot and not being able to get a good enough fit to get them to remain on my head. I put them in a drawer and forgot about them until a few months ago, when getting ready to do my fourth ( never again) Ride 100 London-Surrey. I was astounded to find that they had kept a pretty decent charge.

My new helmet didn’t fit so low as my S works and I was thus able to get a slightly better fit, although the pads of the transducer contact points, still slipped far too much on my ride when I worked up a sweat. It was annoying, but I resolved to work on the fit. That was when I gave up on AFTERSHOKZ, because the Bluetooth connection was intermittent, dependant upon where my head was positioned. With the phones still slipping and now the reception breaking up, it was time to pop them in a jersey pocket saying great idea….poor execution. As I said in frustration in a subsequent email. Originally I had no warranty claim..They worked and worked brilliantly…let down by my leaking bonce! Then when I discovered a warranty issue, they were out of warranty. Ah well at £80 odd a moderately expensive ” never mind”. Back in the drawer.

Fast forward to the Registration exhibition for the Pru Ride 100 ( hoik spit). God knows why I decided to loiter in there once I’d got my numbers I don’t know,  as it was largely same old same old. Indeed, had it not been like Santas Grotto or IKEA, one way in one way out, I wouldn’t have. Fate then brought me once more to AFTERSHOKZ and boy am I glad it did!

There were two guys on a well lit and enticing stand, with quite clearly some new products. I was giving them a glance when, one of the two guys on the stand (Drew) caught my eye. I ushered him out of earshot of his colleague (who turned out to be M.D. Rod) who was talking with some very keen customers. It isn’t my job or my way to throw my toys out of the pram. I related my experiences to Drew who was very sympathetic….actually concerned (and I hadn’t mentioned that I wrote for this August journal) He asked me to email my story to them, mentioning his name.

Well, I did write and pressed the send button with the thought “that’ll be the last I hear of that” How wrong was I? In fact, that chance meeting with Drew turned out to be the start of the very best customer care experience that I have had in my entire 64 years…YES THE VERY BEST! Before close of business that day Rod Annet had emailed a lovely friendly note, saying how sad he was to hear of my experience and regretted that we’d not been able to chat on registration day. He went on to say that the very problems I had encountered were ones that they had identified and that three incarnations later, he was so convinced that I would find their new model TREKZ TITANIUM would answer my problems that he would replace my old ones free of charge, not only that, but I could pick my colour too. Still I’d not mentioned CyclingShorts.cc (this one is turning into cycling trousers I know… But, keep up). I parcelled the old ones up and mailed them on the Tuesday, on Thursday, the new ones arrived.

First thing you’ll notice when you buy a set…..and you will, is that they are beautifully presented in packaging that is a part of a good buying experience similar to buying from Apple. Presentation does count. Once unpacked my green and black (matches my Dolan, nicely) were instantly more pleasing to the eye, a behind the head loop in green and a firm but very comfortable silicone finish, on the lines of most over the ear sports headphones, is far better than the bulky black “Alice band” of my previous model.

 

 

In use they are brilliant. There is a microphone on each side and on the left, a multi function button that enables, phone call answer, hold, and voice dial. This may be a surprise for the boys, but the voice dial function accesses Siri on iPhone and I was able to select a fresh album of music without stopping….big big bonus! On the right arm is the mini USB charging port (micro to standard USB cable included). Slots nicely in to an iPhone charger and mine took 45 minutes to reach a full charge, though it did have a small charge on delivery. Two small buttons….a tiny bit awkward if one has sausage fingers, but by the end of my ride I’d got used to easily controlling volume up, down and on/off functions. Lastly (when stopped) a simultaneous press of the multi function (left ear) button and the volume buttons enable you to change the sound equalisation… oh and the multi function button also advances the track.

