Up the Ravensbourne

….and down the Darent.  That was the plan.  As part of my scheme to ride to the source of all the rivers entering the Thames along its passage through London, I thought I would start at Deptford and finish at Dartford; going up one river and down another.  I had already reccied both the Darent and the Ravensbourne so all I needed to do was stitch them together at the top.  Surely not asking too much?

Click here for route map

Getting to Deptford Creek, and the start of the Ravensbourne turned out to be more difficult than I had imagined.  After getting the Overground to Rotherhithe, I proceeded to set off confidently in the wrong direction.  It was one of the occasions when my GPS was sending me one way, and my internal sense of direction was sending me another.  In the the end, my internal compass won the day.  I’d loaded the wrong route and was heading in the direction of home.  For some reason that set the tone for the day.

I eventually found the right route on my GPS and started my ‘ascent’ up the River Ravensbourne, a vertical ascent of 163 meters over 25 km’s (17 as the river flows).  Having discovered it’s delight on a previous reccy (but on that occasion descending it), this time around there was no surprises, the wind was against me, and it was cold.  My normal cycling exuberance was a little ….flat.  Once past Bromley and on to the off-road sections, I realised that I should have paid more heed to the fact that it had been raining a lot in the previous days. The going was soggy, with a few unrideable sections.   Nearing the top of Keston Common, I came across an information board, which previous to my blog, I would have ignored.  It pointed out a large house through the trees called Ravensbourne Lodge, built in 1861, and owned, amongst others, by the Tate and Lyle family who built labs and hot houses and grew sugar-cane in the grounds of the house.  Tate and Lyle reminded me of my first trip east along the Thames, 6 months ago.  I like it when I can make a link! In 1967 the entire estate was bought by a Seismic Exploration Company called Seismograph Service Ltd, which although has long since been taken over, I remember from my early days in the Oil Industry. Two links from one information board!

Looking across the Vale of Keston from Wilberforce Oak on a cold wintery day.

As I past the last of the Keston ponds and Ceasars spring (the font of the Ravensbourne), I was at last back on new territory and getting my mojo back.  Before I knew it, I was reading another information board, this time telling me about a conversation between William Wilberforce & the ‘then’ Prime Minister, Mr Pitt (in 1788), and it was here that Willberforce mentioned to Pitt his intention to bring forward the abolition of the slave trade. The path looked over the vale of Keston, and the conversation took place under an old oak tree, which has been replaced by a ‘sturdy sapling’.  No links here, but I am constantly surprised by the number of information boards I come across, even in the back of beyond.

The path swooped down a little scarp into the valley and along the road to the village of Downe which is where Charles Darwin & Nigel Farage lived for many years.  Not together of course, or at the same time, but I couldn’t help wondering what they would have made of one another? Apparently Charles Darwin suffered terribly (probably stress related) with his digestion, and I suddenly found myself wondering whether Nigel suffered with similar complaints from his pint drinking habits. I’ve given up trying to control the nonsense that passes through my head!  I passed Orchis Bank where Darwin studied Orchid pollination and later published his book, Fertilisation of Orchids and experts believe this inspired his final paragraph in the Origin of Species: ” It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us …. and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

So much culture, but I found it very difficult to ‘contemplate an entangled bank’ and cycle up it at the same time.  The gradients on some of the off-road sections where just too steep and rutted to ride, and I was forced to get off, which I always see as defeat.  The final blow was finding a section of path blocked by a land-owner who would rather not have the inconvenience of people passing his property.  By this stage I was massively behind schedule and rather than try to find a pleasant alternative I just stuck to the larger roads.

I entered the Darent valley along a chalk escarpment to the west of Shoreham, which again proved a tricky ride and actually upending me on a steeper section.  Luckily for my ego, no-one was around to witness such a rarity!  With bits of chalk and clay stuck to my left thigh I continued on to the Lullingstone park visitors centre, where I burnt the roof of my mouth on the last remains of their (very salty) soup of the day. Sometimes things just stack up against me!

A boat full of spring flowers at Eynsford. Perhaps spring really was on the way?

The sun came out at Eynsford, and although there wasn’t many daylight hours left to enjoy it, it turned out to be a sign of better things to come.  I made quick progress down the Darent valley and was keen to finish the ride by exploring an alternative route into Dartford as my last attempt was far from enjoyable.  My planned route used the Darent Valley Path, which I picked up in the village of Darenth, at end of the Chequers Pub road.  After 300 metres I was on a firm rideable path next to the Darent, rolling under the M25 and from here on (apart from a short section of A225), the path took me right into the centre of Dartford.  It was a ride less ordinary; a quiet forgotten track past everything from the willow-banked river Darent to derelict mills and the local Industrial estate, ending in the Central Park Gardens.  As I pootled through the park back to the station, my path took me under a bridge which was playing one of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos (!).  Apparently it’s meant to discourage bad behavior.  It seemed to aptly round off my day of unexpected cultural encounters, and made me think that perhaps the world wasn’t against me, after all.

Download the Ride with GPS file here. (if you dare!), or click here  for a slightly tamed version of the route.


Route Map

Hoo Dunnit!

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Curlews, convicts & contraband

It was time to forge further east along the Thames and pick up a Thames-side route from Dartford to Rochester, and with the days getting longer and the weather forecast set fair, I seized the day. My mission was to stick close to the Thames with the main attraction of this stretch being the Hoo Peninsular, which has a lonely but beautiful ‘other worldliness’ to it that is similar to other flat and forgotten corners of the British Isles (like the marshlands around Dungeness).  I was particularly lured to a remote section of path marked on the OSM outdoors map as ‘Curlews, Convicts and Contraband’. The route to this remote section included a lot un-surfaced tracks with a few potential ‘dead-ends’ which needed investigating, so I set out knowing it wasn’t go to be easy, even if it was flat.

Click here for route map.


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Wobbly moment under the QEII bridge.

I started out from Dartford station, which is now becoming quite familiar, and picked up a path that ran alongside the River Darent.  I followed it’s wiggles to the Thames and the Deptford Creek flood barrier, before heading east over the Deptford marshes to the Queen Elizabeth II bridge.  The marshlands where packed with birds and flys and, as I coasted along the river path, I approached a photographer complete with tri-pod and all the accessories, assuming that he was filming the wildlife. Alas no!  As I got closer I spotted a scantily clad lady in heels definitely not designed for bird-watching.  I was tempted to look back, but didn’t!  If that wasn’t enough to make me feel queasy, riding next to the massive legs of the Queen Elizabeth II bridge, brought on slight vertigo.  It was all too much this early in the day.

Onwards to the Thames-side towns of Greenhithe and Gravesend, which were crammed with the kind of history that fascinates me.  Due to it’s position on the river (being the first easily accessible dry land) it was the International departures and arrivals point for ships bound to all points east, from the huge ships of the East India Company in the 1600 & 1700’s bound for China, Indonesia and India, to the Australia-bound ocean liners taking £10 poms to a new life in the 1950 & 60’s.  I stood on the promenade at Gravesend thinking of all those people setting off and returning from massive life-changing adventures over the centuries, and it made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.

I picked my way out of Gravesend, choosing the path that runs along the Thames, rather than the Sustrans route 1.  It involved a couple of styles and gates and the odd patch of bog, but was 90% rideable.  The path led to Shornemead Fort, which was built in the mid 1800’s but has since been demolished and is now a gallery for graffiti.  An interesting mix of old and new, with framed pictures of the Thames rolling by, through the fort casements.  From there I decided to make a detour inland to find an easier surface to ride on, which led me to a mobile cafe serving up anything fried with tea, coffee or a sugary drink.  Perfect!  It was next to Hoo junction, and as it was at the end of an un-surfaced road on the edge of a marsh, it didn’t have a FB page, and rarely gets a stranger. Bacon butties were good!

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Looking East along the Thames from Shoremead. The white dot shimmering on the skyline is an approaching tanker.

