Friday, 17 February 2017

PART DEUX - En Francais 'Dipping a toe into the Canal Du Midi - and nearly putting my back out! '

PART DEUX - En Francais

'Dipping a toe into the Canal Du Midi - and nearly putting my back out! '

(Does include some cycling related content (eventually), but I won't be offended if you just wish to skip to Day Nine)

Clairac : Day Two  - Friday 3rd Feb - 19:38

' So why didn't you just use the jack from the hire car then? ',  said an exasperated Vicki.

' Dunno really, probably because I'm a bit of a t@ss@r?  '

John Deere tribulations!
I had been explaining - indeed bragging - about the Egyptianesque system of levers, involving a plank and rocks,  that I had used to lift the front of the John Deere so that I could remove the front wheel.  I had been mowing in the wet and the tractor had slid slidewards dislodging the tyre from its rim. The problem with the lever system was letting go of the plank - which I resolved,  eventually - by replacing my body weight with another large rock. At the time I thought this was quite cunning and resourceful (not now, obviously).
Having removed the wheel I borrowed another one from the trailer, which even though they are different sizes, allowed  me to limp back to the safety of the garage. I broke my track pump in an attempt to reinflate the tyre, (having got it back on the rim) , and so had no choice but to take the wheel down to see 'Happy' - this is the unkind nickname I have given to the guy who works in Gamm Vert.
These stores are ubiquitous in this region , but they are very Chameleon-like ; in large, well-to-do areas they are quite posh garden centres, but they have a smaller version know as Gamm Vert 'Village' - or, as I like to call them Gamm Vert 'Sheep Shagger', and our one fits into the latter category.  It is only a few hundred metres away and I am a regular visitor. They sell mostly things that would be essential items for farming folk: castration clippers and arm grease. Anyway,   Happy was obliging and pumped my tyre up for me without any pretence of small-talk - not easy for me at the best of times,  in any case . He looks like the kind of person who should have a permanent drip on the end of his nose and it always amazes me that he doesn't.

I rushed home with my wheel, eager to get it installed and return  to the task in hand.  I made quick work of mowing the rest of the garden and was just steering my beloved toy back into the  garage when fate dealt me another cruel blow : on the final approach to the garage  the rear tyre punctured!

'Oh, @@@@ mine, I don't believe this!',  I protested.

In my opinion there is nothing more pleasing to the eye than the fat, fully pumped,  bulbous rear tyre of  a John Deere - It just oozes sexiness. Of course the flip side of this is that nothing looked more  pathetic than the  flaccid lump of rubber now spread over my garage floor. I quickly 'stepped up to plate' and went back out into the garden to retrieve my 'tackle'.  However,  It is one thing jacking up the front, but a different matter trying to jack up the rear!.  I did 'give it a go' ; just long enough to bu@@er up my back!.

I quasimodoed my way into the house and resolved to leave it 'till the morning, having decided that I would seek advice from a superior being.

Tonniens: Day Three  - 10:31

It will come as no surprise,  to those who don't already know,  that the French word for tyre is pneu. - This caused me some apprehension as I walked into the pneu repair shop with my John Deere wheel and flaccid pneu under the crook of my  arm.  I offered it up to the French man behind the counter who immediately grasped my requirement.

Whilst it was being repaired I seized the moment:

'Comment s'appelle -  'per new' or, omitting the 'p'  I exhaled air from my nostrils,  or, juste 'ffffffnew?'

' It eez pneu!',  he replied.

Somehow he managed to seamlessly  combine the sound  of the 'p' and the 'n'  into a different sound altogether. This just compounded the concerns I have had since being in France that I'll never really be able to speak French, correctly , even if I reached the age of 200.

In turn I had managed to give him a problem: he wasn't able to charge me for the work because a John Deere tyre doesn't fit into his automated system. He had asked me for registration number,  vin number etc, but once I explained that the wheel wasn't from a car but from a garden tractor he   looked crestfallen :

'Ah, it eez from  a  schon deere tracteur? '

' Oui '

At this point his colleague returned with the repaired tyre and he good naturedly shooed me away with his hand.  I dropped a 10  Euro note on the counter and left, a happy man.

 Clairac: Day One   - 14:24

Things didn't go smoothly, to say the least, upon my arrival at the house.

I turned the key and entered,.  I had expected  to feel a comforting warmth ; bearing in mind that we had left the heating on , but was,  instead,  met by an icy 'blast'.  It didn't take long, however, to ascertain the problem: the oil tank was empty!.

Having returned from my investigations in the garage  I was aware of a stench coming from the kitchen.

'Oh, sacre bleu! '

The fridge was warm and the contents of the freezer defrosted. I gauged from the hairiness of the contents that this had occurred some time ago, also there was a putrid seepage underneath the fridge.

