Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Tale of Two Tubes

With John sitting out this week's ride due to a nasty bout of man-flu (right on cue the week his new bike was delivered) Al and Jon's primary objective was a drier ride than the previous week. The weather at least was cooperating - after days of rain we had managed to pick a clear, cold, starlit night. The pair decided on a route up to Goodwood horse racing course, down to East Dean, around Goodwood estate and then home. The Jo(h)ns had blazed this trail before in the summer; it seemed appropriate to assess the feasibility of the route as a winter ride.

Early in the ride it became apparent that last week's activities had taken their toll on equipment: Although our kit had just about dried out Jon's front brakes were exibiting a nasty vibration and making an unhealthy "metal-on-metal" sound characteristic of worn out brake pads; Al's gears were playing up as the jocky wheels in the derailier were looking worn. However, we made good speed on our usual approach around the Goodwood motor circuit, past the Royal Oak and then up Chalkpit Lane to the Trundle (which afforded excellent views of Chichester at night). With conditions significantly less treacherous there were no 'offs' this week and we continued around the base of the Trundle for the first downhill towards the stands at Goodwood Racing Circuit. Given only one set of brakes Jon put the full light show on as he sped, out of control, on a white-knuckle downhill ride. As usual we cut across the grounds in front of the stands and down the road parallel to the final furlong markers. The route then required that we haul our bikes over some gates and stiles along a track leading to East Dean. Although the descent to East Dean is mainly track it is in fact a footpath not a bridle route; we emerged at the top of a grassy field in full view of the farmhouse. A stealthily cruise down the hill across the field in front of the farm was required, with lights dimmed. Jon nearly gave the game away getting stuck in his cleats and clattering to the ground inches from a live electric fence. Around the same time, and for the second time at this point on consecutive rides, Jon realised he had a puncture - perhaps it was the route getting it's own back for the indiscretion of using a footpath?

Nevertheless, a few quick pumps and the tyre was sufficiently inflated to get us to The Star and Garter. We tucked into pints of Arundel Brewery's Sussex Gold while Jon set about replacing his inner tube in front of the fire amid a paparazzi-like frenzy of photography from Al. The friendly staff seemed to react to Jon karting parts of his bicycle through their establishment as if was an every day occurrence! Some time later the tyre was replaced and beers were drunk. At this point, much to the amusement of Al, Jon realised with some irritation that he had committed a school boy error and inadvertently refitted his punctured inner tube rather than replace it with the new one still sat in pristine condition on the table in front of him. Finally with job done (twice) and another pint we went on our way up to Bubholts and East Dean Hill. It was not to be Jon's night - his new inner tube had somehow somehow queezed out of tyre requiring a colder maintenance stop beyond the comfort of the pub.

First Attempt

Second Attempt

Jon quickly put his wheel right and the pair struggled up the steep hill and then onto a bridleway which was essentially forestry tracks with loads, and loads of mud. The problem was compounded by the fact that there had been some deforestation activity and the track churned up by the logging vehicles. Although progress was slow this did not present a significant problem; we quickly overcame terrain difficulties and at times just let the back wheel slide through the mud. Until that was Al stalled and slid to a halt in front of Jon who promptly slid into him and his bike. In addition to throwing Jon into the mud the collision dislodged his batteries. Apologies and adjustments to lights ensued - Jon could barely disguise his frustration.

Finally we crossed Selhurstpark Road and a final wide expanse of mud (which proved to be the final straw for Jon as his bike got well and truly bogged down as he headed straight through the middle). Al skirted the mud before joining the the track proper around Goodwood estate which thankfully consisted of firmer stuff. Marginally drier than the previous week but much muddier we headed for a welcome hot shower. A 'Jon's Special' hot chilli was consumed watching more quality TV in the form of "I'm a Celebrity - Get Me Out of Here!". With Jon insisting that he would never tackle this ride again we remained undecided as to whether this was a truly acceptable winter route.

Route Map (click to enlarge):
Elevation Profile:

(Posted by: Jon)

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Bad Lights Stop Play

We had decided in advance to try and make an early start in order that we might tackle the 'long Chichester route' beyond Goodwood, onto Hooksway via the South Downs Way and then over Kingley Vale. It is a tough route in Winter and at the limits of burn time for our off-road lights. However, the omens were good, everyone was organised and prepared and the rain which was forecast had not materialised: Equipped with a new set of neoprene gloves (which were more akin to diving apparel that something one might wear on a push bike), waterproof socks and his new cleated shoes Jon was ready for any eventuality; Al had arrived earlier in afternoon with bike fully rigged up in advance; John turned up a while later but fully prepared, as usual, and desperate for his customary cup of tea and cake after another grueling round of business travel. Jon got some instruction from the others before the off regarding the use of his new Crank Brothers clipless pedals as final adjustments were made. Jon was assured that tales of riders not being able to extract shoes from pedals and falling into flower beds had been exaggerated.