Sound quality wise, the clarity, and depth is superb and more than equal to a Bose set or Apple ear buds that I also own. Quite simply it will amaze you. One complaint from before was the sound leak, that is annoying to others nearby. This is now a thing of the past. My partner who has the hearing of a dog. Could hear nothing at full volume….there’s another thing. With the sound bypassing the inner ear through the cheek bones…volume isn’t a problem. So, a first class sound, and that all important safety feature of being able to hear all the ambient noise….approaching traffic etc is fantastic. “Really Jon? You wear hearing aids don’t you?”  Ah you got me…….no you didn’t. My aids fit over my ear. The TREKZ TITANIUM, fits over my ear. My Salice glasses fit over my ear and there’s room for the lot and yes boys at AFTERSHOKZ, there’s two more bits of info you may not be aware of. So even with a major hearing loss, I can still enjoy music on a ride and hear everything going on around me.

What about wind noise? Well, I’m lucky. I have the latest NHS aids, which have an excellent wind diffuser….I can probably hear more ambient sound than people with good hearing. Rod in his email said that wind noise on the microphones was still a problem above 15mph. No, it’s not. Hey, I’m putting a product to the sword here. Yesterday afternoon was very windy here in Bedfordshire, at eighteen MPH and into a head wind, I voice dialled my partner, who reported that she heard me better on these than on my iPhone when walking in a stiff breeze. I then used Siri to change an album using the complicated sentence ” play Eliane Ellias” which is quite a gob full and I had Brazillian lush all the way home.

 

“Ah but what about them slipping on your greasy face?! ” no bother at all. I didn’t, but I’m pretty sure that I could’ve drawn a box around them and they wouldn’t have budged. A hard 45 windy miles on the road then 30 hard and hilly Zwift miles last night, no worries at all. If your bonce is a tad small, they come with two small bands that makes a close fit perfect. Last but not least a neat little carrying pouch and a pair of ear plugs complete the kit. This means you can pop them in have your TREKZ on full (with no inner ear problems) and cut out the noise of the tube or the screaming kid in seat 4G.

My experience in brief, a great idea has transformed into a brilliant idea and an even better product. It’s British, they are not resting on their laurels, customer service is beyond first rate. A whole host of the usual online suspects and retail outlets will charge you between £84-£114. Which even at the most expensive is phenomenal value anyway, but for cutting edge tech is just the business.

Note from the Ed: While we love these headphones at CyclingShorts.cc, there is always room for improvement through product development – Jon would give them 110% if he was allowed, so I’ve reined him in a little. Can you hear me cracking my whip?

CyclingShorts.cc Rating

Jon Carver – Favourite Ride – Four Counties Ride

With no particular place to go…

Sometimes, your favourite rides just happen out of the blue.
I don’t normally go in for favourites as I don’t like that kind of rigidity. This route though, that came out of a rough idea of where to go coloured with, “If I turn here, I can always turn the opposite way later… there are road signs after all” is a beaut.

When I do that, I find little gems of hills both up and down that go on my list of favoured (not favourite) I don’t live in a particularly hilly area, but when you find one it’s usually spiteful. This has the lot. Fast flat runs, long uphill drags, hills and throw caution to the wind descents. It’s actually a tad longer than recorded. I forgot to start Strava until I was around 4 miles in.

The scenery on this ride, crossing Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Huntindonshire and Northamptonshire; is wide, woody and rolls from tranquility to tranquility.

Click the VeloViewer link below for the route.

Enjoy

Jon

with no particular place to go – VeloViewer

93.23 kmroutes with 424 m of climbing. Check it out!

JIVR Bike Review

Spin part two. The reviews…

Ok. So “Spin” the show, was spun into something a tad more than it ought to have been. I’m saying no more about the show, but nothing is completely bad and in amongst some very quirky stuff, were some very interesting products indeed and what follows is a concise (for me) look at the best and the noteworthy if only…

 

JIVR

JIVR-BIke-Kickstarter-Folding-Chainless-and-Electric-Bike-566717Jivr (Jiver) was the first exhibit we saw and it definitely has the WOW factor. Yes, I said an electric bike has the Wow factor. It is a folder that packs down into a size as compact as a Brompton (yes, I know nothing folds like a Brompton…until this) up and back down again in 22 seconds… and that was me at my first attempt. Martin Piatkowski, its designer and head of the company can do it in about 18.

