One day to go…

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Six weeks ago I got back on the bike, after a very long absence, with a view to getting myself cycle-ready for  RideLondon Surrey46. I had planned to document my efforts here, but, as they say, life got in the way, and now here I am, just a day away from tackling a 46 mile sportive wondering what I’ve let myself in for…

I spent the first few weeks riding my commuter bike just to get back into the swing of regular cycling. Then, about three weeks ago, I dug out my road bike (below) and had to get used to cycling all over again. That’s because the whole feel of the bike is different — the position is different, the gears are different, the brakes are different — and it’s quicker and lighter and “twitchier” to handle.

My road bike

Mr London Cycling Diary even put new puncture-proof tyres on it for me (an early birthday present), which has taken away my fear of what-the-hell-do-I-do-if-I-get-a-flat? I don’t mind getting my hands dirty, but I’m not the most mechanically minded and I could just see me being stuck on the side of the road somewhere not even knowing how to take the (quick-release) wheel off!

Of course, I could still get a flat, and on tomorrow’s event I’m taking spare tubes and a repair kit — just to be on the safe side. (Not that I will know how to use them…)

So, anyway, I’ve been trying to cycle to work at least twice a week, often three times, and in the past fortnight I’ve been returning home via Richmond Park, doing a couple of mini laps, just to clock up the miles. It’s been a great way to wind down after a long day sitting at my desk editing copy. I’ve also been doing a longish cycle every weekend.

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My legs have really been feeling the extra exercise…especially my quads. I also have a (minor) problem with my left calf that seizes up overnight, but I’ve been massaging it with oil from Neal’s Yard, so it should be OK tomorrow (I absolutely swear by the Ginger & Juniper Warming Oil, which loosens everything up almost immediately, and it smells gorgeous too).

There’s not much more I can do now to get ready… I’ve got my rider number, helmet and frame stickers all in place (I had to collect them from London Excel, out in Greenwich, yesterday). I’ve packed my little under-seat saddle with the aforementioned tubes and repair kit, as well as eye drops, spare contact lenses, medicated wipes, lip balm, anti-chafing gel, electrolyte tablets (to put in my water bottle) and nutrigrain bars. I’ve got my outfit ready to pop on in the morning, including a VIP pass, courtesy of Skoda, that entitles me to a free breakfast at the starting line at Queen Elizabeth Park.

All that’s left to do is to try to get a decent night’s kip and not sleep through my 5am alarm clock! Wish me luck.

Westminster sunset

Westminster-sunset

And this is why I love cycling home after a long day at work. Just look at that sunset!

After two months of cycling home in the dark, it lifts the heart and the spirit when I leave the office at around 5.45pm and it’s still light outside.

This evening the sky was awash in a perfect blush pink, which deepened into peach and gold, as the sun moved closer to the horizon. My route home is west-bound, so it was like cycling into a beautiful watercolour painting.

When I got to Westminster Bridge I decided to park the bike up for five minutes so I could take this quick photograph on my iPhone. It’s not particularly sharp or well framed, and it doesn’t even begin to capture the vivid richness of the colour, but it gives you some idea of this evening’s magical sunset… It’ll probably snow tomorrow.

Cycling the Viking Coastal Trail — on a Brompton

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Remember that lovely little magenta-coloured Brompton I received at Christmas? Well, she made it to the seaside on Friday (pictured above). It was her maiden voyage — and she performed superbly.

I’d been wanting to cycle the Viking Coastal Trail in Kent for years, but I’d never actually got myself organised enough to do it. But having a Brompton at my disposal meant it was simply a matter of heading to Kent on the train — all I had to do was (learn to) fold-up the bike and I’d be on my way.

So, on my day off last Friday, my Other Half and I caught the train to Margate from Kings Cross St Pancras, with overnight rucksacks on our backs, bike helmets on our heads and Bromptons neatly folded in our hands.

Viking Coastal Trail sign

The idea was to tackle the 32 mile route in a clockwise fashion over two days: Margate to Ramsgate on Friday afternoon, then Ramsgate to Margate, via St Nicholas-at-Wade and Reculver, on Saturday.

