Bolts, Plugs and Builders Nails

If you listen to some campaigners, our continental cousins enjoy cycling infrastructure that’s like sugar and spice and all things. My own experience is too limited to back that up, but it seems over here the infrastructure is, quite literally, built with bolts and plugs and builders nails.

Last week I blogged about the bizarre make-up of a recently resurfaced stretch of the Sustrans National Cycle Network. Last night, I got off the bike and I walked a couple of the resurfaced sections. I collected just over 900g of scrap metal including bolts, screws, nails, plugs (electrical and sink) and other stuff I’m not practical enough to know the use of. I left the glass, but I might go back and collect it, along with the bits of broken pottery and tiles, to make a mosaic…



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NCRA Southwick, a walk in the country

The verges are speckled yellow with flowering celandine and blossoming blackthorn bushes shine a brilliant white in the greening hedgerows, alive with the sound of songbirds. Beneath the trees dog’s mercury plants form a verdant carpet before the bluebells burst open. Yes, on a breezy April morning East Northamptonshire is, I’m sure, a lovely place for a countryside stroll. But not when you’re meant to be racing.

The Southwick race didn’t get off to a good start. I was in the third group and a small team of riders set a hard pace from the start. It’s something I’ve seen before at Southwick, but I was caught unawares by the force of this move. Down the hill, we turned left and picked up a strong tailwind. The leaders set a frantic pace and pulled our fracturing group along at 50kmph. An attempt at organisation was made, and I did a turn at the front, but it seemed like the lead riders weren’t interested in any coalition, they wanted a minority bunch and looked to have the power to do it.

Fellow club mate David H started with me but didn’t stay for long. We turned into a cross wind and then I too was dropped. For the next lap I kept two more dropped riders, working together, in sight. They were something to aim for and I held, gaining on the hill but dropping back in the tailwind.

Along the back straight a police car overtook just before a left turn. It accelerated hard out of the junction and coughed out a choking cloud of black exhaust. It hung in the air; I rode around it before the wind whipped it away.

A mile later and I saw the fourth group over my shoulder. Kettering John rode past with a hello Richard, my cue to jump on. I was absorbed into the bunch and sat in over the hill. On the other side the group worked and I did a few turns, but by the end of the third lap it was quite apparent there were a core of four riders pushing the group along. We had caught and dropped the two riders I had been following then caught and dropped a few more, Lewis from the club and starting in the 2nd group among them. My adopted group was thinning down too. When they had caught me I think they had numbered about 10, but as we started the last lap they were down to 6, plus me.

We were in the last half of the last lap and I started thinking about the finish. John had attacked, but the rider wearing number 1 had reeled him back. The lead group was out of sight, they had ridden well and deserved to fight for the win. The chasing groups, including St Neots’ David P and Joe, were nowhere to be seen. It looked like we would sprint for some minor placings together.

We crested the little kick, barely two kilometres from the finish and headed down the gnarly road back to Southwick. I followed a wheel and thumped into a pothole. My back wheel then mood deflated in quick succession.

That then is how I found myself traipsing along a frigging country lane in stupid cleats, pushing my bike, when instead, I should’ve been gunning my legs up a hill sprinting to a line across the road.

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Pursuit / Litany of ifs

I got home from work, changed then rode down to Staughton to join the club’s chain gang route. I timed it so that I would be ahead of the fast group. Warmed up I set a respectable pace keeping my average above 20mph. I expected to be caught, but I wanted to hold off the inevitable for as long as possible.

Villages along the B645 passed and I kept looking over my shoulder, but saw no pursuing group. I stopped for the traffic lights in Stonely but they didn’t see me caught. Up the climb to Hargrave, the road stretched ahead at the point of farthest view. In the distance I could see the flashing lights of a small bunch. I realised I had joined the chain gang between groups and the one ahead were giving my legs a little more impetus than the ones behind. I pushed a little harder, pursing them through Chelveston. They disappeared around a bend, then reappeared, a little closer. I looked behind, still no one there. I began to think, perhaps I could make the catch alone; perhaps I could beat the chasing group  to the roundabout where the route reverses direction and heads for home.

