Thursday, 31 May 2012

Project 330

Back in early January I blogged about cycling objectives for 2012, and originally this one, ‘Project 330’, didn’t feature. It was only after an exchange with @MartynBroVVn that it was added. At first I wasn’t sure, and at the time it seemed like a tall order, but what the hell, it was something to aim for.

On the face of it, ‘Project 330’ was simple.  Ride 100km in 3 hours and 30 minutes. No big deal to many I’m sure, but it’s a fair step up from our usual sort of pace. Having said that though, riding a few time trails has proved to me that if you focus entirely on how fast you’re going, you can surprise yourself.

Maintaining a high average speed needs the right sort of terrain, and ideally the flatter the better. The northern half of Shropshire is just about perfect. Fast, flat(ish), and blessed with lightly trafficked and well surfaced roads. The chosen route was a 50km loop that would take us from Telford up to Hodnet, then across to Shrewsbury before retunrning via High Ercall. The advantage of using a loop being that it would give us a good idea of how we were going at the half way mark.

With the target set, and a route decided, all we needed to do was to work out the when. After not much deliberation we decided to use one of our normal Tuesday evening rides, and the date was set for Tuesday 29th May.

As I rolled gently down to meet Mart as his place after work I was more than a little apprehensive, and wasn’t at all confident that we’d succeed. On the plus side though, it was a beautiful night, and we certainly wouldn’t be able to blame the conditions if we failed.

With the bare minimum of pre-ride faffage completed, we clipped in and headed off towards the start point of ‘Project 330’. As we turned onto the A442 and headed towards the start point, Mart and I wished each other good luck, and I hit the start button on the Garmin. There was no going back now.

We soon settled into a fast pace, and were working well together sharing turns on the front. As we passed the Creamery and Waters Upton I was feeling pretty good in spite of the ever so slight headwind that nagged away at us. Turning south west towards Shrewsbury, the headwind left us, and the pace picked up. My confidence was rising.

Haughmond Hill, just to the east of Shrewsbury was the one potential blot on the horizon, and on the approach our speed dropped as we climbed up and over it. The pay back was worth it however, the reward being a fast and largely downhill run across to High Ercall. The final part of the lap was another gradient friendly stretch through Shawbirch and back towards the start point.

As I checked our progress, I was a little shocked if I’m honest. Lap 1 was completed in 1 hour and 31 minutes which meant we were well ahead of schedule. Things were looking good.

The headwind seemed to have picked up a little as we headed back towards Hodnet, but perhaps it was fatigue as much as anything which was slowing us. Our pace was still high though, and I think we were both beginning to realise that we could do it. The rest of the second lap was all about hanging on and going as fast as we could for as long as we could.

My mind wandered and I began to contemplate just how much we might actually beat our target by, and although we still had 25km to go I decided to raise the bar.  Our new target was 3:15. As Shawbirch approached for the final time it was time for one last big effort to get us over the line.

100km was up and stopped the clock. 3:11 and some small change! Although slower than the first, our second lap was still ridden at over 30km/h. I was genuinely quite shocked at just how much we’d beaten our target time by.

Malted Recovery Beverage Consumption followed in the Malt Shovel, and we both reflected on our night’s work. Absolutely awesome was the verdict, and we took a moment to tick off another of the Society’s targets for 2012!

Saturday, 26 May 2012

The Summer Solstice Metric Century Ride

When: Tuesday 19th June 2012 – Finishing in the White Hart at 10!

Where: Shifnal

Why: Why Not?

To mark the longest day of the year the society has decided to combine our two favourite pastimes, cycling and drinking beer.

For a variety of reasons we can’t actually do it on the 21st, so we’ve reverted to the usual Tuesday night slot instead.

Most rides work off a start time, but the need for malted recovery beverage consumption changes things slightly. Instead the aim is to be at the White Hart in Shifnal for 10pm. A group will be rolling away from HQ at 180V sharp, but you’re free to leave earlier or later if you think you’ll need more or less time to cover the course and still make it to the pub for 10.

I’m finalising the route at the moment, but a loose plan is to head east into Staffordshire and cross the Chase before turning back towards home through Rugeley. The return leg will take us across to Newport before finishing up at the pub.

What better way to enjoy a summer’s evening?

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The Wrekin

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The 5 at the Top!

Situated in the northern panhandle of the Shropshire Hills, the Wrekin dominates the surrounding landscape. It’s a feature of many of the society's rides, although more often than not it serves as a reference point, giving us a vague idea of how far from home we are.

However, over a bottle of two of vin rouge, the newly energized off road chapter of the society decided it was time to tackle this ‘hill’ on two wheels.  The Wrekin has a lot to offer for cyclists, from the fairly testing ascent of the main climb to the summit, to banzai downhill tracks which disappear off down the main ridge of the hill. As a ‘wheels on the ground’ sort of off road cyclist I'm more interested in the challenge of the ascent than the descent, and in particular riding it ‘clean’ with no dabs.

Three of us lined up to tackle the ride. Mart was keen to get some more mud on his newly acquired Scott Scale, Scott had dug out his trusty Stumpjumper, and I was on the ever versatile Orange 5.

We met at Mart’s, and after the routine pre-ride faffage, we were soon off and rolling. As we made our way through Wellington, the target was clear; the Wrekin looms large over this town. The climbing soon starts as you turn right off Holyhead Road and cross the M54. The shoulder of the Ercall offers some singletrack as rest bite from the road that passes the Buckatree Hotel and delivers you to the bottom of the Wrekin proper.

