Saturday, 31 December 2011

Rapha's Festive 500 - Final Day!

Day 4 - Saturday, Dec 31st - 70 miles
It's the final day of the challenge - either I complete the mileage today or it's too late...

And, luckily, it's the best day yet - dry and even occasionally sunny. The headwind's still there, but it's not bothering me as much today. Having the end in sight certainly helps to make for a pleasurable, rather than dutiful, ride.

In fact, after 240 miles over the last week - far more than I would every usually ride this time of year - I feel so comfortable on the bike and the miles feel easy.

I head west again, out through Cotteridge, King's Norton and Frankley, dropping down to Belbroughton and on to Blakedown, Kiddermister and Bewdley, before climbing up to Callow's Hill and Clows Top and falling again to Newnham and just short of Tenbury Wells.

Turning for home, the wind behind me is wonderful, I feel like a ship under sail. And Clee Hill looks lovely...

The ride home is a genuine pleasure and I feel strong and pretty fresh considering the 310 miles.

And just in time for a lovely New Year's Eve meal!

So that wraps up my Festive 500. What have I learnt from this? Well, I knew I could physically do the miles, but it was a challenge to combine that with a family Christmas with the days so short.

And also a fantastic start to training for the summer's challenge of tackling 13 of the Tour de France's toughest mountain climbs...

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Rapha's Festive 500 - Day 3

Day 3 - Thursday, Dec 29th - 60 miles
The wind continues to blow and the rain has returned, although rather more fitfully today.

I've decided to change direction, heading west through Kidderminster and over Clows Top towards Tenbury Wells, where my sister-in-law lives.

Today's rain is more showery, with drier spells. It's not fun as such - especially riding the uphill slog out of Bewdley - but it's not quite as dreich as the first day.

Clows Top really does live up to its name, with the clouds literally scraping the tops of the hills.

Turning back at Mamble, I realise how strong the wind has become and it certainly makes the journey home a lot easier than the ride out!

70 miles to go...

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Rapha's Festive 500 - Day 2

Day 2 - Tuesday, Dec 27th - 100 miles
After 3 days off the bike - and having given it a thorough clean and washed my gear - I'm ready to face another battle with the weather to burn off some festive calories.

But this ride proves to be far less unpleasant. Although needing to ride 20 miles and also facing the same headwind, and despite early drizzle, things perk up quickly and I never look back. I'm in Worcester by 11.00am, rather than 1.00pm as last time. And no punctures to report...

This is much more like it, rolling easily along, racking up the miles. I'm joined by another cyclist a few miles from my turning point - he's on his way to visit his in-laws, meeting his family there who were driving the same route (something I've done many times).

With a few days off, I'm feeling pretty fresh, apart from the low-level fatigue in my quads and I'm able to turn for home at 1.00pm, this time with the wind (without rain) pushing me steadily home.

A sign caught my eye near Gloucester for Nature in Art, which turned out to be the rather grand Wallsworth House where my great-grandfather was butler before the First World War and where my grandmother was born. Must pop back to find out more!

A ride to restore the spirits.

130 miles to go...

Friday, 23 December 2011

Rapha's Festive 500 - Day 1

I pledged to join cycling apparelists Rapha's Festive 500 - a challenge to cyclists to beat the winter weather and ride 500 km (just over 310 miles) between December 23rd-31st.

It's a laudable idea in and of itself, especially at a time when the mince pies and mulled wine are flowing, but is it possible?

I don't mean could I manage to cycle that far, because I know that's true having done it many times - although I haven't ridden 100 miles in a day since the end of August. But is it possible to fit that many miles into a busy, family-focussed week when the days are short and the weather wet, cold and generally miserable?

Well, let's find out...

Day 1 - Fri, Dec 23rd - 80 miles
With Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day all ruled out for cycling on the grounds that I don't want to face divorce, the only choice was to dive straight in with a decent ride on the first day of the challenge.

The weather forecast for the coming week is an absolute stinker, with rain being the main challenge, followed by strong winds and low temperatures.

