Thursday, April 26, 2007

Buriton Betrayal

With John using one of the lamest excuses in TCA history; “I have to pick up a camper van”, and Jon’s bike hamstrung by a succession of technical faults, with parts on order, it was looking bleak for the long-awaited trip to Buriton. However, Jon resorted to taking his ancient rigid bike out of mothballs and, having tweaked the brakes and pumped up his tyres, arrived in Hambledon with his day-glo monstrosity (below).

With more mileage than usual to cover this evening we rushed to get ready, donning our usual garb and making last-minute adjustments to equipment and lights. We were out of the house before 6.30pm. At about 6.40pm we were in a lay-by, Jon’s bike upside down to attend to the problem of his rear tyre rubbing against the frame. Was it going to be another one of ‘those’ evenings we thought to ourselves as Jon undid the well-worn nuts with one of the various adjustable spanners which have to accompany an evening out on his ‘old school’ bike.

With Jon’s pedaling efficiency vastly increased following the pit-stop our average speed increased considerably: Al’s mapping software suggested that we would only be home in reasonable time for dinner if we maintained an average speed of over 10 mph and we had the formidable Butser Hill ahead of us. As we made our way up past the Bat & Ball and up to the ridge of the South Downs Al supplied the appropriate ‘encouragement’ to Jon “Come on you miserable worm, the average speed is only 8.7 mph!” or “Step it up you lousy piece of…” you know the kind of thing.

It was raining lightly when we left Hambledon but the evening cleared offering magnificent views down the Meon Vally from Butser Hill – we could trace the return route at the foot of the downs and also see the second ascent through the Queen Elizabeth Country Park across the valley ahead. The descent of Butser Hill was terrific although we were both rattled around a bit more than usual as we longed for our plush suspension bikes. With 30 minutes in hand before our scheduled appointment at Buriton we steeled ourselves for the final serious ascent of the evening from the visitor’s centre.

Joining the road for the descent into the village we were soon pulling our bikes into the garden of one of the TCA’s favorite pubs (curiously we had never cycled here before though), the Five Bells. Knowing we would have had the full endorsement of Tortoiseshell we ordered two pints of Badger’s Tanglefoot and waited for our rendezvous.

This had been a ride several weeks in the planning, conceived during the recent Boy’s Weekend. Our contact, in the blogosphere known only as ‘Sloppy Porridge Maker’ (SPM), was to cycle the relatively short distance from his home in Petersfield and join us for a couple of beers. Imagine our disgust as the familiar form of our acquaintance emerged, not in the saddle but from the comfort of his Landrover Explorer! The excuse provided was so tenuous I struggle to remember it… something to do with work. Shame.

Sloppy Porridge Maker (identity withheld for fear of retribution),
Jon and Al enjoy a pint at the Five Bells, Buriton

We shared a quick beer with SPM and tried to hide our distain as best we could. SPM vowed to plan things a little better and cycle next time. Nevertheless we drank our pints swiftly, made our excuses and left the muggle to his own devices, only to see him briefly as his Chelsea tractor overtook us on the road out of Buriton spewing it’s carbon dioxide as it went; ‘next time’ indeed.

Knowing that we had tackled the most serious climbs and that the rest of the route was road-based Jon and Al settled back into the saddle for a leisurely ride down the meandering country lanes towards Frogmore and East Meon. We stopped for a second beer at Ye Olde George as a reward for keeping the average speed above the critical level. More Badger beer to choose from but we plumped for Tanglefoot again as we sat in the pub garden and enjoyed the cool, clear evening.

A toast to absent friends

Suitably reconstituted we headed back towards home with a final climb over the downs and a speedy down-hill approach to Hambledon. We made it home in good time; perfect time as Tee took a delicious home-made lasagna out of the oven. Jon and Al both felt that the route was really worthwhile, of an ideal length with top-class pubs and reluctantly agreed we would indeed give SPM one last chance in due course.

