We’re not going on holiday abroad this year. Instead, we’ve been looking forward to a week away in West Sussex. Long story short, we landed ourselves an opportunity to house-sit for a friend while he was away, and he lives in the quaint town of Steyning.
We knew nothing about the place, only that it was about 10 miles away from Brighton, so we planned a two-day cycling trip to get there, taking a scenic route via the New Forest for a spot of camping, before pootling along the south coast.
This was the whole route in its entirety:
We set out at 6:30am on the Sunday morning for the first 80 miles of our journey. It was a nice and easy start on a familiar route, riding along the Bristol-Bath Railway Path. I’ve ridden this way so many times, but this time my bike was fully loaded and heavy, and I felt the difference very quickly. Luckily we’d given ourselves plenty of time, so we sat in a low gear and pedalled gently, starting as we meant to go on.
We stopped in Bath for a coffee, and then joined the Two Tunnels Greenway. This made me super happy, as it’s one of my favourite local rides. If you’re not local to here but visit at some point, ride the Two Tunnels. It’s an incredibly therapeutic experience.
Once we reached Midford, the Garmin did what it does best. It took us on a route that was completely unsuitable for cycling. Apparently you can ride all the way to Frome on bike paths, but we ended up on the A36 instead. After a while we got sick and tired of being passed by cars driven at a ridiculously high speed and close proximity, so I used Google Maps to re-direct us. We rejoined some nice and quiet country lanes and made our way towards Market Lavington, and then south towards Salisbury.
Still using Google Maps rather than the Garmin, we somehow took a wrong turn and found ourselves on the A303, which is a rather horrible dual carriageway. One of the good things that came out of it was the remarkable view of Stonehenge that we hadn’t been expecting, but the road became more and more perilous as we went on, and it stopped being fun.
We pulled into a lay-by to buy some locally-grown strawberries, and the man at the stall very helpfully pointed us in the right direction.
There was a small, gated road on the other side of the dual carriageway that we could take, but that meant crossing, with our ridiculously heavy bikes.
We found ourselves running across two lanes when there was a gap in the traffic, hauling the bikes over the metal partition, before running again across another two lanes. It was scary. Also all the lifting credit goes to Adam. I physically couldn’t do it.
Once we were back on a nicer route, we made our way to Salisbury, passing through a town with a name that made us giggle, and stop, and take a photo.
I’d never been to Salisbury before, and definitely intend to go back when I’ve got more time to explore it. It’s a very pretty place, with an astounding cathedral, that we sadly didn’t have time to stop at. Next time.
We did, however, find time to stop at a pub for chips and a pint of lime and soda. This has become our staple snack on all long rides. The Salisbury 5-4-3-2-1 marathon was still in progress so we felt it better to get out of the runners’ way and give our bottoms something else to sit on for a little while.
Once fully revived, we left the city centre and headed south towards the New Forest.
It was such a beautiful place to be riding in, with fields of purple flowers surrounding us, and deciduous woodland everywhere we looked.
Eventually we arrived at a campsite in Ashurst, where we were finally able to shower and rest.
We got to try out our new Solo Stove for the first time, which was a pretty cool experience. It runs on twigs, so we had free fuel everywhere we looked. It also meant I got to learn how to build a fire (with the help of matchsticks) and keep it going. It also served as a nice way to keep ourselves warm as it got darker.
We were tired, but feeling good. We’d gotten all the climbing out of the way that day, and knew that the next day would be mostly flat coastal paths, with some ferries thrown in for good measure.
Just as well, really, because neither of us got much sleep. I don’t sleep well at all when camping, which is such a shame, because I love the experience. Despite having an eye mask and ear plugs, and keeping myself dead to the world, I just couldn’t switch off. Adam slept some of the night, but was plagued with the sounds of planes, trains and automobiles.
It meant we weren’t on top form the following morning, which I’ll tell you about next time.
This weekend I set out to ride my first 100 miles, and ended up doing my first 200k.
How did this happen? I guess I have peer pressure to thank. And Lucy (of Brain Cranks), who added an extra 25-mile loop onto my route and convinced me to ride it.
It was partly down to wanting to achieve something even greater, partly not wanting to ride home alone with a dead Garmin, and partly wanting to beat Adam’s record. All three goals were achieved.
Saturday morning was grey, gloomy and wet. I overslept. I couldn’t eat my porridge because I was nervous. I had to take a detour on the way, to get snacks. The morning got off to a stressful start, and I spent a lot of it worrying that no one would turn up for the ride, and that it would be a complete and total failure.
In all honesty I was torn, in terms of what I actually wanted to happen. Half of me wanted a huge group of women to turn up, so I could boast that my first time leading a ride was a huge success, and really impress the badass women of The Adventure Syndicate. The other half of me wanted it to be a small group of familiar faces, so there was less pressure on me as a ride leader.
To my relief, the latter happened, and it was still a huge success.
I think, had a large group of strangers turned up, particularly confident roadies expecting to bomb through the Welsh hills at lightning speed, I might have crumbled under the pressure and turned back. As it happens I was joined by Lucy and Ania, and the three of us embarked upon our drizzly adventure together.
We started outside Roll for the Soul at 8am, and took an indirect route to the bridge via Westbury-on-Trym and through Hallen and Awkley. I used to commute part of this route, back when I was very new to riding, and had to get off and walk up most of the hills. It was my first time returning to the area as a more seasoned cyclist, and a small victory to climb the hills without even considering the need to walk.
As we made our way through quiet country roads, we settled into a comfortable but decent pace, and chatted about our various achievements on the bikes.
We neared the bridge, and made our first windy journey across the River Severn, into South Wales. This was my first experience of cycling across the Severn Bridge, and I was relieved to see that the cycle paths were completely segregated from the road traffic. It was quite a surreal experience, feeling the rush of wind and the vibrations of the other vehicles reverberating through the bike. It was also awesomely atmospheric, with the low hanging cloud caressing the surface of the water.
Once across the bridge, we made our way through Bulwark and into Chepstow, where we found ourselves on the same route I’d ridden last weekend through the Wye Valley. We climbed the first part of the A466 and descended into Tintern, catching another glimpse of the stunning abbey as we flew by. At this point we were more than ready for our first coffee stop, and promptly pulled into The Filling Station for some well-needed coffee and biscuits.
Topped up with caffeine and sugar, we continued up the Wye Valley, which remained familiar as far as Redbrook, before turning off towards Monmouth.
Weirdly, both times I’d ridden this section between Tintern and Redbrook, I found myself struggling to maintain a decent cadence. The road appears to be pretty flat, and in some parts there even seems to be a slight downhill, and yet my legs burn and my pedalling is slow. I wasn’t the only one to experience this, either. I wonder if there’s an explanation; it shouldn’t be that hard to ride along a flat road!
On top of that, we had a lot of climbing to do, and I found myself really starting to question my physical capabilities. Would I make it through the rest of the ride? We weren’t even halfway through yet, and I was faltering.
