Monday 29 December 2008

2008 - Recap

The Chris Hoys

Keeping my second cat road racing licence

Being able to do a women's race every week at Crystal Palace

Winning prize money for a team series race and a track omnium all in one weekend !

Getting a trophy and various goodies for being 3rd placed woman and Lanterne Rouge at the same time in the Vaujany cyclo sportive - all with a police escort for the last 50km !

Getting to be a podium girl at the Giro di Sardegna cyclosportive

Watching Nicole Cooke get gold at the Olympics

My London to Paris bike ride - watching the Arc de Triomphe emerge above me in the autumn evening sun as I rolled in to one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

The friendly and exceptionally well organised Sean Kelly Tour of Waterford

Having a whale of a time ski-ing at Val d'Isere

The beautiful views of the mountains from my bedroom window at Le Bourg d'Oisans during La Marmotte week.

The Shanaze Reades

Breaking my rear mech at Lydden Hill cyclo cross just when I was in second place

Missing the start of a cyclosportive at Ruthin and riding the whole 80miles all on my own.

Regularly being the first one out in every "Devil take the hindmost" track race

The Southeast champs for both cyclo cross and road - setting off way too fast at the start, blowing up soon after and spending the rest of the race going backwards

Watching Shanaze Reade crash out in the final at the Olympics

Getting that dreaded cold twice this winter !!

Missing too many track races due to rain

Falling just short of a podium place a bit too often in the women's cyclo cross races !

At least the good bits outweigh the not so good bits - so the year wasn't so bad after all.

Sunday 28 December 2008

Last race of the Year !

So that's me done for 2008
13 cyclo cross races
13 circuit races
13 track races
3 open road races
2 cyclosportives
2 multi-stage cyclosportives
2 mountain bike races
1 time trial

So I've raced once week all year, with a couple of weeks' holiday. Pretty fun packed. Well, in fact I didn't race for the first few months of the year so I ended up racing more than once a week so things were even more fun packed and pretty energetic !

So I am glad to have made it through what seems to have been quite a busy schedule. It'll be interesting to see how the 2009 schedule looks. I plan to see out the cyclo cross season right to the end, so I will be racing in early 2009. I am not sure how many road races I will do, as I might err on the cyclo sportive side things - it seems that's the new trend when you get older. (Well, it's better than ploughing up and down a dual carriageway in a time trial I suppose !)

Anyway, I did my last race of the year yesterday. It was at Footscray Meadows, near Sidcup and I was happy with the way things went. Still not good enough to get on the podium these days, but I feel I rode ok considering I had travelled down from Yorkshire at stupid o'clock in the morning to make it for the lunchtime start. A few coffees later and I was as right as rain with a zing in my pedalling !

Note the pictures of the lads racing in the bunch, and notice my rather frugal attire. That was the main problem I had with the race. Despite racing as hard as I could, apart from my (big) hands, no other part of me could keep warm. It was the first time I did a race without breaking a sweat! By the time I'd finished racing my teeth were chattering uncontrollably and my legs were twice as thick with goosebumps. It seems that contrary to what I'd believed, I'm not a real Northerner.

Anyway, looking forward to more fun (and warmer) races in 2009!

Thanks Santa !

I didn't get most things on the list, but I have got a new cyclo cross frame.

The clearance should be better as it is a genuine cyclo cross frame. So it will be different to what I have been using - a catch-all frame that does a bit of off-road/cycle touring/cyclosportives etc.
That should definitely help me in a week's time when I come to riding in that messy gloop also known as the in-field at Herne Hill Velodrome.

I just need to bide my time while the good people at Geoffrey Butler's transfer the old components onto the new frame.

One thing that Santa could have worked on is the Minx clothing. My club colours won't mix well with the red and black of my new Planet X bike. I will definitely have to get some new kit.

Dear Minx/Assos/Rapha
- please send any special deals my way. Thank you !

Wednesday 24 December 2008

Dear Santa.........

For Christmas please could I have:

A bigger flat: 2wheeled horses take up alot of space otherwise I'll have to get rid of the furniture

A 'cross bike that doesn't clog with mud: mine feels like I'm riding with the brakes on

A self-cleaning 'cross bike would be a good idea too

A self-cleaning flat

More time: work and life get in the way of training sometimes

Perhaps you could get me a butler who can take care of some of the above

A pair of legs that have with the power of Serena Williams and the elegance of Halle Berry

Runproof, waterproof make-up - I wanna look a babe on a bike, like the Italian girls

An indoor velodrome near my house

Cool Minx-girl clothing. I promise I'll walk the walk to match.

That's about it for now.
I know most of these items are a bit tricky to fit down a chimney, but see what you can do.

Thanks so much in advance for your attention.

and a Merry Christmas to you all!