Route Map (click to enlarge):

Elevation Profile:

Speed Profile:

(Posted by: Al)

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Return to West Marden

On a friday night, not a usual day for a TCA ride, we all met up at Ad and Ju's former home at Nyewood, South Harting. After a few running repairs to Jons bike, another flat tyre and adjustments to his chain, we waited round for Julie who had travelled back from her new home in the west country, some place beginning with a D. She had been left to her own devizes and was late, something to do with catching the cat and putting her in the car, (I think that I got that right) we left just about before 7. The hardcore couple of Scott and Sophie had already arrived in their Tandem from Petersfield. We had not forgotten the route and stormed away apart from Jon down through Nyewood, outskirts of South Harting and along West Harting Down. The missing link in Jons bike chain was playing havoc though as he could not engage the higher gears so the pedaling was fast and furious in order to try and catch up with the others.

Coming down from West Harting Down, there was a gradual meandering down hill through small farms, Ladyholt, Eckensfield and Hucksholt farm and then onto a small section of road. Unfortunately, we met a ramble of amateur mountain bikers in various guises littering our way ahead. One chap had a broken chain. Jon was in no mood to engage in offering advice and it looked like the chap could do with the exercise in walking his bike back home. We quickly sped past them and then cycled down and up a field up to Robin Wood. The weight of the Scott and Sophie Tandem had no problem in dropping down and up this field but for the rest of us the going on the grass was tougher.

After a pleasant ride through the wood, we cycled onto open downland and admired the wild flowers, Cowslips at Horseley farm, and then sped towards the West Marden. The sleeping policemen present along this track in past rides had been removed which was a shame. They had provided entertainment in previous rides in gaining lift off on the downhill. Ade still thought of doing his crazyhorse bmx antics again but thought better of it. Once at the pub, we ordered the Timothy Taylor Landlord, pissy lager for Julie and a fruitjuice with a dainty pink umbrella for Sophie. We had an interesting conversation about partners nicknames, oddities, etc which it is best not to go into here suffice to say that we should congratulate Juls and Ade on their engagement.

From Left: Scott, Sophie, Ad, Jon, Julie
(Necking drinks without even a pause to toast absent friends?! Ed.)

In supping up Juls tried to offload her pissy lager but there were no takers. At this point, Sophie tried to impress with a war wound experienced through an altercation with a door at the pub. (Sorry Sophi,e the drawing of blood has to be through an official off on an active duty to count for the purposes of TCA membership and in large quantities)!

We then cycled up towards Locksach Farm with Ade in the lead and soon were approaching the gully between Harting Down and Beacon Hill. We took the gradual ascent up the gully taking the higher route and as per usual had to circumvent the gate. By now it was getting dark and we undertook one of my least favourite rides down the Devil's Toilet down off the Downs towards Telegraph Lane. As per usual, Julie and Jon took it carefully negotiating exposed holed out tree roots which had the unfortunate knack of capturing your back wheels. Scott and Sophie and Ade just bombed down. We got home to Nursted and much to our surprise had a welcome meal prepared by Ade's mum on the hoof. The pizza, garlic bread and a noodle creation made to a Mathews family secret recipe went down very well.

(Posted by: Jon)

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Missing Link

It has been some time since an evening out with the TCA has been blighted by technical problems and descended into farce. After years of experience we have all by now procured the relevant tools and equipment to sort out most common problems on the hoof. Tonight we yet again found that only a thin line divides success and, more common in the case of the TCA, failure.

The evening started well: John and Al arrived in good time at Jon’s who, with a week off work to peruse the map, had devised that most exciting of prospects – a new route! We planned an assault on the Trundle again but bearing west instead of east to take in the hills above
Chichester. The glorious weather continued with a mild, sunny evening – perfect conditions; it felt like we hadn’t had rain for weeks.

Ready in record time we headed out of the city on the familiar route towards Goodwood motor racing circuit’s perimeter track. Jon however had problems engaging the correct gear on his rear cassette, the chain slipping with every revolution. Jon pulled up for a diagnosis and we spotted that one of the links had twisted. ‘No problem’ we thought, whip that bad-boy out and replace the dodgy link using the spare connecting links we routinely carry (above, left); something we’ve done plenty of times.