The first day doesn't disappoint, with a 15 mph head wind as I ride South West towards Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire. And rain. Starting as a light drizzle, it gradually picked up intensity during the day, at some points becoming fairly heavy.

The Scots have a word for this weather: Dreich...

I really hate rain when I'm cycling, particularly standing water. It's not just my clothes getting wet, although that's a pain, but having sodden hands and feet in temperatures (factoring in the wind chill) of near freezing really isn't much fun. Plus it means spending at least an hour cleaning the bike down when I get home if I don't want to ruin the wheel rims and grind the gears to bits next time I ride.

Riding out of Birmingham, through Kings Heath, King's Norton, past Longbridge and over the Lickey hills, I do start to find a cycling rhythm and the day at least looks doable. But after nearly 20 miles, as I approach Droitwich, I feel the rear wheel start to 'fishtail' and realise I have my first puncture on my road bike in 3 years. It takes half an hour to find shelter and replace the inner tube, blowing it up with my comically-small bike pump - not much bigger than a marker pen, but surprisingly effective.

Back in the saddle, I gingerly ride 5 miles to the nearest bike shop in Worcester to buy a new inner tube and check the tyre pressure. Unfortunately the track pump the owner lends me is useless and clamps onto the true valve, ripping it off as I try to remove it. So that means fitting another new tube...

I won't bore you with details of the rest of the ride. Suffice to say it carried on in a similar vein, with strengthening wind and rain. The one small crumb of comfort I was anticipating - riding home with the wind behind me - was sadly not to be as the wind turned 180 degrees just as I reached the turning point...

But I did make it home after 80 miles, although unable to feel my fingers or toes and with sodden gear.

230 miles to go...

Friday, 9 December 2011

I'm Up For Rapha's Festive 500 - Are You...?

My cycling clothing manufacturer of choice, Rapha, are challenging cyclists to escape the clutches of the Christmas sofa by riding  500 km (310 miles) between the 23rd and 31st of December.

I've done 1,000 miles in 10 days before, but over Christmas this could be a real challenge. But if I can persuade Mrs Robinson to let me out - and the weather isn't as bad as last year - I'm up for the challenge.

The question is, is anyone else going to join me...?

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Cycling Provence

I'm pleased to see that the good people of Vaucluse in Provence are promoting cycling in their lovely region, which includes Avignon and the area where Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources were filmed.

Oh, and Mont Ventoux...

I've cycled 'The Giant of Provence' twice already and plan to climb it again next summer as part of a tour of the Pyrenees and Alps.

So it's great to see the French region promoting cycling. Plus there's a chance to win a mountain bike and other cycling goodies...

Monday, 21 November 2011

Season of Mists...

I love this time of year, you never know quite what you're going to get with the weather - one day it's mild, the next freezing, clear then raining.

Yesterday was particularly foggy. Not much fun, but the Frankley Beeches looked rather beautiful...

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Don't Want To Spend A Few £s On New Cycle Lights? It's Your Life...!

As the clocks have gone forward and the nights start earlier, cycling in the dark is almost impossible to avoid. And that's why it's so important to have a good set of lights - and spend more than you might like...

Here's a review of Cateye lights cycle lights which cost £60 - the EL-320 front light and TL-610 rear light:

Do you remember the lights we had as kids in the 70s and 80s? First off we had those awful back wheel dynamos that rubbed the tyre flat, took twice as much effort to pedal and fizzled out at the traffic lights. And the yellowy light they gave off was like a candle inside a cathedral at midnight.

The other lights were huge white monstrosities, which weighed a ton, took huge size 'A' batteries and lasted about an hour...

If you haven't bought bike lights for a long time I strongly recommend you take a look at what modern LEDs can do. The light is almost blinding - there's certainly no danger of anyone missing you in the dark and they are strong enough to light your way on a country road.

And the batteries (the small AAA ones) last months.Try before you buy, the really cheap ones seem a good idea, but the light is pretty feeble.

The Cateye set above cost £60 (I already had a decent back light, so paid half that), but it's your life at the end of the day...

