Bay Cycles' News

Keeping you up to date with what's going on in Cycling. From the latest Bay Cycles' bikes, rides and products to what's been going on locally you will find it here

Jonathan David has not set his biography yet

Jonathan David

Product testing the Nobel Prize winning technology of the new Vittoria Graphene tyres

Earlier this year my every day bike was in Bay Cycles receiving some TLC from Jez (with a little bit of help from me!). Whilst I was aware of some of the issues it had, for example the chain and cassette, after closer inspection Jez suggested that my Continental GP4000's were starting to show signs of wear (cracking). They had certainly stood the test of time but, better to be safe than sorry. We therefore decided to swap them for the new range of Vittoria all-round rubino pros now available in store at Bay Cycles.



This Nobel prize winning compound is the hardest, lightest material ever found and at only one atom thick is also the thinnest


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Jonathan David

A Saturday Shop Ride with a difference

A Saturday Shop Ride with a difference
Cycling has many so-called Classics or Monument races; events that have stood the test of time and have only been interrupted by World Wars in Europe. One such race is the Tour of Flanders or the Ronde Van Vlaanderen as it is known in Belgium. This year was the 100th Edition of the race so 7 of us decided it was time for us to pay a return visit (or first visit for some) to the cobbled bergs (Hills) that make up this iconic race.​


Just head towards the tunnel and once across turn left and head for Belgium

2nd April 2016

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Jonathan David

Swiss Stop Brake Pad Upgrade

Here's a little question for you if you have a road bike. How do you significantly increase the 'effectiveness' of your brakes with one easy purchase? The answer is really quite simple when the brakes in question have standard pads such as those fitted at the factory by many bike manufacturers . Simply, replace the brake pads that they came with (once they've worn out, of course) with Swiss Stop brake pads.


       The new Swiss Stop pads instantly gave me the feedback I was looking for

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Jonathan David

The Bontrager 'Flare R' Mission is underway

​Some of you may think it strange that I am reviewing a bike light at this time of year. Surely the nights are getting shorter I hear you say, and yes, I would agree with you. However, the Bontrager Flare R is a rear bike light with a difference. Bontrager appreciate that whilst we all know we are legally obliged to use a rear light at night, research has shown that actually 80% of cycle related incidents occur in daylight hours. Like all good ideas, the thought behind the Flare R started with a 'eureka' moment. Trek Bikes' head honcho, John Burke, was out on his morning daylight commute and saw a fellow cyclist using a flashing rear light. Using this and the proliferation of car daytime running lights as inspiration, John Burke set his R & D department to work and, following refinement of the lens and the LED to be used, the Flare R was born.

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Jonathan David

Muc-Off

Muc-Off

Ok, so you weren't the lucky winner of the cleaning kit offered in the last newsletter, however, that's no excuse for not cleaning your bike. With the weather we've been having recently, if your bike is anything like mine, no matter how lovely it looks before heading out, on arriving back it's completely filthy with the mud and general detritus currently found on our roads. Last week's club run was a great example of this when our ride leader opted to discover the most flooded and dirtiest lanes in my area on our 55 mile Sunday ride. 

It's not easy to motivate yourself after a hard ride in the rain and the mud. All you want is to get some food and a hot shower. However, one of the most important things you should really try and do when you first get back is to clean the chain on your bike. Using a product such as, Muc-Off Bio Degreaser, will however, make this chore a lot quicker. 

Apply to the chain and the cassette and work it in to the really dirty areas with a suitable Muc-Off brush and leave it for a few minutes to do its magic, wash it clean and hey presto, you now have a nice clean chain! Your drivetrain now not only looks good it will probably save you a bit of money in the long run as it will have less grit stuck to it wearing it out during your next ride. 

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Jonathan David

Winter Solutions: Mudguards

Winter Solutions: Mudguards

​ So you have spent your hard earned cash on your nice 'sparkly' bike and quite rightly want to keep it so. However, with the weather the way it is you are very reluctant to venture out on those mucky roads.

One of the easiest ways to keep the worst of your bike is to do it the "old School' way and opt for fitting mudguards. The first thing to do when thinking about fitting mudguards is to check your bike to see if it has mudguard eyes. Don't despair if it doesn't as there are other options available to you. If you have bought a Trek check whether it has clever little 'hidden' mudguard mounts – these will be located near the dropouts on the frame and the adaptors will have usually been supplied along with the bike's handbook. Bontrager provide great solutions in their NCS Mudguard which being a full length mudguard will to keep most of the muck at bay. 

If you are unsure though, Bay Cycles can always take a look and let you know which options are available to you. If your frame doesn't have eyelets but does have enough clearance, there is the Crud Catcher 2– a simple set up with the mudguard 'floating' above the tyre. Be careful though if you are running slightly wider tyres, say 25mm as these can cause you some issues with rubbing. Another solution is the SKS Raceblade, which uses rubber 'bands' to secure the mudguard to the frame. This system is so simple they can be removed for post ride cleaning very easily or on that nice sunny winter's day when they are not needed. They provide a suitable amount of cover for you and the rider behind but if you object to having your calves sprayed from the uncovered part of the rear mudguard then you may want to consider the Raceblade XL. Both sets will accommodate the wider tyres you are more likely to run in the Winter. 

All of these options will keep the worst of the winter muck from your pride and joy and are all available from Bay Cycles. If you are unsure though, Bay Cycles can always take a look and let you know which options are available to you. More Info:

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Jonathan David

Bontrager Race Convertible Windshell Jacket

When is a Jacket not a Jacket - when it's the Bontrager Race Convertible Windshell Jacket.
When you need full protection use it as a traditional jacket and, once things have warmed up take the sleeves off and you have yourself a Gilet. Now throughout this review I will refer to this garment as a Jacket just to be clear. (apart from when it's a gilet!!)
The Jacket comes in 3 colours - black, red & hi-viz yellow,  All have reflective elements for added safety when you need it. The Black one has some rather nice white trim which whilst not reflective does tend to allow the jacket to stand out that little bit more than if it was all black.
The windshell element of this jacket is provided by Bontrager's own Profila wind fabric which, along with being wind resistant also has a water repellant finish. Ventilation is provided by Profila cool mesh in the collar, back and under the arms. Small pockets are provided in the front in the form of a Napoleon pocket and a small pocket at the rear into which Bontrager say the jacket can be packed. These pockets are handy to carry the necessities of a long bike ride i.e. food and allowing them to be accessible when wearing the jacket.

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Jonathan David

Lapierre Tour of the Black Country 2015

I saw this event ‘advertised’ and as it was being touted as being inspired by the great classic that is Paris-Roubaix I decided to give it a go.

The Velodrome at Aldersley

Aldersly Velodrome

Aldersly Velodrome

The riders pack, when it arrived via e-mail the week before the event, was well presented and boasted of plentiful parking at the start location. I got there at just after 8am and with the Bay Cycles Team Camper Van struggled to find somewhere suitable but parked up in the end. The queue for the signing-on was very long and I got changed first so I was ready to go after I signed on. I rolled up to the start and took my place in the starting pen in front of some rather nattily dressed individuals on Pashley’s and rather wide tyres though one Pashley was sporting a Garmin?!. I got chatting to some guys from  Fred Williams Cycle Shop (Matt x 2, Jon & Will) in Wolverhampton and we managed to roll out together after being told that the organisers had been locked out the main building hence the long queue. The initial few miles were a bit stop- start as we were trying to get out from the edge of Wolverhampton and in to the countryside so many traffic lights and roundabouts to negotiate but soon we were clear. 

We were let go in groups of c 20 riders and our Group was whittled down quite quickly to about half that by the urban nature of the first few miles. Just after 6 miles in to the ride we turned right off the road we were on and on to our first section of ‘pave’, well gravel farm track really and the speed increased dramatically and our group spread out leaving us with a group of 5(me and the guys from Fred’s) that would stay together to the end. This section was made rather fun by the deeper gravel half way along outside someone’s house that sent the bike sideways but remaining upright.

Note to self: we would travel this section again on the way back.  Soon we were back on to normal roads and travelling through some rather quaint villages forgetting that I was not that far from one of the major conurbations in the UK, Birmingham.

A relatively straight forward section followed before we turned right off a fairly busy main road onto The Hyde – well it all started OK but then the track tilted downhill and went round 2 sharpish corners with a mixed surface of loose stones and half buried bricks. I managed to maintain adequate momentum and soon caught someone up but found it quite difficult to get past them on the single track nature of the track. After a brief kick back up we left that sector to drop down in to Kinver (home of the cave houses – honest look it up). 

After 40km we arrived at the first food stop very well located at a Pub and Yes some people were discussing the merits of having a pint at that time of the morning. We decided that we would wait until the second feed stop at 78km before we availed ourselves of anything like that. It was not long after this feed that we were to ‘hit’ perhaps the most feared part of the ride; Waltonberg with its rough slippery surface and 22% gradient. The approach to this section didn’t really allow you any respite as it involved a couple of drags that sapped the legs. At the top of the second one we turned left, dropped down very slightly then branched right on to the Waltonberg. I have ridden the Muur in Gerraardsbergen and found that relatively easy at 25% but this one was totally different and I’m afraid, just after I got past the photographer, I had to unclip and walk the remainder. I was re-assured by the photographer that more people were walking than riding this climb today. At the top we turned on to what was effectively a bridleway which was great fun until we descended on narrow muddy single track which was fine until we had to take a sharp right turn and I realised my brakes were not slowing me down enough so I went straight on in to a bank which scrubbed the remainder of my speed off!! We exited the muddy track in to a car park and may dog walkers were probably wondered what on earth we were all doing but soon after we were rewarded by a wonderfully smooth descent. I was able to rely on the guys from Fred Williams for their local knowledge on this descent.

The feared Waltonberg

Waltonberg

The feared Waltonberg

We were getting slightly concerned that the sector numbers were not going down as quickly as expected but just like the real thing a large majority of the sectors would come in the last 40km. However, it was not long before we were able to count 2 off almost in one go with the combination of Treherns Farm & Bury Hill running in to one another. Treherns Farm was a rather fun descent on loose gravel before a sharp climb up with a right turn in to Bury Hill at the top. Sector 10 done and 9 more to go. 

