Monday, 30 November 2009

The wettest ride..... ever

On Friday I set off for Brighton at midnight with nearly 50 coasters. We were in good spirits. Sure there was rain forecast but hey ho let's go.

We made very good time going through London on this ride and the roads were clear of traffic. I thought nothing of it, at no point did I think 'hmmmm I wonder if everyone's staying in in case it wees it down', at no point did I wonder why the streets were eerily clear of the usual rowdy drunkards that give us all a giggle and the occasional thrown missile. They were probably at home battening down the hatches.

The Brighton ride was my first FNRttC back in June/July so I knew a bit of the route although this one had been altered to be weather safe. The enormous hill heading out of London that seems to go on forever was one of my sharpest memories and this time I was ready for it. I shuffled Reg into a comfy low gear and pootled my way up. Last time I didn't realise I'd be on an upward trajectory for so long and grossly misjudged it, but not this time.

We headed out of London and I stayed near the middle of the pack with A2 hanging out nearer the front with some colleagues he'd roped in from work. We were, in fact, doing really well until 2.40am when it began to rain.

Ok so it had started to rain a little at about 12.40am but it had been small, light patches, in short, usual commuter fare. But this was biblical flooding of the lands, build yourself an ark because damnation is on its way rain. Going down a steep hill it felt like someone with a pea shooter full of marbles was aiming for my eyes. At one point I abandoned all hope of looking forward where I was going and just focused on the white lines to stay in the right place.

We were guided into a tunnel for five minutes' rest while punctures were repaired and we were off, sloshing into the darkness. Puddles and mini-rivers formed at our ankles and a highlight was a small fjord-like body of water that I hit without seeing it while cycling pretty much alone. I felt a bit stupid until I heard the combined squeally groan of the group behind me two minutes later.

At this point everyone was wet and cold. There were no longer divisions between those in Assos and Altura and those in Lidl gear, no one was dry. I had bought a weird-looking strip of material to cover my ears and some peanut butter Clif bars on my way home from work and my God was I grateful. I scoffed my way through my bars and praised my ear warmer repeatedly.

We reached the halfway stop and a chaotic scene was there for any bystanders. Haggard-looking bikers sat in puddles of muddy water and dejection. At this point one of the regular leaders offered to take anyone who wanted to head home to the nearest station. We only lost about three riders and I'm sure I wasn't the only person looking at their arms in disbelief as they refused to rise and be counted as someone going home.

When we left the cafe the rain had stopped but the wind and an hour's sit-down meant it was very hard to get going. At one point I was convinced that my hand and feet had been lost somewhere on the journey. We pushed on until a guy in front of me got a puncture.

I lent tyre levers and was one of three who stood by offering light. Disaster struck when an integral bit of wheel bounced off into the night, I was sent to bear the news to the front of the ride. I'd never done a 'back to front' before and it was HARD.

I passed several wayfinders and eventually got to the front only to find out they'd since found the part and were heading in. We then headed off again while I continued wheezing from the lack of stop.

As the light at the end of the tunnel got closer we all became impatient to finish. We were freezing at this point and the continued puncture stoppages were starting to niggle. The last couple of miles seemed to take forever and I wasn't the only one to spontaneously cheer when the signs for Brighton started to crop up with increasing regularity.

With the cafe in sight I was near tears of relief and I and several others insisted on sitting outside to eat breakfast as we'd fought so damn hard to get there. Never mind that two minutes in the wind rendered our tea and breakfast stone cold, I needed to believe I'd actually made it.

Not a soul cycled back as far as I'm aware and so the trains were packed with very tired cyclists. I helped four ladies from Hull negotiate the tricky Victoria one-way system and got them pointed in the right direction before heading for home, bath and bed.

I don't remember much of the journey from Paddington, the next clear memory is lying in a very hot bath enjoying the smug sensation washing over me and watching the cat sniff my shoes with a look of utter disdain.

I have, in the past, been a quitter when things got tough and, believe me, I was sorely tempted by the turn back option at the cafe but I had made it.

This morning Mr Weenie offered me a lift as it was raining... 'Ha!' I cried, 'Compared to Friday this is practically tropical, bring it on!'

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

The winged nemesis

This morning I fought off potholes, bad driving and road crud as I pedalled into work. I did the commute in the standard half hour and apart from getting annoyed by the weather (too cold not to wear a jacket but you're well sweaty when you get to work) the ride was unremarkable.