It definitely felt like a longer 25 miles than the previous section. But for every climb there must be a descent, and despite my previous distaste for the downhill, I relished every opportunity stop pedalling and plummet down into the valleys.
We followed some really pretty country roads and eventually rolled into Usk, where we stopped at Sprokwobbles for a hearty lunch of jacket potatoes, well-needed coffee, and some light yoga stretching in the garden.
While we rested, I decided to check the elevation profile on the Garmin to see how we were doing in terms of the big climbs. I saw that the biggest was about to present itself, and started to feel a bit nervous. There was much self-deprecation and talk of walking up and meeting Lucy and Ania at the top.
Nevertheless we rolled on, and the climb turned out to be a really good one! Following the B4235 towards Shirenewton, it was a very long but gradual climb. One thing that upset me a little, is that when you look at the road on Google Streetview, it used to be flanked by woodland on both sides. When we rode there last weekend, there has been a lot of tree felling, and the left side of the road is more open. It always saddens me to see trees being cut down, and it’s a great shame for that to be happening, however if I look on the bright side, it did afford us the most spectacular view of Wales’ rolling hills.
Another rewarded for reaching the top, was the presence of an Alpaca farm! We enjoyed a quick rest, some water, and looking at their cute, fuzzy heads. We then climbed a tiny bit more and descended back into Chepstow for the second round of the Severn Bridge.
By this time of day (around 3:30pm) it was even windier than before, and we experienced some pretty scary side winds. I remember at one point my whole bike shifted to the left, like some enormous force was effortlessly moving me aside.
From there we took an indirect route to Thornbury, via Elberton and Littleton-upon-Severn, and stopped for coffee and cake (or in Lucy’s case, an entire cucumber).
It was at this point that Lucy had intended to leave us, to go and do an extra long loop and make her ride a 200k.
I was in a lot of pain with my back, super tired, and feeling good about the fact that there were only 25 miles left to go. The thought of my bed was beckoning me, and I told myself this last leg would be gentle, easy, and relatively quick.
Then Ania decided she wanted to join Lucy on the extra long loop, and my Garmin signalled to me that it was on its last legs. The thought of cycling home alone without directions was a little frightening, and throughout the day I’d kept myself open to the idea of extending the ride, just in case I felt capable. I didn’t feel all that capable, but with the ibuprofen clearing the pain in my lower back, and Lucy and Ania grinning encouragingly at me across the table, I couldn’t help but agree!
So I put the Garmin away, Lucy took over as the navigator, and we set off on our final 50 miles.
Departing Thornbury the way we came, we continued north through Oldbury-on-Severn, Shepperdine and into Berkeley, where I remember visiting the castle a couple of years ago. It’s a really cute and quaint town, and its castle is noted as the place where King Edward II was imprisoned and murdered. A good day out that I recommend!
At around 7pm, the sun finally decided to grace us with its presence. In the golden light we looped round, returning south through North Nibley, Wotton-under-Edge, and Kingswood. This was a bit of a tease, as I live in a part of Bristol called Kingswood, but alas, not this one. Next was a fairly sharp climb into Hawkesbury Upton, before descending through Petty France, Little Badminton and Acton Turville. At this point the roads became familiar, as I had ridden them out on my last trip to Oxford.
On the final strait to Bristol, we descended through Hinton and Pucklechurch. It was coming up to 9pm, the sun had once again departed and been replaced with low hanging grey clouds. The air around us became heavy and wet, and in the gloom we joined the Bristol-Bath railway path and rolled into Fishponds where we rewarded ourselves with junk food and alcohol. The perfect end to the perfect day.
Epilogue: a reflection on The Adventure Syndicate’s tagline
I mentioned before that I planned this ride as part of a collaboration between The Adventure Syndicate and Cycling UK, to celebrate the Women’s Festival of Cycling. I agreed to it when I saw Emily Chappell tweeting about their plans, and in a moment of fandom, decided I wanted to join in.
The moment I saw that it was a 100-mile ride within the space of 2 weeks, my stomach turned, but I was determined to make it happen. I’d said yes to someone I idolise, and I had to deliver the goods.
As I put the route together and registered the ride, I was partly sure that I’d end up backing out of it somehow. I’d plan the route and hand it over to someone more capable of riding it, because I certainly didn’t feel able to.
But when it came down to it, I wanted to do it. I wanted to be part of something big, and I felt that with a group of amazing women around me, I would be carried along by their support. That is exactly what happened. It was a small group, but it was an amazing group nonetheless.
The Adventure Syndicate’s mission is:
“to increase levels of self-belief and confidence in others […] and we passionately believe we are all capable of so much more than we think we are.”
I have never felt this to be as true as I did on Saturday night, shoving a battered sausage into my face and telling myself over and over again, “I just rode 200k. I just rode 200k.”
If you’re a woman; if you love riding your bike; if you compare yourself to the elites and constantly feel like an impostor; if you want to achieve more but feel unable to; go and read all about The Adventure Syndicate. Attend one of their talks. Sign up to a ride with them. Follow them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
I cannot believe that this time last year I was just commuting on my bike, with the occasional 15-mile pootle to Bath that wore me out. If I am capable of this, then so are you. We all are.
I’ve introduced you to Dori, now I’m going to tell you about the awesome ride we went on at the weekend. You may have noticed it’s been a while since I wrote up a long ride, and it’s because it’s been a while since I’ve been on one!
Despite insisting that I was going to start riding every Saturday, life simply got in the way.
So on Sunday I decided it was high time I got back out on a long ride, preferably something not too hilly. I find the best way to plan a route is to seek out a point of interest and then find a way to get there and back. I set my sights on the Caen Hill Flight: a set of 16 locks in succession on the Kennet and Avon Canal, which rise 237 feet in 2 miles.
It’s a really lovely, mostly off-road route, which takes you along the Bristol-Bath Railway Path, and then along the towpath, following the canal into Devizes. It turns out towpaths really take their toll on you when you spend the whole day on them! We rode about 55 miles in total, and while it’s not a ridiculous distance, I was pretty knackered afterwards. The last 12 miles from Bradford on Avon into Devizes is particularly narrow and bumpy.
We really should have left early in the morning, but decided to have a lazy start to the day instead, making a huge breakfast to fuel us: scrambled tofu with spinach and red pepper, spicy fava beans, mashed avocado and veggie sausages with toast and fresh tomatoes. The late return was worth it.
Setting off at around 1pm, we cycled to Bath along the Railway path, and then continued on the familiar route through Bath city centre. It’s a good one to start off with, while getting used to a new bike.
From there, we joined the towpath and followed the Kennet and Avon canal through to Bradford on Avon, and then onto Devizes.
It was such a beautiful route to take. It was busy with pedestrians on a sunny Sunday afternoon, but nothing we couldn’t handle. We made some stops for refreshments and allowed ourselves to just take our time and enjoy it.