They made it to the roundabout before me but only just. Within a quarter of a mile I had caught them and as I did we crossed paths with the chasing group.

I rode through the front bunch. Some chased me down and we re-entered Chelveston together. On the climb out of the village I left them again, this time for good. I was a kid again and racing whether the chasers knew it or not.

Over the climb and I thought, if I can make it to Hargrave… I looked behind and saw lights in the distance, but I couldn’t tell who. If I could make it the water tower. Over my shoulder the sky flushed pink from the setting sun. If I could make it to the Deans bend. If became a litany in my mind chanted to the rhythm of the road, urging me forward.

If I could make it to Tilbrook, the lay-by and Kimbolton. If I could make it to Stonely and if the lights were green. Only they were red and took an age to change, but no bike lights came round the bend. If I could make it to Agden, then I could make it back to Staughton. Uncaught.

I pulled in by the Tavern. A Mark (I think) went by, followed by Steve and maybe Rob. about thirty seconds after I stopped the main bunch went through. Perhaps I won’t disgrace myself in the weekend race.

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Good Riddance to March with an Easter Sunday Ride

It feels like a while, truth be told it is a while, nearly a month since my road bike last left the garage. My hybrid at least has seen some off road tracks, but not often enough. Not nearly enough. I haven’t given my bike up for Lent, its just the way March has panned out. Family, work, stuff, the cold, a cold; it’s either been hard finding time for the bike, or, as easier option, not to find the time.

I got out on Easter Sunday for a thirty something mile ride over to my parents and I’m glad I did. Riding over to Kimbolton and onto the B660 I passed three groups from the club heading in the opposite direction, back to St Neots. They still remembered my face and I got some friendly hello’s. By Old Weston, the sun was breaking through the morning cloud and with no wind to hold me back the day was shaping up nicely.

Onwards and Winwick fields were dotted with head down scarecrows swinging metal detectors across the exposed earth. Further along and another group of detectorists were sweeping Gidding fields. Maybe they were rival clubs questing for hidden Saxon treasure troves beneath the Huntingdonshire mud (My entire knowledge of metal detectoring being informed by a BBC4 comedy)?

I crossed the A1, descending from the flyover into the flatness of the Fens. I could see smoke from the Whittlesey brickyards rising straight up into the air, beckoning me on for a rare wind free ride in the Fens.

The level crossing at Holme was down so I took a left to Farcet then a right through the birch woods of Holme Fen. The surface was as rough as old fen droves get, but no worse that I expected. Holme Lode came as a surprise. The broken surface ended abruptly with just a few stray stones marring a beautifully smooth and dark grey tarmac. I flew to Ramsey St Mary, then north to Pondersbridge for an excursion along Glassmoor Bank. Here I spooked a Red Kite, the first time I’ve seen one out in this part of the Fens. What it finds to eat in this arable desert I’ve no idea, but it was good to see.

It is Tuesday now, spring is here and the nights are drawing out. When I get home I think I might just go for a ride and forget about miserable, ride impoverished March.

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NCRA Keysoe, I chalked the line

I’ve always suffered from a bit of pre-race nerves and I guess that’s normal for any racer except the most gung ho. Promoting the club’s second road race in the NCRA I’ve found the race nerves have mutated into pre-race anxiety; you’ve got 60 odd competitors, plus commissaires and supporters turning up. That’s a lot of tea to provide.

Friday morning’s cloud broke in time for me to see the moon eclipse the sun into a brief, bright crescent. Once the day’s astronomical wonder was over, I drove off to collect the cycle event signs. With the car seats down, the new CTT monster boards squeezed into the boot. It was late morning and I was feeling peckish so, since I wasn’t racing, I picked up some donuts. They weren’t great; I compensated with a healthy quinoa salad and a spin around Grafham.

Equilibrium restored, I spent the evening with a glass of wine and the laptop, making sure the 20 odd club members helping out on the day knew the plan.

Saturday dawned and the warm sun I had enjoyed while riding around Grafham had been replaced by a cold northerly wind: ideal race conditions (if you’re not racing, that is). Later in the morning, I met up with David and Adrian to organise the signage. With an OS map laid out on the car bonnet they had a hasty briefing. I left confident that the signs were in good hands.

