Monday, 31 August 2009

Beer + Bike = Beer Bike

Beer and bikes don't usually go well together, whatever some people might think.

Now the Dutch have come up with a solution to those wanting to drink and ride, the beer bike. You and 21 bicycle/beer-loving friends can now imbibe whilst touring Amsterdam under your own steam - with the added benefit of burning off some of those beer carbs!

A Beer Bike in action on a visit to New York (Photo: BrandFreak)

Luckily there's a sober driver included in the price, or it could all end in tears - especially with Amsterdam famous for its canals...

Inevitably there have already been complaints about drunken stag and hen do's, as well as reports of three accidents.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Will Self on Brompton Folding Bikes

I have to admit that, while I can appreciate their practicality, Brompton bikes have never done it for me.

It seems like the only people I ever see on Bromptons look like this:

A typical Brompton user?

The idea of a genuinely stylish folding bike does appeal - fingers crossed Dominic Hargreaves can get his 'Contortionist' bike into production.

In the meantime, novelist Will Self made a pretty good case for the Brompton in the Independent last year.

Will Self and his Brompton (Photo: Andy Sewell)

Much as I respect Self, famously accused of taking heroin on Prime Minister John Major's campaign plane in 1997, I just can't quite get past what he describes as the "Robin Reliant, termos flask and tupperware box" associations...

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Ventoux 2009 RIP?

Today was the big test for whether I'm ready to tackle the Ventoux stage of the Tour de France in a month's time. I've done 100 miles enough times to know that won't be a huge issue, given enough time to finish. And my weekend cycling on the south coast was reassuring, especially as I was riding my hideously heavy mountain bike with full panniers.

But what I haven't been able to prepare adequately for are the hills.

Mont Ventoux - Hilly! (Photo: Everday Cycling)

The Montelimar to Ventoux stage (etape) is 106 miles, with over 13,000 feet of climbing. That's a lot of hills, and quite a bit of the Ventoux section is at 10%. As a comparison, my recent 90-mile ride from Brighton to Dover - which felt pretty hilly at the time - had a mere 2,850 feet of climbs. So just an extra 10,000 to add...

But mountains are not so easy to come by where I live, you have to ride a good 30 miles before you hit any proper hills and, even then, we're talking hundreds of feet, not thousands.

So I worked out a 100 mile route from Birmingham to Leominster and added in as many hills extra as I could. The result is a total climb of about 5,000 feet, which is nearly 40% of the climb on the Ventoux - well it's a start.

After faffing around reading the paper I didn't get out onto the road until 10.30 and it took a good 10 miles to get my legs loosened up. The policy today was 'slow, but steady', the main aim being to complete the distance and hills with some sort of composure.

It was an autumnal morning, cool and breezy, as I settled into a good rhythm, riding along the dual carriageway west out of the city (as usual, there's no nice way out of the Birmingham), before turning off to ride over Clent Hill (900 feet, according to my Garmin) along a steep, winding country. I heard a buzzard, it's call a 'peee-uu', before seeing the bird overhead.

The next 15 miles dropped down to Bewdley, via Hagley and Kidderminster, and the steady headwind wasn't too much of an issue - plus you always feel that you are storing up kinetic energy for the return journey, like coiling a spring.

I stopped at Bewdley, a pretty Georgian town which seems rather down at heel, for some chocolate and coke and to watch rowers on the Severn.

Rowers on the River Severn at Bewdley

This is where the country roads properly start. The hill out of Bewdley wasn't as steep as I remembered and it wasn't long before I was up on Callows Hill and then found myself surprised to be cruising up the short, sharp hill at Clows Top.

From here the road drops again down to Newnham Bridge and onto Tenbury Wells. It's another pretty market town, where my sister-in-law lives (sadly no time to visit), seemingly full of wonky old half-timbered pubs.

Wonky Pub - Pembroke House, Tenbury Wells

This is where I'd added another hill, past Leysters, to my route. It turned out to be a mile-long, 15% brute - making me realise that, even with a compact chain set, I really don't have enough gears.