After Bradford on Avon, the last 12 miles towards Caen Hill Marina were a little harder on the wrists. The towpath became very narrow and bumpy, with quite a few points where you could easily end up in the canal if you’re not careful! It also involves a few steep trips up and over bridges where the surface is very loose and rocky. I didn’t like that part…
It’s all worth it though. Once you pass Caen Hill Marina, you cross a bridge and follow the canal up, through the ‘passage to Caen Hill Flight’ and round a corner to be met with the most astounding view. 16 locks, ascending one after the other, and a lovely gravelly path to follow alongside them. It’s quite a unique sight.
I can’t imagine passing through that on a boat. You’d have to dedicate a whole day to just getting out of the marina!
Originally we’d planned to turn back and cycle down the hill, then come back the way we came. Instead we prioritised our rumbling tummies (it was 7pm by this point) and treated ourselves to some awesome pizzas in Devizes.
From there, we re-joined a different part of the canal and cycled into Chippenham to get the train. We went along the Wiltshire Cycleway and route 403, which was a fantastic ride: lots of lovely wooded areas, fine gravel paths and beautiful scenery.
I won’t lie; there was one section that spooked me, involving a long and gradual descent over very loose rock. I don’t do that well on a good day, let alone clipped in and on a brand new bike, with slightly thinner tyres than I’m used to. I don’t think Adam enjoyed my company at that point!
He was good to me though, he taught me to come out of my saddle, hold the handlebars loosely, let go of the brakes and allow the bike to just take me where it wanted to go. After a while I gained a little bit of confidence.
We climbed quite a huge hill, which allowed me to test out my new gearing ratio (thank goodness for the triple chain set). I sat in my granny gear and spun my way up the hill, admittedly huffing and puffing, but I got up there nonetheless!
We were rewarded with quite a breathtaking descent (on tarmac, thankfully), clocking around 60km an hour. I have to admit I was quite flustered by the bottom, but I kept up with Adam and only feathered the brakes occasionally when approaching a bend. I’m definitely getting much better at tarmac descents.
Unfortunately we were in a hurry to catch a train (which we subsequently missed), so there wasn’t time to take photos of this part of the ride. I definitely want to return to that route and do it in the daytime. We eventually caught a train at 10:15pm, and gratefully collapsed into the soft chairs as we were ferried back to Bristol.
All in all it was a lovely day out. It was nice to have some parts that were familiar, and then to go off adventuring in a new place. I love riding alongside the canal, because it’s just so picturesque.
The surface takes its toll on you, but as long as your tyres are up for the job, you’ll be fine. We did bump into a guy on a very racy road bike with skinny tyres, who’d gotten himself pretty lost. He passed us along a really bumpy part of the route, and soon turned back and passed us again. His was not the bike for the job.
I’ve been a bit quiet lately for various reasons, but namely because I’ve allowed the run-up to the General Election to completely take over my thoughts.
I’ve spent so many hours scouring information online, campaigning on behalf of my chosen political party, and occasionally wallowing in a pit of despair when things seemed hopeless.
This morning we woke up to a hung parliament, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who breathed a sigh of relief. Don’t worry, I’m not going to get political on you (that’s why I’ve stayed quiet), but this moment of limbo has allowed me some headspace to think about other things.
Social media has proven to be both damaging and enlightening, these past few weeks. I’ve become increasingly aware that the more time I spend on Facebook, the more angry and disillusioned with the world I become. The same can go for Twitter, though there are still a lot of things that keep me going back there.
Instagram is proving to be my favourite channel these days. It fills my time with photographs of beautiful bikes, cycling kit, and incredible views that make me want to burst out of my front door, clip in, and go.
So in these uncertain times, let me leave you with some suggestions of accounts to follow, so you can feel as inspired as I do.
Amelie is working her way around the world, sometimes on the bike, and sometimes off. She picks up work as a freelance yoga teacher, photographer and graphic designer, as well as taking part in various work exchanges (where you work a certain amount of hours a day in exchange for accommodation and/or food). Her Instagram account is full of gorgeous photos from her travels, and provides me with so much inspiration for my own round-the-world tour one day.
I simply had to include The Adventure Syndicate. I’ve talked about them many times before, and you should know who they are. If not, go check out their Instagram account. It gives a fascinating insight into their many adventures, following all the Syndicaters in their own individual journeys as well as the group as a whole.
Remember that mountain biking weekend I don’t stop banging on about? This is who I went with. Despite coming away a little bit broken, I regret nothing, and I’m itching to go back and try again. Polly posts lots of photos from her rural Wales adventures, sometimes with her family, sometimes solo, and sometimes with the groups she leads. The scenery is always stunning, and it’s really lovely to see her children getting started on their MTB adventures already.
I’m so glad Adam told me about this account. Jasmine Reese is travelling around the world on a bike, with her violin and her dog in tow. Expect inspirational quotes, violin recitals, stories of the kindness of strangers who have offered their hospitality, and of course, photos of her adorable doggo.
Marijn de Vries, now retired from professional racing, is cycling around the world and sharing the most stunning photographs through her Instagram account. The scenery, the selfies… the cycling kit! Just gorgeous photos that will make you want to follow in her footsteps and experience the breathtaking views for yourself.
The SheWolves are a San Diego women’s cycling crew, and they look like they have a lot of fun. As someone who is currently part of an effort to create a badass girl gang within Bristol’s cycling community, I love seeing photos of their antics and feeling inspired to create a similar vibe in my own city. If ever there were a girl gang I’d go to great lengths to be part of, this would be it.
Speaking of girl gangs…
We held another Women and Bikes social at Roll for the Soul last night. It was a much smaller group this time, which afforded us the opportunity to get a conversation going about what we should do next.
I will be organising the first outing in the near future, and posting a poll in the Women Cyclists of Bristol Facebook group, to gauge what people want in terms of distance, pace, scenery and type of adventure. I’m totally up for camping. Just saying.
Keep your eyes peeled in the group, join it if you’re not in there already, and come ride with us soon.
I promised a big weekend of riding, and though not everything went to plan, it’s been a pretty fab one indeed, and I even managed to surprise myself.
Full disclosure, we didn’t do the entire distance that we planned. Trying to figure out the new Garmin kept us up pretty late on Thursday night, and then delayed us by a further hour or two on Friday morning when it somehow lost the route we’d loaded. Setting out much later than we should have, and getting stuck on a horrible, busy A road halfway through, we arrived in Oxford around 6pm with 36 miles still to go. We decided to cut our losses and get a train to Beaconsfield, then cycled the final 10 miles in the dark, arriving at 9:30pm.
The ride itself was amazing, though! From Bristol to Swindon, the Garmin kept us on quiet country roads, cycle paths through parks, dirt tracks and bridleways. At one point we stumbled onto a dirt road that was actually in the process of being compacted. I was so grateful for Regina and her lovely thick tyres. Parts of it verged on mountain biking, even. It was brilliant fun, and the first proper adventure that I’ve taken her on.
Unfortunately things took a turn on the way out of Swindon. I’m not entirely sure what happened, but our Garmin reset its own settings, and locked us onto main roads. We found ourselves on a really ugly part of the A420 and stuck in a lay-by for about half an hour waiting for it to find its satellites and recalculate the route. In the end we turned it off and relied on Google Maps to get us the rest of the way to Oxford. Once we found our way back onto country roads, it became fun again.
