A confession, and a trip around Chew Valley

So, I’ve not been entirely honest with you.

Last time, I told you about acquiring a new bike – Phoebe the Cotic BFe – and I felt the need to justify it by explaining that I part-exchanged Regina for her.

That’s true. What I haven’t mentioned yet, is that Phoebe is the second bike I’ve bought since we last spoke. Sorry.

And there’s no way of justifying this one. It was an all-out purchase. Because I wanted it.

This is Edie, the Genesis Equilibrium Disc 20. She’s really, really sexy.

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With a 725 steel frame and carbon fork, she’s surprisingly light and zippy, and the perfect bike for a long road ride or sportive. Despite her turkey-warbling rear brake (I need to sort that out), she’s an absolute joy to ride, and today I took her for a spin around Chew Valley, with my dream team, Lucy and Ania. You may remember them from my spontaneous 200k.

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We decided not to be so bold this time, and did a comfortable 56(ish) kilometre route down to Chew Valley Lake, and back up to Bristol via the Whitchurch Way cycle path.

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It transpired throughout the day that all three of us had considered cancelling, as we were all feeling a bit run down and tempted to have a Sunday lie-in. I’m so glad we didn’t though, as it was a really lovely ride through some beautiful countryside.

This time of year the weather doesn’t really make for picturesque photos (though we did see a rainbow), but here’s a little glimpse anyway:

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In terms of the route, the first two-thirds was the same as the route I took back when I first tried clipping in and riding solo. We took the Bristol-Bath to Saltford, and followed the Avon Cycleway (route 410) through Compton Dando, Stanton Drew, Pensford and finally Chew Valley.

One of the highlights of this part was encountering some running Santas.

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Another lie. These ones weren’t running.

Turns out today was the Saltford Santa Dash, so that provided some comic relief. Lots of people dressed as Santa, many with dogs in tow. I wish I’d gotten a photo of the pug dressed as an elf. Probably the highlight of the entire day.

When we reached Chew Valley Lake, we rewarded ourselves with coffee, chips, and ducks. Lots of ducks.

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From there, it became unfamiliar to me. In the past I’ve continued south, into the Mendips, but this time we turned back towards Bristol and joined the Whitchurch Way (route 3). It’s a really lovely traffic-free cycle path, which takes you all the way into Bristol city from the south.

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I have to admit, I did find some parts of today pretty challenging. Edie has an 11-spd 11-28 cassette, as opposed to the 9-spd 11-32 cassette I’m used to riding on a daily basis, so climbing hills becomes a little harder. It’s good though, because it forces me to get out of the saddle and really put my legs to work, and that can only spell out good things for my quads and glutes.

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What Ania looks like after climbing a hill, versus me.
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Back in the saddle, back in the mud

Sorry it’s been a while. Multiple things have resulted in me only really riding to commute for the past month or so, and therefore not really having a lot to say. I don’t just want to spew out some garbled train of thoughts here, I want to talk about things that I think are worth talking about.

So I’m back, because I have something to tell you!

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while, will already be aware of the fact that I’ve been wanting to ease myself back into mountain biking, despite my confidence issues relating to a previous crash.

Now the time has come. Meet Phoebe, my new Cotic BFe.

Before you gasp that I’ve acquired yet another bike, I have had to make a rather difficult decision. I can only justify it to myself by operating on a one-in-one-out system, and so I said an emotional farewell to Regina.

This has been tough, because I have a real sentimental attachment to my Orange RX9. We’ve had some awesome adventures together, including riding to Oxford, around the Yorkshire Dales, and the Mendips.

Regina is a super fun bike to ride, and she is very distinctive to look at. She’s become an iconic part of my blogging identity within Bristol’s cycling community. People have recognised me from the bike I’m riding.

But the fact is this: she’s a CX bike. She deserves to be racing through the mud.

When I got her, I was upgrading from the same Ridgeback hybrid (RIP Ripley) I’d been commuting on for three years. I wanted something affordable, with a racier riding position, drop bars, and disc brakes. She was one of the few options available in my size, and she came with Crosstop levers, which helped me transition to the hoods comfortably. She was exactly what I needed.