Next stop HQ via B&Q. I opened up on time with my mental schedule. Shortly after the first marshals and Mark, race commissaire for the day, arrived. The riders soon followed and the Keysoe village hall car park filled up. People were given last minute chores ahead of the marshal’s briefing and I went to tie up the chequered finish board. It was then that I noticed the direction signs opposite the HQ were pointing the wrong way. A miss-turn in last year’s race was embarrassing, a misdirection in this year’s…well. I called Adrian and David and they drove past just as I was asking where they were. The mistake was minor and the arrows were soon re-pointed.

L-R, Jake (race winner so bravado justified), Alisdair and Dan

L-R, Jake (race winner so bravado justified), Alasdair and Dan

Joe - last year's winner and not at all nervous being in scratch

Joe – last year’s winner and not at all nervous being in scratch

Shortly before 2pm, with red flags flying, the marshals dispersed to their assigned junctions. The race was in the commissiares’ hands and I just wanted to see the riders away on the road. I had one final job before the start – make sure Rowland, the NCRA organiser, had a cake set aside for later (he went for a coconut and cranberry flapjack. I hope he enjoyed it, it certainly looked tasty enough, but they had all gone when I got back).

At 2.20pm the first group of riders were on the road. 8 minutes later the last riders were away and the race was on.

A small group of spectators gathered at the finish line, by the Keysoe limit sign. At the end of the first lap riders from the first group off were the first ones through, but the other groups were not far behind; the last group having halved their eight minute deficit. The five St Neots riders, Jake, Dan, David P, Alasdair and Joe all looked comfortable in their groups.

Jake (on right) and juniors

Jake (on right) and juniors Joshua Roberts (Zappis RT) and Ben Hardy (Rutland Rouleur)

The circuit is just over 9 miles, so three laps were being raced. Shorter in total than other courses in the series, but not lacking in toughness, something the wind capably added to. At the end of the second lap I was ready with the bell. A good sized lead group had formed from the first three groups. Jake and a couple of juniors led the charge behind, but many other riders were falling off the pace. In a gap I chalked a straightish line across the road.

More spectators were lining the finish and an air of expectation grew. A mile down the road, you can see the summit of Mill Hill in Keysoe Row. All eyes were turned to it, scanning for the first race car to crest. When it did the finish line hushed and the excitement grew. I turned my back to the race, tablet aimed at the chalked line to video the finish. The lead car went by. Expectation then, “Go on Jake!” came the cry. I saw him flash by first and added my voice. A win for Jake Hennessey and St Neots CC. David and Joe came in 5th and 6th and Dan rounded off the top 19. Unfortunately Alasdair had the kind of race I can relate to…!

Overall a good day for the club. The race ran smoothly, last year’s teething problems were a thing of the past and my pre-race anxiety melted to a post-race buzz. Of course no race can happen without support, so a big thank you to the Commissaires, NCRA and all the club volunteers who made the race happen.

L-R, Simon (Flag waver), Chris (asst. judge), David (signs and proud father of Jake), Adrian (signs)

L-R, Simon (Flag waver), Chris (asst. judge), David (signs and proud father of Jake), Adrian (signs)

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NCRA Naseby, room for improvement

The problem with Kolsch, the local brew of Cologne, is not its strength but its size. Served in delicate narrow glasses, each round is a meagre 200cl serving. Fortunately the table staff were attentive. They sashyed between the packed beer halls with cleverly designed circular trays; the glasses, not filled to the brim as spillage would be messy, sit secure in shallow holes while the tray is held firm from a long central handle. Exhausted glasses are replaced and a biro’d tally on a beer mat updated, but you still lose count of how many you’ve had. So that was how I spent the weekend before my first race since crashing in May and given it was a stag weekend I wasn’t even going to try to be good and ignore the peer pressure. 

Parking in a Naseby field on race day I felt decidedly unprepared. There were four of us from the club. David H in the first group, Dan and I next and David P behind. 

On the start line and ours was a large group. We set off up a slight incline and Dan had immediate mechanical problems with his electronic shifters. I left him spinning furiously as he tried to keep up. 