Jon slowly learnt the technique for getting his cleats to bind with his pedals on the rutted track around the Goodward motoring circuit. By the time he reached Claypit Lane Jon's shoes were finally engaged - Jon duly hared up the hill in his usual fashion, closely followed by Al. The trio began to appreciate that the heavy rain combined with the wet flint, chalk and clay lent themselves to slippery, greasy conditions. Having firmly engaged his shoes by now, but not having yet learnt the knack of extracting them, a minor skid halfway up to the Trundle caused him to stumble into a ditch. Seconds later Al, a stalwart advocate of clipless pedals who had no similar excuse, also hit a wet patch and ended up in a tangled heap in the mud. These minor 'offs' saw John's steady tortoisesque pace get him to the top first without incident.

The rain reached torrential levels as we made the descent to West Dean - visibilty was poor and bikes were difficult to control in these conditions. Having crossed the A285 road at the usual spot we made the short road section which leads to the bridleway at West Dean Woods. The spray stung our eyes as we made the final fast descent and we were thankful of the cover provided by the woods as the rain continued to strengthen. These were possibly the wettest conditions that we had ever experienced, relished of course by the TCA. We climbed steadily through the woods on sodden, often overgrown, tracks towards the South Downs Way.

Once on the ridge we were buffeted by a strong wind and the now horizontal rain: Cold and wet we briefly considered returning the the way came. However, with the prospect of having to watch an inevitably dismal display as England played Croatia if we arrived home early, we pressed on over Cocking Down and finally made the cover of Linchball Wood. Down-hill towards Hooksway through "bone shaker alley" the ruts on the track had become rivers and proved a particular challenge. However, John and Al were treated to the sight of a magnificent stag stood in the path as they approached. Taking a breather at the end of the descent, having safely negotiated the treacherous conditions, Jon promptly fell sidewards onto the road in front of the Royal Oak with a crash, yet to master the art of clipless pedals.

Inevitably the Royal Oak was closed and we could no longer delay the section we had been dreading - Phillis Wood Lane. At the best of times the wide tractor wheel ruts are filled with cold deep water. The difficult skill is to cycle along the sides of the track without sliding into the mire. Thankfully it was not as bad as feared but by the end of the ordeal it was apparent that the beating rain had taken its toll: Johns lights suddenly gave up, plunging him into darkness. Collectively we decided to curtail the ride and cycle straight home by road without tackling Kingley Vale.

Jon tackles Phillis Wood Lane under 'Dry' conditions

Given that the only part of us all that remained dry was Jon's hands, protected (although sweating heavily) from the conditions by his thick neoprene gloves, the decision to abandon the ride was welcomed by all. We cycled back through the lashing rain in a convoy towards Mid Lavant, and the rather up-market Earl of March, avoiding the sides of road where possible which were torrents of surface water. The irony was not lost on the riders as three pints of Hop Back's Summer Lightning were ordered.

A soggy toast to absent friends, Earl of March

We were soon shivering from the effects of standing in the bar in soaking clothes, despite the roaring fire. We finished our beers and left the pub without leaving any trace of our visit except empty glasses, muddy footprints and a rather large puddle of water on the immaculate parquet flooring. We cycled quickly to Jon's house; by now the rain had also got to Al and Jon's rear lights sticking them in 'constant' mode. 21.7 wet miles later we dried out in front of the football (the inevitable dismal performance ensued) sitting down to yet another new number from the Farndell Close cook book; Caribbean Chicken with wholewheat noddles [Eat your heart out Rusty Lee! Ed.] washed down with Wychwood's Pump King ale, all of which served as at least a minor distraction from the football.

Route Map (click to enlarge):
Elevation Profile:
(Posted by: Jon)

Footnote: After consulting with Lumicycle, and having conducted an appropriate post-ride test, John subsequently discovered, rather than a fault with his lights, that he had depleted the battery by running the 20w 'flood' lamp for the duration of the ride rather than the 12w 'spot' light. While this resulted in the significantly reduced burn-time on the ride in question the manufacturers assert that the lights are specifically designed to stop working suddenly in this event (rather than the fading away
characteristic of other brands) to protect rechargeable battery life in the long-term.

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Postcard from East Anglia

Maalie's recent visit to East Anglia included a stay with old school friend Stuart and his wife Christine, in Kenton, deepest Suffolk.