But now I have Dori as my go-to bike. A touring bike is perfect for year-round all-weather commuting. When I got her, I told myself that Regina would still be a weekend fun ride. She ended up living in the shed instead.

Back when I was musing about the need to fit in when it comes to various cycling categories, I toyed with the idea of trying out cyclocross at some stage, without fully understanding what it was. I know what it is now, and while I know it looks incredibly fun, to me it really is just a race. Unfortunately I’m not motivated by racing. I like mucking about, and being able to take my time when I encounter something technical.

I liked the idea of getting into CX, but was massively put off by the fact that in order to do so, I pretty much had to just turn up to a race and jump straight into the deep end.

The main thing that appeals to me about CX is the mud. I like being off-road and getting dirty. So it just makes plain sense for me to spend some time on the trails and do them in my own time, gradually building my confidence. And not only this, I want to do it with a bit of front suspension.

So I’ve exchanged Regina for Phoebe, and I honestly don’t regret it.

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I’ve been out for a couple of rides now – one with companions, and one alone. I feel so incredibly proud of myself, to have moved on from the trauma of my crash and get back out on the trails. I’ve been craving a chance to get back out into the woods, and I’m planning to do this as often as possible.

(She says, sitting in her pyjamas at her laptop when the sun is shining outside).

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I just fucking love being in the woods.

I love being surrounded by trees. I love the splash of mud against my shins.

Since I’ve talked to my colleagues about it (most of them being MTB enthusiasts), I’ve been inundated with recommendations of awesome places to go riding in the local area and also in South Wales. I have every intention of branching out as soon as I can, but for now I’m trying to be sensible.

I’ve learned from my past experiences, and I know where my limits are. For now, I’m planning to make a (hopefully) weekly trip to Ashton Court to do a lap or two of the blue Nova trail. I’ve ridden this a few times before, and I like the idea of getting to know a trail and building my confidence first, before branching off.

When I went riding with companions, I was led through Leigh Woods and the 50 Acre Wood, and I’ve had a taste of what’s to come. It’s exciting, but I’m taking my sweet time. I don’t want to end up in the middle of the 50 Acre Wood alone, lost, and suddenly encountering something I’m not ready for.

So here’s to more mud, more confidence, and more MTB.

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If you’re not dirty, you’re not doing it right.

#WednesdayWisdom: The Importance of Visibility

This isn’t about visibility in the ‘high-vis hero’ sense.

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Photo: Cycling Weekly

Last week’s Groundswell event left me mulling a few things over. Numerous themes were raised that I felt deserved some exploration, and one of them was the importance of being visible. Not to traffic, but to other would-be riders who may relate to you on a personal level.

Let me explain.

During the event, Joe and Elly felt it necessary to cover a few frequently asked questions, in order to save us the time of asking them ourselves. One of the timeless questions they’ve heard over and over again, is ‘how can I encourage more [women/people of colour/poorer people, etc.] to cycle?’

While well-intentioned, this question is quite a problematic one, for two reasons.

  1. It’s usually the result of a projection of one person’s experience, onto an entire group of people.
  2. They’re almost always already doing it.

Projection

This question, when asked, is usually proposed by a person who doesn’t belong to the group being discussed. A man may ask about how to encourage more women to join his local cycling club. A Caucasian person may want to diversify their local club by making it more inviting to people of colour.

There’s nothing wrong with this, of course. It’s good to want to diversify your social groups. It’s nice to want to share your experience with others. The issue arises, though, due to that person’s projection of their experience of cycling onto the group in question, despite their experiences being vastly different.

For example, a man in a male-dominated cycling club may want to encourage more women to ride with them. In his experience, the group is welcoming and friendly, the routes they take are scenic and beautiful, and generally they always have a great time. What woman wouldn’t want to join in?

