Monthly Archives: August 2017

Bears, wolves and saddlebags

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I might have to rethink that top tube pack

I’m not saying that long-distance, multi-day cycling is the dark side of the sport – but there are certainly some black arts involved.

I’ve found a very good website (https://ridefar.info) written by a 3 time Transcontinental participant and although I’ve promised myself that I won’t obsess (yet) about my plan to ride to the alps next summer, I have done some preliminary research. It reveals that the problems posed by matters like:

  • assembling the right kit
  • carrying it on the bike
  • route planning
  • navigation
  • bike tools
  • device charging
  • refuelling strategies
  • sleeping plans and
  • required fitness

are on a scale well beyond my current understanding.

Will my reasonably aggressive geometry racing bike (with its maximum 25cm tyres) be suitable for French cycle paths? Can I tell which ‘D’ roads are OK and which will bring certain death under the wheels of a 2CV? Will I be able to find places to charge the phone and Garmin on the way? Can I survive the wild boar, wolves, bears and vampires if I sleep rough? Will I be able to live on a diet of McDonald’s, Haribo, ice cream and Coca Cola, as many in the Transcontinental Race appear to? Will I really need to take that second velvet smoking jacket?

They all seem to be fair questions, apart from the fact that there are, as far as I know, no bears in France, other than the Pyrenees.

It’s expensive too: a front wheel with the right dynamo is probably bespoke and a few hundred pounds, the charger device is another hundred, the various kit bags behind the saddle, under and over the crossbar and on the handlebars could easily be yet another hundred (each), as can quality light weight sleeping bags, tents etc.

The best thing is that I now have an excuse to put the tri-bars that I bought a few weeks ago onto the bike. They might be a good idea on the long straight roads in France, assuming my old body can adapt to the position.

Of course, getting it right is very important, not least because a problem could occur a few hundred miles from home and many miles from anywhere – so I’ve got to take it seriously. When everesting I was never more than 8 miles from the apartment and long sportives tend to have some support – even if it’s only a broom wagon. What’s more, I don’t speak any significant amount of French.

However, this will be my first – and possibly only – foray into this cycling genre, so I plan on being cautious and will try to adopt an approach with modest expenditure. I will dress this meanness up as merely being an innovative extra dimension to the challenge I have set myself.

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Plan for 2018 – ride to the alps

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Perhaps I’d better find a way around some of these on the journey out to the alps

Forgive me for wittering on about challenges for 2018. It’s a long way away but if I hadn’t committed publicly to my everesting attempt I know for certain that I would not have left the apartment to do it last month.

Thinking about it, I am still very happy with the idea of cycling out to the alps next July for my annual week’s climbing with friends.

The Transcontinental Race has a lot to answer for – I don’t think I’d be contemplating this without the inspiration of a race that started on 28 July and which has seen only 146 of the 285 starters finish, with one competitor still racing as I type. Come on David Coulon, only 13.7km to go after nearly 4000km of racing – and RIP Frank Simons who died in a collision with a car on the first night.

Without researching the route in any detail, it looks like nearly 1000km of cycling which I would like to do in 4 days, unsupported – and probably alone. I’m lucky that I can take a credit card and book into a hotel when I like but I’d prefer to see if I could sleep rough for at least some of the time. To be honest, I’m don’t think 62 year old retired solicitors do that sort of thing. I’m not sure if I have the guts for it – perhaps next year is the year I find out.

So, loads of logistics to think about: tent?, basha?, tarpaulin?, bivvy bag?, sleeping bag? (pretty well all unknown to me but I’ve started reading up on them). Bags to put on the bike: handlebar?, seat post?, under or over the top tube?. What about route design and navigation, food plan?

I was planning to take my old Giant TCR2 out to the apartment and leave it there so perhaps I could cycle out there on that – but it’s been 2 years since I last rode it and that means sorting the old and slightly unreliable shifters and perhaps making it a compact rather than a triple.

Part of the problem is that it’s all too far away – I will need interim checkpoints. Skiing in January hardly fits the bill but the White Horse Challenge in April is an obvious one: c.150km with 1400m of climbing and still my elusive sub 5 hour target. What else though – obviously some long rides building up distance and then putting them together, back to back. Perhaps 2018 is the year for a spring training camp out in a Spanish island? Perhaps I need to get out on the bike again – post-everesting time off officially over!

I need a plan.

Rides v journeys – the secret to 2018?

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Me, actually taken during the Cinglés du Mont-Ventoux in 2015 but evocative of a journey?

Thinking about challenges for next year, I had a bit of an epiphany – I do quite a few bike rides (and enjoy them enormously) but I do very few journeys by bike. I think that might be the secret to 2018’s challenge.

To explain, I think the distinction is, broadly, that a ride starts and finishes at point A, with a number of miles in between, whereas journeys go from A to somewhere else – perhaps to B or perhaps to Z via B, C, D etc.

I don’t know whether commuting to work and back is a ride or two journeys but, being retired, it’s a merely academic point for me.

Thinking about it, I’ve only really done two journeys – one back from Newbury (42k) after a weekend with friends and one back from Bournemouth (132k) after another weekend away – both times while Mrs Omil drove back.

Even my Etape in 2013 was a circuit from Annecy and back!

Of course journeys, like rides, come in all shapes and sizes. I’ve been following the Transcontinental Race over the last few weeks and have loved it – but I have just about enough sanity left to realise that it would be well beyond me in 2018. Instead, I’m thinking of a journey to the alps next July for my annual cycling week.