As is the norm the pace was brisk. A couple of guys were content to do most of the work at the front, especially on the rough back section but once we were on the Sibertoft road things became a little more organised and about half of us started working together. I did my turns and felt stronger than I had expected, but on the exposed airfield, the strong wind started to inflict some damage. It came close to splitting the group and I think a lot of people rode hard then to stay in the sheltering bunch.

The second lap I found harder. Much harder. Having passed many stragglers from the first group we caught their main body ahead of the airfield. David H was still there, but I couldn’t find the reserves to push forward to join him. My initial strength was depleting rapidly. Finally my legs buckled against the wind and I was dislodged. 

David P’s group caught me a little later and I stayed with them for a few kilometres, hoping to get back to the main bunch, but again I couldn’t hack their pace and dropped off the back. 

At the start of the final lap I was solo, ahead I could see one rider. I had someone to aim for. I caught them at Sibbertoft and we worked well together to catch a third. We stayed together almost to the end when one of the other riders attacked on the final drag to the finish. The third rider was dislodged and I too was gapped by about 20m, but she didn’t have the strength to see it through. I caught her and finished ahead. 

It was about as good as I was expecting and there is definitely room for improvement. The wedding which followed the stag weekend is out of the way too, so canapés and bubbly can’t be an excuse of the next race…

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Commute, year 2045

Writing the following post was prompted by a tweet I made earlier expressing my hope that driverless cars will soon become a reality. Having been knocked off my bike this week, there is a big part of me which thinks that, on the road, being around computers  will ultimately be a hell of a lot safer than you lot! So roll on the Rise Of The Machines (at least at the expense of people-driven cars).

The pod arrived promptly at 6.55am, just as it does every other week day. It waited by the kerb, the rim lights gleaming in the pre-dawn light, emphasising the vehicles aerodynamic profile. I left the house, coffee in hand, and walked across our empty drive – we’re having it ripped up next week and replaced with a flowerbed.

The pod sensed my approach and opened the wing door. I always feel a bit like Michael Knight then, except longer in the tooth. Much longer in the tooth. I climbed into the single seat, my back to the direction of travel and stretched out my legs. Addison, the pod’s persona, knew from my profile settings not to greet me – I never did get past Arnie’s encounter with Johnny Cab in Total Recall, even though the film is 55 years old now. Thinking about it, I felt the same about Siri and Cortana and I’m still self conscious around Pip, the house persona. The door closed to the barely audible purr of hidden motors while I rummaged around in my satchel for the paperback novel I’m reading. Yes, I know it’s old fashioned, but I’m of the last generations before the Digital Natives and I still like the feel of a good book when I’m reading. Obviously I’ve got a pad for everything else though.

The fuel cell pushed the pod forward in near silence. It was almost 7am and I asked Addison to put on Today. The headlines reported more God-bothering fundamentalists still trying to drag the world back to the dark ages. I asked Addison to turn it off until Thought for the Day; I must admit I do find I’m enjoying the show’s philosophy segment more in my old age.

The pod joined the Great North Road, heading south to London. I only noticed because of the slight pressure of force as the pod accelerated from the country lanes to 150kmph. Signals between it and other pods on the already busy road allowed us to join seamlessly with the flow of traffic.

A couple of neighbouring vehicles pinged me to see if I wanted to join their game. I looked out of the window at one that had pinged. A youngish lad in his thirties smiled back, but the immersive combat game flashing in the background didn’t appeal and besides I felt he was taking the piss. I declined and told Addison to be in privacy mode; I wish I could set it as a permanent mode and even then I still can’t turn off the social media stream.

In fifty minutes I arrived, predictably on time, at the Kings Cross Travel Hub. The old trains which I used to travel here on were 10 minutes quicker, but then again, with the pod, I no longer have to get to the station, park and hang around on a platform. Overall my journey is quicker. The pod deposited me by the Boris bike rank – it’s amazing that the name has stuck, despite him being the worst PM in living memory.

Next year I’ll be 70. I’ll finally be able to retire and get my state pension, but I think I’ll miss the peaceful solitude of my pod commute. At least we gave up trying to junk the NHS in the twenties, so I’ve still got my health and my bike will keep me out of my wife’s hair.

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