Short, but sharp

Of course it was then another cruise down into Leominster for lunch (a pasty next to a petrol station, yum!) before turning back. And that's when you feel the benefit of riding out into the wind, storing up good cycling karma - it feels like having the handbrake taken off. The 15mph tailwind pushed me over the first hill easily and I reached the foot of the Clows Top climb feeling fresh.

That too was no problem and I was able to take in the view on what was a beautiful early autumn day, with a mix of heavy and wispy clouds scudding past. Perhaps I am ready for Ventoux...

Clouds near Leominster

But, after stopping for a snack and drink at Bewdley, I found myself riding back up the 10-mile long uphill section. By no means steep, I could feel my thighs straining and it was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain a consistent pace.

By chance my wife, returning from visiting her parents, passed me in the car and pulled over. I must have been showing the strain as she offered me a lift home, but I was determined to finish.

And the lat 15 miles, still hilly, but with more flat thrown in, felt great and I made it home on time, after 7 hours in the saddle (+ time for pictures and food breaks). Not a competitive pace, I'll admit, but mission accomplished.

However I realised that I would be in no fit state at the end of that ride to tackle Ventoux. So I've made the tough decision to postpone the etape until next Spring, to give time for more mountain training - and also to lose some weight, which should also make a big difference.

The other option would be to do the stage over 2 days, but what would be the point or the challenge?

A shame, but I think a wise decision - you have to give mountains the respect they deserve.

Friday, 28 August 2009

The Tricyle of Death!

As it's Friday, here's a glimpse of the future of our armed forces, post-budget cuts:

The Tricycle of Death (Photo:

Just in case you want one, that's a Belize Tri-Rider. Main armament is a Canadian C6 GPMG, apparently capable of firing up to 1,000 rounds of 7.62mm bullets per minute. Armour could probably do with a little work...

Thursday, 27 August 2009

I've Gotta Get Me One Of These!

From this... (Photo: Dominic Hargreaves)

I've been meaning to post about this for a while. I'm presuming that, like me, you're thinking 'That's a seriously good looking bike'. And that, in most people's books, would justify buying one of Dominic Hargreaves's new 'Contortionist' bikes (and there is only one in existence at the moment, but surely not for long).

But after a few twists, this is what you end up with! this! (Photo: Dominic Hargreaves)

So you have possibly the best-looking bike around (I especially like the industrial aluminium finish, by the way!), which turns into the smallest 26" wheel folding bike around. You can even pull the bike along on its wheels when folded.

It's the answer to my prayers, I'll never have to tangle with Virgin Trains' ludicrous cycle-booking scheme again. No getting your bike nicked. Surely Brompton will be out of business in a week - I mean, who wants to ride around on one of these?

Folding Bike User (Photo: John Spooner)

The bike was created by 24-year-old Hargreaves for his final MA show at the Royal College of Art in London. And he's been shortlisted for a £10,000 James Dyson Award as a result. According to the Guardian there are at least three firms interested in producing the bike already. "They're car firms. I can't say which, but they're all German," he told the Guardian.

Hargreaves reckons the bike could be produced for about £400: "There's no reason why not. There's nothing on the bike that couldn't be mass produced in a bike factory."

I'll believe that when I see it. But I love the fact that both the front and rear wheels are attached to the frame on one side only. Nothing new there, Cannondale have been doing it for years - for front forks at least - just look at the Lefty on my mountain bike.

One other oddity: you may notice that the bike has no chain or gears. He hasn't got round to that yet, but Hargreaves reckons it can be driven by some sort of hydraulic trickery - interested to see that working commercially - a belt drive might do too. (You may also notice that the left crank and pedal is missing on the video, apparently Dominic mislaid a bolt just before filming!).

I also wonder whether there's enough rigidity in the frame without a seat tube, plus the wheels are off-set, which Hargreaves reckons doesn't affect the ride quality (and you have to trust the opinion of a 24-year-old who owns 14 bikes).

I love the fact that practicality and alternative transport can also be beautiful and techy. I can't wait to get one!

Anyway, here's a demo of the bike in action:

Iron-Man Huw

My brother-in-law Huw (he of the pink junk bike) is about to take part in the Monaco half Iron-Man. That's a 1.2 mile swim, followed by a 56-mile bike ride, finishing off with a half marathon (13.1 miles).