Current thinking suggests an unsupported trip, sleeping rough or in hotels booked en route and done in about 4 or 5 days. Preliminary thoughts would suggest cycling to Portsmouth for the ferry to Le Havre on day 1 (150km) and then the remaining 800km in the next 3 or 4 days. At the end of that I’ll know if the Transcontinental Race is always going to be beyond me.

Only on last month’s everesting have I ever ridden beyond 250k in a day. I’ve never done successive days anywhere near that distance nor have I ever slept rough. This could be a bit of a challenge – but that’s the general aim, I suppose.

I have always regarded Philip as the maddest among my group of cyclist friends – I’ve just realised that I’ve taken over that role.

Fitter, faster, further – the improvement dilemma

Most regular cyclists want to improve, whether it’s fitter, faster or further – or any combination of those. I completely understand that and I want to improve on all three – but there’s a but ..

The issue is that such improvements are unlikely to be even across members of a cycling group, and that can cause problems.

Let me explain.

I joined the group I ride with about 6 or 7 years ago. We were a slightly motley crew with carbon, aluminium and steel, racing, hybrid and touring bikes. The group was very sociable, we waited to regroup regularly and had a ‘banana break’ at halfway which was also a major regrouping and the opportunity for a chat. We’d do about 45 miles (c. 72km) on a Saturday morning at just over 14mph (c. 23kph). There were those who could cycle faster but they sacrificed some speed for sociability.

It’s all moved on over the years. Bikes have been upgraded and so have the riders’ abilities. More now cycle on the continent in the summer and more have climbed a few Alps – this year 3 more did Ventoux. Last year a group rode the length of the Pyrenees and this year a group rode in Corsica. The 100m Ride London, long sportives like the Dragon Gran Fondo, the Club des Cinglés du Mont-Ventoux, everesting and even Paris Brest Paris have now been tackled by group members.

Saturday rides are still a similar length but are now more likely to be ridden at 17-19 mph (c. 27-30kph).

A second ‘blue’ group was introduced successfully which does shorter and slower rides with an emphasis on the social side – some of us take turns to lead that and it’s always enjoyable but will not provide good training for the more committed cyclist. The issues are really with the faster, longer ‘red’ group.

Don’t get me wrong, I think all progress this is brilliant – but it comes with a price. Not everyone has improved at the same rate and some now struggle to keep up. With a focus on speed, the group does not often stop to regroup. It also makes it hard if not impossible for inexperienced riders to join the group – and introducing newcomers to the joys of cycling was always a key purpose of the group. It’s a group of good people (and me) – we set up a charitable company to raise funds for local cycling initiatives and we are quite prominent in the town, with our own annual sportive being part of the town’s festival.

Last Saturday I rode with a very nice chap who was riding with the group for the first time. We rode at a very respectable 15.5mph (c. 25kph) but were left behind by the main group. I was telling him about the social side of the group and the chance to meet a few people at the banana break – but we never had a break as the group(s) in front didn’t stop long enough for us to catch up.

There was a lady riding behind us and a ‘sweep’ but we didn’t see them either as we kept going, waiting for the break which never came – but by the time we realised that it was a bit late to stop. Apparently, another very good cyclist was dropped by the main group on Saturday and had what he called an ‘improvised limp home’ – that wouldn’t have happened in the past.

What’s the answer?

Multiple groups? A return to ‘collegiate’ cycling rather than the more self-centred ‘push myself at my optimum speed’? A more rigorous regrouping regime? None is perfect or, perhaps, possible.

Of course, I am no saint in all of this. I probably felt worse about Saturday because I’d have liked to have joined a fast group after the half-way break. I have cycled with the group less this year because of my specific training for my ‘everest’ last month – so I’m as selfish as anyone else.

My options? I could stay and simply join the fast groups – or I could effectively leave the group and do my own thing.

But there’s the irony – I’d be leaving and being anti-social in protest at the anti-social nature of the group; and I’d be putting my own cycling first in protest at the way others do the very same thing.

It makes my head hurt. Come to think of it, it used to be my legs hurting – at least that’s another beneficial feature of cycling improvement!

What’s next on the sprocket list?

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When your three main goals for the year fall in April and July, by August you are left wondering what to do next. I fear that the rest of this year is going to feel like an anticlimax so thoughts turn to the inevitable bucket list (or for me as it’s likely to be cycling-related, the sprocket list).

For 2017, the key goals were:
– White Horse Challenge in April: the target was sub 5 hours which I missed by 5 minutes although I did post a PB
– Everesting: a tick for that
– Farcycles Sportive: although I traded down to the 70 mile route, I was first home and, even though it’s not a race, I’m still pleased with that.

It looks like I’ve got to go for the WHC again, still chasing the elusive sub-5 hour time, but what else?

Over the last week I’ve been an avid follower of the Transcontinental Race. Massive respect to James Hayden for winning it and to everyone who is taking part (10 days in and only 2 of the 285 entrants have finished). That has to go on the list – even though it’s a universe of insanity beyond even the everesting. It feels like that might be a stretch too far for 2018 but it’s on the list.

One thing I’ve wanted to do for a while is to cycle out to the alps for my annual trip to Les Carroz. It’s about 700 miles door to door by car – I don’t know what avoiding main roads does to that but in my books it qualifies as a long way. It would be a good test to see if I could contemplate the Transcontinental Race.

LEJOG or JOGLE must be a possibility – unsupported and done as quickly as possible.

The bicinglette (two times each of the 3 roads up Ventoux, within a day) is the other possible target for 2018 – currently, there are only 205 people shown as completing the bicinglette. To do that and then add the extra 1200m to become a ‘high rouleur’ would be great.

It’s all subject to domestic negotiation and possible outbreaks of sanity – but it’s fun to plan and plot.