2015 is well underway – PBP calling!


I thought I better do as I have done for the past couple of years and put down my thoughts on the season ahead, even though it is well underway already.

2015 is a PBP year, and it’s like a whirlpool of activity that drags you in ever faster.

I really never considered not riding PBP, it is just what we all do – it’s the grand-daddy of all long-distance rides.  We spend the 2 years ahead of it talking about our plans for it, and the 2 years after it recalling our adventures on it.

I can not imagine not being part of the conversations, so here I am again!

There had possibly a plan to look at riding PBP on the tandem with my wife.  This has not worked out – I know she is capable of it, but I think the thought of qualifying in winter/spring is a very difficult proposition.  Her heart wasn’t in it enough.

So, I will be solo sadly.

I have made a fairly big change to how I am riding as well – I have been riding my fixed a lot since I got a new one in October.  It has made everything very challenging again, and in many ways, feels like my first PBP in that every jump up in distance has been the first time at that distance.  I have now ridden my 200 and 300km qualifiers and it’s been quite a bit tougher on the fixed.  This weekend, my first attempt at 400km on the fixed (route-checking my club’s 400).  It should be fun.

Overall, preparation is not going ever so well – very busy with an amazing project that is very interesting and exciting, but takes all my energies at the moment.

My mileage is very low compared to previous years, but the end is in sight and I will start to ramp stuff up from now.

I’ve some other plans for the year as well – not going to say much for them at the moment as I need to see if I can swing enough time away from the business for them.

Whatever happens, I will be in Paris – hopefully on fixed!

I have hotels in place at the start/finish and in Loudeac, so I am going for a more leisurely ride this time.  I did wonder about really going for a time – but I don’t think this is the year for it.  Next time maybe.

BBC Adventure Show – Sore In The Saddle


As described in previous entries, the Highlands, Glens and Western Isles 1300km this summer was filmed by a TV production company for BBC2 Scotland.

This was aired on Tuesday and is available on the iPlayer link below (until the end of the year ish):


They have made a great program that features the most beautiful scenery in the best possible conditions.  They have treated our slightly odd pursuit with sensitivity and have not tried to make it what it isn’t.

Fabulous job and I even manage to make a bit of sense on screen, most of the time!

Ten things I loved on the Highlands, Glens and Western Isles 1300km Audax

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In an attempt not to write “ride bike, eat, ride bike, eat, ride bike, eat, sleep”, I have selected my ten highlights of the ride (and there were a lot of highlights!).  No particular order.

There is a bit of a summary at the end that is more ride bike, eat!

Red Squirrel

I’ve never seen one in the wild before – other than a squashed one on a road once.  It was early evening and I had just dropped onto the road alongside Loch Ness.  I was hoping to spot Nessie, but instead I saw a red squirrel.  Except it took me a while to realise I had seen one.  Sleep deprivation can do funny things to your mind and make some thought processes rather cumbersome.

As I rode along, there was a gateway with walls either side and on the end of one of the walls was this amazingly realistic statue of a red squirrel.  “wow, that’s a really good statue” I thought to myself.

Then it moved slightly.  “wow, that statue moves” was my next thought.

It took me a while to work out that it wasn’t a statue, but a real red squirrel!  I put the brakes on almost alongside the squirrel – who looked at me and bounced off along the wall.

It was a fleeting glimpse, it took me a while to work it out, but there it was, a live red squirrel!  Lovely.

Spicey and Ricey

Most people’s first night stop was Oban, after about 210km.  This was one of the weirder long rides timing-wise.  We’d started at a time that gave us no real chance of making the last ferry from Oban to Craignure at 18:00 (whilst it is perfectly possible for a strong rider to do a 7 hour hilly 210km, there was another ferry to negotiate as well en-route).  So, almost everyone would reach Oban between 9 and 11pm ish and stop for the night waiting for the first ferry at 7:45.