Ironman Monaco - Pie-eaters need not apply

Last year's winner finished in just over four hours. Phew!

It certainly highlights the difference of approach between Huw and myself, best summed up if you saw us standing next to each other - he resembles Lance Armstrong, while I look more like Stephen Fry (well, the post-gym version). The photo at the top of the blog is definitely me at my most slender.

I'd like to think that my own approach to cycling has it's unique challenges - plus, perhaps, the chance to smell the flowers and contemplate the clouds along the way. But while Huw is a man who eats miles for breakfast (and not much else) - and runs a marathon in under 3 hours - I see a 100-mile ride as an excuse for pie and chips, plus a few pints. And who needs the excuse of a 100-mile ride, to be honest?

But perhaps it's time for me to take a leaf out of Huw's book.

Anyway, good luck to him next weekend!

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

One Solution To Urban Cycling...

After my pride and joy (a 2002 Cannondale Badboy Ultra) was nicked outside Sainsbury's in Islington a few years back, and with friends who've had countless bikes stolen, I'd rather drop a bundle of £50 notes on the pavement than leave my road or mountain bike on display in a public place, lock or no lock.

But I still want to get to the supermarket or the pub without having to drive, wait for a bus, walk for hours or call a cab. Now I think I have the solution to urban cycling:

The mean, pink cycling machine

Admittedly no beauty, it (she?) was about to be skipped by brother-in-law Huw when they moved house (left in the garage, no longer wanted by a friend) so I offered it a home, with the vague idea of giving it to someone else. I cleaned it up, sorted the gears and brakes, straightened the wheels and put on some road tyres.

I do get the odd funny look when out for a ride - and you do wonder who would actually buy a man-sized pink bike, as someone obviously originally did - but the result is cheap (well, free), cheerful and practical.

It suits me for pootling to the shops and I can leave it outside the pub overnight if I don't fancy pushing it home, knowing it will still be there in the morning. I could probably get away without using a lock. Let's face it, who in their right mind would steal it?

I was tempted to do it up a bit with a jet-black paint job, buy new brakes and wheels, maybe turn it into a 'fixie'. But that would defeat the object really; every time I come back I know this bike will be there and I wouldn't really care if it wasn't.

Or would I? I'm developing a strange affection for the bike and it's starting to make our second car redundant. I've realised that one of the reasons many people don't cycle in the city - obviously apart from the fear of imminent death - is worry about having your bike stolen.

That's my solution - and if anyone has an uglier bike, or any better ideas, I'd love to know!

Need More Hills!

Last weekend's ride to Tetbury in the Cotswolds was useful and enjoyable, but neither far, nor hilly enough as preparation for the Etape - at 68 miles and 1,700 feet of climbs it was only 65% of the distance and a meagre 13% of the required climbing.

So this weekend will need to be longer and a lot hillier. The best I can think of is a return trip to Leominster in Shropshire - 100 miles and nearly 5,000 feet of climbs (almost 40% of the Ventoux route). I can't do much more without traveling to Wales or Scotland...

Here's the route:

Bike route 292402 - powered by Bikemap 

Monday, 24 August 2009

Now this should be in the Olympics!

I remember as a kid when our neighbour Simon Edwards did a wheelie all the way to the playing fields (about a 1/4 mile), but this is insane!

How on earth do they do it? Just imagine the practice involved...

US 'Bike Ban' Campaign...

Bad news for American cyclists? There's a campaign in the rural US Midwest state of Iowa to ban bicycles on 'farm to market' roads (ie most Iowan roads, I'd imagine).

Two Wheels Bad?

Sounds nuts, but I've read some worrying stuff about the way cyclists can be treated in the States - Mark Beaumont was knocked off his bike and mugged ON THE SAME DAY in Louisiana on his round-the-world trip, and Jane Tomlinson had beer bottles thrown at her during her coast-to-coast cancer charity ride.

I'm hoping to ride the US coast-to-coast when I have some time (maybe for my 50th?), but it's a worry.

I love the US - we drove from San Francisco to New York for our honeymoon - but sometimes, as with Sarah Palin and some of the anti-healthcare reform rhetoric, it's a struggle to understand some people's attitudes...