From here, things got a little wild. A local cyclist warned me of the disintegrating path around Cliffe Fort but I decided to go for it.  How else was I going to get to the Curlews, Convicts and Contraband section?  The path around the front of the fort had indeed been swallowed up by the Thames and had been diverted through a sand and gravel works, via another flooded section of path. Having negotiated it without getting my feet wet, I was then faced with an extremely narrow over-grown section, which thankfully only lasted for around a 100 metres.  Having passed these tests, the Hoo Peninsula lay before me, in all it’s …….flatness! The path ran parallel with the Thames but on the marsh side of the flood barrier, so although the surface was reasonably fast, the views where so similar for the next half an hour that I ended up thinking I was stopped and the scenery was moving.  I was completely alone for the entire section.  Just me, the reeds, the vast sky and a load of Curlews and Sky Larks.  I couldn’t help feeling that I needed to be a few metres above sea level rather than below, for a truly enjoyable experience.  By the time I got to the Curlews, Convicts and Contraband section of the track, tiredness had kicked in, and all I felt was an urgent need for a bit of tarmac. Ho hum!

Once back on the black stuff, and having stopped for some dried mango and flapjack, I was feeling more together but decided not to go to Grain as I didn’t want to hit rush-hour back in London.  The Hoo Peninsular to Waterloo East at rush hour, what a contrast! I meandered along the coast through Hoo St Werburgh to Rochester, where I boarded the train home, and had the dubious pleasure of sharing my carriage with some Boys from Westminster Cathedral Choir School.  I learnt some new words, but won’t be sharing them here, in case my Mum reads it.


The Verdict

The longest mileage on un-surfaced roads yet undertaken on my road bike.  It was a hard 67 km, but I certainly don’t regret any of it.  When I do it again I will include more landward small lane sections, through Cliffe, Cooling & St Mary Hoo!  Anybody considering doing the section from Cliffe Fort to High Halstow needs to be able to lift their bike over a number of 5-bar gates!  I’ll only load a tamer version of this ride onto The Rides page.

New Coastline

This ride includes a section of coastline close to Halstow Marshes which has been altered as recently as October 2016, by building a new more landward sea wall, breaching the old sea-wall and allowing an area of the marsh to revert back to intertidal mud-flats. It was the largest controlled breach of a flood wall in the UK to date and you can read about it here.  Even the Ordnance Survey Maps have yet to be altered, so my red-line on the map below may well be the first published up-dated map!


Route Map

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Thanks Mum!

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Right: Me touring Ireland in 1985, Middle: Mum on her 28″ wheeler on her way to work, Left; My brother and I preparing for our first unaccompanied YHA trip 1980 (I was 15 and on the ‘Ladies Triumph Tourer …….3 speed Sturmey Archer gears).

…for inspiring me to choose the road less traveled, for trusting me to explore the world on my own, and for lending me your Ladies Triumph Tourer when Mrs Inwood reversed her car over my bike! Who would have guessed it would be the start of a life-long love of the open road!

Strava, Streams & the Serra de Bernia

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Alison Dex braving the first ford.

…….and so it came to be that I found myself on a road-biking holiday in Calpe, a resort just along the coast from Benidorm. I had confessed my love of the road less traveled to the group leader (Keith the honorary Bella Velo), so he was prepared when I veered off down a bumpy track as the rest of the group sped-off on beautifully smooth tarmac.  I had planned a couple of rides before I arrived.  Here is a description of the ride I completed on the last day.

Click here for the route map

The roads out of Calpe have one thing in common; they are all up-hill.  Not particularly unusual for a coastal resort, but they do go on a bit!  Having examined various maps and overlays I worked out that the least painful way out of town for an adventure road-biker involved a ford crossing, which in normal conditions would have been nothing more than a trickle, but having had over 2 cm of rain earlier in the week, the waterways were a bit lively.  This turned out to be a recurring theme throughout the ride.  I managed to convince one of the Bella Velo ladies to join me for the first section of the ride, and here she is fording the first stream. Thanks Alison!

The weather was sunny but with a slightly Siberian bite to the wind which kept us moving.  Up the lane, along a short section of Main road and onto the Serra Bernia road.  Regardless of whether you are a pure roadie or have off-road inclinations, I think it would be difficult not to enjoy riding this road.  It quietly winds its way along the side of a hill with great views of Calpe and the coast, before turning towards a craggy mountain ridge, eventually descending into a valley which leads to the small town of Xalo. It would be wrong not to mention the 3 km ramp section with gradients of 13 to 15 %, but hey, things of beauty are often cruel!

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The end of the road …..and another river crossing!

After arriving in Xalo and warming up with piece of apple cake, a cafe con leche and much hovering over a wood burner, I left my roadie friends and headed out along the road to Liber. I took a left just before the village and followed the River Xalo along a small track on the valley floor, fording the river twice as it wound it’s way down the valley.  The river crossings added to the charm and challenge of the section and I did manage to keep my feet dry!  The road was rideable apart from the first 100 metres which had been washed away, and although it wasn’t the easiest of surfaces, I cycled past pretty bamboo groves and colourful river cut cliffs, until the track eventually joined the main Gata de Gorgos road.

The main road to Xabia was long, straight and busy with a very limited hard shoulder, so I was glad I had planned an alternative route, which on any other day of the year would have been as dry as a bone.  Not today, in fact sections of a stream had chosen the road as it’s preferred route.  It made for an interesting ride and took me to the outskirts of Xabia; a coastal town and part of the continuous conurbation that makes up this part of Spains coastline.

I am morbidly fascinated by Spains coastal ‘build ups'(!), so I chose a route which took me as close to the coast as possible but kept to the suburban roads rather than the A roads.  This meant a couple of sections of ‘unknown’ to join the built-up areas.  Arenal, which was to the seaside of Xabia had a pleasant beach-side cycle path and certainly wasn’t in the Benidorm league of ‘built up’, although you certainly couldn’t describe it as quaint.  I left the sea-front and climbed the headland between Arenal and Moraira, passing large well kept houses and gardens.  I was certainly in no danger of bumping into Madge from Benidorm here.

At the top of the hill my route -finding luck ran-out and I found myself in the middle of a burned out apocalyptic landscape, made up of jagged limestone pavement and scorched trees.  The track was unrideable on the uphill sections and exhausting on the down’s, but I could see where I was trying to get to, even if it took me half an hour to get there! I couldn’t determine whether is was fire-damaged or destined for more development, but I was certainly witnessing a land in some kind of transition.  I eventually made it back to tarmac and along a mix of pretty country lanes and urban sprawl to the picturesque cove of El Portet and on to Moraira for a well deserved ‘cania de cerveza’.  Moraira has a little port and an old town and is like Calpe’s rich relative.  I sat at a restaurant overlooking the port nursing my beer and eating the salty nuts and corn thoughtfully provided.  This was the last ride of the holiday and as I rode the familiar roller-coaster road back to Calpe, it felt like an old friend and for all my mis-givings about this stretch of coast, I didn’t want to leave so soon.

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Top: Via Pista, looking down on Benitachell, Left:River crossing on Gorgos de Xalo, Right: On the road to Xabia, Bottom: Coming into Gata de Gorgos

Verdict:  A very enjoyable day out. Calpe is not classic adventure road-riding country because it is mobbed with Rapha-clad roadies checking their PR’s, VO2’s and Strava segments, not to mention checking everybody else’s ‘lever length’ and ‘climbing tackle’ (nothing is sacred nowadays!).  Having said that, wherever you go there is always ‘a ride less ordinary’.


Route Map

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Strava Results.

I confess to getting swept up in the world or Strava segments and couldn’t help checking my stats when I returned.  Here is what I found!

Segment name: Carrer Caravaggio, Climb 31 (aka the apocalyptic section) I was Queen of the Mountains, by virtue of being the only women to have attempted it (on Strava). 64 attempts have been made to date and I come in at number 58.  It took me 25 mins (including a photo shoot).  The fastest man did it in 10 mins and the slowest (who happens to be called Wim van Wever) did it in 52 mins.

To anybody out there who is worried about my adventure biking spirit, I joined Strava so that I could use Relive.cc, a piece of software that replays your days efforts in 3D.  That’s where the grooming begins ……

(Post script. I have already been cruelly stripped of my QOM …..ho hum!)

(For Ride with GPS route download please click here)

…….here comes the sun!

 

Barcelona!  

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Ready to roll ….

Beautiful trails through pine clad hills, gravel tracks up dry river beds, classic road-bike climbs ….. gambas al ajillo, Rioja.  I will definitely be back for more!  This blog describes my winter escape to seek out some Mediterranean sunshine and to discover some new Adventure road-bike routes in the hills behind Barcelona.

