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Matrix Race Academy launch

Say the words ‘cycling team launch’ and what comes to mind? Cyclists in their team kit, stood in a line, all matching hairstyles and fake smiles. There’s nothing wrong with the traditional team launch, but…yawn. We’ve seen it all a thousand times. So I was pretty excited to be involved in what promised to be a day like no other with the Matrix Race Academy on Friday.

Stef Wyman, Team Manager of Matrix RA and a champion for women’s cycling, was keen to create a day that would be interesting and fun for all involved, as well as creating a social media buzz. I think it’s safe to say that the aim was achieved.

Starting the day at Vulpine HQ

The day started bright and early for me – a 7.30am train (an unearthly hour for a Brighton freelancer) whisked me to Vulpine HQ in London. A big green ‘V’ told me I was in the right place and I was greeted by the lovely Jools (aka Lady Velo, and Vulpine’s sales manager), who was clearly just as giddy as me about the day ahead. A gradual stream of writers and photographers arrived, and of course the team themselves, along with manager Stef Wyman and European CX Champ Helen Wyman, who is a mentor to the younger riders on the team.

Much slurping of coffee, munching of croissants and introducing of friends later, the team took some time to drool over the Vulpine clothes and choose what they wanted to wear for their photos. I may have also tried on a women’s merino jersey for size. Important business research, you understand.

Whilst the photographers worked their magic I took some time to admire the new team kit. I was more than a little excited about the #fanbackedwomenscycling logo which I designed featuring on the kit. If you don’t already know about #fbwc, go do your reading, it’s a brilliant initiative that the team are backing, and the force behind some excellent training sessions for female novice racers like myself.

New season Matrix RA jersey, featuring the #fanbackedwomenscycling logo

The On The Drops girls liked their new Vulpine caps

I had the pleasure of stealing the fantastic Jo Tindley, a new Matrix RA member for 2013, away from the camera for 20 minutes to chat about cycling and her involvement in the team. Each rider chatted to a different writer, another way to insure a bunch of different perspectives and angles on the day and the team.

You can read my interview with Jo here.

Team issue trainers? Yes please.

After lunch we all set off in different directions accross London. We trooped off in three’s – one rider, one writer, one photographer. Where we went was completely up to us (Sarah Connolly took Harriet Owen to the zoo..) in the hope that at the end of the day we would have a variety of unique photos which would reflect the individual personalities of the women that make up the team. Awesome plan, I thought. Myself, Jo Tindley and photography Andy Woodhouse headed off into the quirky lanes near Old Street for our photos. Check out Andy’s set of snaps here.

Jessie’s photoshoot with Guy Collier

No bikes?! Jo isn’t too pleased about that.

Everyone met back up Look Mum No Hands for the evening launch. It wasn’t long before the cafe was full to the brim with people – the staff had to remove the furniture to make space for us all. Belgian beer, bikes, lots of familiar faces..and a whole bunch of new ones.

As well as Matrix RA, we also heard from Stef about #fanbackedwomenscycling, the launch of London Women’s Cycle Racing league and the Bonita women’s team. I could just about hear the team presentation over the buzz of the cafe!

What a day. Thanks everyone: I had a ball, and I feel more inspired than ever to support the awesome sport that is women’s cycling.

Team Presentation at Look Mum No Hands

Massive good luck vibes to the whole team for the season ahead – not that they need it, these girls have got serious talent.

Follow the team on Twitter: @onthedrops

30 Days of Biking – take two!

If you’re a long suffering reader of Claud & I then you may remember why I started it – to document my adventures during September’s round of 30 Days of Biking. In the process I completely fell in love with cycling, and found a community of cyclists – both locally and online – who have encouraged me to keep riding my bike, and keep the blog going. It’s almost April which means time for another round of 30 Days of Biking. Lots has changed in the last 8 months or so, but there is also plenty that hasn’t: I still love riding my bike, and I still love talking about it (try and stop me!)

Riding a bike is a simple pleasure; the bicycle a simple, yet wonderful, machine. And 30 Days of Biking is a simple idea: ride your bike every day for 30 days – and share your experiences online in whichever ways you like. There’s no form to fill in, no Strava badge to collect, no certificate at the end. I like anything that cuts the crap and gets people riding a bike, and 30 days of Biking does just that.

So, what does it actually involve? Joining 30 Days of Biking means making a two-part pledge:

  1. To ride your bike every single day in April, and
  2. To share your adventures online.

Facebook, Twitter, Instragram, your own blog…wherever it may be. It’s a wonderfully simple idea: ride your bike lots, and share it with a community of cyclists online. I also love the idea that if we have enough fun, people who don’t normally ride a bike will want to get involved – that’s how I ended up here!

During April I’ll be organising a couple of social rides (have a look on the Rides page), and I’m sure others will be too. One of my most favourite memories from September’s round was a group ride in Brighton: there were road bikes, mountain bikes and hired Amsterdam style bikes – a bunch of misfits brought together.

Our 30DOB cafe ride in Brighton last September

30 Days of Biking isn’t a political statement. It’s not a bunch of eco-warriors, or road safety campaigners (not that I object to either of those groups!) or any other stereotype which may spring to mind. It’s an inclusive community who don’t care what your bike looks like, or what you look like, or how far you can ride in a day. It’s for the love of cycling: simple.

