Monday, 10 July 2017

Summer Riding

We last spoke when the full susser was in the shop to be fixed. When this was fixed I had a big plan to rebuild it in a carpark at Swinley and pop out on a fun lap. It turned out that a new chain on an old cassette didn’t want to behave and the ride was frustratingly abandoned.

Since then the hardtail has been getting some serious action around home. This included taking full advantage of the dry weather to head out onto those paths that are impossible to ride in the winter. At this time of year there are clattering field edges to ride fast, sweeping past crops that are slowly ripening from green to gold as the summer progresses.

I also headed North West to explore the winter ride in faster and drier conditions. This was a ride that would also inspire a visitor from Australia to follow the route having found it on Strava, and validate my view of it by enjoying his ride. In the end I did it both ways round to see what was best.

In order to not restrict myself to riding to the North of London I also ventured round the M25 to explore another ride on the Eastern end of the North Downs. I had been hoping for wide open spaces here, but found a ride dominated by woods and steep climbs up onto the escarpment. This was no bad thing in the sunshine and made it all the more dramatic to come out of the woods to a view of the Medway.

Looping back and forth over motorways and the Eurostar line, this was a feature-filled looping ride.

As the good weather settles in I find myself wanting to make the most of it by being on the bike for longer. It’s always satisfying to achieve something, and a loop around a city is as good a target as any. I’ve investigated ways to circumnavigate Hertford before but this version took some of the closer options, giving a taste of the combination of woods and sweeping waves of crops that make up the countryside around the town.

The medium circuit of what Hertfordshire has to offer got me thinking further about a plan that I’ve had since last year. This involved a wider loop, taking in the edges of all the rides I’ve done in recent years, and with the aim to hit 100km. During the week I planned it out using the excellent justgoride website and felt the nerves build. It came in just over the target at 116km, which I expected would take around 6 hours. The distance is more than I’ve ever ridden in one go, but I’ve done 6 hour rides before and it would be interesting to see which had the bigger impact.

The Hertfordshire Hundred

For this day out I planned much more thoroughly than I usually do for a ride here. I bled my brakes and gave the bike a once over, adding a bottle cage. I made sure I packed spares and tools, but added food and several bottles of water and energy drinks.

Rolling out I switched my watch over to a map view so as not to watch the distance tick by, and settled into a routine of thinking about what I was riding and no more than one section ahead. On this basis I rolled through the wooded areas, in the early morning clouds and started to make sure I drank plenty on every tarmac section where I could relax slightly. I worked round the mix of lanes and singletrack and through my first checkpoint at Hertingfordbury and then out into the more open North West, towards Tewin and then on towards Watton at Stone.

After Watton there are more fields with a section on the second Roman road of the day before turning south to make my way into the really wide open corn field sections with main road crossings sharp climbs and a couple of fords as the route snaked East towards Much Hadham.

The village of Much Hadham had me just short of the 100 and felt like a real landmark as it represented the last portion of the ride, briefly out towards Bishops Stortford and then south back towards the start. Here it started to get hard, as the time riding ramped up and the tiredness in my body and mind made everything harder. A silly crash, dropping my front wheel in a rut and my body in the corn, woke me up a little and I pressed on, eating the last of my food and switching to Lucozade rather than mixed energy drinks. The last field edges and the final climb were an effort, but I was soon rewarded with the sight of the car and the satisfaction of not feeling as bad as I feared I might.

This was a brilliant, long, tough but hugely rewarding ride that covered the whole range of what Hertfordshire can offer. It’s hard to remember the start as you hit the end of the ride and every section offers something new and extra variety. There’s the landmark of the hundred km and I’d like my time to cover it to stand as a (very) minor distance challenge for anyone else who wants to try the same ride.


Monday, 12 June 2017

What Do I Ride 1 - Kona Caldera

Any bike publication worth their salt eventually does a “what do we ride” feature and I don’t see why I should do anything different. There’s only me so it’ll be a short and irregular series.

This weekend the full-susser went into the bike hospital and I was battering my body on the hardtail, which gives me the perfect opportunity to start the series with:

2004 Kona Caldera

Frame – 2004 Kona Caldera
Fork – Rockshox Recon
Wheels – Mavic Crossride
Tyres – Continental Mountain King
Brakes - Shimano SLX
Crankset – Shimano Deore, modified to only run the middle 34t ring
Drive – 10 speed cassette with Shimano SLX Shadow+ mech, Shimano XT shifter, e-thirteen chain guide
Contact – WTB Volt saddle, Ritchey Rizer Pro bars, Shimano LX pedals

This is broadly my second choice bike and as such runs a mixture of solid reliable parts and budget decisions to match its status. The bike is built around a Caldera frame that was my main bike for years and reflects the fashion from the time, with steeper angles on a stiff aluminium build. There have been many iterations of the bike around gearing options, and it’s now settled on a 1x10 system using a modified Deore crankset. The chain retention device is a hangover from before it had a clutch mech keeping things in place and I haven’t seen any reason to get rid of it, preferring a belt and braces approach.

The Recon forks are a recent replacement for a Sektor R that reached the end of their life, offering air sprung smoothness over coil suspension. Wheels come from Mavic and are light, with bladed spokes despite being very competitively priced, and the tyres are also on the cheap side. Conti Mountain Kings are fast rolling but not very subtle, but are adequate for what the bike does.

