This was the first. Not only for the challenge but also for me, to ride this distance, elevation and raise for charity.
My choice of steed was my Giant Defy 0, 2016 model. It was a decent bike and did the job. I made some subtle upgrades – namely I purchased Superstar Arc22 Wide rims, changed tyres to Panaracer Gravelkings and fitted my preferred saddle choice – a Fizik Arione but at the time I had the Planet X equivalent.
Wide rims are usually the way to go and won’t be too long before all manufacturers design their bikes this, meaning frames have bigger clearance for tyres. The difference once I had swapped out the stock Giant wheels was immediately noticeable. Picture below shows the width on the two rims. Giant was 14mm and the Superstars were 19mm. When i fitted my new tyres they measured up near enough 28mm but looked much smaller.
Tyres – I used gravelkings based on recommendation. At first, they felt good and supple but the mileage I was doing was too much for them to handle contrary to other people's experiences so maybe it was just one of those things. Tayres are a touchy subject. A puncture after 1000 miles in my book is 4/ 5 weeks commuting. I kept faith in them and bought another pair – they were cheap enough and not breaking the bank and more importantly they rolled better – note; I was using the giant stock tyres with no problems – 1 puncture in so many miles.
I weigh 68kg so I asked the forum hive was what the ideal pressure to run them out, I was told 75psi more or less. They rolled well, speed was not the main priority but for pace – I felt the output was really good. Certainly managed a few fast commutes into work.
Bag setup – I did not own any bags so I borrowed these but for 2018 I have found a place that do bags and this is an area I will explore further.
Revelate frame bag – well constructed bag I think I was using the large.
This held 4 tubes, flapjacks, usb cables and charger
KTM 18L saddlebag – I was told this a cheap purchase made on eBay. I have provided a link to website directly. Not expensive compared to the other brands available
Lights – My very good friend borrowed me their Cateye Volt 1600 light which I backed up with my moon comet which is 350 lumens, which proved handy – will explain later on. Rear lights were the Bontrager flare R – bright as and really good- purchased from Evans for £40. Backup was the Moon comet.
What else? I used my Garmin 1000 and a Cygnet 4400 mAh powerbank.
Training and Planning
I was contacted by the top banana, Shafiq in February which gave me three months to prepare – the VISA was stamped by the Mrs and the train ticket was booked. I felt knowing my capabilities and limits based on my past riding I really ought to prepare myself and in hindsight I wanted to do more – as in, go out do a couple rides but as ever, time was not always available with family.
I spoke to my secret coach who will remain anonymous to get ideas and inspiration in riding long distance with pace etc. part of training also meant discussing route ‘tactics’ and what to bring. I hadn’t done much big distance/fast pace rides to date, I only got back on two wheels in August 2016. I did my usual 75km into Surrey-Kent (50 miles for those that are confused) route in February. https://www.strava.com/activities/855873718
Next ‘major’ ride was to Box Hill back at the beginning of March where I did 5 reps mixing up the technique i.e. 1 min in the saddle, 30 secs out of the saddle. I only recorded four because I forgot to press start. https://www.strava.com/activities/889806019
The next major ride/event was the H&K London to Hastings ride in April– this was the point I was able to test the saddlebag. It was about 140km from home to the start then to Hastings. Unannounced, decided this was the perfect opportunity to go further and ride back. It was roughly the same distance back. Riding with the saddlebag was fine; then again it was not full. I had reversed a planned route I downloaded. The hill I endured coming out of Hastings was a toughie, making progress, I stopped at Battle for a break/food. It was soon getting dark and made a judgement call to take the A21 directly – I thought 1) it’s direct, 2) it goes towards Bromley and 3) I sort of know where I am with it (if that makes sense)
WELL….. that was certainly an experience to be had; it was effectively a fast carriageway which meant I had to ride on side avoiding all the dust and crap. Would I ride it again? I don’t know I would feel more comfortable in numbers.
It got dark, my moon comet lights were on and I decided I had had enough of the A21 (no lights on it), so came off to go to Sevenoaks – in my mind I knew I was not far – home was just over there, near Westerham and so forth. So mentally I was psyching myself, till…….I got a puncture.
It was at this point that I made the call to abandon it, I was cold, getting late and to be frank, my mood changed at this point. Quick phone call and recovery was on their way, plus my lights were inadequate and not really ideal. All in all, I managed 215km with a moving time of 8hr 35mins. Just to put into perspective, it took me just over 3 hours to ride 70km which meant an average of 25km/h considering it was just the A21 which is certainly not flat – you can just see the road rising in the distance.
Between then and 5th May it was just normal commuting.
KBW has arrived!
The day has arrived – well the day before the day. Took the Friday off work, met up with Glenn at his place of work, prayed jumu’ah nearby, got some Greggs pasties in me. Once all done, made our way to Kings Cross station. 2 and a bit hours journey to Mirfield watching the Giro d’Italia. Short ride to the host’s home when we were treated very well, fed pizza and dessert.
Morning had arrived. We had breakfast and watched Glenn depart. I managed to get to another sleep in.
I had previously mentioned the race ‘tactics’ and had to think what I can ‘easily’ ride without using too much effort, so I assumed best to break the route down into five legs, which ideally had some sort of shops available to get a coffee etc. How I did this, meant spending an hour or two following the route on google maps street view. This was soon shared out to all the riders Garmin’s in the morning.