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Heading For The Hills

Lovely ride from Birmingham down to Tetbury in the Cotswolds yesterday to get to a party. Mostly on the flat, but with a pretty sharp hill after Cheltenham and then a rise to the end.

Started v late, 12.30, but shouldn't be too much of a push. First 20 miles on the horrible dual carriageways and narrow A roads you can't avoid leaving Birmingham - I was nearly winged by a Polish car transporter on the long hill down from the M42 to Alcester.

But then it can be prettier - here's Coughton Court a few miles later...

Oh iphone, why do you take such awful pictures?

After 30 miles I'm at Evesham - at least the A46 dual carriageway here has a nice wide shoulder that doesn't seem to be covered in broken glass.

Lunchtime and, praise the lord, the guy in a van from last year is still here - the aptly named 'Franco Pork Bap Oasis', as if there were half a dozen others just down the road (Terry's Sausage Nirvanna, Bob's Bacon Haven?). If you're passing, these are the best pork baps available - and I'm not just saying that because I'm hungry...

Business name by Ronseal, graphic design by 3-year-old

Checking up on the cricket as I go - England are racking up the runs and making Australia sweat. Surely a re-run of 2005, without wishing to jinx things.

Another 15 miles to Cheltenham on the flat, but with a nasty headwind - as there has been all day - it's just worse out on the open flat. Here's a discussion topic, what's worse: headwind, rain, hills or cold? Probably whatever you're experiencing at the time...

After Cheltenham comes a 4-mile hill on the way to Stroud. A pretty low gradient, but I'm in first gear - not good news with Ventoux approaching.

Finally, another hill up to the Cotswolds plateau and into Tetbury to meet the missus and get scrubbed up before a night out 'filling the Glycogen window' as I think elite athletes call it!

Friday, 21 August 2009

L'Etape du Tour 2008 - The Hell of the South (Part 2)

Final part of the videos by some guys from the BBC taking part in the 2008 Etape du Tour in the Pyrenees.

The training videos are interesting and entertaining, but this is the actual ride and they make it look like the most miserable day of their lives. And the weather was awful!

Best not to watch this if contemplating the Etape yourself...

And do watch their other videos if you enjoy this...

Thursday, 20 August 2009

What's the perfect LEJOG Route?

Just been adding some route maps to my 2003 Land's End to John O'Groats (LEJOG as it's rather sweetly abbreviated) blog and it occurred to me that the route, which I took many months to plan, was pretty useless!

I went through Avonmouth, surely one of the worst places to cycle in Britain, when I could have gone via Bristol, I road through Widnes and Runcorn, along dual carriageways and past chemical works, and I went a long way West in Scotland.

So I thought, with the idea of riding it again, what is THE best route to take?

When I was planning 6 years ago, I started with a guide which was full of hand-drawn illustrations and mainly following B roads. A lot of that went straight out of the window as soon as I was cycling along, knackered, and realised there was a far more direct A road. And I did everything I could to avoid hills, as well as hugging the coast as often as I could.

While there can't be one perfect route to suit everyone, there must a route that balances speed with beauty, directness without dual carriageways and coasts without too many hills.

Anyone have any suggestions?

If you want to take a look at my original route, just click on Land's End to John O'Groats in the 'label cloud' to the right

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

This Week's Ride - Birmingham to Tetbury, 75 miles

I haven't been on the bike since getting back from Dover, thanks to painful ribs - the result of being barged into a wall by my boisterous (and, let's be honest, refreshed) riding partner, Gary.

However we're off to a 30th birthday party on Saturday in Gloucestershire and, as Ventoux looms on the horizon, I thought I'd better take the opportunity to cycle down - well it is supposed to be fancy dress!

It looks like about 75 miles, mostly flat, but with a sharp hill just after Gloucester. Should take about 5 hours - I'm not planning to rush. I can pop in to see my brother Alex in Cheltenham, and it should certainly off-set the party food and booze!

It'll be interesting to see how I get on back on the road bike, after riding the tractor-like tourer with panniers.

Anyway, here's the route, done using a new (free) online mapping tool I found, Easier to use than MapMyRide and it doesn't have the annoying ads (yet). Plus I love the way you can scroll through to see where the hills are...