But a woman’s experience of this same scenario may not be the same. She may feel intimidated, being the only woman in a large group of men. Their joviality may not resonate with her in the same way. She may feel like she doesn’t belong there. She may experience behaviours on the roads from motorists and pedestrians, that the men may have never encountered, such as cat-calling.

And it’s not just women who may have a different experience on this street. In certain areas, a person who appears to be noticeably poorer may be likely to be treated as inferior by middle class drivers. Or on a practical level, they may just not be able to afford to invest in the kit and the equipment needed to accompany a group on a long, fast ride. On the other hand, the risks are much higher for some. A person of colour, in some neighbourhoods, could be pulled over by the police on suspicion of stealing the bike.

So it’s not a bad thing to want to share your experience with others, but it is important to realise that your experience may not reflect theirs. Of course, these terrible things may not happen. But the likelihood of poor treatment can be higher for some groups, and their perception of this participation could be influenced by those fears.

They’re already riding

Just because a particular group aren’t joining in your club ride, doesn’t mean they don’t know the benefits of cycling. A white middle class male-dominated Sunday club ride may be bereft of women, for example, because those women are already off riding together, perhaps with a Breeze ride, or equivalent. A neighbourhood with a high population of people of colour may have already formed its own collective of riders.

With a little research, it’s clear that there are many lesser-known groups, clubs, and organised rides that are already catering for diverse and minority groups.

This is where I come to the point of visibility.

If you are seen by others to be riding, someone who may relate to you is more likely to see you, and be inspired to do the same. Women like to see other women riding. If poorer areas are filled with commuter cyclists, others may be inclined to sell their car, ride to work, save a lot of money and then in turn inspire others to do the same.

Being more visible – to people who can relate to you, and picture themselves in your shoes – answers the original question of how to encourage others to ride.

You don’t need to project your personal experience onto others in the hopes of actively encouraging them to immerse themselves in your idea of what cycling means. It’s likely that many of them are already riding in a way that is meaningful to them, and they’re inspiring others along the way.


This article was inspired by one of the Groundswell movies,  Colour Lines and Bike Lanes: Creating a place in the movement.

You can watch the movie below, and read more about it here.

#WednesdayWisdom: Pass it on (Part 1)

I recently devoured the Spring issue of Casquette, and I strongly recommend you do the same, if you haven’t already. It’s so refreshing to have a cycling magazine devoted to women, which isn’t afraid to cover subjects that we wouldn’t normally be comfortable talking about. Think snot rockets, saddlesore and the best bib shorts for taking a quick pee in the bushes. There’s also a lot of discussion around the gender politics of professional cycling: a recommended read, for sure.

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I won’t go into as much detail as I did last time, but one thing I did want to highlight was that this issue’s theme is ‘Pass it On’. It includes a gorgeously illustrated feature, where cycling badasses such as Marijn de Vries, Helen Wyman and Juliet Elliott share some words of advice that have helped them in their careers.

In keeping with this theme, I thought it would be nice to continue along the same lines, providing the best piece of advice I’ve ever received, and some golden nuggets from other badass women riders I know.

So here’s part 1.

The best piece of advice I’ve ever received

I’m actually breaking the rules already, because I want to share two pieces of advice. And funnily enough, they come from the next two women who will be featured as part of this series, so this gives you a taste of who’s to come.

#1

The first came from Katherine Moore. It was back in April, when I was getting ridiculously nervous about riding in the Yorkshire Dales. I was freaking out about not being able to keep up with the other riders, about struggling to climb hills, and how scared I was of the huge descents. I thought it was a huge mistake, and that I’d fail miserably.

In her cool and calm way, she said to me:

You need to let yourself be a beginner.

Her words resounded in me so deeply, because I knew she was right. I set myself impossibly high standards all the time, and I’m so awful to myself if I don’t reach them. But the fact is, I expect to be good at everything straightaway, without letting myself progress gradually.

She was absolutely right, and ever since she said that, I’ve tried to be more lenient on myself. When I’ve taken on a new endeavour, or when I’ve tackled something bigger than I’m accustomed to, I’ve taken a step back and acknowledged the fact that this is a big deal for me. I’m letting myself feel the fear, and reminding myself that it’s normal to fear something when it’s new. In order to not fear it, I need to just do it. And that’s exactly what I took from her advice.

