Sunday, 18 January 2009

Hoe Lane

Not every ride is a Barling in disguise. Every week there is some one agitating for a longer ride. A ride that has something more to offer than the flat expanse of littorial Essex. When those voices win, we go out to Hoe Lane.

Essentially we head away to the old A130. Winding our way down lanes towards the antique shops selling pine stripped boxes and over pricedfrills of ancient lace in Battlesbridge. Out to the nightmare of the Rettenden turnpike, a major junction with cars coming from all directions like something from the start of the Wacky Races and suddenly up into the peace and genuine countryside of a deserted road which once used to carry all the traffic to Chelmsford.

The thing about a Hoe Lane is that not only is it a longer ride, it is a much harder ride - proper hills that sap the legs. It's a ride where you always need to save a bit because otherwise it's not long before you feel that horrible burn in the thighs, the wheels get harder to turn and it's become a long way from home.

A Hoe Lane is, though, the best of all rides. Traffic free, every time we're out there, it's a different . Either over the Hanningfield Reservoir and on to Stock with its dainty windmill. Alternatively, it's on over the A12 and out to Manningtree. Whatever the way it's where we feel we're really away from the urban. The variety of wildlife increases, trees crowd the road like soemthing out of a Samuel Palmer and the colours of verdant nature startl. Us untutored lot gasp as we ride onto a crest and see all of South Essex below. The lungs open up and we feel like we're really breathing at last.

Cycling does many things but one that always surprises me is the way in which you understand geography so much more intimately - every rise must, somewhere, be balanced out by a fall. The very geology of the land apparant with each turn of the pedals. Riding a ridge, you feel the pressures beneath the earth which created this upsurge of land. Coming into a valley you understand why a village is here and not elsewhere as you glide over an old stone bridge, a dribble of a stream still persisting. You follow the lines of ancient tracks that many have a wheeled a cart or shouldered a load before you.

Now the villages we ride through are double garaged with Mercs and Beamers. These well fed burghers all Barbours and Huskies smile slightly bemused at us as they go to collect their Mails and Telegraphs in the local shop. Their pointers and black labs waiting for their daily muddy adventure.

A three hour ride out here really is what it is all about. The reason we set the alarm and sneak out to meet at a second hand car lot in drizzle. The reason we can laugh at each others' blackened faces as the unmudguarded among us spray up all manner of scurf from the road and the reason we want to do it all again next week.

Showing me how it is done

One of the great things about cycling is the quality of writing on the subject.

On the Rapha website, there's a rather fine piece by one of my favourites - Matt Seaton. One time Guardian columnist, author of Two Wheels and The Escape Artist. Here he shows how to write about riding in the winter.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

How cold is too cold?

A question well worth asking after the start to 2009. Wing Co DJ reckons you should always feel slightly cold when you start off otherwise you'll overheat on the ride.

Others swear by neoprene boots which keep out the chill arctic breeze. Some say two pairs of gloves and still others say fleece backed lycra full body tights.

However, it seems to me that you can wear all of these things (and I do) and still feel the cold. Yet, we're still out there. Is this a case of machismo? An unwillingness to be the first to quit in the face of adverse conditions? A frivolous disregard for own health and welfare? Or just a desperate need to get out and exercise?

Well maybe a bit of all of these things.

Last Saturday six of us met (The Twins, MF, NS and D) for what must have been the coldest ride I have ever taken part in. Most of the chat before hand revolved around the kinds of gloves we were wearing, how many gloves we had on, base layers and overshoes. MF informed us all that it was minus 3.He knows because he has a remote thermometer by his bedside which gives him a digital read for the temperature outside (I'll examine the esoteric world of gadgetry and cycling another time!)

By the time we hit the seafront I had lost sensation in my fingers, by the end of the cycle path I could no longer wiggle my toes and by the time I had reached Barling I thought my ears were going to fall off.

And yet, and yet.

It was great ride, we joked about those who had bottled out and stayed in bed, how they would be kicking themselves for missing out. There was the habitual brief charge along the sea front and a quick plunge into the warmth of the cafe to watch steam rise from our clothes and the tea seep into those freezing extremities.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Pub Dave

I managed to get Pub Dave out on a ride today, just a Barling but I got him out and that's a bit of achievement. He's not really one of the group, despite my constant hectoring, but he is a very important person in my cycling life. To put it bluntly, without Pub Dave I wouldn't be cycling. As the name suggests PD is not your usual sporting inspiration but nonetheless he is.

PD and I watch football down the pub - he's Liverpool, I am Spurs. Obviously over the last ten years we have spent more time applauding his team and bemoaning mine. PD is a genuine scouser and not one of those southern reds who regularly opine in pubs with polished vowels which have never graced the Kop.

It was PD who started cycling first with a bloke he knew called Mick. I didn't really pay any attention to his new hobby - I liked the Tour on the telly but I didn't expect to ever have a skinny bike again, my last one had been stolen from our garden shed when I was about seventeen. Anyway, PD finally convinced me to do a local sponsored ride on my old hybrid. 30 miles later we agreed that we really ought to do it again. And so began the getting up early to ride.

PD, however, has never been a man to forgo the Saturday night pint and the packet of fags that goes with it. Prodigiously gifted at sport - National Squash champ at school, handy footie player, dab hand at golf, phenomenal table football player... you get the idea. But he does love his bed.

Two years ago, it was my 40th birthday, the previous year I had broken my knee in a freakish accident involving a puddle of orange juice on a lino floor. And a plan was hatched in the pub, where else? The Tour was due to arrive in Paris on the 29th July, my birthday was on the 28th, wouldn't it be cool to be in Paris on my 40th? Wouldn't it be cool to cycle into Paris on my birthday and watch the arrival of the peleton the next day? As I say, pub talk, and what with PD's inertia, no more.

I couldn't have been more wrong. PD and I went out one Sunday and worked out how he could ride the 20 miles to work without getting squashed by text messaging truckers and within a week he was putting in 200 miles a week.

The story of how we got to Paris can be saved for another day, suffice it to say we got to Paris on our bikes and it was all down to PD.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

New Year's Eve and New Year's Day

What with it being the festive season and not all of us being quite so keen to get out of bed on these freezing mornings and others of us being forced to go to work, the meeting time has shifted to 9. On NYE this meant 6 of us turning up to see out the old year and 3 made it out to see in the new one.

Both rides were the dreaded Barling Loop and both were just what was needed. On NYE we gently ambled round taking the rise out of each other, spinning through the lanes with little traffic to bother us - we rode two abreast moaning about the weather and offering tips on how to keep our feet warm. Cold feet are a perrenial problem, you see, the toes don't do a lot of moving when you are clipped in and by the time you get home there is alomost no sensation left in them. Solutions include thermal socks, overshoes which look like galoshes, clingfilm (honestly) and we even know of one of our number who has heated insoles. I have tried all of the above, except for the heated insoles, to little avail. Instead I now wait ten minutes before taking my shoes off when I get home allowing them to acclimatise to central heating so I don't fall over because of my numb feet.

On NYD the three of us set out for the regulation 25 miles, the weather has settled over the estuary and barely a breeze has meant the cold, damp days continue. There is almost no-one about except for a few who may, or may not be, completing the walk of shame back from some New Year's party. The seafront pretty bleak as we race along, me in the front for a change until I hear that unmistakeable sound of the bloke in second palce clunk into a harder gear - I respond by changing gear too hoping to jump onto his back wheel but I am too late and he is gone. I immediately change down and freewheel in and park up, laughing whilst out of breath. Happy New Year.