Thursday, May 29, 2008

Many Happy Returns

Al should have had the camera ready to capture the looks of disbelief on Jon & John's faces as he pulled up the car ready for this week's ride. We had decided on an urban ride, following a route tested by John and Al early in the New Year, which Billy-Bob and Al figured had 'tandem' written all over it. The pair rolled up with the over-size bicycle strapped to the roof; clearly a sight to behold if the expressions of the other TCA delegates (and the neighbours) was anything to go by.

The traditional pre-ride tea and cake chatter was punctuated by comments from the two Jons poking fun at the tandem and generally questioning the sexuality of the two other riders. Al had heard it all before but Billy-Bob was perhaps beginning to wonder whether we would be struggling to keep up on the more cumbersome bike. Em was grinning from ear to ear as she looked on and rushed outside with her camera as the group pushed away - convinced that there would be some blunder on the tandem - waiting to capture an 'off'.

(Stoker Al; Driver Billy-Bob)

The solo pair smiled smugly as they lead the ride through a series of winding alleys through the housing estates towards the main Gosport Road, gradually pulling away from Paul who was concentrating as he steered the tandem through the tight turns. Once on the road the tandem two were soon wiping the smiles off the other's faces though as they caught and over took them. This advantage was to no avail however as they did not know the route. A series of wrong turns was taken, with John frantically barking instructions to get the party back together again.

The approach to Gosport harbour consisted of a series of tandem limiting obstacles - alleys speed bumps and junctions - but the group managed to stay together as they emerged onto the promenade. We were convinced we would get stopped by a couple of bobbys on their beat as we rode past the 'No cycling' signs but they barely glanced our way as we slid past them, negotiated yet another sharp turn and setting our sights for Haslar and Stokes Bay. Crossing Haslar bridge there was nearly a tandem-meets-lamp-post incident as Billy-Bob was caught in two minds. A collision was narrowly averted however and we continued on our way.

Having reached the golf course at Stokes Bay the tandem crew split from the others - they were reluctant to take on the deep shingle, which even caused Jon one or two difficulties despite his knobbly tyres. We eventually caught up as the promenade ran out and joined the road once more. We all followed the cycle path from Stokes Bay to Lee on Solent where we endured a few hundred yards together, weaving in and out for the family parties, dog walkers, joggers and geriatrics. Where were they all in January? We all decided to join the road but went our separate ways again as we turned towards Hill Head. The road climbed steadily which afforded the tandem crew a good view of the other pair, behind us on the promenade. Minor adjustments were made to Billy-Bob's seat post (which had sunk under the strain of recent pastry-based product abuse) as he and Al waited for the stragglers outside TCA favorite, The Osbourne View.

At around this time Al realised to his horror that he had left all his money back at John's place. A swift calculation was made before we entered the pub but Jon was the only one with any significant resource - £16. Things were looking bleak if we were to have a second pint in the cradle of the TCA Shire. Jon got the pints of Badger's Hopping Hare as we frantically scrambled through pockets and bags for beer money. Jon, Billy-Bob and John had a cumulative total of about £11 - there was nothing left for it but to haggle at the next port of call. We mounted our bikes once more and enjoyed the leisurely ride down Triangle Lane towards the Shire, rehearsing our plea for sympathy.

Crossing the Border and
into the hallowed Shire

We eventually pulled into the Queen's Head and parked up our bikes. It was only right that Al, whose door this mess was firmly placed at, should approach the bar. He casually inquired as to the price of the various beers. The Bowman 'Swift One' was only £2.80 a pint but Irvings 'Pompey Glory' - at £3.10 - had caught his eye. Al decided to appeal to any Pompey persuasion the landlord might harbour whilst also explaining the lengths we had gone to to visit the pub, the episode of the missing cash, the fact that he used to be a local. Rather miraculously it worked... obviously the recent FA Cup win had brought out his charitable side, either that or he was desperate for Al to stop talking. Pompey Glory is apparently a special brew to celebrate the cup victory by new brewery Irving (recently set up in Farlington by ex-Gales staff). All agreed it was one of the best beers they had tasted in a while, perhaps because it was partly stolen!

We inevitably toasted absent friends but we also had some birthdays to celebrate owing to both Jon and Billy-Bob's recent aging. In addition it may interest you, dear reader, that the TCA2006 website recently turned two years old - with over 100 posts committed to the internet.