The next sector of Roman Road was effectively a shared cycle path but one of our group took a tumble on the entrance into it after slipping on the gravel. We carried on and re-grouped at the end with Will joining us soon after with blood on his right knee.

A sign indicated that we were going to tackle Whittington Farm next, a 1.8km section which started off downhill. What was more fun with this sector was that it levelled off in the middle and there were some rather large puddles that you wanted to avoid. This involved going over bumps that would have put a BMX track to shame. During this sector I was surprised by how many punctures were being picked up, by other people, though and not me!! At the end another busy road to be used before a left turn took us on to the Gothersberg which comprised of a small rise then flat across fields but with a very poor surface of loose stones that were flicking up and making rather nice ‘pinging’ noises on my frame and wheels. Soon the track went down rather steeply with evidence of a drainage ‘ditch’ down the middle and a narrow gate at the bottom. No opportunity to change line but I just managed to get through Ok and a short on road section brought us to the second feed stop at The Navigators Inn, located very nicely next to a working canal and lock.

A quick coke and snack to fuel us up for the remaining 20km and we were off. Soon after I realised that I recognised the junction where we were turning right as this was getting us back on to the route we came out on. A short section brought us to a right hand turn on to Gorse Lane East with Gorse Lane West being the first section we had ‘hit’ earlier. I soon realised that the section was slightly downhill so made it even more fun apart from the deeper gravel in the middle!! 

Back on normal roads and only 4 sections to go with the last one leading on to the outdoor track at the start village. The next sector was Furnace Grange which took us down through a farmyard, luckily no slippy cow muck, and back up a slight rise to rejoin a main road having passed a few riders, again, with puncture issues. A short section along this main road before we turned right to be confronted by a Ford (Trescott Ford) which was Sector 3. I managed to make the decision relatively quickly and took to the small pedestrian bridge – I was glad I did as I glanced across at the others going through the Ford and realised it was quite deep.

We then turned left on to another Sector called Pool Hall which I decided to take steadily, or was it because I was knackered?!, Half way along this sector was a lovely house and another short section of deeper gravel and the sight of a Porsche coming towards me. There was just enough room to pass and I don’t think I flicked any stones up. A small humpback bridge over the canal felt like a mountain but the next half a mile or so was nice and flat alongside the canal. 

The guys I was with kept reminding me that we weren’t far away from the finish and with the build up of suburbia I soon realised we probably only had 5-6km to go. Hanging on the back of the guys from Fred’s I was worried that the elastic would not only stretch but definitely break. Luckily traffic lights came to my rescue on a couple of occasions to allow me to close the couple of bike lengths and also take a breather. Soon the bright yellow arrow ahead indicated a right turn and I instinctively followed the wheel in front and we cut the corner slightly by using the ‘footpath’. Under the old railway bridge and a hard right on to a loose surface of mud/ gravel and there we were, the final section that would take us round the back of the track to enter it on the back straight. A quick half a lap and we were over the finish line. It never ceases to amaze me that however tired your legs are you can always find that little bit needed to kick for the line. 

After coasting round the Athletics track we exited the velodrome and collected our ‘winnings’ – a glass of champagne, a ‘lump’ of coal courtesy of The Black Country Museum (well lump is an exaggeration) and an Elite Tour of Britain Water Bottle courtesy of Vittoria. Saying good bye to my new found cycling buddies I made my way back to the team van and realised how much nicer and easier it is to get changed in there than trying to use the inside of a car. 

A big thank you to Matt x 2, Jon and Will from Fred Williams Cycles in Wolverhampton for their Company on this ride. It certainly made the ride more enjoyable and I ended up pushing myself a little bit more on some sectors. 

Unfortunately, my test Trek Domane went back last Autumn so I ended up doing this ride on my aluminium framed Wilier La Triestina. It had a bit of carbon ‘cushioning’ in the rear seat stays and front forks. I must admit I didn’t feel too uncomfortable though the Domane would have given me that armchair ride over some of the rougher sections. I was running a pair of Mavic Ksyrium SL’s with my trusty 25mm Continental GP4000s’s at 90psi which was perfectly fine. Haven’t a clue what all the puncture victims were using but unlike Paris-Roubaix I didn’t puncture once though I was worried about the gravel and stones ‘attacking’ my wheels but they seem OK.

The Lapierre Cycle Classics team are also putting on other events with their next one in June in Cheshire based on the Tour of Flanders followed by one in July based on the Strade Bianche and held in Oxfordshire. For more details go to www.cycleclassics.co.uk

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Jonathan David

Has it Really been a Year?

I guess it must have been about 18 months ago when Jez called and suggested we met for coffee as he wanted to have a chat about something – always worrying when someone says that.

The Wall Once we’d got past the small talk and the general catching up Jez casually dropped into the conversation the concept of opening Bay Cycles in Torquay. Having known Jez for more years than I care to remember I was more more than confident in his abilities as an extremely competent Sales Advisor and Mechanic. Moreover, I guess you could say that it had always been his dream to run his own shop.

Being a keen cyclist myself, like many others I would imagine, the thought of running a bike shop would be amazing. However, with the responsibilities of a mortgage and other commitments making such a move was not an option. However, Jez had a solution and I was offered the chance of investing in Bay Cycles – happy days. A quick discussion with the ‘powers that be’ and a perusal of a very well put together Business Plan (well done Lisa) convinced me that this was a worthwhile investment.

Now when they said investment they didn't just mean financial. Before I knew it I was in Torquay helping out with the shopfit and experiencing Lisa’s attention to detail first hand. With a lazer level to make sure we were getting everything straight, under Lisa's watchful eye Jez and I had the first slat board up on the wall and the shopfit was underway (it’s the one behind the counter for those of you wondering which one it was!).

Since the opening I have managed a few visits to the seaside and even managed the shop for a few days in August whilst Jez & Lisa headed off for a well-earned rest at a friends wedding. One of best visits though included joining the Saturday morning shop ride. (if you haven’t been on one of these yet – they’re great fun with good banter and refreshments at the end).

 

A year on since opening it's hard to believe Bay Cycles has gained such a great following in the Torbay area. I know having spoke to Jez & Lisa that they have been bowled over with the support from local cyclists and, whilst it's been a year of lots of hard work I know they've loved every minute.

So what does the next 12 months have in store for Bay Cycles – Well...whilst I'd be lying if I said I didn't know I’m afraid I can’t tell you. Well, not just yet anyway! All I can say is the next 12 months are exciting times for Bay Cycles – and I for one will be keeping an eye on their website and facebook page for updates.

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Jonathan David

The Tour of Britain

This is a race on the UK Racing Calendar that can actually trace its History back to just after the Second World War. Back then it was mainly aimed at Amateurs and in the Seventies was dominated by the mighty USSR (pre break up) whilst wearing their iconic Red Jerseys and riding their Colnagos.

The race took a number of forms after starting out as The Tour of Britain with perhaps its most well known guise being The Milk Race. Following the break up of The Milk Marketing Board however sponsorship dried up and for a while the Race became The Kelloggs Tour and for couple of years The Pru Tour in 1998 and 1999.

Many famous names have won the Tour of Britain over the years including Hennie Kuiper, Joey McCloughlin, Phil Anderson and Stuart O'Grady. These latter winners being professionals as the race had been opened up to a wider pro-am field.

 

Unfortunately with harsh economic times at the end the 90's it proved difficult for the organisers to find a title sponsor and the race took place for the last time in 1999 with Marc Wauters of Rabobank running out the winner.

I remember feeling sad at the time losing such a race from the UK Calendar as I had spent many of my younger years riding out to watch The Milk Race with it being quite a regular visitor to the Malvern Hills, just 25 miles from where I live. It felt like some of my childhood had gone!!

Fortunately, after a period of 5 years an organising Company called Sweet Spot found a new way of funding the race by using local authorities and companies that would help support the race in their respective areas. In 2004 the race was back and a little known Colombian called Mauricio Ardilla won the race for an even lesser well known team sponsored by a Chocolate Company and an IT Firm from Belgium.

It was always going to be difficult to attract the better known teams and also their star riders to such a new event. However, riders were going back and talking to their teams and other riders about how well organised and challenging the event was and that it was well worth competing in. 

In recent years The Tour of Britain has has some great winners including, in 2007 Roman Feillu (who now rides for French Tour De France team Bretagne – Seche Environment); 2008, Geoffrey Lequatre (now running a successful cycle clothing company), Edvald Boassen Hagen in 2009 and most recently Sir Brad himself last year. Consequently, it would be hard to deny that the race has slowly but surely become quite an exciting one to watch with many riders taking it seriously rather than treating it as an end of season wind down.

Personally I am always interested in where the event will visit and this year spotted a stage starting in Worcester and finishing where I work in Bristol.  I had heard some rumours that the race was going to go over some of my Cotswold stomping ground. However, I had already accepted an invite from one of the Solicitors we deal with (RPC) who are based in Bristol for a bit of a ride followed by watching the race near the finish.

Now quite often what they do, when they announce the stage finish points is tell you exactly where that will be. However, what they don’t say is how they get there which ultimately becomes interesting bit. I knew it was due to finish on Clifton Downs after heading up Bridge Valley Road from the Portway in Bristol so accepting the invite was not a problem.

However, closer to the date I was hit by a slight issue. This being that  when the actual race route was published I realised that they would be going up Leckhampton Hill out of Cheltenham, a hill I had cut my teeth on as a very young club rider. Plus, it was also going through Horsley valley from Nailsworth which had seen many a road race in its day. Nevertheless I had accepted the Bristol invite and that was what I was sticking with!

Wednesday 10th September was the same weather wise as earlier in the week, bit of a chilly start but you just knew that you would be rewarded with late summer sunshine and temperatures in the late teens. We all planned to meet up at midday in central Bristol and then enjoy a couple of hours in the sunshine before finding a convenient place to watch the riders towards the top of Bridge Valley Road. 

The first part of the ride saw me ditching the arm warmers (slight bit of over-kill there!!) and battle Bristol's lunchtime traffic until we found our way to Ashton Court and a nice bit of a traffic free stretch. Though it does give you a bit of shock to the system when your muscles are not 100% warmed up with the short sharp kick up to Ashton Court itself then its lovely fast descent to the exit. Though this can cause issues when faced by a runner with headphones on running in the middle of the road who cannot hear your warnings despite of the number of times you try!!