Having gone unpadded yesterday I was mightily relieved to be back in my Gorewear leggings with their ergonomic protection for lady bits. You think a bit of foam wouldn't make that much difference but when you hit that speed bump you feel the love.

But anyhoo so there I was, speeding along despite the wind when there he stood. His bead-like eyes staring at me. He was like a statue, daring me to a game of chicken, ignoring the irony that he was, in fact, a pigeon.

I set a course and put my head down to charge. He remained still, serene in the morning breeze, seemingly unaware of my ability to squash him with barely a bump. He stared into me... then... suddenly, he was away, jumping up towards my face and flapping towards me in a mess of feathers and rage.

I squealed and swerved a bit to avoid him then he was gone... to where nobody knows.

Monday, 23 November 2009

The weenie photo competition

What is this? (Answer below)

Answer: A man in a jaguar reading what looked like a medical journal as he drove up one of the busiest sections of the Uxbridge Road on Friday night. So engrossed was he that he didn't even look over when the flash on my camera went off.

Apologies for the blurry quality but he was actually moving at the time, yes driving while reading what a marvellous time saving idea.

Wet feet

I'm sure the rain wasn't that heavy when I looked out of my window and decided to cycle to work.

Huge ploppy raindrops yes but not that many were falling and it didn't seem that wet. How wrong I was. As I stopped for the billionth time to wipe my glasses I realised I was a very rare breed on the road. There weren't may cyclists at all and the rain seeping through my leggings was why.

The mist and rain fogged my glasses so I stopped regularly to clean them, I tried to avoid as many puddles as possible and pootled as the rain had affected my braking somewhat. Cars were, on the whole, quite considerate although there were a couple of nobbers who weren't looking. As my last accident was in rain I was in my high-vis the whole way and was extra careful at junctions and where there where blind turns.

I was warm throughout and, actually, the only part of me that got REALLY wet was my feet and I have spare shoes at home anyway. I also have waterproof socks for the journey home.

Sooooooo, the critical commuting question is: would you rather get wet and sweaty in a crammed tube carriage or get wet feet?

No contest really.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Learning not to swear

This morning an incredibly naughty E2 double decker nearly squooshed me.

I was in the right-hand lane because I knew that the E2 route demanded he go left and I didn't want to be in the way. I was happily tootling along when he indicated right, 'Fine,' I thought, ' he's probably pulling out round a parked car or summat but as I'm halfway up the side of the bus surely he'll wait until I'm clear, surely in my bright yellow Sam Brown and bright clothing he can see me.'

I was wrong. He pulled straight across me and I emergency stopped and had to waddle Reg backwards a bit to avoid being smacked by his rear end. He then swung back into the left lane from whence he came.

But justice prevailed. He had to stop at a light.

I pulled up to his window with a hearty 'Oi!'.

'You do NOT pull out right when there is a cyclist halfway up your bus!


It was snarly I'll admit but at no point did I swear. The bus driver looked around 60 years old and a bit frightened to be confronted by the raging weenie beast. No point in swearing really, point was made. I then swept away in a dignified and snooty manner.


Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Wind glorious wind and playing with lorries

No not farting, but the weather phenomenon that causes cyclists everywhere to wince or rejoice depending on the direction in which it's blowing. I was wincing.

It came head on for some of the journey and, although annoying I didn't get too het up. I changed down a gear and put my head down. It was when I went past open ground that it became a problem.

On city roads with high buildings it's easy to forget the waves of air that roll across you and attempt to turn your bike into the side of that attractive looking lorry. Going past Ealing Common was very exciting for all the wrong reasons as I gripped Reg's handlebars, slowed down and wrested him back under my control. It was for this reason that I didn't really take much note of my fellow commuters, until Acton that is.

A very large lorry was in front of me and I decided to stay far back. The junction in question has a possible left turn and people often don't indicate until the last minute or at all because of the filtering lanes. Plus my view of the traffic lights was blocked by said lorry so I couldn't gauge the speed of traffic and predict it's movements. I sat behind basking in the warm and comforting swirl of exhaust.

