Wednesday, October 14, 2009

3000 miles

Near Portchester

Today's commute has brought up 3000 tracked miles on my Orca. A quick look at SportTracks shows:

First ridden: 21st April 2008
750 miles have been commuting
The longest ride is 124 miles (followed by 121, 106, 91, 84, 82)
Top speed: 44.9 mph

Average(mph)Distance (miles)
21.33.63 miles with 1 turnaround
21.25.15 (commute home)
20.810.15 with 5 turnarounds (and one bee sting)


Gear cables snapped: 2
Punctures: 0
Falling off after forgetting to unclip: 3
Got soaked through: 3

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Ride to Swanage

Went to: Romsey, Fordingbridge, Wimborne Minster, Wareham, Swanage, Sandbanks, Bournemouth, Christchurch
Distance: 124 miles
Total time on bike: 8:15
Average speed: 14.9 mph
Total climb height: 700m (take the absolute value with a pinch of salt but about 30% less than the 65 mile Isle of Wight ride)
Link to route on Bike Route Toaster

Over coffee the guys at work and I have been devising various bike routes, some quite unlikely (10 days to Budapest is the least realistic so far) and some definitely do-able. One of the rides that we were hoping to squeeze in this year is to Swanage and back. This is over a 100 miles, known as a Century ride.

But with everyone having busy weekends for the next few weeks and the decline of summer time it looked like it wasn't going to happen :-(

But then work decided to give us 2 days vacation to celebrate the release of our product. The forecast for Thursday (27th August) was good and I'd already planned an approximate route so we decided to "man up" and give it a go, despite a distinct lack of training for some peleton members.

Four of us would be riding:
* Alan Chatt, previous longest ride 65 miles round the IOW, next to no recent practice
* Ed Altenburger, previous longest ride 91 miles on the New Forest sportive, some recent practice but had to bale out with exhaustion on the most recent long ride after 45 miles
* Andy Perry, previous longest ride 40 miles (and just 18 miles before that), but good CV fitness from regular 10k runs
* me, previous longest ride 121 miles, not expecting trouble

Before the ride we figured it would be unlikely that we would all complete the distance but we weren't sure who it would be that'd struggle. But we were sure we'd get to Swanage and there are plenty of railway stations to rescue those in trouble.

We met near Romsey at 08:00. A very nice chap at work (Pete S.) let us use his driveway for cars - Andy drove down from Fleet so he had a particularly early start. I commuted 8 miles to get there. In this post I'll be using elapsed distances from Pete's house. We were on our bikes and rolling at 08:15.

After just 5.5 miles and 22 minutes Andy picked up a puncture in his front wheel. We managed to pinch the replacement tube whilst fitting it so we used the now-patched original tube and were a lot more careful the second time when squeezing the tyre on to the wheel. We were stopped for a total of about 20 minutes.

Setting off again and we were straight in to the New Forest. I was a little surprised to see some fat pigs wallowing at the side of the road. We took the relatively gentle climb through Bramshaw to the ride's quite tame peak elevation of 140 metres.

Then we had 5.5 miles of beautiful open moorsland scenery as we streamed to Fordingbridge in a tight line of wheel to wheel cycling.

At Fordingbridge we stopped to snack and check our route. We noticed that we were virtually outside Perkins bike shop so Andy bought another spare tube - the first spare was pinched right next to the valve so a patch wouldn't be likely to stay on for long.

After 10 minutes or so we were off, enjoying quiet lanes down to Wimborne Minster where we stopped and got food from a bakers - a steak pastie for Ed, Andy and I and Alan had a sandwich. Alan also got some ibuprofen as his knee was getting sore.

On the way to Wimborne Minster we crossed paths with a group of 15 or so cycling pensioners - I'm looking forward to some of that when I retire.

Back on the bikes and we followed some urban roads to Lytchett Minster. Then we crossed the A35 and promptly encountered a massive queue of stop-start traffic on the A351. For about 3 miles we weaved past stationary and creeping traffic. This was enough to put us off our original route which would have taken us further along the A351 to Corfe Castle.

We went through the middle of Wareham which looked quite nice but we didn't stop. To avoid the busy A351 we crossed it and headed into unplanned territory.

Which of course turned out to be hilly. What looked on the map a bit like a hairpin bend near Cocknowle indeed turned out to be a hairpin bend. The road climbed to a local high point (129m elevation according to GPS) and we stopped at the top to admire the view.

From there it was downhill to Corfe Castle. We were treated to a less often seen view of the castle ruins as we descended north-east in to Corfe. We joined the traffic going through/to Corfe and managed to miss our turning that would have let us avoid the rest of the A351. By the time we were sure we'd overshot we were far enough out of town that it seemed more sensible to continue than go back. The traffic was also light past Corfe so it was still a nice road to cycle on.

After another 4 miles or so we started our final descent in to Swanage. It felt great to see the sign welcoming us to Swanage as we were zooming downhill at 30mph. We followed signs for the town centre and eventually stopped when we saw the sea was only 10 metres away. There was a chippie there so we all got chips + buttie or pie. Distance so far: 57.5 miles.

We refilled our water bottles with water and added some electrolyte powder that we'd all got from ZipVit in a great value promotion. Then we headed off towards Studland which involved climbing steadily from sea level to 97m elevation which didn't please Alan.

But then it was downhill and perfectly flat for a couple of miles before we reached the ferry. There was quite a long queue of traffic waiting to board but cyclists had a separate lane. We reached the ferry just as the doors were being closed but the nice man let us on. It cost 80p to travel the few hundred metres to Sandbanks. As we left the island and entered the linkway we passed a gorgeous Ferrari Enzo.

Alan had decided that his knee trouble and the lactic acid burn in his legs were sufficient for him to retire. We checked the iPhone to find railway stations. Bournemouth looked to be about the same distance as Poole so Alan was with us for a bit longer.

We went to the sea front to cycle along the promenade but they ban cycling in the months of July and August. A friendly lifeguard told us that we'd be stopped by people like him all the way along and advised us on an alternate route. Unless you're on the promenade then cycling in the Bournemouth area isn't particularly pleasant (unless anyone knows some good quiet routes?).