Through Long Ashton and Cambridge Batch a right turn onto the Clevedon Road took us to the foot of Belmont Hill which required a right turn off the Clevedon Road. Unfortunately, we had to wait for on coming traffic which didn't give us the best of starts to the ascent which kicks up immediately. Consequently this left us trying to grab a suitable low gear to secure a decent rhythm. With an average gradient of 7% Belmont Hill incorporates a flat section in the middle before kicking up again towards the top. Luckily, the majority of the climb is under trees giving you a nice cool environment to ride up in.

After a quick regroup at the top, we took a left and skirted the edge of Failland going straight over the busy main road towards Lower Failland. A tight country lane brought us down to Portbury where we took another left. This lane took us behind the rugby pitches you get to see when you head south past Gordano Services on the M5. We then had the option of going under the M5 towards Gordano but chose to take a left into Carswell Hill. This road effectively paralleled the M5 and took us up a lovely steady gradient with a few dips; eventually leading to a junction at the top of Naish Hill, a hill of which, I was inform would have been a far worse proposition than the one we had just completed. 

We then had a choice, either to head back the way we came (which cyclist does that??) or loop round on slightly more busier roads. As we were a small group the main road option (B roads) was deemed to be the better one. We passed Noah's Ark Farm before reaching a junction where a left turn took us back towards Failland passing the National Trust property at Tyntesfield, somewhere worth a visit so I am told.

After Failland we turned left at a set of traffic lights which would enabled us to cross over the Clifton Suspension Bridge. This stretch of road is known as Beggars Bush Lane and is quite a quick section of road which we decided to take advantage of. Soon we were travelling past the rather large houses of Leigh Woods reaching the grand Clifton Suspension Bridge in no time at all. As cyclists we did not have to pay and whilst I have ridden over the Severn Bridge I would say that the Clifton Suspension Bridge beats it hands down. Fantastic views down the Avon gorge and back towards Bristol. A quick detour into Clifton itself and we found a Co-op to grab some food and drink before we made our way across to the top of Bridge Valley Road where the riders would take a left turn to join Circular Road on the Clifton Downs where the race would finish. 

We managed to find a good place on a slight bend that would allow us to see the riders turning off Bridge Valley Road, past us and continue to the next left which was marked the KoM point. It was clear to see that cycling has really become popular at all levels with men in suits mingling with the 'traditional' cycling fans in their cycling kit. There was also a group opposite us writing their message to Mark Cavendish who apparently was 'put out' by a comment made the day before about Doughnuts. It took a while to realise what they had written but it soon made sense – 'Cav not a fatty just cuddly'. Like any bike race the crowds started to build and what amazed me was the sheer number of people watching on what was the middle of the afternoon on a Wednesday.

A number of official vehicles started to pass and then the all too obvious sound of a helicopter behind us heralded the arrival of the riders on the Portway down below us from where they would take a sharp left onto Bridge Valley Road. A few minutes later and the Police outriders sped past us and the crowd became excited with the road becoming like a Tour de France climb as the 2 lane road was narrowed to one by 'people power'

Then the riders were upon on us, or at least a small group of breakaway riders consisting of a rider from Giant Shimano followed closely by a rider from Garmin Sharp with a slightly larger group behind him. It clearly evident the climb from the Portway had really taken it out of a lot of the riders. 

One big surprise though was how high up in the group was Mark Cavendish was and how far back Wiggo seemed to be. That said, there was a fairly flat/fast run in to the finish theoretically leaving enough time for the pack to regroup. I was surprised that that a rider I greatly admire as an allround nice guy, Kristian House, was drifting off the back of the Bunch. What I didn’t realise was that he had been in the break all day and was forgivingly 'taking it easy' to the finish!!

Being just outside the kilometre to go sign we weren’t sure who had won the stage so made our way to the finish area just in time to see Michał Kwiatkowski presented as the winner. How he did that was amazing to see on the replay being shown on the big screen – coming from nowhere to catch the Giant Shimano & Garmin Sharp riders totally unawares just before the finish line. 

We all went our own separate ways after the finish area with myself enjoying the ride back in to town in the company of another guy on a Trek Emonda and me on a Domane comparing notes!! 

On a final note it was interesting to see 2 future World Champions using the Tour of Britain as preparation with Michal Kwiatkowski (Road Race World Champion) and Sir Bradley (Time Trial World Champion) rather than the traditional route of the Vuelta. 

For me, I can’t wait for next year’s edition and to see which parts of the Country this race will get to so I can make an excuse for a day off from work!!

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Jonathan David

Le tour in Yorkshire

Fan Park Harrogate

Well, what can I say, words at this point fail me so I'll have to resort to simple words like incredible & unbelievable to describe the two days of the grand depart in Yorkshire this year.

It was a long trip up here from home with many matrix signs on the A1M warning of delays around the tour areas of Leeds and York. We left the motorway at Ripon to get to my brothers house just outside Harrogate and then it hit you, yellow bikes, bunting, knitted jumpers, painted tractor tyres, you name it and it was painted in tour colours...excitement was growing.

Friday evening we went into Harrogate and wandered up to the fan park past the finishing area and past all the VIP areas and tv commentary boxes. The fan area consisted of a number of stands and big screens which would no doubt be rammed the next day. Unfortunately with the wet weather we didn't really hang around too much. Mind you slightly surreal was seeing all the French staff watching France v Germany on one of the big screens in French!!

Saturday dawned and my brother managed to plan me a route over to a small town called Pool which the peloton would ride through 5 minutes after the ceremonial start at Harewood house. Now I thought Devon was hilly, well, Yorkshire is even worse. Anyway a rolling ride and a lovely descent brought me into Pool. However, on the way was a reminder of how dangerous some of the roads can be in Yorkshire with the road blocked momentarily by an ambulance attending to a cyclist who had come a cropper on a descent. She seemed ok and was certainly with the right people.

Once we re-started I joined a group of riders who were just riding out with their wives and we had a really nice gentle ride into Pool in Wharfedale enjoying the glorious Yorkshire countryside. Any doubts as to whether we would find the route were totally unfounded as the crowds were already 3 deep on the barriers but a bit of cyclo cross through a field and up an alleyway brought me out a little bit further down the road just outside the Post Office.

Slightly less busy-only 2 deep!! Excitement was growing, every car or motorbike that passed was cheered. Soon, jet planes were heard and the Red Arrows were spotted which raised the excitement even further. Now the riders were due to leave Harewood House at midday so were scheduled to pass Pool about 10 minutes later. Sure enough they arrived and already 3 riders were clear: Jens 'Jensie' Voigt (Trek Factory Racing), Nicolas Edet (Cofidis).& Benoit Jadrier (Bretagne) with almost a minutes lead on the peloton who sped past followed by the many team cars that accompany a bike race.

Ex Winner Greg Lemond with his new jobThat done I was able to check my route back to Killinghall so that we could all walk down the road to watch them pass the "4km to go" banner later in the day. Now my brother had suggested rather than coming back the same way I should cut across to a little village called Farnley and pick up the B6451 which promised a nice run past some reservoirs and then up a climb. Looking closely at the map I realised that the road had a single arrow on it. I was with someone at the bottom who asked if I had ridden this road before which I hadn't so I asked him if I should engage bottom gear now, yes was the answer!! The climb rose steeply initially then levelled out past a few houses and opened up enough to see that the road climbed round a sharp bend and rose towards some trees which stupidly I thought was the top -nope. It dragged on even further through the trees towards what was definitely the top and the treeline ended giving way to the wide open vistas of the Dales. Up ahead I could make out a wind farm and the 'golf balls' that marked the rather secret establishment of RAF Menwith Hil which the Tour riders would pass the next day on Stage 2.

Now my brother had told me that I needed to take a right turn at some point on this road and that if I got as far as the A59 then under no circumstances use this road as it is very dangerous for cyclists. Anyway, I ignored the first right and took the next right which resembled a bit of a farm track only to find that it looped back round to the first road I could have taken. Anyway, a nice stretch of dead straight road with a tailwind meant a few clicks up the block to a higher gear......nice. Up ahead though I could see the road rise and thought, yeah, that should be fine, stay in the big ring, no problem....How wrong was I, the inner ring and a lower gear was needed. After that it was downhill all the way to re-join my outward route at Beckwithshaw then a short undulating section bought me back to Killinghall.

After a wash & brush up and a spot of lunch we watched a bit of the ITV coverage and soon realised that the crowds I had seen in the morning were more or less replicated along the entire route of the stage. The climb of Buttertubs could easily have been anywhere in France. Whilst the breakway negotiated the narrow road easily it was the peloton that were held up by the sheer size of the crowds.

After lunch we walked the short distance to the main road in Killinghall where the riders would pass under the 4km to go banner. On the way I could have been back in Belgium with the Omega Pharma-Quick Step mini buses parked at the side of the road just like when I have been to watch the Tour of Flanders. Walking down the road we found a convenient place to stand on a slightly uphill bend. Again every car and motorbike that went past was cheered, British police outriders on motorbikes were giving kids high fives and playing tunes on their sirens.

Carrefour. Soon the publicity caravan arrived with loads of weird and wonderful vehicles from the various tour partners like Carrefour, Ibis Hotels, Credit Lyonnais & RAGT Semence to name but a few. Perhaps one of the most thought provoking was the information handed out to commemorate the centenary of the First World War with poppy and cornflower seeds.

With these vehicles passed, now it was a wait for the riders. Unfortunately, internet connection was sketchy so I had to put a call in to Jez, knowing that he would have it on in the shop, and he told me that they had just passed Ripon, approximately 12-13 miles north of us. Soon the helicopters announced the arrival of the riders and before we knew it they were upon us and sweeping past at a rapid pace with the sprinters teams starting to mass at the front. Whoosh and they were gone followed by the almost endless line of team cars. Soon that was it, wait all that time and they speed past in what seems like seconds!!

As we started to walk back to my brothers house we nearly got caught out by a couple of stragglers from Lampre and Omega Pharma who were still racing. However a few horns and sirens were enough to warn. On the way back I was able to check the internet and was told the bad news that Cav had crashed and Kittel had won the stage. My brothers mother in law who was with us did not believe me that the riders had already finished-yes they do ride that fast! What a day with more to come the next day!!

