Bella Luna

I’ve been shying away from updating the blog for a while. Mainly because I’m feeling a bit guilty about not getting the rest of my Transcontinental experience down on paper yet. Riding it was hard enough but writing about riding it is proving to be even harder. So, I’m going to procrastinate a little longer and write about my new Fizik Luna saddle instead.

Luna_sml Lots of people have been asking me how I’ve been getting on with it and I can honestly say that I flippin’ love it.

I didn’t realise just how much I loved it until I got in the shower last Saturday night and now I feel the need to tell everyone how fantastic it is. So what happened in the shower on Saturday night that made me fall completely in love with my Luna? Well, nothing happened and that’s the point.

Let me put this into context. Last Saturday I rode a 200km audax and when I’ve had a long day on the bike, even if I’ve had a reasonably comfortable ride, it’s often when I jump the shower afterwards and the hot water hits that I notice if things are little sensitive in the saddle area. On this occasion though, nothing – no stinging, no redness, no chafing. In fact, my bum didn’t really feel like it had been sat on a bike at all, never mind for 10 hours.

And it dawned on me that since I started riding with the Luna just over a month ago, I’ve already ridden almost 1000km on it and I’ve hardly had cause to notice it, which is exactly how a good saddle ought to feel.

If you’ve read any of my previous posts you’ll know that last May I started riding with the Luna’s sportier companion, the Fizik Luce, on my Kinesis – the bike that I would be riding the TCR on. The Luce and I had a few teething troubles and it took me a long time to get comfortable with it on longer-distance rides. However, I kept persevering with it and rode the TCR on it without too much trouble. I did have some soreness, especially on my pressure points, but I kind of expected that I would’ve had that with any saddle after riding 220km a day for 20 consecutive days. So, overall I was pretty happy with the way that the Luce performed.

Luna_sml_2Fast Forward to this October, when I saw the new Luna previewed on the Extra stand at the Cycle Show. The Luna X5 has been designed primarily for off-road use but I could see straight away that this new design offered a different solution to the issues that I’d personally had with the Luce on rides of over 200km.

The narrow nose and front cutaway that I loved so much on the Luce are also present on the Luna but the angles on the wingtips are not as pronounced and the area under the sit bones offers more padding, so perfect for very long days (and nights).

Just like the Luce, the Luna comes in two different widths (I’m riding the regular) and comes in carbon and alloy versions. The alloy version weighs in at 255g, a mere 25g heavier than the Luce and well worth it for the extra comfort that I’ve experienced.

Although the Luna has been designed with female mountain bikers in mind, I think that ultra-endurance riders, who are often in the saddle for 12+ hours a day – whether on or off road – will definitely welcome the flexibility, support and extra comfort that this saddle provides.

I know that other people’s saddle recommendations should often be taken with a pinch of salt, as we’re all different shapes and sizes, but I really do love this saddle and for my requirements it’s spot-on. I’ve moved the Luce over to my summer road bike, which is where it is best suited and I’ll be riding on the Luna on all my long-distance adventures next year.

Now I’m looking forward to my long days in saddle even more than usual. I might even spend a bit more time on some of that gravel that I’ve developed such a liking for and I’m sure the Luna will be up for it too.

 

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Transcontinental Diaries: Part Two

Belgium to Schloss Lichtenstein, Germany

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Day one – Saturday: Namur to Brulange

After a quick shower and a couple of film-wrapped waffles each we’re back out on the road for around 5am, both of us feeling pretty lousy and wondering whether we’ve made the right decision to rest for a couple of hours.

We have a long day ahead of us as the route we’ve plotted to control point one is over 650km, so in order to reach it before it closes, our first two days on the road need to be around 300km each. Most of our route has been planned out using paper maps and road atlases, then checked online via a number of various online mapping tools and the little Google maps ‘pegman’, when available, in order to check road surfaces and the presence of cycle paths.  We’d tried to avoid major climbs in the first couple of days but we’re now discovering that our route is far from flat and full of lots of sharp, leg-sapping, little rolling climbs.

After a couple of hours of rolling along on our mini rollercoaster route we’re both pretty desperate for coffee but have to wait until 7.30 before we find a bakery that’s open and serving hot drinks. The coffee order doesn’t go exactly to plan as our idea of a cappuccino and the bakery owner’s differ somewhat. We both end up with a strong black coffee with a lot of very sweet squirty cream on top but caffeine is caffeine at the end of the day and it has the desired effect of perking us up for the following hour or so.

As we head on through Belgium to the French border we only see one other TCR rider in the morning. Most riders will have opted to ride through the night so we’re not expecting to see too many. Our route also skirts around Luxembourg rather than going through it as many riders will have chosen to do.

IMG_1174We stop for lunch at a Lidl and as all Lidls sell practically the same stuff all over Europe we get around the aisles in record time, filling our basket with familiar foods before finding a shady spot around the side of the building to eat our haul. As we are munching away, trying to pack in the much-needed calories, another TCR rider, Cap no. 53 Wiesia Kuczaj, pedals into the car park and joins us for lunch. V is also finding the rolling route a little more challenging than expected and we all joke about how on earth we’re going to manage for the rest of the race if we’re already knackered.

These supermarket pavement picnics are to become an almost daily ritual over the next 20 days. As part of our planning strategy Julie has compiled a list of supermarkets, filling stations and campsites approximately every 50km along the route. Wherever possible the route avoids going through centre of larger towns, preferring to stick to the outskirts – after all, everyone knows that’s where all the Lidls are.

The afternoon is slow-going and although the plan is to press on without another stop until we need to eat again, I find myself flagging in the afternoon heat and keep dropping behind Julie so I have to stop for a 15-minute power nap by the side of the road. It does the trick and we ride on until early evening, stopping at a McDonald’s for dinner.  Before I started riding longer-distance audaxes and endurance rides I was always pretty dismissive of Maccy D’s but McDonald’s really are the long-distance cyclists’ friend and are often used as late night / early morning controls on long-distance audaxes in the UK.

Using a phone app we book ourselves into a little B&B for the night around 100km away, estimating that we should arrive around 10.30pm and while were polishing off our Filet-o-Fish, Julie calls the owner to ensure that they’re happy for us to arrive with bicycles at that time of night.

With a plan in place we pedal on through the farmland that surrounds the city of Metz as the sun is setting. As night begins to close in the terrain starts to get lumpy again and we’re both feeling tired and a bit sore. We’re not talking much to one another as we’re just getting on with it but we’re both ok with that. We’ve done a lot of long training rides together over the past six months and know how each other reacts to tiredness. 10.30pm comes and goes and we realise that with 40km still to go, we’re going to be arriving at our B&B a lot later than planned.

Julie makes yet another call in broken French to the B&B owner to update him on our slow progress. We’re both almost out of water but the shops are all closed in the little villages we’re passing through, so when we finally find a rather smart-looking restaurant that’s still open I go in to ask if we can fill our bottles. We end up paying 8 euros for some bottled water as the chef doesn’t seem to be too keen to fill us up from the tap.

Back on our way, we finally make it to our B&B in Brulange just after midnight and sure enough, as promised, the B&B owner is waiting up for us. We wheel our bikes into the barn, apologising all the while for our very late arrival and head up to our room as quietly as we can so as not to wake the other guests. We both set about washing ourselves and our kit before setting the alarm for 5am, getting our heads down by around 12.45am.