The police used to advise cyclists that they should only have the lights on steady. I'm not sure what the law is now, but I've never heard of anyone being arrested for having flashing lights, and they are 10 times more visible.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Rapha's Free Repairs Mean I Don't Have To Eat My Shorts...

I may have mentioned once or twice that Rapha is my cycle-wear maker of choice. Well now I've found another reason to confirm my affections for them...

Rapha Bib Shorts

I've got to be honest, at £145 Rapha's Classic Bib Shorts aren't cheap! But it's one of those occasions when you get what you pay for.

For a start, like all their clothing, the Rapha shorts are incredibly functional and beautiful. The shorts use the best pad available, by Cytech. The result is incredibly comfortable shorts - the best I've tried - and I can quite happily cycle 100 miles a day without the slightest discomfort.

I'd compare wearing these shorts to an average pair with the difference to using lovely modern quilted toilet paper after using that awful waxy stuff we had at school in the 1980s!

So you'll understand how cross I was when I managed to snag the shorts on some brambles while going for a pee. Talk about spending a penny...

One of the seams was a mess and I thought the shorts were ruined. But I remembered something I'd read on Rapha's web site - they offer a free repair service. How many companies would do that?

So I packed the shorts off to Rapha and waited.

Sure enough, after 4 weeks (longer than their usual timescale, but the repairs lady was away) I received them back and they really are nearly as good as new, you wouldn't spot the repair unless you used a microscope.

So thanks Rapha, keep up the good work and I'll keep buying your gear!

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Cars vs Cyclists?

It's long been my dream to cycle America coast-to-coast - I'd particularly love to tackle the challenge with my son when he's old enough (as long as I'm still capable!).

I've driven the route and know people who've cycled the 3,000-4,000-mile route. But one of the things that's always worried me is the country's apparent attitude to cycling.

I've been knocked off my bike by a car in London and I'm constantly aware of the risks, but the US feels different.

Cars vs Cyclists?

Outside of a few cycling-tolerant areas, such as Portland, cycling often appears to be frowned upon and even attracts hostility. For example, terminal cancer sufferer Jane Tomlinson had a bottle thrown at her and was nearly run off the road in 2006, while round-the-world cyclist Mark Beaumont survived Iran and Pakistan only to be knocked off his bike on the last leg of his 18,000-mile route in the US.

So I was interested to read this article about growing US antipathy to cycling and cycle lanes.

To get a sense of the anger directed against cyclists by some in the America, take a look at this forum for 4x4 owners. The person posting refers as 'problem solved' to an incident in Mexico in 2008 (pictured above) when a drunk driver drove into a group of cyclists taking part in a race, killing 1 and injuring 10 others.

Is that really how Americans feel about cyclists? If so, there is some serious work to be done...

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

900 mpg? You've got to be kidding...?!

As oil supplies dwindle and concerns over climate change grow, the search for energy-efficient transport solutions has never been more crucial.

Apparently the average modern car manages just under 38mpg (miles per gallon). Not bad, and nearly twice what gas-guzzling cars were doing 40 years ago, pre oil worries...

Meanwhile, a Toyota Prius ekes out 65mpg and VW has announced plans for a car that will break the 100mpg barrier by 2020.

Factoring in passengers (but ignoring additional weight), that would mean an approximate per-passenger-mpg of 400.

Impressive stuff.

But a mode of transport has existed since the late 19th Century that can propel a passenger over considerable distances at an incredibly frugal 900mpg: the bicycle...

38 mpg vs 900 mpg
The maths behind that calculation are pretty simple.

Petrol contains approximately 31,000 kcal (Calories) per gallon. Of course humans can't consume petrol, but based on the equivalent Calories, here are a few interesting comparisons:

Walking - 360 mpg
Running - 300 mpg
Bus - 330 mpg per passenger*
Passenger aircraft - 49 mpg per passenger*
QE2 - 16.7 mpg per passenger*

* all figures are approximate and assume full occupancy of the vehicle, which is rarely the case - a detailed study of a Californian commuter bus route found that on average only 9 of the 55 seats were taken, one-in-six, which dramatically reduces the per passenger-mpg.

