Category Archives: touring

The Four Rivers Audax. My first and won’t be the last

So yesterday I rode my first Audax. For those who have not heard of Audax it is a sub culture within a sub culture within a sub culture. By that I mean it seems to attract a very loyal following within people who like long distance cycling which itself is a small group within those who like to ride bikes. It is a kind of a cross between racing and touring over long distances.

A of today I am A ‘Randonneur’ (a person who has completed a recognised 200 kilometre ride).

The Four Rivers ride starts in Wem, Shropshire and heads for every hill it can find. First to the Stiperstones and then to Bwlch y Groes, then leaving Lake Bala with a 6 mile climb that I can’t find a name for (horrible springs to mind). Fortunately it was than “nearly” flat or downhill for the last 60+ km.

For most of the first leg (47km) I was hanging onto a group of about 12 which meant despite the big climb at the end of the section (where we split up with me about halfway in the spread out group). There was free cake and coffee at “The Bog Visitor Centre“. I decided to keep the stop short and so left before most of the rest of the group and in fact got to 95km before anyone overtook me. That was a chap who has done 16 Audax 200km’s since October who loves the hills. He was on a flat barred bike and I was much faster downhill and on the flat but he relentlessly chased me on every climb. He got close many times but eventually easily zoomed past me as I was struggling up the very long gradient that eventually led to the 2nd checkpoint (109km) at Lake Vrynwy (no I have no idea how to pronounce it). At the “Old Barn Cafe” there was a checkpoint (you get your “Brevet” card stamped and a special menu for us. I had a fantastic Pasta Bolognaise with local beef which was just what I needed for £5.

Again I didn’t hang around and caught a Yorkshire man on the flat stretch along the lake, once we started to climb upto Bwlch y Groes. That formed a pattern for the rest of the ride. He was much faster than me on the climbs but on flat or gently rolling terrain my aero wheels and fast tyres gave me a big advantage.

I last climbed Bwlch y Groes from the south fully loaded on my Sabbatical immediately after The Welsh Ride Thing. This route from the East was much less steep and had some downhills within it.

Heading down to Lake Bala (somewhat cautiously due to the wet roads) I had a wonderful moment when I overtook a train (the small steam train that runs alongside the lake). That was just before another checkpoint in the visitor car park at Llangower. There I met up with the Yorkshire man again and enjoyed some juice and fruit cake. He left first but in the rolling terrain to the bottom of the lake I caught and dropped in. However, once the 6 mile climb really kicked in he went past me and disappeared off into the distance.

That climb really hurt and I didn’t feel I recovered from it (as in reduced to a crawl by any adverse slope) until a chocolate brownie, scone and jam and coffee at the last checkpoint. With only 45km to go and the promise of only one small climb I felt confident that I could make it.

Again gently rolling with quite a lot of down helped a lot and just after being past by a group of about 8 pelting along I met and passed the Yorkshire man and another who had passed me on the long climb.

Fortunately, the last climb didn’t destroy me and I saw my average speed climb slowly to 21km by the time I reached the finish in 11 hours 10 mins of elapsed time without overtaking or being overtaken again. That average speed is not particularly meaningful as it includes some of the stops but not all (depending on whether I stopped the garmin or not). For the first time I chose to display average speed instead of current speed on my Garmin as Audax have a cut off speed of 15kph. I actually found that quite relaxing.

Again coffee and cake at the finish. To add icing to the cake Jane arrived to collect me just as I got to the finish.

My impressions of Audax are really positive.

  • They are very well organised. People are clearly very experienced and knowledgeable at putting on these events. Puts many others to shame.
  • Everyone was very friendly and there was no put down for me as a newcomer just a welcome.
  • I was nervous and skeptical about the route sheet as it was very alien to me. But thanks to some advice on facebook I had 4 route sheets laminated and carried the current one on my left arm held on with elastic which worked really well. I am confident that even without my garmin I could have comfortably followed this as long as I had something displaying the distance in km. It also helped keep my focus on the current and short goals rather than worrying about the whole (and I really noticed it on the long 6mile climb because there was a single route card entry of 24km which took me over the climb and down to the next checkpoint without any intermediary goals).
  • While a lower gear would have been nice the bike worked fantastically well. Again my new wheels from The Happy Cog were brilliant. The hydraulic SRAM Rival disc brakes gave supreme confidence on some very steep descents. The Schmidt SON dynamo with B&M Luxos-U front light charged my Garmin on the way round (otherwise there is no way the battery would have lasted long enough).