One thing I love about cycling to Oxford is the descent down Cumnor Hill. While I’m not usually one to get excited about going downhill, it’s a brilliant way to end a long ride and get that last part finished very quickly! The other thing I love is finishing the ride with a chilli dog at the Gardener’s Arms on Plantation Road. Best food in Oxford.
We left the bikes in the shed on Saturday to give our bottoms a rest, but got back out on the road on Sunday to visit various relatives of Adam’s, and also to ride the lovely Pednor Loop, which is pretty much traffic-free and comes with some stunning views. Yesterday we decided to be kind to ourselves. We left at 7am, rode to Oxford and got the train back to Bristol. I’m glad we rode to Oxford again, as we got to do the part that we missed on Friday. I couldn’t have left this weekend without riding in the Chilterns.
The ride from Chesham to Oxford was really nice. The Chilterns are of course very hilly, and I knew there was a great big descent waiting for me down Kop Hill.
But now I’m going to shock you (and myself). All weekend I had to deal with big descents. Huge descents. Steep descents. Some in the dark. One had a red traffic light at the bottom while still on a steep gradient. After the first few I found my rhythm and I really started to enjoy them. On one hill we clocked a maximum of 65km/h. I’m really freaking proud of myself.
In total over the whole weekend I’d estimate that we rode around 130+ miles. It’s still the furthest I’ve ridden in that amount of time, and I’m really happy with how it went.
Coming soon… Riding like a S.I.R.
I’ve decided that, providing I can get the Garmin working in my favour, Saturdays are going to become my day for riding solo. I’m dubbing these my Saturday Independence Rides (SIR) and this Saturday I’m planning a 40+mile ride to Westonbirt Arboretum and back. Stay tuned!
If you’re a woman cyclist in Bristol…
Final plug before I sign off. A bunch of us have organised a social this Thursday at Roll For The Soul, aimed at women cyclists of Bristol who want to meet other likeminded women, find riding buddies, learn about the various group rides and events coming up in Bristol, and just generally build a community (girl gang).
If you’re around, come join in the fun! Click here for details.
This weekend I joined a group of very inspiring women to cycle around the Yorkshire Dales, in a ride organised by The Adventure Syndicate. There were about 20 of us in total, and while everyone’s experience varied (from those like myself, just starting out with long-distance riding, to Transcontinental riders and an actual Guinness World Record holder), the one thing we immediately had in common was our love for riding and our determination to get as much out of the weekend as possible.
There’s so much I could say about the amazing women (and singular male) I met this weekend, but I partly want (well, need) to use this space to process my feelings about how it went. So all I’ll say for now is that the group were incredibly lovely, supportive, and hugely motivating. Some of them got me through some tough times (detailed below), and made me feel so proud of what I did manage to achieve. Thank you all for being you, and don’t ever stop.
A physical and emotional rollercoaster
The physical aspect of this is quite obvious, really. If you’ve been to the Yorkshire Dales, you already know what it’s like to crane your neck and look up from the middle of the valleys. I did this several times, thinking ‘Christ, are we really going to climb that?’. The answer was yes, we really were.
If you read my last couple of posts, you know that I’ve been struggling to mentally prepare for this weekend. My problem is that I’m an over-thinker and over-analyser, and this extends to absolutely everything that may or may not affect me. When we were sent the routes, I studied them meticulously, scouring the climbs and descents, to get a feel for how scary they might be, and how I might fare whilst trying to navigate them on two wheels.
Despite promising to ride 200k, I hadn’t really taken the full extent of the hills into account, and I knew where my limits were. I’d had a couple of months of being ill, and was nowhere near ready for that ride, so I took the 92k option instead, which featured two significant climbs and descents:
Seasoned Yorkshire Dale riders will already be familiar with Park Rash, a notorious climb out of Kettlewell towards Coverdale, climbing 230m in 2.3k, with a max gradient of 25%. We were actually going to do this in reverse, descending into Kettlewell at the end of our ride, having first climbed Fleet Moss, further west.
Being a terrified descender, I became obsessed with the descent into Kettlewell. I looked at the varying gradients, I followed the route on Google street view, I studied photos people had taken, and I eventually became aware of a really hairy hairpin bend with a 25% gradient that made all my internal organs sink to the bottom of my torso.
So I spent the three days prior to going, torturing myself over this one part of the ride. ‘Obsessed’ just doesn’t cover it, I was beside myself with worry, and trying to find photos of every possible angle, to get a better idea of just what this bend was going to be like. I’m terrible at tight turns on the flat, let alone on a 25% gradient. I was so new to riding in the drops, I just didn’t feel capable of pulling it off.
My fear of this minute part of a huge descent was going to govern the entire ride. I’ll take you through the day in stages, organised into the many times I cried…
Cry #1: Climbing Fleet Moss
I only slept for a few hours the night before, and immediately when we started out riding, I could feel myself struggling. My legs ached early in the ride, my bike felt heavy and stiff (though that was probably me) and the distance between myself and the other riders quickly increased.
That morning at breakfast, Emily Chappell had told us all that “60% of you think you’re the slowest rider” … it turned out I was the one who was right! In hindsight I don’t mind this, but at the time when the climb up Fleet Moss was looming, I was extremely hard on myself. I kept checking my front brake because I was convinced it was rubbing and slowing me down, but it wasn’t. I was just tired.
As we climbed Fleet Moss (236m over 3.4km), I lost sight of the group completely. My legs screamed at me, inside my head I screamed at me, and eventually I broke down. Laura’s husband, Tim, who had been following behind, stopped at the same point that I began to weep in frustration and disappointment. At the time, I wanted him to ride on, because I felt ridiculous. But he got me up that hill. I will admit, I had to get off and walk the final part, because I’d done all that I could and had nothing left to give, and the gradient was very unforgiving.
I think the hardest part of this was giving myself permission to get off the bike. It was only the first third of the ride, and I’d already failed. But as soon as I allowed myself that break, I felt a sense of relief, and was able to get back on the bike when we finally reached the summit.
Cry #2: The descent into Hawes
You know what I’m like with descents. Imagine the fear and panic that started to set in as I finally reached that summit, only to really accept that I now had to get down.
I was still a bit of an emotional mess, my nerves were fraught, and I was trying to keep a brave face for the rest of the group. I was terrified of what was coming next. It wasn’t the descent I’d been obsessing over, but it was still a huge one.
Remember how afraid I was of descending into Wookey Hole? That was an average 6% gradient, 230m over 3.8km. From Fleet Moss to Hawes, it’s an average of 20%, plummeting 320m over 5.5km. I had never faced a descent of this kind before, and my next mental challenge was about to begin.
I am happy to say though, that this segment took a bizarre turn. As we set off, Hannah Reynolds talked me through the proper technique, and I got comfortably into my drops. Taking the first section steadily, the road opened out into a vast landscape which was breathtakingly beautiful. The road was straight, open, and traffic-free, and to my shock, I allowed myself to gain some speed and really enjoyed the ride down. It threw me, just how much fun I was having. It was the first time I felt that rush of wind through my hair, and the elation I was so convinced I’d never experience. It was also at this point that I cried for the second time that day, but it was tears of joy.