Bike route 287314 - powered by Bikemap 

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Land's End to John O'Groats - Cracknell and Romero Call A Halt

I don't know how, but I missed the attempt by Olympians James Cracknell and Rebecca Romero to cycle from Land's End to John O'Groats on a tandem in 48 hours a couple of weeks ago.

I think the record is about 51 hours non-stop. I have to say, having ridden a very similar route, that is absolutely mind-blowing! When I rode the distance it took me about 70 hours of cycling over 14 days!

I just cannot imagine how hard that was. Well I can get an idea, judging by the look on James Cracknell's face going up Shap Fell. That's not what I would describe, as the Telegraph did, as "looking composed and ready for more as they reached the end of the half hour slog".

That is the look of two people who would like to lie down in a dark room for about a year.

It's a terrible shame they weren't able to finish. They were forced to stop before Edinburgh after medical advisors warned of long-term damage to Romero's knees if they continued.

I must go and take a look at their training regime.

It's also a shame that the story wasn't reported as widely as it deserved. Speaking of which, Mark Beaumont has reached Salt Lake City on his bid to cycle the Americas from Alaska to Argentina. The man is amazing, if possibly certifiable...

Monday, 17 August 2009

Two Wheels Good?

And I thought my touring bike (a Cannondale F800 with a Lefty fork) was a little eccentric. How about this from Fully Loaded Touring...?!

Taking the pith?

And I love the detail of the Pith cycle helmet!

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Cycle Killer - David Byrne Cycling Interview

Ex-Talking Heads singer David Byrne has just published a cycling diary - he's been taking a folding bike on tour with him since the eighties. Here he is, talking to the Guardian. It's more like the 'Zen of Cycling' than the mechanics of it...

David Byrne - On a road to nowhere?

Audio interview here, or print version here...

Friday, 14 August 2009

L'etape du Tour 2008 - The Hell of the South (Part 1)

Some guys from the BBC did the 2008 L'etape du Tour, which was in the Pyrenees, peaking at the 2000m Col du Tourmalet, very similar to Ventoux.

Here's the first of their videos, the rest of which I will link to over the coming weeks. Here they decide to take part and begin training.

Will it go well? I think the clue's in the title. They're good-humoured and I enjoyed their gradual realisation of the magnitude of what they've signed up to...

If you can't wait for next week, see more at their Youtube page

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Back on the chain gang...

Having really enjoyed blogging the latest cycle, and with Ventoux to come, I'm going to try to carry on this year, including more general cycling info and links. It may work, it may not. Here goes...

I got my Trek road bike back from the shop today - it was in having a service after a year. I can look after most bits of a bike, including adjusting spokes, but the back wheel was starting to pull to one side as the spokes on the left loosened.

Anyway it's all as it should be now. The amazing thing, after lugging around the mountain bike with panniers is just how light the thing is; you can lift it with your little finger. If only the same could be said of me! Can't wait to do a long ride on it again. Just got to wait until the pain from a rib strain has gone.

Here's the bike in all its glory - note the high tech bike stand!

My Trek Madone 5.2

I was informed by the chap in the shop that my 18-month-old bike is now effectively obsolete. Either he was pulling my leg, or technology really does move quicker than I thought! I've been very impressed with it, but seeing as my last road bike was over twenty years ago and was a Raleigh hand me down, that wouldn't be difficult.

Apart from the weight, the carbon also makes the bike very forgiving and cushions a lot of jolts from the road. And buying it under the Cycle To Work scheme saved me about 40% of the price too - even better than the car scrappage scheme!

It all seems a long way from the dream bike of my youth in the 70s - the Raleigh Chopper, of which more another time...

The Raleigh Chopper - the stuff of cycling dreams, or nightmares?

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Some Stats and Technology...

Having hooked the bike computer up to my computer I now have the stats for the trip (bearing in mind that it ran out of power about 5 miles from the end).

