A Race Around the World

Just found out that the latest person to break the world record for cycling around the world in the fastest time (Vin Cox, 163 days, 6 hours, 58 minutes) is organising a race around the world. It will start from London in February 2012, 160 days before the opening ceremony of the Olympics.
Tempting, very tempting. Obviously I wouldn’t win even on a regular bike. But I do wonder if Guinness World Records would make a record for fastest time cycling around the world on a Brompton folding bike?

Going to have to look into this a bit more…!

Dunwich Dynamo 2010

After the brilliant time I had last year for Dun Run, I had to do it again this year. Eight of us from my cycling group attempted it, Bea, David, Mark, EJ, Maggie, Paolo, Monica and myself.
The group

Last year around 1000 took part, with around 500 people on the coaches back organised by Southwark cyclists. This year was expected to be the biggest ever – by Wednesday SC had already sold around 600 tickets, and then a Guardian article about the ride was published, linking to ticket sales. Overnight 150 more were sold, before Barry stopped the sales because it was getting silly.

Loads of bikes

London Fields, for the start, certainly felt busier than last year, and throughout the night the roads seemed to have more cyclists. The weather was excellent, warm, with a slight tail wind, and no rain.

The ride went well, although 1 mile from the start my bracket for my front lights broke, and I had to have them on the handlebars for the rest of the night.

Along the Lea Bridge Road, with heavy vehicle traffic plus all the cyclists, our group got separated, but Bea, David, Paola and myself were still together. The night progressed as expected, with, fortunately for cycling, but unfortunately for story telling, very few incidents of note.

Waiting for others to catch up

At 1am, just outside Finchingfield we came to halt, with a few cars stopped, and a lady with a torch walking back along the road asking cyclists to stop and wait. Ahead, we could see the blue flashing lights of an Ambulance, and hoped no one was seriously hurt. Around 10 minutes later we were off again. From the fact the cyclist in the Ambulance was speaking to the paramedics, and the Ambulance wasn’t racing with sirens to the nearest hospital, I expect he’ll be ok.

At the halfway point, we missed a turning to the village hall, and so had our own picnic on a pub bench with the cheesiest songs playing for a lock-in party. For the rest of the night I had the Mr Blobby song stuck in my head!

What I saw most of the night

Just after Little Waldingfield, we missed a turning after following some other people. Bea had gone past David, EJ and myself before we could shout to stop her continuing. Fortunately, we were in the one part of Suffolk with mobile signal, and Google maps showed us a nice back-road back to the official route. This was the darkest time of the night, with cloud cover to stop the moonlight, and in a tree tunnel along a single lane road. It was quite a spooky.

With 50km to go, and at the bottom of one of the few hills, my knees finally realised I wasn’t joking when I asked them to cycle 200km, and refused to continue. A couple of Ibuprofen for the pain and inflammation in my knees and a Red Bull for the tiredness had me going again. And not just ‘going’, but flying it seemed. The next 30km went very fast indeed, but I paid for it later.

Somewhere there was a house selling bacon rolls and tea. Would have stopped but had a really good rhythm and momentum going, but ploughed through loudly sighing ‘bacon rolls’.

I have new cycling shoes, some Shimano SPDs, which are great. But I’ve never ridden this far in them. For the last 20km, the padding over the metal plates that the cleats bolt on to had become too compressed, and the balls of my feet were pushing down onto what felt like nails. For the rest of the ride I had to pull up on the back-stroke rather than push down on the forward stroke.

Finally I saw the infamous “Dunwich” road sign, and as the final KMs passed I mentally ticked off the landmarks on my commute to work. “That tree was London Bridge, and this one is Southwark Bridge Road, Blackfriars Bridge, Waterloo”. Finally I made it to Westminster Dunwich at around 6:30am, a little later than I hoped, but I felt in much better condition than last year.

Just before Dunwich I met Maggie on her way to Darsham station to find a train. EJ was already at the finish, and we welcomed our group members as they trickled in. A nice cup of tea and a sit down with a full English breakfast, then a lie on the beach before the coaches back. This year four furniture trucks of bikes and 15 coaches! The coaches were excellently organised, and by 4pm I was back at Smithfield market, my bike was unloaded first off one truck (last on, first off!), and I cycled home.

Unlike last year’s knees of frozen treacle, I still felt good, and sped back home racing taxi’s away from traffic lights (honestly, I did!). Maybe next year I’ll go for the Dunwich and back double!

RGS Talk

So last night I gave my micro-lecture at the RGS, along with 5 other young geographers. It was a really nice evening, learning about different people’s interests and experiences in different parts of the world.
I think my talk went ok, there was only one point where I remembered wrong which slide was next, but everyone laughed at all the right times!