DAY ONE

Margate-to-Ramsgate

Distance: 10 miles

We didn’t leave London until after 12-noon, so by the time we got to Margate and had figured out how to unfold the bikes (!), it was almost 2pm. Fortunately, we weren’t in too much of a rush because we’d already pre-booked a hotel room in Ramsgate and didn’t have to check in until 5pm, giving us plenty of time to cycle the 10 miles along the coast.

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In fact, we didn’t set off until close to 3pm, because we had a bit of a potter along the harbour arm first (pictured above). We even snuck in a delicious half-pint of craft ale at The Harbour Arms, a microbrewery on the waterfront. Indeed, it was so relaxing sitting in the sun, nursing our beers, we half-contemplated the idea of spending the entire afternoon there and catching a taxi to our accommodation instead of cycling.

But that would destroy the purpose of our visit — which was to give our new bikes a little outing. So we mounted our Bromptons and headed east, following the well-marked Viking Coastal Trail / Regional Cycle Network 15 signs, which hugged the coastline.

Kent coastline

It was only a relatively short journey, but we took our time. We stopped frequently to take photographs or to admire the scenery. It was such a perfect day for leisurely cycling: blue sky, sunshine and a little nip in the air, although the strength of the breeze increased as the afternoon wore on.

There were also a few hills to tackle, mainly along the Eastern Esplanade, which proved testing on a bike with just six gears. But on the whole the route was largely flat, with just a few inclines. My OH may beg to differ.

Broadstairs

When we at last reached Broadstairs we went slightly off route and headed for the harbour. Here, we tucked into a very late lunch of freshly cooked hot chips, while we sat on white plastic chairs and admired the view — the colourful beach huts lining the seafront; the higgledy piggledy buildings hugging the curve of the bay; the distinctive-looking Bleak House (pictured above) sitting atop the east cliff, made famous by Charles Dickens, who holidayed there in the summers while he wrote David Copperfield.

Then it was back on the bikes for the final push to Ramsgate — only to find that we had to get off, because cycling is not allowed along the waterfront parade.

Ramsgate marina

When we did eventually get back in the saddle, we reached Ramsgate in ultra-quick time. We had about an hour to fill in before we could check in to our accommodation, so we headed to the Belgian Cafe on the seafront for a well-earned cherry beer. We drank it outside, as you do on a chilly evening in early March, and then, with hands and feet too numb to cycle, we walked our bikes about half a mile to our hotel, which overlooked the marina. The view from our hotel room (pictured above) topped off what had been a lovely, relaxing afternoon.

DAY TWO: MORNING SESSION

Ramsgate-to-Nicholas-at-wade

Distance: 10 miles

After a rather good night’s sleep in a comfy four-poster bed, and a hot cooked breakfast, it was time to continue our little cycling adventure. But first we had to buy a spanner: Other Half’s seat post kept slipping down and needed to be tightened up. Once that was sorted and we’d stocked up on some water, we were on our way: destination St Nicholas-at-Wade.

From Ramsgate the coastal trail followed the coast down to Pegwall Bay, past the distinctive-looking Pegwall Bay Hotel, before heading inland — and onto trafficked roads — at Cliffsend.

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A little further along and we came across the route’s namesake — the viking ship Hugin (pictured above), a replica of the ship that sailed from Denmark to Thanet in 1949 to mark the 1,500th anniversary of the invasion of England by two Saxon chieftains: Hengist and his brother Horsa.

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The heritage landmarks kept on coming: at Ebbsfleet we were wowed by a giant Celtic cross in the middle of a field. St Augustine’s Cross, erected in 1884, commemorates the landing close by of St Augustine and 40 monks in AD597. He was charged with bringing Christianity to England, from Rome, and it is said he preached his first sermon near this site and met King Ethelbert, whom he later converted.

From there we rode through Minster (where we compared vehicles with a 90-year-old chap on a mobility scooter who was intrigued by our fold-up bikes and wanted to have a long chat), Monkton and then the pretty little village of St Nicholas-at-Wade, our lunch-time destination.

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At the Sun Inn, we sat outside in the front beer garden, where I enjoyed a half-pint of beer, a pint of soda and lime, and a feed of rather yummy fish’n’chips.

DAY TWO: AFTERNOON SESSION

Nicholas-to-margate

Distance: 14.5 miles

But we weren’t even half-way yet — and the best was still to come.