Compared to that, cycling is amazingly efficient!

And when you consider that the average speed of traffic in central London is 10 mph - the same it was over a century ago - that makes cycling a seriously economical and practical alternative to road transport.

So that's one fewer reason not to cycle...

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Last of the Summer Rides...

I had one of those beautiful cycle rides this weekend that I'm sure I will re-live during the long, dark, wet Winter evenings ahead...

It's hard to get time for proper, long rides with a toddler, but I got special dispensation for an all-dayer as I'll be looking after Oscar for the next couple of weekend's while Clare plays in a concert. So I headed for the hills.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Rapha Continental

This is what I'd like to be doing RIGHT NOW - not sat at my desk, but cycling across America with some cool people without a care in the world!

It's the Rapha Continental - check out all their videos here.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Why To Wear A Cycling Helmet - Some Stats

Spotted this online - some really powerful statistics to back up wearing a cycling helmet.

Plus plenty of other interesting stats: injuries, why and where people ride, such as:

  • Helmets reduce the risk of serious brain injury by 75%

  • 13.6% of cyclists ride on the pavement

  • 26.1% of 'overuse injuries' are of the groin or buttock

Monday, 22 August 2011

Danny Macaskill's Industrial Revolutions

Anyone who's seen urban trial rider Danny Macaskill's previous YouTube videos will know that he takes bike riding to a different level.

Now his latest film has featured in the wonderful Channel 4 programme Concrete Circus, alongside other 'urban athletes' including free runners and a skate boarder, as part of the channel's Street Summer.

His Industrial Revolutions film, shot by long-term collaborator Stu Thomson in an abandoned Scottish ironwork's train yard, continues his amazing (and beautiful) work - all the more amazing given that he's had to take several months out after a couple of injuries (one of them the result of tripping over a kerb!)...

If you've missed Danny's earlier videos, they are here and here.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Tour de Pain...

After the success of our London-Brighton-London earlier this summer, my Channel 4 colleague Peter Heneghan and I have decided to tackle something a little bit bigger...

So, we've decided to tackle some - I'm hoping a dozen - of the Tour de France's toughest mountain climbs in a week-long tour.

Peter's brother (who's a pretty serious cyclist) and my brother (who isn't) are keen to join us too.

The route is currently under discussion, but we hope to do a couple of days in the Pyrenees and a couple in the Alps, plus one en route. Here are some of the mountains on the shortlist, many of them evocative for anyone who's ever followed the tour:

Alpe d'Huez (1860m), Aubisque (1709m), Col d'Agnel (2774m), Croix de Fer (2067m), Galibier (2645m), Glandon (1924m), Hautacam (1560m), Izoard (2360m), Solor (1474m), Telegraphe (1566m), Tourmalet (2115m), Mont Ventoux (1909m)...

Most of those mountains are counted as Hors catégorie - meaning 'beyond categorisation' - i.e. very high and very steep!

At the moment, it's still at the planning stage - and subject to consent from Mrs Robinson - but if it goes ahead, it's going to mean some serious training...!

Thursday, 14 July 2011

A Far From Perfect Introduction to Cycling...

On holiday this week in Dorset and it seemed the perfect opportunity to introduce our 18-month-old son, Oscar, to the joys of the cycling...

The long-term plan is to get him hooked on bike riding, eventually hoping to get him to want to cycle across America with me!

So we drove down to the New Forest where there are miles of beautiful, quiet trails - perfect for introducing a toddler to cycling.

Or so we thought...

We found a place which hires out bikes inside the New Forest, Forest Leisure Cycling, and got two bikes, one with a rack mounted seat at the back.

Oscar didn't seem that keen, especially with having a helmet on, but after a while seemed to be having an OK time. However, after a few miles of our - possibly optimistically-long route - he was starting to cry.

And as we got halfway he really started to howl - and carried on all the way home. It was impossible to turn around to reassure him and, eventually, I tried to go as fast as I could just to get to the end.