My brother decided on the Sunday that he would show me one of his favourite local riders so that we could watch the race just before they started the climb of Blubberhouses.

Another nice day dawned on Sunday so off we set and soon we were in lovely quiet country lanes passing through lovely quaint villages with names like Swincliffe, Tang and Kettlesing Bottom. We came out on the A59 which being shut for the Tour was perfectly safe to ride on. Riding up the slight rise we pitched up outside RAF Menwith Hill. Today we missed the publicity caravan so sat on the side of the road waiting for the riders. Again every car and motorbike was cheered and waved at. Soon the helicopters announced the arrival of a small breakaway group of 7 riders who took the slight rise in their stride, perhaps knowing that Blubberhouses was to come. Not long after the peloton arrived which was fairly well strung out with The yellow jersey of Kittel sitting comfortably in the bunch. Mind you after the riders had gone through it was seeing one of Kittel's team mates sitting 6 inches off the rear of the team car at 30+mph that was decidedly uncomfortable.

The Breakaway

Once they had gone by we decided to continue along the A59 which remained closed to normal traffic-what a joy. We decided that it would be nice to continue to Blubberhouses but after cresting the rise and seeing the sea of people ahead we decided against it so disappeared again in to some lovely lanes. Our plan was to meet the rest of the family at Darley for a spot of lunch. Well, my personal opinion was that my brother decided to show me all the local descents and ascents he knew. The problem being that the descents were quite narrow in places which meant you weren't able to carry much speed on to the ascent which were steep.

We took a slight diversion near Heyshaw so that my Brother could point out the various local and not so local points of interest. All I can say, what a view across the Dales - you could just make out the chimneys of the Selby power station. Mind you, what wasn't so nice was being able to see the golf balls at Menwith Hill and feeling that you had ridden for ages but hadn't really travelled that far. A fast descent bought us back towards Dacre then onto Darley for lunch of a Tomato and Mozzarella ciabatta sandwich.

After a great lunch it was a small rise before we turned off to the actual village of Darley, then passed through Birstwith and Hapsthwaite before a short fast section bought us back to Killinghall in time to watch the conclusion of Stage 2 of the Tour in Yorkshire. A great run in to Sheffield showed who this years favourites were, Froome, Nibali and Contador all to the fore on the final climb of Jenkin Road but the stage was taken by Nibali following a cheeky attack within the last 2km.

After a great couple of days in Killinghall with my brother we travelled over to York where the shops had also taken the tour to heart. Near where we staying was a lovely shopping street called Bishy Street who had put on a great show for the Tour with various window displays on a tour theme, bunting across the road and a street party was had on the Sunday evening.

All I can say is what a great event put on by the organisers in Yorkshire and it was really great to see everyone taking the race to heart. There is talk of a UCI approved event taking place in Yorkshire next year over the May BH, well, if it is organised as well as the Tour was and the locals take it to heart to the same level then it will be a sure fire success. I know it's a long way to Yorkshire but take the time to go up their to enjoy some great cycling country and scenery. I think both stages have been permanently signposted so anybody can go up there and ride the same route as the pros.

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The Tumble

The TumbleJust over an hours drive from my home is the lovely gateway town to Wales of Abergavenny. It boasts a great location surrounded as it is by the Brecon Beacons National Park, location for some great walks and cycle rides. Infact 2 hills in the vicinity were included in the first edition of Simon Warren's book, 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs. It hosts many festivals including Food & Cycling related ones. Indeed the Cycling Festival will take place this year between the 23rd & 29th of June. Make sure you check out the website, www.abergavennyfestivalofcycling.co.uk as this truly is a Festival of cycling with many events taking place culminating in the National Championships for both Men & Women on the Sunday.You can have a chance to ride some of the National Championship course on the Saturday by entering one of the Sportifs available that day.

 

It was approaching the late May Bank Holiday and we still hadn't chosen somewhere to stay so we took the opportunity to drive the Bay Cycles Team Campervan to a little site outside Abergavenny. Looking closely at a map before we left I realised we would be very close to the base of a climb that will be used in the National Championships and also witness a stage finish in the Tour of Britain this year, The Tumble. I have driven my car over this climb on many an occasion as it offers beautiful views from the top and also gives access to Blaenavon where there is a museum to coal mining known as The Big Pit – a very interesting place with an opportunity to take a trip underground to see what it was really like for the miners and being a National Museum of Wales it is absolutely free to get in.

Anyway, a quick discussion with the missus to clear the plan and the bike was loaded in the campervan ready for a pre- breakfast ride up The Tumble on the Sunday.

The Tumble DownhillSunday dawned and it was really a continuation of Saturday i.e. overcast and misty rain – this is Wales and there is a reason why it is so green. I dressed up nice and warm with leg warmers and a long sleeve jersey but also packed a waterproof jacket for the descent back down off The Tumble. From the site it was a quick jink under the rather busy Heads of the Valleys road and I was in the village of Govilon which nestles at the foot of the climb. A short downhill section led to a rather non descript right hand turn signposted Blaenavon (light vehicles only) – Hang a right here and you immediately start to climb, albeit gradually.

As you start the climb there is 30 mph speed limit sign and underneath is another sign marking the start of The Tumble 10% - 6km. Now one bit of this I believed (6 km) but 10%? I think this was referring to the maximum gradient as opposed to the average gradient. The climb starts to steepen as you approach the bridge over the canal after which the road bends a sharp left and enters a wooded section. For about a 1km or so the road is more or less dead straight to another hairpin which coincides with a steepening of the climb – maybe to the 10% mentioned – and also a deterioration of the road surface.

The TumbleBeing under the trees did ensure that the conditions began to feel quite muggy so the jersey was unzipped to allow a bit of cooling down. This section is quite a grind and isn't helped by that road surface. You soon reach an old pub on the left and a cattle grid where you leave the shelter of the trees. At this point the temperature dropped and the wind hit me head on and the jersey had to be zipped up. As a consolation, in spite of the occasional low cloud, the views were great – I'm sure I could see where we were staying.

Looking ahead the climb slowly plods upwards disappearing round corners that made it look like you are not far from the summit. Unfortunately with a rather cooling headwind, sheep and the occasional car for Company it was a steady ride towards the many false summits. Painted on the road were various signs that cycle races had used this climb before with support showing for UKYouth and Kristian House.

Turning a corner the moorland opened out either side and a sign off to the right pointing to a pub that I knew was the highest pub in Wales, I knew I was the near the top and that the 'false' summit wasn't actually that at all. Tucked in to a small dip in the moor on the left was the Keepers Pond and car park which more or less marked the top. However, looking ahead I could make out in the gloom a white line painted across the road so sprinted for the mountain prime, Froome and Quintana were nowhere!!

Tumble DownAt the top I hung around long enough to take some pictures but soon realised that what I had been told about the top having its own micro climate was true – it was bloomin freezing. A few pictures taken, the rain jacket put on I was happy to click up the gears and start the descent back down to Govilon. I consider myself to be a reasonable descender and with the Continental GP4000S fitted to the Domane I was fairly confident that I could have a bit of fun going back down – how wrong I was. I didn't realise that the bends had no camber on them and were actually flat. However, this had the effect of making the corners feel as if they were off camber and this combined with the rather damp conditions meant I wasn't experiencing the fun I should have had. Remember, the broken up surface under the trees on the way up, well this was mirrored on the way down and one of hairpins at the bottom felt as if it was more than 90 degrees forcing me almost to standstill round the corner.

Soon I was back in Govilon and spinning back to the Campervan – Penny was still in bed so my timing was ideal.

There are loops you can do to incorporate The Tumble within a ride but it worthwhile getting an Ordnance Survey map to check out some of the back roads as you would probably want to avoid the rather busy Heads of the Valleys Road. Also, if you are going with the family then Abergavenny is a lovely market town that they can wander around whilst you enjoy the scenery. After your ride Abergavenny has loads of coffee shops and cafes to replace all that energy you've used up.

For us, with the rain that eventually got worse and due to us having our dog and needing to sit outside we chose Coffee #1 ( http://www.coffee1.co.uk ) as, with its awning, great coffee and lovely welsh cakes made it ideal. Further at 60p for a Welsh Cake was all very well priced but make sure you watch out for the fierce cat!

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The Hell of the North – Chapteur Deux

View Large MapThe sandpit that was Mons en Pevele was over and my body was tired of taking a battering. However, I was able to keep the energy bar down (little and often was what I had read somewhere with regard to keeping energy levels up).

I mentioned in Chapteur Une that the organisers had given us that sticker with the sections noted down and when they were due. It was at that this point that I was thinking, wouldn't that be really useful!! However, something else I had spotted was that the organisers had taken to putting a board at the end of each section stating how many kilometres to the next section. It was here that I soon realised we were rapidly approaching the part of the ride where the sections of cobbles were coming thick and fast. There was one consolation though, at least we were down to single figures.

Luckily the next section was short (0.7km) and gave a bit of respite. However, I was still thinking of the feedzone at Templeuve as I needed to top up my bottles. The next section at Pont Thibaut included some rather nice 90 degree turns on cobbles with a broken surface right where you wanted to ride. At the end of this section two old ladies had set up a stall with drink and food but when myself and another rider pulled up we were told in no uncertain terms that this wasn't the feedzone for the Challenge and that ours was a further 5km away. We were getting nothing from these elderly ladies!

 

Soon we approached the feedzone and the famous windmill at Templeuve. On the lead up to the feedzone I decided to forget the rules of the road in France. Specifically, which side of the road they drive on, leading me to look the wrong way whilst turning off a main road and narrowly missing an oncoming car. Stopping at the feedzone, bottles were refilled, waffles downed and a quick comfort break was had. Although I think Jez got more than he bargained for with his – some people should lock the door to the portaloo!!

Leaving the feedzone I rode along the sandy 'track' at the side of the cobbles but again, it was like riding on a beach. Fortunately though, this section was only 0.5km long.

The next two sections almost felt like they ran into one and the entrance to the first of these was named after a famous past winner of this event – Gilbert Duclos Lassalle. This was actually a nice, relatively easy section allowing me to gaze over the fields and see the TGV speeding past. It was at the end of this section we came across Lars from Denmark who had picked up his 5th puncture of the day and was in need of a long valve inner tube. Luckily, Jez had one and was only happy to assist. It was also here that we came across a stark reminder of the history associated with this area. Located in someone's back garden was the largest WW2 bunker I have ever seen – quite a talking point at parties methinks.