30DOB North American pals

Throughout April I’ll be cycling every day, and sharing my experiences online. Why not join me? Let’s hope for some sunshine…

Make the pledge: http://30daysofbiking.com/pledge

Puncheur

On Saturday night I set my alarm for 6.30am – something that doesn’t happen very often. The reason? My first sportive of the year – The Puncheur. You might remember I rode part of the route with Morgan, James and Mark back in November. I wasn’t well and managed 30 miles before I had to give up and go to my parents house for tea. You’ll be pleased to know I managed to finish the whole 65 mile route this time around!

The Puncheur is a challenging ride, but not one designed to inflict as much pain as possible – as seems to be the fashion with sportive events at the moment. (If I want to suffer, I will race.) The route is neither hugely long nor hugely hilly. While it includes some testing short climbs, there are no serious hills until the grand finale that is Ditchling Beacon. It also crosses some beautiful parts of this county – providing stunning views across the Ashdown Forest and from the top of the Beacon.

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The route (click for larger image)

Having had a few really mild, sunny days last week, it was tempting to think that the Puncheur might be my first chance to ditch the leg warmers and enjoy a Spring-like ride. As the week went on, and pictures of snowflakes began to appear in the weather forecast, it became obvious that this would not be the case. Sunday arrived and it was seriously cold. And so the usual rigamarole of layers and thick socks and overshoes and hats went on, before chucking myself and Claud into Gill’s car.

Gill and I arrived, with bikes, and made our way to sign up at HQ. We met some familiar faces and chatted to some friends – one of the nice things about taking part in such a local event.

About to set off

We had our timing chips scanned and set off. It took quite some time for my legs to get warmed up in the cold. My brain seemed to take some time to warm up too (I don’t think it works before 9am) so I was grateful for the clear signposting at every junction.

I chatted to some friendly folks en route, and was passed by some speedy guys from local clubs, including the blurs of Mark, Marc and Dan who slowed down for 2 minutes to talk to a slow coach.

Despite the freezing cold, I really enjoyed the ride. I wasn’t even *too* nervous about the ever closer Ditchling Beacon. On that subject, somehow I have gone 6 months of writing this blog and cycling around Sussex every week without having yet cycled up that infamous hill. Some may argue I have deliberately avoided it. Either way, there was no getting out of it this time. Being stubborn is both a blessing and a curse: when ascending a massive hill it appears to be the former. I distinctly remember saying out loud to myself half way up the climb: ‘you’re not f****ing giving up now’… and indeed, I did not. I was very slow, but I got up in one go and I’m pretty happy about it.

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At the top of the beacon.

Having finished the ride I took a few minutes to rest my somewhat achy legs and enjoy the gorgeous view from the top. I’m usually terrified of fast descents but I was so pleased to have finished that I rode back down the beacon to the event HQ with a big grin on my face. There was hot pasta, yummy cake and some delicious hot chocomalt recovery drinks from Apres (an awesome Brighton company).

All in all, not a bad way to spend a chilly Sunday morning. I’ll be back next year.

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www.puncheur.co.uk

Pedal to freedom.

The bicycle…has been responsible for more movement in manners and morals than anything since Charles the Second. Under its influence, wholly or in part, have wilted chaperones, long and narrow skirts, tight corsets, hair that would come down, black stockings, thick ankles, large hats, prudery and fear of the dark; under its influence, wholly or in part, have blossomed weekends, strong nerves, strong legs, strong language, knickers, knowledge of make and shape, knowledge of woods and pastures, equality of sex, good digestion and professional occupation—in four words, the emancipation of women.

John Gallsworthy

I am going to ride my bike today. Not far – but I will ride in the rain on the seafront, in my jeans and trainers. I will ride to say thank you to my sisters who fought for my equality, and to celebrate that I can wear trousers. Little things, we might be tempted to think, but things which are a reminder of how far we have come.

Let’s keep pedalling until every woman and girl has the equal rights she deserves.

Today is International Women’s Day.

 

Ready? No? Never mind…off you go.

A few days before race day I had the conversation with myself about not being ready. It ended like this: “you’ll never feel ready – so you might as well just go for it”.

I knew I hadn’t done nearly enough training, that I wasn’t confident enough on corners, that my leg speed wasn’t up to standard and that in every way possible I wasn’t prepared. Even without all that, I was really, really nervous. I had just one objective: finish the race!

Changing rooms pre-race… trying not to throw up.

Never mind finishing the race, getting there and starting it was a task in itself for me. As is my style, every time something went not quite to plan, I briefly considered running (cycling) off and going home.

So you can imagine my panic when, despite checking the contents of my bag about eight times, I realised that I hadn’t packed a pair of matching arm warmers. Instead I had packed one arm warmer and one knee warmer. On a normal day I could probably laugh at this, but I WAS ABOUT TO A RACE IN AN ACTUAL CYCLE RACE. So I ran around in circles for 5 minutes in a flap, and then decided to get over it and brave bare arms.

I almost felt like a pro when I was warming up: sat on the turbo, slurping energy drink, in my team kit. My friend Matt – who is a team mate and, rather helpfully, a bike mechanic – was on hand to make Claud race-ready (the beginnings of an entourage, I feel.) This feeling of confidence quickly subsided at the point that I got off the turbo and almost passed out. I rapidly returned to my nervous novice status, and had to stand with my head between my legs for a bit so I didn’t throw up..