But, finally, we gave up and Clare waited with Oscar while I went the last couple of miles to collect the car and came back to pick them up.

So not the perfect start to his cycling career...

Monday, 27 June 2011

Cycling On The Radio

There was a delightful edition of BBC Radio 4's travel series, Excess Baggage, devoted to cycling this weekend. Presented by Sandi Toksvig, the programme featured round-the-world cyclists Rob Penn and Susie Wheeldon comparing notes with author Matt Carroll on the benefits of the bicycle.

The programme is available to listen to here.

As well as having cycled around the world, Rob Penn is the author of the excellent book and TV doc It's All About The Bike (punning on the title of Lance Armstrong's autobiography) which charts the history of the bicycle and his trip around the world to build perfect bike. Highly recommended and available here.

Susie Wheeldon's 9 month, 22,000 km round world cycle took her through some of the world's hottest and driest deserts - apparently her original plan to ride a rickshaw had to be abandoned!

Matt Carroll is an author and cyclist, his latest book Escape Routes - available here - features a series of hand-picked day cycle routes around the UK. He's very much of the anti-Lycra, slow cycling school - and there's nothing wrong with that!

Altogether a very interesting half hour discussion, well worth a listen.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

London to Brighton (and Back)...

The British Heart Association London to Brighton Bike Ride takes place on June 19th. It's one of this country's best-known cycle rides and many people's introduction to endurance cycling and raises millions for charity.

But what do you do if you'd like to take part, but fancy a slightly bigger challenge? Well, just ride there and back!

That's what I did last weekend with Peter Heneghan, a PR (and pretty serious cyclist) I work with at Channel 4.

Peter's ridden the crazy Marmotte ride in the French Alps and is training for an even crazier ride in August in the Austrian Alps.

I've cycled a number of tours and up Tour de France legend Mont Ventoux a couple of times, but this still looked a proper challenge for the two of us - especially as new fatherhood has limited my time on the bike and Peter's been training for triathlons and had a niggling injury.

So I stayed with friends in London last Friday night and did the kind of preparation expected of a professional cyclist - a Brick Lane curry and too many pints. After 5 hours of broken sleep, I put my cycling gear on - much to my friends' amusement - and cycled the 4 miles from Whitechapel to our starting point, Channel 4's HQ on Horseferry Road in Westminster.

It was a beautiful ride through the city past Monument, St Paul's cathedral, Fleet Street, The Strand, Trafalgar Square, Whitehall, Downing Street, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. And, as it was Saturday morning, there was none of the usual traffic chaos.

The weather was sunny with a fair North East breeze, which would be on our backs for the ride out - and in our faces on the way home.

After a coffee and sausage sandwich I was ready and we headed South at 9.20am. The first few miles of the route took us through Vauxhall, Kennington, Clapham and Tooting, but the weather and lack of traffic made it pleasant.

Peter also introduced me to his approach to aggressive drivers, giving them a friendly wave. He says it either pacifies them, or winds them up further. Personally, I prefer shouting at people...

Soon we were heading through Mitcham, Carsholton and Woodmansterne out into some beautiful countryside and gently rolling hills. The route dropped down under the M25 and passed by Gatwick airport through idyllic villages like Lindfield as the hills, such as Turners Hill, became more pronounced.

Then the ridge of Ditchling Beacon appeared on the horizon. In the Alps it would be a mere foothill - at 814 feet, it's only 10% of the height of the Col du Tourmalet - but it's short and sharp, at an average gradient over a mile of just under 10%, which is actually steeper.

And, as we approached, we passed a chap with a prosthetic leg about to cycle over too. Hats off to him!

With the heat and gradient, I could hear my heart pounding in my ears, although - checking my heart rate monitor - in the high 170s, it wasn't anything to be worried about.

After that it was 5 miles downhill into Brighton to the seafront for pics on the prom and much-needed food after 3 hours 40 mins in the saddle.

Apologies for duplication, but just to prove Peter was there too...

Of course, then there was just the small matter of cycling home again, which was a little trickier considering the miles we'd already done, the fact that the wind had picked up and would be in our face on the way home and that the strong sun had now brought the temperature to 30C...