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The second came from Eleanor Jaskowska.

Again, this was in one of my moments of freaking out. This time, it was in anticipation of riding 100 miles for the first time.

Of course, I was allowing myself to be a beginner. The main issue here was just the sheer length of the ride, and I wasn’t sure how I could manage it. I had visions of turning back and giving up.

But El came through for me, the day before the ride. She told me:

Break it down. Don’t think about it as one long ride, but lots of shorter ones.

Again, as soon as she said this, everything made sense. Find some stopping points along the route, and treat each section as its own ride.

That’s exactly what I did, and funnily enough when I talk to people about the ride, and they express their amazement that I could ride 125 miles, I talk about it as a series of shorter rides. I even wrote about it in that way.

So from these women, I’ve learned two very valuable lessons:

  1. If you choose to run before you can walk, expect a few struggles. It doesn’t mean you can’t do it, and it doesn’t mean there’s any shame in struggling with it. Just accept that you’re new to it, and that you’ll get better with time.
  2. Break everything down into something that’s manageable. If the prospect of a long distance is boggling your brain, focus on your checkpoints, or your rest stops, and just get from one to the next.

Next Wednesday I’ll be sharing Katherine’s Wednesday Wisdom. In the meantime, I’d love to hear yours!

#MondayMotivation – Cycling as Meditation

My head is a rather chaotic place.

My brain is constantly switched on, analysing, fretting, questioning. When there’s a lot going on in there, I can’t finish speaking a sentence without starting a new one. I can be manic, jittery, and completely incoherent.

I used to manage this with meditation. Every night I dedicated 15 minutes to slowing down, silencing my thoughts and clearing my mind before going to bed. It used to really help, but these days I just can’t do it anymore. Meditation is a real skill that you need to master, and my mental state just isn’t compatible with it anymore.

But cycling helps to tame the chaos.

A friend recently commented that I’ve become obsessed with cycling – it’s all I talk about, all I do. It’s true. I spend every spare moment looking at bikes, riding them, fixing them, and talking about them…

Heck, not that long ago Adam and I were discussing bottom brackets in bed, and realised we really need to reassess our pillow talk.

My response to this friend was simple: cycling is the only thing that’s keeping me sane right now.

My professional life is in flux. I’ve just resigned from a permanent position and am looking to go freelance while working part-time in a bike shop. I’m getting myself involved in lots of different projects, I’m going to have very little money to live on, and I’m taking a huge leap into the darkness.

On top of this, I’ve had some mental health issues to deal with, and have been struggling to overcome some emotional barriers that can sometimes be crippling.

I’m constantly telling myself I’m not good enough, setting myself impossibly high standards and then branding myself a failure for not meeting them. Dwelling on choices I’ve made in the past, forgetting the right ones and punishing myself for the wrong ones. Constantly telling myself that I’m worthless, that I’m going nowhere. Feeling completely and totally lost. It’s a never-ending stream of abuse, directed inward.

But when I ride my bike, everything goes quiet.

Suddenly, the only thing I need to think about is where I’m going. I just need to keep my wheels turning, keep my centre of gravity balanced, and keep my cadence consistent.

My attention turns to my body: my breathing, my hand positioning, and the speed at which I’m turning the pedals. Going up a hill, all I need to think about is the burning in my legs, the dull ache in my lower back, and the drops of sweat forming on my brow. When I’m descending, I’m concentrating on how I’m positioned on the bike. I feel the rush of the wind past my ears and through my hair, the tears forming as I reach eye-watering speed, and the pounding of my heart.

In traffic, the chaos is external. All I need to do is stay alert, predict others’ actions, and position myself in the safest place on the road.

In quiet country lanes, I can afford myself the time to take in the views, feel the sunshine on my face, breathe in the cleaner air, and notice the wildlife around me.