I soon realised that we were just 2 sections away from another iconic sector called Carrefour de l'arbre – a five star section. The time passed quickly and before I knew it there I was entering the Carrefour. My first reaction?.... OMG! The cobbles jutted out at all angles along with corners to negotiate. My brain soon kicked into gear for the full concentration that was needed. Catching another rider I was able to stay with them until I misjudged the 90 degree corner mid way through and lost their wheel. I tried to regain it but wasn't helped by the presence of Gendarmes on horses and the off road motorbike I could hear approaching behind me. Soon I could see the building that marked the end of this section and a quick right then left took me on to Gruson, a rather non descript section that resembled a cinder cycle track on the sides – nice & easy after the Carrefour.

The Paris-Roubaix race itself uses a last section of 'cobbles' in the centre of the road leading to the Velodrome. However, I knew we wouldn't be using that section meaning we were down to one last section at Willems. This was only a 2 star sector but with the fact that it was also used as a road meant that you couldn't use the whole road to find the 'smoothest' line. I was feeling tired and felt every bump, be it a cobblestone or pothole at the side of the road, I felt them all. Luckily it would be over soon enough but at lease the cobbles were over, now it was just a short run-in to the Velodrome.

I soon caught up with some guys from Odiham CC who had ridden the full 170km route and told me that they had got up at some ungodly hour in the morning to be bussed out to the start. Just before the final run down to the Velodrome there is a slight rise which had me reaching for a lower gear. Before I knew it I had been dropped by these guys but, with a bit of 'digging-in' over the top I was soon back up to them.

Eventually we reached the turn off towards the Velodrome and the Velodrome itself. As we entered the track I had goosebumps with the realisation that I had made it. I was relieved to finish but also overcome with euphoria with my achievement – a few minutes later and Jez rolled over the line with Lars from Denmark and we all collected our finishing medals.

So what did I learn from this epic ride? – the Trek Domane is a fine bike for riding cobbles; you can hit the cobbles hard and fast; you can hold your line; you can ride an extremely narrow section of 'track' on a road bike and not come off; your forearms hurt like anything when on the cobbles and the tips of your fingers go numb. However, in spite of all that would I do it again? Yes I most definitely would. Bring on Roubaix 2015!!

As I mentioned before, the ride we did was the day before the Pro's rode the exact same roads. So Sunday 13th April (my birthday) dawned, an all you can eat Ibis breakfast (and a crafty steal of some baguette, ham & Cheese for lunch) and with the Van loaded we set off with the intention of watching the race as many times as we could; forgetting that John was navigating again.

We managed to locate a sector of cobbles where the pro's turned off a fairly major road and took a section of cobbles that more or less was straight through a farmers field. The wait was entertaining to say the least – a local journalist wanted to take pictures of Mike as he had a Flanderien flag draped over his shoulder, a group of drunken Belgians (they had started drinking at 930am) also stopped to talk to us and mistook me for Bradley Wiggins – they were that drunk!! After a while the race arrived with the helicopters buzzing overhead and the riders could be seen across the field on the main road. Soon they had made the turn on to the cobbles and the slight rise to where we stood. My first impression was the sheer speed and amount of dust being thrown up by the riders and the following convoy. As is usually the case with a bike race – all that hanging around and whoosh they were gone in an instant. A jog back to the Van and we were off to the next section.

Now, remember I mentioned about navigating, to be fair to John he was trying to use a combination of the route map we had been given and a rather large scale map that I am sure included Paris. However, remember that motorway that we crossed many times the day before? Well, we realised on the drive back north we could very quickly dive off the motorway and maybe see it at the Arenberg – with the van 'dumped' on a central reservation we tried to run to see it, only to be told by a coach driver that they had already gone through. Back to the Van and on to the motorway.

We decided that we would make our way to the Carrefour de l'arbre, again not far off that motorway. Parking the van in a residential side street we walked through the crowds towards this important section. Again a long wait and deciding which side of the road was best to take photos from we settled on a corner which included a dusty potholed section on the inside.

Soon the motorbikes and helicopters arrived and the riders were upon us led by Peter Sagan from Cannondale followed closely by a group including all the favourites, Cancellara, Boonen, Wiggins & Thomas. This corner was ideal to watch them from – we could see them approaching and then negotiating this corner. I was too pre-occupied taking pictures but Jez told me that the riders were going round the corner like they were driving rally cars with a nice drift. All too soon pretty much all the riders had gone through and we were conscious that we had a train to catch so a fairly brisk walk back to the Van interrupted by whistles warning us that more riders were coming through (almost 10 minutes behind the leaders at least). We managed to find a TV and whilst we couldn't actually see the screen we were able to find out that Nikki Terpstra had won after breaking away in the last few kilometres.

Back to the Van, a quick get away and a fast drive back to Calais for the Tunnel and before we knew it we were home – maybe next time stay a little longer.

One of the main problems with actually watching a race 'live' is you don't get to understand how riders are, where they are and where the race winning move went on. Therefore, thank you to my son, Henry, he recorded the Eurosport coverage for me to watch. I was lucky, as I had Monday off work and was able to see Sagan had problems with his bike before the Arenberg. Boonen had spent a long period off the front with riders that he wasn't very happy with and Terpstra was actually off the back on the Carrefour by quite a distance but managed to get back on before Willems and then simply rolled through from the back to the front and rode away in the race winning move.

Who lost out? Well Team Sky predominantly: with 2 riders up there one of them could have helped close the gap. Tom Boonen didn't have to do anything because Terpstra was a team mate and Cancellara did the best he could with limited resources around him but he still ended up Third so at least he was on the podium.

If you get the opportunity go over there and ride the Challenge event and then watch the pro's do it – you really will be in awe of how skilful these guys really are and, the speed they achieve never ceases to amaze me even after all the years I've been riding.

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The Hell of the North – Chapteur Une

One of the oldest races on the Calender, Paris-Roubaix, has earned itself many 'nicknames' but it is actually the one given to it when the first edition was run after the First World War that many people know it by now – The Hell of the North. The riders of that era remember the scenes of devastation that had occurred over that region in the preceding 4 years – villages, towns and trees all destroyed and remember, in those days of no TV this was the first time these riders would have seen this kind of devastation. The only way they could describe it was by referring to it as Hell on Earth or more precisely The Hell of the North.

The Hell of the NorthThe very first Paris-Roubaix was held in 1896 and with obvious breaks for 2 World Wars the 2014 edition was the 112th running of it. As with many bike races it was set up to promote a newspaper and was unique in that, it including various sections of pavé and finished on an open air velodrome in Roubaix. Many famous riders have lifted the cobblestone trophy in the centre of the Roubaix Velodrome including Merckx, De Vlaeminck, Kelly and more recently, the battle has been between Cancellera and Boonen. Mind you, Bernard Hinault, once referred to this race as 'Bulls**t' but then proceeded to ride it and, as if just to prove a point, won it.

One of the joys of cycling is that you can always ride the same roads as the pro's (you wouldn't be able to play football at Wembley as an amateur footballer!!). There has been a sportif style event based on Paris-Roubais but generally this was run by the local cycling club, VC Roubaix, and took the form of an Audax in June. However, more recently an event has been orgainsed in the form of a sportif that takes place the day before the pro's take to the very same roads. This is essentially where we come in, with one of those typical Winter conversations, you know the sort.

'Who fancies doing Paris Roubaix next year'?

'Well I've ridden the Tour of Flanders Sportif so should be ok but....'?

'I tell you what I'll do it if you do it'

'Ok, then'

 

Plenty of time to get fit, so I thought but, with the wettest winter on record it wasn't going to be too easy but I'd give it a try. Before I knew it, Jez had phoned me to check a couple of details (date of birth etc) and I then received an e-mail confirming 'I was in'. I was trying to put the miles in at the weekend and the odd longer rider from work. Indeed The Lionheart was used very much as a training ride.

One of the mistakes I always make is doing a bit of research in to what I am getting myself into. Well, a few google image searches later and I was thinking those cobbles in the Arenberg Forest look big and those in the Carrefour de l'arbre looked incredibly uneven – how was a I going to ride a normal road bike on those. It probably helped, as Jez kept telling me, I was riding a bike made for the cobbles, my Trek Domane – a race winning design used by Fabian Cancellara himself.

The group going over consisted of 5 of us: Me & Jez from Bay Cycles, Simon from Colin Lewis, John from Madison and Mike from Strada Cycles with Simon using a rather nice Vito van from work that would ferry us all over in style and comfort.

I got picked from Bristol Parkway rail station and then it was a quick drive down to the Channel Tunnel for our Shuttle trip over to Calais. After that a quick drive down to Roubaix we picked up our numbers from the new covered velodrome which has been constructed adjacent to the open air one. We then took in the amazing sight of the open air velodrome then decided to find our way to the Hotel. I won't go in to too much detail but we got there eventually after a tour of Roubaix, Lille and what seemed like every other local town!!

Anyway, with hotel and rooms sorted we then needed to fix the numbers on to the bikes. However, within the information give to us by the Organisers was a map showing the route we would do the next day. Basically the Organisers gave 3 options: 170km, 141km & 70km; we opted for the middle distance of 141km. This meant a ride of about 45km south from Roubaix then joining the race route at the dreaded Forest of Arenberg or The Trench – Welcome to Hell. This also meant that we would encounter 17 sections of pavé varying in length from 'just' 0.5km to 3.7km.

Having fixed our numbers in place we managed to get some nice food in a local pizza restaurant after which, back at the Hotel the general consensus was that pudding may have been a step too far. Anyway, we decided to meet up for breakfast the next morning at 6.45am with a view to leaving the hotel at about 8.00 and riding to the Velodrome about 6 miles away. For some strange reason, whilst the others were happily tucking in to their 'all you can eat breakfast' I just about managed to get 2 pain au chocolat and a coffee down me.

Looking out of the window it was a strange morning, quite misty but when you popped your head out of the door it not actually that cold, ultimately leaving us with every cyclist's nightmare – what to wear?? Anyway, once that was sorted we all re-convened downstairs for checking of tyre pressures etc with the general consensus of opinion being 95psi front and back – sorted.