Most first days on long events are long – you are typically aiming to get deep into the ride before sleeping.  PBP, for most riders, starts from around 4pm to 9pm and will involve riding through the first night, into the day and as far into the second night as you can manage – most people will ride 4-500km before stopping to sleep.

All you are ever doing on long rides is building up your time buffer to give you time to sleep.  You are trying to get 4-6 hours ahead of schedule each and every day.

And here we were with an enforced 10 hour stop!

Anyway, my club-mate Martin and I rode the last section of the day together (always a bit of a stretch for me, as Martin is very rapid indeed!).  We’d arrived into Oban and found our hostel – well after a failed attempt when we went into the Backpackers Plus Hostel (carrying our bikes up two flights of stairs) only to be told our booking was for the Backpackers Hostel over the road.

I had a real craving for something spicey, so I was pretty pleased to spot an Indian takeaway 2 minutes back down the road.  So we went and ordered curry, this also enabled Martin to have a cheeky beer whilst we waited (the Scottish off-license laws are designed to make it hard for long-distance cyclists to get a beer or two after a long day!).

It felt great, sat around the table in the hostel with Martin and a couple of Dutch riders, still feeling pretty good and fresh having enjoyed a superb day of cycling.  The curry was pretty good and hit the spot perfectly.

Day one sort of felt like a prologue, and we knew that this was going to be the last time we’d be able to relax and not think about time.

I ate all sorts of food on the ride, but just sitting there eating curry is the meal I remember the most!

Rannoch Moor

On the Thursday night, I had slept at Glencoe at just over 1100km completed.  It meant I had a reasonably relaxed final day with around 190km to do, and I had around 15 hours to complete it.  I calculated a decent sleep into the equations and didn’t get on the road until 8am.

I had an issue with food – I was out of food really, so hoped there was something en-route.  I had one cereal bar, which I ate at the hostel, which helped a little.  I hadn’t really eaten since around 8pm the night before at a pub.  The day started with the massive climb up onto Rannoch Moor.  Whilst the climb was very pretty, the road is also the only real route for everything, so it was pretty busy with cars and trucks which was a bit of a wake up after hundreds of km of deserted roads.

As the road ramped up, the head winds also increased.

I was in a bit of bother.  I dug into my front bag to pull out an emergency energy gel.  Not something I use very often on Audax rides – but I needed energy fast.

The climb was superb with dramatic views.  Seeing pockets of snow up on the mountains was great considering we’d spent 4 days in temperatures of 29-30 degrees.  I felt like jumping off my bike and running up the mountains just to experience lying in that snow!

The top of the moor really was special and it was nice to stop and take some photos.

A couple of riders had slept on the moor the previous night – that must have been really magical.

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The roller coaster of Kintyre

In 1300km of riding, we saw a massive variety of scenery and experienced some magnificent climbing of every kind.  One of the finest sections was early on in the ride – it also put the fear into us all as it was rather tough.

We’d got off the ferry in Claonaig and were heading along the eastern coast of the Mull of Kintyre – it was exceptionally beautiful and rather challenging terrain with constant choppy climbing that is typical along coastlines.  We were treated to fabulous views back onto Arran as we rode along some beautiful little single track.

I think it was also the beginning of the realisation we were in for a hot few days – the temperatures were beginning to rise.

A fabulous bit of road and really got us set up for the rest of the ride.

We arrived into Campbelltown and I think we all felt the same – “I hope the next 1200km isn’t all the same as that, or I’m not going to make it!”.  Choppy, steep climbing can really take it’s toll on you – often it is hard to regain speed on the descents as they are twisty and challenging and don’t allow you to carry pace up the next hill.

I would love to go back and do more riding in the area – at a more gentle pace!


On the fourth day, I rode pretty much solo all day – the field was well spread out.  The section after the hostel was just magical.  It was hot and remote and just spectacular.

I’d seen many birds of prey over the ride so far – mainly eagles.

As I rode along, way up on my right was a ridge with something big flying along.  I couldn’t quite work out what it was.