Even the combination of Southern Rail and EasyJet didn’t stop my plans for a week away from the grey skies of London, although they did try pretty hard.  I arrived outside my Airbnb in the Collserola National Parc at around 8.30pm in a light drizzle, and as the taxi pulled away and my attempts at alerting my hosts to my arrival failed, it briefly occurred to me that I should have brushed up on my Spanish and perhaps booked somewhere a little busier.  After the neighbour showed me how to operate a Spanish ‘entry system’ (i.e the bell), my doubts faded, and I found myself in a beautiful loft apartment over-looking a pine and olive clad hill dotted with beautiful Spanish villas.  I was already hooked.

My week was wall to wall blue skies, a couple of great rides, loads of delicious food and the re-discovery of Barcelona after a 26 year ga

Click here for route map


Ride 1 Ullastrell Loop

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Roads. Railways & Rivers – The Llobregat Valley

The first 5 minutes of this ride was definitely the hardest – 30% ascent straight out of the front door, but with a hint of the herby dusty piney smell that signals all things warm and Mediterranean, I wasn’t complaining.  I pushed the bike to the top of the hill (fearing cardiac failure or at the very least a pulled muscle) and began the ride winding along a ridge through the Collserola National Parc.  Like a lot of the roads in the region, they tend to contour around and follow the ridges where possible, which is great for the views and the legs.  The route took me through Floresta and out onto some great trails through the pine forests.  Such fun that I forgot to look at my GPS and went seriously off route.

The trail stops at El Papiol a small industrial town on the edge of a massive valley cut by the Llobregat river, which starts in the Pyrenees. The valley is a mass of roads, railways and industrial towns, and the sudden contrast from the peace of the forest was quite intimidating.  My pre-ride recce indicated a lot of trails along the valley floor, so I headed for the river and found a large track going in the right direction.

The gravel and mud jeep-track followed the dry river bed and weaved it’s way past allotments, warehouses, under roads and railways, and was a bit like discovering a secret passage that comes out just where you want it (pictured above left).  I eventually emerged onto the start of the road climb up to Ullastrell.  Most road climbs in the area have gradients of less than 6% and never more than 7, and this ascent was no exception. Twelve kilometres later I was in Ullastrell looking for a coffee shop.  Surely a popular cyclist destination would have one?  Ullastrell was perched on a ridge which looked north to the Serra del Colcardus, or south back down the Llobregat valley to Barcelona.  I was left wondering why it was a cycling destination, apart from the fact that it was up a hill (funny bunch these Strava cyclists?).  I failed to find a central area or a cafe and decided to retreat back in the Terrassa direction.

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Open All Hours – a speciality grocers I found on my way home

My desire for a coffee and a break was satiated in Can Sola, which could possibly be described as a less salubrious suburb of Rubi.  I was entertained by some spontaneous Karaoke, a man trying to train his dog by shouting at it, and a horse-box full of whinnying horses. Weird combination!  The coffee was excellent and the cafe owners were very friendly (and tolerant of my appalling Spanish).  The trip back was as varied and interesting as my trip out, and I found my self flicking in and out of suburbs and pine forests on quiet roads.

As I neared my home for the week, the suburbs became smarter and I came across an old-fashioned grocers shop.  It was definitely one-up from ‘open all hours’, but born in the same era.  The Spanish lady couldn’t have been more helpful in my quest for the perfect pasta sauce and explained that she had the ultimate sauce arriving next week; alas I would not be there.  I wish she had been in the photograph, but here it is without her.

The Verdict

A great ride.  I was ‘reet chuffed’ that my route finding plans had delivered.  I would change the section around Rubi as it was too busy, and I would also consider continuing to Montserrat to lengthen the ride and significantly increase my chances of finding a decent coffee shop……and see the Monastry, of course!

Click here for Ride with GPS map and download.


Ride 2 Begues Loop

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An old mill – complete with mill wheel

The weather was set fair and I set off for my second ride, this time with a little more local knowledge. I decided that riding up the valley floor was a better start to the day than the 30% ascent to the top of the ridge.  Although the valley road had slightly more traffic, it wasn’t busy and I quickly found myself at Floresta, but this time heading out in a different direction.  The previous rides forest trails had proven to be totally manageable on a road-bike so I added some more to this ride.  Initially I was disappointed because my new route turned out to be a small paved road rather than soft pine needles, but soon enough it turned to gravel, pine needles & compacted mud. I even found myself cycling along a stream bed at one point.  Although it wasn’t a long section, it was beautiful; probably made more so by the early morning misty light and heavy dew.  The non-paved trail ended at a large mill, complete with millstone next to a large old house with an expensive car in the drive.  I knew the road would be easy from now on!

All too soon I was back out in the wide open space of the Llobregat valley, with its multiple roads, railways, rivers and industry, but before it swallowed me up, I went through a sweet town on the valley floor called Molins de Rei, which appeared to have kept some of it’s original charm.  I was almost tempted by a coffee at a little square but managed to keep my blinkers on for a while longer. My route across and down the valley was straight-forward apart from one very short section where I found myself on a massive 6 lane high-way and suddenly started worrying about how to get off it ….as quickly as possible. Although big, the road was virtually empty allowing me to do a U-turn onto a quieter road.

My route along the valley took me through the quiet suburbs of St Vincenc Dels Horts and Poble Neu before I turned up the valley towards Torrelles de Llobregat and faced the major climb of the day, a 400 metre ascent in 12 km.  The first section up to Torrelles was a wide road with plenty of room and very light traffic, and past Torrelles the road soon changed to a small paved road with virtually no traffic.  The whole section was up a picturesque wooded valley, made more so by the blue skies and empty roads.  I was glad of my ‘granny gear’ on the top section though.  The valley tops out at a plateau dominated by the town of Begues, and the road climb ends in an attractive old suburb of this town, dominated by large houses with beautifully kept gardens full of Cypress trees and ornamental palms, painted shutters and terracotta tiles.  I decided to make a detour into the town and found a modern central square and, much to my delight after yesterdays ride, a coffee shop in the sun with a conveniently placed tree for my bike and fantastic tasting chocolate croissants.  This ride was shaping up to be a classic!

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…….big house, big car, little bike!

As I left the town, I passed the very elaborate council building, and although it wasn’t in the sun, I thought it was worthy of a photo (it didn’t make the cut, but is worth a visit!).  Onward and downwards, on a main road which descends off the plateau, and in the UK would have been a nightmare, but the drivers in this part of Spain are incredibly courteous and it didn’t feel dangerous at any point.  Eventually reaching Gava, I hung a left and headed through the suburbs of Viladecans, St Climent de Llobregat to Sant Boi de Llobregat, where I was confronted with what was by now becoming a familiar challenge ….getting across the mighty Llobregat valley.  Again my pre-ride reccy paid off, and I kept to my planned route which lead me across the valley on a series of cycle tracks and small roads which linked to the northern suburbs of Barcelona.  The next section of my route through Cornella involved (nonchalantly) walking through a subway and suddenly realising I was on a tram-line platform, which wasn’t really part of the plan, but I hate road tunnels with no cycle lane, so I still think it was the better option! (On return, I realised that section is totally avoidable)

The fun was not yet over, as I had to make a last ascent into the Collserola National Parc, via a steep track to the top of the ridge.  For my last descent, and a perfect end to the day, I found a rideable track through the forest to Valvidrera, before returning to my lofty accommodation and devouring a massive portion of sausage and bean casserole!

The Verdict

Even better than the first ride, due to the increased amount of riding in the National Park.  I have replaced the section through Cornella tram-line station on the Rides download page.  The small section of (very) main road close to Molins de Rei is unavoidable as far as I can tell, but is very short.  There are a limited number of bridges across the Llobregat. Still gets 5 stars in my books!

Click here for Ride with GPS map and download.


Maps and Info

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Maps, maps and more maps ….

 

This is what happens when a bicycling Geologist is ‘put out to grass’, and the days are short, cold and uninviting to all but the hardiest of cyclists.  The Geological cross-section is based on the first half of the Milk Churn Loop from Esher to Rudgwick, which is written up here. It uses the vertical profile from RidewithGPS, and is filled in using the 1:65000 Bedrock Geology Map from the British Geological Survey, drafted in Microsoft Powerpoint.