A middle/older aged lady came past on her shopper. She then went up the left side of the enormous lorry binging as she went. Binging that was barely audible above the heavy thrum of the lorry's engine, certainly not audible to its driver. I looked on in abject horror fearing imminent squishage. I reasoned with myself, perhaps she was going left, that would be ok, especially as the lorry was now indicating left. I actually held my breath.

The lights changed and the lorry turned left I looked ahead and was incredulous to see lady binger straight ahead. She had undertaken a left-turning huge lorry in its blind spot and wasn't even going left. I said nothing as I overtook her. My feeling wasn't anger it was immense relief on the lorry driver's behalf.

That lorry would have squished her without the driver even feeling a bump. He would've lived with that forever even though he probably couldn't have done anything to prevent it if she'd been in a blind spot.


Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Back on the bike


I dropped Reg at the shop on Friday and was quoted £30. If it was more than that they'd give me a ring before work started on it I was told, it'll be fine I was told. Imagine my dismay when I rang them only to be told the price was coming in at around £75 and the work had been done.

I was livid.

I charged in there ready for a fight. I sighed, I was silently unimpressed and resentful and my voice got subtly louder when another customer came in. I got £15 knocked ff the bill. Result. Especially since they had to change the rear braking mechanism and had done the gears etc.

I didn't bike to music school as the weather was abysmal and looked forward to a foray on a tandem on Monday when disaster struck. CC, my tandem partner, caught the bug that's going round. I was forced to Christmas shop instead.

Nowhere near as fun. Sigh.

Was back on Reg this morning with VERY heavy panniers full of music for a rehearsal tonight. We tootled in and even with the extra weight and me being knackered from my idiot neighbours messing around all night we sped past several fellow cyclists.

Perhaps it's a way of a higher power telling me the only twosome I should be involved with is Reg and me.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Tube in the rain

Eugh, this morning I took ... the tube.

With Reg in the shop I had no option. I managed to cadge a lift to the local Piccadilly line station and climbed aboard for a three-stop ride.

First I realised I had no money on my Oyster card, so I duly topped it up before stepping through the gates. I near slid down the stairs coated in the muddy slime of thousands of shoes before getting onto the platform. What met me was a scene reminiscent of Shaun of the Dead. Zombified commuters stood around looking depressed and avoiding each others' eyes. Many were shuffled near the edge of the covered section ready to dash though the raindrops in an attempt to reach the less crowded carriages once the train arrived. I joined them.

The train came in, already packed and with windows steamed up with the germs of those inside. The mass clamber began as people tried, with forced, and very British, politeness to push past each other and get to the slightly emptier carriages.

I managed to get on and memory served me with the method for folding a Metro twice to get it as tiny as possible so you can read it without bumping anyone.

At the next station more and more people oozed into the carriage until you couldn't actually move. Then at Acton Town an announcement said the train on the opposite platform was leaving first. Cue a mad dash to cross the four metres of wet asphalt with men in suits battling teenagers in skinny jeans. I stayed where I was knowing from my dark commuter past that it only saves about two minutes in the long run and I only had one stop to go.

I got to Hammersmith and joined the queue to climb the stairs. I escaped the tube and limped into McDonalds exhausted by it all.

God I miss my bike.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Pootling and the best cat

Firstly I must announce that Mr Weenie is the best cat.*

I came home last night to not one but two pairs of new shoes, some uber funky trainers and some gorgeous ballet flats, both of which I'd been looking at and decided I shouldn't buy as Reg needs work doing. Sigh. What a man.

Anyhoo, back to pootling. Part of Reg's issue at the moment is that he's a bit confused about which gear he's on. He's one gear out in either direction depending on his mood. The result of all this is a feeling of complete liberation.

Normally I gauge my fitness and leg strength by my commuting gear but not that that option is out I just go with what feels comfy at the time. Shockingly this has, in fact, reduced my commuting time some mornings and improved my mood immeasurably.

Sometimes I pootle along feeling like a slow coach only to realise I'm hitting 20mph but because I'm not conscious of the fact it's all the easier. Sometimes I am in fact going very slowly but I don't care. Added to the gear issue is the drop in the number of cyclists. With no one to race against and precious few of the 'all the gear, no idea' crew willing to brave the icy winds I have no one to race against and no one to teach a speed lesson to when they've annoyed me.

What shocks me about cycling is how often my own views on things change and evolve. In a year and a half I've gone through timid, aggressive, law-bending to strict law adherence until I've found a style that suits.

