The best Palace to Palace bike ride yet

We made it: at the Palace to Palace finish, Windsor

We made it: at the Palace to Palace finish, Windsor

Today, I joined colleagues from PayPal UK and thousands of others to cycle from Buckingham Palace to Windsor Castle (Palace to Palace) to raise money for The Prince’s Trust. It was a brilliant day that will have raised a huge amount of money for this very important charity, which gives a fresh start to disadvantaged young people.

This was my third Palace to Palace. It was definitely the best yet. Part of that was down to me – I’ve cycled hundreds of miles this summer, which helped me keep up with colleagues 20 years younger than me, and finish at an average speed of 15.9mph compared with 11.9mph last year. I’ve also got a wonderful road bike – a Specialized Roubaix. But it also reflects great work by the organisers. We were back on the faster traditional route via Fulham after last year’s slog through Wandsworth, caused by the summer 2014 closure of Putney Bridge. And they seemed to be managing the flow of departures better – while it took ages to get to the start line, we didn’t find anything like as much cycle congestion in London compared with the previous two years. We got to Richmond Park, 10 miles out, in just over 40 minutes.

Thanks to my new found fitness, I enjoyed a novel experience – being in a peloton. About seven of us from PayPal rode in formation, taking it in turns to lead the train. I was leading the way as we passed the M25, and again as we climbed towards the M3. That effort took a lot out of me, and I rode solo for a few miles before rejoining the train at the last water station at 35 miles. I braced myself for the hill I dreaded in previous years after Englefield Green. Suddenly the road plunged – and I realised I had already climbed the hill without noticing it. It was a delicious moment.

Windsor is a wonderful destination – whether you’re on a bike or arriving by car or train. This year we had the added bonus of cycling up the Long Walk towards Windsor Castle, which offers a wonderful view of the largest castle in Europe. Soon after, we arrived at Windsor Racecourse for a much needed drink and sandwich. (You can even grab a free massage in the End Village.)

Thanks to everyone who sponsored me – and all the other cyclists. If you’d like to add to the money raised, please visit my JustGiving page.

Here’s to next year!

PS: best wishes to the female cyclist who had an accident near Hampton. I hope she is OK.

Why I’m cycling Palace to Palace for The Prince’s Trust

Ready for Palace to Palace 2013 - on three wheels

Ready for Palace to Palace 2013 – on three wheels

Almost 40 years ago, the Prince of Wales had a brilliant idea: to give disadvantaged and vulnerable young people a fresh start in life. So began The Prince’s Trust. On Sunday, I’ll be joining thousands of others cycling from London to Windsor to raise money for this excellent cause.

It’s my third Palace to Palace, riding with friends from PayPal UK. My first in 2013 was on my trike – as I blogged at the time. This time I’ll be on a faster road bike, my Specialized Roubaix, which has been a constant companion this summer. It’s a lovely ride from Buckingham Palace to Windsor, especially once you’ve got to Richmond Park and can start to build up speed. (If you think cars cause congestion, imagine thousands of cyclists negotiating London’s traffic lights!)

If you’d like to sponsor me – and more importantly help The Prince’s Trust and young people – please visit my JustGiving page. Thank you!

Cycling Cornwall’s hills

Pointing to the Cornish hills

Pointing to the Cornish hills

Some people’s idea of a holiday is lying on a beach.  Or nursing a beer or Barolo savouring a lovely meal. I like all those things. But this year, I added 4,380 feet of cycling up Cornish hills to my holiday mix.

Last week, we returned to one of our favourite places: Mawgan Porth, on Cornwall’s Atlantic Coast. It’s a wonderful spot, with a stunning beach bisected by the river Menalhyl. We stayed at The Park holiday resort (I blogged about this special place on our last visit in 2012), which is an easy 10 minute walk to that beautiful beach.

This year, I was determined to bring my bike, after rediscovering my love of cycling since the beginning of June. Back in 2002 nearby St Columb Major was the first night’s stop on my 16 day Land’s End to John O’Groat’s bike ride. Those first two days in the West Country 12 years ago almost brought me to my knees, with the constant, killer climbs out of the river valleys. This time, I was pleasantly surprised. I hardly noticed the climb out of Mawgan Porth along the Vale of Lanherne. My ride to St Columb Major and back via Newquay airport involved 900 feet of climbing in just over 10 miles. The reward? The glorious swoop down to Mawgan Porth from Trevarrian.