Miles covered:

Day 1:
95.72 miles, 6578 calories, ave speed 13.0 mph, top speed 31.2 mph

Day 2 (including estimate for missing miles):
87.2 miles, 5939 calories, ave speed 11.2 mph, top speed 33.7 mph

It's an amazing piece of kit. As well as giving you the usual speed, time, etc during the ride, the computer (it's a Garmin Edge 205 by the way) use a built-in GPS to creates a map of your route and records all its data when you plug it into the computer, including height above sea-level.

Garmin Edge 205

Sadly this is only the base model, costing about £100 (compared to £40 for a bog standard bike computer) so it doesn't give you a map to follow. There are models that do that, but they cost 3x more. Other faults are that the battery life is limited (about 8 hours of continuous use) so you have to nurse it through a long day, switching off if you stop for long periods.

I also discovered last year that it doesn't like to be rained on all day - the water steams up the screen and crashes it.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Back From The 'Fascist Cycling Bubble'... Gary describes our little cycle excursion.

He does have a point, I think I've finally realised that this kind of touring may be a challenge, but it's probably not the most fun. And, much as he may think otherwise, I'm not really trying to 'break' him.

When you have to spend the whole day racing to finish and you don't get to see any sights - I would have loved to visit the De La Warr Pavilion, for example - you need a re-think.

Plus, any 'unforeseen', but perfectly likely eventualities - such as punctures and broken gear cables - make things even harder.

So next tour will be 60 miles per day and I'll save the manly 100+ miles stuff for when I'm on my own on the road bike, then I'm the one to suffer and have no-one else to blame.

Not that I'm accusing Gary of being a wuss. Oh no. Here he is after putting up with 190 miles of cycling and, more heroically, 2 days in my company. He looks very happy to be seeing the back of me, don't you think. Although he has already signed up for the next installment - I was thinking a weekend through Kent next spring...

Still alive and back in London

Anyway got the train from Dover to London Victoria and cycled across town for the train to Birmingham. London the same horror show to ride in as ever - apart from the usual stinking lorries and aggressive taxi drivers, a heavily-pregnant woman stepped off the curb in front of me at Leicester Square without looking. It would have been me feeling guilty if I'd hit her. Hope Clare doesn't do that. Meanwhile the bloke on the 4th plynth in Trafalgar Square looked particularly bored too, he looked like he was reading a book.

And now I've just been told off on the train for having smelly feet (in my defense, I had a shower this morning and they were fresh socks). Thought better of arguing. Sigh...

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Made it in one piece, just about...

The afternoon, which we knew had two hills as large as Beachy Head - and in which we still have 50 miles to cover - was always going to be tough.

First up was Hastings and it's not-quite-so-run-down twin of St Leonards-on-Sea. Another whopping hill out of the town, although perhaps we are starting to get used to these. At least it means you get to go down again and we roll downhill to Winchelsea and Rye, which are an altogether better class of place. Rye was left landlocked when the sea retreated two miles, which has also created the Romney Marshes - so no hills for at least 10 miles! Time for an ice cream, I think...

For the last 20 miles of the day the route hugs the coast, mostly on the flat. Sadly Gary is starting to experience some nasty saddle-sores, so not much fun for him and he's riding out of the seat half the time. And we know that there's one last hill around Folkestone to contend with.

We're not helped by signs which give no hint of our route, but finally find the hill and it certainly lives up to its billing - 530 feet and probably 12% gradient. I find these hills strangely exhilarating, especially as I need as much practice on hills as possible before the autumn, but Gary is just keen to finish.

Which we do shortly afterwards, coasting down into Dover over the last 5 miles.

It's the end of our journey and here's what makes it all worthwhile...

Vital sports nutrition

A couple of (you have to admit) well-earned pints and then we walk the last 100 yards to the B&B, tidy up and eat a Chinese takeaway on the wall of a car park - ah, the glamour of it all!

No early start tomorrow, or tens of miles to cycle - we should sleep like babies.

That floats on high o'er vales and hills...

Up on time and had a coffee and croissant on Brighton beach. Overcast this morning with a hazy sun, which suits me perfectly after catching the sun yesterday.

Riding east against a slight headwind along the coast over gentle hills we pass Roedean school and Newhaven before reaching Seaford and the Seven Sisters.

Seaford sea front: Is it possible for this man to pose for a picture without impersonating Eric Morecambe?