Our next destination was Reculver on the coast: we could see the twin towers of the former monastic church on the horizon, some five miles away. The trail, largely traffic-free along this section, wound its way through fields of flailed maize and other crops.

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And then the road turned almost 90-degrees, crossed some flat marshland and the busy Thanet Way, before we found ourselves competing for road space with Saturday afternoon traffic, including the local bus service, all headed to Reculver and its architectural wonder perched by the sea.

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The imposing landmark of the Reculver Towers (pictured above) was a sight to behold. Until I’d researched this adventure, I’d never heard of this ruin before. Once a 12th century Anglo-Saxon church, and before that a Roman fort, it reminded me very much of Whitby Abbey — but far less Gothic.

From its position on top of a hill, we could see a seaside town to the east and presumed it was Margate: it was, in fact, Birchington-on-Sea. We reached it by cycling the sea wall, a relatively wide pathway shared with pedestrians, that seemed to stretch on and on forever (pictured below).

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We stopped for water and shared a snack (a Pret chocolate brownie bar if you must know), but it was too windy (and cold) to stay still for long. So we mounted the bikes, again, for the final few miles to Margate.

This was a quick section to ride, mainly because it followed the promenade along the waterfront, some sections of which cycling is banned between May and September (make a note if you’re planning to do this journey in the summer months). It was amazing riding along here, not least because one false move (or faulty brakes) and you could find yourself sailing off the edge and into the sea below (there are no safety rails), but also because it was so quiet — we barely saw another soul for three miles and had the entire route to ourselves.

When, at last, we reached Margate it was back to the Harbour Arms for a celebratory pint. Sadly, the outside seating was in the shade and because the sun was low in the sky it was too cold to linger long: once we’d downed our beers, we headed back to the train station, folded up our bikes and caught the 16:53 to St Pancras.

It was a lovely little cycling adventure, the perfect way to appreciate a mix of rural and urban sights, seaside towns and inland villages. It wasn’t too physically demanding either — though my OH, who hadn’t been on a bike in almost two years, may not quite agree.

Total distance: 34.5miles | Ride time: 5hr 34min and 17sec | Average speed: 5.7mph

Lock your bike… to a heart

Hearts-of-london

A heart-shaped bike rack spotted in Soho

I spotted this metal heart on a lamp post in Soho on Saturday. It’s a rather simple but elegant place to lock your bike. I snapped it, posted it on Instagram and thought no more about it.

But today I discovered that it’s part of an art installation to raise funds for the British Heart Foundation. There are 14 of these rather sweet and eye-catching “bike racks” dotted around London.

You can find out more — and make a donation — via this JustGiving page.

Good morning, Albert

Albert memorial

Yesterday morning I succumbed to temptation, stayed in bed longer than I should have and ended up catching the tube to work. It was horrendous. By the time I got to work — 15 minutes late because of delays to my journey — I had my grumpy head on. It certainly did not set me up in the right frame of mind for the day ahead.

Today I was determined to cycle in. Forget the warmth of the duvet, just get on the bike and and DO IT.

And I did.

In the icy wind.

But the sun was out and the sky was blue — and it felt good to be out and about, making my way to work on my own terms under my own steam.

The traffic was quiet, as it usually is on a Friday, so my cycle in was pleasant and quick. I even had time to stop by the Albert Memorial for a quick snap (see above). I missed saying hello to my old friend, Albert, yesterday — and I’ll look forward to waving at him again on my way home tonight…

Crafted Classique: a 100km sportive through the Suffolk countryside

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Am I heading in the right direction? Where is everyone?

These were the thoughts buzzing through my brain as I cycled along a relatively straight and unusually quiet stretch of road. I hadn’t seen a soul for the past five miles and I was beginning to wonder if I might have taken a wrong turn.

I was about a third of the way through the Crafted Classsique, a 100km non-competitive sportive through the Suffolk countryside, and the road ahead was completely empty. Ditto for the road behind.

But no sooner had I stopped to take a photograph (see above) and to check Google maps on my iPhone, than six cyclists whizzed by. It seemed I was on the right route after all.

