21 May 2009

C2C 2009

We did it. In a larger group, against a contrary wind, but we did it.

I'm not going to bore you with too many details - the route was a variation on last year. After overnighting in Penrith (for the sake of accommodation for 15 of us!) we were driven to Workington, where we started from this year. Then we rode through Cockermouth and on to Keswick (brief stop) and then for lunch to Threlkeld - a long story... here goes: some of us wanted to watch the Man Utd - Arsenal game. Yep, that one that ended 0-0 (hindsight is a wonderful thing). Mate Ian had googled the Keswick area for a pub that would show the match. He came across The Sanitation (or sumffin like'aat). When we turned up.... there had been a big mistake. Yes, the Sanitation had Setanta... but the match was on Sky Sports (the girl Ian spoke to was either thick, devious or just didn't give a monkeys).

The group at that point split into three - the fitter ones who had arrived to the pub in time for the game and decided to stay anyway; the three at the rear who were in still Keswick when the van got to Threlkeld, and managed to find a pub there that did show the match; and Ian and I who decided not to grace the offending pub with our custom, but to press on to Greystoke for a coffee instead (which we did). Then on to Penrith, where we all met back at the same accommodation.

The second day was the big one. This year we had decided, based on Ian and my advice (from last year's experience) to end not in Rookhope, but 7 miles further, at Parkhead Station. Don't get me wrong - Parkhead Station is an absolutely fine place to stay and I'll happily recommend it to anyone, and we did want to make the last day an all-downhill one, a rest, end on a high note etc. But we hadn't counted on the wind blowing from the East, a strong wind at that. The first day this had affected us a little - on the second day it made going downhill hard work, and going uphill (which you do, a lot) gruelling. The morning was fine otherwise, sunny and reasonably warm, but as we got to Hartside Top Cafe the weather began to turn. Suffice to say, hours later, as we stopped for a life-saving coffee at the Rookhope Inn (where Ian and I had stayed last year) I was cursing myself for having added 7 miles to the second day. It was 6.30pm and the weather was trully foul. We got to Parkhead Station at 8.15pm, wet, cold and shattered after 90' on the open moor under icy rain with bits of sleet thrown in for good measure.

The 3rd and final day should have been a breeze, but my knees were aching after day 2 - the right one seriously so. I limped to Sunderland at the rear of the group. It was a delight to get to the end, but I've not been able to cycle since (it's been a week now) and my right knee still hurts a bit. Watch this space.

Lessons? Larger groups are tricky to manage - navigation can be a challenge, as it is impossible to avoid becoming separated. Training pays off (I didn't do enough). Having bike serviced pays off (well, it cost me a bob or two, but it was worth it as the gears worked a treat).

Will I do it again? Yes, I hope I will - or perhaps a different route (Brugges to Amsterdam has been mentioned - all flat and more time for beer!).

15 May 2009

London calling...

Compared to Manchester, cycling in London is thriving - there's more of them, a wider variety of shapes and sizes and styles, from the Hell's Angel, nazi-helmet character to the genteel, continental style high-heeled lady - and of course, the lycra brigade in its various sub-species (incl. mine) are well represented.

That said, the experience of cycling in central London cannot be pleasant. The traffic, the pedestrians, the tourists, other cyclists, it all seems to me bound to make the ride that little bit less enjoyable. And the things I see some cyclists do - this chap, for instance, at high speed between the two slow moving rows of cars, then a sharp bank to the right and then counter-bank to the left to zig-zag around a double-decker - either consumate skill or tremendous folly. A pedestrian stepping in the way at the wrong moment or a car door opening, and it could all end in tears so easily.

Sometimes I toy with the idea of cycling in London - ie if I have to go to Head Office as I sometimes do, to take my bike in the train and then go from Euston by bike, then back to Euston etc. Or perhaps I could dust off the little, primitive foldable I bought nearly three years ago.

11 May 2009

Arse of bike maintenance III: I never learn...

"This is my father's hammer. The head was replaced once, and the handle six times"

Old chinese proverb (or was it Polish? Australian? Who cares!)

When I first bought my bike, back in July 2006, I knew very little about bicycle maintenance. Strewth! It's not something I'd ever bothered with as a child - much as I spent idyllic summers on the saddle, worn chains and shot bearings were not an issue you worried about. Thirty years and 80Kg later, I know more but do almost as much - very little.

By the time I started practising to do the C2C for the first time, in early 2008, my gears were slipping so badly I had to be careful to start any pedalling very slowly. Needless to say, I paid for my lack of care, in cash - the good people of the Bicycle Boutique restored my bike for almost the amount of money I paid for it in the first place! Add kevlar tyres (bought from Prestwich's "Bike Factory Shop" - where I got my Tourismo from) and I'd invested quite a bit on the old thing.

Come last October, I had to do it all again - well, almost. New chain etc. To be honest, my bike worked a treat after this. But how many times did I clean and lubricate my bike between late October and now? Twice. And by 'lubricating' I mean only the chain - greasing hubs and stuff like that are simply beyond my poor skills.

So, should I be surprised when, having taking the bike to the Bicycle Boutique again, the bill came to an eye-watering £99? I guess not. I was shown the chain and cogs - which I myself never inspect, precisely so as not to be burdened by guilt - and they were visibly worn.

Special mention should go to the pedals, which I'd had since October 2006 and which I never ever lubricated - they had more play in them than my car's gear stick. I did consider not having the work done until after the C2C ride - after all, this is the bike I've been riding to work and back, 14 miles at least 3 times a week. Why would it break just because I'm cycling 150 miles in a weekend, including steady climbs over the Pennines? Why indeed... so on reflection I chose to have the work done - and enjoy the ride.

Bicycle Boutique were as good as before - I did have to remind them to transfer my recently acquired toe-clips to the new pedals! But they are true cyclists' cyclists and know far more about bikes than I do - plus they are in the right place for me, and I still think they offer value for money.