It is light too at a mere 10 Kilos, which when you consider that it houses a motor, a battery and a chain free drive system, that is pretty amazing. The company claim a top speed on its motor of 25 km/h which is governed to make it legal in the company’s widening market place. Jivr also clocked in at 30KM on one charge, which if you only use the motor to arrive at work without needing to change your sweaty shirt because you’ve been climbing hills, will do you just fine. Pedal the remainder or indeed all of your journey although, because of its direct drive (hidden in the single beam of 7005 aluminium) peddling looks odd….no chain rings.

 

 

A fast nimble little folding electric bike that is stylish (my partner Carol wants one) light enough and looks amazing, make this a serious contender to Brompton. Yes its more expensive, has a two hour reachable battery and high tech motor and drive system on board. But if you’re after a commuter for on and off the train and you’d like the extra help of a motor to help with your briefcase etc, then its very well worth a look. If you can push the boat out to £1,200 plus for a Brompton, then I would suggest that the hike up to 2K must be in you remit. Especially when you take into account their unique way of selling this brilliantly crowd funded initiative. Jivr will place 70 hand made bikes per month on the market. Getting one initially works like this; pay £99 deposit refundable in 48 hours if you change your mind. You then go on the waiting list. Each month the waiting list members will be given the opportunity of getting their machine on a first come first served basis. Pay your balance and away you go.

www.jivrbike.com

Hipster Paradise

GuardianSpin London

Brick Lane, in the heart of London’s East End and formerly known as Whitechapel Lane has always been a vibrant melting pot of a place and the earliest known record of its existence was on a woodcut map that was printed sometime during the 16th Century. It has been home to many communities of immigrants throughout its colourful history. Always a staging post to upward mobility. That mobility sometimes being slow, sometimes quite rapid. It has been home to French Huguenots, Ashkenazi Jews, and then Eastern European and Russian Jews in the early 20th century. It has been an epicentre of changing small scale industries centred around the clothing industry. Weaving, Leather making, Exquisite tailoring and the sweatshops of the rag trade. Home to Fagin and Jack The Ripper. It still retains its flavour of an amalgam of the new and tentative amidst wide boy small entrepreneurs. Shops momentarily flourishing displaying “vintage” clothing….aka, overpriced elegantly displayed jumble sales. The earnest Guardian reading fashionistas leaving their tatty chic boutiques to browse scratched vinyl records and other vendors tatty chic furniture. 35mm cameras that will never be used and they buy their fabulous Indian sub continent, Eastern European and Far Eastern street food lunches in cheap and plentiful non eco friendly styrofoam boxes.

The Truman Brewery’s disused premises opened above a now drained well in 1863 are themselves a tatty chic exhibition space in keeping with the area and ideal therefore to house the show “SPIN” devoted to the urban cycling revolution taking place in London, with a nod here and there to the sporting and serious leisure cycling side of things enabling the hipsters their radical touch of the esoteric work of cycling.

HipsterSpin was a show for Hipsters. No doubt whatsoever about that. There was the very deliberate wearing of 20,30,50 year old continental race team kit. I saw one guy. Beard long enough to plait and use as a climbing rope in his Gan team kit, hanging on Chris Boardman’s every word and nodding sagely as he munched on his tofu burger before clattering away in an ancient pair of wooden soled track shoes, converted to take the cleats of a set of middle ‘80s Look Classic pedals. Yes, it really was that sort of occasion. The exhibition was a truly enjoyable reflection of Brick lane’s very nature on to the world of cycling. There was a plentiful amount of beautifully crafted clothing, hand built bespoke bicycles (in steel of course) and the feeling that rather like the place 100 yards down Brick Lane that has now ceased attempting to trade in contemporary Vietnamese Folding food, many of them, for all of their skill and genuine innovation would struggle to stay in business much beyond two years or so. That is a great pity, because in the reviews that will follow shortly, I am going to take you on a wander through the best of SPIN and introduce you to some of the start up businesses that are attempting to take root.

