Riding L’Etape London

The alarm clock went off at 5am and I dragged myself out of bed after three hours of not-so-great sleep. I’d prepped my bike and everything the night before so all I needed to do were the final checks and have breakfast.

My taxi arrived at 6am. I’d booked a ‘cycle cab’ from Addison Lee, which was basically a car with a large boot so I still had to remove my front wheel. It also didn’t take nearly as much time as Google Maps had suggested so I got there around 6:30am. The road leading to the Velodrome had been closed to traffic so I was dropped off on the otherside of the park so it was a short ride to the Velodrome itself. My start time was 9am so I had quite a bit of waiting to do.

Annoyingly, my event pack never arrived but fortunately it was an easy replacement so my first ten minutes of waiting around was spent attaching all the labels to my bike, helmet and me.  The rest of time, I spen relaxing on a bench and watching the rest of the cyclists arriving. Apparently, there were 3,000 people registered! There were a lot of cycling clubs, most seeming to riding the long route (I think you’d have to be part of a club or group to get through the long route, I’m not sure it’s something you could easily tackle on your own). I was going to be riding the short route, 76km (or 49miles).

Riding a small bike means I don’t have a lot of room to put stuff on my bike so I had to use my rucksack. I’m not a fan of riding with a rucksack and it did make my ride much less fun because of it. I also made a bit of a big mistake at the start of the ride. I’m not used to riding in a group so set off at a much higher pace than I should have done as I got 25km in and started to struggle with the hills. It also started to get very warm so not only was I struggling with the hills (and there were a lot of those sneeky long ‘gentle’ gradients), I was starting to overheat.

My feet like to swell when I get hot so my Specialized 2FO shoes started out nice and comfy (but snug) but by 25km, my left foot was feeling very squashed. Lesson learned there, always buy a size bigger! I’ve exchanged them for a size bigger so any future rides hopefully won’t suffer from the squashed feet problem.

One thing you don’t really appreciate when taking on a long ride is how tough it is mentally, with each hill I struggled with, each time I noticed I was going at a snails pace or when other riders passed me at higher paces, it stuck a blow. By the time I reached the feed zone I was actually thinking about packing it all in, but I had some more food (flapjacks and cold potatoes, seriously…cold potatoes for the win!), applied some more chamois cream and just had a rest and I felt good to keep going. Luckily, there weren’t any hills in the final 44km (or at least not like the hills I’d struggled up in the first 35km!) so it was a nicer ride. I still struggled with the heat and had to stop a few times to pour water down my back just to cool down.

Finally though, I hit the final 1km throught the Velodrome and it was all over.

yay:

  • everyone was really supportive (a group of riders stopped at the top of a gnarly hill, they said they wanted to wait for me because the route went sharply to the left and they didn’t want me to miss the turning, I think they just wanted a rest :P, loads of people shouted encouraging things as they passed you and there were people out on club rides who said nice things.)
  • cold potatoes rock
  • it was really well organised and the route brilliantly sign posted
  • I did it in under six hours.
  • There was some beautiful scenary
  • I saw a pheasant.

nay:

  • Despite having done some longer rides, I don’t think I was prepared enough.
  • It was hot.
  • I didn’t have enough sleep. I should have taken a later taxi so I could have had a few more hours or taken the day before off.
  • hills suck.
  • Too many scary large round-abouts and you’d be surprised at how busy the traffic is on a Sunday morning!
  • 1 dead rabbit, 2 dead hedgehogs and a dead squirrel
  • my feet hurt

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Keeping Safe on my Bike

I go out of my way to make myself highly visible to cars, especially at night. I only ride with my funky jersey on during sunny/bright days, then to go home I switch to my bright yellow high-vis jersey and reflective gillet. My rucksack has a high-vis cover and I’ve added a red light to it.

Where possible, I stick to the bike lanes. Sometimes this isn’t possible (road conditions, obstructions on the bike lane, that sort of thing), or when the cycle lane is a shared footpath with pedestrians and I’m cycling at 30mph (speed limit on that stretch of road) – I don’t think it’s hugely safe to be flying down a shared pavement (incidentally, this doesn’t happen very often).

My rear & front lights are very bright LEDs, I put them on flash mode during wet weather but otherwise they’re static. I also have some ‘brainy bike lights‘ but currently don’t have space to put them on my road bike so they’re living on my mountain bike for now.

I want to get some lights on my forks and wheels to add to my visibility as I deal with a lot of small roundabouts at night but I’m already highly visible.

As a defence, I also ride with a Garmin VIRB camera on my helmet. I know something will happen to me, cycling in London it’s inevitable. Whatever happens to me, whether it’s my fault or not I want a record. Luckily so far, I’ve been lucky. I’ve had a few squeaky bum moments, like this one

but nothing horrific. Recently, I’ve had a few close moments with drivers making risky moves.

The driver in this clip was ridiculously close to my back wheel and as a result I’ve bough a Cycliq Fly6 rear light & camera combo – if I’d have touched my brakes, or if I reacted to someone stepping out in front of me then this guy wouldn’t have had time to react he was that close. That said, I think the oncoming driver in the red car had a much closer encounter than I did!