John brandished his spanking brand new-fangled multi-tool like a weapon but we could not figure out how to use the chain tool. Al deferred to the old technology and using the more basic version had the offending link out in record time. Like a well-oiled formula one team Jon was already standing by with the connecting link… so far so good… but no matter how much brute force Jon applied to the pins on the connecting link they just would not fit through the two ‘eyes’ in the opposing ends of the chain. The conclusion was obvious - for some reason we had the wrong sized link, didn’t we? It was these links we used on Ad’s bike when he snapped a chain on the Quantocks, wasn't it? Was Jon’s chain the culprit? The only thing for it was a mercy-dash to Halfords about a mile away. Al drew the short straw and remounted with the twisted link, the spare connecting pin and ten quid.

The grease monkies at Halfords spotted the problem immediately – we had a connecting link for a 5/6 speed chain; we needed a link for a 9 speed chain. With the new links in hand and down only £2.99 Al sped back, humming the theme from Damnbusters, to his stranded compatriots. Somewhat belatedly John exclaimed that he had now figured out how his new-fangled chain tool worked, as Al ripped open the new packed of connecting links, and Jon aligned the pins and… these ones didn’t fit either! We were flummoxed: The only thing for it was for John and Al to continue alone while Jon walked his bike to Halfords for closer inspection. The remaining two decided to curtail the original route and do the familiar run to the Fox Goes Free.

John had his first taste of the punishing haul up Clay Pit Lane towards the trundle and his first taste of the routine humiliation which often seems to go hand-in-hand with being a member of the TCA, as we were easily overtaken by a overweight casual cyclist on a cheap mountain bike wearing shell-suit bottoms, seemingly putting very little effort into climbing the hill. Eventually we reached the top where we had decided we would call Jon to catch up on his progress. Al noticed he had missed a call and on dialing his voicemail number had a message from Jon “My chain’s fixed! I have set off around the route in reverse so I’ll meet you halfway round somewhere”. Great! We were back in business. It then occurred to John and Al to wonder whether Jon had heard their discussion about the revised route: Was he on the original plan to the west, or behind us climbing the trundle? Al called back but got no answer so the Trundle pair metaphorically tossed a coin and decided that Jon was on the original route. Fortunately, just as they were about to proceed Jon called back to explain his was on the Goodwood perimeter track (new route) and it was then decided to meet at the Selsey Arms, West Dean (Su857 124): Jon would circumvent the Trundle, Al and John would descend to the west.

Al (
Harvey’s Sussex Bitter) and John (Guinness) enjoyed a leisurely pint while they waited. Jon arrived, sweating profusely after his gate-strewn thrash up the valley, and nearly downed his pint of bitter in one. The map was studied again and the decision taken to return directly to Lavant. Meanwhile John explained the mystery: The twisted link which we had removed was on an ‘inner plate’ link (see diagram below) leaving two ‘outer plate’ eyes to join. However, the spare connecting links are designed to join ‘inner plate’ eyes (incidentally it is usually the ‘outer plates’ which break when one suffers a broken chain). Simply by removing another link the grease monkeys had managed to expose two ‘inner plates’ to join using the 9-speed connecting link.

The weakest Link

Jon suggested a change from our usual stop, The Royal Oak, and after some head scratching eventually found the alternative Earl of March (SU857 082) which benefits from a nice (patio heater-free) garden which seemed quite popular with other bikers. More Sussex Bitter, more Guinness under a gibbous moon on a star-lit night, a laugh over our misfortune, a game of ‘name the blog posting’, and all was well… until we realised that Jon’s rear tyre had gone down.

A toast to absent friends, The Earl of March

Rather than patch the inner-tube up we decided to pump the tyre up as it was, but the pump Jon inherited from Billy-Bob wasn’t really up to the task as Jon and Al took turns to inflate the tyre: Queue much merriment and double-entendres from John. As usual Billy-Bob had cut some corners and bought a cheap and nasty pump but the situation was ameliorated by Al’s luxury Topeak ‘Master Blaster Pocket Rocket’ (admittedly bought primarily because of the name).

Jon attends to his ailing bike

Jon limped home on his semi-inflated tyre and cooked a magnificent spaghetti bolognese for the boys. Left with an average speed for the ride not much higher than walking pace (left), not for the first time the TCA was left reflecting on it’s incompetence.

