One day to go…

Skoda-top-and-registration-book

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.

Deer-in-richmond-park

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.

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

IMG_0028

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!

IMG_0026

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.)

IMG_0034

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!

IMG_0040

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

The great return

So, remember me? Yes, it's been awhile.

Cycling seems to have taken a back seat since my last post in August 2013. Since then I've cycled just a (pathetic) handful of times — a 9.6 mile cycle along the rail trail during a month-long trip to Australia in September, and four days' commuting in February and three days' commuting last week — so it's about time I got back into the habit.

I've signed up to do Nightrider London on June 7-8, a 60-mile cycle around the capital by moonlight, which means I need to do a bit of training, pronto.

Richmond_Park

So with a free day at my disposal I decided to head to my favourite haunt, Richmond Park, for a quick spin this afternoon.

My last visit was almost a year ago (where does the time go?), but nothing had really changed — it was as lush and as green as I remembered it. Most of trees are coming into leaf, so everything looks fresh and new. And the grass is thick and rich, albeit a little muddy in places.

I did my usual half circuit around the Tamsin Trail before heading inland along Cycle Route 4. I was feeling surprisingly fit and strong. I might not have been cycling much lately, but since 6 January I've been walking at least 40 miles per week and have lost 7kg in the process, so I guess it's been doing me some good.

It felt good to be out and about, spinning the pedals and breathing in the air under a blue, blue sky.

I ended up stopping at the half-way point — the little food caravan near the Pen Ponds car park — and had a bit of a breather accompanied, no less, by a coffee and a huge brownie.  And then I headed on my way, genuinely delighted that I'd made the effort to cycle to the park after such a long absence.

Next time, I won't leave it so long.

Richmond-Park-trees

Total distance: 15.89miles (25.57km) | Ride time: 1hr 42min and 40sec | Average speed: 9.3mph

What a start to the day

Ever conscious that London Revolution is fast approaching and that I haven’t been putting the miles in, I got up early this morning and did a small loop of Richmond Park.

It was 6.55am when I left the house and 8.35am when I returned. In between:

Thames-high-tide

  • I’d cycled along the Thames tow path (the tide was right up);
  • endured the misty rain that began to fall when I got to Barnes;

Richmond-Park-Roehampton-Gate

  • struggled to make it round the Tamsin trail in Richmond Park due to an energy low (mental note: eat breakfast before I go for a cycle, not afterwards);
  • smiled at the lack of traffic and then got grumpy when it started to build up (I had no idea so many cars used Richmond Park as a rat run during the morning rush hour);
  • noticed lots of ducks;

Deer-and-dog

  • saw quite a few deer (and a dog doing his best to ignore them);

Rail-crossing-Barnes

  • spent about 10 minutes at the dual rail crossing in Barnes waiting for SEVEN trains to go by;
  • cycled up the side of all the bumper-to-bumper traffic on Hammersmith Bridge and hoped no vehicle would pin me up against one of struts (as per this accident); and
  • then, just as I was about to cross the A4, got stopped by a police motorbike outrider ushering through a VIP vehicle (I suspect it was a guest for Margaret Thatcher’s funeral coming from Heathrow).

Phew. What a start to my day.

Total distance: 14.93miles (24.03km) | Moving time: 1hr 23min 26sec | Average moving speed: 10.7mph | Calories: 641C

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]

Back to Richmond Park

Deer

Despite the lack of posts on this blog, I haven't put the bike away: I've been cycling regularly, but mainly as a commuter. But today, with a free afternoon to myself, I decided to trundle my way to Richmond Park, which I haven't visited since my last post on August 9.

It was perfect cycling weather — blue sky, sunshine (about 19°C) and a light breeze.

Richmond-Park-Vista

The park was looking in fine condition and there were plenty of people out and about, mainly dog walkers and people having picnics or sunbathing. I saw one little kid — he can't have been more than three years old — on a training bike wobbling along behind his dad and an over-keen Labrador — all very sweet; you can't start cycling too early.

I suspect more people are cycling in the park — thanks to the Olympic effect — because there's a bunch of new signs at all the entrance gates warning cyclists they will be fined £50 if they cycle off designated routes. I'm certain they weren't there last time I visited.

Heron-in-algae

I did my normal loop of the park, stopping once at Bishop's pond (all covered in green algae — look at that poor heron stuck in the middle of it) and then again on the hilltop overlooking Pen Ponds (top picture), before heading home.

Sadly, my bike computer seems to be going through a temperamental phase and only recorded the first 15 minutes of my journey, so I can't quote any figures here. I guestimate that I cycled about 16 miles.