Cycling gives me the space I need to slow down, internally. Everything becomes a circular motion: my feet on the pedals, the spinning of the wheels, and the loop I carve onto the map as I leave the city and return again later.

So as my life takes a turn in the coming weeks – leaping out of the safety net of permanent full-time employment, into the unknown – cycling will be my therapy. I cannot wait to have more time to spend on my bike, and explore the beauty that our countryside has to offer.

I will have much less money, that’s for sure, but cycling is free, and it’s the kind of happiness you don’t need to buy.

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Popping the carbon cherry

With my first Century ride fast approaching, I toyed with the idea of borrowing a carbon road bike for the day, as a way of cutting some time. My thinking was: lighter bike, faster climbs, faster descents, and home before you know it.

So, I borrowed a Giant TCR Composite 2 (2012) – a serious endurance road bike, which probably weighs less than me. That was one of things I felt quite wary of. I had visions of the bike just crumpling beneath my heavy body.

Giant TCR Comp 2 2012 – at a glance

This is quite an old model now, but it’s still a thing of beauty.

  • Lightweight T600 carbon frame
  • Advanced-Grade Composite fork with alloy steerer
  • PowerCore bottom bracket
  • Shimano Ultegra shifters and rear mech matched up to a 105 front mech
  • 2012 Shimano brakes and chainset
  • Giant PR-2 wheels with Giant PR-3 tyres

The ride

Starting from the centre of town, we headed out through Long Ashton and onto some country roads, away from the angry drivers and out where the air is a bit cleaner.

As always with a new bike, we had our fair share of teething problems. Adjusting saddle heights, tilting handlebars backwards, tweaking the SPD tension, re-angling the saddle, and various other things. Eventually we got going, out into the summer heat.

Admittedly, despite planning a 20-mile loop, we only strayed out for about 10 miles before we decided to turn back. It might have been the heat to a certain degree, but mainly it was the fact that neither of us were enjoying our bikes very much.

The verdict

Carbon is fast, I know. I felt it as I shifted into my higher gears and threw myself down various hills. It’s light, too, as I learned when I climbed a pretty short but sharp one.

I’m sure that if I rode it for the full 100 miles, I’d probably make faster progress, and take the climbs and descents in my stride.

The truth is, though, I hated it. I hate carbon. There, I said it.

I totally see the appeal for others, but in my opinion you’re sacrificing all that is nice about riding a bike, to gain some extra speed.

To summarise:

  • My wrists, my bum, my poor aching body. You literally feel every bump in the road.
  • Oh dear god the noise. Thanks to a hollow plastic frame, you hear every click and grind echoing as you freewheel. On busy roads this isn’t that bad, but in quieter areas I found it quite embarrassing and irritating.
  • Skinny tyres scare me. Every time I experienced a bit of gravel or general debris on the road I tensed, with visions of toppling over.
  • I felt a bit unstable. I think I’m just more at ease knowing that the bike carrying me weighs more, and is up for the job of carting my heavy load around.

Sticking with steel

I’m definitely a steel convert, and I’ll be riding Dori on Saturday. She may be heavy, but she’s got a great gear ratio for climbing hills, and the 32c tyres mean that I gain speed while keeping traction. After riding the TCR, getting back on Dori was like reclining on a sofa.

As I said, I see the appeal for others. If you’re one for speed, then it makes sense. I’m definitely one for comfort!

At least now I’ve tried it, and I can make an informed decision on the right bike for me. Another notch on the belt, so to speak.

Wye Valley Loop

I’m getting back on the Saturday Independence Rides, and today I had my first experience of cycling in Wales.

If you’ve only joined the blog recently, basically, I’m using the Saturdays when my boyfriend is working, to get out and ride solo, in order to build my confidence and gain a sense of independence that I’m currently lacking.

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It’s not a super long one, because I wanted to have some time this afternoon to get other things done (guess who just made burger patties, ready for a BBQ? Hello summer).

I decided to take the train to Chepstow so I could get stuck straight in, rather than risk being a bit butchered before I’d even gotten started.

However, this was my first mistake, since I spent about 45 minutes waiting around on a platform, which is more time than I actually spent travelling.

