February Road Rides


I've had a full-time job for a few years now. When I was a grad student at U Penn, I would ride 25-35 miles almost every Tuesday and Thursday morning, and then ride 40 miles or more at least once on the weekend. Thus I got in alot of miles and was pretty fit.

Just about as soon as I got here to Cambridge I was struck pretty badly by RSI, the result of many years of bad typing practice. I did very little cycling for about a year after that (summer '96 to summer '97) but then tried to get back into it. But since I now have a full time job I didn't feel justified in taking off the morning to go for a bike ride. So gradually I settled into a routine where I try to go for a bike ride (typically 20 miles long) one evening during the week, and once during the weekend (30 miles or more). I aim to ride at least 75 miles a week, including commuting miles (I ride 2.5 miles to and from work each day).

Since I'm putting in alot fewer miles than I used to, I'm not as fit as I used to be. I notice this mainly when I'm mountain biking, when I can't keep up with the serious riders. I think this year I'd like to get fitter, closer to what I used to be when I was at Penn, which means spending more time on the bike.

Reliability Rides

For the past couple of weekends the Cambridge Cycle Club were holding their reliability rides. This is where a group of cyclists aims to finish a ride in a given amount of time, and the goal is to predict this time reasonably precisely. On the 13th of February was the 50 mile ride. There were to be 3 groups, one finishing in less than 2:30, one in 3 hours, and one in 3:30. For the third group, this is an average of just over 14mph, which I knew I could do riding with a group. So I went on the ride.

The 50 Miler

I arrived at the meeting point and found lots of people I knew, some of whom were riding with the faster groups. The fastest group rolled out, then the middle group, then it was our turn. We had some faster guys in with us because they'd arrived too late to go with the middle group. We started out at a relaxed pace, and I thought: I can do this. I felt confident and stayed near the front. We turned into a pretty strong headwind. We were riding in a group, two abreast, and I was in the second row. The guys in front were putting in a good pace, and I had to work to keep up, even drafting. Then the leader of the ride noted that some people had fallen off the back, so I wasn't the only one suffering. The guys in front eased off to regroup, and I had a bit of a chance to recover. Soon we got going again, at a slightly slower pace.

Then the guy in front of me pulled off. I didn't want to be in front. Not at all. But I was in the position to move up, so I did. I stayed at the front for a couple of miles, trying to keep a steady pace. Finally, when I'd just about knocked myself out, I pulled off, getting back into the second row. I'd just begun to recover when we went up a hill. It was a big hill by Cambridge standards. At first I struggled to keep up with the guys in front, but then I gave up. No way was I going to make it. I kept to the left and let my speed fall, allowing anyone who wanted to pass me. Actually not many did; I wasn't the only one to have fallen off on the hill, and I wasn't the last to the top. However when I reached the top I was panting madly. Luckily the guys in front had stopped to regroup at the top. I stopped, draped myself over my handlebars and tried to catch my breath. When we were all at the top and more or less recovered we headed off again.

After that I was fine. I tried to stay a bit further back in the pack and didn't take any more pulls at the front, and I kept up on all the hills. The weather was gorgeous, bright sunshine and cool temperatures. I felt really good when I got back. We'd finished the 50 miles just a few minutes short of 3h 30mins, so I felt pleased. I felt very tired for the rest of the day, and my legs ached for a couple of days, but I had handled the ride well. I determined to do the next reliability ride, the 75 miler.

A Midweek Ride

To make sure I was up for it, I went for a longer midweek ride than usual. It was dark (of course, I was starting at about 7:30pm and it's February) and drizzling when I set out. I debated not doing the ride, but it wasn't raining too hard so I'd be all right if it didn't get any wetter. I headed out of town along a muddy farm road to avoid the big A-road. I went over the BIG HILL (in Cambridge terms, it's Chapel Hill between Haslingfield and Barrington) and as I got to the bottom on the other side I saw a car with dim lights coming towards me. Suddenly the headlights changed distance and rearranged themselves. It was a few fellow cyclists out for a night ride! We all said hello to each other and rode on. This cheered me up, as I rarely see other cyclists when I'm out doing my night-time road rides.

I headed towards Orwell. The road between Barrington and Orwell is usually pretty empty, and I like this. Tonight the road had lots of running water along it. I was glad both for my full mudguards and for the fact that I'd decided to go for a road ride instead of a MTB ride (which I often do, joining the local CTC mountain bike section for their Tuesday-Thursday evening rides). The ground must be a soupy mess... I went through Orwell and past Wimpole Hall, a National Trust property. A couple of years ago I took a tour of Wimpole Hall and got a sore neck from looking up all the time. It has really amazing ceilings! The grounds feature a pretty pond, some unusual varieties of sheep, and a folly (fake ruins) making it a good place to visit when the weather's nice. This evening, however, the weather was not nice at all: the rain had picked up, but still not enough to soak me. I pedalled on, going up the hill beyond Wimpole Hall.