The Cross-section shows how the gradients of the route are dictated by the rocks, with the siltstones and claystones being flatter, and the sandstones and limestones forming the tougher climbs.  It particularly accentuates the steepness of the scarp slope of the Chalk on Whitedown Lane (but you do have to bear in mind the vertical exaggeration!).

The map of rivers and tributaries shows that the ride starts out along the River Mole and then heads over the downs roughly equidistant between the River Mole and the River Wey, eventually reaching the tributaries of the River Arun, which drains south into the English Channel.  It shows that the brook next to Weare Street also drains into the River Arun, hence on this ride it is slightly uphill.

The Elevation map on the right accentuates the valleys carved by the River Wey and the River Mole as they cut through the Chalk of the North Downs, forming two hill free routes through the hills.

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rivers1-1281-x-767-1024x613The rivers and tributaries map is based on data from Ordanance Survey (OS) opendata called OS open rivers, downloaded into ArcGis Explorer, tarted up in Microsoft Powerpoint, and the Elevation map is another OS opendata product called OS Terrain 50.  All free for all!

The Milk Churn Loop

This blog post records a winter ride with the Bella Velo cycle club.  Links to topics in this post include:

  • The Rocks and Rivers. Maps of the ride showing what lies beneath the fields and tarmac (or what a ‘resting Geologist’ gets up to when it rains).
  • Route map with cafes and places of interest.
  • Link to RidewithGPS (including the completed loop back to Esher)

Last Year I started riding with a women’s cycling group in West London called the Bella Velos.  When I say they leave me breathless, I really mean it!  Although it is for all levels of rider, the emphasis is on performance (speed, strength, endurance …), rather than a pleasant wobble along the country lanes.  So it is always with a little trepidation that I set out West for a Bella Velo ride.  On this occasion I was meeting up with a couple of people with whom I am going on a cycling holiday to Spain, led by Keith, who is an honorary ‘Bella’!

I had planned to get the 9.07 train from Vauxhall to Cobham, but as usual SouthWest trains were completely up the spout, so I spent 10 mins working out an alternative plan.  I decided to get the train to Esher and ride the ‘Portsmouth Rollers’ in the hope that my cycling legs were more reliable than SouthWest trains.

Today was to be a day which revealed the worst of my slightly adhoc cycling style and it started as it meant to carry on.  Ten yards from Esher station the contents of my unzipped side pocket fell onto the road, with my phone losing it’s battery and case as it hit the deck.  An inauspicious start but I was heartened by the couple who stopped and asked if everything was alright, and despite a very close shave with a lorry, the phone survived.

The Portsmouth Road Rollers (as the BV ladies call them), proved to be a good warm up for my legs and I arrived at Brontes Cafe with a couple of minutes to spare.  Having ascertained that we were already one person down, three of us set-off to Effingham Junction at a cracking pace and by the time we got to Critten lane, my thoughts were along the lines of ….’Dear God, Why am I doing this?’.  Due to a rapid increase in my metabolic rate I removed my dayglo green commuter jacket, which marginally decreased my chances of getting stopped by the style police, but with a poorly secured rack, a dirty chain and a muddy bottom bracket, I knew it was only a matter of time before I was pulled over!

A steep descent down Whitedown lane and another ascent up to Holmbury St Mary, and either I had re-connected with my legs or the pace had slowed a bit.  Whatever the reason, I was starting to enjoy it.  London was becoming a distant memory, we’d nailed the big climbs and I was swooping down onto the Weald which always puts a smile on my face.

The Milk Churn Cafe is a favourite with cyclists and an Original Charmer Melt might not be the advised fuel for a budding sportswomen like myself(!), but it tasted pretty good.  We also had a quick visit to the Firebird Brewery shop.  Might have to come with a pannier next time. …….just to complete the ‘commuter look’.

The route back included one of my favourite lanes, Weare Street; a tiny country road that follows a small brook and winds its way through woods past a village pond.  Riding along it feels like experiencing something from a by-gone era.  I was half expecting to bump into Ma Larkin from Darling Buds of May! With no let up in pace we charged on through the villages of Capel, Newdigate and Brockham, briefly onto the busy A25, skirting Dorking via Pixham Lane and along the cycling lane to the outskirts of Leatherhead.

My ability to keep up a 15+ miles an hour pace for more than 3 hours is limited, so I decided to bow out at Leatherhead station.

Even though there was the odd time when body, soul and bike were feeling a little ragged, I sat on the train back to Vauxhall with that fantastically smug feeling of having done something slightly outside of my comfort zone……… and surviving!


The Verdict

A classic route for classic road-bikers!  I liked the way it makes a B-line for the Surrey hills rather than looping around the suburbs of Weybridge and Woking, whilst also taking a direct route over the downs and including some decent mileage in the Weald (the bit in-between the North and South Downs).  The way back includes some great small lanes and avoids re-ascending the North Downs by going via Dorking and the River Mole.

There are a many ways to lengthen and shorten this ride by using the train stations along it’s route.  These include Effingham Junction, Gomshall, Ockley, Dorking, West Humble and Boxhill & Leatherhead.  There are also smaller tarmac roads and gravel tracks that can be included, but that’s for another day!


Route Map

cafes1-578-x-717

Adventure Road-Biking

What is Adventure Road-Biking?

Picture3It’s a mind-set.  You can be an adventure road-biker on any kind of road bike, although you may wish to consider the wisdom of using your top of the range Pinarello (should you be lucky enough to own one)!  It is about focusing on going somewhere you have never gone before, on road surfaces that challenge your bike handling skills; it’s about accepting a higher level of risk and uncertainty, and enjoying that aspect of it.  The level of adventure is in your hands and can be anything from cycling across Asia to exploring your local canal tow-path, and the specifics of the bike you do it on are far less important than you might think.

There will always be trails that can only be ridden on a mountain bike, but adventure road-biking is not ‘mountain biking on a road bike’, it’s about incorporating off-road sections that are rideable and fun.  If you have to dismount for long sections you’ve probably been over ambitious, or unlucky with the weather!

There are a multitude of different tracks and surfaces that do not require the tire width, stability and suspension of a mountain bike, and with the advent of disc brakes and a trend for wider tires on high-end road bikes, the amount of trails suitable for road-bikes has expanded considerably, so what are you waiting for?

What skills does it require?

Taking your bike off-road requires confident bike handling skills. It’s not about doing bunny hops, endo-pivots and controlled back-wheel skids, but more about applying the principles of good road-riding; like balance, keeping your upper body loose, looking at least 3 metres ahead of the front wheel, anticipation and perhaps most of all, having faith in the bike and keeping a cool head. If you have any bad road-riding habits, the off-road section will amplify them, which is why it improves your on-road riding skills.

It can also require a greater amount of self-sufficiency in bike maintenance, and the ability to plan and follow a route, whether it be on paper or by GPS.  Both these challenges can be over-come by going with someone who is more experienced than you, but if you get the bug, you will find yourself learning these skills as you go along.  Discovering if your pre-ride assumptions were correct is part of what makes it an adventure.

Do I need an adventure road-bike?

Not necessarily.  The difference between some adventure road bikes and an average sports bike is very little.  If you are a relative beginner to road-riding and you think your off-road experience would be enhanced by riding an ‘adventure road bike’, the chances are that an increase in skill level would put a bigger smile on your face.  For experienced road-riders, who get a taste for the gravel, there are an increasingly exciting, but very expensive range of bikes you can indulge in.  For someone who rides a lot of tracks in hilly terrain, wider tires and hydraulic disc brakes are an obvious starting point.  The much lambasted Evans Cycles has a well written introduction to Adventure Road Bikes and in their opening paragraph describe them as ‘simply a tag to describe a light drop (handle) bar bike for adventure-minded riders’.  Couldn’t have put it better myself.  Click here to read what they have to say.


Adventure Road-Biking in the Alps

The European Alps are particularly suited to Adventure Road Riding because they have a lot of reasonably well maintained gravel jeep-tracks built at gradients suitable for a road bike, and these tracks are usually linked with quiet small tarmac roads.  This combination of surface type doesn’t require the tire width, stability and suspension of a mountain bike, so why lug all that weight up the hill?