So this was my longest ride yet at 133.9 miles. It had over 8,700 feet of climbing. My moving average was 14mph and my overall average 12mph. I am a happy bunny 🙂

As usual I carried far too much stuff (all the warnings about being in very remote places without a reliable phone signal meant I went prepared for almost anything – my first aid kit was larger than some riders saddlebag). Too many clothes and too much food meant I could have carried at least 1kg less weight.

On the other hand I started this ride 6kg lighter than I was at the end of February and wow that did make a huge difference. Probably the difference between riding and walking up some of the climbs.

So if you have not tried an Audax I recommend it (they start from 50km and go upto 1440km).

My ride on Strava:

Elapsed Time Moving Time Distance Average Speed Max Speed Elevation Gain
11:09:18 09:33:19 133.96 14.02 38.70 8,707.35
hours hours mi. mph mph ft.

Another work cycle tour: Syston to Cliff College

This is my route for tomorrow (and in reverse on Tuesday) as I have 24 hours of training to be a Methodist Superintendent Minister (and yes I have heard all the jokes already):

102.68 km route with 1,565 m of climbing. Check it out!

Source: Syston to Cliff College – VeloViewer

That is 64 miles and 5,100 feet of climbing in old money 😉

I’ll be on my renewed Whyte Suffolk, hopefully having packed very light (for me). The weather forecast is good which is extra icing on the cake. I went to Cliff for a conference in September but due to various circumstances I got a lift halfway there although I did ride all the way home. I have since tuned the route a little, with hopefully some quieter roads by skirting Derby differently. Going on my Whyte rather than my Bike for Life does mean travelling lighter but it should also save a fair bit of time.

There are some big/steep climbs on this route but also some gorgeous views and very quiet roads.

These rides will also be significant as, if all goes well, they will mean me achieving an Eddington number of 60 (riding 60 miles on 60 different days) which I just failed to complete by the end of 2015.


Entered my first official Audax ride

So on Saturday 7th May I have entered my first “official”, “proper” Audax ride. I’ll be doing the Four Rivers Ride which is 215km riding west from Wem in Shropshire. The route looks like it includes a different route up to Bwlch y Groes the highest pass in North Wales from the one I rode up during my sabbatical, doubt it is any easier 😉

Still from there it is all downhill for the last 50km or so 🙂

The time requirement means averaging over 9.5mph including all stops which with all the climbing and my current fitness is going to be “interesting”.


New wife bike. A Bish Bash Bosh from On One

So the cat is out of the bag. Jane has a new bike. A very discreet Bish Bash Bosh from On One:


The professional image from their website (of a slightly different spec) is:

So why a new bike? Lots of reasons:

  • Jane picked up a leg injury last summer. There does not seem to have been a single specific cause but, at the very least, her road bike made it worse. In particular a bumpy downhill which required a complete stop at the bottom. Jane has struggled with the brakes on that bike and we have tried various pads to improve them. However, she could never apply them hard enough to be confident stopping. We think that made her very tense and rigid over the bumps and it jarred her leg. It also sapped her confidence.
  • Jane is going on a Women’s Cycle Tour in France in the summer. While I had fitted a rack to her Specialized Dolce Elite Equipped, with 25mm tyres and weak brakes it wasn’t going to be ideal.
  • This year is one of those milestone birthdays that is worth celebrating.

So we looked at lots and lots of bikes. In particular Jane test rode a Specialised bike with hydraulic disk brakes and discovered that she could stop exactly where she wanted with no fuss and without having to strain at the brake levers. For her this was a complete game changer (and sadly we didn’t see any women’s road bikes with disk brakes, even cable operated 18 months ago).