Eventually it was time to get my arse to the start line. I was all warmed up, so, once again, you can imagine my joy at having a 25 minute delay to start the race. Having no arm warmers was slowly becoming a big mistake, as I shivered away with the other 3/4 women and men. A couple of Kent-Velo-Girls commented that I was very brave to go sleeveless – I pointed out that it was stupidity, not bravery.

Off we go…

At long last; time to go. I was so keen to warm up that my need for movement overcame my nerves and I was raring to go…sort of. Being massively catious, I made the mistake of starting right at the back, despite having been told by everyone I know that this was precisely what NOT to do.

AND…… GO!

The least said about the race itself the better. I went round and round the track, not fast enough, for about an hour. I didn’t fall off, or crash, or knock anyone sideways. I finished in one piece, a whole lap behind almost everyone else. The winner could have stopped for a latte and a slice of victoria sponge, got back on her bike, and still beat me. But do you know what? I didn’t care. Once I’d got my self together after the race, I was on a massive high the whole way home. So yeah.. I was a massive loser. But I’d beaten every part of me that was telling me I couldn’t do it, that I should run away, that I should give up.

The race on Saturday was also exactly 365 days since I first picked up Claud. I can’t quite believe how things have changed since then. A year ago, if you’d have told me I would not only enter, but also finish a cycling race, I would have laughed in your face.

Bring on the next one!

 

Big hill, little hill, cardboard Box.

On Thursday my good friend Gill and I drove up to Horsham, our bikes snuggled up together in the boot of the car, to meet some more cyclist friends and head off for a ride in the Surrey hills. I’d taken a day off work to go riding, as the weather at the start of the week had been so beautiful. Of course by Thursday it was bitterly cold again – who knew you could get brain freeze from anything other than a Slush Puppy?

The lovely Jason had planned some “nice hills” for our ride. I’ve learnt by now that when someone tells you a ride is ‘undulating’ what they actually mean is ‘really f***ing hilly’. Plus, Surrey isn’t famed for being flat, so I was prepared for the worst.

Click for full size

As usual I’d got myself worked up over nothing. Yes – there were hills, but that’s what I’ve got a bike for, right? Spin the pedals, turn the wheels…up you go.

Despite not being able to feel our fingers and toes after a few minutes of riding, we managed 3 and a half hours in the saddle: including the hideously steep Whitedown hill and iconic Box Hill.

Olympic Road Race messages

I’d only ever seen Box hill on the TV, during the Olympics. It’s a lovely climb – at least it is when you’re doing it once, not 9 times (or however many laps it was they had to do)…and then back down again. I’ll certainly be back there when the weather has warmed up – although I expect every other lycra-clad human in Surrey will have the same idea. I should probably purchase some Rapha…

Looking over Box Hill

I should take days off to ride my bike more often.

When man invented the bicycle…

When man invented the bicycle he reached the peak of his attainments. Here was a machine of precision and balance for the convenience of man. And (unlike subsequent inventions for man’s convenience) the more he used it, the fitter his body became. Here, for once, was a product of man’s brain that was entirely beneficial to those who used it, and of no harm or irritation to others. Progress should have stopped when man invented the bicycle.

- Elizabeth West

For the love of vélo.

I love cycling. Ever since Claud first entered my life, I’ve been besotted by all things bike.

I will have owned Claud for a year next month. Before that, I’d never cycled more than about 10 miles, and only ever ridden the sort of bike that you put a basket on the front of. So phobic was I of anything ‘sport’ related that I wouldn’t even join in a game of rounders at a family BBQ. I don’t think I even owned a pair of trainers, let alone any cycling shoes.

I can vividly remember my first ‘proper’ bike ride, in preparation for the London to Brighton. I cycled from Brighton to Uckfield with friends, had coffee and cake, and then rode back again. That’s almost 40 miles, which isn’t to be sniffed at, but it left me aching for a week – and I pushed up at least three of the hills. That journey felt like seriously hard work and I was, quite rightly, proud to have done it.

A few months later I rode the London to Brighton Night Ride. It took me AGES, and I pushed up lots of the hills including the whole of Devil’s Dyke. Despite all that, I was really happy to have completed it – because I’d never done anything like it before.  For me, it was a massive achievement. I was wearing some specially-purchased trainers, my gym kit, and the helmet I’d had since I was 14.

Celebrating completing the London to Brighton Night Ride – 27th May 2012

Claud has changed shape a lot since then: he has more gears,  posher brakes and tyres that don’t puncture every twenty miles. I’ve also changed shape: I have noticed the appearance of these amazing things in my legs called ‘muscles’ which I wasn’t aware existed.  No more gym kit or trainers either: I have a drawer full of lovely cycling kit and some fancy shoes that clip into Claud’s pedals.

It’s been less than a year since I made that first bike ride from Brighton to Uckfield and back. I make that same journey by bike regularly now – to pop in on my parents. It’s a nice gentle ride, and I wouldn’t even think of pushing up the hills. It was about nine months ago that I very slowly made my way from London to Brighton in my dodgy outfit, on a bike which I didn’t know how to change gear on (that’s a story for another day). I’ve cycled bigger distances since, and ridden up Devil’s Dyke plenty of times now: something which I watched other people do during the London to Brighton with amazement and jealousy. Recently I’ve had to remind myself that I should feel proud of those things, just like I felt proud of my first cycling achievements. This Greg LeMond quote is overused, but it’s overused for a reason: “It Doesn’t Get Any Easier, You Just Get Faster”. It’s true: it doesn’t get any easier, but that shouldn’t be confused for not making progress.

