Heading to Suffolk for the 100km Crafted Classique

So, this time tomorrow night, I’ll be on a train headed to Suffolk accompanied by an overnight bag and my road bike. That’s because I’ve entered a 100km sportive on Saturday, which is being organised as part of the Ipswich Cycling Weekend.

I’ve wanted to do another cycling challenge ever since completing London Nightrider in June. But most of the events I’d like to tackle are outside of London and because I don’t own a car getting to them is problematic.

So when I was told about the Crafted Classique, which starts and finishes in Ipswich, just a stone’s throw from the train station, I figured it was doable. When I was offered free entry in exchange for blogging about the experience, I promptly booked a train ticket and a hotel room.

I’m really looking forward to the event. I think I have everything I need: a road bike, a helmet, a puncture repair kit, a drink bottle (and electrolyte drink tablets), a supply of snacks, a bike computer (for mileage), an iPhone (for photographs, mapping and Garmin tracking), a power bank (for recharging the iPhone if necessary) and lights (just in case it gets dark and murky).

I’ve been keeping my eye on the weather forecast all week so that I can work out what to wear (longs? shorts? base layer? rain jacket?) and so far it looks like the morning might be a bit damp but the afternoon should be fine and sunny.

It kicks off at 9am — I figure I should get around the course, all being well, in around six hours. I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes…

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An early morning cycle

Last week I clocked up some 90 miles by commuting to work every day, four of those days to Teddington, which is an 18 mile round trip. This week I’m working locally, which means there’s no reason to ride the bike: I simply saunter across the road and am sitting at my desk 10 minutes later.

However, I’ve got a 100km sportive coming up this weekend (I’ll write more about that tomorrow), so need to do the odd training ride or two lest I lose fitness (I’m already worried I’m going to struggle to do the distance). So, this morning I hauled myself out of bed at 6.10am (despite every bone/nerve/muscle/brain cell in my body protesting at the very idea of leaving the snuggly comfort of my duvet) and was on the bike 20 minutes later.

The roads seemed slightly busier than my last early-morning cycle (on August 14) and the weather was a little cooler. In fact, there was fog in Richmond Park, although it burned off quickly, but I was just happy to see the sun come out: it’s been raining solidly for the past two days and I was beginning to think I might need to build an ark.

There were loads of deer about — lots of young ones — but I wasn’t really in the mood to stop and take snaps: I simply wanted to get around the park as quickly as possible, so I could get home, have a shower, gobble down some breakfast and then head to work. Judging by the number of mamils whizzing by me, I wasn’t the only one in a hurry…

Total distance: 15.85miles | Ride time: 1hr 14min and 48sec | Average speed: 12.7mph

Getting used to the new bike

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I’ve been having plenty of fun on the new road bike, trying to squeeze in leisurely rides to Richmond Park whenever I can to get used to riding her.

With each new outing the riding position gets easier and more comfortable. And I think it’s safe to say I’m relatively au fait with the gears, although I still have to concentrate when I want to go down the gears because they don’t seem to be set up intuitively — by which I mean I tend to click them the wrong way, which momentarily catches me out. I have to remind myself to move them the opposite way I think they should be moved.

The best thing, however, is how quick and light she is. After years of cycling on a heavy steel hybrid, the speed — nay the zippiness — is a revelation. I used to slog around Richmond Park while cyclists on road bikes whizzed by at twice the speed; now I’m doing the whizzing and it feels great!

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My first proper cycle on her, however, was a bit of an adventure. I headed to Richmond Park on a sunny Thursday afternoon and almost collapsed from the shock of climbing Sawyer’s Hill in the heat (it didn’t help that I still wasn’t familiar with the gearing). Indeed, I stopped at the top, pulled over to the side and flopped into the grass to recover. Mind you, I wasn’t the only one doing this. Further down the hill I spotted two other cyclists doing the exactly the same thing!

Then, once I got back on the bike, I lost my drink bottle about two miles down the road when it bounced right out of the cage and into the long grass. I was going uphill at the time and there was lots of motor traffic behind me, so I couldn’t stop and rescue it. (I’ve since changed my bottle cage, so this can’t happen again.)

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The next time I took her out I actually got out of bed at 6am to do it. Anyone who knows me will now pick themselves up off the floor from the shock, because I’m not a “morning person”. However, I was spending the week working locally, so the only way I could fit in a cycle was to do it early in the morning before my shift started. So I did a quick loop of the park and was back home by 7.45am, giving me time to have a shower and breakfast before my working day began. It was a brilliant way to start the day, especially as the roads at that time are so quiet — although the cars do tend to be a bit more aggressive, almost as if they are used to having the road to themselves and how dare a cyclist get in their way or hold them up!