I seized the freezer draw,  swept the contents into the bin and placed under the tap :

'Oh, double b@ll@cks! - no water!! '

This situation was now getting out of control and I needed guidance from a superior being.  I grabbed the phone :

' Oh, no! '

The broadband and phone were dead.

I now had a ' perfect storm' of sh@t.

I grabbed the mobile and phoned home.

'Try to stay calm, sweetie. Go and see Jean-Michelle, see if he can help'

Vicki did her best to reassure me, but I was beyond placation.

'Zere werz a man, from zer watter kermponee, 'e werz outside your 'ouse, assking me kwestions about zee 'ome owner.' Zay 'av it lergged to zee previerss owner - Phileepe Marbel.

When we took over the property we registered it with Veolia (who, bizarrely, take our rubbish away in England), but they insisted on taking a reading from us. Bearing in mind that we had no idea where the meter was, other than the information we were given from the Estate Agent that it was at the top of the garden, this was impossible.  I had undertaken a couple of expeditions last year, but couldn't penetrate the undergrowth at the top of the garden, and so had given up.  To be honest, I never did have much faith in Vicki's theory that we were getting free water via the farmer next door's supply. Our chickens had well and truly come home to roost.

'I zinc zat I can 'elp you, I zinc I no vere is zee watter meter'

I jumped into his van and we sped along the road up to the back of the garden.

' eet iz 'ere, I zinc.

I watched in trepidation as he trampled the undergrowth with his boot and searched with his torch.

' C'est bon! - I 'av found eet'

He lifted the lid and turned the lever; immediately the reassuring sound of water pressure could be heared.


We raced back to the house and turned on the kitchen tap.

Diddly squat,  jack sh@t, rien, not  a s@dding drop.

'I zinc zat, peraps, it weel tak time fer zee watter to kerm  zroo.

I wanted to believe him and tried to keep faith, but in my heart of hearts I knew I was in for  an extended dry period.

After about 10 minutes, J-M admitted defeat.

'O. K,  I weel telephone  zem zen.

After about an hour of hanging on in silence,  eventually,  he got a response from the emergency number who informed him that I should phone in the morning on a different number and stress the hardship of the situation,  and hopefully someone should call around to reconnect me - but he added a chilling postscript 'It may not be for a few days'.

I thanked J-M for all his efforts, informed Vicki of the situation and went to bed with a heavy heart.

The morning brought no respite as I lay in bed feeling like a  squatter in my own home and contemplating life in 'floater' city .

Suddenly, there was a knock at the door.

'That'll be the oil', I thought, 'at least I'll be warm'

'I'll show you where the oil tank is ',  I said to the friendly delivery driver.

It was then that I spotted,  over his shoulder, the Veolia signage on his van!

'I am 'ere to turn on zee  watter'

'Oh, merci,  merci! '

My immediate reaction was to kiss him, but I managed to control my urge.

' Monsieur, you merst go to zee office wiv your bonk accunt details '


Clairac and local environment  : Days - Two - Ten

Having got the water back on everything else quickly fell into place ( it will even be a pleasure to reimburse Veolia with the 600 Euros we owe them, well  not quite.).  The fridge problem was resolved when I plugged it into a different socket and Orange delivered a new router

 As the house warmed up and the fridge cooled down my spirits soared.  The weather was improving and I even took coffee on the terrace on a few occasions.

Before leaving England I had developed problems with the muscles on the inside of my knees; which those in the know inform me is the IT band?  It hurts when I try to do anything other than flat, slow cycling and when coupled with my recent John Deere related lower back problems I hadn't really been in the mood for it.

I had taken a book on yoga with me and had been practicing daily. It felt quite good to focus on something other than cycling for a change and I felt the change might do me some good.  I have also been using weights,  and the foam roller recommended by Darren T's physio (Darren has been having similar problems and I am seeing Gavin when I get back home); although, I fail to see how anything that hurts so much can be doing me any good!

Day Nine - Time for some cycling.

Apart from a quick trip to Tonniens and back (14 miles) I hadn't been on my bike at all, but today the guilt was 'kicking in'.

I am planning to undertake a mini adventure in September with my friend John Davis. We are planning to travel the length of the Canal du Midi and back - 300 miles (although to stay sane it might be preferable to come back via a different route.)

Canal du Midi
Although generally known as the Canal du Midi it is in two parts: the first part is The Canal de Garrrone and the second part which connects Toulouse to the Mediterranean is the Canal du Midi proper. Collectively they are known as The Canal de Deux Mers.

It was started in 1667 and completed in 1686 - possibly the biggest feat of engineering in the 17th century. It was originally named Canal Royal en Languedoc and renamed by French Revolutionaries in 1789.
(thanks Wiki)

Today I thought I might undertake a recce,  although bearing in mind it's only a few miles away,  I'm surprised I haven't been there before (we did look at a house in Mas D'ajenais, when we were house hunting, which overlooked the canal with the Garonne beyond. Spectacular views and a magnificent 9 bedroom medieval house, but having fallen  in love with it originally, we suddenly thought : 'nah,  it's too big' )

I left home in the sunshine with spirits high, but after about a mile I thought: ' I can't hack this' -  everything hurt.  Being the trooper I am though,  I thought: ' I'll give it another 10 mins, see how it goes.