After leaving the Wimpole Hall Road (I'm sure it has a name but I've never noticed it) I rode along a smallish A-road for a few miles to Longstowe, then along a B-road, then along another A-road back to Cambridge. I don't like going out of town on the B-road, since it's long and pretty boring, but coming back along it is better since the wind is usually behind me and I can get it over with more quickly. The A-roads are better at night than during the day since there are fewer people driving along them. I don't feel at risk during the day with more traffic, but it's just nicer when I don't have cars whizzing by every other second. As I rode along the A-roads I mentally assessed my visibility: two bright LED lights set on steady beam, lots of Scotchlite reflective stuff (a strip on my mudguard, a patch on my under-seat bag, lots of wide reflective bits on my fluorescent yellow jacket, big reflective patch on my helmet), a British Standard reflector, and of course a nice bright headlight in front. If I were hit from behind someone would have to be aiming for me...

Finally after traversing across town I was back home

The 75 Miler

The day of the 75 mile reliability dawned cold, frosty, and sunny. All the puddles of the previous night's rain were frozen. I dressed a bit warmer than I had for the last ride and headed to the meeting place. I recognized fewer people this time, and fewer people started out on the ride. By the 10 mile mark we'd lost two people, one who wasn't able to keep up and didn't want to hold us up, and one who got a puncture. We rode on. The goal this time was to complete the ride in 5:45, including a short tea stop at the 50 mile mark. Gradually the puddles melted and the air warmed up. On the way into Saffron Walden three people drifted off, one person who lived near there and had cycled into Cambridge that morning, and two who weren't feeling up to doing the whole ride. In Saffron Walden we lost two more who decided to stop at a cafe there, but on the way out we picked up a guy who had started with the medium speed group and not been able to keep up. Finally we were at the our tea stop at a truckers cafe off the A10 which is a hangout for motorcyclists. It was really amusing. All around the edges of the cafe were tables of fat bikers in black leather, and in the middle were skinny bikers in bright lycra. Well, OK, so it wasn't that extreme (I'm by no means skinny!) but there was a big contrast between the groups.

I crammed down a cheese and tomato roll and a scone, refilled my bottles, used the loo, and we were soon on our way. The 25 miles back to Cambridge seemed easy. I was going strong and feeling good. I was thinking my own thoughts, just pedalling along relaxedly. We completed the 75 miles in 5h 34mins. Oddly I felt better when I got home after the 75 miler than the 50 miler. Although again my legs ached for a couple of days.

Another Midweek Ride

I felt really good having done the 75 mile reliability ride. Having ridden to the metting place, then back I'd done about 83 miles that day. I couldn't think of another year in which I'd ridden 80 miles or more in one day as early as February. It's good to know that despite having been cycling for so long, there were still a few things I hadn't done.

However all the aches I'd been getting in my legs told me that I'd been pushing myself, and thus getting stronger. I didn't want to let all that go to waste, so I went for another longish midweek ride last night.

Actually I wasn't in the mood for a ride last night, but Simon (my boyfriend) was at a college dinner so I was on my own for the evening. Looking at a map helped boost my enthusiasm for the ride: it helps to know I'll be riding on roads I liked. I plotted out a route with some hills, microwaved some dinner, changed into bike clothes, and set out. It was cool verging on cold. I felt the breeze sharp against my face, threatening to invade my jacket. The ride started out the same way as last week's ride, along the dark deserted muddy farm road. The night was clear, and Orion was in the sky above me as I rode along, savoring the freshness of the air and the feeling of the pedals rotating.

Normally I'm not afraid of the dark, but along the muddy farm road, far from houses and cars, I got the feeling there was something behind me. I couldn't hear or see anything, and I knew logically that there was nothing behind me. But that didn't stop me from looking over my shoulder. So I tried to convince myself there was nothing around. I tried to think of what could be there. I could only come up with a mountain lion that had been sighted in the area recently. Hum, that was scary enough... Then I thought of An American Werewolf in London. Shudder, now that was a fearsome beast! I tried to think of something less frightening, like bike parts. That worked. Then I was off the farm road, back onto sensible tarmac with houses nearby and my fears left me.

I'd planned quite a long route, but I had a good place to turn back if I didn't feel like doing the whole thing. I got to the turn-off point and checked my distance (pulling the bike computer from its mount and holding it in the beam of my headlight). I'd done just under 15 miles, and I'd go about the same distance to get back. Yeah, that was good enough. I turned to go home.

The modified route took me along the back of the Duxford Air Museum airfield. I saw a dimly glowing orange/red thing through the trees off the side of the road. I tried to figure out if it was a reflective sign illuminated by my headlight or perhaps a fluorescent orange wind sock. I kept looking at it but I didn't seem to be getting closer to it. Then it disappeared behind a clump of trees. It suddenly occurred to me: was it the moon, just above the horizon? I turned a bend and there it was in front of me, the dim orange ball hanging on the edge of the sky. I turned off my bright headlight and turned on my (much dimmer) dynamo so I could see the moon better. I watched it as I rode along the airfield, as it slowly disentangled itself from the horizon. Then I was in Duxford. I headed north and back to Cambridge. I kept an eye on the moon as it continued to rise, gaining in brightness and losing its orangey hue. But the time I got home it was well above the horizon and bright silvery white. Looking at my speedo back home I found I'd done just under 30 miles. Not bad for an evening's ride.

This coming weekend is the 100 mile reliability ride. I don't think I'll do it. I've been missing my mountain bike, what with spending all this time on the road.

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