The joys of cycling in Richmond Park: open space, deer and variable weather

March is a funny month for me. I'm working from home doing a big edit job for a think tank, which means I miss out on my normal commute. I have to force myself to get out and do exercise, otherwise it would be quite possible to not leave the house for days at a time. In fact, when I did this job last March I only seemed to leave the house when I required food or needed to post a letter!

And of course, when you have to make time to cycle it is all too easy to look out the window at this time of year and find excuses not to go outside. It's too cold. It's too wet. It's too windy. It's snowing. I don't like the look of those clouds. The traffic will be too busy. If I leave now I'll hit the school run. If I leave now I'll get caught in the lunch time rush. You get the idea.

As a consequence I have only cycled three times this month, which is pathetic, but they were three longish cycles to Richmond Park, so you can't say I'm not putting some hours in the saddle. And while I might be missing out on my regular commutes to the office in south London (an easy way to clock up 40 or 50 miles per week), when I work from home I love that I can take two hours out of my day to go on a cycle and just make up the time afterwards.

Open-space

And of course nothing beats the joy of cycling through Richmond Park — once I've survived the occasionally stressful five mile journey to get there. It's all the rugged fields and trees and beautiful vistas and the whole feeling that so much space evokes — you could be in the middle of nowhere, not in one of the world's biggest and busiest cities.

Cycle-path-and-deer

At the moment the park is filled with gorgeous deer. And while I'd love to stop and take photographs of them all, I have to be selective about it — sometimes I don't want to ruin my momentum on the bike or stop in an awkward place where other people can't get by. But on Tuesday, when I took the above photograph, I didn't have much choice. The deer — mostly females with their young — crossed the path ahead of me. By the time I'd fumbled around, taken off my gloves, extracted my iPhone from my pocket, unlocked it and turned on the camera, they were safely on the other side.

Deer

I saw those same deer today, almost in the same place. A little further down the road I came across a herd of giant stag and tentatively cycled by them, hoping they wouldn't suddenly stampede across the road or starting clashing their antlers together in a display of power. These animals are so huge they scare me. There are signs all over the park warning visitors that they are wild animals and shouldn't be approached. Fortunately, the stags today ignored me — they just continued grazing by the roadside while I pedalled by.

Cloud

The weather has been kind of weird, though. When I cycled last week it was shirt-sleeves weather. It was roughly 15C and the sun was out and the sky was blue — absolutely perfect for cycling.

But when I went cycling on Tuesday it was damn cold. I wore two pairs of ultra-thick woollen socks and my feet were still numb by journey's end. It was also incredibly windy, which meant I cycled very slowly — and my attempt to go up Sawyer's Hill, the notoriously steep ascent I normally avoid by cycling round the outside of the park on the Tamsin trail, was snail like. I practically crawled up it in the lowest gear, while MAMILS on expensive road bikes whizzed past.

Today, by contrast, was somewhere in between: there was no wind and the sun was out — but only for a bit, as the photograph above shows. I'd stopped at this pond for a little breather after doing a circuit of the park and the next thing I know the sky went very dark, a chill descended and I was convinced that was a snow cloud coming in. I hurried the six miles home, hoping to avoid the expectant downpour, but not a single drop of precipitation fell.

Here's some stats of my cycles:

Tuesday March 5, total distance: 15.98miles (25.72km) | Moving time: 1hr 28min 11sec | Average moving speed: 10.9mph | Calories: 671C [Tamsin Trail, warm and sunny]

Tuesday March 12, total distance: 14.69miles (23.65km) | Moving time: 1hr 18min 13sec | Average moving speed: 11.2mph | Calories: 622C [Sawyer's Hill, cold and windy]

Thursday March 14, total distance: 16.21miles (26.09km) | Moving time: 1hr 10min 54sec | Average moving speed: 10.3mph | Calories: 721C [Sawyer's Hill, extra 'loop', mild and sunny]

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London Revolution: training progress report 2

I've got so much going on at the moment that any attempt to keep this blog updated has fallen by the wayside. When I agreed to take part in London Revolution — cycling 180 miles around London on May 18 & 19 — I figured I'd write about each and every bike journey I made and post it here as an online record of my training progress. But I haven't had the energy or the time to do that.

Thank goodness, then, for my Garmin, which records everything for me — that is when I remember to wear my heartrate monitor or I don't accidentally switch off my iPhone.

According to my Garmin Connect account I have cycled 238* miles since the start of the year. This doesn't really sound like much to me, given I'll be cycling 75% of that distance in two days in just two months' time. But my first cycle of the year was on January 28, so this represents just 6 weeks of training — and with the weather, my stupid schedule and everything in between (including the dreaded return of my psoriatic arthritis which has been in remission for two years), it's amazing that I've managed to cycle at all.

Hopefully, if spring ever arrives, I'll do much more cycling in the lead up to the event. I'll keep you posted.

* I've adjusted this figure to take into account the two 6 mile journeys that were not recorded.

Product review: Premium MacWet Sports Gloves

Glove-topsideWhen it comes to cycling gloves I know what I like: the gloves must be comfortable, breathable, warm (in winter), provide plenty of grip, offer padded protection to my palms and look good.

When I was asked to test a pair of Premium MacWet Sports Gloves I acquiesced, even though I already have a much-loved pair of Specialized ladies cycling gloves that I doubt could be improved upon. However, sometimes it's worth trying new things, because you might just discover a product even better than the one you truly love.

What I like about the Premium MacWet Sports Gloves

  • They are super soft and comfortable. And because the material is quite thin it offers grip confidence. I was never worried that I couldn't feel the handlebars!
  • My hands never got sweaty in the two weeks that I trialled them. That might have been because I was often cycling in sub-zero temperatures, but I think it probably has more to do with the wicking properties of the material.
  • They washed well — I simply threw them in the washing machine at 40C and they came out like new.

What I don't like

  • They are simply not suitable for winter cycling. My hands froze — from the wind and the rain. (I note the company also makes a winter weight version that is fleece-lined, water-resistant and windproof, so I wish I'd been asked to trial them instead of these micro-mesh ones which are more suitable for milder conditions.)
  • The short and thick elasticated cuffs with velcro fastening let the (cold) air in and didn't sit neatly on my hands, despite being the right size. And I simply didn't like the look of the gloves — I felt like I was going off to play a round of golf or compete in the Prix St. George level dressage!
  • The colour (white) was totally impractical. Within one wear they looked grey and grubby. I also felt a bit like Marcel Marceau. (On the upside, it would be difficult for other road users not to see my hand signals!) I note that there are other (more appropriate) colours available, such as blue, black and brown.
  • There is absolutely no padding on them. I tend to grip the handlebars quite tightly, so I like to have a little padding (preferably gel) so I don't get blisters or suffer numbness in my hands.

Overall opinion

These gloves feel lovely when you slip them on and they are easy to fasten and wash, but I'm not sure they are all that suitable for cycling. I could see they would be better suited to other sporting pursuits such as shooting, golf and horse riding where you need to ensure your grip is as skin-like as possible. That said, these might be okay to use when the weather is warmer and you want to stop your hands slipping on the handlebars.

Where can you buy?

You can order MacWet Gloves direct from the MacWet website. There is a comprehensive range of sizes available (including half-size increments). The short mesh ones I tried retail for £27.99.

My gloves were supplied to me for review purposes by Champions (UK) Plc.