Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Barling Frost

Barling is hardly even a village but is the start of any form of countryside for us here in the SE corner of Essex - hemmed in by the sea to the east and south as we are, we have few options when it comes to constructing a ride. As such, Barling usually figures somewhere on our routes. For some this is a cause for great annoyance - "Not another Barling!", but as Basil Fawlty once said " What do you expect? The Hanging Gardens of Babylon?"

Some mornings though, there can be great pleasure in discovering soemthing new in the familiar. Yesterday was just such a day as I rode through the tracks of Barling by myself not long after 8 am - the sun not long up and a harsh frost still in place. I stopped the bike, something I am usually loathe to do - especially when I can no longer feel my toes and took the photos here.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

The Leigh Riders (part 1)

The arrangement is very simple. Eight at the top of Beech Avenue if you want a ride. Quite who will turn up is always a bit of a lottery. This morning it is CF, the boy racer of the group, seriously fast and fit, he can put us all through the wringer if he has a mind to. He's the most serious rider of the group who claims 'eating's cheating' yet has still been known to enjoy the odd curry and pint. DJ is the next to show, he might as well be called Wing-Co, what with his encyclopeadic knowledge of Spitfires and carbon fibre. He's usually just returned from some bruising ride and he also, usually, rolls his eyes when the, more prosaic, morning's route is decided.

It is agreed that we will ride the same route I took by myself yesterday - the Farrell35 which is actually 38. How these things are decided is a bit of a mystery but involves people getting their special pleading in first - my wife says I've got to be back by 10.30, it looks a bit icy, I've just had a cold, my kneee is a bit dodgy. It is then for one of the alpha males to make the final decision.

The morning is cold, much colder than yesterday and the pace is immediately up on my gentle trundle. The spin out along the the seafront is the chance for a bit of badinage, anecdotage and general banter but not today. Even my exclamtion to look at the burning red ball of a sun, just risen past the pier is dealt with perfunctorily. It seems that today that these two mean business. It also means that I will spend most of the ride clambering all over their back wheels trying to keep up - you see I have recently recovered from a cold, I'm not totally up to speed, my wife wants me in by 10.30. Obviously, otherwise, of course I would be driving this train through Canewdon.

We do have the odd moment of respite when I get a chance to greedily suck from my water bottle (true cyclists call them bidons - true cyclists have a french name for everything). DJ threatens to tell me about all of is WWII fighter pilot books he got for Christmas - I ask him to tell me when I have less time.

We, instead, discuss whether my saddle is level and just how you go about finding out. I had tried this task last night with a builder's spirit level which stubbornly refused to allow me to get that blasted bubble in the middle. And then when I did finally manage, the tightening of the saddle screw threw the whole thing out. Consequently, I spend the whole ride sliding down my saddle.

On the way back we get a rare event - wind behind us as we rattle along with the estuary on our left. DJ powering down at 23 mph, the rest of us tucked carefully in behind him, trying to get every last element of drag advantage. Strangely, a peace descends as we ramp up the speed and we eat up the miles into Southend and the golden mile - all shut up, with sweepers clearing away the detritus of last night's revels. We cut a strange figure as we flash past on our high tech bikes and even higher tech clothing.

I let them fight out for the spoils as we pass the Casino - CF stands up and zips away, looks round and sees he has ten, fifteen yards on DJ. He sits up and rolls to a standstiil opposite the cafe. The traditional end of the route. But that's another story...

Sunday, 28 December 2008

The Post Christmas Ride

There it is, I have been waiting for it for the best part of 9 miles. I have been labouring on the bike for half an hour, not feeling it at all. The north-easterly cutting through me; the christmas pudding weighing heavy on my belly, stretching the unforgiving clothing; hardly a car on the road.

And then, just as that funny little squiggle heralds Party Fears Two by The Associates on the shuffle, my legs suddenly feel free, the tempo of the bike subtlely shifts and it all becomes, well, not easy, but definitely comfortable. And with it comes that inward smile and the message which flashes regularly across my mind whenever I ride - I love my bike!

It's unusual now for me to ride by myself but after the madness of the holiday period it's necessary to get out and blow it all away. I leave at 8 wrapped up in my full winter fig, and roll out onto roads suspiciously quiet. The urban sprawl of south east Essex eventually gives way to farmland and rural scrub. The winter trees like an X Ray on the horizon hold little but the occasional messy scribble of a rook's nest, the land unpopulated except for the ridiculous splendour of a brace of pheasants and me spinning free on my way out to Canewdon.

On the way back past Wakering Church I meet CSC coming the other way. He is one of the founding fathers of the Leigh Riders and is out for a little spin, checking his knee is ok and generally taking the air. He turns round and we roll back together for the final ten miles. Swapping Christmas stories and eating up the seafront without really noticing. We part at the top of his road and I push on home, looking forward to the well earned shower, cup of tea and the warm righteous glow that only the bike can give me.