The end of 16 days of cycling

Jen’s knee should be okay! That seems like the best place to start. Jen has to rest for a couple of weeks and do some physio on her knee, but all the important bits are still intact and fine. Happy days!

Almost a week ago we arrived in Locarno, and it feels like things have actually become more hectic since then.

Getting off the bike on day 16 was a mixed-bag of emotions, combining joy and satisfaction at achieving what we’ve been working towards for such a long time with a bit of sadness that it was all over.

I’ll admit that the 30 or so hours we spent at my aunt and uncle’s (thanks again Sue, Rico and Ben for being our destination) were long overdue and it was fantastic to be able to play: jumping in the pool, trying to learn to unicycle, and a load of other things which we couldn’t have justified stopping halfway through France to enjoy.

A Swiss-themed arrival party

A Swiss-themed arrival party

The journey home was a lot less pleasant than the ride. Everyone was pretty worn out and ready for home, but towing a trailer meant being limited to 60mph all the way back. We arrived in Bangor around 24 hours after we left Locarno, all ready for bed!

Shocking the body by switching from cycling 8-10 hours per day for 16 days and then doing all the above probably isn’t the most sensible idea, and by Sunday evening before we left I had pulled something in my left foot (admittedly while trying to leap into the pool through a 2′ hoop feet-first with a run up) and a mosquito bite on my right foot left me with a giant, inflated, itchy foot. It was probably the first sign that I am actually quite worn down by the adventure.

What an adventure!

What an adventure! Exciting roads down the Furka Pass to Andermatt

Around the time we finished I was feeling fit, strong and pretty confident that I could have carried on. Over the 16 day cycle I settled into a rhythm and routine which meant I wasn’t wearing my body out too much. Once we had overcome some of the routing issues and the final few days were attainable and programmed in I felt a lot less mentally strained as well. Now we’re all scattered across the UK again the realisation that I need a little rest is dawning on me. Every day by 6pm I feel shattered and ready for bed, and there’s still a lot of unpacking to do as well as all the “nice” things such as returning the Garmin GPS and GoPro to their respective donors (thanks again Blacks, Rob, and Konrad and Sarah). My plan at the moment is to rest my foot as much as possible so I can ride at the weekend, so lugging around the bags and boxes of cycling kit can wait.

Hopefully we'll get to ride together again soon

Hopefully we’ll get to ride together again soon

Having not done anything particularly physical since getting out of the pool on Saturday, I’m eager to get out and do something, and it’s a side-effect of the trip I like. Being physically active is addictive, and now I want to capitalise on my cycling fitness to make the most of Snowdonia and the rest of North Wales, as well as do a couple of bigger day trips including Bangor to Leeds (150 miles).

I'm going to miss having great views every day

I’m going to miss having great views every day

We’re very close to achieving our target, so if you haven’t already, please donate to MS Trust and the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation through JustGiving: http://www.justgiving.com/teams/teampedal. All donations go straight to the charities, whose amazing work hinges on the generosity of its donors.

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Thanks, a last minute appeal, and GoPro testing

On Thursday we set off for our 1000 mile cycle to Switzerland. We’ve made good progress with sponsorship but we still need a bit more to reach our targets so spread the word and gently coerce everyone into helping out!

We’ve been helped along the way by too many people to list, and we haven’t even set off yet, so if you’ve provided technical assistance, gadgetry, donations, moral support or even just friendly banter: cheers! Your reward is getting to see me looking silly for a couple of minutes… enjoy:

Getting keen for rollers

I have my bike back! For now at least. After spending yesterday evening fitting the replacement headset, brake pads and giving the rest of the bike a bit of TLC this evening was good for a quick ride to blow out the cobwebs.

With the rain and wind tearing at my motivation I gave in and had a two hour session on the rollers instead. This evenings in-flight entertainment was Serenity, and I’m quickly working my way through unseen actiony fodder to help burn the hours away.

The rollers are great because they build up balance and core control as well as working your legs, and they take a hell of a lot more concentration.