Taking the plunge

Taking part in the event was something I’d been looking forward to for about six weeks. In July I’d been approached by Crafted, the event organisers, to ask if I’d like to take advantage of free registration, and after mulling it over for a week or  two — Was I fit enough? Could I get a new road bike in time? Would I be able to get to the start line by public transport? — I decided to take the plunge.

Ipswich-sportive-map

I had the option of two routes: a 100mile or 100km (64mile) route beginning and ending in Ipswich and taking in Woodbridge, Wickham Market and Orford. I opted for the shorter ride knowing I’d successfully completed the same distance during London Nightrider in June, so I knew I could go the distance. The big question was, could I do it on a ride bike with relatively little time to get used to a new riding position?

As it turned out, I could. Despite my thigh muscles seizing up at about mile 45 and my back beginning to ache a few miles after that, and the fact I was doing the cycle  alone, not in a team taking it in turns to ride into the wind as many others seemed to be doing, I was surprised by how quickly I completed the event. According to my bike computer, which only records the time my wheels are going around — in other words, not the times I stopped at traffic lights or got off my bike to stretch my legs, have a drink and a bite to eat — I completed it in 4 hours 42 minutes.

This was far below my “guestimated” time of around 6 hours. And far, far, far below the time it took me to do London Nightrider, which was bang on 8 hours. It’s amazing the difference a road bike makes!

Beautiful countryside

There’s no doubt that the best thing about the Crafted Classique was the scenery — a real mix of scenic towns and villages, pig farms, potato fields, rolling green hills, ferny glades, woodland, heathland and lanes lined with 10-foot high hedges and deciduous trees in full leaf.

And the roads were a good mix, too, though sometimes I felt a bit exposed cycling along busy B and A roads alone while Saturday traffic whizzed by at ferocious speed. And there was quite a lot of sand in places, too, a hazard I’ve never had to deal with before. I am grateful to the male cyclist travelling behind me who told me to “pick a line and stick to it” as I approached a huge drift at the bottom of a hill. It proved excellent advice and it held me in good stead for the duration of the event.

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What I really loved was cycling along Suffolk’s Quiet Lanes, as they’re called. Not only were they truly beautiful, leafy, green and very quiet — the only traffic I saw was the odd dog walker or pedestrian — but they also provided some respite from the wind, which seemed to worsen as the day went on.

Another challenge was tackling a few steep hills, but the gears on my bike worked a treat and I never felt the barest urge to get off and walk. Of course, there was the odd time I couldn’t have been cycling more than 5mph, but I made it to the top every time and felt a little surge of pride that I hadn’t even needed to stand up on the pedals. Honestly, it’s the little things.

A final push

Admittedly, I hit a metaphorical wall at about the 45 mile mark. I’d been cycling incredibly fast (for me) and at one stage I was on track to complete the event in four hours — I’d made the second official rest stop at the 30 mile mark in just two hours — but the wind and the new riding position was beginning to take its toll. I was becoming increasingly tired.

But with about five miles to go, my heart lifted, knowing I was near the end. It helped that I tagged onto a group of male cyclists (who were on the much longer 100mile route) and challenged myself to keep up with them all the way back to the finishing line. By this time it was mid-afternoon and the traffic in Ipswich was quite heavy. This meant lots of stopping at traffic lights, so if I fell back a bit I would always catch up with the blokes at the lights a minute or so later. I’m sure they had absolutely no idea that I was cycling along with them, but I just want to say thanks for the encouragement!

Thanks, too, to Crafted for organising such a wonderful event. I loved (almost) every moment of it, including the free (and delicious) espresso at the start and the free (and much deserved) beer at the end. The route was well sign posted and took in some beautiful countryside. Perhaps the only real fault was the fact that the second official rest stop had run out of snacks and water by the time I got there — not that it mattered, I’d brought along my own.

It was definitely worth the hassle of taking my bike on the tube and the train, walking 1.5miles through the dodgy back streets of Ipswich and staying in a hotel the night before.  Next year, I might just be brave enough to tackle the longer route — but only if I start training now!

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Total distance: 64.1miles | Ride time: 4hr 42min and 55sec | Average speed: 13.5mph

Official ride time | 5hr 26min and 46sec

Thanks again to Crafted for providing my registration free of charge.