If you’d not seen Rollapaluzza before, you might have been forgiven for turning away before you entered the place. They’d set up their usually thriving space and were attracting their usually lengthy queues accompanied by music so loud and a commentary so unintelligible that you have to walk away or give in. We walked away and that was the point at which we recognised the advantage of this very solid old building, step into the next room and the sound that filled the entrance hall was all but eliminated by the purposeful 19th century walls. A moment to reflect on some art work, depicting some of the greats of our sport….up to the 1990s (yes that was the first indicator) Bartolli, Coppi, Simpson, Merckx, Rijs, Anquetil, LeMond, Hinault, Boardman, Obree, Yndurain, Abdujaporov, and my hero (shut up… its my article) the finest climber of all time Marco(Il Pirate) Pantani. None of them were particularly flattering, but at Brick Lane prices I wasn’t going to be hanging one in my shed anyway.

The whole feel of the show was not so much a display of products to do with the world of cycling, but products that were designed to fit lifestyle choices of which cycling is but a part. Cycling fits very nicely into the choices made by the eco friendly….correction, obsessively eco friendly and thats not necessarily a bad thing, but there is a pedantic quirkiness about almost every exhibitor that makes sense to some. Indeed, with the exception of one or two of cycling better known brands. Boardman Elite and Bianchi, most were at the end of the cycling spectrum that says commuter or courier rider that seek form over function. Indeed the more conventional the product on offer the more out of place it looked.

Selva-1024x640A number of the products quirky or not, really did impress and I shall review them and in some cases road test them too. There was the stuff that did interest me. The bespoke frame builders, some of whom were brazing but joint and brazed steel frames that are becoming popular again amongst some sections of the regular cycling community. Sadly when we were there these craftsmen were not drawing anywhere near as much attention as the stand selling those bloody ridiculous Dura Ace equipped Bamboo framed bikes…… yes, exactly what I thought!

As I say, there was a kind of studied pedantry to the wares on offer. Quill stems, rat trap pedals with old style toe clips barely a modern pedal on view. I fell in love with a gorgeous titanium framed bike… The frame was brand spanking new, but everything on it was a (admittedly beautifully done) restored and refurbished ‘80s item. The entire group and finishing kit was old style 5 speed friction shift Campagnolo record. It gleamed. It stunned….. its price tag made me wince……. no, trust me you don’t want to know.

When it comes to anything approaching regular bike choices these folk are cautious. Yes I want something that says serious cyclist, but I don’t feel comfortable going into my LBS, so I’ll stick my nose in the trough with names I recognise Boardman, Bianchi and Cinelli… We can’t be seen to be going into Halfords or Evans and buying something cheaper and far more appropriate to our needs, it has to say chic. It has to say, “at weekends my other bike is a Porsche and my winters are spent at Cortina or Chamonix”.

Yes it was a Hipsters show and if thats your thing, good on yer. You’re riding a bike and anyone who has read my drivel before, knows that this will always get my vote. I half begged to be given this assignment and I’m glad I went for the few products that were in my jaded opinion worthy of attention and for the wonderful (and well attended) interview and Q&A with my hero of the entire show, Martyn Ashton. Will I go again next year? No. But I love Brick Lane, the street food etc, the tiny record stalls and the markets. I even like the quirky nature of SPIN….it’s just that very little of it was for me.

My First Sportive. by Jon Carver age 60 3/4 class 2c

Image – ©UK Cycling Events

My First Sportive.

by Jon Carver age 60 3/4 class 2c

 

We got up Early. We had a long drive. It was in Surrey. Surrey is a long way away. In Surrey a man gave me a number and a sticky label and a bag of drink. I rode my bike for a very very very very long way. There were lots of men and ladies who were huffing and puffing and saying rude words. The rude words made me laugh, so I said some too and nobody told me off. We ate biskits and drank squash that made me go a bit faster and we ate bananas and I did a wee wee in the bushes. We went up some hills that were very very very very steep. So steep that one lady said the F word and the S word and she fell off her bike. Then a man rode into her and he fell off his bike and he said the F word and the S word. at the end a lady gave me a badge on a ribbon, but I cried cos I didnt get a balloon.

The End

 

OK. I shall attempt the grown up version which will say a lot more but will amount to the same thing.

 

In the beginning was an idiot. The idiot sat reading a weekly journal called Cycling Weekly. It’s called Cycling weekly because it comes out every seven days and not as the idiot believed when taking out his subscription, because it is aimed at people who cycle weakly.