What it gets used for is non-technical riding and muddy days out where speed and simplicity is the most important thing. On rockier or rougher terrain it’s skittish and a challenge to control especially on narrow 90s riser bars but I still love this bike. Pedals and saddle are old favourites, the seat is a cheaper copy of the one on my other bike and brakes are the same, while the pedals are old favourites as I run SPDs on every bike.

It’s a light, fast, bike that reminds me every time I ride that hardtails are great in the right place. It climbs incredibly and helps to keep me honest when I’m riding the big bike.

This weekend this bike got two excursions, at least one reminding me of the advantages of riding on suspension as I clattered down the lines I would have taken on that bike.


Tuesday, 30 May 2017

A Peak District Tour

After a week of beautiful sunshine it seems only natural to want to celebrate with a big ride.

In terms of landscape the Peak District offers some distinct big-ness. After much debate I woke up early, and hit the M1 for 3 hours to go and get some time on some real hills. This was how I found myself in the carpark in Castleton at 9:30 with a plan and even some lunch. It was raining.

The rain gave way quickly to a muggy morning to start the climbing, out of the town and up towards Mam Tor on a road that famously has fallen off the hill and so now makes a nice traffic-free and slightly off-road start to the day. From there proper tarmac took me up to the first pass at Rushup Edge. This track hit the headlines a while ago as it was the focus of some less-than sensitive repair work, but the bedrock remains with loose rocks on other sections and it still stands up as a good warm up for Peak District descending. More of the same on the Pennine Bridleway dropped me into a steep valley and onto my first pushed climbing section. The climbs here are tough and often loose and the heat and my lingering cold were not working in my favour. I pushed a little, then remounted and rode on. I was doing this section in the opposite direction from usual and it seems to work as well either way, with each brutal climb I remembered becoming a clattering downhill.

Soon I was approaching the long loose climb up to Kinder Scout which was dealt with in short bursts, and fully ridden up to the seriously steep, loose and challenging top section, where I was on foot again. Halfway up I passed a pair of e-bikes with riders fixing a puncture and I wonder which way they were addressing it, and what the legal position of powered bikes on bridleways is. Finally reaching the top of the climb, with sweat pouring off me, it was time for the point of doing this “backwards”, which was a descent of Jacobs Ladder. This starts with steep rock sections where the pack road has fallen apart and then drops into a loose switchback across the hill on rocks big enough to move considerably under your wheels. Crossing the stream at the bottom led to a recovery cruise down the valley to the road again.

Another tough climb, that I’d be lying if I suggested I rode all of, followed to take me up to Rushup Edge again and then off on a couple of road sections before a wide steady climbing track into the wind to put me above Castleton again, with the highly technical Cave Dale to drop through to get back to the car. It felt like I dealt with this tough descent better than ever before, but any comparison was lost as I somehow managed to mess up the GPX file for Strava.

Even without analysis of my performance this was a brilliant day out in the hills, well worth the 6 hours’ driving and leaving me with videos and sunburn to show for a day of real, proper mountain biking.


Monday, 15 May 2017

Training? Just Playing Out.

Another weekend, another biking story. This time another parable of how different fun on a bike can be. In retrospect you could view the variety as great cross-training. But training for what, I have no idea.

Squeezed into the start of Saturday, in a brisk wind, I went to the BMX track and made sure I still had what I’d built up before roughing up my knee last week.

Heading home via my usual test of strength to hop up a low wall, then parked the bikes until Sunday when a beautiful late Spring day begged me to get out into the baked out, dusty trails of Hertfordshire. Another variation of linking previous routes, with the added options provided by a lack of clogging wet clay anywhere to play with, took me looping up from Hertford, through Watton and out to the North. A couple of exploring turns to shorten the total and one that found a sweet singletrack option next to the usual bridleway took me on a smooth 50-odd KM in the breezy sunshine. The fast tracks, lovely weather and, I guess, good fitness took me round the Hertfordshire countryside smoothly on one of those days where you reach the car wishing for more but tired and satisfied with a few hours in the saddle.


Monday, 8 May 2017

More Closed Routes

Another irritating theme is developing with recent riding. As I explore different areas to ride I’ve found too many blocked ways and closed paths. In Wales this happened in spectacular fashion but it came up again this weekend in Hertfordshire.

This ride was an attempt to start in St Albans and link into the riding I knew existed to the East. As you can see there some early false starts. Firstly when a track that I hoped would cross the motorway actually came to a dead stop before crossing. Soon afterwards another track was closed for work, the second section to fall to roadworks in the same area of Hertfordshire this year. Both meant annoying diversions, in each case racking up the tarmac miles on this exploring ride. Overall the best sections were easily the ones I already knew, but I might have missed some opportunities to the north of St Albans, however much there was little that grabbed my attention on studying the map.

Home from this trip I wanted some more flowing fun (in a similar style to last week, oddly). I rolled off to the BMX track to blast over some jumps and berms. Results were mixed.

A post shared by @andy_c_11 on

When it was going well, it felt great, hitting jumps at times too hard and overjumping the doubles. It was probably this speed that put me on the deck, but at least I got up and back at it before heading home with blood running down my leg. The old saying is true and not getting back up there does more damage the next time out.