Now here I am, excited and slightly terrified, counting down the days to my first race for a local team. Stood next to my team mates, in my matching kit, it’s easy to forget just how little experience I have compared to all of them. So if you catch me beating myself up about being slow, please show me that photo from the not-so-long-ago London to Brighton, and remind me how much I’ve learnt in the months since then.

I won’t forget why I fell in love with cycling, and I won’t forget how far I’ve come.

It rains less in my lounge.

After riding in the snow and rain recently, I can safely say I’m fed up of Winter. It didn’t take much; I’m definitely a bit of a wimp when it comes to the weather.

However – I’ve found a way to counter this. I have bought a turbo trainer. I figure that training on it will be so sufferingly hard that I’ll soon change my mind and get back out in the rain for some light relief.

Wet, muddy and COLD this weekend

Up until now my only indoor training has been using the MyRide bikes at the gym to do intervals. They’re better than standard ‘exercise bikes’ – with a slim saddle and drop handlebars – but it is still not quite like riding a real bike. I’ve previously put off buying a turbo or rollers because I live in a flat with downstairs neighbours who won’t appreciate the noise (they don’t like it when we play that PlayStation dance game…) Anyway, I’m just going to have to time my training with when they are out. There are also plans for some team turbo sessions which will be a laugh I’m sure. I bet I can win the prize for Sweatiest Jersey.

Lastly, while we are on the subject of turbo trainers, check out this completely mad idea: training with a live band. I’ll do my best to get along to that, if nothing else I think it will make for an amusing write-up!

Bye for now, I’m off to sweat a bucket or two…

Come race with me…

Team ASL360 are on the look out for some more female riders. This makes me very happy for lots of reasons:

1) The more women riding bikes, the happier I am.

2) There need to be more opportunities for women to race, and this is one!

3) ASL360 is a small, well organised team with brilliant sponsors. So this is a great opportunity.

4) There’s a possibility that I’ll no longer be the only member of the team with nail polish to match her kit (although I’m sure the guys would look fetching)

Team Launch at the London Bike Show       (Photo © Klickchick Photography)

Currently the team is made up of Juniors; based in Scotland, and seniors; based in Sussex. Members vary from me, a newbie 4th Cat who hasn’t even done her first race yet, to guys who’ve been racing most of their life. Three ASL360 Juniors recently took 1st, 2nd and 3rd place on the podium for their race at the IG London Nocturne, at the London Bike Show. The diversity in the team makes it a pleasure to be a part of.

ASL360 is a company with cyclist safety at it’s core. That’s why they were at the London Bike Show with us last month.

Team ASL360 is the brain child of John Powell, the Sales Exec at ASL Vision – the company that designed and developed the ASL360 Surround View Camera system.

The team was formed because of a long standing passion for cycling and a desire to create awareness around ASL360SV. A system which minimises blind spots on any vehicle, including HGV’s, and so helps protect vulnerable road users such as cyclists.

As our team knows only too well, 53% of cyclists killed by trucks and large vehicles are crushed by them turning left – a renowned blind spot which this system addresses. If we can dramatically reduce the number of such incidences then we can increase public confidence in cycling and encourage more people to use this fun and sustainable means of transport.

Indoor Crit at the IG London Nocturne.    (Photo © Klickchick Photography)

If you answer ‘yes’ to the following statements, you ought to think about getting involved:

- You are a woman.

- You love cycling.

- You currently race, or want to start racing this year.

- You live close-ish to Lewes, in East Sussex (we have riders from Brighton, Horsham, Scaynes Hill, Hailsham…) Rides start there on Sundays, and it’s where we get together for team meetings.

If you think you might like to join Team ASL360, or want to find out a bit more about the team, feel free to contact me, or email John Powell directly at this address: teamasl360@gmail.com

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Team Sponsors:

 

This is home.

When I first moved to Brighton I used to ride down to the seafront on my old bike (long since stolen) for the sole purpose of sitting on a bench and looking at the sea. Usually I’d time it with the sunset, stay there until dark, and ride home again. Futile, time wasting, pointless. But something about that simple routine made me feel alive – even after the worst of days.

Today after a short, very cold ride I stopped on the way home, just to sit and admire the sunset’s colours: where the sky meets the sea. Sat on the old, graffiti-covered bench I remember why I live here, on the edge of the earth, in this bonkers city. This is home, and there’s nothing that can change that.

Winter fields

Back before the snow had melted I was listening to Bat for Lashes’ album The Haunted Man and was particularly taken by the lyrics to Winter Fields; a song that talks about Sussex. That same day I stumbled upon some photos by cyclist, photographer and friend Gavin Peacock. He’d braved the Sussex snow on his bike with a camera, and the result was beautiful. So I wanted to share both with you here.

