A change in perceptions

I think I would generally consider America to be the home of the motor car. Why? Well, the wide roads, the drive-thru’s (banks, food, pharmacies etc…), Henry Ford, and the general necessity to own a car in a country so broad. Surely riding a bike on these large roads, with huge trucks steaming past just doesn’t happen. 

On the other hand I consider England to be one of the big cycling nations. Why? I grew up knowing about cycling; my Grandad is a cyclist, my uncle was and as he grew up my brother became the next generation cyclist. The UK has some cycling greats: Wiggins, Froome and Cav; Before them: Hoy, Boardman, Simpson and Holland. And the girls… Pendleton, Trott and Armitstead. We have the Tour of Britain and compete strongly in the Tour De France. The Olympics of 2012 brought a renewed passion for the sport, and the launch of the Ride London sportive. 

But these were just my perceptions, based on exposure.
In reality, Canada and the USA have an extensive network of cycle lanes, multi-activity lanes and cycle-specific routes. Toronto has a cycle map which enables you to plan a safe cycle route through the city and some of these lanes even have their own traffic lights. But they have implemented more than just an infrastructure, the drivers have complete respect for cyclists; they yield to cyclists at junctions, or when a cycle path crosses a road. 

Conversely, with exception to London, the cycle network in the UK is either non-existent or unreliable. Road cyclists avoid cycle tracks due to the likelihood of them turning to gravel or becoming unrideable. Cycle lanes are shared with BUSES! And outside of the main towns and cities, nothing exists. We probably have slightly quieter roads, but they are smaller and have faster speed limits. Finally there is a complete lack of understanding, and thus respect, between cyclists and drivers – probably due to them having been thrown together in uncomfortably shared circumstances. Something which has caused a vicious circle or self-fulfilling prophecy to develop in which drivers and cyclists expect each other to exhibit certain behaviours and thus act defensively or aggressively in anticipation. 

To sum up, our two holidays this year have both left me wishing we had the cycling infrastructure of our foreign cousins – extensive, pleasant, well-kept and accessible. 

I wonder how NYC deals with cycle traffic…

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“Shall I call an ambulance?”

Saturday’s adventures…

As planned we headed out to attempt three of the TdF hills. The planned route of around 80 miles, had an elevation of about 8,000 ft, but we managed 27 miles of it and just under 2,400 ft.

Despite keenly watching the changing weather forecast regularly throughout the week, and realising that it would be wet and windy, we underestimated the effect of being up north and being up a big hill. It’s cold up there, and the weather is unpredictable.

We decided on quite different kit, but that is fairly normal as I feel the cold. I decided upon bib tights, waterproof socks, jersey, arm warmers, a waterproof and my Sealskin mitts. Ollie chose a Jersey, shorts, arm warmers and fingerless gloves.

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The first 20 miles were okay. It was rainy on and off, my arm warmers were off, my raincoat was on, off, on…and Ollie was happy with his choice of kit. However, after the 20 mile point we began to struggle. Ollie’s fingers were too exposed to the headwind and driving rain which was battering us, which meant that he had to keep them warm by putting them into his mouth. I was okay kit wise but the wind was sapping my energy. But the 20 mile point coincided with the first of the three major hills, between Buckden and Hawes, which went on and on and on. Ollie was kindly either waiting for me, or racing up the hill and then coming back to get me – so that he kept warm- whilst also keeping his hands warm, one at a time.

The 20 mile point was like entering a time warp, the hill lasted forever, there was nothing; no civilisation – just moors – grass – water – sheep. I think it even got to the point where there weren’t even any sheep. And then there was snow. Not just sleet – snow. Snow and wind. Still I was okay, but Ollie’s fingers were increasingly cold and painful.We got to a steep downhill section, which frightened me so we had to get off and walk for a little way. After that though, my fingers also became cold, even though they had been wrapped up in my Sealskin mitts. I began to compare the ride to that of Boxing Day and Ride 100, in terms of miserableness. But then it got a little worse;  a passing Landrover splashed me, and I was soaked through.

 

We carried on, miserably, shivering and desperately looking for a pub to warm up in…and eventually came to the cobbled streets of Hawes. We blindly followed the streets until we came across a Coffee shop – Herriot’s – where we dumped the bikes and went straight inside to a friendly welcome. We perched on seats and ordered hot chocolates, which I downed almost in one. We pretty much immediately decided that we would terminate the ride and that one of us would get a taxi back to the camp site to pick up the car. As we sat waiting for lunch, drinking the hot chocolate Ollie’s fingers warmed up nice and quickly, but I continued to shiver uncontrollably in my wet clothes.