A few minutes later, I heard a whooshing sound, as the most enormous bird of prey flew very low over my head – shocked me a little.

It was grey with a white head and just enormous.  I am not great at identifying birds, but I did immediately think it was an osprey – subsequent googling seems to suggest I was right.

The bird was awesome to see up close and personal and was yet another thing I hadn’t ever seen in the wild before.

Descent into Mordor

On the second day, I rode much of the latter section with Matt and a group of three Leicester riders.

A fabulous section (see below), and our first ride deeper into the night (with there being little need for front lights before around 10:30 pm).  It was also our first real encounter with the midges!

We’d climbed up near Loch Maree and we were being treated to some beautiful skies through the gloaming time.  As it got dark, we could see the remains of a blood red sunset in the distance at the bottom of the valley.

It did feel very primeval with some mysterious volcano or something hiding behind the hills.  Matt said it felt Tolkien-esque and I think that nailed it really.

It was one of those things that no photo would do it justice, but I will remember it forevermore.  A truly magnificent bit of road and time.


Without doubt, this was the best section of scenery we were treated to.

We turned away from the main road (well, most people did – some did the main road in and out) and rode along side some beautiful lochs with views of some great mountains.

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The scenery just got better and better and then we took a turn back onto ourselves to start really climbing – that was amazing as suddenly we were looking back onto the roads we’d come along and the back side of the mountains we’d been looking at.

And then we were treated to a really challenging section of cycling.  Very narrow, steep, twisting single track road for miles and miles.

Very, very beautiful and very tough.

Some of the best riding on earth I reckon.

Trick cycling

This is really about the banter and comradeship.  I made many new friends, and strengthened old friendships.

I love riding solo, but equally, it is great when you’re riding along at a relaxed pace in a group, chatting and joking.

As I said, the end of day two was spent in the company of Matt and 3 Leicester riders.

We were just all enjoying the scenery and chatting about this, that and the other – stupid stuff at times, serious stuff at others.

Having been on Skye, where Danny MacAskill is from, I had suggested to the Leicester riders that Matt had taught him everything he knew (totally untrue of course, but it provided some amusement for a while).

Just riding along, suggesting that Matt really couldn’t show them his tricks as he was hindered by his panniers etc., but had he not been.

We talked about all sorts of other stupid things through the 5 days – but that little episode sticks with me as a real highlight.

Riding a long way is hard, and other people can make it easier and help tick off the miles more easily.  Sometimes you only get to chat with other riders at controls, but often riding alongside them for only a few minutes can be some of the best times possible on bikes.

Audax is a friendly scene, and we do all look after each other however we can.  Even just a few quick moments chatting as you pass, or are passed by, someone can raise your spirits greatly.

Popping gorse

On the final day, we rode through some more scrubland type environments.

As I rode along, I kept on hearing cracks and soon worked out it was the gorse and it’s seed pods.

At times, it was coming from all angles as we were surrounded by gorse.

It was one of those magical bits of timing – a day or two either side and I might not have experience the cacophony of noise as the seeds were being fired everywhere (up to 30 foot according to a quick bit of research).

Sounds can stay with your memories really quite well – I will remember the sound of popping for a long time.

Trantlebeg oasis

We had to sort out our own accommodation for the whole ride, this was the one place that Mark, the organiser, had booked – primarily because there was nothing else for a long way.  This was in the most remote part of the entire ride and was more than welcome.

It was going to be a late night into the hostel – I was pleased to have reached the pub at Durness in good time to get some proper food (though it took a long time as it was rammed).

The night section had proved difficult – I was getting tired and slow.  I had to stop for a short nap at one point.  I think the heat added to my general fatigue.

I saw my arrival time at Trantlebeg drift back and back.

I was actually pleased to find the hostel was around 6km closer than marked on the routesheet.

Arriving into this beautiful little hostel http://www.achumore.co.uk/ was fantastic.  Great to see Mark and enjoy a bit of food and a decent sleep at this little oasis in the middle of nowhere.