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Hurtling through heavy snow, our hands are cold and the moon sets low
Little sister let your sharp teeth show, pass winter fields
Stop the car by the old wire post, skidding rabbits make good paper ghosts
They lick the salt off the Sussex coast and fall into winter fields

‘looking to the long man’

Rows of White, Spelled our escape in the old torch light
Oh Mother, I’m scared to close my eyes
In some winter dreams will make you dive and dive and dive down

In sub zero I can’t stand still, colors of absence flooding the hill
In wonderment I trip and spill through winter fields
Under the stairs taps the metronome, a diver suit that we’ve all outgrown
I need to get to where the wild things roam through all of my winter dreams

‘weald view’

Rows of white, spelled our escaped in the old torch light
Oh mother, I’m scared to close my eyes
Some winter dreams will make you dive and dive and dive down

‘ditchling beacon’

Photos by (and copyrighted to) Gavin Peacock

The full set is viewable here: ‘A Year In Sussex’

Lyrics:  Winter Fields, Bat for Lashes

Sunshine and sandwiches.

In wonderful contrast to the snow, sleet and rain that we’ve had our share of recently, this weekend saw some Winter sunshine for Sussex.

On Saturday I made the most of the weather and got out on my own for a few hours in the saddle. Having spent a fair amount of time of late spinning on a bike in a gym, it was lovely just to get out and RIDE. The downs were still dusted with icing-sugar snow – but it was nearly all melted from the roads. The beautiful views almost made Devil’s Dyke enjoyable. At the top I found myself grinning, and remembering that this is why I fell in love with riding a bike in the first place.

Edburton Road on Saturday

Melted snow & the previous day’s rain on Underhill Lane.

Sunday was a team ride, and being totally honest – I wasn’t looking forward to it. I’m still a bit nervous about cycling in a group, even though the guys in the team are great and I’m getting to know everyone. What if I fall off and look like a plonker…what if I get left behind on a hill…what if…SHHH Lois, get on with it woman, you’ll be fine.

And I was.

Clearly my bonking crisis on the last team ride made an impression, as I ended up with homemade flapjacks & sandwiches from Matt, and homemade bread pudding from John, all stuffed into my jersey pockets. If that’s not team spirit then I don’t know what is! I felt a little over-laden with essentially a packed lunch on my back, but 71 miles later – and only half a (very squashed) sandwich left, I was very grateful for my snack-filled pockets.

Breakfast. Not to be underestimated!

I won’t go through the route, because that will get boring, and you can see the map at the bottom of this post. What I will say is that apart from a few idiot drivers nearly hitting us, and one hill up to Friston which was hideously steep, narrow and full of traffic – I enjoyed every minute. And I didn’t fall off ;-)

Still smiling at this point…

These are going to be famous last words I’m sure – but I’m starting to enjoy climbing. Not the sort of hills that are so steep I wonder if I am moving at all, and unclip in a wobbly panic, but the longer, more gradual climbs. One such was the long climb up the zig zag road (Upper Dukes Drive?) from Eastbourne to Beachy Head. I’m not saying I sang my way up it with a smile on my face, but there’s something satisfying about getting from A to B, uphill, with only your legs and two wheels to thank. It’s the good kind of hard work, and, dare I say it, the good kind of pain. There’s a fine line there though..

I have never cycled against such strong winds as those on the top of Beachy Head that day. I had to lean my bike against the wind so that I didn’t get blown into the sea*. I’m looking forward to going back to those roads on a still day.

(*slight exaggeration)

So I finished my weekend with 105 miles on the clock, which is probably some sort of record for me. A few days later and my legs are politely reminding me of every one of those miles, by aching like hell. Still, there’s only one way to deal with that – let’s get planning the next ride.

Our route! Click map to see larger image

London Bike Show & Nocturne Series

There was a moment when I wondered if I’d make it to London at all, but I did, and it was well worth the snowy journey. I’m not going to bore you with exhibition talk, but here are a few of my highlights…

1. Surviving the snow. Not dieing is always a plus. There was a moment, when the snow was stuck to the windscreen and the screen-wash was frozen, that I did ponder on my chances.

2. Elite Women’s Crit – Friday. This was brilliant. It made me want to join in. And anyone who says women’s racing is boring…well you should have watched this. Clemence Copie of HWCC won the crit, with Alice Bahns of 23C Orbea in second, and Louise Mahe of Team MuleBarGirl in third.

3. Elite Men’s Crit – Saturday. I bloody love watching these guys race. First place was taken by Ian Bibby of the Madison Genesis team, which had been launched earlier in the day. Second place belongs to Pete Hawkins of IG Sigma-Sport, who came off his bike very early on, sustaining a nasty looking bit of road rash. All the more impressive that he placed 2nd.

4. Looking at all the pretty bikes. And talking to nice people. It was great to see some familiar faces, and a chat to a few new ones. I resisted (nearly) all temptation, and left after two days at the show only having bought two things…a discounted jersey, and a pair of socks!

5. I’m gutted that I had gone home by this point, and didn’t get to see the race, but despite that the biggest highlight has got to be seeing three Team ASL360 guys on the podium for the Juniors Race. The race was won by Dan Gardner, a local lad from Scaynes Hill. Smiles all round.

The bleak mid-Winter

The cold is ferocious. It bites through my layers and gnaws at my bones. Thank God for merino wool, and lots of pairs of socks. I keep going because if I stop I may just freeze. “Beneath this stone lies the cyclist who stopped pedalling.”  There is tea and toast at the end of my journey, and that keeps my legs turning.