It’s not that rollers aren’t fun (they’re not), but sitting in the same place quickly loses its edge. To keep interested I need to set little challenges along the way.

Today’s challenge was to become able to look sideways without falling off, and after a couple of unsuccessful attempts trying to talk to Konrad I managed it a whole minute each way. I’m pretty impressed that Konrad didn’t fire pencils at me continuously! For five bonus points I managed a whole 30 seconds with no hands.

Double puncture fun

I should really have known better than to write a blog post about the perfect conditions and great cycling. If I were superstitious I’d be ranting about karma coming to get me, or something like that.

In fairness I’ve been exceptionally lucky with the weather recently. My last post centred around the Welsh micro-summer, and although it was significantly cooler this time round with a chill breeze the sun was still shining and I didn’t feel frostnip setting in! It’s a good job I haven’t been desparate for two days of riding, because (aptly-named) Sundays have been miserable, wet, windy affairs, quickly pushing out all memories of the sun.

Anglesey's picturesque coastline

Anglesey’s picturesque coastline, though it looks a lot warmer than it felt in the wind

During the last ride I made a maintenance to-do list of little niggles:

* The upper limit on the front deraillieur needs adjusting because it sheds the chain when changing to the largest front ring.
* The brake pads need replacing on the front.
* The headset needs to be replace to stop the excessive play.

Of course I got back and got sidetracked, and didn’t touch the bike for the week. The first item is pretty straightforward and isn’t too bad to work around. The other two caused a more substantial issue. When braking, the pads would pulse, binding and releasing a few times a second. This combined with the play in the headset to create a really unnerving situation where the front wheel moved foward and backward a couple of inches as the whole bike shook. Not optimal!

The route around Anglesey

A nice semi-coastal circuit… at least to start with.

Of course I didn’t realise any of this until after I’d set off. My original plan was to do a full circuit of Anglesey, which would come in at around 110 miles. My first impression of the route is that it’s a lot hillier than I expected, with the road winding towards the coast and then back inland, each time losing and re-gaining height. Not that any of that is a bad thing. The views were generally great, the roads quiet and the going good. There was a pretty consistant headwind which made things feel harder, but my average was still around 15mph.

That’s when disaster struck! I picked up a puncture on my front wheel near Cemaes Bay (near the top of Anglesey) so pulled over and started the timer. The innertube swap was seamless and I was feeling pretty good as I put the last 15 PSI in when the valve on the tube snapped in half, right through the thread. I’ve never seen that before.

The offending valve, shortly after it messed with "The Fury"

The offending valve, shortly after it messed with “The Fury”

I rarely pick up punctures (the last one I had was probably a year ago) so I only carry a single spare inner tube, along with some Park Tool self-adhesive patches in case I get a second puncture. This left my in a bit of a poor state when I couldn’t find the source of the leak in the first tube but had little choice but to put it back in and pump it up.

Needless to say I beat a direct route back down the A5 towards home, stopping every five to ten minutes to put some more air in. It was surprising the effect stopping regularly had on me, and the return leg felt many times harder because of it.

The trip taught me a little about how I handle adversity, but the big lesson is that there’s more to cycling than just spinning legs. Knowing how to handle breakdowns and improvise is just as important, otherwise you can be stuck miles from home having to give up an call for help!

Another thing I noticed was that things felt generally harder because I’d not carbo-loaded the night before. It’s easy to fix that for the next training ride, but it provides some insight into how we’ll be a few days into the trip. Once we’re into the cycle (excuse the pun) of replenishing energy in the evening how easy will it be to take on the extra carbs to be fully stocked for the next day.

The Menai Bridge

The Menai Bridge

So now I’m back I’ve stripped down the bike and removed the headset to try to find a replacement, though it’s not as simple as I’d expected. It appears my bike has an obscure set of dimensions which don’t match any standards so after an evening of measuring, Googling, measuring again and scratching my head, I’ve given up and got in touch with Wiggle, who I’m hoping will prove their worth again and get me back on the road. No pressure Wiggle, but it’s the team training weekend coming up, so it needs to be back up and running by Friday evening!