 

“Oh! they still have spaces left on The Dorking original Sportive” said the idiot to the poor woman he had duped into spending her life with him.

“How much?” asked she with a malevolent glint in her eye. He was too much of an idiot to read the thought bubble coming out of her head in which was written….” he could meet with a painful end. LMFAO”

So the idiot explained the pricing structure. The cheapest option would have taken him on the shortest route but would still have taken one ascent of the fabled Box Hill the OLYMPIC hill, he told her proudly, feeling certain that she’d go for that.

“Only 30 miles!” she taunted from across the room so wasn’t taunting from Taunton. ” your legs wont even have warmed up”

 

The idiot was by now beginning to realise that it may well have painted itself into a corner. He reasoned that although it was a distance that he would ordinarily laugh at in their own locality, in the North Downs of Surrey the same distance might reasonably be described as

” a bit of an arse!”

Her riposte was to suggest an element of cowardice on his part. Idiot or not he was no fool so in a last ditch attempt at sanity he went for the two pronged attack of “can we realistically afford the extra expense right now? and 120 miles is probably daft”

His ploy was fifty percent successful. She was persuaded that 120 miles was too far and proffered her debit card with which to seal his fate. No, I didn’t mean fete.

 

Thus at the appointed hour he presented his bike and himself at the starting house armed only with some drinks gels two legs and a panicking brain cell. In the interim he had of course very seriously stepped up the training (oops, forgot the S off the start of that word) furthermore he had gone to the expense of purchasing the ordnance survey map of the area and attempted vainly to plot the route thereupon for the 78 mile torture that he was to subject himself to. he looked at the contour lines and had convinced himself that although it would be hard, he could manage it. Yes, I know. He is an idiot.

 

First thing about a sportive to notice, is that its like a gigantic club run. There are the Mikes and Kevins in their 40s who have grown up round Shimano and know it all. There are the Harrys and Wills in their 20s who are as fit as racing snakes, go off like rockets, all with the latest gear and no guile. There are also the Wendys and the Jillys on their pink Giants (No you filthy minded swine). Ethel who prattle on about sports bras and coming out of said garment whilst rattling up Mow Cop just to loosen the legs up mid week. In amongst these are the keen, the evangelistic, and the plain moronic, this latter group embraced the idiot and off they set to a chorus of ” Good luck..love you.. see you at the end….and more than the odd wanker or two from the surrey scallywags”

 

About 4 minutes into the ride comes the first hill. The day was cold. Nay, there were cannonballs rolling off their brass monkeys aboard frigging frigates in the harbour it was so cold. It was one of those days when the chammy bulge at the front of ones shorts is protecting absolutely bugger all. The anatomical parts having ducked for cover unlike the rest of the body over which the brain was denying all responsibility for. The knees were creaking. The lungs were on fire. The idiot had selected the wrong gearing because although the signposting was brilliant in most respects, the signage which said “Absolute shitter of a hill after next right hairpin” had been omitted. A brief moment of jumping up and down on the spot and off the bike selection of a more sensible gear and it was off again. Up the hill that is, not the bike.

 

Take time to enjoy the countryside was the advice given on the last email. Its hard not to. The scenery of The Surrey North Downs way is quite simply England at its finest. Leafy lanes and rolling hills atop of each there is a spirit lifting view that is beyond compare. That’s actually the British Isles all over. It’s as though someone initially took an aerial snapshot after which the counties were divvied up, so unique is the character of each one. As we rolled along I remarked to a fellow idiot (had you guessed that it was me?…..Oh! really? When? right away? Oh well) that it was as though we were riding along a tarmac carpet and when you least expected it some bugger grabbed the end and gave it a flick causing some of the most lung busting gradients to challenge the unsuspecting rider round the next bend. So it was that after that initial horror I found myself now warmed up pleased with my hill climbing thus far and munching on a piece of Swiss roll at the first feed stop.

 

*”Excuse me mate” asked a chap whom I was certain had not been formally introduced to me by my valet “have we done Box Hill yet?” I replied that indeed we had not and had the best part of 40 or so miles before we encountered that pleasure.