We'd been warned about the hills behind Beachy Head as being 'immense and relentless'. The route planner showed that they reached 500 feet from sea-level, but not much detail beyond that. Expecting three lots of hills like this today, so forewarned, etc.

The first was a very sharp hill, made harder by dropping back down to sea level and then starting all over again. If it hadn't done that, I'd been planning to ride the mile down to the beach to capture the iconic shot of the Seven Sisters, but needs must when you have many miles ahead.

As we near the second summit it's Gary's turn, of course, for a mechanical mishap as his front gear cable snaps, leaving him stuck in his lowest gears and facing another 60 miles like that.

So yet again we need to find a bike shop, but this time on a sleepy Sunday. No luck in Eastbourne, which seems to be almost entirely closed - if not close to death - so aim for Hastings for lunch and repairs.

After passing through Bexhill - sadly no time to visit the De La Warr Pavilion - we find a retail park with a Halfords who can fix the bike while we get lunch from Tesco.

But I'm worried that, as usual with my optimistic schedule, we'll have to race to get to Dover and can't afford any more hold ups.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Brighton at last!

What with the punctures, waiting for Gary and diversions en route, we arrived in Brighton at 7.30 feeling far from box fresh, but very happy to be here.

Brighton: Is this Simon Cowell lookalike putting on a brave face, or is he, like the pier behind, damaged beyond repair?

We're staying at the marvelous Vicki's place a couple of miles from the front tonight. However, the extra 2 miles up a vertiginous hill are a cruel end to the day's cycling.

Anyway, after a shower and application of Savlon to tender areas, just capable of walking 200 yards - in the style of John Wayne after a week in the saddle - to a restaurant.

And then to bed.

Oh God, I had a terrible nightmare that we have to do this again tomorrow!

They come in pairs...

Carried on after lunch as before, heading towards Chichester. Nearly there and, wouldn't you know, I had a puncture, which meant 30 mins fixing and a trip to the nearest bike shop to pump up the tire. I think it has happened on every single tour I've ridden, no matter how many anti-puncture precautions I put in place. At least it means I have become pretty quick at changing a flat...

Then 10 miles later it happens again! Another trip to a bike shop in Littlehampton, this time for special 'puncture proof' inner tube (without wishing to tempt fate in the manner of The Titanic). I'm lucky they were still open, I suppose.

It's always me for some reason, never the person I'm cycling with. Thank the lord for internet on your mobile - or I would never have found bike shops in time.

Still, a lovely day and very beautiful countryside...

Punctures: A sadly familiar experience on my rides...

Lunch at Emsworth

Gary a little green around the gills this morning after excessive hydration last night. Not sure if the full English at the hotel helped, but we left at 8.30 to tackle 95 miles of coast down to Brighton.

An absolutely perfect, sunny summer's morning cycling through the New Forest. Then through Southampton, passing football fans on the way to the first match of the season and cruise ships in the docks from where Titanic would have sailed nearly a century ago.

Then on over rolling hills past Fareham and Portchester in time for lunch at Emsworth after 50 miles, with 40-odd more to go. Take our provisions down to the quay where a new RNLI lifeboat is being shown off and we find a corner in which to eat.

Emsworth: A lovely part of the world to be on a faultless English summer's day...

Friday, 7 August 2009

Boscombe: Beer-on-Sea

Arrived in Bournemouth without too much trouble - well an argument with an officious British Transport Police 'Special' Constable if you must know...

Currently sat in a bar overlooking Boscombe Pier having a beer or 3 - valuable sports nutrition...

Boscombe undergoing a renaissance as a 'surfer resort' at the moment, with the construction of an artificial reef and the building of funky flats on the seafront. We certainly found a very nice restaurant for dinner.

Gary came as prepared as ever, carrying a D-lock he's not going to use, a massive book that he won't read (and has already decided to leave at the hotel), a variety of sports drinks that he could have bought at any bike shop en route, a large quantity of male grooming products (who is he trying to impress, me?!) and an umbrella!

It's like those Victorian explorers who would take whole libraries and collections of walking sticks with them on expeditions. One even carried a whaling boat across Australia, convinced he was going to find a vast inland sea.