This was a good decision, because slowly I started to ' fire on all cylinders ' and was  even enjoying myself.

I passed through Aguillon and  St Ledger and at Damazan there is a sign for it.  I was feeling quite smug that I had found it - simple enough for most people  but quite an achievement for me.

What struck me was the simplistic, ordered  beauty of it : water  - path - trees.  This scene hasn't changed for 250 years ; the only change  being the lack of horses on the bank (and maybe the trees have been added along the bank for aesthetic purposes - athough they do look like quite ancient Plane trees)

When I uploaded a photo on Strava I got some favourable feedback, including a comment from Neil that it reminded him of the opening sequence from 'The World at War'.  I do know what he means, but can't say why because although I remember the program I don't remember the opening sequence. South of the Lot was Vichy territory (north of it was a Resistance stronghold) and I'm sure there was no shortage of jackboots marching along it (probably not being very P. C, still.. .)

I only went from Damazan to Mas D'ajenais, but it was a very enjoyable 'taster' and a quite Zen-like experience  .  I only encountered one young couple with a child and a dog, other than that I was totally alone. I'm sure in season it would be a lot busier, but equally, there would be a lot to see off the track as more things would be open.  Another thing that struck me was the quality of the path itself. A bit harsh and bumpy  where tree roots are trying to surface, but in splendid condition - one just knows that a similar path in 'blighty' would be pot-holed (I would be delighted to be contradicted if anyone has experience of cycling along our tow-paths .) It was, also, interesting to note that parts of the canal are almost dry with water being held within locks upstream - maybe there isn't enough water to fill the whole system?

I left the path at Mas D'ajenais and joined the Voie Vert back to just outside Tonniens.

I only did 35 miles, but was pleased that it seemed to improvee my back and my knees felt fine (although I didn't really put them under pressure.)

I am finishing this whilst strolling along the beach at Normans Bay with Poppy, and apart from my body falling apart, life is pretty damn good. See you soon on BBR?

Cheers Peter (Baron) Buss

Saturday, 14 January 2017

8/1 Beckley Ball - Improvers Ride

With the two social rides in December there was no time on the calendar for the monthly ‘Improvers’ ride, so with good weather on the first Sunday of January it was time to make amends.

These rides cover a similar distance and ascent to the main JV Sunday club ride but they are always at a lower pace and a later start for an extra hour of (lovely) duvet time
We had a solid turnout of eight riders including James, Peter Br, Ricky and Martin on their first Improvers ride.Now that we are in the depths of winter and the roads are getting covered in road debris I thought it best to plan a simple route out over the marsh where we could enjoy nice safe and quiet B roads.

Although the pace is supposed to be ‘social’, riders can go off at their own pace as long as they regroup to allow the slower ones to catch up. So I wasn’t too surprised to get dropped on the way out to Rye. Ricky was also a bit off the pace, having not ridden much in the last couple of months.

Unplanned but useful cafe stop in Tenterden
Once regrouped, we stayed together as we headed out towards Tenterden. The weather was almost perfect with a mild temperature and light winds (this is rare for the marsh). For a couple of miles I tried to put in a bit more effort  and actually led the field for a few miles until we began the moderate rise leading into the town. I am even more overweight than normal so even this moderate hill made me feel like I had the brakes on.

Catching up with the others I was surprised to see they had stopped at a café. As per normal custom I had planned a café nearer the end of the route but was more than happy to stop now rather than later (little did I know that this was a cunning plan formulated by Malc D). The café was  nice and had a big advantage in that it was below the level of the road so the bikes were safely off the pavement. It also gave me a chance to collect some subs off members. Just as we were finishing, the door opened and the familiar figure of Mark came in. Mark had missed the start but being a Garmin aficionado , had tracked us down and spotted my green bike outside the café.

From here the route got more interesting as we headed out through Wittersham and Beckley. I always perform better in the second half of a ride, so the hills didn’t seem so bad for me now. Unfortunately the opposite was true for Ricky, the lack of recent training rides was taking its toll and he repeatedly fell back but I was pleased with the way everyone kept regrouping to let Ricky catch-up. I felt guilty that we were making him suffer so much, but on the other hand knew that this ride would get help get Ricky up to his normal standard (sure enough on the Wednesday chain Ricky was actually faster than me)
Malc implements his cunning plan

On reaching Battle some riders peeled off to their respective homes. This left just myself, Ivan, Charlie and Malc D. This is where Malc revealed his cunning plan. Instead of following the planned route through Crowhurst, head back along the main road stopping off at the Black Horse (Telham) for a few beers. This is why Malc had got us to take an early tea stop at Tenterten. It didn’t take much persuasion to agree with this suggestion and it was only three drinks later that we finally escaped the clutches of the pub. As Andy A pointed out on Strava this meant that out of our six hour journey, three of them were actually stationary , lol.
Thanks to those who came out. I will try to organise another one next month.