Day 2: Sunday – Brulange to Castle Lichtenstein

As soon as I open my eyes the first thing on my mind is food. The B&B owner had offered to leave us some bread and jam out in the kitchen but when we enter, the owner’s wife is up and about already, making us coffee and asking us about our adventures ahead. She’s laid on a real spread so we both feel the need to make a bit of an effort to be sociable and not rush off, even though we need to get going as we have another 300km day ahead of us to CP1.

Four and a half hours sleep doesn’t feel quite enough for either of us and packing up our kit and getting back on the bikes takes us a while as we’re not yet accustomed to coping with minimal sleep. We eventually leave the farmhouse a little after 6.30am, later than planned but the sun is already up and we have a tailwind. As soon as we’re back on the bikes we both feel good and quickly settle into a rhythm along the deserted country lanes through the Northern Vosges area north of Strasbourg.

By 11.30am we’ve already covered over half of our 300km day pretty comfortably and we’ve had no issues with our route planning so far. We arrive in the town of Haguenau, close to the German border, around lunchtime and head into the centre, trying not to waste too much time finding somewhere half-decent to stop. I spot a reliable French chain cafe that I’ve been to before, La Mie Câline, so we grab a couple of sandwiches and have a sit down for 20 minutes or so for a quick social media catch-up.

This is when we hear the news that a TCR rider had been killed in a collision with a car in Belgium on the first night. The wifi connection is a bit flaky so we’re not able to find much out other than that a friend of ours who is also riding has made the decision to scratch for safety reasons. It shakes us up quite a bit but we try to put it out of our minds as much as possible and crack on. We’re aiming to reach CP1 by the end of the day and hopefully we’ll be able to find out more about it once we’re there.

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A damp entrance into Germany

The clouds have been building up steadily all morning and by the time we reach the Rhine, which provides a natural border between this part of northern France and Germany, the sky is looking pretty dark. Thunder begins to roll as we pedal north east along the Rhine cycle path towards our bridge border crossing at Wintersdorf and as the sky lights up the heavens finally open. There’s nowhere to take shelter as we hurriedly dig out our waterproof jackets and we are drenched in minutes. The storm lasts for around 15 minutes, just long enough to make sure we are thoroughly soaked, but it’s warm enough and as we keep pedalling we start to dry out pretty quickly.

Once we cross over into Germany our route takes us on to a dead-straight cycle path that runs alongside the main road into Ettlingen for 12 km. The route should be fast and flat but it all starts to get a little frustrating as the cycle path keeps switching sides and there are lots of toucan crossings which slow us down. The path is also full of people riding e-bikes which we manage to overtake – until we get to the next road crossing, they catch us up and we have to do it all over again, and again, and again.

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The sun’s out again by the time we arrive in Ettlingen

After Ettlingen our route planning starts to go a bit nuts. When we’d been plotting our route in the months leading up to the event we mapped most of the section through Germany on minor roads rather than cycle paths. Unlike France and Belgium, Germany does not have the ‘Streetview’ option on Google Maps so we’d been unable to check road surfaces and conditions but we were expecting Germany to be a cycle-friendly country and thought it unlikely that we’d encounter any issues here. How wrong were we?

As we start to climb out of Ettlingen we quickly discover that German drivers really don’t like cyclists in their way on the roads, even minor roads, and they certainly don’t want to slow down at all to give us room or wait for oncoming traffic to get past. We both start to feel pretty uncomfortable at the speed and proximity that cars are passing us and pull over for a rethink. Given the news that we’ve already received today, our safety is in the forefront of our minds and we are not about to start taking unnecessary risks on only our second day.

As an emergency route back-up, before we’d left the UK I’d downloaded an app called Bikemap on my iPhone and I use it now to find an alternative route via off-road gravel cycle paths over the hills between Ettlingen and Pforzheim. The cycle paths are signed but the signs are easy to miss and we take a few wrong turns and have to backtrack quite a bit. This, along with the gravel surface, is really slowing us down and both of us are getting fed up. We end up taking a completely different course into Pforzheim, adding 15km to our original route and arriving a couple of hours behind schedule.

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Early Sunday evening in Pforzheim

We stop for a bit of a regroup in Pforzheim, stopping in a busy square by the river to eat a sandwich and come up with a plan for the last 90km to CP1. It’s a summer Sunday evening and the restaurants in the square are full of people drinking and relaxing. We know that we can’t hang about for too long though as we’ve already lost the time advantage we’d built up during our speedy morning ride though France.  We decide not to waste any more time looking for off-road detours and get back on to our plotted road route despite our reservations about the traffic.

It’s now early Sunday evening so we’re hoping that the roads are quiet but just to be certain that we are seen we put on our reflective tops and all of our lights even though it’s still light enough. Most cars are still passing us scarily close – much closer than the majority of drivers pass back home in the UK – but after a while we start to feel less nervous about it.

The lack of drivers’ patience to wait behind us for oncoming traffic to go past before overtaking isn’t so easy to get used to and every time a car comes in the opposite direction I’m gritting my teeth as cars come from behind and squeeze through the ever-decreasing gap between us and the oncoming car. Why the big rush? It’s a Sunday people!

We settle into a long, steady climb and as night falls we’ve still not completely given up hope of getting to CP1 this side of midnight. All is going well until we pass through the small town of Holzerlingen where we’re struggling to pick up our route and end up cycling round and round to try to find it, even stopping to ask for directions in a garage. We bump into another TCR rider who’s also a bit lost but his route takes him off into a different direction to the one we’ve plotted so, as much as we’d like to, we don’t follow him.

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We just love hanging out in petrol stations

Eventually we head off in what we hope is the right direction, on a cycle path roughly running parallel to where our route should be and end up on a series of gravel tracks through a forest. By now it’s pitch black and we can’t see much more than a few metres of gravel track lit up ahead of us along with the bases of the pine trees that line either side of the track. There’s no wind so it’s very quiet and still and we’re just concentrating on controlling our bikes on the gravel in the dark.

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It’s dark, very dark

Every so often we join back up with our plotted route, hit a section of road and ride alongside it for a while before veering off into the forest again. I’m pretty sure that if it was still daylight and we could see where we were going we’d be able make a better decision about whether to stick to the route or not but we are tired and it’s all we have right now so we don’t really have a choice but to stick at it.

It’s around 11pm now and we know that we still have around 40km to CP1 so it’s going to be a late one. Our plan to ride Parcours 1 up to the castle before checking in at the control are looking increasingly unlikely. As we join up with another road our plotted route takes us right at a roundabout but the city we are heading for, Reutlingen, is signposted straight on. We decide to ignore our plotted route and follow the signposts instead as we hope that at least this way we might stay on tarmac rather than more gravel forest tracks.

We stay on the road for 10km until we reach a large roundabout intersection and realise that we’ve made a very bad move. The signposts to Reutlingen lead us on to the motorway where we’re not allowed to ride. Riding on banned roads and motorways can lead to disqualification so even though there’s virtually no traffic on this section of motorway at this time of night we just can’t risk it.