Dewsbury to Belper
Belper was 93kms from the start and had the majority of the elevation (I think it was 1800m the first 100km), I made good time on this leg, where I stopped for around 45 minutes at Costas for a coffee and toastie. The barista was intrigued to hear about the challenge and very happily filled up my water bottles. Was able to charge my Garmin a bit too, it wasn’t low but thought better to than not. I could see Shafiq fast approaching via the GPS tracker app. I did this part in 4 hours more or less averaging 23.25km/h
Belper to Broughton Astley
Distance wise only 76km. I ensured I had cash on me as passing through villages and towns – cash points are few and far between. At this point, Shafiq had gone past and I soon caught him – his wheels were loud in the wind. I soon dropped him I’m (proud) afraid – last I saw of him. Note by then, I was in ‘first’ place and leading…or was I?
As I made good progress, I came across Abdullah (near Market Bosworth) who had stopped to pray and have a quick bite. This was a devastating blow but nonetheless it was good to know. We rode not together to Broughton Astley, where I bought some chocolate bars and water to fill my bottles. Abdullaah has made the decision not to wait and was soon off. I did not stop for long mind, though, I was tempted to buy some chips.
Broughton Astley to Olney
The elevation by now was relatively pleasant, the weather held so no rain just a few specks. This was 68km in distance and took me about 3 hours. I was riding some nice quiet roads. I came to a BP petrol station just after Moulton (google maps suggest Overstone) where I decided to stock up with water and get some food, by now I was 215km in. According to Strava, I was here for about 45 mins and by then it became dark. This was around 2100 if I recall. While here, I needed to charge my Garmin – I was using the battery pack but the way the Garmin sat in the mount meant no space to put the USB and have it fully locked in the mount – so I had to have it at a slight angle not fully engage – however there is a solution which I learnt from Glenn’s experience on the road – turn it landscape. I think he unscrewed the puck in the mount to do this, nonetheless it was fine. At this stage, eating my sandwich I questioned how long the lights will last? The whole journey if you must know. I plotted these routes in Strava which gives you a time for your route based on the last four weeks of cycling – so these were used my time gates. Olney was meant to have shops but being a village or some sorts, they were all closed or nothing suitable.
Olney to Hertford
At this point I decided to plough on; Olney had nothing to offer so it was 82km to Hertford. I intended to keep going really. Which meant getting back to familiar stomping ground – I was nearing London. It was relatively pleasant and quiet but my goodness, do pylons make a lot of noise. I could constantly hear the buzz from there and it was a bit terrifying to constantly think the worse, I mean when you’re out there, you do think a lot. What if….?
I setup the cateye on the third setting for constant which was enough. It was a good balance between battery life and throw/spread of light to see with My moon comet was fantastic albeit small as it meant the beam was focused right in front of my wheel which. I was able to see a badger run across the road and hear it clatter into a parked car. Mentally and physically I felt very good and what really helped, was knowing that Abdullah was ahead of me – did not know by how much but he was there and that Ibn, Shafiq and Khaleel were behind me. After this stage, Abdullaah became my target, right at the beginning it was Glenn even though he had a 3 hour head start. Motivation! But it felt good knowing Glenn and Abdullaah had ridden this road I am currently on, alone, in the dark. Cars were limited and there were a few junctions that were hairy but nothing unexpected. For any oncoming cars, I covered my light with my hand to mimic a flash so that drivers were aware of something in front of them – this meant they killed their speed.
What was an amazing ray of hope was seeing streetlights – across Hertfordshire it was like the old school yellow halogen bulbs, it meant I was in town and I was more ‘visible’. But as I ploughed on I was seeing signs such as Bedford and Luton that-a-way, it was good news. I remembered from planning that the last leg was only 40km long.
Hertford to Ilford
The final leg. I was not going to stop but I needed the toilet. I said to myself, I am going to TT and give it a good go. Remember I mentioned about the saddlebag being a bit redundant, well when I stopped at Broughton Astley I bought a can of Pepsi which I kept in the saddlebag. I downed that quickly, got the sugar levels going and boom…until…….10km in, the road suddenly ramped up and I could not shift down quick enough. The gears clunked and I found myself on the floor. I’ve retraced my ride and looked at the times, I fell on Carbone Hill if not it was It was Newgate Street Village. I found myself zigzagging as I could not see the top of the road and I was little taken back by it – bit of a struggle.
As I got nearer into London, it was all lit up – streetlights everywhere, busy with buses. I was near. I made it back after 17hours on the road (including stops) otherwise it was just under 15 hours at an average of 24km/h. my body was hurt, being on the hoods took its toll.
Now, I can look back and think what could I do differently, well…..not much really to be really honest. The experience was awesome to have under my belt and certainly looking forward to doing more.
The lights were good, the setup was good too. I was comfortable also which really mattered. Now I have mentioned that the saddlebag I could have got away with partly because I did not use it – it just held spare clothes I had brought down with me and the can of Pepsi. I just put my waterproof jacket through the bungee ropes on the outside. But what I most certainly want to get is a handlebar bag and store stuff, keep my flapjacks in.
As per any long distance riding, I had neck and shoulder pain and my body was stiff, found praying when I got back to Ilford tough. I also suffered with a headache, this was expected. I also suffered the same when I did the Hastings ride. My throat was either dry or something because it hurt to swallow food once finished. It was just a matter getting fluids into me.
The major injury setback was what I later found out was an overuse injury from my right knee. Now, I am pretty confident in my bike fit set up, I have learnt from one of the most competent fitters I know. It soon cleared after 3 weeks. Cycling was painful so had to drive into work to give it a proper rest. I have finally booked myself for a real fit at the time of writing this.
Well that's it from the southerner until next time.