I was rewarded with a visit to the gorgeous and picturesque Hawes:
Cry #3: Panic attack at the pub
With the adrenalin still pumping through my veins, we took a relatively flatter, but still undulating route towards Middleham. The scenery was just beautiful, I’ve never seen so many lambs frolicking in my life, and this was the first chance I got to chat to some of my fellow riders. It was nice to finally relax and really start enjoying the ride.
We stopped at a pub for a well-deserved break, and that was when I decided to ask the dreaded question. I knew how much I’d suffered up Fleet Moss, and now that I’d enjoyed a hefty descent and the beautiful, rolling roads to Middleham, I was ready to quit while I was ahead. I asked if there was a bail-out option before the next climb, which I knew was on its way.
Unfortunately, I was too late. I hadn’t realised where we were on the map, but the only way back to the barn was over that final hill, with its terrifying hairpin bend on the descent. I nodded, and accepted this, and then took myself to the toilets to privately process my feelings, and really let myself feel them. It resulted in a full-blown panic attack, as it sank in that I could actually get very hurt attempting that bend. Hell, I could even die. That’s all I was thinking.
I really regret letting this get to me so much, because I missed out on the fun and banter that was going on outside in the beer garden. I really isolated myself from the group at this point, when I should have been listening to their stories and learning from their experience and insights. At the same time I just couldn’t hold back my emotions.
Before I knew it, it was time to set off on the final big climb of the day, towards Kettlewell.
Cry #4: The unexpected ending
I would love to say that I faced my fear head on, that I took it steady, used my body weight and line of sight to guide my bike slowly round the tight bend, and once again felt elated as I dropped away with that part behind me.
In fact, I wish I knew what I would have done, had things gone differently. I’ll actually never know whether I would have completed the ride, or whether I would have dismounted and walked that part.
After some hesitation, I began the descent at the back of the group, with Hannah by my side. It came in waves, so that every time the surface flattened out momentarily, I felt like an idiot for being scared of nothing.
Sure enough though, that sign warning of a 25% gradient came, and as we slowly approached what seemed to be a sharp bend with a chevron sign, we noticed two riders standing on the road, with their bikes propped on the grass. Hannah said she’d go ahead to see if they were okay, and told me to take as much time as I needed. As I approached them myself, I unclipped in anticipation, and Hannah told me to go and sit on the grass and chill out for a minute. After she disappeared round the corner, my companions informed me that one of our number – Susan – had come off her bike on the exact bend I’d been obsessing over.
I had to remove my shoes in order to gain some sort of traction on the tarmac, the road was so steep, and I went down to help when the paramedics arrived. She’d suffered a head injury and lost a fair amount of blood, though she was conscious and responding.
I had cry #4 when they started cutting off her brand new cycling kit. That was when she became the most responsive, trying to stop them. It was heartbreaking. We covered her in blankets to protect her modesty, since a queue of drivers was forming further up the road, waiting to be able to pass.
After some time, we all lifted her onto a stretcher and as a group, had to help move her to the back of the ambulance, fighting against gravity’s pull. They drove her up the hill to an air ambulance, and she was taken to Leeds Hospital.
We now know that she’ll be okay. She’s being monitored for a few days, because of the head injury, but despite her double vision she seems to be in good spirits. The rest of us had a whip round to buy her some new kit.
The ride ended there. No one really wanted to attempt that descent now, and a man with a large van had very kindly offered to transport Susan’s bike (with its snapped front wheel) back to the barn where we were staying, along with a rider and their bike. I was volunteered by the others to go back, probably because I’d been so nervous. I felt so guilty getting into the van, knowing that my companions would still have to negotiate the rest of the descent (albeit on foot if needed). But I was reassured that it would help them, to have Susan’s bike transported, so I accepted the ride and was driven back. The man, whose name was Jess, was incredibly kind, and helped me to unload everything when we got there. I’m very grateful to him.
Now that I know Susan’s going to be okay, I’m allowing myself permission to contemplate that bend, and ask myself what might have happened, had things gone differently.
I’d like to think that I would have very slowly attempted it, but I honestly don’t think that would have happened. The first time I walked around that corner and saw it (minus the fact that Susan was lying in the middle of the road), my reaction to the bend itself was gut-wrenching, and that wouldn’t have changed if the road had been clear.
I’ve forgiven myself for being so afraid, because I know that fear was well-founded. I just wish someone else hadn’t been hurt in order to prove that.
What I’ve learned is that I need to stop being so inquisitive. I like the fact that I’m an inquisitive person, and a critical thinker, and that I analyse things rather than taking them at face value. It’s a skill I worked hard to develop. However I ruined this weekend for myself, and that’s the truth.
In hindsight I know that I did have fun, and I came away from it wanting to do it again, but in real-time I wasn’t enjoying myself as often as I should have been. Perhaps on some level I felt like I was in competition with other riders, and felt the need to keep up with them, and becoming frustrated when I couldn’t. Perhaps I just felt fat and stupid, and completely out of my depth. Perhaps I did bite off more than I could chew. As Katherine so profoundly told me, I need to allow myself to be a beginner.
Had I gone into this weekend with less knowledge of what to be afraid of, I would have still struggled, but I would have struggled in blissful ignorance. At the same time, had I gone in without even looking at the routes, I may have come away even more annoyed with myself.
I need to find the right balance, between knowing what I’m getting myself into, and knowing when to stop investigating. I’m sure that’s something that will come in time.
In the meantime I’ve come away from this weekend with the following goals:
Get out on more long rides, to build strength and stamina
Ride alone more often, to develop a sense of independence
Ride with groups more often, to learn from others and gain confidence
Climb more hills, get out of the saddle more, and seek out challenges to practice over and over again
Same for descents: start small and push myself more each time.
This was a long one. If you made it this far, thank you.
These aren’t their only accomplishments by a long way, but you don’t need me to tell you who they are. If you’re reading my blog then you either already know of them, or you’re going to click on their names to find out. And if neither of those is true, no one will know and no one will judge.
The talk was aimed at women who want to start riding long-distance, whether it’s for racing, touring, off-roading or anything in between. They came armed with shed-loads of advice, and I’m going to share some of it here, because all women who want to ride should, and as Emily reiterated last night – you are capable of so much more than you think you are.
Preparing the mind
The first subject we got into was mentally preparing yourself for the ride. It’s true that while there will be a great stress on your body, half of it is in your head. One of the things mentioned during Sunday’s panel discussion was that when you go into a long ride with a particular distance in mind, you know where your end point will be, and you’ll make it to that point if it kills you. And even if at mile 500 you feel like you’re literally going to fall off your bike and die, if you’d set out to do 510 miles instead, you’d still make that extra 10 miles, because it was all part of the plan. The key is to know how far you’re going and be prepared to make it to the end. Because you will make it.