But we pedalled on, re-tracing our route and climbing the hills that we had earlier descended and passing cyclists heading in the other direction, completing their own one-way rides.

Coming back into London the traffic and heat made it a less appealing experience than the morning, but we made it back to Channel 4 by 7.30pm.

After that, it was just a matter of me riding to catch the train to Birmingham (and a well-earned beer) and cycling the 5 miles home...

Here's the route.

And, if you want to see all the metrics - from distance, time and speed, to heart-rate, temperature and altimetry go here - the route is about 1.6 miles short because my cycle computer switched itself off at the beginning!

Monday, 30 May 2011

Rapha Continental - The Movie

This new movie from uber-cool cycle clothing manufacturer Rapha (as much as I can get when I can afford it!) captures what is so fantastic about cycling.

Not racing around a track or struggling through traffic fumes, but challenging yourself, experiencing the world, being in sync with the environment around you and all under your own power.

Plus they're cycling across the US of A, which is one of the things I plan to do before I die...


Rapha Continental – The Movie from RAPHA on Vimeo

Monday, 23 May 2011

Cyclists + Car Doors = A&E

In my day job as a TV PR, I'm currently working on a Channel 4 series filmed in the A&E department of King's College Hospital, London.  If you haven't seen it, 24 Hours in A&E is an amazing series, well worth a watch - Wednesdays at 9pm or on 4OD.

24 Hours in A&E (pic: Channel 4)

Anyway, watching the programmes, as I do ahead of transmission, I was struck by just how many cyclists were being treated, usually for head/facial injuries.  And the main culprit, according to the staff?  Car doors...

Well, anyone who's cycled in the city knows that one all too well.  Alongside all the other risks of urban cycling - aggressive cab/van drivers turning across you, getting squashed by a left-turning lorry, kamikaze pedestrians - this is the worst.

There you are, riding along quite happily, when someone - without looking - flings there roadside door open right in front of you.  Of course they then blame you for nearly (or actually) riding into it, as you pick yourself up off the tarmac.

But to avoid every car door you'd have to leave 3 feet of clearance (trust me, I've just checked how far my car door opens!) and ride in the middle of the road - being beeped and shouted at by all the other motorists.

It's a no-win situation.  The only solution is to ride along like a hawk, looking for any hints of someone sat in the driver's seat ready to spring into action (made harder by today's head rests).  And wear a helmet!

Or car drivers could check their mirrors before flinging the door open...

Monday, 9 May 2011

Bicycle Hearse is the Way to Go

Cyclists can now take the bike on their final journey as a Birmingham undertaker unveiled a 'bicycle hearse'.

Ian Hazel Funerals told my local paper, the Birmingham Mail, that they were responding to demand for greener burials.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Boris Bikes Review

Since they were introduced back in July last year 'Boris Bikes', or more properly the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme, have become a regular sight across the centre of London. With 6,000 distinctive bicycles at over 300 bike 'stations' across the capital they offer a viable option for getting around the city.

But what are they actually like to ride?!

'Boris Bikes' in action

I've been using the bikes for a while now, so here's my review:

Monday, 18 April 2011

A Ride Through History - Saracen's Head, King's Norton

Another in my irregular series to prove that the West Midlands isn't entirely devoid of culture and history, featuring notable points along my regular cycle routes around Birmingham.

This week a recently restored medieval treasure.

King's Norton is 6 miles or so south of Birmingham city centre. As the name suggests, it's a surprisingly old settlement - the church, St Nicolas', dates back to the 12th Century, although the spire is later and it was restored in the 19th Century.

In its shadow are two medieval buildings which were taken to the country's hearts five years ago when they won BBC's Restoration series.

The Saracen's Head

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Put A Lid On It - Should Helmets Be Compulsory For Cyclists?

Last week the Transport Minister responsible for cycle safety, Norman Baker MP, reignited a simmering argument about the wearing of helmets by cyclists.