Racing down to Mawgan Porth

Cycling to Mawgan Porth, 36mph, July 2015

I loved those morning bike rides. As I cycled along the Vale of Lanherne on Tuesday, I met a woman walking a horse. She thanked me for stopping to let her pass, explaining that the horse had only ever seen one cyclist. I smiled to myself, knowing that I’d stopped for the two of them two days before. (I encountered them a third time on my return!) That same ride, I met overtook a young couple running – in both directions. I revelled in the (relative) fitness I had gained in all my June and July bike rides, including that fastest century. It made those hills so much easier.

Beach boy, Mawgan Porth, July 2015

Beach boy, Mawgan Porth, July 2015

Cycling was just one of the pleasures of our week in Mawgan Porth. As you can see from the shot above, Owen, 7, loved the fabulous beach. We splashed in the waves in our wetsuits and he enjoyed his bodyboard. I loved seeing the stream of people heading for surf school with King Surf. If I were younger, I’d be very tempted to join them next time…

My bike at The Park, waiting for our next adventure

My bike at The Park, waiting for our next adventure

Finally, here’s my video of my downhill rides into Mawgan Porth from west, east and south…

My fastest century bike ride

Climbing to a century: Marsworth, Bucks

Climbing to a century: Marsworth, Bucks

On the last day of 2014, I blogged that 2015 would see me riding 100 miles in a day: a cycling century. Yesterday was the day. I repeated my 2005 century route through Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Oxfordshire, stopping at Buckingham for lunch.

The cycling guides give helpful and sensible advice on how to prepare for a century. They tell you to build up your stamina with regular long rides. I certainly did a lot of cycling in the three weeks before the big ride, making the most of the long June evenings to get on the bike. But none was more than ten miles…

That lack of long distance experience no doubt contributed to the fatigue I felt as I finished. It also explained my usual failure to eat before feeling hungry, the curse of the ill-prepared long distance cyclist. But I finished strongly, powering at 17mph or more along the A413 from Wendover to Amersham and beyond. (I love quiet roads, but after 85 miles I like to avoid unnecessary hills…)

When I got home, I was delighted to find that I’d completed the century at an average speed of 13.7mph. For me, that’s a miracle: my fastest century. On my first century in 1995, I was pleased to maintain 13mph for the first 75 miles. (I finished at around 12.75mph.) True, this time I had the benefit of a wonderful road bike, my eight month old Specialized Roubaix. In 2005, I was riding my trusty Dawes Super Galaxy with a pannier full of maps and an SLR camera. But I had just got back from a 315 mile cycle tour of the hilly west country.

Here are my reflections of my fourth century. Continue reading

The joy of June: summer evening cycling

A breather before Clay Street hill to Beaconsfield

A breather before Clay Street hill to Beaconsfield

It’s one of my favourite times of year. It’s light till late, and it’s getting warmer. June is one of my favourite months. It’s perfect for a bike ride after work.

I’ve shaken off the sofa and regained my love of cycling this week. I’ve jumped on the bike on five of the last seven days. True, I’ve set no distance or speed records but I’ve felt better for the fresh air and exercise. My hill climbing is getting better (admittedly from a very low base) and the downhills have been as much fun as ever. I’m starting to dream about bigger cycling challenges – including the promised first century ride since 2005.

Over the hills to Beaconsfield

Over the hills to Beaconsfield

Technology has changed cycling. Strava is the runaway success, mapping your rides and performance and allowing you to compete against others on the same stretch, or segment, of road. It has changed the behaviour of many cyclists, as the Independent reported in 2013. I still like Garmin Connect, Garmin’s answer to Strava, although I wish Garmin would make it easier to upload ride information from my Garmin Edge 800. At present, I have to plug the device into my computer, then manually open Garmin’s separate Garmin Express app to upload data. (Newer devices can, I’m told, upload directly.) You can also share your Garmin data with Strava.

The map above shows one of my favourite rides, a switchback route to Beaconsfield and back. Living in the Chilterns, I’m lucky to have lots of scenic and hilly rides. This is a lovely 10 miler, with a few good but short hills. I couldn’t resist stopping last Wednesday evening to take a photo before tackling Clay Street hill towards Beaconsfield, followed by a delicious swoop down to Beaconsfield new town.

Today, Owen and I rode our new Thorn Raven Twin childback tandem to his cricket class in Gerrards Cross. We recorded our fastest ever ride on the way out: an average of 13.7mph. The tandem is so fast on the flat and downhill. Owen’s friend seven year old friend Freddie was delighted to get a test ride on the tandem. This is a lovely bike: Robin Thorn and Andy Blance have created something special.