Route Map (click to enlarge):

Elevation Profile:

Speed Profile:

(Posted by: Al)

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Monday, April 16, 2007


The TCA website celebrates it's first full year in existence this month with the latest posting (below). Why not take this opportunity to cast your eye over the archive (see links on right) and read about our first ride blogged on April 6th 2006 amongst other adventures. Why not nominate your favorite posting so far in the comments page?

We are most grateful for the support, comments and encouragement from our band of loyal readers. If you have not joined us before then why not make a resolution to take a ride with us before the next anniversary?

There will be a TCA delegation at the following events over the summer so put the dates in your diary and join us there:

45km Specialized Challenge Series, Staunton Park (Havant)
Sunday 3rd June 2007

55km City of Chichester International Challenge
Sunday 15th July 2007

The Chichester Challenge is somewhat of a regular feature in the TCA calendar; you might get a flavour of the event by reading the posting of last year's event.

(Posted by: TCA)


Saturday, April 14, 2007

Weekend at Afan Forest Park

Afan Forest Park covers an area of 11,000 hectares and lies to the south of the Breacon Beacons in Wales. Most of this is woodland and is part of the 30,000 hectare Valleys Forest, the largest urban forest in Europe. The Forest Park is a popular destination for walking, cycling, orienteering and camping. We deliberately chose a campsite that allowed open fires to get the true outdoor camping experience. Billybob will be pleased to hear we successfully utilized the Swiss-fire starter on numerous occasions – Ray Meares style!

Back to the biking - Afan Forest Park is renowned for its dedicated mountain bike trails and its twisty, rooty, rocky and in places wildly exposed single tracks which are the enthusiasts (that’s us!) dream. What they say: "The trails here have been carved out of hillsides into 4 world class mountain biking trails; ‘Penhydd’, ‘The Wall’, ‘Skyline’ and ‘White’s Level’, boasting over 100 km of single track heaven" (below, click to enlarge).

Our weekend got off to a spectacular start - the morning dawned bright and clear and we all emerged from our tents to find a campfire roaring and the kettle on thanks to Charlie-man! After a hefty breakfast to fortify us for the day ahead we travelled to the much anticipated start of the Penydd Trail. We turned up with expectations of a challenging and adrenaline pumping ride - and that’s exactly what we got! We started off on an up hill fire track; Sophie and Scott on a tandem, veterans of the trail. Charlie-girl, Jenny, Jess, Charile-boy and Ed (all Namibian Dustbadgers and virgin TCA riders) had dusted off their bikes for the occasion. TCA regualrs Jon, Ad and Jules also made the trip (below).

With S and S in the lead we started the slow incline up the first part of the trail with spectacular views over the forest. The going was hard, the weather hot and the pace slow. Riding with S and S, Julie had a lone biker in her sights and took off to overtake him, only to find on the way past that he was middle aged and overweight, no points there then! After a refreshing break at one of the corners the crew took off again this time with Charlie and Jen in the lead.

The Terrible Tandem

The up-hill seemed to go on forever – Jon was in his element and once the top was reached we were more than ready for the first downhill stretch - aptly named Desolation. Jess, Jen and Charlie-girl took a shortened route to the top of ‘a ridge too far’. The rest took the single track by storm, S and S in the lead, then Charlie-man then A.D. Ed, anticipating getting some serious speed up, hung back to give himself some space and Julie brought up the rear, having no hope in hell of catching up with Evil Kinevil Ed.

Near the bottom of the track A.D called out a warning to Ed. This was interpreted as ‘if you speed up you can jump it!’ and E.D came flying down the hill, faster than a speeding bullet, and slammed, full speed, into the ground. Barely pausing for breath he was back up and on his bike before the rest of us could recover from the shock.

We met up with the others at the top of the ridge and tackled the first technical section of track – a jaw clenching, adrenaline pumping descent littered with switchbacks, rocks and tree roots. Charlie-man, always prepared, had a mini cam on his helmet and filmed the dangerous descent. It was during this section that Julie’s bike branded her with a classic chain mark after she misjudged a section of bank. Blood was drawn but unfortunately none vial-ed in order that the official TCA membership form could be signed in blood by the two founding members (who, coincidentally, were both absent from this particular outing).

