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Back on two wheels

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I've not done any cycling since the charity bike ride last June.  Since then my bike had festered in the shed with a flat back tyre and a dodgy crank bearing.  At the time I was driving to work (much too far to cycle) and didn't have the motivation to get the bike fixed up.

In February this year, we had a break in.  Both of our bikes were stolen from the shed.  Katherine quickly got a new bike from Halfords through the insurance company, but I decided to hold out as my workplace had recently started doing a ride2work scheme through Evans Cycles.  The scheme means you pay for your bike out of your pre-tax pay if you promise to use it to get to work, thus saving around 50% on the price.  I applied for a voucher in February and it took until last week (mid April) to arrive.  A two month wait is frankly ridiculous, but asking around a few people it would appear this is normal.

Anyway, I headed down to the bike shop and after a quick test ride I settled on a Specialized Pitch Comp FSR.  It improves over my old bike (a Saracen Vice - no longer produced) in pretty much every way.  It's much lighter, has hydraulic disk brakes (brilliant in the rain!), and the suspension is a lot more advanced - it can be adjusted from rock hard for road use, to really soft for offroad.  It feels much better when pedalling as it doesn't waste all your energy compressing the suspension rather than propelling the bike forward.

I was able to take the bike with me straight away as they had one in stock.  I rode back home from the bike shop (about four miles) which took me about half an hour.  Since then I've ridden to work and back all week (2.2 hilly miles each way) and done a few laps of Surrey Research Park (0.6 miles) in my lunch hours.

I hope to get rid of my beer belly soon!!!

The Preparation

After Thursday's 23.3 mile training run, I decided needed a few equipment changes made before I could manage the 50 mile trek. Firstly, Katherine bought me some padded cycling shorts (a lifesaver!). Then on the way home from work I made the trip to Halfords to get some cycling gloves, a hand pump with a gauge, a metal cage to hold an essential water bottle to my bike and some cycling gloves.

On Friday, we took it easy as it's not a good idea to train the day before an endurance event. Some of the group we were to cycle with sent a few emails suggesting maybe 50 miles was too much and perhaps we should take the easier 25 mile route. However, this dissent in the ranks was soon stopped. It was 50 miles or bust.

The start point for the ride was in Colchester in Essex starting at 9am. We worked out this would take us nearly two hours to drive from Guildford so we had to be up at 5:30am on Saturday. Ouch! Luckily, there was little traffic along the route so we made it with plenty of time to spare. The weather looked great with the sun shining in a nearly cloudless sky. We made our way to the start, met the rest of the team and pinned our numbers to our rucksacks which were full of Mr Kipling Cherry Bakewells and Almond Slices which were recommended to us as good food for cycling - sugar for a quick energy boost with starch for longer term muscle fuel. A few photos were taken of our group, myself in the aforementioned padded black cycling shorts and a newly obtained Bowel Cancer UK t-shirt in a fetching blue (only £4!).

Also at the start was Colchester's answer to Alan Partridge. A fat old man in a bright yellow suit (presumably a minor local celebrity) with a microphone making unintentionally funny comments about the riders using as many long words as he could. A drinking game where you had to sip a drink every time he said things like "resplendent in our Bowel Cancer colours", "enter the tent of triumph", "a veritable battalion of bicyclists", and so on would have made you very drunk.

The Ride Itself

Off we went! Pace was slow to start with as we needed to warm up and pace ourselves, though after a few miles we were into the stride of it. Someone had told us that Essex was a fairly flat county. It turned out that whoever that was had obviously never tried cycling around Essex. There were some monster hills to get up. When you weigh over 14 stone and have a fairly heavy dual suspension bike (much like myself), it is made all the harder. I used the technique of just putting the bike into bottom gear and plodding my way up slowly, rather than trying to push faster and knacker myself out before the end of the race. The lovely downhill sections in between seemed far too short.

For the first twenty miles or so I was doing well, eating up the miles easily and enjoying the lovely countryside. Our group stopped at a school which was being used as a food & drink place on the route. We stopped for around half an hour for something to eat and drink. I think it was a mistake to stop for so long as when I got back on the bike my muscles had stiffened up and it took a few miles to get back into the stride of it. Also, my bottom was starting to hurt a lot at this point (though the padded cycling shorts were a lot better than a normal pair of trousers/shorts).

At about thirty five miles or so we were all starting to get a bit weary, but we continued nonetheless. The hills were getting no easier, the sun was blazing and my bottom was screaming at me to stop. We thought we must be about six or seven miles from the end and asked a marshal how was there was to go. The reply "Eleven miles" was not what we wanted to hear. Mercifully, a few miles of flat was just what we needed at this point, so we powered along the B roads in the blazing lunchtime sun.

I spotted in someone's garden a scarecrow on a bike they had made with a sign on the front that read (paraphrasing as I don't remember it exactly) "Good luck, not long to go now". As we neared the end, we came up to the worst hill so far. It was really steep and looked pretty long. I slogged up it in bottom gear and refused to walk (unlike a few others). I eventually reached a corner and was horrified to discover there was more uphill around it. I continued, disheartened, but not defeated. From here on it was mostly downhill into Colchester and the finish line. Ignoring my sore bottom and legs I thundered along sprinting to the end. Luckily, the bloke in the yellow suit wasn't around when I crossed the line so I didn't have his verbal rubbish inflicted upon me.

The Aftermath

Katherine and I staggered across to an ice cream van and ate the most lovely 99 I've ever had in my life and guzzled as much fluid as I could. We packed away the bikes in the car and met a couple from the group in a local pub for a few drinks while Wales played football on the TV. Today I'm totally shattered. My body is aching all over, though Katherine doesn't seem too bad. In fact she's out weeding the garden as I type. Mind you, she's been going to the gym a couple of times a week for ages and she cycles to the train station each day to get to work. Since I started employment at The Creative Assembly, I've done next to no exercise as all as I have no option but to drive to work.

A BIG Thank You

People have donated a lot of money to Bowel Cancer UK (our team has currently raised £868.33 including Gift Aid contributions). I would like to thank you all for this. You can still add to the collection at http://www.justgiving.com/VOPSTeamCycle.

Katherine and I are doing a 50 mile bike ride this Saturday (2nd June 2007) to raise money for Bowel Cancer UK.  I know a couple of people who have died from this disease so it means a lot to me. We haven't done a huge amount of training (the poor weather has put a stop to that!), so it's probably going to be painful, but if we pace ourselves it shouldn't be too bad. If you would like to make a donation, please use the following link. http://www.justgiving.com/VOPSTeamCycle Thank you.

Cycling and Crisps

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We've just got back from a cycle ride with the next door neighbours. We signed up to do a 50 mile charity cycle ride in June, so we need to do some training. We mentioned this to our neighbours and they said "Yeah, we know somewhere good for cycling", so off we went to Ash Range for a 13 mile cycle ride, mostly off road, up (and thankfully down) some impressive hills. My body is now aching all over, but we had great fun. Had a bit of lunch when I got back and my first packet of crisps since mid February. Oohyis!!! Walker's Cheese and Onion Big Eat crisps for the win!!!

Invisibility Field

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I've managed to stumble across a 100% guaranteed way to become invisible. You simply get on a bicycle and try to travel around Guildford. I've lost count of the number of times some pedestrian or driver has pulled out in front of me because they haven't seen me. I have to rely on anticipating what others are about to do to avoid being in an accident. Yes, bicycles are (nearly) silent, but that's no excuse for not bothering to look before pulling out or stepping onto the road. I see a lot of cyclists around Guildford, so it's hardly a new fangled thing no-one has ever seen before.

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