The midges were pretty bad there though – I felt for the film crew (the event was filmed for a BBC Scotland documentary) filming us leaving.

I managed to get some good sleep at the hostel, could have done with more though!  I really felt for those still coming in when I was heading out – they had had long nights on the road.

So that’s 10 memories – I have dozens more.  It was a super ride.  A few more thoughts and photos below:

As I wrote in my previous post, this was always going to be a tough ride – it was hilly, the terrain was remote and food/drink would be an issue.  I thought I was as well-prepared as I could be – but nothing prepared me for 5 days in very high temperatures.  We were treated to some of the best weather northern Scotland will have experienced in a while – very high 20s every day with some humidity as well.  There were some fabulous tan lines on display by the end, and a few red patches – I managed to burn the back of a calf which caused some discomfort.

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Food and drink were an issue at a couple of points, but I just about got away with it.  My timings just about allowed me to make some evening meals before things closed and having researched where I needed to stock up on supplies, I was just about okay.

The ride was just fabulous, a route that allowed us to see huge variation in terrain.  The roads were, on the whole, very quiet – there were some busy main roads that were a bit of a shock to the system after the remote roads.

I just about managed to get enough sleep – as I wasn’t racing around, I had always planned to stop for as much as possible at my accommodation.  My pace was slowed by the heat, so I did eat into that sleep somewhat.

It was a very tough ride with the heat – certainly took it’s toll on my body.  My feet hurt a lot – I think they swelled up and put a lot of pressure on my shoes.  Top of right food certainly hurt.  Knees took a beating as well.  Through dehydration and general calorie deficit, I dropped around 3 Kg over the ride (and those that know me will know 3 Kg is actually around 5% of my typical body weight!).

The route would make a fabulous 10-14 day tour, but I never felt that we were being disrespectful to the area by going through it in 4.5 days.  Sure, I would have liked to have stopped more, enjoyed local attractions etc. – but we got to see so much amazing scenery in such a short space of time.

I am not sure if Mark will run the event again, certainly not for a few years.  There were a lot of DNS (from around 75 entries, only 35 of us started) which is always disappointing.

It is available as a permanent event – and can be ridden at the same pace as we did, or as a Populaire at 100km a day.   Both would be a rewarding experience.

It was definitely the hardest 1000+ I have yet ridden – hills, heat and lack of facilities made it very challenging indeed.

Glad to have finished it – it is an experience that I will remember fondly for a long time to come.

A few Strava links before the photos:







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The Highlands, Glens and Western Isles 1300km Audax


It’s getting close!

This one has been in the diary for so long (since September last year) and I am looking forward to it a lot now.

This ride is different. This ride will test me much more than other long rides. Most 1000km+ rides pride themselves on providing TLC to the riders with great controls, food, beds, the works. This ride has almost none of that. We will meet the organiser next to the tourist information office on the Isle of Arran, get our cards and then off we go. Apart from a tiny hostel at 800km that he has booked completely for us, he will have nothing else for us. We’re on our own for four and a half days (108 hours). We’ve got a routesheet with a list of the control towns and a suggested route to follow, and that’s about it. We’re left to sort out our own accommodation en route, with the added difficulties of five ferries to negotiate.

Riders are tackling it in all sorts of ways and all have slightly different schedules. Some will be camping or bivvying their way around, most will use a mix of B&Bs, hostels and bunkhouses.

Most long rides like LEL, PBP etc., I have not really had a plan; just ride until I am tired and sleep at the next available control. That works well and gives you flexibility if you are feeling good or bad. On my Pyrenean Super Randonnee last year, I had hotels booked and that does add some extra pressure (having to be at a certain place, by a certain time). So, this will add some interest into this ride.

Those ferries could cause some headaches. There’s a couple that if you miss, then it’s certainly game over for finishing in time. So, there’s a couple of stages that will be critical to not mess about, get our heads down and ride (and hope that nothing goes wrong).