We’re both thoroughly miserable now and stop for a sit down and munch on a couple of packet waffles to keep us going. We can see the twinkling lights of what we hope is Reutlingen way down in the valley below us and every now and then the distant sky lights up with lightning and we hear the faint sound of thunder. I really hope that we’re not in for another soaking.

I should probably point out at this point that out of the two of us I’m the one that does the on-the-go navigation stuff. I am happy to do it and Julie is happy to go with my decision. When you’re riding in a pair it’s a good idea to divvy up the roles, agree on it and stick to it. It makes life easier, especially when you’re both tired, there’s no point in spending time arguing about which way to go as decisions sometimes just need to be made on the fly and the consequences dealt with. If I bugger up the route I take full responsibility for it and will try and un-bugger it as quickly as possible.

Neither of us wants to backtrack the 10km to pick up our plotted route again so I try to re-route us down the valley using Google Route Planner. It all starts off pretty well but after around 5km we end up on a very rutted farm track and have to both get off and push. We turn around and head back to the motorway intersection where we stop again for a while and I have a good look at the map on my phone.

It looks like there are a cluster of villages on the opposite side of the motorway all the way down the side of the valley, to the north of Reutlingen, that are joined by small roads so, rather than use the route planner to figure out the route all the way to Reutlingen, I ask Google to just route us to the next village, then the next and the next. This method works but it’s slow-going as every time we get to the next village along we have to stop and re-route. It’s also taking us much further north than we intended to go but as least we’re descending into the valley. Eventually we reach the valley bottom and the suburbs north of the city.

It’s around 2am as we get across the other side of the city and join up again with our plotted route which follows the main road south to Lichtenstein where we now have a long, steady climb. Our bodies are aching all over from the fatigue of a long day in the saddle, conversation is down to a minimum and we both just want to get to the control and get our heads down for a few hours’ kip. The road is deserted apart from the occasional, large truck but despite the total lack of traffic on the opposite side of the road the drivers still seem reluctant to give us more room and on a couple of occasions we get sucked into the lorries’ slipstream as they thunder past.

The rain that has been threatening for the past couple of hours finally arrives but it doesn’t bother us much as we’re just relieved to be on the home stretch. As we slowly climb the hill to the control on what are by now very tired legs, we spy the little TCR sign on the roadside by the side door of a hotel a little after 3am and breathe a massive sigh of relief – so much for our predicted arrival time of 11pm.

We lean our bikes up at the rear of the hotel and wearily wander over to TCR HQ, housed in the little summerhouse in the hotel grounds, where we get our brevets stamped and have a chat to the guy looking after the control. It seems like we weren’t the only ones to get lost on the gravel tracks and come in way later than hoped for. We calculate that we’ve added an extra 60km to our route today but there’s not much point in dwelling on that – we made it and now we need to get our heads down for the night in our bivvys, squeezing ourselves in among the other sleeping riders out of the rain on the hotel’s covered patio.

Planned Routes to CP1

We split our route into four sections to CP1 – these are the routes we were supposed to take, not the one we actually took:

TCR01 – https://connect.garmin.com/modern/course/14854386

TCR02 – https://connect.garmin.com/modern/course/14855987

TCR03 – https://connect.garmin.com/modern/course/14874545

TCR04 – https://connect.garmin.com/modern/course/14873536

Back to the beginning: https://veloelle.wordpress.com/tcrno5/

Twenty go touring to Slaidburn

Sheffield CTC’s end of summer residential weekend
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All lined up outside the youth hostel ready to start Sunday’s ride back to Sheffield.

Day one: Sheffield to Slaidburn

The group met up at Wortley village, north of Sheffield, at 8 am where we organised ourselves into fast and slow groups for the ride over to Slaidburn.  The route took us out through the north of Sheffield via the villages west of Barnsley and over to Emley Moor where we had our breakfast cafe stop at Thorncliffe Farm. The slower group had already been held up by a puncture early into the ride and arrived just as the fast group were getting ready to leave – the last we’d see of them for the rest of the journey. In true CTC style we managed to while away a good hour in the cafe before heading off across the hills west of Wakefield.

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Thorncliffe Farm Cafe

We descended into Dewsbury where we picked up the Spen Valley Greenway, an old railway line that links the West Yorkshire towns of Heckmondwike, Cleackheaton and Bradford, providing cyclists and walkers with a lovely, traffic-free route in an otherwise densely populated area that was once heavily industrialised. We stayed on the trail for around eight miles until we reached the outskirts of Bradford to start the climb over to the Aire Valley.

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Spen Valley monsters

We left the trail at Low Moor and climbed up through Shelf and Queensbury before stopping for lunch at Asa Nicholson’s Bakery cafe at Keelham. After lunch we wound our way over the tops of Denholme and Ogden to avoid the traffic through the village centre on the A629. The route took in some spectacular views over to Leeming reservoir and Haworth before eventually rejoining the A629 and dropping down into Keighley.

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Looking across the Aire Valley from Cononley

From Keighley we avoided the busy A65 by taking the hillier but quieter route through Steeton, Crosshills and Cononley. The weather took a turn for the worse and we had a few good soakings in heavy but short showers enroute to Gargrave.  Another puncture conspired to slow us down further so we forfeited the last cafe stop at Gargrave in favour of an earlier arrival at the youth hostel.

The final leg of the route followed the edge of the Dales through Long Preston, Wigglesworth and Tosside providing us with great views across to Ingleborough. By this point the slower group fractured into a few little sub-groups as legs were starting to tire on the ups and downs of the quiet, lumpy lanes.

The last few riders made it to the hostel around 7pm and were pleased to discover that the fast group, who’d arrived around 5pm, had already got dinner well underway.

Day two: Glasson Dock and Wray over the Trough of Bowland

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Descending from the Trough of Bowland

The harder of the day’s two circular rides on offer was a hilly 60-miler up over the Trough of Bowland and out towards the coast to the Lantern O’er Lune cafe at Glasson Dock before heading back inland over to Caton, just east of Lancaster.

At Caton the route crossed the River Lune and joined the Way of the Roses cycle route eastbound until the village of Wray where it turned south to climb back over the moors to Slaidburn via the summit of White Hill.

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Looking down from White Hill to Stocks Reservoir.

 

Are you sitting comfortably?

 

For most of my cycling life I’ve ridden a bloke’s bike with a bloke’s saddle but that changed  back in 2014 when I tried out a Fizik Arione Donna saddle. All of the previous women’s-specific saddles I’d tried were either too wide at the nose and too padded at the rear for my liking but the Arione Donna was based on Fizik’s men’s race saddle, the Arione. It was stiff rather than spongy but it flexed instead, it wasn’t too wide and it had a channel down the centre to relieve soft tissue pressure. For the following three and a half years my Arione Donna and I did a lot of miles together – over 22,000 in fact – and we’d been fairly happy together.

However, in an ideal world, saddles need replacing every couple of years and I decided that before the TCR I should invest in a new one and get it worn in in good time.  So imagine my dismay when I learned that Fizik had discontinued the Arione Donna and replaced it with their new women’s specific Luce.

Fizik’s UK distributor, Extra, very kindly gave me a Luce (pronounced Loochay – Italian for ‘light’) to try out. Fizik have spent a lot of time developing and testing the Luce, consulting women riders of all types throughout the process and it is aimed at a much wider ‘all-round’ audience compared to the Arione Donna which was primarily aimed at the racing market.