Finding your time of day
Training your body will help with the mental preparation. If you’re planning a week-long race, you’ll be riding all day and all night with a few hours of sleep in between. Emily made an excellent point that most (if not all) people have certain times of the day that work better for them, and certain times that are worse. As part of her training, she did several rides from London to Manchester, starting at different times of day (and night). She found that no matter which point the night section fell, whether it was right at the beginning or end, she always flagged at around the same time.
Once you get to know which times of day are your strongest, and which are your weakest, you can prepare for them. If you’re a morning person, like Rickie, you can put measures in place to get you through the night – like snacking on your favourite treats every few miles – and get yourself up a hill to be rewarded with glorious views at dawn. If you’re like Emily and peak in the middle of the night, you’ll need more motivation to get you through the hardest parts of the day. Plan to stop at a café and have coffee and cake when you’re really struggling. 15 minutes of rest and some caffeine and sugar in your system, and you can plough through the next stage until you feel your strength returning. It’s all about breaking it down into manageable segments, knowing when you’ll struggle, and pre-empting it.
Fighting the fear
Lee made a fantastic point about the difference between fear and anxiety. A woman in the audience asked about how to prepare for the fear she might experience when cycling alone through a strange place at night – perhaps a country where there are packs of street dogs roaming, or if there are shady characters about. Lee pointed out that ‘fear’ is what you feel when something happens to you, and by that point you’re in fight-or-flight mode and you can’t pre-empt that. It’s anxiety that can stop you from setting out in the first place, and that’s what you need to address. If you know the sorts of things you’re afraid of, you can prepare yourself for them, and be ready. You can buy dog dazers which create a kind of forcefield around you and keep street dogs at a distance. And as Rickie pointed out, the likelihood of encountering a dangerous character is actually very low. If anything, by being in a field alone with a bike and a bivvy bag, you’re the strange character who probably shouldn’t be there, and you’re probably more intimidating just by being in an unexpected place at an unexpected hour.
Feeding the body
It seems that Emily cannot stress it enough: EAT.
Eat, eat, eat, and eat.
Throw your recommended daily calories out the window and eat whenever you’re hungry, because your body will be burning ridiculous amounts of calories all the time, and you need to keep your energy up.
When you’re not hungry
I asked about forcing yourself to eat when you’re not hungry, because I struggle with this. On Saturday I cycled a very long way between eating, and despite telling myself I was going to eat the shit out of everything, when I arrived my stomach didn’t want to cooperate. Rickie explained that when you’re cycling for a long duration, you’re placing so much stress on your body, and it’s concentrating so much on keeping your legs spinning, that it has less energy to digest, and so when you try to eat a big meal at the end, it can’t cope. It’s better keep snacking little and often as you go, to keep your digestive system active.
Keep the food up front
Emily recommends having a handlebar bag, which makes snacking whilst riding a lot easier. She has several compartments where she stores a variety of things (I believe at one point she was living on peanuts, chorizo, emmentale and Haribo). The point is they’re accessible, and you can keep munching little and often.
Think about your food groups
Lee finds that eating high amounts of fat and protein works best for her, as they provide slow releasing energy and it can encourage your body to burn energy from your fat stores rather than from carbohydrates. But she still eats carbohydrates as well; she just increases her intake of the other two groups. This followed a question about ketosis. It works for some, and not for others.
You cannot drink enough water. Emily tries to down two litres at a time to keep herself hydrated for the next couple of hours. Lee does the same the day before a race – drink, drink and drink. Rickie recommends carrying no more than 2 litres of water on the bike to save weight (1l = 1kg), but you can store anywhere up to 9 litres if you wanted to.
Another important note from Rickie – use your urine to track your hydration levels. It doesn’t sound glamorous, but you can tell by the colour if you’re dehydrated. If it’s dark and pungent, you need to drink more. Aim for the colour of champagne.
If you’re drinking citrus juices like orange, add a pinch of salt to them. Citrus alone can cause cramping, and the salt counteracts this.
Order two of everything – whatever you think you want to eat, order or buy double the amount. Even if you can’t physically eat it all straightaway, 30 minutes down the road you’ll be hungry again.
Look for Lidl (or Aldi) – they’re all over Europe and they always have the same stock and layout. Especially if you’re racing, you can run in and very quickly find all the things you need without wasting much time.
Carry a polyester backpack that folds down to miniature size. If at the end of a long day you need to go and stock up on food, you can just pull it out, fill it, and ride to your camp with full supplies.
Packing the bike
If you’re racing
Pack light. That’s a given, but if you’ve got the budget you can invest in some really handy equipment that packs down ridiculously small.
The best thing to do is to prioritise and pack only what you need. Lee makes a point of only packing items that can serve a dual purpose (which led to a hilarious discussion of doubling up a chamois as a sponge).
When you’re touring you can add panniers to your bike and afford to take a bit more with you. If you choose to, that is. After my experience of cycling with an overloaded rear rack at the weekend, I never want to look at another pannier again.
One of the things all three of them stressed was to really plan how you’re going to pack, and always keep certain things in the same place so you always know where they are. Don’t pack your waterproofs in the bottom of your saddle pack, because everything will get wet as you trawl through it trying to find it in a downpour.
Keep anything you’ll want regular access to at the front or on the top tube. Food should be at your handlebars so you can eat while you go. You may choose to keep a water bottle here as well, instead of in a bottle cage on your frame. That’s a personal choice.
Consider taking a small stove, which can cook enough food for one. Lee always keeps an emergency pack of cous cous and a vegetable bouillon cube in her bag for a quick, easy and last minute meal.
Try to get a bag with an external drawstring at your rear, so that you can wash your padded shorts as you go and ride with them fluttering and drying in the wind behind you. Pro tip for this: don’t turn them inside out, otherwise the chamois can get coated in dust, which makes for an uncomfortable ride later down the line.
Also consider carrying some hand sanitizer with you. Rickie made a fantastically gross point of how important personal hygiene is when being out on the road for long periods of time. She once left her bike in a shed for a few days following a long-distance ride, and came back to find mould had grown on the handlebars from the sweat and germs that had accumulated there. Think about how much time you spend with your hands on your bars, and how often you use them to touch your face, your eyes, your mouth, your lady bits, your food, and everything else. Keep them clean and prevent illness and infection.
On a similar note, if you’re riding through countries with questionable water sources and particularly if you’re off-road, carry some iodine tablets or miniature filters. Even when you’re out in the beautiful countryside and the river water runs clear, you don’t know what’s upstream – a cattle farm, a factory… don’t risk it. Illness can set you back for days.
Finding your way
Emily demonstrated brilliantly how she’s the last person to listen to on this subject, seeing as when she completed the Transcontinental in 2016 she was the only rider to visit Albania.
As far as technology is concerned, Garmin comes highly recommended. There was a discussion about the many complaints people make about them, and Rickie acknowledged that they’re by no means perfect just yet, but she stressed that right now in this market, they’re the best tech available for cyclists. One day that may change, but right now at this moment if you’re investing in something, invest in a Garmin. They use different satellites to other devices and are the most advanced gadget available right now.