Oulton Broad on a frosty morning

Shortly after arriving, it was clear that more beer was required to sustain all parties through the weekend and Maalie and Stuart were despatched to the nearest location where such supplies were available, namely, Debbenham, some 5 miles away.

Maalie and Stuart set off on a vital mission
Barney looks on)

With carbon footprint in mind, the obvious transport choice was bicycle. The stocks of beers (an 18-can case) safely strapped to Stuart's rear rack (You can see the yellowish case of beer on the rack of the right hand bike in line with the pub's sign pole below), Maalie suggested, in true TCA tradition, a pint in the local, the Woolpack, where a selection of guest real ales was available. The choice of the day was Exmoor Gold.

Stuart checks the bike is in order

(Posted by: Maalie)

Labels: ,

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Life in the Freezer

With a springtime report from Patagonia and an autumnal account of a ride in Collingbourne it would truly be three seasons in one week for the TCA blog: Temperatures hovered just above zero as John and Al fettled their bikes for a decidedly wintery mid-week ride. Al had hoped to have lined up an exotic ride from the QE Park but histrionics from Jimmy following his eight-week jabs hampered Al's preparation so old faithful, Hambledon #1 route came to the rescue.

The conditions had been relatively dry for some time and the leaf litter was strewn across the bridlepaths. It was a clear night with a gibbous moon and it wasn't long before our tyres were crunching through the crispy frozen grass. We made good progress to the White Lion but we didn't hang around outside as usual; for the first time since January we sat inside to have our beers. Parting with tradition we chose a pint of Hole Hearted from Gosport-based Oakleaf Brewing Company. While we enjoyed our beers in a quiet corner we had to contend with a rather drunken Australian who insisted there must be something wrong with us for choosing to go cycling on such a night. It seemed that his tiny antipodean brain could not comprehend that if one chose the correct apparel one could be plenty warm enough.

A Toast to Absent Friends, The White Lion

Thankfully a rather larger antipodean brain had designed the Kathmandu thermal under-helmet layer that Al pulled on before braving the conditions once more. Jon looked on jealously has his ears got colder and colder - the temperature would drop below -4C before the end of the night. We had both worn the various layers we save only for the coldest of TCA outings: Neoprene gloves, Thermotech base layers, fleeces and windproof jackets... and long trousers for the first time this season - a sure sign that winter is upon us. We were thankful for every stitch as we hammered down the disused railway through the fallen leaves. It didn't take us long to reach the railway embankment. Jon wondered if he would ever crack this nut as he stalled about half-way up on both attempts.

Al Tames the Railway Embankment

With the taste of line cleaner still fresh in our memories as we climbed through the Forest of Bere we decided on a small modification to our usual route in search of an alternative to the Traveler's: Continuing down the road, towards Soberton Heath rather than the descent through the southerly part of the wood towards Newtown, we turned towards a pub that does not seem to have been documented in post-blog times, The Forest of Bere. Unfortunately the rather cosy lounge bar we usually frequent was crowded with people so we joined the Chavs in the public bar, Matt would have loved it we thought. Enjoying our pints of Crop Circle from the Hop Back Brewery sat at the bar it was soon time to remount, just as our toes were defrosting. We spied two other cyclists on our way out but paid them and their puny road bikes little attention. Our route home was to take us towards Soberton and back over the hill to Hambledon to record 14.5 miles for the evening as the temperature plumbed new depths.

Jimmy had had his Calpol by the time we got home and slept soundly at last while we enjoyed our beef stew with mash and afters of home-made apple crumble and custard. Entertainment was provided in the form of 'I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here!' - tonight's stew certainly looked more appetizing than the witchetty grubs. Warm at last.

Route Map (Click to Enlarge):
Elevation Profile:
(Posted by: Al)

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Collingbourne Canter

John, Charlie-man, Ad and Ju all met up at Ludgershall Castle (on the outskirts of the MOD town of Ludgershall in Wiltshire, on the edge of Salisbury Plain) for a bike ride through Collingbourne Wood. Ad and Ju arrived late (as usual) to find Charlie fine tuning his bike and John ready to go. After some swift unloading of the VW Polo we were ready to rock 'n' roll: We made our way to the castle to admire the remnants of ‘Ye olde Royal Gate House’, a favorite hunting lodge of Henry III, before setting off at a good pace toward the wood.