So we looked at lots of bikes, mostly on the internet because finding stock isn’t easy. We did like the Specialized Dolce Comp Evo. Again there are not a lot of women’s road bikes with hydraulic disk brakes, 30mm+ tyres and both mudguard and rack fittings. We noted all the key measurements from Jane’s current bike to see what else might fit. In particular that was the:

  • Stack height: the vertical height between the bottom bracket and the top of the head tube. This tells you how upright you will sit and Jane prefers a fairly upright riding position even on a drop handlebar bike (it can be adjusted by adding some spacers under the handlebar stem but only to a limited extent).
  • Reach: the horizontal distance between the bottom bracket and the top of the head tube. This determines how stretched out you are going to be (two other key factors affecting this are the saddle position [forward/backward on it’s rails] and the length of the handlebar stem.
  • Seat Tube: Distance from the bottom bracket to the top of the seat tube. Determines how low the saddle can be.
  • Step over height: Jane finds bikes with the handlebar and saddle in the same position but a higher cross bar intimidating. So a sloping cross bar giving plenty of clearance when standing over the bike was essential.

There is now quite a lot of choice for men of bikes with hydraulic disk brakes but very little for women. So we looked at buying a frame that we could fit out exactly right. That is when I came across the Bish Bash Bosh from On One. The frame ticked lots of our boxes but at £999 for the frame only was going to be an expensive build. However, when we looked at the build options we realised that the Rival 11 Hydraulic Gravel Adventures model was pretty spot on and a lot cheaper than building up from the frame. So we went up to Sheffield and looked at one before deciding to take the risk of a less well known bike.

This is a very unusual bike in lots of ways beyond the colour scheme (which attracts a lot of attention). It is very rare to find a carbon frame with rack mounts. It has the latest axle standards (bolt thru 15mm front and 12mm rear) but despite the large bulk of the bottom bracket area of the frame it has old standard bottom bracket sizing with external bearings (which I like for their easy servicing and replacement. They are going to be plenty stiff enough for the power Jane can produce).

I then ordered a few upgrades:

The proof of the pudding is in the riding and the proof is really good.

  • Longer rides (much longer than any since the injury)
  • Now ridden all the way up the hill through South Croxton 5 times on the new bike. (only once or twice ever before)
  • Setting personal bests on segments on every ride.
  • Lightest bike she has ever had.
  • The SRAM brakes and gears are excellent (and the levers very easy to adjust for small hands, even spacing the gear levers in from the brake levers is easy). Jane has found adapting to the doubletap gear change very easy too.

And apparently it is the most comfortable bike Jane has ever ridden. It stops better than any other bike she has had . Pus she is already feeling more confident of it’s handling, especially on bumpy roads and poor surfaces than she has on any other bike.

On our ride today I was following Jane who was at times cruising along at about 20mph which is completely new territory.

Finally Jane really likes the colours and cartoon style “Bish Bash Bosh” writing inside the chain stay and front fork. It certainly stands out (Jane wanted me to point out that the same bike is available in boring grey or bright lime green colours)!

We are very pleased with this!



Conference travel coming up :-)

I’m attending a conference at Cliff College starting Friday lunchtime and ending Saturday lunchtime.

Fortunately, it makes a great cycle ride there and back. Current route is just over 63 miles so I might need to go the wrong way a few times to increase it a bit 😉 I’ve made it go on minor roads to increase the climbing to just over 4,500 feet as light training for the BearBones 200. It will mean a bit of an early start though.

You can see the route on Strava and it will tick off 2 of the remaining 7 60+ day rides to get my Eddington number up to 60 by the end of the year 🙂

As I’ll have finished preparing my Bike for Life for the BareBones 200 I think I’ll sort out my packing to use it in light weight bikepacking mode (essentially 2 drybags in WildcatGear Lion and Tiger harnesses plus my Lioness bag for bits). I might add an Alpkit Stem Cell for snacks.