We eventually found the station and said goodbye to Alan. He'd done 72 miles which isn't half bad. Andy, Ed and I rode in rush hour traffic through Boscombe and Christchurch before branching off towards Bransgore on lovely quiet roads. I realised that I had turned off the GPS watch on the ferry so I'd missed out 11 miles of our trip, grrr.

By this point the mileage was making itself felt in our bums, especially Andy who hadn't done this distance before and hasn't ever really gotten used to his saddle.

At Thorney Hill we crossed a cattle grid which signaled our re-entry in to the New Forest. The road from Thorney Hill to Burley is perfectly smooth, flat and really open moorland and is a delight to cycle on - definitely one to revisit.

We followed the road out of Burley back to the A35 and then began the climb up the lovely Ornamental Drive, ducking under the A31 before reaching the 130m elevation of Ocknell plain. We must have had a 15mph following wind heading back over the plains as the air felt perfectly still whilst we were doing 20mph.

Then it was nearly all flat/downhill back to Romsey to complete a 110 mile round trip. I then had another 7 miles to get home, arriving home at about 19:20.

All in all a great day. Where next I wonder?

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Solo ride over local hills

Nice hilly 58 mile bike ride this morning, although my rear gear cable snapped 17 miles from home at Nomansland. This left me with the use of only the small 12-tooth cog on the rear cassette. I didn't have a screwdriver to adjust the hi-low screws :-( I only had to dismount and walk at one point - the steep hill at the top of Ryedown lane as it meets Gardeners lane (at 76.3km)

Losing the gears didn't affect my average speed - 17.9mph. If anything it increased because I lost the option to go slowly up the hills as I had to stand on the pedals to keep them turning. Good training for hill climbing :-)

I've traced the route on Bike Route Toaster so click to see where I went. This is the best site I've found for creating routes and viewing their elevation profile. Please let me know if you know of anything better.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Ride to Newbury

Cycle ride with Ed to Newbury 2009/06/20

Went to: Winchester, Newbury, Andover
Distance: 91 miles
Total time on bike: 6:17
Average speed: 14.6 mph
Total climb height: 1320m (take the absolute value with a pinch of salt but about 37% more than the 65 mile Isle of Wight ride)

Today I had a great day on the bike with Ed Altenburger. We've both got Orbea Orcas but his is the 2009 model which has a slightly lighter frame and he's got wheels one level above mine. It's a very pretty bike. I'm not jealous. Ahem.

It had been raining just before I woke up at 7:00 and the roads were still wet when I set of to Ed's house at 8:00. There weren't any puddles and the slick tyres didn't really cause any spray so I stayed dry. Following last Saturday's bag incident I was bagless which is the best way to cycle. I'd managed to squeeze two Mars bars in to my saddle bag which was how many I'd eaten last weekend.

The way up to Newbury had some climbs but nothing too steep so we took it easy and we arrived in Newbury 2.5 hours after leaving Winchester. We both had bowls of non-skinny latte and we shared some Rocky Road/Tiffin (thanks Ed!).

Another latte shot at Newbury canal

We'd planned two routes to our next stop at Andover: one which looked great on the map and one which avoided the worst of the hills but still hit 240m elevation. We'd had such a comfortable ride out to Newbury that we decided to tackle the hillier route. Ed would regret this choice an hour later but given that he made it home in one piece it was great training for him (and me).

We were using the iPhone to find our way. The Maps application served us well. We had network data reception every time we stopped and the GPS showed where we were on the map making it easy to decide which road to take when we weren't sure where we were.

We could see a big ridge in the distance and we knew there was no way around it. But it was still a bit of a shock to turn a corner and find that the road suddenly took off vertically. Well, maybe a 16% gradient any way. Ed tackled the first half and took a breather whilst tying to pick his lungs up from the floor. It was good to hear the cars labouring to get up the hill in 2nd gear.

Steep hill west of Newbury

I scouted on ahead and found that it levelled off after another 200 metres so went back to encourage Ed but he'd already set of so had nearly caught me up anyway.

The views were magnificent from the top; this photo is about half way up the final steep bit.

View from steep ascent west of Newbury

Once over the hill we had a mixture of pleasant gentle decents and more climbing to do. The hill had really taken it out of Ed and he was in a bad way on the ascents for the next few miles before they finally petered out 6 miles north of Andover.

Newbury ride elevation profile

We stopped at Sainsburys in Andover and had a sugary drink and some food and saw 3 old planes doing fly-bys accompanied by 2 helicopters - was there an air show on?

Thankfully the last leg home wasn't too hilly although we don't live in Holland so there was still some climbing to be done. I got home at about 4:30 and devoured what was left of Emma's lovely Victoria sponge cake.

All in all, another lovely day-long bike ride. My total tracked road bike mileage is now up to 1729 miles. Roll on 2000 miles.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Running versus cycling fun race

On Thursday we had a "fun race". Fun, that is, if you relish the idea of 25 minutes of hard cardio-vascular effort.

The idea for the event came from a race that Ed Altenburger and Alan Chatt had last year. The challenge back then was "Can Alan cycle to along Port Lane to the sign and back on his knobbly-tyred mountain bike TWICE before Ed can run to the sign and back once?" One round trip distance is 3.65 miles and it's flattish, being 30 metres higher at the far end.

Things have changed since last year and now the runners are Andy Perry, Alex Mitchell, Jon Tilt, John Cooper and me, and the cyclists mostly have road bikes, so the nature of the race has changed a little.

For me, the main challenge was to be faster than half Alan's speed - he has a shiny new full carbon monocoque Orbea Onix. I've been doing lots of running over the last few months although the focus has been on distance not speed. We genuinely didn't know how it would turn out.

Pete Siddall also joined us - he commutes literally every day on a knobbly-tyred mountain bike so another sub-competition would be to see if he can beat the fastest road bike.

Each competitor submitted a target speed which represented an aggressive effort - something you would be pleased to achieve. I picked 7:00 min/mile pace given that I've not run much below 7:25 pace before so this is uncharted territory. Alan picked 18mph but thought he might not quite be able to maintain that speed. If that was the case, and I could hit my target pace then we'd be virtually "the same" (technically he'd be twice as fast as me).

I created a spreadsheet that calculated each of our target times and a handicapped start time such that we should all finish at the same time.

I think we were all pretty nervous on the day - it's not often you get to aim for an all-out effort alongside other "athletes".