In terms of powering them, there was a debate over dynamos and batteries. Batteries are a simpler method, but more wasteful. If you’re travelling for 5 days or less, then they’re not a terrible option, but anymore than that and you’re better off looking into a dynamo or a cache battery.
I agreed with Lee when she said there’s just nothing better than a paper map. Especially on a long ride, going through multiple countries, she said it’s so nice to finish one map and move onto the next. What a perfect excuse to stop off at a café, have a coffee and cake, spread the map out over the table and get the next part of your route planned.
While we’re on this subject, a question came up about whether it was better to plan the whole route or make it up as you go.
When you’re racing – plan everything. Plan it twice. Double and triple check each part of it, and cross-reference it against other maps to make sure you know of every single hill you’ll encounter.
If you’re touring, you don’t need to plan everything. If you know of a particular road/route that you’d like to take then by all means, figure out how to reach it, but allow for some deviation. Let yourself get lost, and enjoy the experience of exploration and adventure. That’s what it’s all about, after all.
On Saturday we got up at the crack of dawn and set off on our (what turned out to be) 80-mile journey from Bristol to Oxford. Regina was loaded with ridiculously large Vaude panniers, which I grew to hate with a passion by the end of the weekend, but at this point I was feeling positive about it all.
Thus began the climb out of Bristol! I definitely noticed the difference, climbing with all the added weight on the back. Regina is lovely and light, which is so refreshing after riding my clunky Ridgeback hybrid for three years, however with the added 15kg or so on the back, climbing became quite a chore after a while. Lesson learned #1.
Having said that, something huge happened for me. The first 40-50 miles were undulating hills, which meant I had to get used to descending pretty quickly. If you’ve read my blog for a while you’ll know that I’m terrified of picking up speed whilst going downhill. It all stems from a mountain biking accident I had a couple of years ago, that I’m yet to write about.
(Side note: I actually bumped into that ride leader this weekend, and am going to slowly get back into it. More of this to come.)
So, when we hit the first descent, I had a minor freak out. I rode the brakes all the way down, which felt a bit arduous with the Tiagra shifters, particularly because my winter gloves are too tight across my palms. Lesson learned #2.
However, after I was warned that there would be a lot of descending, I told myself to get a grip. Gradually I held off the braking, just feathering them lightly to keep my speed in check. Eventually I let go altogether, and was rewarded with a thrilling descent through a tree-covered section of road that opened out to a gorgeous, misty area with a farm on the left and a great hill to the right. My description won’t do it justice, it just looked beautiful, and for the first time ever, I felt a real sense of elation from descending. Regina is a lot of fun. Lesson learned #3.
The route we took went through lots of countryside and beautiful little villages. We stopped in Malmesbury for a coffee and snackage, and had a little wander into the Abbey to visit the tomb of King Æthelstan (a big nerdy moment for me). Malmesbury is beautiful, and we agreed we’d head back there at some point to explore it further.
We also stopped in Fairford for lunch, and had a really lovely meal at The Railway Inn. We were immediately greeted with a warm welcome, and it was such a nice surprise to find they had a vegan option on their menu, so we loaded up on vegetable tagine with cous cous (and an extra helping of chips, because carbs) before heading off on the final leg of the journey.
One thing that was really nice about cycling through the countryside was encountering a huge number of other cyclists who smiled and greeted us as we passed. I’m just not used to that, cycling around Bristol, and it made me feel like I was part of some special club.
We eventually made it into Oxford, arriving around 5pm. There was one final climb that I honestly struggled with so much, to the point where I stopped halfway up because I had nothing left to give. Thankfully after that it was all downhill into the city.
Not everything was perfect though. We were blessed with gorgeous weather and beautiful views, but still encountered a few atrocious drivers. They were merely drops in the ocean, however. The only really bad thing was how I felt when we arrived. I honestly think I hadn’t drunk enough water and my blood sugar was terribly low. I actually experienced some distorted vision, and making my way through the city was quite scary.
It was like looking through a fish-eye lens – on the bike I felt like I was really high up, and the ground was really far away, but when I looked down it suddenly gained on me very quickly and appeared closer than it should have done. I saw cars with double vision, and signs were a blur. I was in a terrible state for a while and really scared of endangering myself on the city roads. Thankfully Adam got us there in one piece, and then brought me cinnamon knots from the Papa Johns across the road, which completely sorted me out! Sugar to the rescue, would you believe.
Otherwise I felt fine. I was ridiculously tired, had developed some weird hard lumps on my little toes and a blood blister on one of my palms, but my legs and bum didn’t complain too much. On that last note, I took bgddyjim’s advice and invested in better padded shorts. Solid advice, I’m so glad I did. I’m now considering getting bibbed shorts, now I’ve caught the long ride bug. I may have foolishly agreed to sign up for a 200km audax in April… Watch this space.
In part 2: Of course, the reason we made this ride to Oxford was to attend the Women and Bicycles festival, hosted by The Broken Spoke Co-op. In part 2 I’ll tell you all about that. Spoiler alert: I met a hero of mine, and she was freaking awesome.
It’s time to try a longer ride. I commute 10 miles a day, and cycle around Bristol whenever I’m out and about in the evenings and weekends. On average I clock around 55-60 miles a week, which isn’t very much.
Clocking the miles
I’ve tended to limit longer rides to Bath (14 miles) or The Jolly Sailor in Saltford for chips by the river (20 miles return). Last year we cycled from Exeter to Plymouth via Dartmoor, which totalled around 69.5 miles over three days, and the longest ride I’ve ever done in a day was a round trip to Clevedon, which clocked me at 42 miles.
Now I want to start riding for longer. I’ve not had a lot of experience but I’ve certainly got the bug. We keep talking about different UK cities that we’d like to cycle to and explore, and now it’s time to make it happen.
So this weekend I’m setting off on my longest trip yet. We’re leaving at the crack of dawn to ride from Bristol to Oxford, which is around 70 miles, and it’s all in an effort to attend the Women & Bicycles festival, hosted by Broken Spoke Bike Co-op.
It’s always about women
Yes, my #WomanCrushWednesdays have all been leading up to International Women’s Day on 5th March, and BSBC have decided to mark the occasion with a weekend-long festival celebrating women who ride. The weekend will comprise panel discussions, group rides and workshops, and I’m super duper excited!
If you’re around on the Sunday, let me know so we can say hi.
Doing the prep
I haven’t exactly been clocking up miles in order to prepare for the ride, but I’m doing my best to make it as painless and enjoyable as possible.
I’ve rebuilt Regina!*
So, I went back on my plans to paint her blue. Yes, I’m still perving over every blue bike I see in the street, and I’m still a Hawkeye when it comes to spotting the exact shade of blue I wanted. But the fact of the matter was, I didn’t have time to cycle around visiting all the powder-coating places I’d spoken to, who all happen to be closed at the weekends. My desire to ride her won me over, so I’ve embraced the orange, she’s back in one piece and I’ve been taking her out on the roads so we can get to know each other.
