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...

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