Thursday, 17 May 2012

Gold Challenge Part II: Cycling (30.10. 2011)

I have never done cycling as a sport, but it is a way of transport I am using almost every day.  My utility bike is nearly six years old and quite battered by rain and mis-maintenance. Also we had an accident with a lane-cutting taxi in Hammersmith, for which my bike caught all the damage and I escaped with a minimal bruise on one hand. So, in order to reward my bike and motivate myself to treating it better, I took part in one of the Audax events from the local Cyclists' Touring Club. Audax events are non-competitive bike rides in which cyclists, in groups or individually, try to cover a given distance in a moderate speed (between 12.5 and 25 km/h), and they were first introduced in Italy in the last years of the 19th century. The serious Audaces start at 200 km, and those finishing can call themselves a Randonneur, but this would have to wait. One conveniently located event is the 'Emitremmus", organized by the Cyclists' Touring Club (CTC) in Stevenage on the last Sunday of October. "Emitremmus" is is the reverse writing of "Summertime" and marks the reversal of British Summertime on that very day. Some people of this CTC also participate in the Gold Challenge (cycling 2012 km).

Unfortunately the train service from Cambridge to Stevenage was partially replaced by a bus on that day, which meant that there was no bike transport until Royston. So I got up in the morning a bit earlier (the additional hour helped) to cycle to Royston and get on the train there, which added some 20 kilometres of cycling. Though Stevenage has fine cycle paths, getting to the start from the train station was a bit complex: the modern Stevenage was designed to separate car traffic from pedestrians and cyclists, so cyclists relying on a road map take a bit longer to get where they want to go. The ride was started in the Fairlands Valley Park, a park area with a pleasant artificial lake used for sailing. More than 300 riders were handed out their route descriptions and their cards, which were to be stamped at control points, and started in different groups every few minutes. Among them were different types of bikes, road bikes, utility bikes, tandems and also a number of tricycles. Compared to most of them, my bike was heavily loaded with water, food, maps, books, repair tools, spare clothing etcetera, all in a large pannier which would also give me also a bit of an air drag during windy conditions. The route led from Stevenage to Saffron Walden and back, all on roads (mostly smaller ones), through a pleasant environment which also contained some substantial hills. Cycling in groups gave "safety in numbers", so that riding was always comfortable (though cycling uphill would have been much more easier if I had adjusted the gears properly). For taking breaks, there were three cafés on the route, which also functioned as the main checkpoints (and of course for meeting fellow riders). Being autumn, nature was both severe and gentle, being windy at times, but also producing an abundance of refreshing sloes along the route.

When I finally arrived back at the café in the sailing centre in Stevenage, it was already starting to get dark. The 101 km had taken me about 6 1/2 hours including a number of social breaks. It was a welcoming and beginner-friendly ride. The competition number is still attached to my bike, and comes very useful in spotting it in the large bike stands of Cambridge.

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