When I bought Regina second hand, she came with a male-specific racing saddle, so when I rebuilt her, I swapped it for my trusty Ridgeback saddle. I’ve since discovered that while this saddle was perfectly comfy in an upright position, for a more forward-leaning position it is REALLY uncomfortable. That’s why I’m in the process of hunting down (and test riding) a woman-specific saddle with a cut-out section. It’s all about keeping the lady bits happy.
Cushion for the pushin’
I’ve bought some padded leggings. They’re not fancy and they’re not expensive. In fact they’re cheapo ones from Sports Direct, but it’s my first time trying them and I wanted to have a practice run. Not that Oxford is a practice run. I may regret this decision later.
I love how light Regina is, but I don’t love riding her with a heavy backpack. I already feel like my body’s been folded in half as I acclimatise to the forward-leaning position, and adding a heavy load to my back is the last thing I need. So this week I’m investing in a rear rack, some mudguards and, of course, a bottle cage. She’ll be touring ready in no time.
*I feel like I should clarify something here. I had every intention of blogging about the rebuilding experience (hashtag ProjectRegina), however things didn’t quite go to plan. The original idea was for me to build her, with my boyfriend’s supervision and guidance where needed. Unfortunately because he’s well known as a knowledgeable volunteer, his time was taken up with helping a lot of other people, and I got stuck more than I thought I would, meaning I spent a lot of time waiting around. By the time we were actually able to make progress, it was 11pm and we were tired, so in the end he quickly threw her together for me. I was upset to not actually build her myself, and as a result I don’t feel like I know her as well as I could, but I’m also grateful to have a boyfriend who knows this stuff, and who is there to help me out in such a hurry, to make sure I’m not stuck walking home at midnight with a half-built bike. In time, I’ll get to know her better.
It’s the second instalment of my Femme February theme, where I’m talking to Bristol bikey ladies about the industry and local community.
This week I’m chatting to Hattie Pullen, who I met last year during a maintenance course at The Bristol Bike Project. She was working at the stand next to me, and over lunchtime we got chatting about the Project, and I managed to persuade her to come along for Volunteers’ Night.
How old were you when you learned to ride a bike?
I don’t remember the exact age I learnt to ride a bike but it must have been around 4 or 5. I have a very clear memory of the first time I rode without stabilisers, as I remember finding a hedgehog on the side of the road and taking him into the garden and giving him cat food!
Who taught you?
My mum and dad, I’m not sure who had the most input, that part isn’t very clear.
Do you remember how you learned?
I started off like most kids did in my day, with stabilisers. This then progressed to a parent running behind with one hand on the saddle and one on the handle bars, until they felt confident to let go. I was very fortunate to grow up in the countryside of Lincolnshire, and the tiny village where my parents still live has very little road traffic so we had quite a lot of freedom to learn on the road. Lincolnshire is very flat and I remember thinking that the small slope from my parents’ house to the bottom of the road was super steep.
What’s your ‘cycling story’?
Growing up I always had a bike at home. I wouldn’t use it as transport to get to places, but I would often go on a Sunday afternoon bike ride with my mum.
I didn’t take the bike to Plymouth University; the city’s small enough to walk everywhere. I moved to Whistler in Canada straight after uni and ended up staying for nearly 3 years: skiing in the winter and enjoying the lakes and mountains in the summer. Whistler has a massive downhill mountain bike scene, so I had a couple of goes in the bike park but I was too scared. I stuck to the cross country trails, but never bought a cross country bike. I just borrowed from friends; a friend of mine used to work in a bike rental shop so we could always use the bikes for free!
I had a pink Raleigh for getting around on. A cheap ride-around-town bike was always difficult to get in Whistler, so I treasured her. There was a rack on the back which I used to give my friends backies on, especially after a few beers at the lake. Always great fun!
After Whistler, I moved to Bristol where I’ve been for the last 5 years. I bought a bike within the first 6 months, but it’s a lot hillier here than Lincolnshire! Until last year I would never have called myself a cyclist, I was just someone who rode bikes to get around and occasionally for fun. I don’t think I’d ridden more than 20 miles in one go until last year.
One of my goals for 2016 was to raise money for charity. My mum had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease so thought Parkinson’s UK was a good start. I looked on the website for fundraising events and a London to Paris cycle caught my eye, so without further thought I signed myself up. I had no idea what I was doing, and just thought I’d give it a go. I told my friend Lis who already had all the gear, and she volunteered to join me, so I now had a training partner! We completed the ride in September 2016 over 4 days and it was amazing. Such an inspiring group of people and I managed to raise about £3,000. I was hooked after this.
What types of bikes have you owned?
When I moved to Bristol I purchased a beautiful looking blue vintage Peugeot with a split top tube. She was only a 4 speed but I absolutely loved her, though she just wasn’t that practical for the hills of Bristol.
I replaced her with a Trek hybrid, which I bought on my boyfriend Will’s Cycle to Work scheme. I still have her now and she’s my trusty steed, but not a looker! Will’s into downhill mountain biking, and he bought a second hand Orange Hitman that I could ride on cross country trails and he could use on the pump track.
For my London to Paris cycle I purchased my first road bike. I bought it off a lady in Clevedon who had ridden it maybe once or twice, for half the price she paid for it. It still had the factory grease on the chain!
I turned 30 in January this year and bought myself a new bike (Genesis Croix De Fer) to start my new decade. I only picked her up on Saturday but I’m in love already. I’m really excited to have some adventures with her. I’m hoping to cycle the North Coast 500 in September this year.
When did you first become interested in fixing bikes?
I really want to do some more cycle touring, and thought I had better learn how to fix my bike so when I’m on the road I wouldn’t be stuck in the middle of nowhere. I’ve always relied on Will when anything has gone wrong with my bike before.
Did anyone teach you?
I went on a maintenance course at the Bristol Bike Project in November last year to learn the basics. Other than changing a tube I literally had no idea about anything.
Have you ever felt like people were surprised when you told them you tinker with bikes? Howdo people generally react?
I have to say it’s not really something I’ve brought up much in conversation. Those who I have spoken to though tend to be close friends who have watched my passion for bikes and cycling develop, so they’re not really surprised when I say I’m learning to fix bikes.
Can you tell me about your experience of volunteering at The Bike Project?
I have to admit I’ve only made it 4 times since I did my maintenance course. Everyone is super friendly and welcoming. There are definitely more men than women, and it would be great to get a few more women involved.
I’m not afraid to ask for help though, as like you, I forget everything between sessions. I need to ask otherwise I wouldn’t get anywhere. It can be difficult though when everyone is doing their thing and involved with the bike they’re fixing.
I haven’t been often enough to work out who is a good person to work with yet, but hoping to become more of a regular face, especially now it’s two nights a week. I think maybe I need to buy a maintenance book and take it with me, then I can be a bit more independent and not ask for help every 5 seconds. It’s a great place to learn and for such a great cause. I’m hoping someday soon what I’m learning might stick!