Steve C

Friday, 30 December 2016

27/12 Post Xmas Social Ride- High & Over

Our post Xmas ride over ‘high & over’  has now settled into a yearly tradition. This year we had a very good turnout of riders  with a very wide range of ages from Dan in his twenties up to Derek in his sixties.

It was Shirley who had asked me to organise the same ride as last year, so I was surprised when there was no sign of her or her brother Matt at the start! We waited a couple of extra minutes but at 9:13 we were off without them (abandoned riders one and two)

The weather was beautiful with clear blue skies, however even without the wind it was a lot colder than I expected (you know it really is cold when you see me riding with gloves over my fingerless mitts).
A great day to take a few snaps !
Easy steady riding took us along Turkey road and towards Watling. The further inland we rode the colder it became. It was shame we hadn’t had this cold weather on Christmas day as all the surrounding fields were covered in a white frost that looked very picturesque in all the gorgeous sunshine

Alarm bells started to ring on arriving at Horse-walk. This can be a bit treacherous even at the best of times let alone when there is a risk of ice. I concurred with Simon that it would be wise to find an alternative route and shouted out to the others to halt. However, the leading riders had already disappeared around the bend so to avoid splitting up the group I decided we would have to carry on but take it extra slow. Simon didn’t want to take the risk and so abandoned the ride (abandoned rider three).

Horse-walk was white with frost and covered in the usual road debris so I wasn’t surprised I felt my rear tyre deflating. Patrick urged the other riders to carry on and meet us at the Costa café at the Pevensey roundabout while we fixed my puncture. This one was caused by a tiny metal shard that most of the riders who don’t have myopia would never have been able to see. It was so small it was impossible to dig out of the rubber, all I could do was to blunt the end with a tube valve and hope for the best.

By the time we had caught up with the others at the café they were well entrenched and were happily ordering more coffee and snacks. Derek in particular had been suffering with the cold and needed some more time to warm up. I therefore thought it best to make this our official coffee stop rather than the one at Alfriston. Gary was frustrated at the lack of progress and despite me telling him this would be our only stop, he decided to quit the ride (abandoned rider number four). While stopped I had chance to read a message from Shirley. She had been late (again!) and decided to meet us at the De La war but had read the gpx the wrong way around, we would be passing there on the way back!

Suitably refreshed we got back on route and before long reached Alfriston where we had a quick pee stop to relieve ourselves of some of that earlier coffee. Another text message from Shirley revealed that they had left Alfriston about ten minutes earlier so I advised her to stick to the route so that we should catch-up with her before Beachy Head.

All smiles on High & Over!
Hi and Over is an awesome climb, longer than Battery Hill, although not quite as steep. Being a bit out of shape at the moment I was not surprised to come last but hopefully the others did not have to wait to long for me? On reaching the top we found out that Johnny had  abandoned with a puncture at Alfriston. This was a shame as we would have happily stayed with him to fix it if we had known but Johnny had said he didn’t want to hold up the group any further (abandoned rider number five) and had phoned home for a pick up.

Like me Malc is glad Xmas is over!
Just two massive climbs lay between us and refreshments at Beachy Head. First up was the climb up past Cuckmere Haven . The road here was resurfaced a couple of years ago and so this was an absolute pleasure to ride. After a quick regrouping, we hit the slopes of the Beachy Head climb. In the sunshine this climb was even more enjoyable than normal. One of the things I like most about it is that with all the switchbacks you can see all the riders strung out ahead. Derek and I had our own competition to see who would be last, I won! Reaching the pub I was pleased to see the familiar sight of Shirley’s bike propped up outside. Half our party now headed for home but the rest of us headed inside for some well-deserved refreshments.

Having arranged to meet up with the others at The Rocksalt at Bexhill , I was content to stay with Shirley and Matt for the remainder of the route. This was fortuitous as Matt’s front tub started to deflate. We pumped it up but as soon as the pump was taken off, the valve core came out as well. In the end we had to leave the extension hose on the valve, leaving it to flap around. This got Matt to Bexhill but by then the problem had got worse and sadly Shirley and Matt would have to abandon the chance of more drinks at Rocksalt and walk home instead.

Many thanks to all who came out and made it such a fun day. I expect we will do the same ride next year although I will replot the route to avoid Horse-walk for 2107.
Safe riding in 2017!