Dave Lenehan (training for the New Forest Ironman but resting a knee on the day) was officiating and counted us all down to our start times and recorded finishing times.

Earlier in the week I'd revised my target pace down from 7:10 to 7:00 to match John Cooper so we both started at the same time. John's out of training at the moment but in the past has been much quicker than I am.

I started breathing heavily straight away - up the only significant hill of the course. For all I could tell John was holding his breath. He looked very relaxed. After 1/3 of a mile I told him not to wait for me and eased back ever so slightly and he pulled ahead.

He got about a 20 metre lead on me but it didn't continue to grow. My heart rate was at about 175 and breathing was hard work.

After a mile or so I crossed paths with each of the 3 cyclists. They looked to be putting in a decent amount of effort. Pete had already overtaken Phil Willoughby on his new road bike. The handicap system meant that Pete shouldn't catch Phil until the finishing line so he must have been seriously overachieving his estimate.

When I reached the halfway mark John was still 15 metres or so ahead. On the way back I felt like I was maintaining maximal effort - heart rate was up to 183 +/- 2. But I started to catch John, and gradually caught and overtook him at about 2.75 miles. As he'd said at the start, his approach would be to go out hard and try and hang on. Apart from a red face he still looked and sounded like he was comfortable though.

Shortly after Pete came by - he was first to finish by a significant margin (he won't get that much head start next time!) The finishing order shows by how much people exceeded their target speed.

My next goal was to catch Andy Perry. He has what must be an efficient gait since he never seems to be running fast. He didn't look to be that far ahead so I was confident I'd catch him sooner or later - especially since every time I looked at my pace on my watch it was sub-7:00 pace and Andy was aiming for 7:40 pace. But seeing him ahead and actually catching him were two different things. I inched closer over the next mile and finally caught him at about the 3.3 mile mark. He finished 11 seconds after me in the end.

The last couple of hundred metres are downhill. I was checking over my shoulder for the faster runners behind to catch me but I couldn't see them so apart from feeling knackered I was pleased to be finishing ahead of the pack. But then I heard a whooshing sound and Phil came steaming down the hill at 32mph and pipped me to the post by a few seconds.

I managed a final extra sprint for the last few yards and finished, gasping for breath. I looked at my watch to see that my average pace was 6:28 ! Way faster than I'd have dreamed of getting.

Fun race - pace and heart rate

Andy Perry finished just after and lay down on the grass verge while fending off a heart attack. His actual pace was 7:10 which was also much faster than he'd been hoping for.

Then came John Cooper, averaging 6:38 pace, another significant over-achievement.

Jon Tilt was next - he'd caught and passed Alex. Jon had averaged 6:12!

Then came Alan - averaging 18.2mph - almost bang on his target pace and "last" was Alex, averaging 6:45. Alex was the only person to not exceed his target pace which perhaps shows that he was better able to estimate than most of us, but also that he's out of running practice at the moment. Averaging 6:45 when out of practice is no mean feat!


Alan was not twice as quick as me - 18.2 versus 9.3mph. Result!

The fastest cyclist (Pete) was just over twice as quick as the fastest runner (Jon) at 19.47mph versus 9.23 - 10 seconds difference over 22:30 minutes

On the day, the mountain bike was faster than the carbon fibre road bike. Doing 19.5mph on a mountain bike is seriously impressive.

Alan and Alex had the best guess of their speed, Pete had the worst.

For someone who's only had his road bike for a fortnight or so, Phil was impressive at 16.2mph.

John Cooper appeared to be running *very* comfortably but actually went off slightly too fast and paid for it on the way back, although he still overachieved his target by a substantial amount.

Andy Perry can maintain his easy shuffling gait and still run fast at 7:10 pace

5 athletes finished within 1:05 of each other. Excluding Pete the spread of finishing times was only 2:29

Running versus cycling fun race spreadsheet

I'm going to schedule a repeat of the event just before the summer holiday season starts. Whilst it was rewarding to do the "fun race" it was a big effort and not something I'd want to do every week. If you want to join in then let me know.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

My first century ride


Went to: New Forest, Wimborne Minster, Bournemouth, Christchurch, Lymington, Beaulieu
Distance: 121 miles
Total time on bike: 7:33
Average speed: 16.1 mph
Total climb height: 670m (take this with a pinch of salt but much less than the 65 mile Isle of Wight ride)

On Saturday I did my first "century" ride with Mark Halliday and Rich Harran. They were doing a 100+ mile as some last minute training for their "Longest Day" ride where they head north from Winchester at 4am and cycle all day until dark, which should be about York where Rich's family lives.

Mark and Rich at Boscombe pier and pyramid

We met at North Baddesley at 08:00 and headed to the New Forest. There are loads of foals and calves in the Forest; it's really nice to see animals in the wild like that.

Before long we'd reached Ringwood, then Wimborne Minster where they were having a folk festival. There was much dancing and people with bells tied to their feet. It seemed like the whole town were involved. If they do it annually then it's worth a visit next year.

We passed Kingston Lacy (a National Trust place that is a good 45 minutes drive on fast roads from my house) and started south, aiming for Corfe Castle. We went a little off our ideal route and stopped at a shop for sweeties and a drink.

At which point I realised that the drawstring bag that I'd been carrying was no longer on my back. *%&*#! The only place it could have been was the last time we'd stopped which was about 6 miles back. Grr. My iPhone was in my saddle pack but the bag contained my normal spectacles, £10 cash, a credit card, my bank card and 4 Mars bars.

So we raced back with me leading the way as punishment (it's much harder work leading than following, by about 18% at 20mph according to The Complete Book of Long-Distance Cycling).

When we got back the bag was not there. Double *%&*#. 100 yards away was a National Trust property (White Mill) so we cycled over and asked the assembled gentry if anyone had handed in a bag. A very nice "old boy" in a suit had it:- a local lad on a bike had found it and left it in his safe keeping. Phew!

The detour had somewhat ruined our plan to get the ferry from Sandbanks to Poole so we replotted a route to Bournemouth beach. We'll leave Corfe Castle and Swanage for another century ride.

The weather at Bournemouth/Boscombe beach was weird. It was warm and sunny one minute, then further along the coast it was like being in a cloud. The visibility was down to 1/2 a mile or so and it looked like it might be raining back towards Bournemouth.