I told Gary about a chap I knew who played a (not very funny) practical joke on someone by putting a brick in their rucksack before the Three Peaks walk. It was only discovered after Shap Fell by the victim, who was in tears with exhaustion by that point.

I'd consider doing the same to Gary if I didn't think he'd already packed enough useless junk...

Nearly on our way...

Setting off from Bournemouth tomorrow morning. I think everything's ready - trains and hotels booked, bike cleaned and tuned up, panniers packed, maps ready.

I've taken the week off from cycling as I rather overdid it last week, riding most days and not giving myself time to recover, so should be nice and fresh tomorrow.

Weather forecast for the weekend is good: sun, a little cloud and gentle tail wind. Perfect conditions!

Off to catch the train down from Birmingham New Street. I pre-booked to guarantee a bike space and I've got 1st Class for the price of standard - not sure what they will make of me in my shorts!

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Ride Preparation - Sorting The Bikes

It's now time for one of my favourite ways to pass the time - getting the bikes cleaned up (I may as well do both).

You know how it is - that gleaming machine you parted so much cash for soon starts to look like an old banger, with dirt and grease clogging up the gears.

My ex-flatmate was very much of the opinion that keeping your bike grubby was the best way not to get it stolen - and proved it by leaving his bike chained up in a notorious theft hotspot for a week!

But since I find that impossible - I like my bikes to look as well as work as they should - and I never leave them chained up outside, I can afford to indulge my slightly OCD approach to cleaning. Personally I can't think of a more rewarding use of two hours than getting some dirt under my fingernails stripping down the derailleur and chain. Sad, I know...

From this... this!

The third approach is to do what my sometime cycling buddy Gary does and wheel your charge into a bike shop, where they will spray a couple of squirts of WD40 and charge you £25. And replace perfectly good parts at exorbitant hourly rates. I mean you can buy a new chain for £10 and it takes 5 minutes to fit...

There are arguments about how much you can prolong the life of components by cleaning them - some people claim the chain will last a huge amount longer if you clean it, while other say that you can strip out lubrication. You don't need anything fancy, just some turps, a tooth brush, a tray to catch the dirty turps and some rags.

But while there are many jobs I'm happy to do myself, there are some things I'd rather leave to the professionals, such as checking bearings and bottom brackets - get those wrong and you could cost yourself more than you save. Having not had the rear bearings on my touring bike serviced I had to replace the wheel last year.

And I can tinker with the odd loose spoke, but getting a really bad wheel back to true is an art.

So into the shop the newly-clean bikes go...

Monday, 3 August 2009

Dorset to Dover - Day Two - Route Map

This should be a far more interesting day than day one, in both good and bad ways...

Bike route 287389 - powered by Bikemap 

On the plus side, it looks like a lovely route down the coast, including Beachy Head and the Seven Sisters, the De La Warr Pavilion at Bexhill, Hastings, Rye (hoping to have lunch at the Mermaid pub, which is apparently very nice), Romney Marshes and then through Folkestone to take the checkered flag at Dover.

The down side is that there are some proper hills today - at Eastbourne, at Beachy Head (hence the popularity with suicides) and after Folkestone. But to put it in perspective, the three hills add up to about 1,300 feet, which is less than Shap Fell, which Gary and I cycled last year, and a third of Mont Ventoux...

As long as the weather is favourable, it should be a lovely day. Famous last words...

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Dorset to Dover - Day One - Route Map

Here's the route for day one of the Dorset to Dover ride, which I'm doing with Gary on August 8-9. First day is approx 90 miles and as flat as a pancake, second about 85 with three hills, including Beachy Head.

Bike route 287373 - powered by Bikemap 

The route starts in Bournemouth, where we are staying the night before in a B&B - hard to argue the sports nutrition benefits of a cooked breakfast, but when you're burning 7,000 calories a day, who's counting? It then heads through Chichester and the New Forest (picturesque), followed by Southampton and Portsmouth (not sure if they're quite so pretty after the Luftwaffe and Fifties town planners finished with them) and down to the coast at Bognor Regis (I'll save the George V 'Bugger Bognor'! discussion until we get there). And along through Worthing to end at Brighton, ready for beer and chips, no doubt...