Thanks again to everyone came along.

I’m giving a talk at the RGS!

It’s been a while since I blogged anything. Anyway, now I’ve got something very exciting to talk about.
At the end of last year I applied to be one of the speakers at the Royal Geographical Society’s Young Members’ Micro Lectures. I auditioned a couple of weeks ago, and have been accepted!

My talk will be titled ‘Around the World to Istanbul: A Travelogue of Errors’. It’s on Tuesday 9 March, and tickets are £10, or £7 for members, and that includes 5 other very interesting talks as well, not just me!

Apparently tickets are going fast, so if anyone wants to go, buy one quick!

How to take a bike by train in Europe

So when I was booking the trip I was nervous about taking my bike on the train in Europe. I’d heard stories about TGVs just not accepting bikes, about the Eurostar bike service taking 24 hours. Fortunately I persisted.
Eurostar now has a bike service where your bike travels on the same train. It costs £20, and you have to book in advance at a different office to the ticket office. The leaflet also has lots of dire warnings about accepting no responsibility for incorrectly packaged bikes. Well, I turned up to the baggage office, handed over my bike and everything was fine. Arriving in Paris and I immediately went to the middle coach where the bikes were hanging. Signed a form to say it was in good condition, loaded the panniers back on and away I went. Simple. Cost £20 though.

On to the TGV Est from Paris, which AFAIK is the only TGV line that accepts bikes, and also simple. You can’t book a bike ticket online, and SNCF, the French rail operator aren’t very helpful. But give Deutsch Bahn’s UK ticket office a call. They speak English and are very helpful, and have no problem booking bikes on to French trains.

At Gare de l’Est again I was nervous. What if the DB guy was wrong? What if it’s a different TGV with no bike space?What if the French rail workers are unhelpful? I needn’t have worried. On TGV Est bikes go in coach 11. My seat was booked in coach 11. There are 4 seats at the side that fold up to allow space for 3, maybe 4, bikes. I wrestle my bike on and settle in, then a german couple gets on with their bikes. Not a problem, due to clever seat bookings we get to sit next our bikes.

The only problem came getting off. The train was 5 mins late into Karlsruhe, so it was a short stop to get 3 bikes and luggage off. One of us stood in the door holding it open as we passed the luggage out in a chain and manouvered the bikes out.

I then had to get the inter-regional express train to Konstanz. There were becoming more and more people with bikes on the platform. I’d been told by the DB booking centre that you can’t reserve a place, it was first come first served, but that it “will be fine”. Hmm, but what about all those bikes. Well, the inter-regional express train turned up, with 6 coaches, 3 could take 12 bikes each. Plenty of space.

Moral is, forget what you know about British trains and bikes, Europeans have this sorted. Simple.

Dunwich Dynamo 2009

How to begin writing a post about the Dunwich Dynamo?!
The “Dun Run”, as I’ve heard it called, is a crazy overnight 120 mile unorganised mass bike ride from London to Dunwich, a tiny village on the Suffolk coast.

This was my first year. After failing to get any friends interested enough to actually take part, I set off to Greenwich where at 6pm Barry from Southwark Cyclists was doing a feeder ride from the foot tunnel to the start at London Fields. Through the foot tunnel and waiting for Barry I met Omar and a couple of others. Shortly after 6pm Barry and more people turned up and off our group went towards London Fields where the ride starts.

At London Fields I was chatting to Omar and others waiting to set off. Omar is also cycling his first dun run alone, so we agree to set off together.

We got the “official” map for a £1 donation and carried on waiting. The sea of bikes was impressive, a real bike porn show. Everything from commuter hybrids, tandems, Bromptons, carbon fibre fixies, vintage racers, recumbents, and even a penny farthing. At about 8:30 there were enough other people going, and me and Omar set off.

The route leaves London along the Lea Bridge Road and then through Epping Forest. Up to the forest it was still light and fairly uneventful. Once at the forest, with the trees crowding overhead it started to get gloomy. The line of blinking red bike lights stretched as far as the eye could see, which was going to be the predominant theme of the night!

I lost Omar somewhere – he was on a fast racing bike, I’m on a slower older racing bike with a pannier full of red bull and cereal bars. But I cycled along with various groups, dodging the lairy drunkards coming out of pubs and making good progress.

Once the sun has set it was very dark. I caught a couple of guys with bright headlights lighting the road ahead, and they were going the perfect speed for me.  I followed them for a good 10 miles until they stopped for a break, then I was on my own. It’s a very strange experience cycling in the dark. In the countryside there is no artificial light, and my cheapo front light does nothing the light the road ahead. I could just about make out white lines on the road so I knew if it would turn, and the horizon so I know if the road was going up or down. Sometimes I didn’t know if I was going uphill or downhill until I saw my speed climbing or felt my legs working harder.