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When the Luce arrived my initial thoughts were a little sceptical as the shape is quite a radical departure from the Arione Donna. The Luce comes in two different widths and I’d been sent a regular but it is still wider than the Arione Donna and has much more pronounced, angular ‘wing flexors’. It also has a narrow nose and a thin central cutaway area. However, I was pleased to see that the overall stiffness of the Luce is very much the same as the Arione and it is also very light, weighing in at 230g for the alloy version.

I fitted it to the bike and tried it out on indoor sessions for the first two weeks in order to make sure it was set up correctly before venturing out on a longer outdoor ride. Despite my reservations about the different shape my first impressions on a 100km ride were very positive. I was especially happy with the narrow nose and cutaway and I found that I didn’t need to keep repositioning myself very much at all to relieve soft tissue pressure toward the end of the ride.

After a few more successful shorter distance rides it was time to up the mileage. I had 300km and 200km back-to-back audaxes so this would give me the opportunity to try out the Luce on two consecutive long days in the saddle. As expected the first 100km were very comfortable, in fact the first 160km were, but beyond this distance I started to encounter a bit of soreness just under my bum cheeks where the very angular wing tips kept digging in. This slowly built up from a mild annoyance around 200km to full-on chafing at 300km and it wasn’t helped by the fact that the wing tips seemed to line up perfectly with where the pad was stitched into my bib shorts causing the stitching to rub against my skin.

The last 50km of the ride was a very wriggly affair as I squirmed around trying to prevent the tips from digging in and doing any further damage. Needless to say I was pretty disappointed to discover that the saddle that had been pretty much perfect for 160km was no longer fine at 300km, especially considering most of the riding I currently do is over 200km a day. I certainly wasn’t looking forward to getting back on it to ride another 200km in the morning.

The next day, a long shower, a liberal application of Doublebase cream and some fresh bib shorts made all the difference and getting back on board was nowhere near as bad I as I was expecting it to be. In fact I began to wonder if I’d imagined some of the pain as everything was feeling pretty comfortable in the rear end department. Again, all was good for around the first 160km and then the discomfort started to set in as those wingtips started to dig in. Thankfully, the ride was hillier than the previous day and that enabled me to spend a bit more time in and out of the saddle so things didn’t get quite as uncomfortable.

Since my long audax weekend I’ve spent a bit of time readjusting the saddle position slightly – I’ve moved it back on the rails by around 3mm and lowered it by 2mm – and have since been out on a few other 200km-plus rides but the pattern keeps repeating itself and I never manage to get much further than 160km before those angular wing tips get me squirming around to find a comfortable spot.

For me personally this really is a saddle of two halves. The nose and cutaway area is amazingly comfortable – much more comfortable than the Arione Donna was in this area –  but the Luce’s wide, angular wing tips at the rear are perhaps a little too wide for my sit bones. Although I’ve got fairly chunky thighs, my hips are on the narrower side compared with other women and I think that a narrower saddle, or at least one that sits within the confines of the pad on my bibshorts, would suit me better. I’ve tried numerous pairs of shorts with it and the edge of the pad always seems to line up with the edge of the wing tips. Unfortunately the Luce only comes in two fittings – regular and wide.

Maybe I’m expecting too much to find a saddle that is both light and comfortable over very long distances. A saddle that’s comfortable for 100 miles isn’t necessarily comfortable at 200 miles and because the majority of us don’t ride 200 miles in one sitting it’s probably not something that a saddle manufacturer takes into consideration too much – women’s saddles (and probably quite a few men’s) just aren’t designed to be ridden ultra-endurance distances.  I guess if I’d never have ridden on the Luce for more than 160 kms in one go then I too would still think that it’s a great ride.

In short, if you regularly ride distances less than 160km and / or you have wide sit bones then the Luce will probably be an excellent choice for you.

As for me and the TCR, it’s now less than a month away so I’m going to stick with the Luce and grin and bear it. I don’t have the time to try out another saddle at this late stage and the Luce’s front end is still so much more comfortable than my Arione so I’m not inclined to put my old saddle back on either – I’ll let you know how I get on.

Other Fizik Luce reviews:

Total Women’s Cycling

Bikerumor

Sleeping under the stars

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Julie and I have been putting in plenty of miles over the last few months training for the Transcontinental Race. We know that we’re not going to win it, but that’s not why we’re doing it. We’re doing it because it’ll be a massive adventure and a huge personal challenge for us both. With this in mind we’re aiming to try and get to the finish in Meteora within 16 to 18 days, before the final checkpoint officially closes, which means an average daily distance of 250 km a day.

To try and maximise our daily cycling time we’ve decided to bivvy whenever and wherever conditions allow, sometimes in campsites but also just wherever there’s a comfy looking spot to get our heads down. This will enable us to cycle all day until we’re tired and then crash for a few hours without being too restricted. It’ll also help us to keep the cost down as staying in hotels for 18 nights could end up being pretty pricey. We’ve agreed that we’ll only stay in hotels if the weather is bad or when we need to wash kit, charge devices or have a desperate need for a bed!

Although we’re both experienced campers and we don’t mind roughing it, neither of us have done much bivvying before. We needed to spend money on some quality, lightweight kit so we’ve spent a lot of time over the last few months looking at different kit and carriage options, borrowing kit from other people to try out, before forking out in order to make sure that we’ve got something that works for us and that we’re happy to drag around Europe for 18 days. We’ve had a lot of invaluable help and advice, not to mention considerable discount, from Shona and Rich at Keep Pedalling in Manchester, Alex at Jagged Globe in Neepsend and Dan at the new Alpkit store in Hathersage.

After wriggling around shop floors in a variety of different sleeping bags and bivvy combos, we’ve both ended up going for slightly different options; me with Rab and Apidura and Julie with Alpkit and Apidura.

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All bagged up and ready to go. Paris-Brest-Paris 2015.

I’ve had my Apidura kit bags for a couple of years now as I first bought a small set to carry my kit on the PBP in 2015 and I just love ’em. Although they’re showerproof, I’ve splashed out on a new fully waterproof bar bag after learning the hard way last year when all of my clothing got very wet in three days continuous rain on a trip to the Outer Hebrides. The waterproof versions are a little bit heavier but as it’s going to house my my down sleeping bag it’s really important that I keep it dry and even though we’re going to central Europe in July, the likelihood of us staying dry for the full 18 days is slim.

Bulk and weight were the premium considerations. My Sleeping bag is a Rab Neutrino 200 which weighs 580g and squashes down very small. It’s going to live inside my Bivvy – a Rab Ascent, weighing in at 625g – and will all get squashed into my bar bag along with my silk liner.

 

Julie has opted for an Alpkit PipeDream 200 down bag weighing in at 545g, a Hunka Bivvy and Airlok Bar bag. Both of our bags have a hydrophobic down fill but we still want to try to keep them as dry as possible – a wet down bag is about as warm as a paper towel.

