You may or may not have noticed that I’ve picked up a new obsession – the bicycle – this year, thanks to a trip made in haste to Sligo in Ireland where the enthusiasm and the camaraderie of the guides and fellow travellers on our cycling tour that got me deeply and madly hooked on cycling.
And those who know me personally will know that when I am hooked on something, when I set my mind to do something, I am like a dog on a mission.
It took a couple of goes on a rental bike back home to convince myself it wasn’t just another phase, another quarter-life crisis that I was going through. So seeing that was Black Friday (more like Black Month these days, deals began 3 weeks ago!) I bought myself a bike, booked myself on a council funded cycle safety training and joined a local leisure club.
And it’s just about time too, for 2017 is the 200th year since the bicycle was first invented. A man by the name of Karl von Drais, a German of course. There are several unverified claims that something similar was invented prior to Karl’s Laufmachine, however, it was his design that is officially crowned the first bicycle.
Of course, the humble bicycle has come a long way. A flip through cycling magazines (two of which I now subscribe to) you’ll see the frames are getting lighter, the wheels thinner, and the Lycra tighter. Flipping through pages after pages of beautiful bikes, bodies and scenery of long distance routes is keeping my heart pumping and I find myself day dreaming of being able to ride like they do.
First things first though. I need to be a lot more confident on the bike.
Joining my first ‘Bread Pudding’ ride
Two weekends ago, I joined in a group ride with the local leisure cycling group Kingston Cycle Campaign‘s ‘Bread Pudding’ rides. We met at the ancient market of Kingston and the 25 strong peloton, a rainbow of neon jackets followed the leader through traffic and side streets towards the heart of Surrey.
Why is it called the Bread Pudding ride? Simple story. One person in the group (usually one of the dedicated organisers) will bring home baked bread pudding along, and in the afternoon on our way home, the group will always make a rest stop where bread pudding is shared for refuelling.
The ride started at 10:30am and we returned by 4:30pm, totalling just under 30 miles with a lunch stop at a lovely pub in Effingham. Here’s more details on the ride if you are interested: Bread pudding ride to Effingham – you can try to spot me in the picture too!
Once we got over the road junctions and left the urban areas, Surrey is one pretty sight. I have long enjoyed a walk or jog among the maple foliage and the kaleidoscope of autumn colours, but cycling through it puts a new layer of atmosphere to this beautiful region. We follow from one side street to another, joining onto dirt tracks and cycle paths, along rivers and across bridges, and there was not one moment of dullness.
What I loved about the ride is that I was in a group, just like I was in Ireland, where help is available when needed. For someone who is not yet super confident and often struggle up hills, having this supportive network is essential.
Especially when the chain suddenly decides to derail and I haven’t been train in bike maintenance yet.
Thankfully, help was right behind me. My fellow cyclist pulls up, eyes the offending chain, out came a wedge and with a bit of manoeuvring, cracked the chain back on.
I had decided to buy a hybrid for my first (UK) bike. It has extra wide tyres for stability and great disc breaks. However, as I rode among the more experienced cyclists in the group and got chatting, I realised my ambition was greater than just being able to cycle. I eyed their slick road bikes with the curvy rams horn handles, the swoosh sound they make when they speed past me in their oh-so-perfect forms and I thought to myself: I want to ride like that.
So am already planning to get a road bike next year (around Black Friday). Small steps though. I need to get better.
The ‘P’ word on my second ‘Bread Pudding’ ride
Yesterday I braved the cold and joined my second Bread Pudding ride. An easy 2-part ride saw us to some weird corners of Surrey, under passes and over bridges, and to the horror of myself and the amusement of others, I had my first puncture too.
“Not the P word!”
No, apparently I am not allowed to mention the P word, but loosely refer to the incident as a diversion. Just how I managed to hit the nail everyone else missed on the same path is beyond me. That nail definitely had my name on it.
It was, as you guessed, also the day I decided not to bring my spare tubes. Thankfully, a fellow rider had the same sized tyres and was able to give me his, at the same time as hoping he won’t be needing it on the same ride… and, the fact that everyone else knew how to change an inner tube meant I was back on my saddle in no time. (Which reminds me, I need to book myself on that council run bike maintenance course!)
Thank you to my puncture – oh sorry, ‘P’ – warriors!
Oh but I ache. Yesterday’s ride saw us up some very steeply hills, and boy did they do my thighs some workout!
For photos and route details of this ride see here – 2 part bread pudding ride to Twickenham
Could I make cycling my niche?
You know how things start to pop up everywhere when you start to pay attention to something?
That’s how it is with cycling at the moment.
Ever since I made a decision that cycling is my thing, I see cycling related things everywhere, and I am constantly thinking about it. I am currently researching for stories next year, and all I can think about are cycling journeys. The ambitious me is wondering if I am able to plan for a long form ‘bikepacking’ trip around Europe, or if I could train to tackle the trips that are graded 7 / 10 in difficulty (the Sligo trip was graded 3).
I have a crazy idea that I could make cycling my writing niche, but having read the magazines I fear I may not (yet) have the necessary technical knowledge to do so. It does however, fit perfectly into my ‘outdoors, eco-adventures’ speciality so it’s now in the same bucket as hiking!
Having said that, it is to no one’s surprise that three of my planned trips have cycling involved. The new friends I made in Ireland have inspired me to look to Oregon for some cycling and fat biking experience, and there is a self guided cycling loop I’d like to do in Norway. A fellow blogger’s journey on the Baltic Coast Cycle Path (TravelTelling: Ostseeküsten-Radwegs) got me looking up some of Europe’s best cycling routes on EuroVelo, a website dedicated to Europe’s cycling network, for ideas.
It would be pretty cool to one day be able to write about cycling properly.
I’ll work on that, both on and off the page!
Signing up for cycle training
If there is one thing I learned on the first Bread Pudding ride was that I needed training, and I needed it fast.
It is not just a matter of being able to catch up. I needed to know how to navigate traffic, the safety rules that will keep me out of trouble.
I needed to know how to break properly (it isn’t just about pulling on the levers by the way), to learn a more efficient way of using my gears.
Or, probably better applicable at my level: (Telegraph) how to fall off a bicycle without injuring yourself…
Most of all, I need to get my confidence up so I am not causing accidents when I get tense at intersections!
So I signed up for some cycle training.
Through talking about cycling with people, I found out the council offers free TfL funded training to new cyclists to learn all of the above. To their credit, it is to make sure we are able to get in and out of London’s cycle un-friendly traffic and not become another fatality number.
The trainer and myself had a good chat on the phone, about what I already do and what my goals are. I told him I’d very much like to be as good as the Kingston Wheelers (the local semi-pro club that I am not good enough to join). He laughed, saying it’s the first time someone has given such an ambitious answer. Can’t wait for my lesson next week.
Since then, I’ve changed my answer. I am going to go with being able to cycle the entire length of the Rhine River in 10 days. It isn’t ambitious, considering many semi-pros can do that sort of distance in 3-4 days… but hey, start small and realistic is the key to success? Hope so.
Route details here: EuroVelo15 Rhine Cycle Route. Anyone wants to come with?