We had some well-earned (77 miles) chips on Boscombe beach and soaked up the sunshine. Speaking of which, I'd put suncream on my face, neck and legs. Which meant that only my exposed arms were sunburned when I got home. I've got a very fetching tan line half way up my biceps.

Our bikes on Bosombe beach

Going through Christchurch made me realise that when Emma and I had visited several years ago we hadn't found half of it so we went again today (no, I didn't cycle there) and had a lovely couple of hours exploring the town, abbey, ruins and marina.

We stopped in Lymington for a "full fat coke" and for Mark to get some Ibuprofen - his achilles is giving him some trouble if he pushes hard up the hills.

Then it was "only" 29 miles home via Beaulieu and Marchwood and I was home in time for tea.

My previous longest ride was 76 miles (or 81 miles in 3 stints for the Isle of Wight ride). The step up to 121 miles was surprisingly comfortable. It definitely helps to be riding in a group. You get to rest while drafting the others, you can resist the temptation to go too fast and you've got company to keep your mind occupied.

I'm looking forward to my next day-long ride. Maybe Brighton and back? You coming?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Jaunty versus Intrepid

I installed the latest version of Ubuntu on my Lenovo Thinkpad T61 recently. It's codename is "Jaunty Jackalope" but it's normally known as just "Jaunty".

I had changed from using Windows XP as my primary operating system to the previous Ubuntu version, Intrepid Ibex, last November.

For me, the main differences between Windows and Ubuntu were:
+ Boots much faster
+ The command line environment is far superior
+ Installing software using apt-get and Synaptic is wonderful
+ Updates and patches are offered and applied without requiring a reboot
+ Wireless works first time at home (WinXP requires multiple retries - no doubt a driver bug but one I still haven't fixed)
+ An extra clipboard - the middle mouse button pastes a copy of what is selected, without first requiring a Control-C operation to copy it to the "copy" clipboard.
+ CompizFusion - graphical whizziness builtin
+ Multiple desktop support built-in
- USB under VirtualBox doesn't work for iTunes/iPhone, although I have now got it working for my Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS watch
- Multi-monitor management is not quite as good
- Sound works pefectly under WinXP, sometimes distorts in Ubuntu
- Lotus Notes works slightly better under Windows, particularly around window focus

I've kept my Windows partition as is, other than using Ubuntu's Partion Editor to shrink the NTFS partition to free up space for the Ubuntu partitions.

So what's the difference between Jaunty and Intrepid? There is a good page that describes what's new but I've only used 3 of these features: a new notifications mechanism, a new file system technology and an even faster startup.


I'm really liking notifications. When an application detects an event, eg. an email or instant message or Tweet arrives, a simple pop box appears in the corner of the screen. 90%+ of the time I just read it in place before it fades. Unless I need to respond I don't need to switch to the relevant application to read it.

There is more that can be done of course - placement, colour, font, duration are not currently configurable but even without that it's still great.

Faster Startup

My aging Windows XP installation takes the best part of 5 minutes before it's started and even then it's still doing things in the background meaning that it feels sluggish.

I did some measurements this evening and my Intrepid installation gets to the logon screen in about 45 seconds, and having logged in I can run a command in a terminal window within about 80 seconds.

My Jaunty installation gets to the logon screen in about 30 seconds, and having logged in I can run a command in a terminal window within about 47 seconds.

Impressively, Jaunty boots in just 59% of the time which makes it about 70% faster.

ext4 file system

This file system can't be ready by my old Intrepid installation, but that's not a problem. The wikipedia page lists the improvements over ext3, including support for exabyte sizes, more sub-directories, checksums in the journal to improve reliability, faster file system integrity checking and nano-second timestamps.

A benchmark comparison concludes that ext4 is faster in most benchmarks but not so much that your average user will notice. They note "What perhaps is more important is that with the addition of the new features, the performance hasn't regressed. Also, when testing the EXT4 file-system, we hadn't run into any problems with stability, file corruption, or any other issues."

A comparison of Jaunty boot times using ext3 versus ext4 on the same hardware showed that ext4 was 11% faster. I'm sure that I won't be seeing that size performance gain in my every day operations but ext4 may well have contributed a few seconds to my improved boot time.

So overall I'm loving Jaunty. Why not burn a CD and try it out? The CD will boot to a working Ubuntu system to let you try it out on your hardware without using your hard disk. Then you can run the installer from there.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

New found fitness level

Today Andy Perry and I did our longest run so far: 9.4 miles in 1:20 (8:33 min/mile). It included hills and single-track bridleway sections and it was drizzling, so not ideal conditions.

The pleasing thing is that we did part of this route 3 weeks ago when we ran 7.8 miles at 8:35 min/mile pace so today we were ever so slightly faster and went 1.6 miles further, but my average heart rate on the first run was 156bpm but on today's run it was only 146bpm.

So further, faster, and more easily.  

I'm putting this down to an increase in my cycling volume: the Isle of Wight 82 mile day and I've been commuting for the last 2 weeks.  Commuting means doing 5.2 miles as quickly as possible so I've had a good mix of short high-effort cycling, medium-duration medium-effort runs and long low-effort cycling.

I am feeling a bit stiff now though :)

PS The drizzle was enough to dampen our clothing and when we finished I had slightly chafed nipples.   I asked Andy if his were sore and he said no.  But a minute later I noticed that he had blood on the front of his shirt.  Turns out his nipples were completely numb and he'd rubbed one raw.  Ouch.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Isle of Wight Randonnee 2009

Went to: The Isle of Wight
Distance: 67 miles (plus 15.5 commute to the ferry)
Total time on bike: 4:44 (plus 1 hour commute to the ferry)
Average speed: 14.2 mph
Fastest speed: 38.3 mph (according to my Forerunner 305 GPS)
Total climb height: 966m

On Sunday we cycled around the Isle of Wight. A tiring but thoroughly enjoyable day was by all: Alan Chatt, Mark Halliday, Jim McDonnell and me.

I'd never been there before except for a quick trip to a single pub up-river in Cowes on Janet Willmott's yacht a few years ago. It's a really pleasant place around which to cycle - lots of sea views, coastline, chalk cliffs, beaches, cute villages and rolling hills.