This one was a definite squeaky bum moment. The road is wet, the visibility isn’t fantastic so I’m around 23/24mph (on a 30mph road), going down hill (I can easily get up 30mph on the down hill but when the road is wet I don’t risk it). The first car is fine, plenty of space at the traffic island, the second one however…!

All the second driver needed to do was wait a moment for me to clear the island and they had plenty of space. The roads are wide enough there that I’m safely away from the curb and parked cars without having to take primary position, although I think in the future I’m going to have to when it’s wet.

Review: ‘Race to Truth’ by Emma O’Reilly

As a cycling fan, I read a lot of books about cycling. Many of these are by ex-dopers telling their story and how being caught changed their lives. I particularly recommend David Millar’s autobiography Racing Through the Dark and for an inside look at doping in US Postal Tyler Hamilton’s book The Secret Race is worth reading.

What never seems to be covered in their autobiographies is how their doping affected those around them. Emma O’Reilly was a sogineur (masseuse and I suppose den-mother for the riders) for US Postal during the start of the Armstrong-era, just as doping was taking it’s hold on the team. She told riders off for leaving used hypodermic needles in hotel rooms, saw the physical and psychological effects the drugs were having on the riders and even transported drugs across international borders as a ‘favour’. She told herself she was a clean sogineur, that she wasn’t going to get involved with ‘the programme’ and didn’t want to be – like many others she chose to be silent, hiding behind the code of ‘omerta’ (silence).

Eventually though this took a toll on her professional and personal life so she made the decision to leave US Postal. Journalist David Walsh contacted her about her time with US Postal and she agreed to talk about what she saw, heard and took part in. What she didn’t know at the time was how speaking out was going to dramatically effect her life or that she would be named by Walsh as the source of his information. She was bullied, belittled and threatened by Lance Armstrong through lawsuits and legal intimidation. Not only that, David Walsh, the Sunday Telegraphy and the publishers behind his book hung her out to dry as well.

I’ve always respected David Walsh for his unrelenting pursuit of the truth behind dark side of cycling but having read the other side of the story (as it were) I feel he is as dirty as everyone else. It becomes clear he knew what was going to happen to Emma, that Armstrong was going to target her and instead of helping her, Walsh just sat back and let it all happen. Probably because it made for a good story.

Reading her book, it’s hard not to like Emma. She’s very straight forward and there’s something very endearing about her referring to riders as “the lads”. It’s clear that she loved her job and had respect amongst the peleton but she became victim to petty male egos. I would highly recommend reading this in addition to all the “I doped, here’s how it ruined my professional life, I’m sorry” stories from the pro-peleton just to see how the doping culture affected not just the riders.

The Third Big Ride: Erith to Central London & Back

I decided to tackle my first long ride this week so planned a sort of ‘sightseeing tour of London’, taking in Buckingham Palace and a few other iconic sights. I should have put more planning into the central London part as I was really underprepared for dealing with the many, many aggressive drivers. Most of them taxi drivers. It seems you put a middle-aged man behind the wheel of a taxi and it’s everyone for themselves. Perhaps taxi drivers should have to re-take their driving test every five years because so many of them seem to have forgotten ‘Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre’ and instead opt for ‘Manoeuver, Shout at Cyclist, Manoeuver, Gesture Rudely to Cyclist’. To taxi drivers, the cycle lane is merely a drop off/pick up point and there’s no need to check if there happens to be a cyclist tootling along in the lane, if  you’re lucky some of them signal that they’re crossing into the lane giving you enough time to adjust your path accordingly. Some of what the taxi drivers did felt deliberate, which considering the head of one of the taxi driver associations said that “cyclists are the Isis of London”, I wouldn’t be surprised if they consider cyclists fair game.

I also had a few encounters with buses overtaking me only to pull into the bus stop immediately in front of me…which seemed bizarre and dangerous as I was forced into traffic without much of a chance to indicate I was joining traffic. This isn’t to say I didn’t see any bad behaviour from cyclists, but at no point did I feel that the cyclists actions would have killed me and that there were times it probably would have been safer for me to continue through the red light (I did always stop, though) particularly those at pedestrian crossings once the pedestrians were clear. On the whole, I’ve had a lot of positive interaction with bus drivers and nothing positive with taxi drivers. Fellow cyclists are very nice as well, such as one chap stopping to ask if I’d had a puncture because I was walking with my bike (no, I was just lost).

The ‘cycle superhighway’ signs are terrible. You’ll be happily following one route only for the signs to disappear and the route number to change, leaving you to wonder if you’ve missed a turning or if you’re still on the same route. If I’d have known about the disappearing routes I’d have boned up on the routes before so I have had a clearer idea of which ones to follow when the signs vanished!

Anyway, my ride…

tour

Due to getting increasingly stressed out by taxis and with it getting very late, I decided to abandon my journey home at Greenwich and catch the train. All in all, I’m pretty pleased with my ride and I think with a bit more planning I could tackle a 100km ride. I should have set off much earlier as well…and probably done it in summer so I wouldn’t have lost the light as much as I did towards the end. Ah well.