Snoozing and bonking.

Splash face with cold water, look self in mirror, tell self to wake up.

Put on socks, base layer, bib tights, jersey, jacket, buff and cap.

Put bread in toaster. 

Fill water bottles. Sound of running water makes you realise you need to pee. Take off jacket, jersey and bibs, pee, put them back on again.

Pack tubes, tyre levers, pump, cash, phone and keys into jersey pocket.

Locate shoes and overshoes from underneath pile of stuff. Put them on feet.

Put on gloves. Realise you can’t easily eat toast whilst wearing gloves. Take off gloves, scoff 3/4 of the slice of toast, put gloves back on.

Plonk helmet onto head. Do silly fast walk downstairs that maximises speed and minimises risk of slipping on cleated shoes. Jump onto bike, whizz down the road, arrive with seconds to spare….

Getting up ten minutes before you need to leave is never advisable. There are plenty of reasons why it’s a stupid thing to do, but today I experienced the reality of one in particular. I’d usually get up in time to eat porridge and drink coffee before setting off on a ride. This morning I didn’t even have time to finish a slice of toast, and in my rush to leave didn’t put any food in my pocket. This is a mistake I won’t make again.

I always thought ‘bonking’ was what middle aged people called sex, but it turns out it has a different meaning in cycling. And somewhere near Laughton on the team ride today I bonked. I bonked hard. Having struggled to get going and then struggled to keep going, I was soon struggling to cycle at all. Blurred vision, a spinny head and feeling like I was going to throw up. As my team mate beautifully put it: ‘you’ve barely had any food…your stomach is eating itself!’. I know plenty of cyclists who ride 50 miles on no breakfast, but that kind of routine is one you have to build up to, and I’m certainly not there yet. So, along with Matt (who was ill and after an excuse to do a shorter ride), we let the team go on with their full ride and took a turn off at Isfield for an unscheduled stop in the Lavender Line cafe.

A sugary drink and several carby snacks later I was back in the saddle and ready to ride home. It wasn’t a wasted morning – I still managed 34 miles and I definitely learnt a lesson: avoid the bonk – EAT.

(Oh, and don’t press the snooze button.)

Lavender Line Cafe

Night time

It is night time.

The dark outline of a woman appears in the hedgerows and I brake, violently. I blink and the figure has gone: I realise it was my own shadow, thrown across the greenery by the light on my bicycle.

The light I have seems only to illuminate the fog, not the road, and for a long while all I can see is mist.

Occasionally I hit a pothole with no warning, this is the only thing that reminds me I am on the Sussex roads, and not floating through some strange dream.

The climbs are fine, at a slow pace my eyes adjust slightly and I can make out the edge of the road – a vague, soft line which I follow on my ascent to the peak of the dark hill. A lone house sheds some light on the corner, another bend, and I return to the darkness.

Next the descent, and for a while I feel totally lost in the darkness and mist – blinking in the hope that when my eyes open I will be able to see more of the road. A branch catches my cheek and the sharp pain wakes me from my utter disorientation: I am riding. I know these roads. I will be there soon.

White Chalk Hills UCX (film)

WHITE CHALK HILLS UCX is the brain child of Vélo Morphē.

Not a sportive, not a race & not an event. The White Chalk Hills UCX was put together by a couple of creative cyclists who had an idea of what would make an epic bike ride, and wanted to share it. Almost 5000ft of climbing, on and off road, made up the 46 mile route.

I have to admit to not riding the UCX, mostly due to lack of suitable bike. (I did go for the Belgian beer and frites though..) There are whispers of more rides from Vélo Morphē, so I’m keeping my ears open.

This is why we ride our bikes.

White Chalk Hills Ultracross 2012

Filmed and produced by Gavin Peacock.

……..

Read more about the day here.

Drop the chocolate bar and grab the handle bars.

LAZY was the order of the day over Christmas, for which I won’t apologise. However this week it’s been back to work, back to not having excuses to eat too much chocolate (although I could probably still find some) and back into some kind of a routine.

The end of my holiday on Friday also meant a long overdue return to the saddle this weekend. I did cycle a bit over Christmas, but not much, so it was with some excitement (and some fear of how much my fitness had suffered) that I dusted off Claud for a ‘proper’ ride on Saturday. The lovely Gill joined me for 45 miles through the Sussex countryside: a nice loop from Brighton through Lewes, Offham, Ditchling, Steyning and along the seafront from Shoreham back home again. We rode at a good pace, catching up about Christmas, and the only truly unpleasant thing about the ride was the feeling of dissapointment on being told that the pub we stopped at wasn’t serving any food. 45 miles on a piece of toast and a bag of crisps might be easy for the pros, but it isn’t my style!

You can read a bit more about Saturday’s ride from Gill’s perspective, because she’s just started her own blog as part of a fitness challenge for 2013: you can find it here.

Spooning bikes…

Sunday was my first team ride with Team ASL360. Group riding is very new to me still, and I knew it was going to be a bit of a learning curve. I would like to publicly apologise to my new team mates for swerving, swearing and slowing more than I should have done. However, I do feel like I learnt more in those 3 hours than in the whole of the rest of the time I’ve been riding a bike – so it’s not all bad! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there’s no better way to learn than to ride with a bunch of people who’ve been riding for longer than you have. Two hours in and my legs were starting to give up (despite the social pace we were going at) but I made it back in once piece with the rest of the group, and that’s good enough for me. 3 hours and almost 50 miles of riding later and I was well ready for my glamourous post-ride routine: drinking a recovery shake in the bath.