Short ride in to Roubaix almost tuned in to an adventure after we nearly ended up on the Motorway after taking a wrong turn (john???). We rolled up to the start, short comfort break and then it was off in a rather understated way – you were just allowed to roll out under the Trek banner and we were off. Now, me & Jez had already had a conversation about this, we knew that Simon & John would go off quote quickly (they are first cat GC road racers after all) but we weren't sure about Mike but chose just to let them go off and do their own thing – after all there were still 141km to go.

I would like to say that you do not go to this region of France for the scenery which was probably a good job as for the first 40-45km the mist, and in some places fog, remained firmly in place. It was only when I looked down at my bike and realised how damp it was. I am afraid to say that I can't tell you much about this first 45 km other than it was a nice gentle introduction to a ride before Hell began.

We soon started to pass through slightly larger villages and towns crossing the A23 motorway which, I hadn't realised we would end up crossing on a number of occasions all day. Soon we entered a more wooded area and that feeling of dread and, in my case doubt, started to enter my head. I mistakenly mentioned this to Jez who become worried about my wellbeing!! We soon reached a bit of a bottleneck and all of a sudden we were there, The Arenberg Forest! Stopping for a minute to take it all in we noted we were actually joining the course at right angles and thus were going to start by turning right into the Forest. To the left of where we had stopped were the iconic mine shaft lifting towers of which, can be clearly seen from TV coverage of the event. At this point the pro's are doing in the region of 60-70km/hr to get the best position before entering the Forest. Sean Kelly once said that the battle for position into the Arenberg is worse than a bunch sprint and he should know as he has battled well in both.

Anyway, with no more hanging round, we decided it was time to do battle – with a gate that partially blocks the entrance into the Forest before you know it you are on the cobbles. Now, I have experienced the cobbles in Flanders but they are nothing compared to those of the Arenberg. The Arenberg cobbles almost look like loaves of bread with gaps a few slices wide between them. All my kidology with Jez worked as I hit the cobbles hard and fast straight down the middle but after what felt like an age I made the mistake of looking down and that messed with my concentration. The secret is to keep going quickly but my look down had thrown all that. After, probably reaching ¾ way through I felt a bang at the rear of the bike and the dreaded feel of a flat. Damn, I had to pull over and lifted the bike over the tape onto the adjoining cinder track with Jez pulling up not long after me. As a very decent Director Sportif (DS), Jez, very kindly did the tube replacement for me but he did berate me slightly over my earlier kidology about fearing the cobbles – couldn't use that one again.

Tube replaced and we were soon on our way and at the end of the Arenberg. I managed to find a Beligan with a team van to borrow a pump so that I could get a decent pressure in my rear tyre. Handing the pump back with a thank you, the man said to me 'You look like Bradley Wiggins!!' .

We were soon off, looking forward to the next section which was only a 3 star section and involved going through an old railway bridge however, also involved our first experience of going round corners on cobbles. Now, one of the other things they tell you about riding cobbles is to hit them fast. The only slight problem with implementing this theory was on the entrance to the section where an organisers vehicle was positioned slap bang in the middle across the road leaving only a metre gap either side. Nevertheless we pushed on soon picking up the momentum we needed.

Another section ticked off with the next thing to look forward to – the first feed stop in Hournaing. This turned out to be a veritable feast of waffles, honey bread and biscuits. Suitably fed and watered we were off again following some Norwegians from a Cycling Club whose initials on the back of their jersey read FOCC – not sure that would work in the UK.

Soon after leaving the feed zone the next cobbled section came, this time the longest section of 3.7km with a 4 star rating. After having ridden 2 sections I was now getting used to the cobbles and how best to ride them. A short section of cobbles initially followed by a tight right hander on tarmac and back on to cobbles. It was this third section of cobbles when it suddenly clicked, gears tuned in to maintain momentum and stick to the middle of the road. I soon realised that if anyone needed or wanted to come past me then they would move round me. In other words it wasn't down to me to move out of their way. After what seemed like an eternity I could see that the organisers had actually place a banner across the end of this section, something to aim for. Soon a relief from the constant battering that all of me was taking.

A 'regroupment' at the end of the cobbles saw some members of the Russian National Team cruise past making it look all too easy. Before long we had crossed over the narrow river bridge and soon after hit the next 3 star 2.4km section of cobbles at Warlaing a Brillon.

Now the organisers had given us a sticker to affix to the top tube showing all the sections (a la pro style) but because mine is a team bike I thought better of it but even after so few sections I was starting to lose count. I think my brain was slowly but surely being rattled out my head. On each section I was going for the centre of the road and when I wanted a bit of respite I would ride the narrow edge or even the grass verge just to relieve the sharp pain I was feeling in my wrists and forearms.

I do remember one thing and that was the sheer number of motorhomes already in situ for the next day outside of which sat families already on the beer. Not sure what state they would be in the next day but they gave us a cheer as we went past.

Remember that motorway, well the 13th section from the end was at a place called Beuvry, a short section of 1.4km (3 star), that ran immediately alongside that motorway. An initial distraction but soon concentration was back and we reached the end. A slight turn away from the motorway along narrow lanes but it wasnt long before we crossed it again and encounted section 12, Orchies (1.7km 3 star). Mind you this was after having to negotiate past another race organisers vehicle.

Soon after Orchies we approached Auchy-les-orchies a Bersee which was where we realised that, apart from motorway bridges, there were some slightly uphill sections,. Not Flanders uphill but certainly hard enough. It was on this section that 2 things happened: the first was that I felt confident enough to follow someone else's wheel on the cobbles and also confident enough to move my right hand from the top of the bars to change gear – not easy when you are being bounced around. This section was 2.6km long and rated 4 star and towards the end I was starting to feel the effect of the early start so stopped at the end to down a caffeine gel – that 'hit the spot'.

A few more twists and turns on narrow roads and Mons En Pevele was upon us, a 5 star 3km section. At the start of this section the organisers had placed a sign stating 50km still to go – really?? The start of this section was slightly downhill and I started quite quickly but unfortunately it didn't take long for me to loose the much needed momentum. I quickly tried to source an easier route along the verge but soon realised that it was like riding on the beach – sand which become quite thick in places almost bringing me to a halt. The cobbles themselves were not much better and I really was wishing for this one to end – it soon did. A brief respite at the end and I tried to take in some much needed energy in the way of a bar but feeling nauseous I wasn't too sure about it. Luckily (apologies to the Squeamish) I managed to keep it down.

Stay tuned for Chapteur deux to follow shortly...

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Endura Lionheart

This was an event that I had heard a lot about.

Endura LionheartHow well organised it was, the nature of the route and the rather changeable weather conditions – so 2014 was my year to give it a go with the rest of the Bay Cycles Team plus other friends. It was also a great opportunity to give the new Trek Domane team bike a run out.

I think what has always put me off in the past is the 2 hour drive from home early in the morning to get there in time for the Depart. However, this year being the owner of a motorhome I decided to spend the night before at Longleat Caravan Club Site. What a location – I walked out the entrance and within 5 minutes I was at the start/finish 'village'. In the evening I called Jez to see what time he wanted to meet up in the morning and found out he was getting up at 4am!!! – I was very happy that I could 'lie in' until 630am.

With these events it is always difficult to go round together as a group because everyone rides to their own ability and agenda. However, I wasn't expecting to lose Jez & Lisa within the first mile but I nevertheless pressed on expecting them to catch me up shortly. Mind you the organisers were very nice in putting 2 hills within the first 3 miles, the first one wasn't too bad (though not brilliant when you haven't quite warmed up) but the second one was the one you can see whilst waiting to start and made you realise that Longleat itself is in a bowl. By the top of this climb there were many rider taking a breather and it was on the way up that Matt from BW Cycles came past me with a cheery 'thought I'd find you up here' before he disappeared on up the hill. I didn't realise till afterwards that he then waited at the top for his wife, Emma, who was also doing the ride.

 

The first part of the ride was fairly undulating and with all these kinds of events it takes a while to get your bearings and work out whether by turning in a particular direction would give you that tailwind every cyclist wants.

There were no major climbs towards the first feed zone apart from one which occurred not long after the first hailstorm of the day and followed a gentle rise before a sharp right hander in to a narrow lane which was made even narrower by a car. (tip of the day: wear a peaked cap under your helmet as it keeps hail out of your eyes!!) During this section the combination of rain/hail and some mud made the road very slippery and I, rather stupidly, decided to try and maintain momentum by getting out of the saddle – not a good idea as traction was extremely limited resulting rather embarrassingly for me to resort to a short walk.

Wyke ChampflowerAfter the climb the countryside opened out with some stunning views across rolling hills. It was not that long after this I turned left on to a slightly wider road (possibly a B road) that went downhill arrow straight and very fast. It was a great descent to make sure that the Domane tracked perfectly and it did. Though the sharp right as you entered Evercreech was not brilliant, I was comforted by the thought that food and drink awaited me half a mile down the road.

Suitably replenished, I left Evercreech with a slight foreboding as no other rider was on the road in front nor behind me leaving me unsure that I was on the right road. As the road straightened up however other riders were visible ahead so I was OK. Unfortunately, I also discovered that what went down (remember that lovely descent?) also goes up. At the top a right turn took me back in to the lanes for a short period passing through a lovely sounding village called Wyke Champflower until returning to wider B roads for the drop down in to Bruton (what a lovely village/town – note made to re-visit).

Through the Bruton one way system it was under the railway bridge and then on to a steady climb. The climb itself was ok but the traffic on the road itself was not so nice: busy and, was it just my impression, full of impatient drivers!! Not long after the top, a left took us back into the lanes and an ever growing thought grew larger in the back of my mind that the climb to Alfred's Tower still loomed ahead.

Now in my preparation before the event I wanted to find out a bit more about this climb so I 'googled' it. Some very interesting results came up - one about why it was there, another tragic story about a plane trying to land nearby in WW2 in bad weather hitting the tower and killing all on board and one final story which meant I didn't really want to be up there after dark in my Lycra.