And for anyone interested the conference is “Marriage and Relationships: facilitation training event” for the Methodist Connexion 😉


Visualising my Sabbatical

I like this graphic of my sabbatical bike rides (click for larger version):


This is thanks to the brillant website which collects all my rides from Strava and presents them in lots of creative and useful ways.

Here is a similar wheel for my LEJOG ride in 2012:



Packing progress

Since my last post I’m pleased to say I have made some good progress that is going to help considerably with the packing.

Firstly, OutdoorGB have confirmed today that a replacement Exped Sleeping Mat is on it’s way and should arrive tomorrow 🙂 That saves a huge amount of weight and space compared to the next best mat we have.

Secondly, I’ve ordered some new cycling boots. Shimano MT91’s which will save me having to carry hike boots as well as wearing cycling shoes.

mt91-bootsPlus they are going to be ideal for an upcoming autumn adventure (more later). Should arrive tomorrow.

Thirdly, I’ve sorted out my cockpit. My (rather large but comfy) tent, a Vango Banshee 300, fits neatly (without pegs and poles) into my Alkit 20 litre Xtra Dual drybag. That is held in place by my Wildcat Mountain Lion (upgraded to the latest version with tongue) and my Wildcat Lioness. On top of the handlebar is my Tomcat bag.

wildcat-cockpit3 wildcat-cockpit2 wildcat-cockpit1

Fourthly, as my Alpkit Gourdon 20 rucksack was so useful on and off the bike on my last tour I’m going to put that on top of my rear rack. I’ll use it for my sleeping bag and so on instead of using my Wildcat Tiger.

Glad that is all sorted 🙂



Sabbatical Photo Gallery

My sabbatical photos from 2015:


Second sabbatical tour planning

So with less than a week to go before my next Sabbatical Tour I have been working on more detailed plans.

Some of the plans are currently in flux. Due to changing family circumstances what happens after I have been to Iona is currently uncertain. It looks likely that I’ll be joined by Jane and Stephen with the caravan and we will travel across Scotland together. Hopefully that will include some things, like climbing Ben Nevis, that are still on the bucket list that I had not expected to be doing this time.

So I’m currently expected to cycle 2 out of 3 legs (1: Leicester to Iona and 3: Lindisfarne to Leicester) with some day rides between.

I’ve now planned the route in full detail to get to Iona. Irritatingly Strava kept thinking the A6 was a good route which meant a fair bit of manual work to correct. I’ve found campsites as well, including checking I’ll be allowed to stay on a site that says “No single sex bookings” (presumably not many single people will qualify).

Next I need to sort out my Bike for Life (I think it does deserve a wash but mainly need to swap tyres to my Marathon Plus road tyres – the rear WTB Nano is almost completely worn out) and work out what/how I’ll carry stuff. I have 3 challenges with that.

  • I’m planning to use a larger tent (sadly we have nothing between a tiny 1 man tent and a small 3 man tent). I want to be a bit more comfortable and warmer if the weather is bad. The Trekkertent Stealth 1 is amazingly light and small to carry, but it is draughty which makes it cold, and if it is raining when you want to get dressed or eat it is not a comfortable choice.
  • My comfy and tiny Exped Synmat sleeping mat is off to be repaired/replaced. If I don’t get it back in time then the alternative that I have is much bulkier.
  • Just been reading the info from Iona and I really need to take my walking boots. Gulp. They are bulky and while as boots go they are light for cycle touring they are still pretty heavy.

So I am going to be much stricter on not carrying much in the way of spare food and I think I might even leave my coffee kit at home (yes I know, shock horror. But with the extra weight of tent, potentially sleeping mat and boots I need to cut down).

As I’m taking my walking boots I’ve been wondering whether to cut out either my trainers or my crocs. The crocs are light but bulky and are really useful on campsites. However, with a tent I can sit up in it is easier to use trainers than with the stealth. I think the trainers will be much more useful for a week on Iona than the crocs.