2Wheelchick :-)

Friday 12 December 2008

In the News !

My cycling antics may be fun to me and a few others, but they're not exactly headline grabbing. However, I have somehow made it onto a cycle news website - London Cyclesport. It mainly concerns cycle sport in London and the South East, but it covers cycling topics from further afield since people race in other regions and abroad too. Of course, it's also updated quicker than the cycling magazines. As a result, the readership of the site spans nationwide.

So, I was quite surprised about being asked for an interview about my cycling. "Why not ?" (I chuckled). Now that I've gotten over the initial embarrassment of seeing my mug on the front page, I actually feel quite pleased and glad that I've been portrayed in a good light.

Anyway, see below for the article. It's about cyclo cross, and as mentioned in it - Have a go ! There's about 6 weeks left before the season ends so make the most of it.
Oh, and thanks to John Mullineaux for suggesting this !


Interview: Maria David - 11/12/08

Maria David is a regular competitor on the cycling circuit taking part in road and cyclo cross. On behalf of Maria has been interviewing a number of women racers for a series of features soon, and we thought it approriate that she should be first to be put in the interview saddle. Maria is currently taking part in the Mosquito Bike London Cyclo Cross League.

How long have you been racing cyclo cross?

Properly racing since 2006, though I muddled my way through a season in 2003!

What made you decide to get into it?

A few people told me how much fun it was and that it’s a great way to keep fit during the winter. Mark Wyer (who now coaches in the Eastern League) ran a series of training sessions at Eastway, and I was immediately sold on the idea.

What do you like about cyclo cross?

It’s such fun. Doing it brightens up gloomy winter days. It’s sociable and a good family sport. Even though it’s a race I don’t get anywhere near as nervous as I do before other types of bike racing. It’s also an excuse to fling your bike around, get all muddy and no one’s gonna shout at you saying "What have you been playing at? Look at the mess you’ve made!"

How did you find your first ever cyclo cross race?

I was so nervous and scared of everything – the course, my bike, myself. I waddled around the course slower than my grandmother!

How has your season been so far?

It’s been better than in previous seasons, so can’t complain. My form dips in November/December though as I lose the speed from road racing and all my training revolves around long slow rides.

What bike do you ride?

I bought a Pearson frame a couple of years ago, and put on the components from my then road bike.

What training do you do for cyclo cross?

Nothing specific. I train for road stuff and hope that cyclo cross benefits from that. Sometimes I prance around the park at South Norwood Lake practicing dismounting and re-mounting my bike.

Which is your favourite venue?

Stanmer Park. It’s got a good mixture of grass and wood trails, plus lovely speedy descents. There’s also a big hill to jazz things up. I also welcome any excuse to go to Brighton!

Do you drink during the race?

Yes – a couple of sips.

Do you ever get any of those "Horse refuses to jump" moments when you come to an obstacle during a race?

I don’t get them so much now, but when I have done so I try to remember times when I successfully rode something similar. I also pause and watch the line that more experienced riders take. Recc’ing the course well also avoids those problems.

So, with all the mud we’ve had this season what makes you keep on coming back?
Riding the London League is addictive. You want to see how well you can do against your fellow competitors over the season. Also, it’s good to catch up with the regulars and have a chin-wag. I must admit that this season’s mud has been a bit trying though.

Any tips on getting the mud out of your clothes and off your bike?

I hand wash my clothes before putting them in the washing machine. If anyone has tips for the bike they would be most welcome!

What do you do during the spring/summer?

Road racing, cyclosportives plus a bit of track at Herne Hill for training.

So how have you found moving from smooth tarmac to the bumpy rough stuff?

I am ok with it now, but initially I found it a very difficult concept. It also helps if you have a bike that doesn’t let you down much. I’ve been quite lucky in that respect.

And for you, how does cyclo cross compare with road racing?

In a cyclo cross race there’s not that same pressure to keep up with a peloton. Cyclo cross races are very much a game of 3 halves. Just because a few people burn off up the field at the start of the race, doesn’t mean it’s curtains for you. There’s a lot of unpredictability in a cyclo cross race, which makes it more exciting – both from a rider’s and a spectator’s standpoint. There’s also something more laid back about cyclo cross racing compared with road racing.

What would you say to those newbies considering having a go at cyclo cross?

Just get out whatever off-road bike you have and have a go! Everyone gets a buzz out of it regardless of how well you do.

Sum up cyclo cross in three words.

Tough but fun.

Watch out for Maria's interviews soon to be published on

Sunday 7 December 2008

New Training Tool

Him: Get up on the bike then.
Her: How do I do it? I've got nothing to balance on. The bike will fall over.
Him: No it won't, you'll be fine.
Her: Come closer so I can lean on you.

(He moves closer)

Her: Come closer, you're not close enough!! I need you to hold me!
Him: I'm there !!