"I don't wear a helmet when I cycle," he said.  "I don't want to wear something on my head. For me the joy of cycling is to have the wind in your hair, such as I have left...I'm not encouraging people not to do this, I'm just saying I make a decision not to."

The same libertarian sentiments were put forward by London Mayor Boris Johnson before he took office - and people say similar things about not wearing condoms because - 'It just doesn't feel the same'.

Going for the double - Boris Johnson minus helmet and on his mobile phone!

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

A Ride Through History - St Kenelm's Church

One of the joys of cycling is the pace at which the world goes by.  Faster than walking and slower than driving, you are travelling fast enough to see the landscape change around you, but slow enough to appreciate the sights, sounds and smells...

But even at that pace, it's possible to miss the history under your wheels, so to speak.  So I thought I should take a little time to explore the history of the roads I travel along.  Even in my modest part of the West Midlands there must be plenty to see...

St. Kenelm's Church, Romsley

Monday, 28 March 2011

London to Brighton (and Back)

Sadly no time for a summer tour this year - if I want to remain married, at least - so I've been looking for an alternative.

One ride I've wanted to do for some time is London-to-Brighton, but - at just over 50 miles - it didn't really seem quite enough of a challenge.  So, how about London-Brighton-London...?

That's more like it: 106 miles and 2500 feet of elevation gain.  Not exactly L'Etape du Tour, but a challenge, nonetheless!  Here's the route (it's the same in reverse on the way back, of course):

Bike route 856462 - powered by Bikemap 

I'm not going to be alone, I'm being joined by Channel 4 colleague, Peter Heneghan. I fear he's a more serious cyclist than me - he's done La Marmotte, which is over 100 miles and includes three famous Hor Categorie (ie off-the-scale) climbs - Col de la Croix de Fer, Col du Telegraphe/Galibier and Alpe d'Huez!

This will be a warm-up ride for him for an even nuttier ride he's doing later in the summer, the 150 miles Ötztaler Cycling Marathon in Austria.

I'm going to combine the cycle with a family trip to London for the weekend, which should please Mrs Robinson.

The provisional date is June 4th and it we hope to meet some mates at the end for a beer...

Monday, 21 March 2011

2 Wheels Good, New Wheels Better (Part 2)

A couple of weeks ago I explained why I was selling the Bontrager Race Lite wheels from my road bike and buying some hand-built wheels instead.

After searching the web I found a highly-recommended wheel builder called Harry Rowland, based in Kent.  The benefit of hand-built wheels is that you are asking an expert to assess your needs, pick the right components and build them using years of experience.  That leads to better quality wheels that should stay true for longer than those assembled by machines or low-paid, semi-skilled factory workers in Malaysia.

As suggested on his web site I gave him a call to discuss what I needed - basically a pair of (reasonably) light, reliable (and hopefully shiny!) wheels.

Ambrosio Excellight Rim
Harry was very straightforward, really helpful, and - like many of the best tradespeople - persuaded me to spend less on the wheels that I'd budgeted for!

Monday, 14 March 2011

Cycle Computers join the 21st Century...

A couple of months ago, after more than two years of dedicated service, my cycle computer finally gave up the ghost.

It was a Garmin Edge 205, the base model and a refurbed one (though you wouldn't know the difference) and cost about 80 quid.

Garmin Edge 205
I have to say that it's demise was rather theatrical, as well as final - diving off my handle bars before being run over by a passing car - but it did pave the way for a snazzy new replacement...!

Monday, 7 March 2011

2 Wheels Good, New Wheels Better (Part 1)

Inspired by Rob Penn's desire to create his perfect bike, I've been tweaking my road bike to get it just right.  The latest change has been a new pair of wheels.

Of course my wife wants to know why I need a new pair of wheels and what's wrong with the current ones.  A wheel is a wheel, right...?

Well, yes and no.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Rapha - Cycle Clothing Par Excellence!

After twenty years of cycling in whatever smelly old t-shirt was on top of the washing pile, something has changed...

The picture at the top of the blog sums it up (here's a close-up).