Ju and Ad check out the local history

After some moderately open riding we snuck down a footpath and lifted our bikes over the stile for a clean run toward the woods. Ad was in his element as we weaved our way at high speed through the picturesque autumnal beech woodland dodging tree roots and stumps and attempting to jump the odd obstruction. Charlie had his GPS and much to our delight found the correct setting (after a short delay) to pinpoint our position on the trusty O/S map which Ad had neatly folded away in his pocket - just incase his plan didn’t go to plan. Ad’s plan actually consisted of: 1. we meet at the castle; 2. look at the castle; 3. sneak down a short footpath into the woods; 4. ride around till we were all too tired; 5. find our way back. (A better plan than has benefited numerous a previous ride that's for sure! Ed.)

The TCA emerge, blinking in the sunlight
(Left to Right: Ad, Ju, John, Charlie-man)

The track was gently undulating with only one real hill worthy of breaking into a sweat (Jonny P & Jerry would have been disappointed) which Charlie and John flew up while Ad brought up the rear suffering with chain/gear trouble. Then came the big event – ‘New Zealand Farm’ – (above). We stopped at the Farm sign, which was a definite must as Ju would have really spat the dummy otherwise. We then dropped down the longest and steepest down-hill section yet, which was a long blast over a graveled track that had some interesting washed out sections – again testing the riders' bunny-hopping skills. During this exhilarating descent Ju's rear tyre gave up the ghost, blowing out at high speed. Unfortunately the ever intrepid Ju had to walk the last 150m of the descent. Some slick tube changing ensued and in no time at all we were back on our way into the wood for some more single track fun (Ad having learnt his lesson long ago about putting the bike wheel on the right way around).

Having passed 2 horse riders, we soon came across 2 ramblers, the awesome foursome stopped abreast the track in formation trying to judge which way the ramblers would head or whether they would be intimidated into moving aside….. They carried on and turned right in front of the staunch barrier – actually they hardly even noticed us as we caught our collective breath and decided which track to take at the cross road ahead!

The Best Autumn Colours in years

We followed our senses and rolled our way back through the web of tracks (not more than 40cms wide in most cases) testing ourselves where ever possible. We did get a little lost when the track came to an end winding into ever decreasing circles before we realised what had happened. John H, being the most sensible by this stage, knew what was coming so saved his energy whilst watching the 3 kids get tangled up. We then blasted through the wood jumping our way over or crashing our way through branches pruned from the canopy.

With lunch time fast approaching a gorgeous autumn Sunday afternoon to enjoy, we checked our handy folded map and took off toward the Castle. The track narrowed further still and we found that it was certainly single file time as we wound our way along the increasingly exciting tracks. Heading back always seems slightly down hill and as such our speeds increased – together with the track width and inability to see what obstacles lay ahead gave us cause for a laugh when Ad rear ended John after a blind corner with a large route crossing the track.

Getting closer to our cars and - more importantly - the pub we cruised back without further mishaps, Ad undertook an external inspection to an un-named property under his control, (note he charged no overtime for this valuable service) then the gang packed up and headed for the Pub. Matt, had he been there, would have loved this joint - with it's chav clientele, low lighting, alcho pops, no real ale (Noted by John) and massive sound system with Kareoke! The sweaty dirty group took their well deserved bevvies out to the sun-lit garden, partly so Charlie could download his stats and so that we could keep a beady eye on the Bikes!

Colingbourne wood gets the seal of approval for a fun short-to-mid length ride without major hillage!

Route Map (Click to enlarge):
Elevation/Speed profile:

(Posted by: Ad)

Labels: , , , ,

Postcard from Patagonia

During my trip to Patagonia I stayed for three days at Estancia Alice on the shores of Lago Argentina (the largest lake in Argentina) near El Calafate in the foothills of the Patagonian Andes at 50.20S,72.31W. It was here that I was able to hire a Raleigh M20 mountain bike for an hour to remind my cycling muscles that they had not been forgotton while away from Maalie court.

Maalie in the Patagonian steppes:
In the middle distance is Lago Argentino
with the foothills of the Andes behind.
(The high peaks are concealed in cloud)

The bike was evidently well-used by visitors to the ranch, it was very squeaky and must have recently run into something as the front wheel was slightly elliptical and, until I got used to it, it felt like I was riding one of those trick cycles with an excentric wheel. Nevertheless it was serviceable and fit for my purpose.

Andes are for men:
The Moreno Glacier in the Patagonian Andes
with Chilean Firebush in the foreground

Alone in a foreign country, I was reluctant to wander too far off-road alone and contented myself with a spin (15km) along the shore of Lago Argentino on the road through steppe habitat. At 6.30am there was no traffic to concern me, but birds seen included Andean Condor, Upland Goose, Southern Lapwing and Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle.

Read more about my trip here: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3.

(Posted by: Maalie)

Labels: ,