More uphill ensued and before we knew it we were at the top of the next downhill section. This was technically easier than the previous descent and was enjoyed by all, most especially Jess who loved the tight and twisty singletrack through Side Winder. We had a breather at the bottom, grinning widely after the rocky, rollercoaster ride.

It was discovered that Jen’s water bottle had become dislodged during the arduous, arm-jarring descent. A.D bravely volunteered for the task after a rider came down and told us that it was only 100 yards up the track. The boys really got into the spirit of the ride, and took off down Dead Sheep Gulley, racing round the corners to keep up with the terrible tandem, descending at breakneck speed.

Ad's desperate attempt to impress the executive committee.

We went up and over one more hill before coming to a favourite of Stu’s – the river crossing. The descent to the stream saw A.D tip head over heals over the handlebars, but not into the drink. After evidence of blood was produced it was decided he too probably had now attained membership to the TCA . The going was relatively straight forward back to the car park and it was a happy group that pulled up to the cars, ready for lunch and a break!

(Posted by: Julie)

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Attack of the Jo(h)ns

A return to Hambledon this week and by the time we were assembled all were champing at the bit to get under way. Al and Jon (without an 'h') were joined by John (with an 'h') - communication with the rest of the group would at least be simple for Al. For John (with an 'h'), who has previously had a brush with the TCA on a day-time excursion, this would be the first taste of an evening ride. We settled for the usual route via Soberton and Newtown to introduce our latest recruit to a ‘regular’ ride. It was the first evening of the summer season officially deemed ‘shorts weather’ (although 'baggies' rather than the unsightly lycra variety is the TCA apparel of choice).

The Jo(h)ns

We’d enjoyed a sustained period of dry sunny weather for a week or more which had really dried the tracks out so progress was fast and descents were sure. We got to the White Lion without incident and as usual Jon (without an 'h') and Al ordered pints of ‘Palmers 200’. John (with an 'h') had a ½ pint of fizzy lager – he has much to learn. It made a pleasant change drinking outside in the evening sun rather than huddling inside by the fire defrosting! After asking for help with the customary photo (below) we made our way round the corner to the disused railway line.

A toast to absent friends, The White Lion

Al hung onto Jon (without an 'h')'s wheel and got a tow from the slipstream as he used his long levers to propel himself to top speed on the hard-packed surface. John (with an 'h') however was new to this trick and got somewhat left in the wake. Jon (without an 'h') and Al got to the infamous climb up the embankment in what felt like record time and John (with a 'h') caught up in a couple of minutes. The rules of the TCA’s Railway Embankment Challenge (as described before here) were explained to John (with an 'h') before Al took what was to be a successful attempt on the first pass. Jon (without an 'h') went next but was caught out on the tricky first bend.

Jon's familiar walk of shame

John (with an 'h') followed but, having never seen the course before, took a wrong turn into the undergrowth. Jon (without an 'h') took advantage of the three attempts allowed on any one night but could not break his duck. Better luck for John (with an 'h') though who made it all the way to the top on only his second attempt. Jon (without an 'h') looked as sick as a parrot as John (with an 'h') celebrated wildly.

John makes mincemeat of the
Railway Embankment

Up through the Forest of Bere then, the tricky but familiar (freshly sanded) descent before calling in at the Traveler’s. We were surprised to see the outside rear bar open for the first time (below) – a sure sign that summer’s on it’s way.

Al, Jon (without an 'h) and John (with an 'h')
'in' the Traveler's Rest outside bar

Green King Abbott and more fizzy stuff was ordered and the ride dissected before the meandering ride home via the country lanes. A late treat was the sight of little owl flying across in front of the riders before a dinner of chilli con carne in front of Hotel Babylon on the telly.