There is something rather cheeky about passing a mountain biker on your road-bike when you are on a dirt road in the middle of now-where

Getting the correct ratio of off-road to on is a bit of an art, and depends on your bike, your biking ability and the state of the tracks you pick.  Using and understanding the IGN 1:25000 maps is key to getting the balance right.  Doing research on the internet via blogs and GoogleEarth can increase your chances of putting a worthy ride together, but ultimately part of the fun is discovering if your chosen route turns into an  ‘Epic’ or a ‘Fail’, and good route planning will never totally remove the unexpected element of the ride. It is also worth bearing in mind that this also applies if you are downloading someone else’s route, and in many cases this increases the unexpected element.

I have linked 3 of my favourite rides around Bourg Saint Maurice to this post.  A much more extensive account of the ride-worthy gravel roads and tracks across the Alps is documented in a blog called cycling-challenge.com.  I am in awe!

Here are a few not-so-obvious advantages to adding a couple of adventure road rides to your next Alpine biking holiday.

  • The number of linked tarmac roads in the European Alps are limited, and can be busy and narrow. The inclusion of short stretches of gravel tracks or un-surfaced roads into your ride significantly increases the number of rides you can do in an area.
  • Many valleys can be linked by including small stretches of un-surfaced road which cross a line of mountains at their lowest point (a col), so the col section maybe a short stretch of gravel track allowing you to link valleys and put a ‘loop’ ride together, rather than a ‘there and back’ ride, which gives you less of a sense of journey.
  • Doing more rides from one location has economic and logistical advantages.
  • If you are into ‘balcony rides’  the use of un-surfaced sections can often lengthen ‘the balcony’. The best example of this is Les Arc long, or for a great fully tarmac balcony ride The Village & Versant Loop. ( ‘balcony’ roads contour along a valley at a certain height above the valley floor, offering great views for as long as they last)

Rides around Bourg Saint Maurice.

Here are details of three of the best rides I put together during my stay.  For the super-fit they may constitute a half-day ride, for others a full day out, and for the armchair travelers there is always the blog diary to read.

autumnpourri2-smallThe Roselend Epic. If you only get the chance to ride one adventure road-ride around Bourg Saint Maurice, make it the Roselend Epic.  This ride is a great example of how including a short section of off-road, results in an epic loop ride.  The ride up Cormet d’Areches is an extremely small and remote tarmac road up a beautiful valley and you get to descend the famously stunning Cormet de Roselend.  Enroute, you pass the massive dam of Lac de Guerin, ascend Col de Pre and pass Lac de Roselend before your final descent back into Bourg Saint Maurice.  It includes 5 km of gravel track over the top of Cormet D’Areches, of which the last 2 km is a tough descent.  A small amount of pain for bags of pleasure!

Length: 86km, Total Ascent: 2800 m, Off-road section: 5 km.  Click here for the blog post and the GPS link

bike_med-1-253-x-168Les Arc and La Plagne. This is a great example of a balcony ride, that manages to avoid the big ski-resort roads.  The off-road section above La Planay on the ascent is a breeze (apart from the first km!) and the descent from Villaroger to Landry will put a grin on your face. After the ascent, the ride keeps you above 1500m for about 17 km, which is a fair achievement for any alpine road.  It also gives you the chance to ascend to over 2000 m and visit the ghostly resort of Les Arc 2000.

There is a partially reccied extension of this route which takes you above La Plagne and down into Macot La Plagne.  Work to be done!

Length: 58 km, Total Ascent 1663 m, Off-road section: 16 km.  Click here for the blog post and the GPS link.

____________

zigzag_med-1Col du Petit St Bernard. This ride was born out of a rather uninspiring road ascent of this col, and whilst I was being uninspired I noticed a track across the valley that I thought looked rideable, so for my second ascent I chose the track and descended down the road.  The track ascent is tough but more fun that the road (in mho!) and lends the col an added challenge and a loop ride rather than a ‘there and back’ ride.  Don’t forget to go to the Patisserie in Seez for your days treats!

Length: 66 km Total Ascent: 1559m Off-road section: 8 km.  Click here for the blog post and the GPS link.

To read the diary blogs for my stays in the Alps click here for the June and Autumn trips.


How to get there: 

Bourg St Maurice is a 2 to 3 hour drive (traffic dependent) from either Lyon or Geneva Airport, both serviced by cheap Easyjet flights from the UK.

It is possible to get the train from Lyon to Bourg Saint Maurice.  There are a couple of trains a day that are direct.  The tram-link from Lyon airport to the main railway station is all step-free, but lugging your packed bike bag up 2 steep steps onto a SNCF train will probably require 2 people.  If you want to relive my journey check out South London to Landry.

If you live in London, Airpotr.com pick up your bike bag from home and meet you at the airport with it to save you the inconvenience.  They also do the return from Airport to Home.  Currently they service Gatwick, Heathrow and City Airports.

Where to stay:

There are loads of places in and around Bourg St Maurice.  Bear in mind that if you stay somewhere higher up in the valley, you always have to end your ride with an uphill!  Having cycled through the ski resorts of Les Arcs and La Plagne, if somebody was offering accommodation, I wouldn’t want to stay there anyway!

I stayed in Alpine-Velo.com which caters for self-guided cycling groups.  It is situated in a small village 3 km from Bourg. It has a garage kitted out for bike storage, great food and a fridge full of cold beers for a post ride bevvy!

Route Planning

Paper maps used: Institut Geographique National (IGN) Carte de Randonnee. Scale 1:25,000

  • 3532 ET Les Arcs, La Plagne
  • 3532 OT Massif du Beafortain
  • For the online version of these maps click here.

Digital Maps used:

Other websites:

  • For weather forecast I found meteoblue.com to be the most reliable.
  • For train information: the SNCF website even gives you details of the CO2 emissions (Lyon to Bourg St Maurice is 4.6 kg)!
  • Cycling Challenges website:  No route planning in the European Alps is complete without checking this comprehensive blog.

Lead us not into temptation

Ever wondered why you can’t seem to stick to your New Years resolutions?  An article I’ve just read on vox.com comes up with some interesting explanations, and also happens to be relevant to my current situation.  The article is about why some people appear to be worse at giving into temptation and changing bad habits than others.  The big question on my mind is, would the purchase of a Smart turbo-trainer finally solve my lack of ability to keep my fitness though the winter months, or have I just wasted my money?

The article (The myth of self control) suggests that the reason some people are better at ‘resisting’ temptation (so, in my case doing exercise, rather than sitting on my arse during the winter months) is not because they are exerting more will-power, but because they enjoy doing whatever it is they are trying to achieve.  The person who manages to resist eating a cup-cake when everybody else is tucking in, simply doesn’t particularly like cup-cakes.  Simple stuff.  So, where does that leave me?  It means that I don’t like getting cold and wet, and I hate gyms and that these dislikes are enough of an excuse for me not to bother. However much I might argue with my self about the merits of overcoming these hurdles, the pleasure to pain ratio is wrong.

“The person who manages to resist eating a cup-cake when everybody else is tucking in, simply doesn’t particularly like cup-cakes.”

So, why did I buy a Smart turbo trainer?  Because my curiosity was peeked.  For me, curiosity is one of my big drivers.  It doesn’t matter what I apply it to, it is one of those things that gets me up in the morning.  The keeping fit aspect was a by-product of the experiment. I wanted to understand more about my own fitness and how easy it was to maintain or improve.  What does it feel like to generate enough watts to boil a kettle?  I love that kind of thing.  I was less fussed about how my turbo-trainer sessions affected my road riding, because with the sun on my back and a quiet winding lane in-front of me, I really don’t care what zone my heart-rate is in, or how many watts I’m pumping out.

I understand what motivates me, but there is a very important factor missing, which is also mentioned in the article, and that is that one of the biggest reasons people can’t change their behaviour is because habits are difficult to change.  My winter fitness habit was to do nothing, so, was curiosity alone enough to change my habit?

“I was less fussed about how my turbo-trainer sessions affected my road rides, because with the sun on my back and a quiet winding lane in-front of me, I really don’t care what zone my heart-rate is in, or how many watts I’m pumping out.”