 

“Are there any other big hills then? ” he was probably called Dennis or Malcolm.

Hoots of derision came from a group of middle aged men in Cleckheaton Clarion skin suits.

“Tha’s got the legendary Lethal Leith and the OMFG make it stop White Down before Box Tha’ knows. Box is for girls” The remaining Cleckheaton clarion acolytes brayed at the humour of their leader (who must’ve been a Mick or a Dave) though more than one of them looked a shade of green that clashed ever so slightly with the three vats of Gatorpiss (sorry? Oh Gatorade apparently). Just my little jape. Actually I really liked it. refreshing and restorative…..no, seriously I am not trying to avoid a libel action.

 

“So which one of those is The legendary Leith?” I asked (knowing full well)

 

“That one” Said MickDave pointing.

 

” That’s not legendary” quoth I

” hows that then?”

” Well it cant be a LEGEND cos I can see the B**tard”

 

Gales of comradely laughter met my little joke cast for the benefit of the crestfallen Malcolm. Away went the Cleckheaton bike shop support group accompanied by one of the Wendys in Lampre kit whom I would have followed all day if I could have kept up with her.

 

And so to that freak of nature Lethal Leith hill. Yes it is an A grade cow. It is steep. A good 19% here and there. But although it is the kind of hill that makes you plead for a lung transplant it is the sheer length of it that gets to you. it’s one of those ” Yes there’s the top COME ON!” out of the seat mash the pedals kind of hills. We all know what they are and yes sometimes even when we’ve ridden them once they still catch us out don’t they?

“The banking is my friend” is the trackies mantra. Well the 20% banking on the inside of the left hand hairpin at what you thought was the summit is nobody’s friend and more than one of us misjudged it and shamefacedly had to walk round it and remount. It is at this point that one remonstrated with oneself. “Why oh why?” I asked myself “did I not put the compact chain set on?” 39/28 is not the ideal lowest gear to ride these walls on. Yep you read right…WALLS. Because Leith keeps on getting lethaler….yes I know and I don’t care. Not one, but a total of 6 false summits are littered along its slopes. So many in fact that I refused to be cajoled by them, especially when at about half way up, the organisers had installed a cheeky placard reading “Smile the worst is yet to come” Thus when a veteran told me we’d hit the summit (I knew he was a veteran because he was wearing British army 1942 issue battledress) he reached across and patted my heaving shoulders and congratulated me. I felt great. He turned his bike round

” What are you doing?” I asked.

“Im going back down to find my girlfriend” he cheerfully replied..” Keep going Just two more to go and Box is a piece of piss after the next one” my elation at cresting Leith was short lived then.

 

The minus side of a 53/39 chain set is when the gradient is in a straight up direction. The beauty of it is of course running out of gears on the way back down. The roads were moist that day and the recent rain had washed a rut of crud down the middle of the road and deposited soggy autumnal leaves hither and thither too. However the joy of being a big lad with big gearing and the heart of a lion and the combined brain power of 1 and a half goldfish means that those who passed me on the way up as I was praying to the God in whom I have no faith were hitting their brakes and calling out the C word prefixed by “Mad” as I hurtled past on my restorative “I’ve spun out of my 53/12 and Im lurvvin it!” descent.

 

Euphoria is a fickle friend though, for whilst the drop down from Leith’s summit (highest point in the South I’m told) is manna to a speed merchant like me, it has the sting of hubris in its tail, for the next big challenge….THE big Challenge, greets one at the bottom. There is a little teaser then a full stop. Probably the only silly crossings on the entire route are the two over the A31. There is no option but to come to a grinding halt and wait for a chance to cross. It’s a long stretch with good visibility on the plus side. On the negative side is a little piece of road furniture. A street sign upon which is stencilled..WHITE DOWN LANE…at this point dear reader insert a blood curdling zombie sound track from Resident Evil or the anxious violin chord from the shower scene at The Bates Motel.

 

By this point I had teamed up with Mark. A 19 year old lad, really pleasant who had just got back into riding following a broken ankle and a lady called Marie who was wearing the kit of (sic) Cleckheaton Clarion

 

“Is this one Box?” she asked

“‘Fraid not” I replied as we each selected our lowest gear, which in my case would have got me a tolerable time in the over 60s 4k on the track!