The test run…

Last weekend, cashing in on the sunny spell we’ve been having recently, we decided to have a three-day dry run with two overnight bivvy stops. We took an anti-clockwise triangular route, heading south of Sheffield to the Forest of Arden on day one, north-west to Lake Bala in Wales on day two and finally heading back over the Peak to Sheffield on day three. To make it slightly easier we opted to stay in campsites rather than camp wild.

Originally we’d planned to ride over 200 km every day in order to try and emulate our expected TCR conditions and see how we’d cope with camp set-up when we’re tired. Normal life events conspired against us last week though and we had to set off a bit later than planned which meant trimming the first day down to 180km. Our route headed south through the Peak, past Carsington Water, toward Burton-on-Trent. Once we were out of the Peak the route was fairly flat and even though our bikes were loaded up we were able to keep to around 22km an hour without much trouble.

 

The route was almost due south, although we made little detour to cycle through Meriden, the centre of England, which is a pleasant but fairly unremarkable little village. The most interesting discovery for us was the cyclists war memorial on the village green. It was really touching to see cyclists’ contribution recognised in this way and we wondered who’d paid for it to be erected and for its upkeep.

Our final destination for the day was the the Island Meadow camp site in the village of Aston Cantlow and as we’d cut down the distance we ended up making good time and arriving just after 6.30 pm. We got ourselves booked in – a fiver each a night – and had the usual kinds of conversations that we have with ‘normal’ people in the camp shop: “Where did you set off?” –  “What?! Today?” – “You’re cycling all the way to Wales tomorrow?!” – ” Are you mad?!” That kind of thing.

The campsite had great facilities: free showers and a free hair dryer plus plenty of plugs in the washroom to charge devices. This wouldn’t normally be a problem for me as I have an Igaro USB charger that attaches to the dynamo on my front wheel but unfortunately a bit of it had broken off and it wouldn’t hold the charge so I was in need of plug points to charge up my Garmin. We washed out the kit we’d been wearing that day and used the hairdryer to dry it off a bit before heading off to the local pub for tea.

The Kings Head was a quintessentially English country pub and restaurant with a rather fancy, but not particularly cyclist-oriented menu and slightly out of our price range for a budget bivvying weekend. The food coming out of the kitchen looked fabulous but we were after piles of carbs rather than fillet steak. There was, however, a childrens’ menu with pasta on it so I had a word with the waiter to see if they could possibly prepare us a large portion of the kids’ meal. We were in luck and the chef made us a lovely carb-rich dinner of pasta with a tomato and garlic sauce, focaccia bread and olives.

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Aston Cantlow adventures… Don’t worry, we didn’t sleep in the graveyard.

Back at camp we set up our bivvys under a willow tree and were tucked up for 10.30pm. Both of our bivvys are big enough for us to put our sleeping mats inside. My Neoair XLite is very rustly and sounds a bit like I’m sleeping on a giant crisp packet but it’s very light and does the trick. Julie was out like a light but it was a warm evening so I stayed up for a while staring up at the sky and waiting for the sun to go down. I contemplated whether I’d need to get into my sleeping bag at all and just sleep in the liner but I decided that I’d probably wake up cold in the middle of the night and got in it anyway, which was a good move in the end. Earplugs went in around 11 and I didn’t stir until 6.30 am the following morning – a bit later than we’d planned.

Day two

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We just can’t resist a garage forecourt and takeaway coffee

After a quick pastry breakfast that we’d purchased from the campsite office the evening before, we were off for 7.45 am. We’d hoped to get away a bit earlier but my Garmin needed a bit more charge so I wasn’t rushing to leave.  The roads were very quiet and we made good progress passing south of the Birmingham conurbation. We had a quick 15 minute stop at a petrol station forecourt for a wake-up coffee before pressing on to Bewdley on the River Severn for our first proper sit-down stop. The cafe setting on the river was lovely but the queue was long and the service was slow and we ended up spending almost an hour waiting for our order. It was a popular spot with other cyclists and we had a few conversations while we were waiting but it made us realise just how much time can be wasted at cafe stops and decided that for the rest of the day we’d try to stick to shops for supplies in order to keep good time.

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Riverside cafe at Bewdley. Really great as long as you’re not in a hurry.

Today’s destination was Lake Bala in Wales at just over 200km and the biggest climbs at the end of the ride so we needed to try and keep on schedule to arrive at the campsite for 8 pm. From Bewdley the route took us into the Shropshire hills, over Wenlock Edge, skirting past the edges of Shrewsbury and through Welshpool. We arrived on the outskirts of Shrewsbury around 2 pm and were expecting that we’d find a village shop somewhere on route but none materialised. By 3 pm we’d run out of snacks, were both starving and still had around another 20km to go until Welshpool, so when we passed a pub in Yockleton that was still serving food we piled in.

The cheapest thing on the menu was a tenner but there weren’t many customers so we were hoping that we’d get served quickly and on our way. While we waited we’d spied two plugpoints in the corner so we took the opportunity to get some more charging done. The hope of a quick turnaround didn’t materialise and 25 minutes later, despite only one other table of customers, our food had still not arrived. We both stared hard at the waitress, sending out super-hungry vibes and finally, 35 minutes after walking in, we got our meals. Both were substantial and tasty but by the time we’d eaten, another hour had gone by and we still had 80 km to cycle – through Wales, up a very big hill, with no snacks.

Our 20 km to Welshpool was tough. We’d taken the singletrack roads up and over a very big hill with a steep descent and also manage to fit in in a brush with death as the driver of a 4 x 4 coming in the opposite direction decided the he wasn’t going to bother slowing down, or even attempt to move slightly out of the way to pass us, preferring instead to run us both off the road into a gravel bank. We were both pretty shook up and had to stop for a few minutes to calm down. Selfish idiot – I really wonder what goes on in people’s head’s to make them think that’s an acceptable way to treat another human being.

Welshpool was shut when we got there, save for a convenience store, so we had to make do with packet tuna sandwiches, yoghurt and a packet of crisps for the evening’s tea, all stuffed into our saddlebags for consumption at the campsite later. From Welshpool we were supposed to be taking minor roads over to Penybontfawr but the main road was quiet enough and would save us some time, event though it would cut some mileage off the route.

After Penybontfawr the route began to steadily climb over the Burwens. It’s not steep, just steady, but it’s a long one. As we climbed could see the road cut into the hillside, stretched out like a ribbon in front of us to the head of the valley. The views across the valley were spectacular but we were both pretty knackered by now and just wanted to get down the other side. We also had a lot of of daft sheep to negotiate with and no matter how much room we gave them, they were still startled, dashing in front of us at the last minute, but at least we were climbing rather than descending.

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Climbing over the Burwens

Eventually we made it to the top and stopped to layer up before our descent to Bala. We accidentally managed to herd another five sheep into the path of an oncoming Range Rover on the way down but luckily for all involved he was a little more courteous than the previous 4 x 4 driver we’d encountered and saw the funny side.

We eventually made it to the campsite for 8.30 pm where, after hearing of our epic day (only 195 km though) the warden took pity on us and made us both a nice cup of tea. The campiste at Bala has a prime lakeside spot so it was a bit more pricey than the previous night’s at £9 each. Showers were 50 pence for 8 minutes (more than long enough) but there were no plug points in the showers so we had to use Julie’s big power brick to charge up all of our devices. We’d been saving it for emergencies but I guess, with no plug points to be had, this was that kind of an emergency.