In the absence of being able to work on the bike, I’ve been thinking about potential routes for the weekend. The plan is (roughly) to go to Leeds for Saturday and then to return to Wales for Sunday to get around some logistical problems caused by Jen’s car needing some TLC. The day in Snowdonia is easy (and one of my favourite local loops): a 32 mile loop from Bethesda to Llanberis, Capel and home. Saturday is a little trickier as I’ve not lived there for years. Yet again Google Street View will come in handy!

Now that we’re into the final countdown (not the kazoo version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2Btg7lFlig) it’s really pushing me to get my ducks in a row ready for the weekends so I can guarantee a big ride. It’s time to step it up a bit though, so once the bike’s better I need to start evening rides. These are much easier when it’s an extended trip home, so it’s time to get the drybag and rear rack out and start commuting. 15 miles extra a day will definitely help out, and if I managed 350 miles outside in April what will May bring?

The shortest summer on record

On Saturday I completed my first substantial solo ride of the year: ~90 miles from Bangor to Llanrwst, Denbigh, St Asaph and home. For the first 65 miles I was pondering this blog post and thinking about how I could word a careful apology. After all, we’re going on about training, hardship and challenge. The problem was that nothing really felt like “training”, not for the first two thirds at least.

Genevieve, my trusty steed!

Genevieve, my trusty steed! Cable-tying my jacket above the bottle cage worked pretty well.

Sure, I was pushing myself and trying to maintain a reasonable pace. And true, I wasn’t hanging around taking pictures or jumping in icy rivers to cool down, but when you’re cruising along quiet B-roads in the countryside with a perfect blue sky and no wind it doesn’t get much better. It certainly doesn’t feel like training and feels a lot more like a great thing to do on a perfect day.

This was my first time riding east of Llanrwst with the exception of the coastal route to Chester, and every hill I crested led to an even more amazing view. The rolling hills strike a marked contrast to the Ogwen valley’s aggressiveness, and I had to make a conscious effort to keep looking at the road and not the countryside.

Above Llanrwst towards Llanddoged

Above Llanrwst towards Llanddoged. It became much hillier after this point.

Spring (at least when we get the sunny portions) has got to be my favourite time to ride. There’s so much going on around you as you pass through different areas, and at the moment there’s plenty of young lambs running around, fields being bashed, rolled, ploughed and prepared, building work, and so on to keep you thinking.

I planned the route the night before, and came up with a few options, mostly staying within the confines of Snowdonia. This route piqued my interest though because it was predominantly in areas I didn’t know, and calm, sunny days are the best to go exploring. Google Street View is now in my list of indispensable tools for cycling and probably helped me save half an hour over the course of the day by looking at each major turn I needed to make in advance. I didn’t try to commit each one to memory like I did the town names I was passing through, but each time I’d be riding along and think “this looks familiar” before seeing the turn and taking it. No faff, far less map-checking and generally improved enjoyment that comes with the confidence that you’re on the right track.

Needing to check the map

Needing to check the map. This junction beat me and I had to resort to the map.

The one big mistake I did make, and am still paying for, was forgetting sun cream. As I pootled down towards Aber I remembered and thought “aah, I’m not going back now, I faffed too much before I set off”. Bad Idea. My arms and legs are still bright red two days on, with razor sharp lines where my jersey, shorts, gloves and socks end. It did make me think about how ridiculous we’re going to look when we arrive in Locarno. Fingerless gloves are going to leave an interesting semi-permanent tan.

So the questions is: what happened after 66 miles which made it feel like training? The answer is two-fold: Conwy council and a lack of food. The latter wasn’t too serious, but I took half a sandwich too few so spent the last hour feeling like it was harder work than it should have been. Lesson learned. The former was much less pleasant.