I’d read up on White down in the wonderful little pocket guide 100 Greatest cycling climbs. thus, when it plateaued out after about half a steep mile later, I was able to caution my companions as some people changed up and zipped past us over the railway bridge. Ahead, a man with a battery of cameras sat snapping away at the strange creatures migrating their way across Surrey on Bicycles. He cupped his hands to his mouth and called up.

“The next batch are on their way Mike”

“Cheers” came Mike’s reply some 100 feet above us and parralel to us as well.

We were not in the slightest bit encouraged at the prospect of going from flat to 15% straight off a left hand hairpin I can tell you. That little run is about 500 yards to a right hander at which sat Mike digitally recording our torture and offering words of encouragement. It was the most agonising 500 yards of the entire ride, mainly because I knew what was coming. I rounded the corner…JUST, before unclipping and giving in. My lungs felt fine. So too did my legs actually, but they simply did not have the horse power to turn that far too big gear over another inch.

 

So Mark, Marie and I attached crampons and attempted to scale White Down on foot. its about 600 metres to the top. A top that was littered with several terminally ill bicycles and riders who were at best only marginally better off. There was blood on the road. More than one as I said came off. You quite simply cannot hold a track stand on a gradient of between 22%-25%. Joy of joys though. Hubris again. Remember Dave from Cleckheaton Clarion? There he sat, a forlorn figure at the side of thee road a red leaking chunk of road rash on his calf and his front wheel in hand.

 

“Two effin tub’s blown out now” he called out to Marie “You carry on love don’t wait for me I’ll see if I can cadge one”

 

When we were out of ear shot Marie revealed two things the first of which was that she wasn’t going to wait for the obnoxious bully (well thats not quite what she said) the second was that it seems she used to work for the now defunct Trans World Airlines for she called back and offered him some T.W.A. tea..How nice of her.

 

And so back to Dorking for the assault on Box Hill. Now don’t get me wrong. It ain’t easy. By Christ it ain’t easy. However, after Leith and White down it is relatively a pussy cat. I didn’t need to get out of the seat all the way up. That bit with the squiggly art work that you’ll remember from the Olympics? That’s half way and the steepest bit comes after. The sheer joy of reaching the top is incredible. Not only have you conquered the last hill, but you’ve the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve also ticked off three of those hundred greatest climbs in one day. And another that really ought to be in there, who’s name escapes me right now. Your reward? The reason why Box Hill is owned by The National Trust. The entire county of Surrey spread beneath a frame of trees and bathed in autumn sun. It would have been breathtaking but I had none left.

 

Sadly Mark and I lost Marie half way up Box she punctured and insisted we carried on, another of her club had joined us at this stage I point out before you think me unchivalrous. So Mark and I rolled off Box and through the last feed stop oddly 6 miles from home for us but twenty if one had ridden the short fun route. There was one last cheeky short hill before the roll in to Dorking and a little sprint to the line which I won and despite his age, I should have too. Racing someone recovering from a broken ankle is not cricket. No its bike racing and I loved it.

 

Lessons? from my point of view. Long fingered gloves next year and overshoes. Also light coloured lenses. You need your glasses, I had an infected eye from something that hit me at speed, but most of the route is through an arcade of trees and dark glasses aren’t clever. From the organisers point of view. I know its difficult but Marshalls at the second crossing of the A32 (or whatever it was) would be a help. You’re tired, Dog tired at thise point. You’ve still got a long way to go and a bit of assistance crossing that Leatherhead road would be good. Bit of advance warning about the uphill gradients would be good too, to help plan gear selection. There were plenty of cautionary notices on the descents. Lastly, they completely screwed up the nutrition packs (which were promised at the start) and the so called Goody bag was a choice of two magazines. I did feel fit to whinge and in fairness received a lovely apology and a bag of very useful stuff in the post 3 days later.

 

Will I do it next year? You bet. I reckon I could knock at least an hour and a half of that time with the compact on. As it was I was pleased at 7 hours for one hell of a ride and my first Sportive of 78 hilly miles.

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