The camp facilities were very modern and clean though and the super-friendly warden offered to get up early at 6.30 am to make us another cup of tea so you couldn’t say fairer than that. By the time we’d got our bivvys set up and ourselves showered, the sun was beginning to set over the lake. I sat and ate my packet tuna sandwiches, having a paddle and watching the sun go down. This really was a beautiful spot to spend an evening and a few fellow campers were having open fires on the lakeshore.

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However, with lakes come midges – lots of ’em. I’m very lucky that I don’t react much to midge bites but they’re still annoying little critters and soon enough I was starting to feel a bit like that character from Charlie Brown who always has flies swarming around his head. The warden was selling bottles of Skin So Soft in the camp shop but we really didn’t need to buy another thing to carry and decided to just put up with them. Julie had brought along her little mozzie headnet to wear as her bivvy has an open face so she needs to wear it while sleeping. My bivvy has a built-in zip-out mesh panel that allows ventilation while keeping the midges out but I’m sure a few of them sneaked in there with me. There’d be no ‘out-of-the-bag, gazing up at the stars’ moments happening tonight.

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Lake Bala sunset, what a beauty

Day three

We both woke up at 6 am – and cold. It hadn’t rained in the night but everything was very damp and we’d both woken up feeling too cold around 4am, before layering up and trying to get a bit more sleep. I had a couple of little slugs on the outside of my bivvy – maybe they’d mistaken me for giant slug and had come along to make friends – needless to say I was glad of my mesh ventilation panel again.

True to her word, the warden got up to make us a cuppa before we left and, after getting packed up, we were back on the road in search of breakfast just after 7am. Thanks to Sheffield CTC’s residential weekends to Llangollen I’ve spent quite a bit of time on my bike around this bit of Wales and I was armed with prior knowledge of good cafe stops, so we headed the 10 or so miles to Corwen on the back roads for a fry-up.

 

Originally we’d planned to ride the 200km back to Sheffield today, but I needed to get my Igaro charger fixed at Keep Pedalling and as the route went to close to Manchester it seemed more sensible to head there and get that sorted out as a priority. This little trip had demonstrated how much I’ve come to rely on it for getting everything charged up when I’m on the move and I needed to make sure I had it repaired in time for the TCR.

After a fairly leisurely breakfast we headed off north-east in the direction of Chester. We’d decided to try to cut out as many of the main roads as possible as we were a bit worried about Monday morning traffic but the minor roads were very hilly and poorly surfaced so we decided to drop back down on to the main road at Lllandegla and just put up with the cars. After another little detour up a really steep single track hill at Coed Talon we crossed the border back into England and the roads flattened out towards Chester.

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Chester lunch stop. Great view but it cost us quite a lot.

We arrived in Chester at lunchtime and had an overpriced lunch in a cafe by the river, but at least the service was quick and we were on our way within 40 minutes. Our route through Cheshire took us along the Whitegate Way cycle track to Winsford and over the River Weaver by the salt mines on the Sustrans trail. The track here is very poorly surfaced and I ended up with a rear wheel pinch puncture which meant taking all the kit of the back of my bike and stalled us by 15 minutes. We needed to get into the centre of Manchester before 6 pm and I was keen to avoid hitting the outskirts at rush hour. We’d also detoured from our planned GPS route and were navigating our way by memory and road atlas maps which slowed us down even more.

By 4.30 pm we were already stuck in horrendous traffic in Wilmslow. It had taken us over ten minutes to get through three sets of traffic lights and I was worried that we wouldn’t make it. Even though it was only 13 miles into the city centre, I didn’t want to chance it and miss my opportunity to get the Igaro repaired so we decided to call it a day and jump on the train to Piccadilly. We made it to Keep Pedalling in good time, device handed over for repair and we had time to catch up with Shona and hear tales of their recent short-lived exploits on the Highland Trail 550.

Julie’s heading off to France next Sunday so this weekend was our last training ride together before we meet up again in Belgium a couple of day’s before the TCR. On our final day we’d ridden 50 miles less than we’d planned to but the overall aim of the weekend had been achieved. Our kit had been tested, strategies discussed and we both now knew how it felt to spend a long day in the saddle after a night’s kip in a field.

The next ride we start together will be on the Muur in Geraardsbergen on July 28th and I think we’re as ready as were ever going to be. Bring on the adventure.

Up and down on the Downs

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Around 300 riders at the start of the Ditchling Devil 200

If you’ve been keeping up with previous adventures you’ll know that Peter, Julie and I successfully made it to Teddington earlier this month on our DIY 300km ‘Sheffield to London’ Audax. After a short but restorative night’s rest at Peter’s sister’s house we were up early again the following day, back on the bikes and on our way over Richmond Park to Wimbledon Common and the 8am start of the Ditchling Devil 200km audax.

The 205km audax route takes riders through South London and over the North and South Downs the outskirts of Brighton, taking in Ditchling Beacon along the way. From Brighton the route climbs back up over the South Down to Devil’s Dyke before descending into West Sussex and Surrey before climbing over the Surrey Hills and following the Thames into Richmond.

With a £15 entry fee the Ditchling Devil is a little more expensive to enter than your usual audax, which is usually around six to eight quid, but for the additional entry fee the organisers provide food, with the help of local community groups, at three village control stops along the route.

 

Getting over to the start of the audax was enough of a challenge in itself as rather than pedal all the way around the Common we decided to try and take an off-road ‘short-cut’. When I lived in London I used to run with Belgrave Harriers and their club house is based in Wimbledon. Every Saturday morning my club mates and I would run across the common and over to Richmond Park for training, so I knew which direction we needed to head in, but let’s just say that it’s much easier to get up to the windmill in a pair of trainers than it is on 23mm tyres.

After our wibbly-wobbly detour through the woods, we finally emerged at the top of the Common and into the Windmill cark park to be greeted by literally hundreds of cyclists. The three of us were a bit taken aback by the sight of so many riders at the start of an audax as we are accustomed to seeing around 50 or so riders at the starts of most of the events we take part in. There had to be well over 300 cyclists milling about, eating donuts and waiting for the 8am off. We started to get the feeling that the Ditchling Devil 200 might not be quite like your usual run-of-the-mill audax events.

We parked our bikes and took our place in the line to sign on while each stuffing down a donut. We were a little disappointed not to have coffee at the start but I guess providing coffee for this many riders at an outdoor sign-on would’ve been pretty hard work logistically. After picking up my brevet card I took my place in the queue for the ladies toilets. Yes, that’s right, a queue, for the ladies. All female audax cyclists will know that we never have to queue for the ladies toilets, there just aren’t enough of us usually taking part – in fact we usually have to kick the blokes out of our toilets at most events. However, the Ditchling Devil had a lot of women entrants, which of course is great to see, except that they all seemed to be in ahead of me in the toilet queue.

We decided to hang back at the start to avoid the crowds as we sped away from the common down Wimbledon hill and started our journey through the suburbs of south-west London. This audax definitely had the feel of a sportive to it and despite trying to hold back the three of us inevitably got sucked into a few of the big groups of riders on the road as small groups jockeyed for position, getting bunched up at red lights then trying to out-sprint one another on the green signal.

