The Long Road to Oxford, or, #WAB2017 Part 1

 

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I did it! I’m so freaking proud of myself.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Project Regina

I’m going to keep this short and sweet. I just want to introduce you to Project Regina, which will be dominating my Thursdays for the next few weeks, potentially months!

I bought the Orange RX9, named her Regina and tonight I’m taking her to The Bristol Bike Project’s Bike Kitchen to start stripping her (gasp!) and prepping her for her blue makeover. From there I’m going to rebuild her with some new and improved parts, and essentially create the bike I’ve been dreaming about.

Swoon! Watch this space, there will be plenty of updates.

Regina settling in with the bike family (not all pictured!)

Bank Holiday Ride: Taking the RX9 out for a spin

So last time I told you I’d borrowed a 2014 Orange RX9 from the Bike Workshop to test ride over the Christmas period. 
I’ve now taken it out on a couple of rides, to get a feel for the shape, seating position and shifters. I must admit it felt pretty weird, I’m not used to being so hunched over like that. Also it took some getting used to, shifting gears by pushing to the left rather than pulling a lever towards me. 

I was really grateful for the crosstop levers though, as I’d suspected, they made the transition so much easier. I stayed on the top bars for a little while so I could get a feel for the bike first. I’m used to a heavy, clunky old Ridgeback frame, and this is ridiculously light in comparison. Also the tires on the RX9 are a bit thinner. 

The crosstop levers made it easier to get used to the bike, though I found it strange to have my arms so close together. The handlebars are a lot more narrow on this. 

Once I’d gotten used to the frame and wheels I decided to ride on the hoods. It was really weird to be so hunched over. I also found that I had to stretch more than was comfortable to reach the brake levers. We adjusted the seat and tilted the handlebars back slightly and that sorted out the problem. 

Today I rode it out on the Bristol to Bath Railway Path, turning off at Saltford to get some chips and a coffee at The Jolly Sailor. I’ve definitely gotten used to the feel of the bike and built up enough confidence to ride on the road from Warmley to Kingswood. 

It rides really well! It’s got an aluminium frame so it doesn’t absorb the shocks as much as I’d like, but I don’t have the budget for steel right now, and taking a little air out of the tires should sort that out. Otherwise I really like it, and I’ve decided to buy it! I’m going to get it powder coated blue, and replace the saddle, but otherwise it’s good to go. Very excited! 

Current Obsession: Adventure Road Bikes

This may not appeal to everyone, but I’ve spent the last month or so obsessively looking at adventure road bikes in an attempt to find the perfect all-rounder.

What is an adventure road bike? 

Based on cyclocross geometry, the adventure road bike is Britain’s answer to the American gravel bike. It’s light, with drop bars, a high bottom bracket, and capable of taking thicker tires. Basically it’s an all-rounder – light and fast on the road, whilst also capable of going off-road for adventuring.

Why an adventure road bike? 

I don’t know if there’s a right or wrong answer to this, but this is my reason: I want to try a bit more off-road riding, but living in the middle of the city and not owning a car, I find it difficult to get to the trails. I have a neglected mountain bike that I’d love to take over to Ashton Court, but I’ve tried riding it through town before and I hated it. The handlebars are too wide, the whole thing feels clunky and slow on the tarmac, and generally just isn’t a pleasant ride. And I feel guilty. I think if I can get my hands on an all-rounder like an adventure road bike, I could take a nice ride through town, have fun on the trails, then ride comfortably back home.

Dipping my toe in the water

I’ve dabbled in mountain biking before (I’ll save the full story for another time) but after a nasty accident I’ve been very hesitant to give it another try. The MTB was a birthday present with the best of intentions, but I wasn’t ready to try again. Now I no longer have a car and bike rack available to me, and I’m itching to dip my toe tentatively back in.

Wishlist

  • Small women specific frame
  • 20+ gears
  • Hydraulic disc brakes
  • Steel frame (in an ideal world)
  • Blue!
  • Triple front sprocket
  • < £1,000

I’ve struggled to find anything that ticked all the boxes.

Enter Stage Right: Orange RX9

I was at Evans recently, and thought I’d settled on the Pinnacle Arkose Women’s Specific 2017, but decided to look at what Bike Workshop had to offer, as I’d much rather support a local, independent bike shop.

Tom gave me brilliant service, taking me through all the small framed bikes they had, getting them out for me so I could sit on them and get a feel for them. Eventually I fell for an Orange RX9.

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I admit, it doesn’t actually tick a lot of those boxes. It has cable disc brakes rather than hydraulic, a double front sprocket (10-speed though) and an alluminium frame. Obviously it’s not blue either. I can see past these things, because all in all it looks like a good bike.

What won me over were the crosstop brake levers. I’m terrified of transitioning to drops, and these look like they’ll be a great way to break myself in gently.

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On top of helping me pick something suitable, Tom very kindly let me bring this bike home over the Christmas week, to take it out on a few test rides. You don’t get that kind of service at Evans – you only get to test ride a bike once you’ve ordered it. No thanks. He’s also offered to powder coat it blue for me, because I’m determined to have a gorgeous blue bike.

I’m planning to take it on the B2B towards Bath, to practise on some flat, straight tarmac. I’m super excited, but crazy nervous. I’ve never ridden anything with this kind of geometry before, the drops are terrifying and it’s going to feel light as a feather compared to my clunky Ridgeback.

I’ll let you know how I get on!