It seems my lazy festive fortnight didn’t do too much damage, but it’s back to business now; bring on the riding…

 

 

 

Let’s hit the ground running.

I’ve just had a look at my diary, and have concluded it is going to be a busy start to 2013…in a good way. If you’re thinking of heading along to any of the following events and rides, be sure to come and say hello to me and Claud! Leave a comment and I might even buy you coffee ;-)

JANUARY

Friday 18th & Saturday 19th – London Bike Show

Sunday 20th – Kent Velo Girls Race Training Day, at Cyclopark

Sunday 27th – Lewes Wanderers Reliability Ride

 

FEBRUARY

Sunday 17th – Kent Velo Girls Race Training Day, at Cyclopark

 Sunday 24th - Hell of the Ashdown sportive

 

MARCH

Sunday 10th – Puncheur Sportive

 Saturday 16th – Winter in the Park, Women’s 3/4 race

 Sunday 17th - Kent Velo Girls Race Training Day, at Cyclopark

 Saturday 23rd – Winter in the Park, Women’s 3/4 race

 

APRIL

30 Days of Biking!

I’ll be organising some fun, social rides in Lewes / Brighton area.

 

Racing & Resolutions.

I don’t really do New Year’s Resolutions.

The reason for this is that resolutions typically involve giving up nice things like alcohol or chocolate, and setting unrealistic goals for ourselves regarding diet and exercise. They’re never much fun, and we usually find ourselves failing to keep to them, and then feeling crap about it. A few years ago I started a little new year routine as an alternative to resolutions. Instead of making unrealistic promises to myself about things that, frankly, don’t really matter, I would use the start of a new year as an excuse to write a list off stuff I’d like to achieve/get done/try over the year. The idea of the list is that it’s full of stuff that I WANT to do, not stuff I think that I ought to.

There are lots of things on my list this year, but I’m just going to write about a few, which, funnily enough, involve Claud.

Whenever I write a list, I always put something I have already done at the top, so that I can tick it off right away and feel good about it (am I the only person who does that?) So, number one on my list:

☑ Join a cycling team

Yes indeed, you heard. I am the newest, most nervous, least experienced member of Team ASL360, based in Lewes. Thanks to them for having me…!

☐ Ride More Bike

Ride more. Ride Further. Have fun.

☐ Get others on their bikes

Probably my favourite thing about this blog is how it has encouraged a few people I know to ride a bike, when they never normally would. There was my friend George, who hadn’t ridden a bike for years and then had the most amazing day out on a bicycle, and my best mate Sabrina, who declared “I don’t ride bikes” and shortly afterwards was climbing Sussex hills on a road bike.

I’m already looking forward to 30 Days of Biking in April (the initiative that got me to start this blog back in September) and as part of that I hope to organise some more social rides.

☐ Race

I’m going to give racing a go. Who knows how it will go, but I have a feeling I may get hooked. Either way, I’ll be using the blog to document my progress, so look out for a post about my first race in the next few months.

Speaking of racing, yesterday I went up to Hillingdon with Jason and Matt from Team ASL360. Whilst the guys warmed up for their race I watched the women’s race. If I needed any convincing that I should try racing, this was it. Perhaps it was just because I was so cold standing and watching, but every inch of me wanted to jump on a bike and join in.

So, here’s to 2013: The Year of the Bicycle.

Women’s race (all Cats) – Photo (c) Huw Williams

Some of my phone photos from the day:

Women’s race (all Cats)

E123 race

Young supporters cheer on their dad

E123 race

Hills, pie and sheep.

On Tuesday afternoon I joined friends Matt and John (of team ASL360) along with their good mate Matt Green, for the last leg of their day’s ride. By which I mean they cycled about 50 miles, of which I joined them for 17. Matt had mentioned the words “Ditchling Beacon” so it was with slight dread that I dragged Claud down my flat’s steps and onto the road to meet the guys on the seafront.

Despite my moodiness, after a few minutes of having fresh air in my lungs and my muscles warmed up, I started to remember that there is a good reason why I ride a bike – I bloody love it. It was a really beautiful, crisp day, too – perfect for a sociable Christmas ride and to admire some of Sussex’s finest views.

At the top of the Ditchling descent

We went the ‘easy’ way up the Beacon, which meant a longish but not impossible climb followed by a massive down-hill. Now, whilst we are on the subject, here is an admission – it turns out that I’m piss-pants scared of going down steep descents.

Under strict instructions (and sensible advice) not to brake the whole way down, or suddenly, I was a naughty cyclist and didn’t take my hands off the brakes once. It’s a miracle they still worked at all by the bottom of the hill. At one point I remember considering stopping, getting off the bike and walking. Every corner terrified me, and by the time I’d reached the foot of the hill my legs were violently shaking.

Shouldn’t that be enough to put me off doing it again? Maybe. But I didn’t die, and even if I’d fallen off I’m pretty confident would have lived to tell the tale. It would make a very good blog post, after all. 6 months ago riding 20 (flat) miles was a big challenge, and one that scared me. Where would I be now if I’d let that stop me?

