Hello, we missed you.

Claud & I disappeared for a while because we needed to. We’ve had a break, moved house, there are two new bikes in the garage, and we’re back… because we missed you.

Bookends

Monday morning: a rude awakening by my iPhone’s alarming alarm -  it’s 6am and there’s a coffee machine across town waiting for me.  Shower, tea, porridge, pants (hot off the radiator), jeans, the top t-shirt in the clean t-shirt pile. Socks. Chuck things into a musette, clip keys on to belt loop, lace up trainers, throw on jacket. Scruffle the cat’s head and yell “see you later” to the sofa, grabbing Annie by the handlebars on my way out the door.

It takes me 8 and a half minutes to get to work on this bike if I turn the corner before the number 7 bus does and time it right with the lights at the bottom of the hill. I can see my imaginary line drawn down the length of the hill, it skirts around the holes, bumps and the slippery-as-hell metal man-hole covers.

Road turns in to cycle path and every little bend is known like the back of my hand, probably better – who actually studies their hands? Avoid that pothole, go left around the tree on the bit where the lane goes narrow (otherwise you hit people going the other way), assume time trial position for 5 seconds where the low hanging leaves smack the faces of cyclists less familiar with the route.

Slow down just a tiny bit so that I catch the green man without putting my foot down.

Sharp left in to work – wave at the gardener – jump off bike – find bike lock keys.

Today Annie’s company in the staff-bike-bit is a tiny bike with stabilisers. I have no idea who it belongs to. Later there will be a fixie, a BMX and a hybrid joining the party. I wonder what they’d say if they could have a conversation.

A busy day, the happy kind of tired, weary legs. My bike is just where I left her, and she spins me back home.

It isn’t Epic – it’s barely a ride, but these moments bookend my days, and I’d go mad without them.

 

 

 

Put the kettle on – mine’s a pint.

I haven’t stopped eating for 3 days. Well, I’ve just stopped. The hunger has finally gone. After countless bowls of porridge, dishes of pasta, bananas, crumpets, toast, flapjacks, pints of water, pints of tea – I finally feel human again.

Every time my tummy has grumbled at me this week, I’ve thought back to Saturday’s bike ride – the reason for my hollow-stomached hunger. Each fork full of spaghetti has built back a bit of me that I left on a muddy bridleway in Surrey or a bit of gravel strewn lane in Sussex.

I want to feel hungry in my legs again.

Let’s go on a bike ride.

Dear Summer, I’m sorry.

Dear Summer,

I’m sorry.

I made a terrible mistake. Winter will never come close to what we had.

She promised me the world, Summer. She said there would be crisp, bright mornings and beautiful tyre trails in crunchy, frozen grass. She said we would see our breath in the cold, clear air. Bright blue skies would cover us, she said. She promised carpets of snowdrops, chirping robins, snuffling hedgehogs. The sound of dry twigs cracking underfoot.

Her promises were empty, Summer. She took everything I had and gave me nothing in return. It has felt like a constant battle against the elements, and my body is weary. We had a fleeting moment in the sun – and then it was over – replaced with black clouds. It has been dark for so long, but I never forgot your sunshine, even in the darkest moments.

Her embrace offers me no comfort. I avoid her, hiding inside. Making excuses. Lies and deceit. A bitter atmosphere lingers and seems like it will never leave.

Even the taste of water is better with you, Summer.

I long for long days with you again. For sunshine spilling through windows in the morning. For coffee on my doorstep, and beer in the garden. For scorching tarmac and dry, dusty paths. For salty skin and beads of sweat. For little patches of cool under trees. For short sleeves and smooth legs. For cold showers and open windows blowing curtains.

My heart is breaking for you, Summer. Please take me back.

x

Daughter, ‘Winter’: YouTube

 

Catherine Wheel

Water from the soaked tarmac collects with each rotation and the droplets, illuminated by my bike’s front light, spray like sparks from a dancing Catherine Wheel as they flicker upward from my tyres.

The last of the car headlights pass and a sudden, all-encompassing darkness descends. A fleeting moment of utter disorientation as eyes adjust and focus is found. There is nothing but what exists within my bubble of light. Complete concentration turns my whole body tense: I have to tell my muscles to relax: don’t make things harder for yourself.

Streetlights line the next stretch of road, and for a while another rider joins me. She is a shadow, cast upon the hedgerow, following every pedal stroke. Town lights stretch out ahead, and the faint outline of a Welcome sign is a welcome sight: food, friends and dry socks are not far away.

Cyclocross is for idiots

Here is a brief history of my experience of riding off-road:

  • Zipping across the grass at Hove Park  to use the public toilets after too much Leffe whilst watching the racing on a Friday evening.
  • Pushing an old bike up a big hill in Woodingdean, whilst swearing incessantly at my then-boyfriend whose stupid idea it was to go that way.
  • Slightly drunken 2am short-cuts across parks in Brighton.
Hove Park before a race

Hove Park before a race

Now that you know what an expert I am, let’s talk about all the top-spec bikes I’ve spent thousands on.