Having attempted changing various of my bad habits over the years, the longest and most successful was my ‘cycling to work’ habit.  When I first started cycling to work, I thought it would save me time.  A few months later I realised that it didn’t, and what’s more, there was a huge amount of faffage involved (parking and locking the bike, lugging panniers around, leaving changes of clothes here there and everywhere, showering at work, not having a decent winter coat when I needed one ….and so on), so I stopped. Years later, my commute changed and I decided to try it again, but this time I took away as much of the faffage as possible.  I bought a cheap, unattractive bike that didn’t ask to be ridden in Lycra, with flat pedals for any type of footwear, and one pannier which I permanently secured to the bike rack with a couple of cable ties.  I then cycled in my work clothes, not at speed, and didn’t require a shower when I got to work.  It was so much easier and made it much more tempting to cycle than my previous attempt.  Sometimes it was even a joy!

 

The challenge is to make my turbo trainer sessions as faffage-free as possible to increase my chances of reforming my habits. I’ve been using my trainer for 1 month and so far, the curiosity element far outstrips the faffage-free element.  This is because I am having problems ‘pairing’ my phone with the bike via Blue-tooth, and because I am thoroughly enjoying the data collection and analysis side of it.

“I’ve been using my trainer for 1 month and so far, the curiosity element far outstrips the faffage-free element.”

Only time will tell if my enthusiasm lasts the winter (and what about next?).  Being the eternal optimist, I think it will.  I’m just off out to buy a new battery for my phone, just in case it sorts my ‘pairing’ issues.

Probability and Pairing problems

With my back wheel firmly in the centre of the roller, my HRM firmly strapped to my chest, I set-off once again, except that it took 20 minutes to pair the devices before I could actually set off.  I haven’t mentioned this problem in previous blogs because I keep thinking that I had solved it by getting the sequence of switching various things on and off in the right order, but alas, no.  Here is the list of things that I have been randomly ordering to understand how to decrease the amount of time taken to pair my phone with the trainer:

  1. Switching the trainer on and off at the mains.
  2. Switching the Bluetooth device on and off in the phone settings.
  3. Switching the blue tooth on and off in the Tacx Training app.
  4. Riding the bike whilst trying to pair the devices.
  5. Logging in and out of the App.
  6. Switching the phone off completely and then turning it back on.
  7. Switching the phone to restart.
  8. Uninstalling the Training App and re-installing it.

So that means there are hundreds of possible different ways you could order things in order to find the one that works (possibly thousands but my understanding of probability is sadly lacking) .  I realize that you wouldn’t attempt 1 followed by 4, unless you signed a Health and Safety disclaimer. I thought about introducing a 9th variable; jumping up and down, followed by sitting on the settee with my head in my hands, rocking backwards and forwards and groaning, because (no word of a lie) that is what I found myself doing at one point.  It didn’t help.

Seriously though, of all the other problems I had over-come I know that this one had the potential to be a deal-breaker. A big part of my motivation to use the Turbo-Trainer was to establish a habit, and habits are hard to establish so anything that involves hassle or stress becomes an easy excuse to stop.  The exercise was taking 30 minutes, and it was taking up to 20 minutes to get a connection, and during those 20 minutes my stress levels were increasing through shear frustration.  Who would choose to do that 3 or 4 times a week?  I wasn’t happy.

Summary of trials, tribulations & delights:

  1. Pairing the device is becoming the number 1 issue to solve, and is starting to cause stress. cross-1-19-x-18cross-1-19-x-18cross-1-19-x-18
  2. Another training session in the bag, with HRM! tick-1-19-x-18

The Trough of Despondency

Time for another training session, and this time with my new Tacx HRM.  The Bluetooth connection worked and as I set-off for training session 6, I was starting to feel more confident in the success of my project.  I kept the watts steady through the warm-up 8 minutes, ramping things up for the medium exertion, and like last time, I found the going tough.  As I ramped up for the 4 minutes at 200 watts, nothing happened on the watts read-out, so I put the bike into the hardest gear and upped my cadence to 120 RPM.  It was absolutely exhausting and still the watts were showing values of around 150.  Only then did I realize that it wasn’t my performance that was at fault, but that there must be something wrong with the bike set-up.  I don’t often fall into the ‘trough of despondency’, but I was finding it difficult to keep a level head.

graph6-2

 

I suspected that it was something to do with the position of the wheel on the roller, and I noticed that it had moved to a slightly off-centre position over the last couple of sessions, so I re-mounted the bike (with the help of the Scotland Lonely Planet Guide under the back wheel) to a central position and re-tried it.  I managed to get the watts comfortably over 200 watts and did a max power test to over 600 watts. Problem solved for now, I hoped.  I made sure the locking nut was as tight as possible, as I think that had added to movement of the back wheel.

 

Summary of trials, tribulations & delights:

  1. The bike failed to generate watts over 150 regardless of the ‘maximum and beyond’ efforts (including increasing the RPM to 120 in the hardest gear). cross-1-19-x-18cross-1-19-x-18cross-1-19-x-18cross-1-19-x-18
  2. The above problem appeared to be fixed by re-aligning the wheel to the centre of the roller, but only time will tell. tick-1-19-x-18
  3. I think I learnt about the importance of placing the back wheel correctly as well as tightening the locking nut next to the wheel mount. tick-1-19-x-18
  4. I was relieved to learn that it wasn’t my strength that was on the wane. tick-1-19-x-18

 

Post-script:  There is possibly an additional reason why the watts values are spurious for this training session, which I am still trying to understand.  I chose heart- rate and not slope from the Training App main menu, so the trainer was possibly trying to keep my heart rate below 180 bpm by automatically adjusting the break resistance.  A mystery as yet un-solved.

Too many beers?

Having enjoyed a few days of indulgence on the food and drink front with my niece Helen, I thought I’d better get on and pump out some Watts.  I stuck rigidly to my Watts profile through the 8 minute warm up and during the 4 minute medium exertion (~150 watts) my legs started to feel like lead and the sweat started dripping off my nose.  As I ramped up the exertion to 200 watts for the 4 minute interval, I found it physically impossible to keep the watts anywhere near 200.  I was shocked at the massive decline in performance over such a short period.  I noted all the factors that could have contributed to this, including the calorific over-indulgence with my niece, room temperate (I had the heating on, unlike the other training periods), and I had eaten very few carbs the previous day.

graph5

I picked up my new HRM from Doddle and went to bed, slightly worried about my poor performance.

Summary of trials, tribulations & delights:

  1. I was confused/slightly worried/slightly suspicious of the dramatic reduction in power of my training session. cross-1-19-x-18

More ‘Googleage’

Through many google searches and forum readings, I established that the Garmin HRM does not work with the Tacx Smart Turbo Trainer, so I ordered a Tacx heart-rate monitor.  My new fitness lab had to have a working HRM if it was to hold its head up!

I also discovered that my Tacx:cloud account contained the data from all of my saved sessions, regardless of whether it sent me an email containing the data, which was great, although I’m not sure I trusted the set-up enough yet to switch the email transfer off.  I downloaded the data and pulled it into an excel spreadsheet with a minimum of fuss.  Despite all my set-backs, my small gains were giving me enough motivation to continue.

Summary of trials, tribulations & delights:

  1. I established that a Garmin HRM doesn’t work with the Turbo Trainer (using my particular set-up), cos it doesn’t have Bluetooth. cross-1-19-x-18
  2. I paid up £42 for another HRM. cross-1-19-x-18
  3. I found all of my saved training sessions on Tacx:cloud. tick-1-19-x-18
  4. I discovered that pulling .tcx files into excel was easy. tick-1-19-x-18

No heart beat, but 11th hour gasp saves patient.

Having had two successful attempts at keeping to a power focused training profile (i.e. keeping the slope to zero and using the bike gears to keep to my watts training profile), I thought it would be fun to carry on keeping the watts profile consistent and monitor any changes in my heart rate over a period of a month or two.  I would expect my heart rate to decrease with time, as a measure of my improved fitness, but would it just be the recovery time that decreased or would I see any decrease over the different sections of my workout.  Simple stuff, but it meant that I needed a heart rate monitor.

graph4I had a Garmin Heart Rate Monitor (HRM) strap that I had never used and thought it was high time I dusted it off.  Due to my current inability to get the information off my phone, I thought I would use my Garmin to record the speed, heart rate and cadence, but the trouble was I still needed the all-important Watts information to prove that I was keeping my ‘exertions’ under control!