Route Map (click to enlarge):

Elevation Profile:

Speed Profile:


(Posted by: Al)

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Titchfield Two Take Trundle Trig Trip

We ventured out at about 18.15 after a cup of tea and discussion of a slight variation to the normal route to tackle the regular circuit taking in the Goodwood estate and Charlton - we finally figured the good weather and daylight would make a sufficient change. Whilst sipping our tea I also took the opportunity to reassure Al that my recent rear-end problems were by now completely resolved. We cycled along Westhampnett Road, through the debris at the back of the crematorium and through the Homebase car park (Jon takes us to all the best places! Ed.), then along Madgewick Lane and Stocks Lane, the real start of the off-road route. Normally it is rutted, muddy and slow-going but today it was much easier, if a bit bumpy, due to the prolonged dry weather. Al's solo efforts the previous weeks paid off and he was soon ahead past the Royal Oak in East Lavant.

Jon nears the top of Chalkpit Lane

It was a warm, sunny evening and we soon ran into the inevitable fair-weather cyclists, horse riders and walkers, as we climbed Chalkpit Lane... where were they all back in February? I was struggling with a cold caught in Wales the previous week and our normal positions on the ascent were reversed, with Al pulling some distance ahead. I realized how Al had felt the time before when he complained about having ridden on only one lung.

At the top of Chalkpit lane we normally traverse Trundle Hill but tonight we fancied a little diversion: We easily located the gravel track up towards the Trundle itself, an iron-age hill fort the marked with a trig point. I remarked that it looked quite easy but soon regretted such a comment; the back wheel of my bike was spinning in the gravel as it lost traction. Eventually we got on top and rode along the ancient battlements until we dropped down onto a trig point for a breather, where we had some great views of the Sussex Coast, the Downs and Goodwood race course. I felt slightly better at this point after cleaning out much of my cold from lungs and sinuses onto the grass.

A Breather at the top of the Trundle
(Goodwood race course in the distance)

We continued around the Trundle before dipping down onto our usual downhill route towards the Goodwood Race Course. We slipped into the grounds of the track through some gates that had been left open and briefly looked at the course from the stands - the course offers spectacular views from it’s position perched high on the Downs - and then sped along the road and onto Chalk Road (which is more track than road), negotiating more loose walkers. It’s getting to the time of year when a bit of sun in the evening brings the townies out in force which is really annoying for us dedicated to year-round pursuits; we feel we should at least have right of way as they meander (often with dogs and kids in tow) randomly across our byways! In any event this part of the ride is usually quite challenging because it is rutted, slippery and of adverse camber as it descends steeply. The dry weather has improved things considerably and of course these technical elements are generally a little easier in daylight now that the evenings are drawing out. The track emerges in Charlton at The Fox Goes Free, which is fast becoming a regular TCA watering hole.

By this time, I was ready for the usual pint of Ruddles County at the Fox, I also relished a brief respite, finally feeling that my lungs had not packed up completely. We left the busy pub (half-term; bloody kids) into the by now chilly atmosphere and cycled hard up Knights Hill to get warm. We saw the top of Trundle, where we had previously been, and were tempted to go follow a steep ascent to the summit but decided to leave if for another day and use our usual route east of The Trundle. We passed Cross Dyke and then through a field to the top of Chalkpit Lane where we put my lights on for the first time. On the top section Al avoided Matt’s accident spot, the scene of the worst ‘Off’ in TCA history, by using a higher level route which neither of us had spotted before, alongside a field adjacent to the main track.

At the bottom, we enjoyed two pints of Sussex in The Royal Oak in tropical conditions afforded by a patio heater which was running at full tilt in the empty forecourt. Why do people pay money for a tan when you can get it for free under one of these dreadful things? I soon wished that I had brought some sun cream!

To Absent Friends - Totally Tropical!

We remarked that it was perhaps the most blatant example of the current trend towards carbon wastage for an incremental improvement in comfort. Why don’t they just make some blankets available for those wishing to sit outside? We decided to launch our own mini planet-friendly protest and turned the heater off. It was the sensible thing to do but the temperature dropped though quickly so with little hesitation, we drank up and followed the perimeter track round the motor racing circuit. After a brief divergence of routes (Al favouring a return to Homebase car park rather than the traditional and more direct road-route) we got back to No. 14 in good time to watch the enthralling final few overs of England v Sri Lanka in the cricket World Cup while tucking into a hot beef chilli (no horse meat this time for the TCA!).

Route Map (click to enlarge):

Elevation Profile:

Speed Profile:


(Posted by: Jon)

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