Anyway, a fast descent and a right turn brought me to the base of the climb and a nice steady start. As I hit this section a fellow rider asked if I had ridden this before, no I said. He suggested I take it easy on this part because it gets steeper. I thought that's a good excuse to go slowly if I ever I heard one. Slowly but surely the road started to ramp up towards its maximum gradient of 20%. I had learnt from my earlier mistake and stayed in the saddle all the way up but was just getting slightly tired of the seemingly high number of false summits until someone told me the next one I could see was definitely the top so I pushed on to the summit. Success and achievement. Many riders were taking a breather at the top but I thought I would carry on and what a lovely road over the top to recover. A couple of turns took me past Stourhead Estate - a lovely National Trust property but no time for stopping.

The route from here took in some back roads of the Stourhead Estate and the rider manual had warned that the roads were almost forestry roads. They certainly were and covered in mud and potholed. My bike left the woods covered in mud. An almost maze of tiny lovely lanes brought me out onto a B road where a lovely tailwind pushed me along to the second feed zone in Mere next to the busy A393. This feed zone was well staffed and stocked with food. In addition there was an opportunity to test some wines from the hosts Yapp Brothers. They also had a couple of old classic Citroens.

This feed zone was also the split between the 100km and 100 mile routes. Now I wasn't that tired to mistake miles for kilometres so I re-started on the 100 km route.

Back under the busy A303 the road started to ramp upwards, another great idea from the organisers was to put a hill immediately after the feed zone!! Anyway a nice low gear and spin up the climb mad everything right. Towards the top there was a sign for traffic going the other way to warn them of the descent and the bends - I then realised why it had probably felt slightly harder with a 15% gradient for us going up. At the summit a long open section towards Kingston Deverill saw me being affected by a wicked crosswind. It wasn't for long though as I soon descended back down to more sheltered valleys.

Some more back roads took me through to Horningsham and I was back into familiar territory from the early part of the ride. I soon realised that we weren't far from the finish. A right turn past the pub in Horningsham took us into Longleat and a left under an ornate gatehouse and there it was, Longleat House, and the finish. Time to start speeding up for a sprint finish. I soon realised that the drive was much longer than I thought so I took a breather and went again finishing a great ride and day.

Did I tame the Lion - I think I did but I think the comfort of the Domane certainly helped. I felt I could have carried on riding and certainly didn't feel that I had just done 60 undulating miles.

Must admit, when I spoke to the guys on the Trek stand after the event and mentioned about the tyres they certainly agreed that grippier tyres would be one of the upgrades any rider should consider when their tyres need replacing.

A big thank you to The Caravan Club for a great convenient site, the Lionheart organisers and also Bay Cycles. Oh and thank you Trek for a lovely comfortable bike.

By the way, Jez , Lisa, Matt & Emma were all fine and successfully tamed their own Lions.

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Bontrager Winter/Spring Clothing

The instructions were simple ... Choose some Bontrager clothing, test it and then do a review.

b2ap3_thumbnail_b2ap3_thumbnail_Bontrager_RXL180_Jacket_20140322-120401_1.jpgYeah, simple initially because we were still in the colder weather of winter/spring when I suggested the kit to test but when it arrived I had only 2 occasions to actually wear it before we entered a rather warm spell (18 degrees centigrade). Now I am more than happy to test anything for anyone but even I won't wear winter gear in those temperatures.

However, I chose to test the Bontrager RXL 180 Jacket (in nice crisp white) combining it with one of their long sleeve base layers and RXL Thermal Bibtights. In addition I chose the rather hi-viz RXL stormshell overshoes. The Jacket is finished as a Softshell on the front and sides whilst leaving the rest of the Jacket to Bontrager's Profila Thermal material – hence the name RXL 180 Jacket you are protected by 180 degrees of softshell. This allows a certain amount of breathability. Additional features include the 'Napoleon' zipped pocket on the left chest and the usual three rear pockets and an additional zipped pocket. These zipped pockets do come in handy for the valuables, keys, money and also my train ticket!! The inclusion of thumb loops in the cuff sorts out that problem of whether a jacket sleeve goes over or under the glove. My first outing with the Jacket included gloves but the second ride started with gloves but they were soon taken off revealing another use for the thumb loops – a combination of the arm length and the extra material around the thumb loops resulted in them almost acting like 'track mitts' (not sure whether that was purposeful on the part of the Bontrager designer or just a happy coincidence!!).

Softshell is a funny material

b2ap3_thumbnail_b2ap3_thumbnail_Softshell.jpgBontrager RXL Thermal Bibtights RRP £89.99The first time I wore the Jacket I took the train part of the way home and got off at the penultimate stop leaving me with a quick 20 mile ride home. When on the train the material left me feeling a little bit 'clammy' but I find this to be quite normal with softshell as I have a walking jacket made out of the same material and it has the same effect. However, after I left the train and started my ride home that effect soon disappeared. With the softshell front and the profila thermal on the back of the jacket I certainly didn't feel as if I was in any danger of overheating.

The bibtights also included features that I haven't experienced in any of the bibtights I currently own in ankle zips and a zipped front section of the bib itself. First things first, both sets of zips serve a purpose; they make the garment easy to put on. However, I did find the higher front of the bib zip a little 'different' but got used to it in the end after a couple of rides. It does have the effect of adding a further layer to the stomach area but the zip allows for easy comfort breaks and can be undone to aid ventilation if you find yourself getting a little too hot. It's a personal preference, maybe, but I would like to see the mesh upper of the bib extending to the zipped area as well. They do feel comfortable and the most important part, the chamois/insert, is also down to personal choice. You can spend an awful amount of money on tights or shorts from the 'prestige' brands and still be left with an uncomfortable rear or worse, questioning whether you are a man or a lady when you lose all feeling in a particularly sensitive area!! However, please rest assured that the Inform chamois/insert utilised by Bontrager is extremely comfortable and beats the backside off many of the prestigious brands – proof that you don't need to spend a fortune to get something as comfortable as these bibtights that retail at £89.99

b2ap3_thumbnail_b2ap3_thumbnail_ShoeCovers.jpgOn my first ride I decided to utilise the rather bright RXL Stormshell overshoes which certainly did a good job of keeping my feet warm. One comment I would make is that no driver could possibly use the excuse that they didn't see you if you were wearing these. I'm sure that astronauts on the International Space Station were able to see me!! The first time I actually saw these overshoes was when Jez was using them and it was when we stopped at a set of traffic lights that I made the comment that surely the zip is on the wrong side (it is on the inside i.e. closest to the crank). Jez told me no that was correct and he hadn't forgotten his left from his right but I was yet to be convinced. However, I surprised even myself as when I wore them I didn't experience any issues with the zip being on this side. The overshoes are further secured by a Velcro strap at the top. All the garments have subtle reflective details although personally I think I would rather have seen these as a bit more 'obvious' though, perhaps, not entirely necessary in the half light for those hi-viz overshoes!! One other comment I would make is that I have tested the garments twice, once at a temperature of about 5-6 degrees and the second time when it started chilly and then got decidedly mild. Unfortunately, in spite of it being the wettest winter on record I can't say how these garments performed in the wet as on neither ride did it rain and it hasn't rained since (you wait though and it will start raining for ever!!) All in all I would say that the Bontrager clothing range does offer excellent value for money with features commonly seen in more expensive clothing ranges..

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Classics

It's the 1st of March and here I am actually sat behind the counter at Bay Cycles writing the latest blog.

Domane 4 CompactWell the weather has settled down a bit which makes riding a bike a bit more of an attractive proposition. If you want slightly better weather and some tough rolling roads come down to St Marychurch and visit Bay Cycles - they have Zipvit energy food for your ride and when you get back there may be a good chance you'll be able to scrounge a cup of tea or coffee but if you fancy something a little bit more substantial then there are little cafes round the corner where you may be able to get an All day breakfast if you time it right ; )

Anyway, call be me a Masochist but I actually hope that the weather doesn't clear up too much in the land of the early Cycling Classics. The sun, sand and heat of the early tours of Dubai & Oman has its place but in my mind the professional cycling season doesn't really start until you have a Belgian Classic.

With such Classics you have to have a combination of, in some cases, the bleak Belgian countryside and horrendous weather. Really a case of sorting the men out from the boys. Search youtube for footage of races such as Het Nieuwsblad, Gent-Wevelgem or the Tour of Flanders and you'll get what I mean - tight narrow roads twisting left and right, cobbles and in some cases flat countryside for the wind to howl across from the North Sea with nothing to stop it. The past few years have actually seen fairly dry weather for most of these races but back in the 80's there are records of Liege-Bastogne-Liege where snow started to fall (in April) half way round and the temperatures fell to almost freezing and the legend that is Bernard Hinault (now involved in the Tour de France) simply refused to give up and went on to win the race. However, even to this day Hinault still suffers from the after affects.

Anyway, today the 1st March is the very first of the Belgian Classics with all teams hoping for that first important 'monument' of the year. A race formally known as Het Volk but now named after a newspaper popular in the Flanders region - Het Nieuwsblad takes place today. It is an important race for some of the smaller Belgian teams, such as Topsport Vlaanderen and An Post, given an opportunity to race against the 'big boys' such as Team Sky, Giant - Shimano and Trek Factory Racing. These small teams will inevitably try and get in an early breakaway to give their sponsors profile on the TV coverage and maybe hope (perhaps against hope) that they can stay away to contend the finish and make their teams year in one go.

That is a gauge as to how important these races are.

Tomorrow see's Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne so if you are a rider or team that misses out today then you will be under pressure to perform tomorrow. The riders have a bit of a break until later in March before Belgium is re-visited for another few important races culminating in what is my favourite classic, The Tour of Flanders or, as it more locally known the Ronde Van Vlaanderen. Both myself and Jez have ridden the Sportif that runs the day before the Pro's do it for real though not since they decided, for purely financial reasons, to move the finish to a circuit based on the Paterberg & the Koppenberg with the finish at Oudenaarde. This meant missing out the iconic Muur de Geraardsbergen and the Bosberg both of which were used by many a winner of the Ronde to launch that decisive winning attack. I have many happy memories of the Ronde Sportif and whilst I started this article with me mentioning that a Belgian classic is made by the roads and the weather the last Ronde sportif me and Jez rode was completed at temperatures in excess of 20 degrees centigrade under lovely blue skies.

With its cobble forgiving isozone technology my bike of choice for the classics is undoubtedly the Trek Domane.

Even if your budget doesn't stretch to that of the professional teams you can still enjoy the same technology on more affordable models such as the Domane 4.0 as seen below and soon to ridden by me!