The Birthday Boys Celebrate with a
discount pint of Pompey Glory

We chatted to a trio of Liverpudlian painter/decorator types who in rather stereotypical fashion entertained us with their cheeky repartee. Thankfully they did not live up to another stereotype as the wheels were still on all the bikes when we came to remount. Up the hill towards Fareham the tandem crew were lagging behind as they struggled to negotiate the Titchfield gyratory. Al and Billy-Bob decide to regain the advantage by risking a cut-through as the soloists chose the main A27. Thus an unspoken challenge was laid down - it was obviously a race for home (despite Jon's protestations later that he had not been trying)! For the record the tandem crew arrived home a little ahead of the soloists.

We enjoyed a fine chilli prepared by Em, followed by an equally delicious summer fruit crumble with custard... better tighten that seat post up again for next time.

Route Map (click to enlarge):
(Posted by: Al)

Labels: , , , , , ,

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Country Smells and Bike Washes

Eager to get stared after a cup of tea and some toasted teacakes, John and Jon ventured out along the track beside the Goodward Motor Circuit. The weather was cloudy and a bit cool but not bad considering that it was the beginning of summer with first Test match having taken place at Lords. It was easy going with little sign of the mud and deep ruts familiar to us in our winter rides and we quickly made progress to Chalkpit Lane to the Trundle. John was riding his full "sus" Scott that was now working properly and sparkling clean following a visit to the bike shed and repair undertaken free on warranty. After our exploits at the weekend, we seemed to make rather speedy progress up to Trundle although John was complaining of aching limbs following circuit training earlier in the week. (The lengths to which some members go to get fit for our rides is amazing - pity some others do't bother!).

At this point Jon realised he had forgotten his camera and it was too late to cycle back and get it. In any event the views [..and the riders, Ed.] were not particularly photogenic from the Trundle due to the haze and sticky atmosphere that had built up during the day. Off down the side of the Trundle we missed a couple of walkers and both of us almost got caught out by sharp zig zag at the bottom just before the road. Around the horse circuit at Goodward we quickly got to the infamous footpath leading down to East Dean. We have tied this path with the epithet "puncture alley" as every time Jon has tackled it he's had a puncture there. Johns track record on punctures has also not been good so after a bit of self-persuasion the pair hopped thier bikes over the gate and cycled down the middle of the path, careful to miss any potential source of thorns, nails or similar pointy objects. We navigated it safely although John had another problem with his bike, namely his seat and a country smell. This problem was not helped by a strange "Ellis" type smell emanatting from Johns' gloves - He had somehow managed to dunk them in horse faeces. Ignoring the smell as best as possible both bombed down the grassy hill towards the road at East Dean, Jon discretely keeping his distance from his partner.

At the Star and Garter, John promptly washed his hands and gloves and we enjoyed a pint each of Arundel Gold. We moved off after getting a bit chilly and made our way to hill that leads up to forestry track through the woodland that Al and Jon had found so muddy on their last winter visit. On this occasion too both riders failed to cycle all the way up and had to walk the steepest bit. Jon even managed to stall in mid motion and and flattened a good bit of field falling into the crops (sorry farmer!). The top the track was dry but challenging to ride over the ruts which required some nifty technical skills. Unfortunately we were enjoying this so much that we forgot to branch off down towards Halnaker and Goodward. Instead we headed towards Petworth. How we made this mistake, in the light, when we have never made this mistake in the dark, I do not know but worse navigation errors have rarely been made I'm sure [...don't bet on it, Ed.]. Having realised the error, Jon shouted "turn round" to John just as he was negotiating riding a high bank above a rut full of deep mud and water. After diverting his attention, Jon watched as John and his sparklingly clean bike slid down deep into the quagmire. Both bike and John then get even muddier trying to get out of this and turn himself and bike round.

John, surprisingly calm in this instance, was convinced where the pair were by Jon and both got back on the track. We both enjoyed a long downhill bumping over forestry track ruts and avoiding other mud patches through Halnaker Park to Halnaker itself and then rode the bikes back through the outskirts of Goodward House to Sainsburys petrol filling station where John spayed his bike (and himself) down to remove the worst of the mud. The evening was finished off by Spagetti bolognaise at Jon's place.

(Posted by: Jon)

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Hounds of the Basket Meal

With Mrs John away for a week in not-so-sunny Ireland, Wrong John thought it a good opportunity to arrange a TCA outing to further develop TCA member's skills, (riding skills, not just drinking) and for us to experience different terrain (and different real ales!).