The day started at 8:00 as Mark arrived at my house and he, Jim and I set off to Southampton port. After 7.7 miles and 28 minutes of formation cycling along boring main roads we arrived. Despite having pre-booked and printed our tickets we still had to check in and get a boarding pass (although on the way back just showing the printed ticket was enough). We joined the queue of gaudily attired cyclists and Alan arrived after 10 minutes.

We boarded the ferry after most of the motorized vehicles and were instructed to lay our bikes down on the floor. There was plenty of space so we weren't overly worried about laying down our collective £8000 worth of carbon fibre and titanium.

We went up on deck and enjoyed the sun breaking through the early clouds as the ferry steamed towards Cowes at 16mph (according to Jim's Edge 705). When we docked they let the cyclists off first and Mark lead us to the Randonnee stall. We collected our cards which we would get stamped at 6 points around the island to prove that we had done the whole 100k distance.

We set off at about 10:00 and 100 metres later ran in to the back of the queue for the Cowes chain ferry. There were already about 100 cyclists waiting. Foot passengers and cyclists travel for free; cars are £1.50. The first time the ferry reached our side the cars were let off and then the waiting cars were let on, followed by as many cyclists as could be squeezed in between the cars.

The second time the ferry came back the cars were let off but the mass of cyclists refused to part to let the cars board first. The cyclists had been there longer and there seemed to be a whole boatload of us. A brief stand-off ensued as the ferry staff refused to let us on unless the vehicles boarded first. After shouts of "What do you want, £1.50?" and a minutes procrastination common sense prevailed and all the cyclists were allowed to board.   When we got to the other side we all mounted and headed off amidst a sea of colour.

The density of cyclists was amazing - for the first few miles we seemed to be surrounded by bikes, some passing us but most being overtaken by us. The density caused problems at one switchback corner as the road steepened to perhaps 13% gradient for 20 metres. Weaker riders wobbled to a stop causing those directly behind to stop too. You don't want unexpected stops when you're clipped in to your pedals but all of us powered past and up the hill unscathed. The event had 2156 cyclists registered including 1851 doing the full 100k route. It was virtually impossible to get lost as you could almost always see a stream of cyclists ahead and behind.  The route-marking blue signs were easy to find and we'd also been given a leaflet with the route marked on it.  All in all, pretty well organized.

We then had a nice flat mile-long section with a view of the Solent and the mainland before the road turned inland and we entered the kind of terrain that we'd spend most of the ride doing; quiet country lanes with views of fields and hills, but not so much of the sea.

After about 5 miles we were passed by a 16-year old boy on a mountain bike. After Mark drafted him for half a mile I decided that it wasn't the done thing to be pulled along by a knobbly-tired bike and we passed him, leaving it up to him if he wanted to draft us in return. He didn't, and we didn't see him again. Given that our bikes are at least 30% easier to ride on the roads than his, he would have had a much more demanding day than us.

After 16 miles and 1:03 of riding without stopping we reached our first checkpoint at Yarmouth. After a quick bit of packed lunch and a comfort break we remounted and were disconcerted to find that our next 2 miles were to be along a stony bridleway. Skinny-tired road bikes and trails aren't the best of bedfellows so we were pretty apprehensive but we made it down the 2 mile section without picking up any punctures. The boy on the mountain bike would have been going faster along here than we were as we were going pretty slow. I'm not sure there's any evidence that riding at two-thirds pace will reduce your chances of getting a puncture but that's what we did.

From Freshwater Bay we climbed from an elevation of -2 to 81 metres in a 1300-metre long climb - about a 6% gradient.   This was the second hardest climb of the day but we were still quite fresh and the views of the cliffs and beach were spectacular.

Once over the top we were treated to a 38mph descent. This began the pattern of climb/descent which repeated itself for the rest of the ride. When your legs are tired the joys of the descents are somewhat dulled by the knowledge that what-goes-down-must-go-up.

Mark snapped his rear gear cable coming down the hill so we stopped and tried to affect a roadside repair. He had a spare cable with him but we couldn't work out how to get it in to the shifter so instead we adjusted the hi-low screws on his rear derailleur to give him the 3rd smallest (and hardest) cog at the bike and the 2 rings at the front. He thought that part of the old cable might be stuck in the mechanism so we'd try to get it fixed at a shop in Ventnor. This left him without any easy gears and the longest climb of the day to broach.  But this is the crazy guy who's soon to be doing London to Edinburgh and back in 4 days so we had no worries about him.

Shortly after Jim nearly "clothes-lined" another cyclist. We were approaching a right hand turn on a narrow country road and Jim vigourously thrust out his hand to indicate his intentions. I'm not sure whether his intentions included punching the woman in to the hedge but he nearly succeeded.

We stopped a mile before the biggest climb to have the rest of our packed lunch and to try to regain some freshness in our legs before the ascent. As we ate we were passed by a team of about 10 guys in team formation all in matching red lycra, prompting some discussion about getting matching outfits for the Hursley cyclists. Watch this space... (with fear).

The ascent wasn't too bad. It was quite long but it wasn't very steep. Over 1.8 miles we gained 124 metres of elevation in a long drag that took our slowest team member 12 minutes of continuous slog.

After another couple of miles we reached the second checkpoint, ending a 19 mile stage with the 2 biggest climbs of the day.  I treated us all to a chilled Kit Kat, and Mark found that during the stage he had freed up his gear lever which enabled him to fit the replacement gear cable; better late then never.

I remember less about the second half of the ride - partly because it was familiar-feeling country lanes but probably more because we were getting tired.  Alan in particular didn't relish the last 10 miles which felt like a procession of semi-steep climbs and descents.  The ride was also over twice as long as any he'd done before so he did particularly well to make it without stopping on any hills and without complaining.

Towards the end I attacked one longish hill in a big gear to try and blast up it and found I was suprisingly fresh.  So for the rest of the ride I would attack the hills until I ran out of steam, grind on in discomfort for a while, then turn round and coast back to join the tail of our group.  I was quite pleased with how quickly I recovered though - I found that the coasting back phase was enough to give me the energy for another sprint.  After a few of these my legs were burning and and I think I had an idea of how Alan must have been feeling for the last 10 miles.

The was one corner somewhen near the end when the Spinnaker tower suddenly appeared and seemed to be really close, but then we turned back inland and didn't see it again for ages.