I’ve ridden 4 bikes in my adult life:

  • Lady Bike. Inherited from my mother. Used for shopping (it had a basket), and occasional seafront spins. Stolen from outside my flat in 2011.
  • Rust Bucket. Donated by a friend after my other bike got nicked. It didn’t much like changing gear, and eventually ended it’s days on that hill in Woodingdean.
  • Claud! My first proper road bike and the best thing that ever happened to me (no, really). Lover of Sussex roads.
  • Annie the Single Speed. A long term loan from my favourite bike mechanic. Rarely leaves the city.

So, as you can see, I’m well equipped for a foray into the muddy world of cyclocross……

Having been to my share of CX races as a spectator or helper, I decided it was probably time I gave it a go myself. There’s something about the atmosphere around cyclocross racing that appeals to me far more than road racing. Yes, it’s a proper competitive sport, and at a high level there’s nothing particularly light-hearted about it. But with the existence of events like Muddy Hell,  City Cross and races like White Chalk Hills CX, it’s obvious that there’s a really fun side to the sport. (Also, there often seems to be beer.)

Riding Cyclocross really is the best fun you can have on a bike. Road riding is all about style, finesse and panache, the history and the suffering. Cyclocross is about the fun, suffering, mud, friends and beer.

Mark Tearle, after Muddy Hell 2012

White Chalk Hills CX

White Chalk Hills CX (photo by Gavin Peacock)

White Chalk Hills CX (Photo by Gavin Peacock)

White Chalk Hills CX (Photo by Gavin Peacock)

The perfect opportunity presented itself in the form of a women’s CX rider development session, at Herne Hill. The session is aimed at novices, and you can even hire a CX bike as part of the cost of the day, which is only £6. BARGAIN. I booked in with my friend Monika, taking comfort in the fact that she is also a total newbie.

The ‘cross course at Herne Hill is being developed at the moment – and it’s starting to look brilliant. Whilst they’re still digging bits of it the mud is more churned up than usual, and thanks to the rain we’ve had recently the mud is also more….muddy. Getting muddy doesn’t bother me – in fact I really like it – but keeping my bike upright in the mud does worry me. Especially when the bike you’ve borrowed doesn’t really fit you, and the brakes are mostly there for decoration.

I am always a bag of nerves when it comes to new things. If you asked the me from 2 years ago if she would like to go on a CX training session, she would have laughed loudly, told you to piss off, and poured a gin (I will probably still do the third one of those). The 2013 edition of me is a bit better at trying stuff, especially if it’s on two wheels, but still gets just as scared.

It felt completely alien and unnatural riding a bike in thick mud, over bumps, down slippery slopes and through trees. After 5 minutes I considered running away and giving up (no change there). Then I thought about how terrified I used to get going down fast hills on my road bike, and that after doing it lots of times it stopped being scary and started being the best fun ever.

image

This mud is sponsored by Morvelo.

The first time around the course I stopped and pushed my bike countless times. “A BUMP? I CAN’T RIDE OVER THAT!”. The second time I got off the bike slightly less. I even rode a medium sized bumpy-humpy-jumpy-thing and squealed with excitement when I didn’t fall off. By the third time, I was no less scared, but actually starting to enjoy bits. The concentration involved in staying upright is far, far more than when riding on the road. I’m glad there were no cameras, because I dread to think what kind of faces I was pulling.

There is one very steep section on the course, it’s only a couple of metres, but it’s short, sharp and slippery in equal measure. Going up it was fine…with little to no grace I’d jump off the bike and run up it. Then the instructor said we were going to go around the course in the other direction, which meant going down it. I will save any build up or suspense – I didn’t ride down it. I was too terrified. Next time I will be courageous. Maybe. Monika rode down it and ended up on the floor. She is a braver woman than me, and I salute her and her very muddy arse.

My muddy arse. (Not muddy enough. Must try harder.)

My muddy arse. (Not muddy enough. Must try harder.)

I was very aware of how painfully slowly I was travelling 90% of the time. Had I been going faster I wouldn’t have had to get off the bike so much – hitting thick sections of mud when you’ve got some momentum going is always going to be easier than dragging the bike through it at walking pace. So, I need to get braver, which means going faster, which means riding more of the course, which means having more fun. Sounds simple enough – I best get practising.

Today I ache all over. It’s the good kind of ache, though – the kind that reminds you that you didn’t spend your whole weekend on the sofa.

So, in conclusion: cyclocross is utterly stupid. It’s really hard, and really scary, and you’d have to be an idiot to do it. And I think I’m going to do it again very soon.

mudhernehill

Me and my (not very) trusty steed.

 

(There is a second women’s cx session at Herne Hill in December, as well as a men’s one. There are details here, if you want to borrow a bike then you need to book in advance.)

Ride Like A Girl

We ride like girls. Try to keep up, yeah?

These reflective musettes were inspired by world champions, bike messengers, punks, losers, friends and every other girl who’s ever ridden a bike.

Designed by me – hand made and printed in London by the ever-awesome Mon, Ren and Esther at House of Astbury.

Each one is a teeny bit different, they’re totally DIY – just the way we like it.

They’re in the shop now, and shipping on Monday.

The bag

Shiny!

Burgundy version coming soon...

Burgundy version coming soon…