The Second Big Ride: Erith to Beckton Park & back via Greenwich (45km)

fridayride

Following my Big Ride to Greenwich, I’ve been commuting regularly by to Woolwich Arsenal by bike then from Cannon Street or Charing Cross to work. 11km down the Thames Path, which can be interesting in wet weather! As I’m off work this week, I decided I was going to do another long bike ride. Instead of following the exact same route I’ve followed before and adding to it, I figured it would be more interesting to deviate.

I decided to head towards Woolwich as per usual, then walk through the Woolwich Foot Tunnel to the North side of the river. From there, head towards Beckton Park and then back through part of the city before crossing back over the river through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, then home. In total, 45km.

I headed off after 11:30am with my new rucksack which definitely made having something on my back a lot easier. I briefly got lost trying to find the Woolwich Foot Tunnel because it’s not 100% sign posted, but for those looking for it, it’s tucked away behind the leisure centre. The tunnel is ‘no cycling’ which I obeyed, but if I was travelling late at night I would definitely break this rule as it doesn’t feel the safest for walking through late at night.

woolwichfoottunnel

I arrived at Beckton Park and found it…disappointing. I get the impression that the council aren’t that interested in maintaining the facilities in the park because there are none. The pavilion is locked up so as a place to take a break, it’s not the best. The ride back to the ‘main section’ is through some spooky looking woods which I don’t think would be especially safe at night.

becktonpark

After getting a bit lost in the traffic diversions and not being entirely sure where to go (not great signs), I eventually found the Greenwich Foot Tunnel. Much less creepy than the Woolwich Foot Tunnel, I suspect this is because the Greenwich Foot Tunnel is more in use than the Woolwich one.

greenwichfoottunnel

Arriving at Greenwich, I had another sit down and charged my headset (I was listening to a podcast, next time I’m taking my normal headset as it saves losing the battery!) before heading home via the O2 and the Thames Path. I had a very odd encounter on the Thames Path though as I cycled passed two young men carrying rifles with scopes. I called the police but it wasn’t easy to explain where I was in relation to where the guys with the guns where!

Once home, I started planning my next long ride. I’d like to cycle home from work one night, 25km in the dark which should be interesting and this is the plan for my next big ride:

trip

Feel free to follow me on Strava! 😀

The Bike Ride – SUCCESS!

green

Setting out just after 10:30am, I made good time and reached Woolwich in 50minutes (11km) where I had my first snack break of the day. Refueled, I headed off on the final stretch which took me to the Thames Barrier. Have to say, brilliantly signposted for cyclists and there were cycle lanes and clearly marked cycle routes. Richmond might want to think about something similar…just sayin’ 😉

2015-08-14 12.04.30

I reached my first waypoint at the Thames Barrier in 1hr 18mins (15km from my flat). At The View Cafe I had a nice sausage sandwich and topped up my water bottle. The way to Greenwich is beautifully sign posted as well and you pass some lovely scenery on your way!

2015-08-14 13.02.40

A slightly dramatic picture of The City, taken with my potato.

I finally reached Greenwich just under an hour after I left the Thames Barrier. I cycled a total of 21km in 2hrs, which I think is pretty good going. I ended up spending more time in Greenwich than I’d originally intended because after 10km into my ride my chain started squeaking so I had to find a bike shop. Which was actually more complicated than it should have been.

2015-08-14 13.25.17

After doing a bit of bike maintenance and having a nice sit down, I turned round and headed back home. In total, I cycled 42km in 3hrs 21mins. During my ride, I had my bluetooth headset in one ear and followed the first four missions of Zombies, Run! I used Zombies, Run! when I was trying to talk myself into enjoying running but never quite succeeding. It’s great fun on a bike, particularly if you live somewhere post-apocalyptic like me! I turned off the playlists so between the voice overs, I just had silence which I enjoyed very much.

I’m already planning my next Big Ride as this was great fun.

You can check out my Strava profile for this ride if you want 🙂

This is going to be uncomfortable…

With the change in the weather my usual swimming pool has become unbearable so I bit the bullet and joined the YMCA Central which has a very nice indoor pool. I’ve also started using the gym (well, the bike & rowing machines…everything else scares me a bit even though I’ve had an induction!) which is a huge first for me. School PE put me off any sort of physical activity and it’s only as I’m entering my 30th year I’ve started to actually care about my physicality.

I also remembered that I own a bike, and not only do I own a bike, I live alongside the Thames Path. There’s literally no excuse for me not to go out and exercise (I’ve accepted I hate running). I’m the type of person who needs a goal to aim for so I’ve set myself the challenge of cycling from Erith to the Thames Barrier (and back, if I don’t die) – a grand total of 12KM (24KM if I cycle back). To some people this might not sound like a huge distance but this is big for me. I’ve also set a date – Friday 14th August is The Big Cycle Day, Saturday 15th August is “kill me now” Day and Sunday 16th August is “shit, I can’t walk” Day.

I’m also planning to go out to Richmond Park soon. I’ve bought a camera rucksack so I can take my camera with me as it would be a shame to get all the way out there and only have my shitting phone camera.

You can follow me on Strava if you so wish.

erithroot