I’ve ridden the Wrekin a few times over the years, and like any climb I know well, I tend to break it into logical sections. The first of the three sections i break the Wrekin into takes you from the start of the main track up the hill to the hairpin bend just past the ‘Halfway House’. It starts steep, very steep, and it becomes clear why the 22T chainring was invented! The surface is good, but the water drainage channels keep you on your toes. As the gradient eases slightly, there’s a chance to take a breather before you turn right up and past the rather inappropriately named building mentioned above.

Climbing hills can often play tricks on the mind, and confronted with what I saw next, I was convinced it was happening again. Up ahead was a very fit looking chap, standing over a beer barrel! A few words confirmed that I wasn’t imagining things, and that he was carrying it to the top! Absolutely insane, but chapeau to the guy for doing it.

One sector down, two to go! The first half of the second sector sees the gradient, although always steep, ebb and flow slightly as you slowly wind your way up through the trees.  It rears up again as you approach a false brow.  Once over it you break free of the tree cover, the last few minutes suddenly seem worthwhile. Visibility wasn’t great, but the views across towards Shrewsbury and beyond went some way to taking my mind off the fact that my lungs were trying to escape from by chest.

You can even grab a few gears back as you make the most of the next hundred or so metres of flat. However, the view ahead makes it quite clear that you’ve still some way to go. This is probably the steepest part of the climb, and the surface is at its worst at this point. Much of it's very poor concrete, although if you hug the left side there’s a much better single track option to be had. Head down, it’s time to just keep it spinning as I inch my way towards the second false brow of the climb.

Into the last sector, and although the gradient eases slightly, this contains the biggest obstacle to riding the climb clean. It comes in the form of a rough and rocky channel which runs between two raised shoulders, and it’s the only way to the top. The last time I attemped this climb, it had me off. This time however I was not going to let it beat me. As I approached I took some time to try and determine the best way through this channel, but it was clear that the best way would be to accelerate into the section hard, and to hope that my momentum carried me though. For a moment I thought it had beaten me again, but after one last effort I was through! Plain sailing from here on in, and I quickly grabbed some gears back and headed for the trig point at the top! Sur la Plaque.....

The View from the top is quite simply stunning. Across the Gorge in one direction, the Shropshire Hills to the South, and the wide open North Shropshire plain behind you.
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shifnalcyclingsociety at the Top!

All that was left now was the descent. The bit I enjoy about the Wrekin least if I’m honest. I think Martyn’s knees would probably agree….

A great ride though on a lovely evening, and well worth the effort!

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Not Long Now.....

@RourkeBikes has just tweeted that my frame is off the jig! Woo Bloody Hoo!

Jason really has done a fantastic job of keeping me up to date with how the build is going, from early pictures of a collection of tubes on his bench, through to close ups of the signature tube tube wrapover.

The last week or so has made the whole waiting process worthwhile. From dropping off the custom made headbadge, to going over the build spec with Gareth. I've had the chance to double check the spec, and to make last minute adjustments to make sure that it's exactly what i'm after.

As i've said before anyone can walk into a bike shop and buy a Dogma/Venge/Madone, but it will in no way match the experience of having something build just for you, by a real craftsmen.

If you want to get an idea of what you're getting if you go for a Rourke, check out this video.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Brian’s Last Stand – Going Out in Style!

With the arrival of my new bike imminent, it seems only right to mark the retirement of ‘Brian’. Not before however, one last epic ride, and a chance to enjoy once more all that’s made him such a part of so many memorable rides over the last 2 years or so.

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Brian on top of The Long Mynd

Christened ‘Brian’ by my eldest daughter for obvious reasons, it all started with a chance conversation with a friend of mine. “I’ve got an old Rourke frame you can have if you want it” said Simon, “but it’s in a fairly bad way”. When I walked through the door with a rusty, and rather sorry looking frame over my shoulder after one of our regular Tuesday night rides, Mrs L was not so amused.

But after a re-furb back at Rourke’s in Stoke, ‘Brian’ was restored to rude health, and the rest is history. I’ve completed some of the finest rides of my life on board ‘Brian’. From the 21 bends of the legendary Alpe D’Huez, to our very own Tour of Shropshire. I’ve ridden him across Wales, as well as completing my longest ever ride on him. It’s not all been good though, and earlier in the year we came a cropper in a ford just outside Cressage. My superficial wounds soon healed, but Brian was left with a smashed shifter lever that well beyond repair. The culmination of his time as my #1 bike though would almost certainly be ‘The Shropshire Hills English Cogal’ that I organized in conjunction with Velominati. A day that had everything you could ever want from riding a bike.

So back to the final ride. With a family and friends holiday booked down in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, it was obvious. Whilst the kids and my eternally understanding VMH travelled down in the car, I’d use the opportunity to ride there. With a route plotted and the afternoon secured off work, it seemed the perfect way to enjoy Brian for one last time.

The first 50km or so were on familiar roads as I headed South from Shifnal towards Kinver and Bewdley. From here on in, it was all new, and I wasn’t really sure what to expect. It was certainly a hilly one, and the 20% climb away from the ford(I used the bridge!) was a particularly lung busting section. Brian, as has been typical of our time together, soaked it all up. Quiet lanes and picturesque villages passed and the views across the Worcestershire roads were spectacular. 100km passed and I was in the home straight, surely. One last effort was required to get up and over the Forest of Dean, before being rewarded with a fantastic last 10km or so as I dropped off towards Parkend where we were staying for the weekend.

I rolled into the campsite and rode the last few metres on Brian with mixed emotions. On one hand I’d be sorry to see him go, but I was sure the new bike would be a fitting replacement.

Thankyou Brian!