The ferries and accomodation give me some constraints to work with and the days look something like this (we start at 11:15 in the morning to match up with ferries):

Day 1 – Broderick to Oban – 210km
Day 2 – Oban to Gairloch – 280km (but we can’t get started until 08:30 when the first ferry arrives in Craignure)
Day 3 – Gairloch to Trantlebeg – 322km
Day 4 – Trantlebeg to Glencoe – 306km
Day 5 – Glencoe to Ardrossan – 184km

Certainly a different ride for me when, on previous big rides, I’ve just ridden until I drop each day, which usually puts me ahead of most of the field, but with less sleep! This ride will be more relaxed in some ways and I am certainly not aiming to finish quickly, but to enjoy the riding through what looks to be some spectacular landscapes.

Interesting on what to pack and how to carry it as well. On most big rides, bag drops mean you’ve clean clothing waiting for you in a couple of locations. Not on this ride. We have to carry everything we need (and this will include a light sleeping bag for the bunkhouses etc.), so minimising weight will become very important. We also need to make some space for food – there will be a couple of lengthy sections (particularly into the evenings) where there will not be much available. So, I am really having to pay attention to what I carry, and let some standards drop a little – I am happy to wear jerseys for several days (and if it’s warm, give it a wash and let it dry on me), but do like to have clean shorts each day. So, I will have two pairs of shorts for the duration, and wash one pair and dry overnight (hopefully!).

As added interest (and complication), the ride is being filmed for Scottish TV show “The Adventure Show”. They have featured Audax before, making a great program on the Snow Roads 300km event a couple of years ago. They will be filming our progress throughout the event. I expect some rough looking and incoherent riders (including myself).

I think it is safe to assume that phone signals will be patchy at best – so there may not be that many tweets on this ride, but I will do my best!

24 hour time trial (ESCA 24 National Championships)


This was my big goal for the year.  And I knew it was going to be much harder than anything I had done previously, I wasn’t sure I fully comprehended how much harder.

My build up to the 24 has been okay, I’d maybe not got enough miles in (do you ever?), but I was riding generally faster than I’ve done before.

The final few days before the 24, disaster – sore throat, cold.  Damn.  By the Friday, it wasn’t too bad.  My theory was to go to the start and see what happens.  24s are not a regular event, this year is unusual in that there are two (the ESCA and Mersey Roads).  I am away for the Mersey Roads, so if I didn’t ride at least a bit of this, I wouldn’t ride until next year.  Even if I only put in a few hours, I would learn something of what riding a 24 is and be able to apply those lessons in the future.

So, Saturday morning, I found myself in a position I have very rarely been in – I had a number on my back.

It was a hot day – really hot.  This wasn’t ideal.  I don’t like hot conditions.  Ah well – night would come soon enough.

Things went well until nightfall – I reached the night HQ to put lights and extra clothing on at about 9:30 – I had around 170 miles on the clock in that first 9 hours.  My main target of 375 miles looked good, I might even stretch to my upper target of 400 miles.

Highlight of the daytime was a fly past by the Red Arrows.  I know it was the National Championships, but it seemed a little extravagant of the organisers to arrange such a thing.

Night-time went well – it was great riding past parked up cars and vans with little clusters of activity and having a voice calling out encouragement as you went passed.

After a couple of laps of the night circuit, I had to stop for a bit more clothing – it was colder than I expected on a couple of bits of the circuit.

I went through 12 hours at 210 miles – all feeling good.

As the night progressed, I was noticing some soreness in my right leg – around the knee or calf.  Unusual.

18 hours – 293 miles – I’d slowed dramatically.  375 was still well within my grasp – but 400 was gone.

Leg was getting worse – I was struggling to walk off the bike (good excuse to not get off the bike really!) and pedalling out of the saddle was no longer an option.