When I arrived, I must admit that I didn’t get off to a brilliant start, misreading the Garmin and taking the wrong turn immediately out of the station. I quickly realised though, and turned around. After that it was pretty smooth sailing in terms of directions – I thankfully didn’t have any huge mishaps.

A couple of times throughout the route I missed some turnings where the Garmin was trying to take me down a hidden bridleway to cut out some of the main road. However with the tarmac being so smooth, and there being little traffic, it just didn’t make sense to leave the road, so I ignored those detours.

I quickly joined the A466 and followed it all the way up the Wye Valley, alongside the river. I knew the first milestone would be Tintern, as I’d spent an afternoon a few months back, planning a route to visit Tintern Abbey, but was put off by what looked like an immense climb and descent.

Turns out I really didn’t need to worry. The elevation profile on Google Maps looked a lot worse than it actually was, and I was oblivious that I’d reached the summit already, until it was time to go back down again. And what a descent that was!

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Tintern Abbey

From Tintern it was a really lovely ride along the river, through some quaint towns. I saw some beautiful countryside, rolling hills, cows, sheep, and plenty of uphill climbs.

I found my energy levels wavered a bit. Some hills I felt able to push myself in a higher gear, whereas others saw me spinning in my granny gear.

I eventually stopped in Redbrook, and took the opportunity to sit in a park overlooking the river Wye while I had a peanut butter and banana sandwich (really, is there anything better?). I was soon joined by another cyclist who’d thought to do the same.

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The river Wye, as seen from Redbrook

I didn’t actually realise while I was in Redbrook that I was already at the top of the loop on the map. I think I’d anticipated a much longer-feeling ride. 30 miles isn’t a great feat for me anymore but with the added hills I expected it to feel a lot more arduous.

Don’t get me wrong, I was nowhere near the end of my climbing at this point! There was still a heck of a lot more to do, and the biggest hill was still to come.

I’ll admit, I’m a little out of practice and have been dealing with ill-health for a little while, so I did find myself occasionally needing to stop and have a short breather. I’m much fitter than I’ve ever been, but I’ve got such a long way to go still.

At the same time though, I have no shame in stopping if I need to. The fact is, if I’m going up a long hill and my body parts are screaming at me, I’m soon going to stop enjoying the ride. A quick breather and a swig of water later, I can get going again, feeling refreshed and happier, and the next part doesn’t seem so bad. It works for me. I’m not in it for pain.

I couldn’t believe it when I saw the sign for Chepstow, 10 miles away. I was amazed at how quickly I’d made my way round the route. A good part of those remaining miles were undulating hills, which are pretty good climbing practice if you make sure to keep your speed from the descent to bolster you up the first part of the next hill.

I feel my confidence coming in leaps and bounds, from getting into the drops and not braking the whole way down a long, fast descent, to taking the occasional gravel in my stride. I did take one detour with the Garmin which cut out a busy roundabout, and took me along a little gravelly path. I didn’t let it phase me.

The final few miles into Chepstow were pretty much all downhill, and I found myself speeding down some winding roads, feeling a rush that I don’t experience very often. I need more of those.

It was an awesome ride, and one that I’ll definitely be doing again. Only next time I’m going to give myself the whole day, and I’m not going to bother with the train.

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Another shot of the Wye

Epilogue: The other reason I did this

So there was another reason I chose to do this ride today.

In a joint effort with The Adventure Syndicate and Cycling UK, I’ve organised a 100-mile ride as part of the Women’s Festival of Cycling. I’m still ironing out the route, but this was an opportunity for me to decide between two potential roads. I think I know which one I’m choosing.

Route details to come, but there’s a Facebook event for the ride. If you’re in Bristol, come join!

Full disclosure: I do not feel physically capable of doing a 100-miler next week, but hey ho. I made my bed. Now I better lie in it.

Breaking her in, not so gently

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Dori did pretty bloody well.

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Meet Dori

I have a shiny new toy!