The sheer number of riders led to a few uncomfortable moments at junctions, especially when a lot of cars and buses were also queuing to get through, but as we left the suburbs behind and headed to the hills of the North Downs the bottlenecks soon settled down as the stronger riders pushed on up the first couple of hills and riders started to spread out along the route. The first big pull came at Chipstead and despite riding on tired legs from our 300 the day before, the three of us were climbing pretty well and did our own fair share of overtaking other riders on the hills.

Once we were beyond Reigate the hills settled out into a more gently undulating landscape as we headed toward the first control and feed stop. The control appeared out of nowhere as we were guided into a field at the crest of a country lane where a couple of people with lists of rider numbers applied stickers to rider’s brevet cards. We were advised that the first food stop was a couple of kilometres away in the village of Highbrook and with the promise of egg and bacon sandwiches ahead we were off down the road.

It was pretty easy to spot the food stop as there were so many riders spilling out of the farm garden and into the lane. We had a little chat with the farmer who told us that the whole village come together every year to help feed and water hungry riders who are in search of breakfast. After our egg and bacon roll and a cuppa we thanked him for his hospitality and were back on our way pedalling through the Sussex lanes toward the South Downs which sat on the horizon like a big green wall – a wall we needed to climb up and over before our descent into Brighton.

Ditchling Beacon, the famous climb over the Downs that features in the London to Brighton bike ride is not to be underestimated. At 1.5 km long it might not be in quite the same league as a few of the tougher climbs we have up here in the north but it’s still a formidable 16% at its steepest gradient and averages 9% overall, so on a hot day it’ll certainly make you sweat a bit and get out of breath.

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Looking east from Ditchling Beacon

Today our ascent was further complicated by  a steady stream of Sunday drivers all out for a day in the sunshine. The climb’s not quite wide enough for two-way traffic and bikes and some drivers were taking quite a few risks overtaking cyclists without giving them much room. Around half way up the traffic ground to a halt in both directions as a bloke on a bike had to pull up suddenly due to severe cramp. A concerned driver in a Range Rover parked up and jumped out to check that he was ok, which was very good of her, but her vehicle was blocking the road in both directions, causing trouble for drivers and cyclists alike.

After a few starts and stops – never a good thing on a 10% gradient – we managed to weave around the static traffic and make it to the top where we took in the fantastic 360 degree view across the Downs to the Sussex coastline and sea beyond. From here the road descended into the busy outskirts of Brighton before climbing back up a few sharp little climbs, one at least 20%, to the top of the ridge and on to Devil’s Dyke where we were rewarded with another fantastic view and an info control.

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The view across the Downs from Devil’s Dyke

After a quick breather and photo stop we were soon descending back down into the lanes of the Weald. Drivers taking part in the London to Brighton Classic Car Run were passing us going the other way and we got to see fine examples of classic vintage motors as we pedalled our way west for a much-needed lunch stop at Upper Beeding. Every now and again mini pelotons of club cyclists would speed past us and it was hard to resist the temptation to speed up and jump on the back but with 300km in our legs from the previous day I don’t think we’d have held on for long.

Lunch was being provided for us in the event organiser’s home. The whole house and garden had been turned into a giant feed station with lots of volunteers preparing and serving industrial-sized quantities of pasta, chilli, bread and rice pudding and riders were scattered everywhere inside and outside the house. The afternoon heat had picked up considerably and I sheltered in the lounge to get out of the sun after lunch while Peter and Julie stayed in the garden. We hung around a little longer than we ought – Peter even thought he might’ve nodded off for a while!

Much of the next section of the ride was on fast main roads and we had a few scary encounters with close passing traffic. These encounters seemed to increase once we crossed over into Surrey, with much swearing and hand gestures – mainly from me! Riding through Surrey was a real trip down memory lane for me as I lived in the village of Alfold for a while when I first started working in London in the 1990’s and once I’d moved into the the city I’d often return to this part of the world for training rides. The villages haven’t changed much but the drivers have definitely got more impatient.

Our final food stop was in the village of Chiddingfold at the cricket club. Once again we were supported by a host of volunteers handing out cups of tea and coffee and a fantastic selection of homemade cakes and biscuits – just what we needed to get us through the last 40 km over the Surrey hills as the three of had started to flag a bit by now. Many of the other groups of riders were also taking their time at this food stop, maybe in anticipation of the few remaining hills ahead.

Julie and I had been keeping a sharp eye on Peter for most of the ride as he can be prone to missing turns and pedalling off in the wrong direction. He’s also managed to cultivate faffing into an art form, leaving gloves and water bottles in his wake at controls. This feed stop was no exception as we handed his gloves to him again. We were starting to wonder how he would manage without us when he rides LEL this summer!

I knew that even though we only had 40 km left to ride we still had the last of the big climbs ahead – Combe Lane at Shere. It starts off relatively tame but banks up to 18% by the swtichback at the top and on our tired legs it was really tough going to drag ourselves over the summit. After Combe Lane it was all plain sailing back over the M3 and M25 into the outskirts of London and we managed to cover the flatter terrain pretty quickly by working together taking turns on the front. I managed to get all the way to Kingston before blowing up after a fairly long stint on the front and had to limp home on the back being pulled along by Julie and Peter along the Thames to Richmond and the finish at the Rose of York pub.

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The Thames at Richmond

We clocked in at the pub just a little after 7 pm, pleased with our efforts considering that we’d now clocked up over 500 kms of riding in two days.  We all agreed that it wasn’t really like any audax we’d done before but we’d really enjoyed it. The organisers really do deserve a big ‘thank you’ for the amount of organisation that went in to providing food and assistance for the huge number of riders taking part – an absolute bargain for the 15 quid entry fee. Cafe stops on audaxes can often result in quite an expensive day out but I’d only spent 75 pence all day!

If you live in the south and haven’t moved up to a longer distance audax yet then this 200 would be a great one to start with. It’s a long way to come for an audax if you live in the north but it’s definitely one to make an effort for, experience some of the best bits of the North and South Downs and make a weekend of it… just make sure you’re prepared for that toilet queue, ladies.

 

Isn’t it all downhill to London?

Last weekend I got the opportunity to cycle down to London, something that has been on my ‘to do’ list for ages but one that I’ve never managed to get around to planning.

Thanks to our friend Peter, this time all of the planning was taken care of and Julie and I had been invited along. He is currently training for LEL and, just like us, trying to get some big miles in when the opportunity arises. Peter had arranged to pedal down from Sheffield to his sister’s in Teddington in a day and then take part in the Ditchling Devil 200km audax from Wimbledon on the following Sunday, clocking up just over 500km in a weekend.

Peter designed the Sheffield to London route to be ridden as a 300km DIY audax, which is basically an audax that you plan yourself.  When you design a route you must plot the shortest distance between two points, so if you want to avoid main roads you can put in a control stop wherever you need to change direction. Peter had managed to plot a pretty straight route down through Bolsover, skirting around Nottingham, Northampton and Milton Keynes before heading slightly south-west over the Chilterns to Beaconsfield, Windsor and finally following the Thames to Teddington.