Whenever I’ve cycled the national cycle route from Bangor to Chester I’ve always headed up through Old Colwyn towards Llysfaen, skipping out the Colywn Bay seafront. This was generally not on purpose. On the way home I thought I’d follow the front, but was quickly disappointed as the cyclepath deteriorated from high-quality smooth tarmac to a broken, rough, uneven path which weaved around lampposts making it clear the cycle lane was an unimportant afterthought. In fairness some sections had good intentions, with one including a cycle lane separated from the road and the pedestrian area with low concrete bollards, but the thin layer of red tarmac that was applied to make the cycle lane obvious has rapidly fallen into disrepair, and was so juddery I came out the other side with bruised palms and a sore back.

Perfect cycle path at Llanddulas

Perfect cycle path at Llanddulas. If only Colwyn Bay was like this!

Overall a great day out, and once I’d eaten and recovered definitely felt like another day would be feasible. Of course the “Welsh summer” had something to say about it and Sunday morning was a windy rainfest of epic proportions. Fingers’ crossed for another few days like that before we set off!

Forget the rain

Frozen Llyn OgwenSo I could write a bit of a post rehashing the events of last weekend and adding to Jen’s disaster list that I *almost* destroyed my iPhone by putting it in my jacket pocket while it was 1/2 full of water (cheers Isle of Wight Freelander driver who aimed for that puddle!), but this evening’s sunshine has pushed all thoughts of winter, wind and rain from my mind.

It’s hard to believe that only two weeks ago Llyn Ogwen was frozen and half of Snowdonia was snowbound when I spent this evening on the driveway fitting a new chain and giving the bike a good bit of TLC. The weather looks good for tomorrow, a little cloudy but with almost no wind. Perfect conditions for a long ride down the coast.
A great evening for bike maintenance

The first thing to deal with was fitting the new chain. The Shimano chain which came with the bike has seen over 3000 miles and is starting to look a bit worn. By taking a tape measure and measuring 12″ of chain it’s possible to see roughly how worn the chain is. Measuring from the center of the first pin, as the chain wears the nearest pin to 12″ moves slightly further away. It seems to be generally advised that if it’s over 1/16th of an inch further to the center of the pin it’s time to replace the cassette and the chain. Mine was just under 1/16th, so a new chain should do (phew, those Ultegra cassettes aren’t cheap!).

Measuring the chain

Starting from the 1″ marker means the play from the end of the tape measure doesn’t affect your measurement

The downside to winter riding is that it takes a toll on your kit. Inspecting the bike after the chain was fitted I noticed that the headset and bottom bracket both need replacing. Definitely a job for another day!

Now that summer’s here* I’m feeling much more excited about getting out on the road. Everything’s much more pleasant when you can stop for ice cream every hour!

* Summer in North Wales is traditionally 2 weeks in March, then back to rain until winter…

Summer's here (almost) in the Nantlle valley

Summer’s here (almost) in the Nantlle valley

The first ‘official’ Team Pedal training weekend

We’ve reached the end of Team Pedal’s first official training weekend. In fact it was a weekend of firsts, not least being the first time we’ve all cycled together and the first substantial trip for Megan’s new bike.

There was a bit of contention on the route choice, and part of my winning argument included the fact that there’s generally a good tailwind on the route. For Megan this was going to be a big step up: going from a previous personal best of 6 miles to 70 is no small undertaking, and similarly Jen hadn’t tackled more than around 35-40 before.

Despite this I was optimistic and kept repeating the vital statistics: even if we travel at 10 mph it’ll only take 7 hours. 7 hours is enough to do it entirely in daylight, and we’ll probably be aiming for more like 23-15 mph average. Definitely. And pushing for 70 miles gives us a good idea of how we can hold up to the sort of distance we’ll be covering on the big ride and how we’ll feel on day 2.

Let’s do it!

Feeling good and ready to ride

Feeling good and ready to ride

Inappropriate shoes!

Inappropriate shoes!