Life change through cycling, how zen.

*The best cat means the best thing ever. The term evolved from inter-family rivalry about who had the best feline friend as three of us own cats but is now used for all things fabulous.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Sorting the wheat from the chaff...

Or more bike parking for me.

This morning there was just one other bike in the rack I normally use. We have other ones round the back and there were a couple in them but there are very few cyclists left.

On the plus side the waiting time for the showers has reduced dramatically and I have my pick of he bike stands. I'm also given the look of awe by some as I stride in in lycra on frosty mornings.

On the down side, it's bloody cold out there. However, my problem is not one of chilly extremities, rather it is of sweaty hotness. Piling on the layers is all well and good when you set off, puffing clouds of steam and thanking the Lord for those fleecy leggings you nearly didn't buy. Halfway to work though you've worked up some body heat and you're dripping with sweat. You can't be arsed to pull over because you've only got 15 minutes left to ride so you struggle on encased in a cocoon of clammy lycra.

You alternate between keeping those toasty gloves on and taking the damn things off for short periods when you become like a furnace.

Then when you get to work you sit red-faced in a t-shirt while colleagues pull their cardigans around them in a vain attempt to get warm.

Roll on spring.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Envy retro stylee

There was a woman on a Chopper on my commute this morning.

Yes, a Chopper.

It was clearly one from some distance because of the unique seat shape etc and the fact it was tiny small. She had the Vans and surfer-style mess of hair that meant she was obviously deeply cool and I must admit that rather than scoff I was envious.

She couldn't go terribly fast but was cruising rather than pootling, exuding the sense that she would get there when she got there and to chill out speed freaks.

Reg was the equivalent of a bowler hat and pinstripe suit in comparison to her Juicy Couture tracksuit of a bike. Her bike is probably called India or Hiawatha or something that can be shortened to C or whatever the first letter of its name is. In fact, it's probably so cool it doesn't even have a name.

I think my sense of uncoolness was magnified by my new 'Sam Browne' a reflective belt around the waist and over the shoulder. Following the accident I'm a bit nervous about being seen. I'm sure my desire to look like a clown will end eventually but for now I look like a Mexican goalkeeper.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Car-bike interface

It's finally happened: I've had an accident.

I can't go into full details yet as, although I'm fairly sure nothing will come of it, but it involved rain obscuring visibility, a late indicator because someone was lost, wet leaves causing skiddage and Reg and I survived with nothing more than a few scrapes and bruises.

Lessons I have learned:
  • Wear hi-vis, it's ridiculous looking but makes a massive difference.
  • Leaves do not care about you, your new brakes or your welfare, they will still increase your braking distance considerably.
  • Traffic wardens will attempt to ticket drivers who have pulled over to see if you're ok.
  • Lying in the road is very embarrassing.
  • My handlebars are magnetically attracted to my inner thighs and determined to cause massive purple bruising therein.
  • I don't swear when under that kind of pressure.
  • The driver will be in shock and incredibly distressed.
  • Sometimes shit happens.

Friday, 6 November 2009

An enforced sightseeing tour

Reg and I were in Bermondsey last night and Reg had his first trip in a lift. We were off to see the lovely M. In between catching up on literally years of gossip I showed her the rudimentary basics of puncture repair and brakes. The fact is that when you first get a puncture it's horrible but if you at least know what it all looks like it's not so bad.

We headed home just before 9pm and, as in London you can see where you are if you're near the river, I decided London Bridge was our best bet. Once there I turned left and negotiated the various roads behind Waterloo. One of my greatest loves about cycling in London is that when you get a bit lost you can pull over, get off and get your bearings. I did that a couple of times.

Some nasty roadworks meant I ended up heading across Westminster Bridge towards Parliament. It was lit up and gorgeous. The one way system then meant that we went down Whitehall, passing Number 10 and watching as they started preparations for Remembrance Sunday. Before you could blink we were at Trafalger, fountains plumed in the dark and tourists' flashbulbs gave the impression of strobe lighting.

Left again and Buckingham Palace loomed ahead, a majestic and beautiful chocolate box, with handsome and watchful military guards standing outside.