Old green (well, it was green originally, it's now a sun-bleached greeny-white) polo shirt, cycling shorts with loose shorts over the top and flimsy, cheapo long-sleeved top round my waste.

Monday, 21 February 2011

You'e Got To Start Them Early!

Our son, Oscar, turned 1 a couple of weeks ago and I thought it was about time I introduced him to the joys of cycling - particularly as my long-term plan is to convince him it's his idea to cycle America coast-to-coast with me...!

So we popped down to Toys'R'Us (what a lexical car crash that is!) and bought a great little multi-coloured trike.  It starts off with a parent handle and straps for your toddler and you can gradually convert it into a normal trike which he can pedal around.

As you can see, he loves it!

Phase 1 of cycling indoctrination complete, next I've got to buy a baby seat for my bike...

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Col du the West Midlands?

One of my bug bears about cycling in Birmingham (apart from having to cycle at least 6 miles to get out of the city) is that the landscape is pretty dull.

On the 30 miles ride to my Dad's in Warwickshire there's a grand total of 800 feet of elevation gain.  It's not exactly Holland, but hardly the Pyrenees...

However, I've discovered that by cycling to the West from where we live in Hall Green I can tackle some half decent hills, including Frankley (near the M5 services), Romsley and Clent, plus further south to the Lickey Hills.

The view from the Clent Hills...
In fact, the combined elevation gain from my 35 mile ride last Saturday was over 2,000 feet.  That's 600 feet more than the climb up Shap Fell, more than twice the height of Ditchling Beacon on the London-Brighton ride - and half-way up the Col du Tourmalet (not in one climb, mind!).

I'm not sure where this new-found desire to cycle up hills has come from.  When I was a mountain biker it was all about going down them...

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

A Couple Of Inches Makes All The Difference...

Inspired by Rob Penn's book - and TV programme - about his ideal bike, I decided it was finally time to get my road bike sorted out.

To give a little background: after years of riding a mountain bike to commute to work, go off-road and tour, I decided a couple of years ago - as I was spending all my time cycling on the road - that it was about time I got a specialist road bike.  So I bought a carbon Trek Madone 5.2 - I'm embarrassed to say I didn't realise it was based on Lance Armstrong's Tour de France bike until after I'd bought it...!

My Trek Madone 5.2 - Note the hi-tech bike stand...

Monday, 31 January 2011

Ride Of My Life - BBC Four Cycling Doc

I finally caught Rob Penn's cycling documentary on BBC Four last night, after missing it when it was first shown last summer - ironically I was off cycling at the time...

The film - Ride Of My Life: The Story Of The Bicycle - is available to watch on BBC iPlayer for the next few days.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Winter Warmers - Cold Cycle Gear Part 2

Despite the weather continuing to hover around freezing, I've managed to keep up my cycling (around 80 miles a week) this winter.

I posted on my cold weather gear a few weeks back and I've since bought some extra bits and pieces, all woollen, based on my research and experience.  Here they are:

Merino Wool Base Layer
Over the years I've resisted 'technical clothing' for cycling - lycra, polyester tops with lots of logos, etc - but I've found myself gradually giving in.  The latest purchases are all merino wool - which has all the advantages of man-made fibres without the tendency to get smelly if you sweat.

It's a DHB Merino M_190 base layer, about £30 from Wiggle and worth every penny!

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Four Wheels Good...?

I had a new experience whilst cycling this week - a driver actually apologised to me for driving thoughtlessly!

After 25 years of cycling regularly on the roads of Britain, as well as half a dozen other countries it was a genuine first.

Here's my usual view of drivers while cycling...

Monday, 10 January 2011

Weight Loss 'Secrets' Revealed

I've just watched a BBC ONE documentary called '10 Things You Need To Know About Losing Weight', presented by science journalist (and qualified medical doctor) Michael Mosley.

Michael Mosley
If you're in the UK, you can watch it on BBC iPlayer until Thursday here.

The doc (which was first shown in 2009) concentrates on the solid science behind effective weight loss and makes, in part, for eye-opening viewing, especially as I'm currently trying to lose weight.