I’m hoping there will be a washing machine at Iona Abbey. If so I’ll only take “normal” clothes for a couple of days worth and just wash them. That will be a big saving over my last trip.

As this does not include any off road adventures like The Welsh Ride Thing. I’m going to cut down on the Bikepacking bags that I use. So no frame bag and no fuel pod. Possibly 1 stem cell. On the front I’ll use my full set from Wildcat Gear (Mountain Lion for the Tent, Lioness for electronic gadgets and wallet, Tomcat for tools and spares) along with my Carradry front panniers. Depending on what happens with the sleeping mat I might not use the Wildcat Gear Tiger for my sleeping bag and instead just put it on top of the rear rack.

One key lesson is to rethink how I use the rear pockets on my rear Carradry panniers. The zips leak but the pockets don’t so you get a puddle at the bottom of the pocket everytime it rains. I will still use one for my lock (but remember to put it in with the U at the bottom and the lock at the top). Not sure about the other but anything it it will have to be in an Exped drybag.

Anyway the routes on Strava are:

  • Leicester to Ardrossan. Camping stops
    • just south of Macclesfield (72 miles)
    • between Preston and Lancaster (73 miles)
    • just south of Penrith (70 miles)
    • West of Dumfries (66 miles)
    • North side of Prestwick (59 miles)
  • Arran Camping stop
    • Lochranza campsite (32 miles and 1 ferry)
  • Arran to Oban camping stop
    • Just south of Oban (1 ferry and 61 miles)
  • Crossing Mull with camping stop on Iona
    • Iona campsite (after 2 ferries and about 37 miles)

As before I’ll be using my Satellite tracker once I start riding if you want to know where I’m at. I’ll have my phone and tablet for facebook, twitter and blogging. To try to alleviate battery life as a concern I’m carrying two Anker Astro batteries (an E4 13,000mAh and an E6 20800mAh) and my Anker mains charger that can charge upto 5 devices at a time. But I do have a lot of usb devices to keep charged:

  • Phone
  • Garmin 1,000
  • Nexus 7 tablet
  • Front and rear exposure flare lights (I like to have them flashing when on busy roads)
  • Bluetooth keyboard
  • Kindle

One thing I will be more careful about is putting my tablet and phone in airplane mode more often.

No doubt like last time some of this will change when I discover it won’t all fit 🙂


Bike for Life post sabbatical tour 1 adjustments

Now I’m back from my first Sabbatical Tour it is time to adjust my Bike for Life and other equipment for the next, longer tour in just under 3 weeks time.

The next tour is in 3 main parts:

  • Leicester to Iona which is about 435 miles
  • Iona to Lindisfarne which is about 255 miles
  • Lindisfarne to Leicester which is about 280 miles

For a total of about 970 miles (plus some riding around Lindisfarne will increase it to just over 1,000 miles.

Compared to my earlier tour I won’t be doing anything like the Welsh Ride Thing (watch the great video by Ian Barrington);

So I will be switching from the WTB Nano tyres (no punctures so far this sabbatical!), which were pretty good on road and brilliant off road as the rear in particular is nearly completely worn out, back to my Schwalbe Marathon Plus (which are fine for off road Sustrans routes as well as the on-road stuff).

Wondering about the mudguards. Yes they keep the bike clean and are essential (IMHO) for general transport use. But I’ll be wearing cycle specific clothing and the reduced weight and hassle is attractive on a long ride.

I’ll make a few small luggage changes as well to simplify things as I won’t be combining bike packing with road touring. So no Wildcat frame bag, no Alkit stem cell or fuel tank. Possibly swap the Wildcat Tiger seatpost holder for a bag on top of the rack. Probably a smaller bag under the handlebar than the Alkit Gourdon 20 litre rucksack (put that on the back rack instead?).

Again as I won’t be bike packing I think I’ll swap the Stealth 1 tent for one of our slightly larger tents.

I’ll also be taking less clothing and trying to remember to carry less food and buy smaller amounts more frequently.

I need to sort out a replacement sleeping mat after the failure of my Exped.


That should keep me busy for a while.



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