Steve C

Friday, 2 December 2016

30/12 /2016 Wednesday Chain Gang – Ice Cold in Sussex

Last night we had perfect conditions in every way other than the temperature – dry and little wind, but freezing, literally. This did not stop 17 riders turning up for the ‘chainy’, the fools! There followed a pre-eminently sensible discussion on the conditions, it being cold enough to freeze the eyelashes off a pig. Sluice Lane was adjudged clear of standing water and ice. We discussed the likelihood of moisture condensing on the road surface, especially the tar strips, and then freezing. We agreed that the moisture content of the air was low and that the risk was negligible. Risk assessment complete.

There were two newbies, only one of whom I managed to speak with before the start.

‘What’s your name?’ I asked.
‘I’m Rovers’ he replied. Blimey, that sounded posh, a bit like ‘Travers’ or ‘Elvers’, so I assumed he was with Lord B.
‘Listen everyone, this is Rovers!’ I announced to the freezing throng.
‘Er, no, I’m Elliot, but I ride with Rovers…’ he clarified.

How we laughed! Well, ok, how I laughed. It did make me giggle. Stewart, let me know if I need to explain the joke to you.

I said we should set off as one group, as the usual Ultras were thin on the ground and those present were reluctant, the plan being that the naturally faster riders would be off the front before long. In practice, this was me and the two newbies, both of whom were quick. I looked around for more, but one of them told me ‘it’s just us three’. Could we keep this up? Well, not with me in tow – they very politely eased off a few times to let me catch back on, but we were caught by a largish group by the Herbrand Walk level-crossing. It was good whilst it lasted.

I guess I’ll get to the point upfront; this was not a tidy chain gang. I’m not going to write a long list of do’s and don’ts here, or a long list of rules (we’re not that sort of club), just sprinkle a few reminders along the way as there has been plenty of discussion since.

First, it is better (for which you can read safer) to single-up between the Herbrand Walk level-crossing and the Star Inn. This is because the road is narrow and twisty, with two narrow bridges on it, on which cars can appear with little space or time in which to avoid them. The one nearer the Star Inn is a tight left-right, with poor vision, but the first and less obvious bridge is also hazardous. Single-up or file-up means ‘ride in single file’. Now, I am not interested in policing this, so as with all these things it is UP TO YOU to take responsibility for your actions. So, you might think it’s safe to go two-abreast at some point, or to overtake someone. Fine – that’s your decision and you can take the consequences for it. The club has been clear in what it recommends.

Anyway, from the back of the group it was clear that folk were finding it hard to find a reasonable common pace. Spooky Hill loomed large. I have learnt that it’s probably best for me to be at the back of the group for this part of the ride, as I can become a hazard to others who are stronger on the hills than me. Perhaps the spread of abilities is what led to people riding three and four abreast at the top of the slope.

Second then, is a reminder that going three or four abreast increases the risk of a crash. It’s not so much about cars at the top of Spooky – you can see car lights coming – but more about the actions of others. The road is narrow and has a crappy, pot-holed margin. Rider one, on the inside, veers to the right to avoid a yawning chasm, forcing rider two into rider three, and then into four… It couldn’t happen, you shout! Well, read on. My other concern about this sort of riding is that it leads to a feeling of ‘anything goes’ when, in fact, anything does not go (sorry).

On we rolled. I managed to catch the group on the slope (I’m much better downhill than up!) and there was a rolling turn or two. About two-thirds of the way from Spooky to the roundabout, I found myself at the front. There is a new pothole, although it’s more like a sinkhole – not very wide but deep. No time to gesture, just to shout ‘hole!’. The rider behind went over it, but survived. The rider after that survived also, but something happened in the group and a rider went down. Yep, these things happen, but two things made this a more likely occurrence – the uneven group pace and the erratic movement of riders. Thankfully, the result was some grazes and bruises, but we were travelling at a good speed and I think the rider was lucky not to hurt himself more seriously. Or, heaven forfend, his bike (shudders).

So, third, give each other space and avoid overlapping your front wheel with the rear wheel of the rider in front. If they need to flick out suddenly, you’ll be out of harm’s way. Ride consistently and smoothly; look back before you move out; let people know what you intend to do. Be consistent and communicate. To do both well you need to concentrate – this is not a wild, free-for-all, but a disciplined ride.

We made it to the roundabout and shared a number of tasteless jokes about the fallen rider and Neil Shier’s winter stockings, the gallows humour of diehard chain-gangers. I guess it is a pretty hard-core activity – I know my non-cycling friends and family think we are nuts, riding fast in the dark and cold weather. It’s a buzz, isn’t it, and that’s partly why we do it, breaking away from the constraints of work and home. But as Dan ‘Confucius’ Selmes wisely says ‘he who rides on Wednesday must work on Thursday’, and we don’t want to arrive at the office / factory / massage parlour covered in cuts and bruises, do we?