After a bit of research, a few e-mails and a couple of telephone calls to a guy called Woody, who runs a company called Bike Dartmoor offering guided rides across Dartmoor, it was left to Jon and John to head down south due to numerous poor excuses from other Associates. With an excellent weather forecast, and Vince the camper van loaded up with all the necessary victuals, we set off to the arranged campsite, Dornafield near Newton Abbott: Three and a bit hours later the campsite turned out to be a real gem, in an excellent location, well equipped, and with award winning toilet and shower blocks (that even had piped music playing in them). John prepared Vince taking all of 2 mins, and then, insisting that Jon arrange alternative accommodation in order that rumors of their 'alternative' lifestyle would not be propagated, watched the entertaining sight of Jon remembering how to put his tent up.

By pure coincidence the campsite happened to be equidistant between two pubs, but which one should we choose? Woody then turned up to brief us on the plans for the Saturday ride and to solve our quandary; the Two Mile Oak Inn had real Ale on tap, so the choice was clear.The pub had several kegs of real ale behind the bar, so we opted for a couple of pints of Abbots as the local Otter Ale had run out. We retired early back to the campsite for a cup of tea, shot of Jack Daniels and sticky bun as Jon had a hard week at work, scratching his balls for longer than usual and also having refused many more than usual planning applications. (it should also be noted that on route to the pub Jon the ever vigilant planner decreed that he would not have approved plans for a couple of houses we walked past

Woody turned up as arranged early on Saturday morning to find both of us ready, yes even Jon! -Al please take note - both of us had a fine breakfast of cereal and bacon butties and were suitably hydrated, and prepared with sufficient liquid for the day. Bikes were loaded on the Landrover and off we set: The plan was to do a 40km figure of eight loop route around the Princetown and Burrator reservoir area. Following a safety briefing from Woody, who explained what we should do in the event of his demise on the route (was this an indication of the severity of the route?) we set off.

John, Jon & Woody

Straight away we encountered one TTF after another, (Technical Trial Feature for the uninitiated) and this set the pattern for the day. The paths were primarily single track which were strewn with lots of large rooted and loose boulders, offering a good chance to practice skills such as bunny hoops, wheelies, drop offs etc, or to just get it wrong and end up on the floor, as J and J did on numerous times. The route offered excellent views of the moors, and Jon took the opportunity to keep alert, hoping to add to his tick list of birds. There was plenty of fun and adrenalin filled descents along the way, and technical climbs and a variety of primarily open moor land vistas (below).

The moor was very busy in places with TTW’s (Ten Tours Walkers), the weather being completely different to last years when the Ten Tours event was aborted due to severe rain and wind. In true TCA form the days did not go without incident: Jon discovering that his head bearing needed replacing and forks needed a service; John having two punctures, one of them a pinch flat and also inextricably continually grounding out his full suspension Scott. The latter was to eventually cause him to have to curtail his afternoon’s ride and limp back to the reservoir to be picked up by Woody and Jon after they had completed the route leading to not insignificant grupiness.

The grounding out was caused primarily buy the fact that the bottom bracket was very low (and of course by misjudging some TTF’s). The constant grounding caused one of the pedal shafts to bend, and eventually drop out and strip the thread of the crank arm, so continuing with one pedal was not an option. Having been picked up and on the way back to the site, whilst discussing the possible causes of the problem, true to form John was already contemplating changing the bike. In order to allow John to ride on the Sunday Woody kindly offered to loan out one of his bikes*.

Post-ride Protein

The power showers at the campsite offered relief from our sore limbs, and John then set to work preparing the evening BBQ. A large matured steak each, with salad and new potatoes followed by fresh fruit and custard washed down with a fine selection of bottled real ale suitably replenished our energy stocks. We then set about putting the world to rights and sorting out a specification for a woman for Jon, whilst listening to what must be said was a very funny Russell Brand show on Radio Two. Any women reading this who think they fulfill the following please contact Jon: Height – 6ft or close; Hair colour – any but Ginger; Earnings - Min £100k per annum; a good cook, and someone who enjoys slowed cooker prepared meals; Someone who enjoys outdoor activity including bird watching; Someone who can empathise and sympathise with the typically hard day a city planner endures; someone who is a devil in the bedroom [poor eyesight also a bonus, Ed.].

The Happy Octagenarian Couple
Enjoying the Obligatory TCA Barbecue

With a good nights sleep J and J were fed and watered and covered in Factor 30 sun cream ready for the shorter Sunday morning ride. Woody turned up as arranged, with a Scott full sus bike for John to borrow, and we set off to ride in the eastern area of Dartmoor. Part of the ride featured in MBR, and is around the Lustleigh area. This 18km ish ride was completely different from Saturdays, offering more technical ascents and descents across more grassed and wooded areas, and the vistas were different, being more wooded and cultivated, with a section called Snake Alley where apparently adders were commonly seen (before you ask, no we did not see any).