Where will I go on my 2015 century? I’m tempted to repeat the lovely 2005 rides to Buckingham and back. But then I also like the idea of reading towards Oxford, with lovely places like Watlington and Chalgrove en route. Perhaps I’ll do both…

2015: time for a cycling century ride

Wiltshire cycling century

My first cycling century, 1995

A year ago, I ended the year by looking back to a cycling achievement: a two wheeled journey from Wales to Buckinghamshire. This New Year’s Eve, I’m looking ahead: to my first cycling century (100 mile bike ride) of the decade.  Continue reading

Land’s End to John O’Groats: travellers’ tales

It’s the ultimate British bike ride: from Land’s End in Cornwall to John O’Groats on Scotland’s far north coast. The End to End. I did the ride in 2002. I’m now starting to dream about doing it again with my son when he’s older.

To feed that dream, I’ve just read two books about other riders’ End to End experiences. My favourite was Ellie Bennett’s Blood Sweat and Gears. Ellie clearly loved and loathed the experience, a contrast most End to End riders will recognise. The sinking feeling as you see yet another West Country hill looming ahead of you. The dread at the number of miles and hills before that night’s destination. And wondering if the rain will ever stop.

Continue reading

Land’s End to John O’Groats: the Great British bike ride

 

Land's End to John O'Groats

The end to end: cycling to John O’groats

Britain’s roads were full of cyclists this weekend, as glorious weather added to the eternal appeal of exploring on two wheels. I wonder how many of these weekend cyclists dreamed of doing the ultimate British bike ride, from Land’s End to John O’Groats? Continue reading

Testing the GoPro jaws clamp mount

I love my GoPro Hero 3 video camera. It’s made it far easier and safer to video bike rides. (I shudder to think I once cycled at over 20mph holding a camcorder…) I’ve now got an even better way of attaching it to a bike or ICE trike: the GoPro Jaws Flexible Clamp mountContinue reading

Long distance cycling: Cardiff to Bucks

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Above: departing Penarth, Wales for England

As 2013 draws to a close, I’m reflecting on one of my most memorable experiences of the year: fulfilling an old ambition of cycling from Wales to Buckinghamshire. I set off on Monday 2 September from my parents’ flat on the seafront at Penarth, just outside Cardiff.

It was a real challenge. This was my first cycle tour carrying my own luggage since 1998. I’ve put on a few pounds since that tour of Normandy, so I wasn’t surprised to find myself struggling up the hills. This was also my first tour relying on digital rather than paper maps, which proved very frustrating. I couldn’t help looking back to my 325 mile cycle tour of the West Country in 1995, when I got lost just once while navigating the most obscure country lanes, thanks to a stack of Ordnance Survey maps. This time, I wasted a huge amount of time as my Garmin Edge 800 failed to alert me to my programmed turns. (I had a back up with the Bike Hub app, but it wasn’t the same as having a map on the handlebars.)

It was a wonderful ride, but I’ll be honest and say I enjoyed it more in retrospect than at the time, with some exceptions. It was wonderful bowling along at 18mph on the levels between Cardiff and Newport. I loved the 25mph race towards Tetbury, as the first day’s 73 mile ride came to an end and I looked forward to dinner with my sister and her family in Cirencester. The Vale of the White Horse in Oxfordshire was a delight. I relished my al fresco lunch at the Cherry Tree pub in at Kingston Blount, Oxon on day 3, in glorious sunshine, followed by tea and cake at the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre at Great Missenden on the final leg home.

My least favourite bit? The interminable attempt to escape from Swindon. My route past Purton was closed, so I had to navigate Swindon’s characterless sprawl. (I’d have been better off going straight through the town centre.) I was very relieved to reach open countryside – no wonder I enjoyed the Vale of the White Horse.

My biggest lesson: cycle touring rewards those who keep fit. But it’s still a peerless way to enjoy the countryside.

PS: my 16 year old Raleigh Randonneur proved a superb choice for the challenge, as did my Ortlieb front roller classic panniers and my old Camelbak classic hydration pack.

IMG_7583Above: into England, old Severn Bridge

IMG_7589Above: near Hawkesbury Upton, Glos

ImageAbove: Oxfordshire’s lovely Vale of the White Horse: Stanford in the Vale

ImageAbove: ploughman’s lunch at the Cherry Tree, Kingston Blount