So, we do it because it’s exciting, fun and a hard midweek workout. It can be all those things and safe; nearly all of the chains have happy endings. The chains I enjoy the least are those where I have to give people ‘reminders’, or where it gets hairy. Last night was mostly just messy, rather than scary, but we had a faller and that’s one faller too many.

So, fourth, if you do get shouted at for some reason, please do not take it personally. The person shouting to you and others is doing so because:

a   They have to shout to make themselves heard.
b   They have as much adrenaline in their system as you, so words can be sharper than intended.
c   They perceive a risk in the way you are riding.
d   They want you and everyone else to have a great time – hard, fast and safe riding.

There are those in the club who would put things more forcibly, but they also acknowledge that we all make mistakes. So, allow a margin for error and exercise some give and take.

And finally, rider etiquette. As I said last week, those that can, should i.e. if you are in a well-matched group, you should take your turns at the front. That is the deal. You cannot save yourself for a sprint finish as we are NOT racing – it is a fast group training ride to prepare you for more competitive events. There is some friendly competition, but you have to earn the right by taking your turns!

Those hanging at the back should do so because they are struggling to keep up, or need a rest before their next turn. This is fine, but you need to tell the rider in front! Say ‘GO’ to them, or ‘I’m hanging on’. People ride in a group that is too tough for them in order to improve – this also is fine, although you will probably get dropped.

Malc D led us back across the marshes to Herbrand at a steadier pace, looking for our fallen comrade who we surmised had returned to Bexhill as recommended (he was not alone, and we spoke to him once we arrived). The return leg was a bit better than the outward leg, but again enthusiasm got the better of some and we ended up with three and four abreast. It’s not on chaps – we weren’t doing it a few weeks ago, so why are we doing it now?

How should you ride on the chain gang? There is a short animation on the club blog that shows you how it should work – ‘rolling turns’ that give everyone in the group a hard ride and then a rest. It’s a kind of interval training, the advantage being that you get pushed harder than you would do on your own and the group can also achieve higher speeds. This sharpens your riding skills. You can find other videos on YouTube.

Ride safely, Neil

Friday, 25 November 2016

23/11 Wednesday Chain Gang – All Good Chums

The cycling gods smiled on us this week, quickly pushing Storm Angus away to leave relatively benign weather, the only grumble being a strong wind from the east. The silver lining to this was a good following wind for the outward leg, with the prospect of a PR for the 22 riders heading to Pevensey. The Ultras rolled out first, looking a little reluctant: Nigel T moaned about his legs; Neil Shier curled his lip; and, Babs Baker just moaned about old age. Other notable updates are Tom N’s beard and ‘tache, Sue L’s blindingly bright front light and Lord Buckland’s new butler (Doris).

I do so like a following wind – it makes me feel like a half-way competent cyclist, adding the power I lack to my fast spinning legs. I felt strong, perhaps benefitting at last from a couple of weeks riding my considerably heavier Cannondale poor-weather bike. Babs said he was not riding on the front, so I did, feeling eager and energetic. I tore along Bexhill front and the Ultras were soon in view. ‘We’re not trying to catch them, are we?’ asked Simon G, and I thought ‘why not?’

Other riders soon caught up and we formed a reasonable group of ten riders that dwindled after Spooky Hill to six or seven. The group riding was a bit untidy, in part because of the wind, but also because I was pushing it, content to ride alone if need be, giving in to selfish impulses to ride fast and hard to the roundabout. Others were also putting in hard shifts – JV, Malc D, Steve B, Gareth to name a few. After Spooky, JV pulled away and I overtook Malc as we seesawed back and forth in the loose group. In the end, we came in close behind the Ultras and maybe some of us should have ridden with them.

Strava tells me this was the fastest I had ridden the outward leg of the chain gang, and it felt like it – I was coughing my lungs up, retching on phlegm – ‘orrible! Everyone else seemed ok, but they are much, much younger than me. Or maybe I was retching because Gareth and Lord B were discussing the American ‘bottom-touching’ hand signal and when best to use it. The fundamental mistake they (knowingly) make is touching other people’s behinds, instead of their own. I can’t remember what it’s supposed to mean, so let’s drop it – if you want to pat your arse, fine, just leave mine alone. I thank ewe.

The return leg started as usual with a vague sort of trickle of riders easing away from the layby. The Ultras formed up quickly and were quickly gone into the dark night, lights flashing and scattering wildlife. I fell in behind JV, both of us working hard into that now unwelcome wind that we had so enjoyed on the way out. We rotated the front every dozen or so pedal strokes and were surprised to find it was just us – no one else was in sight. This changed near the foot of Spooky as others arrived, taking the front and pulling us with them.

Fighting a head wind encourages cooperation more than anything else, I think. We rode well as a group, with those that could take a turn at the front doing so, whilst others clung to the back of the group. ‘Tis fair enough, for the most part – those that can, do, and others do the best they can.