I was in no-mans land to such an extent, that I didn’t care.  Any improvement in any aspect of what I was trying to achieve would be some sort of progress.

Having convinced myself that using my ‘outside’ tire was okay,  I decided to swap it back in the hope that my watts read-out problems would go away.  I managed to successfully pair my Garmin but there was no sign of any life from the HRM.

I needed to get some exercise regardless of the technology melt-down, so I completed test number 4 without any HR values, but a set of results nonetheless, and my watts read-out problem appeared to have sorted itself out.  Small gains.

Whilst I was fiddling with the settings on my phone, which is now becoming a serious habit, I clicked on the Gmail icon and found myself looking in the Inbox at a couple of emails from Tacx, congratulating me on my latest work-outs. Yiha! I was totally elated.  I had inadvertently worked out the problem with the data transfer (I had two Gmail accounts, and my desk top PC default account was not the same as the one on my phone, which I have never opened, let alone used, so the files where sitting there all along).  I went to bed feeling vaguely optimistic.

Summary of trials, tribulations & delights:

  1. I couldn’t use my Garmin Heart Rate Monitor (HRM). cross-1-19-x-18
  2. The problem with low Watts read-out appeared to be solved. tick-1-19-x-18
  3. I managed to record another training session using my ‘outside’ wheel and the data looked okay. tick-1-19-x-18
  4. I resolved the data links mystery & could now get the data files as email attachments. tick-1-19-x-18tick-1-19-x-18

Faffage!

My new rear cassette arrived and I put it onto my spare wheel and replaced my bikes rear wheel with the spare one.  The whole thing was a faff, partly because I had to deflate my 28 mm tyres to get them through the brake blocks.  I attached the bike to the trainer (which is an art that I am still learning) and started test ride number 3, only there was something seriously wrong.  I couldn’t get a watts readout higher than about 50 watts, no matter what force I put on the pedals.  I didn’t get it.  Was it just beginners luck with the previous wheel?  I took the bike out and gave it a spin down the road to check that the spare wheel was okay, and it was.

I fiddled about for an age to no avail. In my repeated efforts to get the rear wheel safely into the mount, I ended up giving myself a blood blister and nearly breaking the brandy glasses in my drinks cabinet (such a first world problem!). I felt totally deflated, but I rarely concede defeat, so left it for another day.

I spent the evening googling the pros and cons of using the same tire for the trainer as for outside use, therefore negating the faffage of changing the back wheel in and out all the time. I convinced myself that using a separate tire was probably un-necessary.  ‘Shredding’ your back tire is a very manly thing to do, and I’m not a man! I concluded that if your works-outs were long and hard, and you had a delicate pair of racing tires on your bike, then ‘shredding’ them is probably much more of a possibility.  I am so not in any of those categories that I don’t think I need to worry, but I could learn otherwise.  I’m keeping my eye out for rubber on the roller and bits of rubber on the floor around the back wheel.

Summary of trials, tribulations & delights:

  1. My spare rear wheel refused to generate any power when attached to the trainer, casting doubt on the consistency of the previous two sessions. cross-1-19-x-18cross-1-19-x-18
  2. I learnt not to attempt to attach the bike to the trainer in close proximity to the drinks cabinet. tick-1-19-x-18
  3. Still could not establish any data links from my phone.cross-1-19-x-18cross-1-19-x-18

The end of a (virtual) dream.

Having established that I couldn’t download the Tacx Cylcling App on my laptop/tablet, I thought I should aim big and look in to how to get Zwift or any other of the bigger Virtual Cycling experiences on my Smart telly (I mean who needs it on a tablet when you can get in on a big screen?).  I quickly realised that you needed to load the software into a computer with the required graph2amount of space and power, before linking it with a Smart telly.

The more I read and googled, the more that dream started slipping away. My desk top computer, which passed the specs test, is situated in my tiny office upstairs and whilst it has a big screen the logistics/space issues closes down that option, and moving my desk-top PC to my living room is not an option either.  The only solution for my house would be to buy a powerful laptop and link it to the telly with an ‘ant+ antenna’ (something from Planet Earth II?).

I should say that throughout the process I was learning a lot about my computing devices, which is never a bad thing.

Later that morning I decided to repeat my first training exercise, but this time I replaced 2 minutes of medium for 2 minutes of hard at the end of the session, just before the warm down.

Whilst I was happy with the phone training app, I wanted to get my hands on the data, so I needed to work out how to get it off the phone and into a format that could be read into an excel spreadsheet.  I ticked the box option for sending the training results to an email, and waited and waited.  Okay so I couldn’t get that to work, but Tacx also have a Tacx:cloud, so I set up an account on the cloud, and waited and waited.  Okay so I couldn’t get that to work either.

Summary of trials, tribulations & delights: 

  1. I appeared to be getting consistent readings from my turbo trainer and successfully completed a second training session. tick-1-19-x-18
  2. I couldn’t transfer the data from my phone to another device. cross-1-19-x-18
  3. I couldn’t connect to any virtual cycling packages for logistical reasons. cross-1-19-x-18
  4. I was learning lots about the specs of my phone, tablet and Desk-top PC. tick-1-19-x-18

Footnote:  The graph was produced after I had worked out how to get the data off my phone, obviously!

A Speedy Advance

I couldn’t be bothered to wait for the rear cassette to arrive and decided to use the trainer with my existing back-wheel.

I successfully attached the bike to the trainer, and after about 10 minutes managed to pair my phone with the device.  I strapped my phone on top of my Garmin with a couple of elastic bands so that I could see the display easily whilst I was riding.  Before ‘setting off’ I planned a 28 minute ‘test’ work out, consisting of an 8 minute warm-up, 4 minute medium exertion, 4 minute hard exertion, 8 minutes medium exertion and 4 minutes warm down.  I wrote it down and kept the piece of paper visible to avoid memory issues.

graph1-764-x-500As I started to peddle, the screen kicked into action with a second by second read out of RPM, Watts, Speed and distance ridden, and more importantly a real-time graph of these variables. As I switched from my easy warm up gear to a harder gear, for the medium exertion section, I see the watts jump reassuringly upwards and I settle into the next section of the exercise. I want to keep the watts between 140 and 160 as that is what I remember from my bike gym sessions as being around the medium mark (or, for people in the know, my ‘sweetspot’ ……..hold on there girls!!), with around 200 watts equating to hard exertion. As I’m nearing the end of my session, I see the next-door neighbour’s cat through the dining-room window.  He’s pooing next to my purple sprouting and I have to resist the urge to stop, but by the end of the session, my thoughts are firmly on the task in hand and I’m a happy bunny.  Fancy having a training laboratory in my own sitting room.  Who’d have thought?

I spent the evening continuing to work out whether there was a way I could load the cycling app onto my tablet/mini laptop (an Asus Transformer Book; a Windows based mini lap-top, with a screen that detaches from the keyboard), but couldn’t find a way.

Summary of trials, tribulations & delights:

  1. I managed to generate my first training profile. tick-1-19-x-18tick-1-19-x-18
  2. I gave up on the idea of being able to download the Tacx Cyling App on my Asus Transformer Notebook. cross-1-19-x-18cross-1-19-x-18

The Beast Unleashed

On the 24th October the Turbo Trainer arrived and remained in its box for 1 week. On the 31st October I realized that I was going to have to open it. Perhaps my reluctance reflected a sixth sense for the challenges it was about to present. I use the word challenges with a large dose of English understatement. I can think of a lot of other words to insert there, but I like to remain as positive as possible!

“Like a lot of people, reading the manual is always the last thing I do.”

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The Horned Beast about to be unleashed

I assembled the Turbo trainer, with minimum difficulty, only viewing the Youtube video after completion. Like a lot of people, reading the manual is always the last thing I do. I then successfully downloaded the Tacx Training App on my phone. So far so good.

After a lot of googling and ‘device interrogation’ I realised that my tablet was neither an Android or an iPad so it was unlikely that I would be able to download the Tacx Cycling App. The Cycling App is the one with all the bike courses and 3D tracks, the one that thrusts you into the virtual world where you can take a spin with Bob from Oregon or Ann from Canberra. It’s what Smart Trainers are all about and was a big part of my reason for buying it.