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The third outing was a leisurely afternoon cycle to Teddington. I was using it as a “dry run” to see if it was commutable through Richmond Park, as I had three days’ work there later in the week. It was a really lovely cycle but not especially quick — mainly because there were plenty of deer out and about and I had to stop three times to let them cross the cycle path ahead of me!

According to my Garmin phone app, here are the stats from those rides:

Date: 7 August | Total distance: 18.7 miles | Time: 1:47:10 | Average moving speed: 10.5mph | Calories: 783

Date: 14 August | Total distance: 15.8 miles | Time: 1:19:15 | Average moving speed: 12mph | Calories: 716

Date: 19 August | Total distance: 21.5 miles | Time: 2:03:18 | Average moving speed: 10.5mph | Calories: 961

New kit for the new bike

What no-one ever tells you when you buy a new bike is that you need to factor in extra costs for additional kit. For instance, if you buy a standard hybrid bike for commuting, one that isn’t “road ready”, you will probably also need to buy lights, mudguards and a rack for your bag/panniers.

I’m not using my road bike for commuting, so I haven’t bothered buying mudguards. But I have bought:

  • a new lock and cable
  • a bell
  • a bottle cage
  • a front light (I already have a rear light)
  • a bike computer

That has easily added another £100 to the cost of the bike.

Of course, a bike computer wasn’t truly necessary, but I wanted something cheap and cheerful to keep track of my speed/mileage that didn’t involve mounting an expensive iPhone on the handlebars. And I didn’t really need to buy a new lock given I’ve got three or four lying around for my commuter bike, but I wanted something a bit more lightweight just in case I felt the need to park my bike mid-way through a longish cycle.

I’m yet to purchase new pedals and am making doing with the flat ones that came supplied with the bike. I wanted to get to grips (pun not intended) with the different riding position and gears on a road bike, before tackling a whole new pedal/shoe system. I suspect that in a few more weeks I’ll be ready to make that purchase… but until then, I’m enjoying playing with all my new kit.

My first road bike

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After eight years trundling the capital’s streets on a hybrid bike, I’ve finally taken the plunge and bought myself a road bike.

It’s something I’ve been contemplating ever since I completed London Revolution last year (it still astounds me that I cycled 180 miles in two days on a heavy, cumbersome, entry-level hybrid and lived to tell the tale), but it was successfully completing London Nightrider in June that made my mind up. I loved that event and felt I could have done it so much quicker on a better bike.

So, ever since then, I’ve been looking at what’s on the market in my price range, and last week, with a few spare days up my sleeve, I set about organising a couple of test rides.

My first test (at Evans) on a Specialized Elite was a bit of a shock to the system: not just the riding position, but the location of the brakes and the fact my (very weak) wrists had to support most of my weight on the drop down handlebars whenever I changed gears. To be honest, I thought the whole let’s-buy-a-road-bike idea was over before it had even really started.

But the next day, plucking up my courage, I ventured to another store (Cycle Surgery) and asked to test ride the Giant Avail 3. As soon as I got on the bike I knew it was for me. The riding position was less dramatic, shall we say, and I loved that it had two sets of brake levers: one near the drop down handlebars and another running along the top bar, which meant I didn’t have to suddenly change position to apply them. The gear changes were smooth and the bike was super light and quick. I felt confident riding it, whereas I simply felt scared on the Specialized the day before.

As an added bonus, the bike was 20% off the recommended price, so I parted with my cash and cycled home — feeling like I’d won the lottery.

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Later that afternoon I took her for a quick spin to Richmond Park and marvelled at how quick she felt on the road.

It took me a little while to get the hang of the gears, and I suspect I need to go on a few more rides before it all feels like second nature, but for a first go I was impressed.

For the time being I am sticking with the flat pedals and will look at switching them over to a clipless system once I’ve become more familiar with the bike. It’s bad enough learning new brakes, gears and riding position, without throwing pedals into the mix as well.

My plan is to use the bike purely for leisure/charity-type rides, rather than day-to-day commuting (mainly because I don’t fancy leaving it out on the street, even with all the locks I use). I’m really looking forward to going on lots of little adventures together… and writing about them here.