The rooted granite slabs and rocks were prevalent again, offering Jon a chance to remove some of his skin, and for John to try to improve his skills on a bike that was working properly. All too soon we found ourselves back at the car park, where we encountered a tea van aptly named “Hound of the Basket meals” (above). Back at the campsite, after another reviving shower we packed up and set off for home - John stoney-faced and silent after his frustrations with the bike.

The service and value that Woody offered was excellent, he basically will take you out on a route and length suitable to your needs/wishes, and will cater for all levels of skill, even arranging “beginners” weekends where he will teach basic skills and lead you out on a suitable route to practice them. His charge includes pick up, lunch, guiding and if required hotel accommodation, he can also rent out bikes if necessary. He clearly knows the moors, routes and the science of mountain biking and is a very affable person so I would have no hesitation in recommending his services.

Dartmoor is an excellent place to ride, offering a variety of terrain, vistas and TTFs, just make sure you are suitably equipped as the weather can change quickly. The Dornafield campsite is one of the best we have ever stayed on, is ideally located for a holiday on Dartmoor and we would certainly recommend it and will aim to use it again.

(Posted by: John; Supplemental photos here)

*A post ride examination of the bike showed that the rear suspension unit appeared not to be working properly, as opposed to lifting the bike higher under load it actually lowered the frame, this was later confirmed when John took the bike back to his local shop Hargroves of Fareham, who had sold him the bike. They have always given excellent after sales service - ture to form they immediately got on the case by contacting Scott, who then agreed that the shock was at fault and all damage would be covered under warranty. This shows the added value of trying to support and dealing through your local cycle shop.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

It Takes Two to Tandem

With Al's #1 bike stranded at John's, and Billy-Bob's bike still in bits after it's recent arrival from Down Under there was only one thing for it - the tandem would have to come out of mothballs. Billy-Bob was nervous: The last time he had straddled this beast - with Stef riding as stoker - there was nearly a serious falling out (let alone falling off). When Al pointed out that his mate would again be at the pointy end he went visibly pale. Al provided a pep talk as he readjusted the seat posts. He was somewhat skeptical himself that the bike would comfortably accommodate Al (5'9") and Tee (5'3") and also then Billy-Bob (6'0") and himself. If Billy-Bob had meant to instill confidence in his host with a solo practice run down the track from the garage, he failed on every count as he lost control coming to a halt as the track met the main road.

There were second thoughts; should we just stroll to the local pub for a quiet pint? However, it was a glorious, warm evening and this seemed too good an opportunity to miss. A little more fettling and, on the count of three, a slightly wobbly start later, the pair were tentatively easing out of the village. Billy-Bob familiarised himself with the gears; Al tried to overcome the urge to lean over as he anticipated the bends - we could not decide who was the most disconcerted about this new experience. We soon got into the groove though and Billy-Bob laughed maniacally as he wondered at the speed of the bike on the flat (Al stuttered an explanation from behind - something about twice the power and half the wind resistance...). The pair fairly flew to their first port of call - the Horse & Jockey.

Toast to absent Friend, The Horse & Jockey

Our departure from the pub, on the count of three, with a number of onlookers, was slick. Maybe the pints of Ringwood Best had eased the nerves, maybe we were finally settling into the new saddles, but we had a relaxed, smooth ride through Newtown to the Forest of Bere. The only glitch in communication occurring as Billy-Bob steered the bike (maybe on autopilot?) into the car park of the Traveler's Rest, then ran out of car park before he could execute the turning circle. We ordered our pints of Hopback's Crop Circle and sat in the modest beer garden enjoying the last of the spring-time sun, and made a mental note for the future that the Forest of Bere hosts a Fish & Chip van on a Wednesday evening - the smell almost drove us crazy. The pair were getting hungry so it was back on the tandem for the final leg.

On Board with the Tandem Two

By now the pair were in the groove - starts, stops, turns and climbs executed in perfect harmony. The ride home seemed to go by in a flash and we arrived back in Hambledon at 20.30 wishing perhaps that we had stayed out a bit longer now that we were finally enjoying this new team experience. Tee had cooked a delicious sausage casserole and listened knowingly, and maybe wistfully, as the grinning pair provided an account of their experience. It is perhaps safe to say, dear reader, that you have not seen the last of the tandem!

(Posted by: Al)

Labels: , , , ,