So we set off at 10am, a little after sunrise (and then some), but it made sense to get a good night’s sleep after late arrivals from Jen and Megan. There were a couple of initial hiccups, including Jen’s realisation that she’d forgotten her trainers so had to do the ride in casual runners and stopping to raise Megan’s saddle about 6 inches, but soon we were underway, and the progress was good. We rode with Dave and Steph, who turned up in significantly warmer attire than we’d chosen, particularly me in my 3/4 length thick lycra, cycling t-shirt and thin windproof. Although it started off as a pretty brisk morning, the sun was soon out and it was almost like a spring day. Good clothing choice. Win #1.

One of the nice things about the North Wales cycle route is how much time you spend on completely flat ground right by the sea. We undertook a couple of ascents, the first one up through Colwyn Bay and the second cutting inland after Prestatyn. Both hill climbs were on quiet roads, and as I said previously the improvements to the route for cyclists has been great in the past few years. Only Shotton high street remains as a busy on-road adventure, but hopefully that can be phased out in the near future.

Cycling by the sea

Cycling by the sea

It was only when were neared Shotton that I realised there was no way we’d make Chester before dark. Initially I thought this wouldn’t be a major problem, after all we had a few lights between us, but with the sun went the warmth. Once we joined the cycle path down the old railway line into Chester there were no streetlights, and our puny front lights meant we couldn’t go above 7-8mph (with the exception of Dave, who brought a portable star!) so we settled into a slow, cold grind for the last hour.

I can’t say the last section was particularly pleasurable, but it did teach me a valuable lesson: always assume the worst and take an extra layer, or at least gloves and shoes not designed for summer racing!

When we got ourselves to Chester station we were in a bit of a state. Too cold to stand around, Jen was shivering too much to talk properly, and Megan’s face said it all. They ran off to Costa to order hot chocolate as I went in search of train tickets. Now it’s a little off-topic, but I’ve got to say that £20 each to get from Chester to Bangor is a massive rip off, and anyone trying to promote the use of public transport in government should really be able to see that people won’t choose to jump on train to go 70 miles when it costs almost a full tank of fuel for a car which could take you 500.

Finally there!

Finally there!

How many tickets?

How many tickets?

Well deserved hot chocolates. Try to smile Meg!

Well deserved hot chocolates. Try to smile Meg!

Once we’d figured out the Virgin cycle ticket process (one for you, one for your bike, one for you for your bike) we settled in while the train covered 70 miles in the time it took us to cover 10. We talked about things we’d learned, how we felt about it, what we’d eat when we got in, but mostly how much we’d enjoyed the trip. Yes, even with the cold harshness of the final few miles.

Overall I was really impressed with both Megan and Jen. In the past few months they’ve put in a lot more effort than I have and it really showed. Megan was fearlessly attacking hills and generally took the ride as it came. Jen didn’t have to stop on a single hill and kept her average speed even though we doubled the mileage. All good pointers, and good motivation to keep on improving on the (long) road to being ready for the big ride.

A big thank-you has to go to Luke, who very kindly picked us up from Bangor train station and saved us the ride home. We also got in to discover dinner was already prepared and ready to go. You can’t beat that when all you want to do is sink into a chair and fall asleep!

Day 2: clean up

It took a bit of proddling, but we got out on a quick ride for day two of the training weekend, just to see what it felt like. At 4.5 miles it was nothing to worry about, and we were back in under 30 minutes. This time though, I took my own advice and wrapped up a little warmer. With mountain gloves, a thick jumper and a waterproof jacket I was at just the right temperature. That all changed when we reached the hill to Rachub and I realised it was a segment in Strava. It only took a minute of sprinting for me to have the jacket open, pulling at the Buff on my head thinking “extra layers are stupid”. There’s just no pleasing some people.

Ready for day 2

Ready for day 2

Megan getting the derailleur really clean

Megan getting the derailleur really clean

What weekend would be complete without a bit of cleaning! After all those miles I figured it was the perfect excuse to give Megan a lesson on bike maintenance. I think I got away with getting Megan to clean my bike as well. Jackpot.