Coffee stop at Ditchling Tearooms

I was relieved to be done with the epic downhill and enjoyed the rest of the ride much more, knowing it was out of the way. I didn’t really feel like I deserved a break after such a short ride but I’m not one to turn down caffeine or a comfy chair, so we stopped for a coffee in Ditchling.

Ditchling tearooms are great, by the way. There is a garage space where you can leave your bike and they are very welcoming of us sweaty, lycra clad types. The puddings aren’t half bad either…

Epic Pudding. (I ‘only’ ate half of this)

We took the scenic road back to Lewes through Plumpton and Offham, which partly retraced the Cycletta route, and provided some gorgeous views. We also came across these chaps, who put a smile on all our faces. It’s random stuff like this that makes me love cycling in Sussex!

Road block, Sussex style.

There are definitely worse ways to spend a Tuesday afternoon.

Thanks John, Matt and Matt for putting up with a slow coach :-)

Kidds Hill take two, and more cake.

On Friday night there was a last minute change of plan. Several friends who were going to be joining us for a ride on Saturday had to cancel (all with very good excuses!) leaving only two of us for the ‘Festive Ride’. Looking back, it may have been that we’d both had quite a bit of wine, but Gill and I decided that we’d get up earlier than planned and do 50 miles up to the forest and back.

My awesome friend Gill is a great cyclist, and competes in Triathlons, but the furthest she had ever gone on a bike before was 25 miles (with me, the previous week). I’m a little worried that I’m going to get a reputation for dragging people on long bike rides, but I would like to say that Gill was totally on board with the idea and didn’t take any persuading!!

Coffee consumed and many layers put on, we headed off with a vague plan for a 50ish mile loop from Lewes, with cake half way.

Compulsory Cake Stop. (At Burrswood, Groombridge)

It was a really beautiful day, and not nearly as cold as we thought it would be. Our route took us North out of Lewes through Newick and Maresfield to Groombridge, and then looped back in a figure of eight through Forest Row, Coleman’s Hatch and Maresfield again, through Isfield this time, and back to Lewes. As usual we passed lots of other friendly cyclists, but we particularly noticed lots of women out on their bikes, which made me happy!

The bikes have a rest in Groombridge.

You might remember my first attempt at Kidds Hill. I didn’t go into much detail, mostly because I sucked so badly. I think I stopped four or five times, and my companion’s bike broke half way up too. All in all, take two was more successful. We both managed to get two thirds of the way up without stopping, and only paused briefly once before finishing the climb. No one even threw up, which in our eyes was a miracle.

Just taking a little break after Kidds Hill….

Despite the fact that it nearly killed me, it felt good to know that I must be a little bit stronger, a little bit fitter and a whole lot more determined than the last time I attempted that same climb. I suppose all this cycling is doing something.

“It Doesn’t Get Any Easier, You Just Get Faster”

Greg Lemond

Gill surveys the sunset we were treated to at the end of our climb.

Introducing Annie.

Claud has a girlfriend! And you must promise not to tell him, but I’m totally crushing on her too…

Her name is Annie. She’s a Raleigh single-speed conversion built up by Matt at Future Cycles. And she is lovely.

Just chilling in the hallway

Today we rode to the printers, and to the post office to post some bike art. Underneath my big red scarf (which matches the colour of Annie’s frame perfectly, I should add) was hidden my huge grin. I felt like an excited child at Christmas with a new toy.

First trip into Brighton

Weeeeeeeee

Don’t worry…Claud will still be ridden lots and lots. The single-speed will just be used about town, without having to worry about clippy shoes and all that jazz. I’ve fashioned the perfect bag for carrying prints back from the printers, and for taking parcels to the post office. So the likelihood is, if you buy anything from the shop, it will have started it’s journey on a ride with Annie.

 

Why you love to ride your bikes…

Some of the replies I had on Twitter to #whyilovetoridemybike

The train leaves without me, and always takes too long – my bike leaves when I start pedalling, and is as fast as I can make it.

The loudest voice in the playground this morning loves riding their bike because ‘IT FEELS LIKE FLYING’!!

When I snap my cleats into the pedals I am melded to this graceful machine that makes me better in untold ways; and being in that moment, being intimate with the world around us becomes easy.

Because it’s fun and I love the feeling of freedom.

The smells. I love the different aromas I encounter as I cycle round the city, in my head there is a smell map of the streets.

I love to ride a bike for the pure joy and the freedom of 2 wheels in a busy city.

It’s always up for adventure, doesn’t suffer from headaches and never gets tired – I love it!

Exercises, nice surprises, natural highs and gentle rises: countryside in all its guises, aching thighs, wife sympathises.

Why? To relive my younger days & help overcome a long term disability to become stick free after 20yrs. What better way to do it?

Mulled Cider Festive Ride

Saturday 8th December at 12:00

We ride our bikes, and then we drink mulled cider and eat mince pies. Simple. What better way to get in the festive spirit?

Photo (c) Josh Thornton

We’ll meet at the Peace Statue on Brighton Seafront at midday and ride a loop that finishes back in Brighton. We’ll be riding at a sociable pace.

This is the route. 25 miles: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/157104001

All types of bikes and types of people are welcome, so long as you are nice :-)

Oh, and it’s free.

RSVP here.