Now I love these classics because they hark back to the early days of cycling that has given this sport its rich history and in spite of all the significant advances in sports science, bikes, equipment, aero helmets and clothing these all can count to nothing in the rough and tumble world of the Belgian Classic. Check out Eurosport or online coverage and see for yourself.

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Bike Build Video

When you have a spare couple of minutes log on to the Bay Cycles Facebook page and amongst the many items of news is a short video clip of Jez putting together a lovely looking Trek Domane 4.0. First of all, do not think that it only takes 90 seconds to put together and PDI (Pre Delivery Inspection) a bike. You will notice that the video is speeded up slightly!!. Must admit when I first saw it I thought a Benny Hill soundtrack wouldn't be out of place! Seriously though, when I first left School I worked for a short period in Halfords and putting together bikes was something we had to do for display purposes and ultimately for sale. Now, I was happier when certain bikes arrived (Raleigh) as you could trust the way the factory had put them together and the packaging protected the bike. Other manufacturers sometimes provided you with a bike that you felt had almost come straight from the frame building part of the production line; a few bits thrown into a box and then when you assembled it your heart sank when those particular bikes were delivered.

Now, back to the case in point, Jez is shown in the video with a lovely Trek Domane 4.0 which shows a decent amount of packaging protection and a bike which is pretty well assembled already. Look to the left and you sill see that Park Tools are being used. These are a highly professional range of tools and are used by some of the top professional cycling teams such as the Trek Factory Racing Team and Team Sky so you can be assured that your pride and joy will be well looked after with these tools being used.

A PDI check on a bike is really no different to a car so during the build Jez will basically be checking that all nuts and bolts are tightened to the correct torque settings. You will also notice that time is spent checking all the gears are set up correctly as you certainly wouldn't want gears to slip or not work at all when you are half way up that steep hill. Other things that are important are tyre pressures. These are checked and would normally run at about 100psi plus but at this time of year you may wish to run at a slightly lower pressure of 90psi.

When you spend your hard earned cash it is good to know that when you go out on your new steed you can concentrate on the ride rather than worry about anything else. Also, like a car, a bike needs servicing regularly (cables stretch and parts get worn etc etc) And, from the evidence of this video I'm sure customers will be assured that Jez @Bay Cycles is someone they can trust to do the job properly.

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Slad Valley

One of the things I do whenever I visit a Company website is check out who they are. Now clearly having known Jez for longer than I (and probably he) would like to remember I really didn't need to click on the Bay Cycles 'who are we' link. However, I did and reminded myself that one of Jez's favourite rides was/is Slad Valley.

Now, I don't know how Slad Valley became a staple climb for any road cyclist in the Gloucestershire area but it did. I suppose one of its advantages is that it allowed for a quieter return to the Cheltenham/Gloucester area rather than the busier and narrower A46 through Painswick.

However, I probably need to give people a quick History & perhaps Geography lesson of the Slad Valley. It is named after the small village half way up which is a lovely traditional village with a Pub, a Church and loads of lovely Houses (2 bed houses sell for half a million). This is all a far cry from the days of one of Slad's most famous residents, Laurie Lee, him of Cider with Rosie fame(History Lesson). The Valley opens up as you leave the town of Stroud leaving you with stunning views to your right of Swift's Hill and further up you start to catch glimpses of the mixed woodland you will eventually climb up towards (sort of Geography lesson)

 

Last weekend I decided I had had enough of the bloody rain and howling gales and with Sunday dawning bright and sunny I decided that the day was a good one to visit Slad again. Before setting out I tried to recall the last time I went up there and realised it was in Summer 2013 (OMG!!) and, sorry Jez, but that was my best day of the year with the majority of the climb being accomplished in the big ring and me feeling like I was Froome or Quintana!!

However little did I know the effect that 3 days on an IT Course in Glasgow (and what felt like being permanently being in an Air Conditioned environment) would have on me. A sore throat made me start the ride not feeling 100% but I decided that I would reach a certain point on my route and then decide whether the ride would indeed include Slad. The route from my Home takes me through Gloucester but once off the busy Bristol Road and through a housing estate I cross the Gloucester- Sharpness Canal and all of a sudden I am in the countryside and the peace and quiet associated with it. I was slightly concerned by the lanes close proximity to the River Severn as a couple of weeks ago I had to use a different route as this lane was under a few inches of water and shut but whilst the river was indeed high the road was open and apart from the odd puddle quite dry(ish)

The route then took me through Elmore, Longney and Saul. At this point I took a left to cross back over the Gloucester-Sharpness Canal at Saul Marina. Now, if you want a nice Cafe to stop at there is a great one at Saul Junction (http://www.thestablescafe.co.uk), cosy in the Winter but with a lovely outdoor seating area for use in the Summer (remember that day Jez & Lisa??). Unfortunately, it is too easy to stay a long time watching the boats go by and the swans swimming past.

I ignored the Cafe and continued on to Whitminster where a short section of main road (A38) took me North but a right turn to Standish took me back over the M5 and decision time.

When I reached Standish I had the option of turning left and taking the easy route Home or right and on to Stonehouse. I chose the right as by now I seemed to have blown the cobwebs away. A section of downhill followed to Stonehouse and from there I used the old A road past Wycliffe College and on in to Stroud.

Now Stroud, there's an interesting place if you've got time – a lovely Farmers Market, Independent Shops but also a rather nice Costa Coffee that if you ask them nicely have been known to let you keep the Bikes inside!!

I soon reached a rather busy section of road in Stroud that was to take me to the foot of Slad. This section took me under the rather impressive structure of the viaduct that takes the main London Railway line in to Stroud Station and on up the Stroud Valley towards Kemble & Swindon but no chance to look at that because for some reason it seemed that every man and his dog was out in their car. I soon found out it was down to some temporary traffic lights on the A46 causing a queue, call me selfish but I wasnt going that way.

Anyway a right and a left took me to the B4070 – Stroud to Cheltenham road and Slad Valley. The first part of the Slad climb can be a bit annoying as there are lots of parked cars and with traffic still wanting to travel in both directions I have been known to take to the pavement just to maintain momentum up the climb. Once past the parked cars you soon leave the outskirts of Stroud and initially you are rewarded with a slight downhill section but after a sharp right hand bend the road starts to climb again.

Slowly but surely you start rising and soon come across the village sign for Slad the gradient then starts to increase and becomes quite noticeable. Soon you are in the Village itself and treated with a lovely, alpine like, hairpin which, taken properly, catapults you past The Woolpack Pub, Slad. Nice pub with outside seating which gives you a lovely view across the Valley.

However, be good to yourself and maintain that hard earned rhythm and continue past (again parked cars by the pub can cause issues but generally the road is wide enough). Not long after the Pub you pass a B & B on the left and the road kicks up past a House that almost looks like its in the road. It's only a short kick which is over when you get to the War Memorial.

After the War Memorial use the flatter section to catch your breath then the road goes up again towards Bulls Cross – this is actually a nice section which generally causes no problems especially after the road was recently re-surfaced. Another flatter section past Bulls Cross then you will see the road in front of you rising. Don't be fooled by thinking that the climb ends when you get to the House you see on the left from Bulls Cross – the road drags and then just after you go past another cottage on the left you think you are at the top but save just a little bit for the false flat after the 2 bends.

Well done you've reached the top – if you have the opportunity take pictures on the way up. Slad is a great climb as you can ride it in an unfit state (like me last week) and still get up it OK or you can really blitz it, like I did last Summer (sorry Jez, I promise I won't refer to that ride again!)

Anyway, the B4070 continues over the top with sections of false flat and takes you on towards Birdlip – the highest point on this ride. In Birdlip I tend to take the left turn down Birdlip Hill (1 in 6 descent) but following the recent poor weather I thought better of this. So before I reached Birdlip I took a left through Cranham Woods which is a quieter and safer road, at the weekend, and provides a wonderfully smooth and fast descent through the woods. Soon, I reach the A46 where I take a right and head down towards Brockworth. Another quick, history lesson here: This hill is called Coopers Hill and whilst you won't see it on the way down, if you stop at the bottom and look back at the Hill you will see a very noticeable line between the trees. This is the 1 in 3 hill used (until the H & S Police got involved) for those crazy fools who chase a Double Gloucester cheese down it.

 

From Brockworth it is a short ride home for me – by the end of the ride my legs were definitely reminding me that they hadn't been 'used' that much recently but there was a strange satisfaction and warm glow all afternoon – a job well done.

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Winter

It was actually a comment from my wife and then from Jez that gave me some inspiration for this next piece. Is it me or is it unseasonably mild at the moment even though it's almost Xmas. Now, I don't use a car to get to work (I ride a bike -you wouldn't expect anything less would you??) but I do not recall having a morning in the last couple of months where there has actually been ice on my wife's car that would need scraping off. Both my wife and Jez said that it felt more like Autumn!! Mind you the last couple of days have seen storm force conditions causing all sorts of travel issues but still mild.

b2ap3_thumbnail_de_feet_gloves.jpg

 With the weather the way it is though the cyclist is left with that age old conundrum of what to wear when going out and what to take with you. One of main things is to ensure that your extremities stay warm and a couple of the best accessories for this is the Neck Warmer and also Lightweight gloves.

The neck warmer comes in all colour ways, including a trendy hi-viz yellow with a reflective strip in it and I have also seen a star wars version showing a 'nice' image of Darth Vader. You can also show your patriotic nature with a Union Jack or Welsh Dragon one. They are extremely versatile and can be worn as a neck warmer but also can be turned into a hat and with them being so thin (but warm) they can easily fit under a helmet.

 

As far as lightweight gloves are concerned I have discovered the De-Feet wool gloves which have a lovely feel to them and are extremely warm as soon as they are put on. They also benefit from D-feet silicon logo's on the palm and fingers which provide adequate grip especially in damp or wet conditions. In the Black/Charcoal colourway they are very subtle and can be easily worn off the bike. If you want to be different pink is available. Temperature wise they will cope down to about 4-5 degrees centigrade, anything below that and you will want your winter gloves. I have used them in the wet and they have coped reasonably well. They do not appear to get overly waterlogged but in torrential downpours other gloves would be better. Overall they are a lovely glove, fit nicely and are reasonably priced at £15.99. Have a close look at some of the pro's in the early season classics and you will see them wearing these very same gloves.

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