On we rumbled, past the Star Inn, flicking around the curves to Herbrand and then onto Cooden Drive. I pushed hard up the first slope, then Steve B went past with the others in tow. We all rested in position for a stretch before restarting the rotation, pulling forcefully up and over the ‘Cooden Bump’, having earlier saluted ‘El Presidente’ as he stood at the roadside. The pace remained high as we came down the east side of the Bump and pushed hard to the lights. Tom and I found ourselves boxed in, both eager to take part in the impending man-off between Lord B, Gareth and others.

Well, they got away, leaving Tom and me to test each other on the run in. We were neck and neck, but Tom’s beardy face provided that extra bit of wind resistance and I won by a whisker (Get it? Beard – whisker? Ha-ha!)

Lord B was keen to get home (‘I’ve got servants to beat, don’t you know?’), so I turned west with him and his Battle acolyte, Adam, to ride back along Cooden Drive. Others sought refreshment at Rocksalt, eating cheesy chips washed down with lemonade, orange juice etc., whilst the more dedicated athletes amongst us continued to hone our bodies on the hard anvil of extreme effort. What’s the point of taking lard off and then putting it straight back on again, eh? Anyway, us vegans don’t eat artery-clogging cheese.

I enjoyed another wind-fuelled ride to Pevensey, trying hard not to think about the slog back to Bexhill, this time alone into the wind. It was ok, ducking as low as I could and enjoying the burn in my legs. It was at least dry and warm, so all in all a good night for a fast and demanding chain gang – just the way it should be.

It’s worth mentioning at this point a hazard between Normans Bay level crossing and the Star Inn, riding west to east, towards Bexhill. To the left is a strip of concrete that runs for 100m or so, maybe 40cm wide, partly covered with tarmac. There is a channel between the concrete and the main road surface, the perfect width to grab your front wheel and spit you off your beloved carbon masterpiece. The hazard is naturally harder to see in the dark, so can we all ride a little wider on this stretch and give riders to our left more space? One rider came off last week and he was lucky to escape with bruising. No-one’s fault, but do please be aware as also, speeds tend to be high on this stretch.

The club is having an Xmas lunch this Saturday at Di Paulos, for which you should have seen several emails. If you’ve booked, please be there as the food will be waiting for you… There will be a pre-BBR to Beachy, then a choice of rides for the BBR, from a run of c30km to a faster ride of 50km or so. Arrive at Di Paulos from 12:30 onwards to eat at 13:00. You can, of course, just come for the rides.

Patrick ‘he who calls the tune, pays the…’ Piper will soon be chasing you for your club membership fee. You will, of course, have put aside a little each week since last December to cover this vast expense. Time now to dig out the money from under the floorboards and place it in Patrick’s grateful hands. Lord B has said he will give a free glass of champers to the first ten members to pay, so there’s an exciting incentive for you; he might even stretch to a slice of pheasant pie, served hot and fresh by Doris.

Safe riding, Neil

Saturday, 19 November 2016

16/11 Wednesday Chain Gang – In Touch with our Inner Woman

There was a great turn out last night with 20 riders coming out, as it were, on a warm, dry but breezy night. We faced a stiff westerly on the outward leg, with the fun of a wind-assisted return ride. We had enough riders for two groups.

The ultras went out, leaving a larger group of a dozen or so riders to labour into the wind. I rode alongside ‘Babs’ Baker and asked whether he was wearing the right blouse, more recently having ridden in his summer weight chiffon. ‘Not only the right blouse, but a thermal petticoat as well’ he shouted. He then said he would show it me later when it was ‘moist’. Speechless, I rode to the front, deciding to give him a wide berth. It was then that I felt something touch my ‘derriere’. What was going on? Ah, it was Gareth, clearly confused about the road signal for ‘pay attention’. It certainly made me do that, but you’re supposed to tap your own behind Gareth, not someone else’s. ‘Any excuse’ explained JV. Indeed.

It was hard going, with various strong riders – JV, Patrick and Babs – taking the front and pushing up the pace. The group worked really well, making for a strong and flowing ride, reducing the effect of the wind. A couple of times I had to just hang on the back of the group, catch my breath and recover some energy. This was true on Herbrand Walk, where as usual the wind was at its strongest. If you get gapped here, that can be it for the ride – you’re off the back and on your own.

We rode on, filing up (after some shouting from Babs) for the stretch from the level-crossing to the Star Inn, still at a good pace, still with good rotations. Spooky Hill loomed and with it the prospect of getting dropped. Digging deep, I managed to stay in touch with the others, Malc D sticking to my rear wheel as we dropped down the west slope and I pushed to reach the group ahead. I think Adam C was the first rider I reached, hopping in front of him to help close the gap to the next rider.

Once I reached him I swooped past, then Malc D came around me and we were in to the main group again. I managed one more rotation before there was a ‘man-off’ between JV and Gareth on the last stretch. All good fun.