The cycling goes well, I was feeling great as I reach the feeding stop half way at Great Waldingfield village hall. So great I even though “hey, I could cycle back to London after this.”

The queue goes for miles so I don’t wait for food, but I relax for about half an hour, fill my water bottles and meet up with Omar again. We set off again into the night following the blinking red lights. I lose Omar again as he goes off with a group of racers.

The next 30 miles is also great. I catch a group of racers all riding together. They’re quick on the flat and downhill, and I struggle to keep up. But they were useless hill climbers! I would lose them going downhill, scared of potholes, but reach the bottom and coast up the other side past all these racers. I started to wonder if they stopped at the bottom just to punish themselves going up the other side!

I took a wrong turn somewhere. I was cycling along at the front of a group of cyclists and missed a turn. A cyclist catches up and asks if it’s the right way, so I say yes, and he says OK, and the group speeds into the distance. Then I check the route again. Wrong way. Oops. Oh well, the others will just have to work it out themselves. (sorry)

Back on the right track and it suddenly gets light. It’s a very strange experience watching the sunrise while cycling. It seems wrong somehow. But I guess I would normally be in bed. And what a sunrise.

Note the red sky at morning (shepherds warning).

By now I’m into the last 30 miles. My legs are tired, and the thoughts of cycling back to London are long gone. Finally I see a sign saying “Dunwich 7”, and I know I’m nearly there. Already there are cyclists heading back to London, cheerfully saying “Morning”.

Just before 6am I arrive at the cafe by the beach and queue for what seems like an hour for a full English breakfast. But what a breakfast. I could have had two of them, but that would mean queueing again! While eating I’m chatting to a girl at the same table, she literally fell asleep in mid sentence, and I left her peacefully snoozing.

On the beach and I dip the bikes tyres in the sea. I find Omar and we discuss our rides. He arrived about an hour before me when the cafe queue was only 10 minutes. It starts raining. I have only my waterproof cycling jacket, the cafe is very very full, and there is nowhere to shelter, so I just get wet. Next year bring a poncho just in case! Omar also says he heard they apparently printed and sold 1000 maps at the start, making this year the biggest ride ever!

Omar’s family arrives to whisk him back to London, while I’m waiting for the coaches organised by Barry from Southwark Cyclists. The trucks arrive to load the bikes, and chatting to guys in the queue it turns out I was supposed to collect a ticket from Barry the evening before at London Fields. I paid my £25 a week earlier and have a receipt, but didn’t get a ticket. I find Barry and fortunately there is still space. Phew. Bike loaded on the truck and I have nothing to do for 4 hours until the coaches leave.

By now it is sunny, and I have no suncream. Oh well, I’ll just do what everyone else is doing and get a great British lobster tan on the beach.

1pm arrives and there are still 200 bikes waiting to load onto trucks, but both trucks are full. Could be a disaster, but Barry from Southwark cyclists takes it in his stride and manages to get another truck for more bikes and to squeeze as many bikes as possible into the luggage bays of the coaches. Around 1:30, only half an hour late, we set off for London in a huge convoy of about 10 coaches and 3 trucks.

The convoy converges at Smithfield market and bikes are unloaded. No system in place, just a guy on the back of a truck holding up anything from £50 boneshakers to £3,000 carbon fibre Cannondale’s and saying “whose is this?”. No one lost a bike though, the system works the same as the conveyor belt at an airport baggage claim – what if the guy who decides to claim my bike is standing next to me!

The final cycle back home to Bermondsey is agony. My knees are like two blocks of frozen treacle.

Arrive at home in Bermondsey at about 7pm, so 25 hours to go nowhere. But in the this case the journey is the destination. What a fantastic experience.

Finally, a big thanks to Barry at Southwark Cyclists for organising the coaches.

Next years ride is 24/25 July 2010. I’ll be on it!

New bike: finished!

I’ve finished the new bike! I stripped everything off the frame, cleaned the frame and components, and put new wheels, tyres, chain and brake/gear cables on it. It’s also got my Brookes saddle from my Brompton on at the moment. Frank and Al have named it the “Rainbow Rider”, and it seems to have stuck!

New bike

So, I wanted a bike that was very cheap so I didn’t mind locking it up and leaving it alone in London. As great as the brompton is, it’s so valuable I’ll never leave it anywhere outside home or work and sometimes it’s useful to be able to cycle and leave the bike. So I scoured gumtree and found this old peugeot racer. Advertised as £70, got it down to £55. It just about works, but needs a lot of TLC, and a new chain, front wheel and tyres. Pretty neat though for £55!