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Ollie and the Cafe owner, Glenn, were increasingly concerned about my inability to warm up – Glenn and his wife Liz tried to find me a hot water bottle but decided to offer me the use of one of their Bed and Breakfast rooms, so that I could have a hot shower. He gave me a walkie-talkie and instructed me not to collapse. The shower, on its hottest setting did the job, but I was back to shivering once I got out. However Liz kindly let me borrow some clothes so that I wouldn’t have to put my cold wet Lycra back on, and I spent some time under a hair-drier.

 

In the meantime, another kind couple offered Ollie a lift back to the camp-site, and Glenn ‘sold’ Ollie a room for the night – so Ollie headed off to get the car and Glenn gave me a key to a new room. The end of our camping adventure  – I didn’t even manage two nights!!

 

While Ollie was away I ate my lunch soup, chatted to some other cyclists and fully recovered.

 

We finished off our route on Sunday – so still managed to do all of the hills that we’d planned to do. Photos below…

 

Buttertubs Pass

Buttertubs Pass

Climbing Buttertubs

Climbing Buttertubs

Posing on Buttertubs

Posing on Buttertubs

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Buttertubs

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Buttertubs Pass

 

Bunting and bidons

What an absolutely fantastic seven days!

I celebrated the century with a day off to rest on Monday, followed by a brief trip to the office on Tuesday and then off on leave Wednesday. Chris, Ollie and I cycled over to Horsley to watch the Tour of Britain scale the hill into the village and disappear into the village and on to Bristol.

After a pleasant ride, throughout which we were increasingly joined by other cyclists heading in the same direction, we set our bikes against a bunting lined fence and patiently waited along with crowds of villagers.

The first signs of activity were the helicopters in the distance and the police motorcycles roaring past (and certainly making the most of the closed roads). As the exitement was building a large transit van approached with hazards flashing.

Looks official – he’s got his hazards on!

Turns out he was a Yodel delivery driver in a rental van. He pulled up, half on the pavement and half on the road, completely blocking any view down the hill.  As he sat and fiddled with his sat nav and prepared to jump out of his cab the crowd groaned, moaned and stated their frustration. But he had barely removed his sat nav from the screen before the occupant of the house (and owner of the bunting) launched herself at his van, grabbed her parcel and shooed him away. Cue laughs and relief from onlookers.

And so with that minor drama out of the way we were back to focusing on the many many police motorcycles making their way through the village…and then a large police four by four. Clapping in the distance.

Here they come!

The breakaway group steamed up the hill past us and all was quiet again. We’d had word that Alex Dowsett had suffered a double puncture, so would be alone between the break away and the peloton. He came into sight and we all cheered like mad…

He isn’t even trying!

I am heard to say on the video my brother was taking. And so it turns out he was waiting to be eaten up by the peloton. The punctures had ruined his day, I could have cycled faster up that hill.

The peloton followed and Sir Bradley Wiggins passed within touching distance. Cavendish nowhere to be seen. A few stragglers followed up shortly afterwards and then the police packed up and drove off.

Which is why I got on my bike and cycled up the hill, cheered on enthusiastically by the crowds who tried to encourage me to carry on rather than get off at the pub. Seconds later a further group of pros came through. I had briefly, accidentally become part of the Tour of Britain and it was great fun!

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A brief stint at work on Thursday was followed with a further day off on Friday, to follow Stage 6 of the tour. We were lucky that there were two stages which were within riding distance this year.

We chose to cycle to the feed zone and try our luck at getting some musettes and bidons. Though we weren’t overly hopeful.

We spread ourselves out on either side of the road and our tactics paid off…

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…from diving into a nettle bush to get a mussette which had been thrown in my general direction and from bottles each of us had rounded up…(including one which Ollie caught)…we managed to get a decent initial haul.

We then followed the route of the ride and kept our eyes on the hedgerows for any which had been discarded outside of the green zone. Both my brother and I had cycled past a certain hedge but Ollie called us back and pulled a mussette pretty much unused from the bush. A long way to carry a bag which you aren’t going to use!

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Haul complete we headed to the pub for food.

Both days were brilliant fun, thanks to Chris for organising us so well! We don’t have to buy bottles for ages now 🙂

After a week of cycling we had a weekend of food. Ollie won a massive blow out meal, so we made the most of that at the Bell at Sapperton on Friday night which continued to fuel us for our respective Saturday morning rides.

Saturday morning I did just over 40 miles, which included delivery of present and cake to my Grandparents on their anniversary. 56 years. Congratulations.

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Barney, Granddog, has a feeding tube coming out of his neck…but fear not he appears to be doing well. Keep getting better Barn!

Morning cycle complete…no hot water. So I made a death by chocolate cake for afternoon tea with Ollie’s brother’s family.

Still no hot water.

Cold shower.  Eurgh.

To finish the weekend off, I did not practice for the tri as I was supposed to, we chilled out, I studied and Chris made us a blackberry and apple meringue roulade. Oh well…if we must.

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