Thoughts and tales from the saddle - on my own in Europe.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Learning Curve

If last weekend was a reality check, this weekend was definitely a steep learning curve.

I had always said that I wanted the bike in time for the last May Bank Holiday weekend, so I could make use of the three days to torture myself.

Having had problems with the racks and luggage, it was good to finally have everything as it should be, and be able to load it up and get out on the road. My first experience of a fully-loaded bike was as strange, scary and enjoyable as I thought it would be. Friday night was only 11 miles to the New Forest, but that was enough after a day at work, and to get used to the handling of the bike.

The next day we aimed for Swanage, and set off into a relentless wind. After a couple of hours both Herbie (my brother) and I were completely exhausted, and experienced what I think is called 'The Bonk'. Proper cyclists out there may wish to correct me on that. Anyway - we were knackered. My legs were wobbly, I felt sick, my head was spinning. I was completely spent.

There are two important things to note here - 1. I had eaten a minimal breakfast of some horrible cous cous and a cereal bar. 2. That's all I had eaten.

Apart from the lack of general cycling fitness, food was the key thing here. So there we go - lesson learnt. Eat more!

A chocolate bar and energy drink later and we were back on the road heading for Swanage. The wind kept at us but we were eating up the miles. We finally arrived in Swanage in the afternoon after 50 miles and about 4.5 hours in the saddle. Not too bad.

The following day we had what proved to be an easier ride back through the New Forest to home.

All told I did 130 miles over the weekend, 110 of which were fully loaded. All equipment performed as expected, with the exception of the bar bag (which lost a rivet - but a replacement is already in the post from the manufacturer) and a couple of gears on the bike that have started slipping. I am taking it in for fine tuning tonight.

Lessons learnt:

1. I need to be fitter for the summer France trip
2. Food is very important
3. Panniers filled with 'stuff' are heavy
4. Hills and wind are my enemy, but I will have to learn to love them
5. Food is very important

Monday, May 23, 2005

Reality Check

So I've planned the trip, made a website, bought some equipment, grovelled for sponsorship and told everyone and their dog about it - now what? Oh yeah - I suppose I'd better try out this cycling lark hadn't I!

My first 'proper' ride over the weekend saw me cruising over to Winchester and back - around 34 miles in all. And it was fine. Fun, in fact, which is rather a relief. Admittedly, going up the never-ending hills on the way back with the wind against me, I did manage a swear word or two. And my bum and legs hurt a bit. But I will get used to that in time, I hope, as my fitness/bum-saddle relationship improves.

This weekend I'm planning double the distance with a fully laden bike, two days in a row. Nothing like throwing yourself in at the deep end is there!

Aside from all that practical stuff, I received my first sponsorship package this morning - a box of 100 Nike puncture repair kits. I'm selling them to anyone who will buy them at £2 each or 3 for £5. Website to be updated with details soon, but email me in the mean time if you have a desperate need to fix a bike puncture/rubber ring/armbands/bouncy castle etc. and I will sort you out!

Monday, May 16, 2005

Kid at Christmas

Saturday was one of those days that happens without you really noticing, if you know what I mean. You probably don't, but it was the finale of months of planning, advice, decisions, saving and waiting, and it passed as if it was a dream.

It wasn't, of course, and I was like a small child at Christmas. I probably would have been unable to sleep on Friday night if it wasn't for 4 hours of driving and 4 cans of lager, but then Saturday came and went and it was done - I had my bike.

Collecting it from the shop was a simple affair - a quick spin round the block to check all was well, choose a helmet, get a few spare spokes and I was done. Paul Hewitt (of Hewitt Cycles) was his usual calm self, probably slightly bemused by an excitable 27 year old from Southampton whose eyes were like saucers at the sight of the shiney new bike.

And I'm pretty sure he was unaware of just how important that day, and that bike, were to me. But that's part of the charm of it, I think. He didn't know what I was planning to do with the bike, and it wouldn't have made any difference. He would have made the bike in exactly the same way if it were for someone planning to ride it a few miles once a week or for someone who was going around the World on it. And there is only one word to describe how the bike has been made and put together - perfect.

Thursday, May 05, 2005


Things are finally beginning to come together a bit more. The first main bit of news is that the bike will be ready for me to pick up next weekend (as in, not this weekend, next weekend). I finally cracked under the pressure of waiting and not hearing anything, gave the shop a call to check on progress and was told they had just received the frame and would be able to put the whole bike together for me on Saturday 14 May. So that's it's birthday then, I guess, if I was being all maternal about it. I'll have to think of a name too, I suppose.

Anyway. I've also been ticking off my equipment list and filling up my credit card some more. Not too much left to get, in fact, and then my monthly savings can start going towards 'saving for the trip' as opposed to 'spending for the trip'.

That shouldn't be too much of a problem as I plan to spend the majority of my spare time on the bike, and not out spending money in pubs. By 'on the bike' I mean cycling, by the way, not just sitting on it in the hallway. That wouldn't really help much at all.

The Bank Holiday weekend at the end of May will hopefully be my first real test ride - Swanage and back over three days. I will also be carrying all of my brother's camping equipment on my bike as he doesn't have room on his ultra-lightweight road bike. Which will be fun. It's not like I don't need the practice, though.