Having said that, I am so new to the world of indoor training of any kind, even if I don’t achieve the full virtual experience (or at least not for a while), I will still be doing something new, and I like that idea.

Later on in the day, I ordered a rear cassette for my spare back wheel, as rumour had it that trainers ruin tires, and it is easier to swap the back wheel in and out, than constantly change the back tire.

I retired to bed blissfully unaware of the war of attrition that lay ahead.

Summary of trials and tribulations:

  1. I successfully set the trainer up.tick-1-19-x-18
  2. Downloaded the Tacx Training App on to my phone, with no problems.tick-1-19-x-18
  3. It seemed unlikely that I would be able to access the Tacx Cycling App with my current devices. cross-1-19-x-18

Dartford – my nemesis

Inspired by my last Southeast London ride, which ended in Dartford, I decided to put together a ‘loop’ ride which incorporated the suburbs of Southeast London, followed by a trip down the Darent valley to Dartford, returning back along the already reccied Thames path.  So here it is: London ride number 3.

Click here for the route map.

The Ride.  I picked up the Sustrans route 27 at Crystal Palace, but before that, had to stop at Cadence bike shop to buy a peaked cap, as the sun was already so low in the sky that going east on a sunny morning was problematic (partly because the current trend is for ‘peakless’ helmets).  I was worried that entering the shop may  bring on the unstoppable urge for a coffee, but after only 4 miles, even I managed to control myself.  The 27 route was patchily marked and if I hadn’t had my GPS I would have spent a lot of time re-tracing my steps, but as it was I made good progress, and the route was relatively fast (mainly quiet but straight back-roads, with very few shared pedestrian sections and traffic lights).  I am always on a quest to find quiet routes out of London and routes 27/22 certainly get you there, but it is not the quickest route to the country lanes by virtue of London’s erratic outline.  The suburbs extend much further in a southeasterly direction than they do if you go due south, so I didn’t hit the country lanes for a couple of hours.

At Petts Wood I crossed the mainline railway via a pedestrian footbridge and as I approached it, I un-clipped one foot and started to scoot across, rather than be bothered to fully dis-mount.  The bridge was comfortably wide enough for two people side by side, and I take up more space fully dis-mounted than if I remain on my bike.  Can you tell where this is going?  So, there is an elderly lady coming towards me and as I approach she mumbles something, with a slightly plumby accent. The conversation goes like this: me ‘pardon?’, her ‘can you read, or are you blind?’, me ‘yes I can read but I didn’t think that I was being dangerous’, her ‘no no, it was just a question, a lot of people around here are partially sighted you know’.  I stood there for a moment trying to understand anything about the encounter, and as I set off, she called after me  ‘I’d have given you a much harder time if you had been a young man, you know’!. There were so many layers of assumption and prejudice, I didn’t know where to start.  I did get off and walk because even though ‘rules is for fools’, she had (in her mind) cut me some slack, so I reciprocated.  Funny world!

A couple of miles from Orpington, the suburbs suddenly stopped and I was climbing steadily on small country lanes, and then as suddenly as the city stopped the Darent valley opened up in front of me, signalling the end of the climb up the North downs.  The lane eventually swung down the valley and I gained some reward for what had been a steady climb for most of the morning. I do like routes that get all the hard work out of the way early on!  I stopped for a quick coffee at Lullingstone Park visitors centre, before continuing on a small stretch of gravel path which followed the Darent river to Lullingstone Castle.

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Arches! Man-made and natural. Left: Cockerhurst Road, north of Shoreham, Middle: Road under the viaduct at Eynsford, Top right : Viaduct at Eynsford, Mid and bottom right: Lullingstone Castle

Lullingstone Castle dates from the 1400’s and has been owned by the same family throughout it’s history. Perhaps not surprisingly, Henry VIII stayed there, probably on his way to Dover and France.  Possibly more eye-catching than the Tudor gate-house is the Victorian viaduct at Eynsford, but they all looked pretty good in the late autumn sun.

My route continued on down the Darent valley through the picturesque villages of Farningham, Horton Kirby and South Darenth, and at some point along this extremely pleasant stretch, my GPS decided to malfunction.  It wasn’t a fatal explosion or even a loss of data or screen information, it was just that the screen wouldn’t remain zoomed in for more than a couple of seconds.  This meant that unless I stopped at every junction and fiddled about for 10 mins I was very likely to go off-course, and I was about to embark on the most complicated section of the ride; an attempt to get from South Darenth to the Thames Path via Dartford.  As I entered the village of Darenth I felt like I’d been thrust into a world where every sense was assaulted by something deeply unpleasant.  It was all noise, aggressive drivers, large trucks, narrow roads, massive roads, poor signage and before I knew it, I was lost in the outskirts of Dartford.  Just to rub salt into my wounds, my GPS was so zoomed out that in made the Thames look like it was at the end of the street, but I knew it wasn’t.  As I passed the railway station, I knew that an easy option would be to take the train back, but I did that last time. I also knew that if I could get to the Thames Path my blood pressure would fall, my lungs would expand and everything would be fine.

Eventually, I had the Thames in my sights, and indeed everything was fine. I cycled back towards London, with glimpses of Canary Wharf and The City getting ever closer.  Past all the various sewage treatment plans, the sands and gravel conveyors, Gallions Hill, Woolwich Arsenal, Woolwich Ferry, the Thames Barrier to Greenwich, where I ate a carton of Seafood, East London style (cockles, mussels, brown shrimp, prawns and whelks with a splash of vinegar and white pepper).  I wasn’t treated to a Thames sunset as I had hoped, but as I turned into my road, I felt like I’d been away for days.

sewage
Cycling back along the Thames path under leaden skies, past the modern sewage processing plant at Crossness.

Verdict:  At Dartford I was prepared to bin the whole idea of a loop ride, but having completed it, I realized it was an incredibly varied and interesting ride and just needs the bit around Dartford sorting out.

This ride can be found on Ride with GPS here. The route around Dartford is revised and includes a section along the Darent Valley Way.  Much more fun!

Route Map

dartford_loop-1271-x-1023

Ride, Forrest, Ride

“Training Zones, FTP tests, Sweet spots, not to mention what to say when someone asks you whether ‘you’ve left it all on the road’!”

I am known for being a bit of a ‘Forrest Gump’ when it comes to cycling; I just ride. I’ve ‘just ridden’ all my life. I cycled to school, to work, I’ve toured all over the UK and in many other countries, I’ve been a cycle courier, and a mountain bike guide, but through all of that, I’ve never considered the scientific or competitive aspects of the sport.

After signing up for the Marmotte Sportif last year, I thought I should take the training aspects more seriously and learn a bit more about the science, if only to understand what everyone else was talking about. Training Zones, FTP tests, Sweet spots, not to mention what to say when someone asks you whether ‘you’ve left it all on the road’! I’m very careless, so the answer is normally yes, in more ways than one.

I’ve commented on my lamentable efforts regarding my Marmotte training schedule in a previous post, but through my failure to adhere to any kind of rigid routine over the winter months last season, I did learn something. I went to a Gym that specialises in cycling fitness and had my fitness ‘metrics’ measured, and booked 10 Watt bike fitness sessions, which I actually enjoyed. This was a total surprise as I thought I was allergic to anything vaguely resembling a Gym. The only problem was that it was a long way from my house, taking up the best part of half a day including journey times. My Marmotte cycling friend also showed me what can be achieved using a turbo trainer, so I found myself wanting to know more.

“In the shop, I tried a trainer that was wired up to a large screen, showing me linked to an avatar, being overtaken by Bob (who was sitting on his bike in Oregon, USA)”

In mid-October I went along to a ‘turbo trainer open-evening’ at a popular West London cycling shop, to try their range of trainers. I came away with the cheapest Smart trainer on the market, with promises of being able to plug it into a bewildering array of virtual cycling experiences. In the shop, I tried a trainer that was wired up to a large screen, showing me linked to an avatar, being overtaken by Bob (who was sitting on his bike in Oregon, USA). I changed gear and gave it a bit of ‘welly’ and started to catch him up, and all for $10/month.

If you want to follow my journey through setting up the trainer properly to getting my first set of data, please click here for my winter training diary.  I warn you that as journeys go, I am hardly out of the blocks, and my first steps are mainly faltering.  Enjoy!