I’ve been hunting around for a touring bike for a while now, as I’d like to be able to pack up a tent and pedal off somewhere remote for a spot of wild camping whenever I feel like it. I also plan to cycle around the world some day.

Admittedly after doing some research, I’d had my heart set on the Genesis Tour de Fer 20, which is pretty much an off-the-shelf tourer, complete with Dynamo hub and racks, ready to go. However after test riding it I had a few reservations. They were only small things, but they dawned on me nonetheless.

While it rode very nicely and had a good range of gears, I found the handlebars to be far too wide, and the drops did that weird thing where they splay out to the side. I prefer something a bit more compact, as I’m only small myself.

On top of this, the hoods didn’t have those plastic displays with the toggles to show you which gear you’re in. I know this isn’t commonplace for many touring bikes, and it’s a silly thing to look for specifically, but the fact is when I ride, I feel more confident being able to glance down and know roughly how much I need to shift down when approaching a junction. While test riding the TdF, I found myself constantly looking down and backwards, trying to catch a glimpse of the cassette. That’s only going to lead to an accident.

Finally, from an aesthetic point of view… what’s with the colour? It’s what I’d describe as ‘baby poo green’ and it isn’t exactly inspiring…

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There aren’t many of these available now, so after having some difficulty obtaining one I decided to be more open-minded and consider some alternative options. I’d looked at the Surly Long Haul Disc Trucker, the Allcity Space Horse, and various lists of ‘the top 10 touring bikes.’

In the end I did what I do best. I walked into a bike shop, and I bought a bike.

I went to Bike Workshop, where I’d bought Regina, and was shown a very shiny, brand new, Dawes Galaxy Plus.

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Folks… meet Dori.

It was love at first sight. She’s a beautiful looking bike, with gorgeous finishing on the paint, neat welding, and a lovely steel frame which makes the best sound when I tap it with my finger nails. I do this quite a lot now.

This is my first steel framed bike, and I love how smooth the ride is. She absorbs a lot of the shocks in the road, feels super sturdy, and picks up a good pace.

Addressing my previous issues with the TdF, she’s got good, compact handlebars which fit me really well, and the toggles on the gear shifters so I very easily took to riding her without having to re-learn how to anticipate hazards. And just look at her… she’s beautiful. We’re very happy together.

I’ve well and truly christened her, taking her on an awesome mostly-off-road 50-miler at the weekend. I’ll write about this soon.

I’ve only ridden her a few times, but I’m already in love. I’ve taken her on tarmac, towpaths, through the woods and over gravel (both the fine and the chunky, scary variety). I can’t wait throw some bags on the back of her and get out with the tent. My next adventure is just beginning.

And the best bit? That feeling I got when I rode her home from the bike shop and told myself… this is the bike I’m going to cycle around the world on.

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Keep calm and carry on?

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It’s difficult not to get angry when someone drives their car into the side of you as they unexpectedly enter your lane without checking their mirrors, or indicating.

It’s difficult not to lose control when someone absent-mindedly steps out into your path, barely missing you, and then has the audacity to tell you to ‘fuck off’ when you ask them to look where they’re going.

It’s difficult not to become exasperated when a teenager who is cycling while on his phone, suddenly pulls out of a side road at high speed without even glancing right, and then shoots you a look that could kill when you advise him to be more careful in future.

Why does it have to be so hard all the time? Why does it have to feel like I’m entering a war zone every time I get out on two wheels? Why does every commute home have to feel like a never-ending struggle, trying to reason with motorists, pedestrians and even other cyclists, who couldn’t care less if you end up in a crumpled heap on the ground, because of their thoughtless actions? Why does it have to feel like everyone is out to get me, all the damn time?

I love riding my bike, but for all the frustration, the fear, the anger and the tears, it leaves me wondering if it’s really worth the mental hardship. It’s hard enough to cope in a world where politics are sending public services down the drain, the media are scaremongering and people become more hostile towards each other every day.

Sometimes I want to ride my bike to escape from it all, but then I find myself wishing I’d not bothered, and that is the most upsetting thing of all.