Interesting part of day 2 – watching a truck pass me and hit a pigeon that had been in the middle of the road – the pigeon survived the initial impact in that it still was flying up to the tree.  Riding through a cloud of feathers wasn’t particularly nice though.

Leg was really bad now.  The last two hours.  The closest I had ever come to jacking anything in.  Though I didn’t really know what the rules are – I always thought even if you only rode a few hours, you would still get a result.  But you see people with DNF on the results.  So, I didn’t.

I could also just about see than 375 was still possible, even though I was moving very slowly indeed.

I’ve endured serious pain – lung surgery being the most pain I have ever suffered.  At least I was off my head on morphine.

The last hour was so difficult.  I know I could have slowed right down and pootled my way around and still got 365 miles or whatever.  But, no.  I am a stubborn idiot.  I wanted 375 miles.

I don’t know if the official results will have that distance.  My Garmin trace is around 378 miles.  I’ll be upset if my official distance is less than 372.823 miles (600km) – but I know I have ridden 600km in 24 hours now.

Stepping off the bike after 24 hours is weird.  You’re suddenly transported out of this highly focussed zone where nothing matters other than pedalling and eating/drinking.  Working out how to navigate back to HQ and other such demanding tasks had to be dealt with.  Talking to someone behind the counter at the garage where I stopped for an ice cream was hard.

It was an amazing weekend.  I enjoyed it a lot, however it was so, so much harder than I expected.  Partly because of the injury of course.  But just the focus required is phenomenal – you can not slip into coasting mode, you have to stay on pace all the time and really do not get off your bike for any longer than strictly required.

I’ve learnt a lot.  I may have another crack at the 24.  I now know I am good for 400 miles if I do a few things better – and avoid injury.  For now, my cold has worsened to the point of having no voice, and my leg had swollen up like a (hard) balloon.

But the sense of achievement is enormous!

Blurry dusk photo from my friend Mark:



Edited to add some Strava goodness – http://www.strava.com/activities/157060257

Note that I truncated it to under 24 hours – because I am vain and wanted the ride to qualify for the Strava Grand Fondo competition!  The cropping on Strava is a bit hit and miss with really long rides – so I cropped out 10 minutes at the end by accident – as I was moving at not more than walking pace by then – it doesn’t make much difference!

Edited 9/7/14 – my official distance was 374.88 miles, so I am pleased to have reached over 600km and above my VTTA standard.  

Ditchling Devil 200km – June 2014


This was a great day out for everyone involved. A very warm day meant a great turn out with over 200 riders on the road, many attempting the distance for the first time and I hope they will be back for more.

I was at the start and then headed the wrong way back down the course to meet the riders at the 150km control and stamp their cards.

Everyone seemed to be having a great day and it was a lot of fun meeting and greeting them all.

Willesden Rockets Easter Arrow


As I have said before, I have wanted to do an Easter Arrow for a number of years now. Finally I have had the chance.

Martin (our Captain), Mel, Ian and myself left Willesden Junction train station at 9am on Good Friday with the intention of arriving in York 24 hours later with at least 400km in our legs (minimum distance is 360km).

Our route took us through, roughly, Aylesbury, Huntingdon, Grantham, Lincoln, Blyth, Goole and York.

Much of the first legs were spent riding into a troubling head-wind and I was glad of a good rest at Huntingdon.

By nightfall as we reached Grantham, it was clear that the night was going to be very cold, so a lot of layers were put on and we sort of resolved that riding throughout the night (we had a leg over towards Tadcaster if we were feeling very up for it) was probably not going to be on the cards. It was, indeed, a cold night with temperatures in the minus 2 and 3 range. We were well-dressed and didn’t suffer overly.

But we were all glad to reach Blyth services and stop for a few hours and get some broken sleep on the chairs/floor.

Into a murky cold we went with only 4 hours of riding left and before too long, we were in York where we piled into a pub with 100 other riders to have breakfast and share our tales from the road.

Great fun and massive thanks goes to Martin for being a very good captain.