We arrived back at Cowes just before 5:00, collected out final stamp and received a certifcate.  We joined the ferry queue in the sunshine and were on board after 15 minutes.  A tasty pint of 1664 each, some evening sunshine and a ferry trip home was a great end to a great day.

I half-jokingly said to Mark that we should do it again soon but do 2 laps.  I've just received an email where he's called my bluff and proposed two weekends when we could do it.  The less crazy in our gang could join us at lunchtime for the second lap when we'd have burned off our excess enthusiasm and would appreciate a more relaxed pace.  Sounds like fun.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Quickish run with Andy

Andy Perry and I ran 6 miles today quicker than we've done before - 8:05 min/mile. Andy felt a bit under par on Tuesday when we ran but today he said that he had no excuses (other than age, weight, slippery conditions, fitness etc etc).

This route is quite a good one as it starts off downhill for the first 1.6 miles, over which we averaged 7:40 min/mile pace. Now thoroughly warmed up we spent the next 2 miles climbing nearly 80 metres. Then the rest of the route is downhill apart from a couple of relatively insignificant slopes.

My heart rate trace shows that I wasn't pushing very hard. Andy was getting a much better workout today than I was. Lucky him. The drop in heartrate after 3.2 miles was due to the track getting quite muddy and slippery and we slowed to ensure no embarrassing falls.

You may have spotted that we finished in Hursley village rather than where we started. This cunningly avoids running up a steepish hill at the end of a long run. I initially felt quite guilty about this cheating but when I mentioned it to Jon Tilt (a seriously fit guy at work) he gave it his approval as it was a guaranteed way to make sure we get a cooling down period as we walk back up the hill - something lots of long distance runners don't bother with.

Next week our goal is to run 9 miles, in preparation for a circular 10.5 mile run up to Farley Mount returning via Ampfields woods.

50 quid Sainsburys vouchers win

You may not have noticed but the Sainsburys Active Kids vouchers have a 15 digit code printed on the bottom of the front face that you can enter in to a draw on their website.

Every five minutes between 8am - 10pm until 3 June 2009 they are giving away £50 of vouchers to someone who entered a code in that time window.

And the other night I won! Sweet!

So how lucky was I? According to Wikipedia their annual revenue is around £20 billion.

Daily that's around 20 billion/363 = 55 million. Vouchers are given out for every £10 spend. Assume half of the revenue results in a voucher being given out so the number of vouchers issued per day is around 2.75 million.

I've no data on which to base the fraction of vouchers that get entered in their Draw. Assume only 1 in 10 as most people I've spoken to hadn't noticed this feature and lots of people won't be bothered.

If the codes are entered evenly over the period, which I'm treating as being the same thing as saying that those issued on a day will be entered on a day, then the number entered every 5 mins is 2.75 million / 10 / (14*60/5) = 1640.

So my odds of winning a draw were approximately 10/1640 = 1 in 164. Lucky me.

Monday, April 27, 2009

1000 miles

I reached a GPS-tracked distance of 1000 miles on Friday. I commuted Tuesday-Friday which is about 40 miles and had a nice 31 mile ride with Alan on Friday afternoon.

Alan got a 2009 Orbea Onix on the CycleScheme this year and it's a lovely bike. This years model, unlike last years Onix (which I ordered but didn't get), is a carbon monocoque frame and looks pretty snazzy. It's got Shimano wheels and componentry and he's very pleased with it.

Went to: Crawley, Longstock, Michelmersh
Distance: 31.2 miles
Total time on bike: 2:00
Average speed: 15.6 mph
Fastest speed: 37.6mph (according to my Forerunner 305 GPS)
Total climb height: 385 m

Almost all of this ride is on quiet country lanes. There are 3 climbs of which the 3rd, at 29 miles in, is the steepest - just what you need when your legs are getting tired.

The section after the 2nd peak, after 11 miles, is a gentle 2 mile descent where you whizz along at 25mph putting in very little effort. If you have a good imagination then you can pretend that this is your normal pace and that you'll be entering the Tour de France next year.

Our average speed after 23.1 miles was still an impressive 16.4mph - but it dropped off quite a bit over the last few miles as our legs got tired and there were some more ascents to tackle.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Fabulous Ride

Went to: Michelmersh, the Deans, the New Forest
Distance: 47.3 miles
Total time on bike: 2:45
Average speed: 17.2 mph
Average heart rate: 154bpm
Fastest speed: 39.8mph (according to my Forerunner 305 GPS)
Total climb height: 460 m

I had a fabulous bike ride this afternoon/evening. The route was picked to try out the 2 main options for getting to Redlynch for a future cycle ride with Alan Chatt who lives in Salisbury.

You may also have noticed that the route image above isn't using Google Maps data, it's an image from OpenStreetMap which is a cool project that provides mapping data without cost or licensing restrictions - it's completely for free. The data is supplied by regular people - I contributed a lot of roads and footpaths in my area as it was pretty sparse. Check it out. If anything you know of is missing then have a go at adding it. It can be strangely addictive.

The way out included a pleasant climb in to Michelmersh - anything that doesn't require the use of 1st gear counts as a good climb in my book.

From there I followed an official cycle route from Lockerly through East Dean to West Dean. It was lovely and flat although I could see I was tracking a mean looking ridge to my left.

Then I turned left. I climbed 122 metres in 1.12 miles and 6:15 minutes. First gear was most definitely employed. Max heart rate was 182bpm which shows I had a little in reserve but this intensity had to be sustained for about 3 minutes and I sounded like a steam train. The steepest part of this hill started at a hairpin bend and was 0.3 miles long and climbs 59 metres. That's a sustained average gradient of 12.2% and it levels off at the top so most of it is about 14%. I averaged 7.1mph up the steepest part.

I reached Redlynch after 1:24 riding time. I'd been using the Maps application on my iPhone for navigation - no backup paper maps. I'd dropped 6 "pins" as way points for the areas that I didn't know. I stopped 4 times to consult the map (and once for a train at a level crossing). The first time I had no O2 coverage for data but the Maps application caches the areas you've recently viewed so whilst I couldn't get any new zoomed-in maps a more zoomed-out map was available and it was enough.