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Early morning sunshine on the lanes outside Bolsover

We met up in Nether Edge at 5.30am on Saturday morning outside the Sainsbury’s cashpoint where we picked up out first control receipt of the day. After a night of heavy rain, the weather was looking good and the wind wasn’t too strong so we expected to make good progress. The roads were deserted, giving us a pretty-much, traffic-free run all the way to Staveley for our next control receipt before heading on through Bolsover and the quiet lanes of north Nottinghamshire. Early morning rides are a great opportunity to catch some wildlife and en route we saw a barn owl and a young fox playing in the road.

The odd stretch on a busy road is often unavoidable on an audax, especially when you need to get across a river. We’d planned our Breakfast stop at Bingham, a village east of Nottingham, 75 km into the ride and our third control of the day. This meant crossing the Trent at Gunthorpe on the A6097 which is a straight, fast road with heavy traffic. Although it was only around 9am the traffic had picked up enough to make it a fairly unpleasant experience as the road is narrow in places and impatient drivers don’t like being held up by bikes, so we were all pretty glad to get to the roundabout turnoff to Bingham.

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The Picture House Cafe, Bingham

There are a few cafes to choose from in Bingham and judging by the amount of cyclists we saw arriving in the village square it’s a popular meeting place for local cycling clubs. Our cafe of choice was the Picture Cafe on the square, lovely decor, a good menu and, most importantly,  good, strong coffee. We were all impressed enough to consider planning a future day ride from Sheffield.

Keeping an eye on the time we were back on the road for just after 10am and on to the quiet country lanes that run parallel to the A46, through Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire. At Market Harborough we headed off-road on the Brampton Valley Way. This 14-mile cycle trail runs from Market Harborough to the outskirts of Northampton along the track bed of a disused railway line and is part of National Cycle Route 6.

Traffic-free route always sound like a good idea – and they are for leisure cycling and family days out – but when you’re covering big miles, often the surface can be a little hard-going on a road bike and they can slow you down quite a bit so we all found the 14 miles pretty tedious. We also encountered some unexpected tunnels – long, muddy, unlit tunnels that were pretty impossible to ride through on skinny 23mm tyres so we had a bit of pushing to do too.

This was also the first long ride on my new Fizik Luce saddle and before hitting the trail, the first 100km had been a comfortable ride but the new saddle has quite angular edges on it’s ‘wingflex’ system and, jiggled around on the bumpy trail surface, I found that the angular edges on the saddle’s ‘wings’ were starting to rub on the back of my legs when I sat back in the saddle. As I still had nearly 200km to go, this was a bit worrying.

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All Saints Church, Northampton

The route spat us out on the outskirts of Northampton, our fourth control of the day and destination for lunch. We’d lost a bit of time on the trail and were around half an hour behind schedule, arriving in town just after 2pm, but we were all pretty hungry and ready for a spell off the bike. We headed up Gold Street to All Saints Church and settled for lunch in the All Saints Bistro which is part of the church building. There’s plenty of covered, outside seating which was good for keeping an eye on the bikes locked up in the church square.

The route out of Northampton took us south, just skirting the edge of Milton Keynes, We were heading into commuter belt and the villages were starting to look a little more well-kept the further south we traveled. The village of Stewkley stands out as a lovely example with some fine old houses and thatched cottages. The cars were also getting bigger and more expensive but unfortunately the drivers’ manners weren’t improving any  and we had a couple of near misses with people taking crazy risks to overtake us rather than wait behind.

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Enjoying a drink at the Half Moon Pub, Wilstone

The fifth control of the day was The Half Moon at Wilstone, a traditional english pub with friendly staff who were interested to know where we’d come from and where we were going. We were met with the now fairly familiar cries of  “Where? Sheffield? Today!”. It was 4.30pm and we were hot in the afternoon sunshine so we ordered large, cold drinks all-round. Peter pushed the boat out with a lager shandy. We weren’t quite ready for a pub meal and there wasn’t a shop so we had to make do with the emergency bagels we’d been carrying around with us all day.

For the most part, once we were away from Sheffield, apart from the trail, the route had been pretty flat and fast but we were now heading into the Chilterns and that meant a few hills. Nothing by Sheffield standards but when you’ve already got 200km in your legs even the smallest incline can be a be a bit of hard work. Peter had done his best to keep the route off the main roads which meant that we found ourselves on some very narrow and not very well-kept country lanes. Some of them were so badly potholed that we gave up trying to negotiate the holes and got off to push for the second time in the day.

The sky had been growing progressively darker and by the time we got to the outskirts of Beaconsfield the heavens opened, and boy, did they open. We were absolutely soaked through to the skin in seconds. The force of the rain hitting the hot roads made the surface water frothy and visibility was poor. It rained solidly for a good 15 minutes but we pedaled out of it and by the time we’d reached the next control point at Dorney the roads were completely dry.

We definitely got a few funny stares from the early evening diners as we entered the Palmer’s Arms in Dorney. We were soaking wet and bedraggled and the rain hadn’t reached the village yet so outside it was still a lovely summer’s evening. We didn’t plan on stopping around long but we needed a control receipt so we ordered drinks and crisps and made good use of the facilities before heading through Windsor and on to Staines.

Old Will the Conqueror certainly knew what he was doing when he chose Windsor as the spot to build a castle. As we pedaled away from Dorney, across the plain of the Thames, the castle was the focal point of skyline, shining gold in the setting sun. We paused for a quick photo stop over the bridge at Eton before climbing on up to Windsor town centre, full of tourists and people partying on an early Saturday evening.

Next stop Staines. We were all pretty starving by this point as we’d not eaten anything substantial since we’d polished off the emergency bagels. On long rides Julie and I have gotten ourselves into the rhythm of eating something small every hour even if we don’t feel hungry, in order to keep blood sugar levels as even as possible to prevent bonking out.  It seems to work well for us but relies upon us topping up our food supplies whenever we get the opportunity. Peter doesn’t seem to need to eat as much as we do and was managing ok by just eating at controls but we were unanimously thrilled to see a Sainsbury’s petrol station the minute it came into view.

Peter’s sister had dinner waiting for us in Teddington as we’d planned to arrive for 9.30 but as it was already 9pm and we still had 20km left, we needed something to tide us over. I opted for a bag of popcorn to fill me up and a carton of iced coffee for a caffeine hit while Julie and Peter shared a sandwich. The cashiers were pretty impressed by our achievements so far and wished us well on the final leg of our journey.

Staines on a Saturday night is quite a rowdy affair so we were glad that we’d not needed to stop in the centre of town. We were hitting the outskirts of greater London now, roads were busier and traffic lights slowed us down quite a bit making the last 15km pretty slowgoing as we rode through the suburbs of Ashford and Feltham.

By 280km the back of my legs had pretty-much had enough of those angular edges on my saddle and I had to keep continually repositioning myself, which was a real shame because the nose of the saddle really was very comfortable.

We finally made it to our destination on Teddington High Street at 10.24pm. We needed to make sure that our arrival was documented so we immediately found a cashpoint to validate our journey of 301km before heading over to Peter’s sisters. We were given a  very warm welcome by Alison and Michael, along with plenty of food and a lovely, hot shower.

By 11.30 we were in bed as we needed to get a few hours of sleep in preparation for our next adventure, the Ditchling Devil 200km to Brighton and back on Sunday… but that’s another story.