Then I went up through Hyde Park corner, across the ugly but deliciously smooth new tarmac put there, presumably, for bikers. Into the park, shaking may head at the sheer selfishness of the ninjas who, without lights, appear in the inky gloom inches from your handlebars scaring the crap out of you. The new Marble Arch fountains were in full technicolor brilliance splashing audibly.

The romance ended there as I made my way through the back streets to Paddington to catch the train with Reg.

The roadworks could have been a pain and they did delay me somewhat but instead of grumpy I was thrilled, how much would tourists pay to see all that in one night?

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Fleecy trousers and bike envy

I wore my winter cruisers for the first time this morning and although I was a little on the warm side my legs were flying. I was zipping around and my knee doesn't hurt so I think I may well wear them again.

I'm popping to see a friend tonight. In return for dinner I'm giving a puncture repair tutorial and catching up with all the gossip. The fleecy leggings will come in useful on the ride home methinks.

I bumped into new boy J on my way in. We've worked together for ages but he's just started commuter cycling on a rather sexy-looking Trek. It's a proper roadie and is all drop handlebars and aerodynamic tubing. Reg looked almost scruffy in comparison.

I found myself drawn to the various clumps of crud that he's accumulated, overly conscious that he hadn't had a good clean in a while. The fact that one of his pedals clicks for some unknown reason at the moment, the fact that his acutely flat handlebars are filthy, all these and more were made all the more obvious by the presence of his new shiny rival.

Of course I compensated by speeding off into the morn leaving J with a string of red lights and the spectacle of me and my scruffy bike pedalling over the horizon.... hehehehhehehe

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Whitstable.... pictures of random things

The Woolwich ferry:

A handy bus stop as we wait while yet another p******* is repaired and a random stoppage in the dark:

Hurray, some nature (a few comedic members of the crew warned me against another bike-water interface, one was not amused):

The sea!

Whitstable.... soooo tiring

So on Friday night, before the lergy set in, I headed to Whitstable with the Friday night crew. The omens weren't good. It started weeing with rain as I left Paddington and cycled through Hyde Park. I get hot at the mere mention of a waterproof jacket and as I and a couple of other early birds took shelter under the Hyde Park Corner arch we were sceptical. More and more lights blinked towards us and soon a sizable number of regulars had arrived, including the lovely Andy on this:

Yes, it's a two-wheeled recumbent with a ghost on it. I knew it was there but on dark country lanes at 3am I defy anyone not to jump a little bit when it veers into view.

Anyhoo, we gathered and had the usual safety talk from Super Simon and swung onto our bikes. As we set off it stopped raining and I'm pleased to say it remained dry until the very end, when we pulled into Whitstable bay.

We were plagued by the p******* fairy even while still in London. One of the lovely regulars went over a beer bottle at London Bridge and tore a new tyre. He was visited twice more over the ride and our total for the whole ride was 10/11 depending on who you asked.

All this meant that the first half took far longer than it should have, but, on the plus side, I got to see where the Woolwich ferry is while chatting to the lovely Mike who had his bike rigged up like a Christmas tree. I know I keep saying lovely but they just are.

The air was cool and crisp with the full moon slowly revealed as the journey went on.

The cafe stop in Rochester was more than welcome and I have discovered that there's nothing quite like a fried egg baguette to perk you up. Having opened specially for us, the owners were a little put out when a couple of revolting teenagers turned up and tried to make trouble. In the end and irate female owner and the sight of 50 weary and lycra-clad bikers forced a retreat.

We headed into the countryside proper and it was beautiful. Empty fields and minimal traffic, cold clean air and good company. Bliss.

I was promised the phenomenon of 'misty sheep' at one point. Apparently, this time last year the mist was such that all you could see of the sheep were the tops of their heads. The mist had burned off by the very end but I did get the bleating from within the fog at one point.

As we arrived in the bay the rain returned in spitting form and the sight of bikes that meant 'Cafe stop!' was massively welcome. The final destination was a fabulous cafe with a large terrace to look out over the sea. It was too cold to sit out for me but a few hardened nutters sat out there just to say they had. A few even harder nutters demanded to be served beer when the clock reached 10am.

This was easily the most knackering ride I've done but my God it was fun, more pics to follow.

Rumours of my disappearance....

Apologies loyal fans, I've been very ill since Sunday and have only just rejoined the land of the living!

I shall post about the Whitstable ride ASAP!