A couple of miles after leaving Redlynch I properly entered the New Forest. You know when you enter because there is a cattle grid to cross, taken slow on a road bike. I've done a few at high speed but it sounds awful and it's pretty violent. It's useful to know that the bike can take it but I'm not intending to do it again.

I really like this part of the New Forest - north of the A36. It's mostly open moors with few forests so you can see much further. I think it's at a higher altitude than the other side of A36 and the views are breathtaking. I was treated to a panorama over miles of moorland with the sun in an early stage of setting - beautiful.

As you might expect there were ponies and donkeys all over the place including some cute foals. I gingerly cycled past some startled-in-to-running cows and calfs at one point, whistling a tune in an attempt to appear less threatening.

After leaving the Forest I went through Blackhill and nearly to East Wellow before heading straight in to Romsey via the most direct route. This meant I took the last section of dual carriageway in to Romsey - down the hill. My GPS watch says I did 39.8mph which is frustratingly close to 40mph - which I haven't yet achieved. But this was after 2:10 riding time and 37.25 miles of cycling so I didn't have fresh legs. One for another day.

I got home pretty tired but after 2:45 of fairly quick cycling that's a good thing - I'll sleep well tonight. I'd bought a couple of fruit and custard tarts earlier so I wolfed one down (Emma enjoyed the other one later) before glugging a probiotic yoghurt drink, chomping a little bit of Easter egg, scoffing a sausage, mustard and ketchup sandwich and having a Weight Watchers pizza. I won't buy that brand of pizza again. The Pizza Express ones are only 25% or so more calories and are much tastier.

All in all, a fabulous ride. I need to work out how to maximize my time in the New Forest without cheating and driving there.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Ride to Andover

Went to: Andover, the Wallops
Distance: 54 miles
Total time on bike: 3:20
Average speed: 16.1 mph
Fastest speed: 39.3mph (according to Forerunner 305 GPS)
Total climb height: 568 m

Another lovely countrified ride on a mostly sunny day. I met Mark Halliday at Hursley and off we went.

The cycling was uneventful - quiet country lanes and no nasty hills. We passed through numerous sleepy villages with quaint thatched cottages. It really is a nice part of the world down here.

Our destination was Andover; in particular, a coffee shop that serves latte. Cafe Nero didn't have any outside seating so Costa won. They serve coffee in soup bowls and having cycled 25 miles to get there it didn't feel wrong to put 2 sugars in.

The photo was taken with my iPhone, which takes a bit of a pasting for only having a 2 megapixel fixed-focus camera, but it takes perfectly adequate snaps.

There weren't many hills that troubled me in the slightest although the last one is long and saves the steepest part for the end so after 46 miles this was a little bit challenging.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Tying my shoelaces

It turns out I've been tying my shoelaces wrong for the last 30 years. I've been tying a Granny Knot, which results in an uneven knot that tends to come undone.

So first I made the trivial change to convert it to a Standard Shoelace Knot. The difference is due to the adjacent contact points within the finished knot. In the Standard Shoelace Knot, tension on the bottom part of the knot (due to foot movement) will pull the adjacent top part of the knot tight. In the un-balanced "Granny Knot" the adjacent contact points run in opposite directions so the same tension on the bottom part of the knot will work the adjacent top part of the knot loose.

For a couple of days I tried tying one shoe with a Granny and one with the Standard knot to see if either would come undone but neither did.

But now I've upgraded to using the Ian Knot. The end result is identical to the Standard knot but it's definitely faster to tie. I'm actually enjoying tying my laces now. There is beauty in its simplicity and efficiency.

Ian's website also has lots of lacing patterns, some decorative, some functional. The ones for lacing shoes for use on my mountain bike could be genuinely useful.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Ride to Lymington

I've had a good day today. The clocks have changed, the Grand Prix season has started, I watched a 1000 or so runners stream by in the Eastleigh 10k (it was fascinating to watch the runners' styles), I had a rewarding bike ride and Emma and Isobel made some great cakes.

Went to: New Forest wilderness, Beaulieu, Lymington, Brockenhurst
Distance: 76 miles
Total time on bike: 4:54
Average speed: 15.5 mph
Total climb height: 543 m

I met Mark Halliday at North Baddesley at 11 and we headed off to the New Forest. Mark's Garmin Edge 705 found us some back roads to mostly avoid the traffic around Southampton.

Our first stop was in Beaulieu where we enjoyed a full fat Coke. Shortly after we disturbed a couple of pheasants. As they took off they crossed our path and one of them "unloaded" itself, narrowly missing me. Not a hazard we had been anticipating.

We had a little jaunt down to the sea front at one point. We were only about 3 miles from the Isle of Wight. The Spinnaker tower was visible in one direction and the Lymington ferry in the other. There was also a couple of ponies enjoying the beach.

We had a late lunch at Lymington: a Spicy Chicken pasty. I don't think it was just the appetite from a 35 mile ride to get there, but it was the most tasty pasty I can remember eating.

I saw plenty of places in the New Forest that I didn't know existed - lots of potential for family walks.

Cycling on the open parts of the moors when there's a headwind is a bit tiring so we were grateful to find an icecream van at one of the car parks. No icecream but another sugary drink and energy levels were significantly boosted.

When we got back we found freshly baked hot cross buns and lovely cup cakes. Emma had put chocolate in to the middle of the cup cakes, the idea being that if you eat it shortly after its cooked then it'd be gooey. But we weren't back until nearly 5 so by the time I got my cake the chocolate was solid, but it was still delicious. No big surprise, but chocolate-filled cakes taste great.

I'm looking forward to our next ride - which could be an organized event around the edge of the Isle of Wight in May.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Accidental 7 mile run

This sunny afternoon I went for a run, intending to do a loop around Ampfield woods and back.  But somehow I missed the bridlepath to re-enter the woods and ended up going back over the hill past Merdon Castle.

On the plus side, the GPS trace looks much more impressive.

6.96 miles in 58:30 at average pace 8:25 miles/min.   This includes the time hopping through muddy sections so it should be a shade faster when the ground is dry.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A sunny 65.5m ride

Another long bike ride today in gloriously sunny 16C weather. I met up with Mark Halliday, Rich Harran and Ian Vanstone at the White Horse in Ampfield at 9:00. Executive summary:

Went to: the countryside
Distance: 65.5 miles
Highest point: 143m
Total climb height: 640 m
Average speed: 15.2 mph
Total time on bike: 4:19

We went anti-clockwise around the route above. We saw very little traffic and lots of countryside. The detour through Crawley (the most North-Easterly point) was partly to miss out a section of the main Stockbridge road but mostly because it's a really pretty village.