The return leg was turbo-charged by the wind, with two groups forming. I love surfing the wind; it makes up for the power I lack as I can spin my legs quickly and make good speed in these conditions. JV and I rotated the front with a rider whose name I don’t know, with Babs and others putting in stints. We reached Cooden Drive in good time, then a rider came past us having sat on the back to that point. He went haring off, so we thought they were not with us. They were fast, but Babs and I did exchange words on their etiquette.

The group rode the last stretch in good form, with some jockeying for position as the last part of the ride came into view. We were also hard on the tail of our mystery rider and gaining, showing again how a group of slower riders can work together to catch faster riders. Once we came within range, we released our ‘missiles’ – JV and Gareth – to catch our ‘target’. Good work team! We reached the lights and I thought the rider was going on and therefore not one of our club, but he pulled in as a ‘displaced ultra’. Bad form old chap, if you were sitting on, to then bugger off like that.

Just a reminder that the highlight of the November social calendar is on Saturday 26th November at 12:30 (after the BBR), namely the club Christmas lunch at Di Paulos, just £10 cash on the day. However, you will need to make your menu choices by this weekend please – you should have had an email about it.

Safe riding, Neil

Friday, 18 November 2016

Third Mallorcan Velo Professionals (MVP) Report

This was the third meet of the Mallorcan Velo Professionals (MVP) and time to induct some new members into the fold. The old guard of Grand Master Feathers and his faithful ‘fun’ domestiques Patrick Piper and Peter Baker, the Caveman Tamplin, Naughty Nick and Malc C & D (A & B couldn’t make it) were joined by newbies Derek, Sue ‘Geezer’ Landy, and newlyweds Dave Morris and Dan Hanlon. We had gone a bit more up market this time and nearly spent £20 per night on our accommodation. Things went smoothly and we arrived at the brilliant Apartment Bressol in Puerto Pollensa and the supermarket was duly raided of beer, wine and crisps before people went to the equally brilliant Pinarello experience to pick up hire bikes for the three days we were there. What we did in the evening stays in Mallorca.

Day 1 saw the whole group ride off to the traditional stop off in Selva for coffee (& brandy for NN) before some of the hard types completed the climb up to the Tramuntana Mountains to the top of Sa Colabra the iconic road designed by a roller coaster freak.
 The descent is a blast and rewarded by a beautiful bay with a beach and a couple of restaurants. This preceded the fun 9.4km climb gaining 668m with average gradient 7.1% and maximum 12%. 67.9 miles 6,985 ft of climbing (unless you have Dave & Dan’s android phones which appeared to indicate they had been to the moon and back). The less hard types took a spin with the caveman to explore the Orient. All arrived back safely with the newbies crossing the ‘cobra’ off their bucket list. What we did in the evening stays in Mallorca.

Day 2 Bus to Andraxt to ride the length of Serra Tramunta back to Puerto Pollensa (with the exception of Malc C and Derek who decide to stay in the plain and get each other lost). We climbed quickly and sharply out of Andraxt and started the traverse – amazing dramatic seascaped scenery with beautiful terracotta villages with sun kissed terraced slopes. Malc D, PP, GM and I stopped for coffee at Deia and looked at the cycle sweat fest coming up the valley, whilst some stopped earlier due to being a bit puffed out, whilst Caveman blasted on to Soller as Cavemen don’t need coffee. PP, the day before in a testosterone frenzy, had decided he wanted to do an extra 3 mile descent and climb back up. He was strangely quiet when we passed the turning and started to talk about his heart rate whilst the anthem from swan lake played in the background. We tracked the caveman down hiding behind a hedge in the pretty port of Soller whilst NN and the others couldn’t be bother to cycle the 100m to come and find us and had lunch on their own. PP then hatched a plan which was to do the blouse route of the Col de Soller (7.3km 6%) back to base, although GM declared that this was not a blouse route anymore (as it was when I did it the last time) and was not a very challenging alternative. The men (Malc D, me and the newly weds) then rode the ‘pig’. The cruel Puig Major cat 1, 14 km 6.2% (nasty b******). The climb ends through at tunnel which takes you through to a fridge on the other side of the mountain requiring full thermals and riding like the clappers to get back to base via a superb (but chilly) descent (75.9 miles 7,867 ft). What we did in the evening stays in Mallorca.

Day 3 Levels of knackeredness reach epic proportions. Two rides were on offer the beautiful Cap Formentor lighthouse cruise (35 km 1000m climb) or the let’s find the flattest bit of Mallorca cruise. All with the exception of Caveman, GM, PP & I went to the lighthouse, we tried to have as many lunches in one day that we could (57.9 miles 2,451ft climbing).

The bus arrived and took us sleepy but happy to the airport.
‘Hasta la proxima vez’ Mallorca

Peter Baker