For sustenance I took a packet of Thornton's Belgian chocolates. I figured that the calories wouldn't be a problem over that distance.

The road out of Pitton was fun. It's steep at 14% but not too long - 40m of ascent. It's probably the steepest hill I've done.

Steep hills are particularly challenging on my bike because I have a regular "double" crank, not a "compact crank". This means that my easiest gear is not very easy at all. My small chainring has 39 teeth and my biggest cog at the back has 27 teeth. Everyone else has compact cranks and has the luxury of a front ring with just 32/34 teeth.

We stopped at Mark's house in Romsey and he heated us up a lovely risotto (mushroom, chicken, ham, butternut squash, other veg, stock). He'll make a lovely wife for someone one day.

Riding in a group of four was good. Riding two abreast on the quiet roads meant that we could talk easily and the rear two could draught the front two. I'm looking forward to a bigger peleton when Alan Chatt, Ed Altenburger and Alex Mitchell get their bikes.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Longest bike ride so far - Petersfield

I've just got back from my longest bike ride so far and it was great. Executive summary:

Went to: Petersfield
Distance: 56 miles
Highest point: 220 m
Total climb height: 762 m
Average speed: 12.7 mph
Total time on bike: 4:23
Fastest speed: 40 mph
Punctures: 0

I met Mark Halliday (who is cycling from London to Edinburgh and back again in 4 days later this year - please consider sponsoring him) and Rob Smyth at the Brigadier Gerard pub in Horton Heath at 9:00 on Sunday 1st March 2009. After a quick go on Rob's bike, a Trek Madone 4.5, we headed off at an easy pace. The roads were nice and dry but there was complete cloud cover and it was a bit nippy in my cycling shorts and vented cycling shoes.

We were following a route Mark had planned and uploaded to his Garmin Edge 705, a Sat-Nav like bike computer. This really helped us spend time enjoying quiet country lanes without worrying too much about navigation, although we did take a wrong turn after a mile or so which added an odd kink to our route but it was along a nice lane so a nice little detour really.

After about 6 miles Rob and I had a moment of confusion at 2mph resulting in him falling off. No harm done, although his brakes were rubbing immediately afterwards which made me worry that he'd buckled a wheel. But briefly applying the brakes sorted it out.

Our original route took us almost to Petersfield but by the time we got there we fancied a latte and a quick look at the town. There seems to be a market their on Sundays which meant the town was nice and alive, and we found a Cafe Nero with a free outside table. 3 large lattes with sugar please.

Leaving Petersfield the Sat-Nav took us near "Steep" and appropriately enough we went up a 2.4 mile long, 152 metre ascent, steep-in-parts hill, which I enjoyed but I'm not sure Rob did.

We stopped a couple of times to scoff Mark's home made chocolate brownies and my "kicking about the house" chocolate stash. We figured that with 4:23 of time on the bike we could afford to eat chocolate.

Towards the end of the ride the sun started to peek through and it almost felt warm.

And when I got home I found a box of 12 Krispy Kreme doughnuts so I further figured that I could have 2 of them.

My bum feels a little sore from sitting on the small bike seat and my butt muscles groan when I stand up but I'm feeling really invigorated.

Overall the Orca was a very comfortable ride over that distance - my last outing was 6 weeks ago so I hadn't had a chance to get used to cycling again so once I "break myself in" it should be even easier.

So if you're interested in doing a ride like this let me know. The more the merrier.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

I love my bike

The Orca is a lovely bike. I haven't ridden road bikes since I was about 14 so I don't have much to compare it to, but it certainly delights me. I love the acceleration when you get up on the pedals. I look forward to short sharp hills that on a mountain bike would drop me down to a snails pace, but on the Orca I put in a burst of effort in and fly up them at 20mph. I like going down long hills and finding that there are about 2 more small-cog gears than I expected. And it looks lovely.

I remember coming back to Hursley from Romsey after an 18 mile ride and finding that I could put in 3 seconds of effort to go 2mph faster, then maintain that pace comfortably for a few seconds, then again put in the effort to go 2mph faster again, then maintain that pace, and then again one more time. On a mountain bike, putting extra effort in seems to make very little difference to pace, and if you do get some extra then it disappears very soon after. The Orca lets me hold on to the pace for much longer.

I've only done one "long" ride so far - most of my rides are high energy affairs as I find I can't go slowly on the Orca. It just wants to be ridden fast and is so rewarding to do so. The furthest I've been is 38.7 miles. 2 hours and 20 minutes, average speed 16.5mph, average heart rate 158bpm. Total climb height about 1000 feet. I went through lots of picturesque villages including some I hadn't seen before. It was great. My back was slightly sore towards the end but was fine was fine when I got off the bike. I think I just need more practice.

The frame is all carbon and does an impressive job of smoothing out the bumps. The tyres are the thinner ones (700x23) and I pump them up to about 90psi so there isn't much cushioning from them. But most road surfaces feel smooth and I've hit some potholes that I thought would be nasty but the bike took them in its stride. The only surface I don't like can be found along Poles Lane where the surface seems to induce a vibration that feels almost resonant - the space between the bumps in the road must the perfectly wrong for the bike. On a mountain bike you wouldn't think twice but it's annoying on the Orca. But there are very few roads where I've had this problem.

I got a standard double crankset (52&39 teeth) with 10 cogs at the back: 12 - 21,24,27 If I were to buy again I'd opt for the compact crankset. I find that my normal speed on the flat is about 20mph where I'm in the big ring at the front and about the 4th cog at the back. That doesn't leave many cogs at the back to handle slight uphill gradients. It's rare to need the smallest 2 cogs at the back (although it is fun when I can use them). I think a compact crankset would give me a better set of gears for normal riding and a couple of extra gears for climbing. Some hills can be quite challenging with the standard crankset - but then it's rewarding when you manage them.

I cleaned my bike the other day. The shapes and lines in the frame are simply gorgeous, especially at the back end.