(She climbs onto the bike with difficulty)

Her: Oh my God, the back wheel's sliding around. It's like I'm skidding. I can't do this !

(She quickly gets off.)

Her: Ok - I'm really scared, I don't know if I can do this.
Him: What are you gonna do, d'you wanna take it back and get a refund?
Her: I'll try again.
Him: Hang on. Let's move the furniture around.

(They clear the dining table to another part of the room.)

Him: Right - now move the bike forward, step on the stand.....get the bike into position and climb on.
Her: How??
Him: Just lean on the wall and climb on.
Her: Can't I lean on you?
Him: No, it's easier if you lean on the wall.
Her: I need you to be there and catch me. Are you watching ??? Be ready just in case I fall !!
Him: Look, I'm here. Calm down!

(She struggles to climb on, then places her feet on the pedals.)

Her: What do I do now ?
Him: Start pedalling with one hand on the handlebars and put the other hand on the wall for balance.
Her: Oh God, this doesn't feel good.
Him: You need to pedal faster than that.
Her: Ok.
Him: Don't look down, focus on something ahead and just learn to feel the bike. Relax.
Her: I can't relax. This is really scary.
Him: Keep pedalling, and feel the steering, as the bike moves.
Her: Steering, are you joking??
Him: Just learn to balance the steering with the movements of the bike. Try it.

(She steers the handlebars to the right.)

Her: Aaagh!! F**ck!!

(She clumsily jumps off, almost falls but is caught.)

Her: (panting)Bl**dy hell what did you ask me to do that for??
Him: I only meant a gentle movement. And anyway there was no damage done. I caught you.
Her: Don't ask me to do that again.
Him: Look, have another go.
Her: I really don't want to. I'm tired and stressed out.
Him: Just have another go. Just try 30 seconds.
Her: Ok - but only 30 seconds, right.

(She gets back on and very hesitantly starts pedalling while holding the wall.)

30 seconds later.......

Her: This doesn't feel too bad.
Him: D'you like it now?
Her: Not sure, but it's not as scary. Just don't go away. Stay close by.
Him: See if you can do 2minutes.

1 min later.....

Her: I'm tired, it must be two minutes now. Are you messing with me? I'm just gonna stop anyway if you are.
Him: No, carry on. You're doing well.

(Almost 2mins later....)

Him: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2,

Her: Aaaagh!!! Bl**dy hell,

(She falls into the wall)

Her: Where were you??
Him: Hmm it's not easy getting on and off these things. Anyway, how do you feel?
Her: (Panting and sweating.) That's it now, two minutes is enough. I'm so knackered -it's not the pedalling. It's all my arms and upper body! That is so stressful!
Whoever said parabolic rollers make it easy for beginners should be shot - my ar$e!

So, that was my first foray into the world of rollers. I like riding them now. I'm still not very graceful, but I can get on and off them unassisted, and I don't need anyone to be standing watching me the whole time. It reminds me of when I learnt to ride a two wheeler bicycle all those decades ago. (Though I remember the temper tantrums lasted over a few weeks !)

I can already feel that riding rollers is making a difference to my sense of balance on the bike, and also my pedalling, so I'll definitely be sticking with it. (Though, I still won't ditch the turbo trainer.)

Some people who don't have rollers may be put off getting them after reading this. Don't be - many people will have tried them for the first time and picked up the technique within minutes. (Fred did.) Also, once you're riding them, as with anything that you learn on a conditioned reflex you quickly forget what all the fuss was about and it becomes second nature.

Happy Training, my friends !

Sunday 30 November 2008

Just pootling - up North

This post could have been about doing a cyclo cross race in Yorkshire, near my folks - talking about how they do things up there compared with in the London League, what the level's like and generally seeing if there is a North-South divide in the world of cyclo cross.

But it's not going to be about that. The race I'd been hoping to do, at Bishop Burton College, was cancelled. Must admit I heaved a small sigh of relief as I was not relishing the prospect of wrestling with a muddy bike once again, and then having to take it on the train back down to London with me again - or even worse, risking having a broken up bike that would be in no fit state to get me across London once I got off at King's Cross !

So I took my road bike and pootled around in the cold, frost and fog instead. There's something qute refreshing about having a full weekend where you can just be on your road bike and build up some winter miles. No worries about getting your cross bike ready for another race, or having to save your energy for the competition ahead.

Just get out your road bike, don your 6 layers, overshoes and helmet, and just pootle.

Here's where I went.

Saturday: Hull - Beverley - Wetwang - Sledmire - Driffield - Beverley - Hull: 52miles
Terrain: flat/gently rolling
Weather: sunny, very cold, frosty

View Larger Map

Sunday: Cottingham - Little Weighton - North Newbald - Market Weighton - Holme-upon-Spalding Moor - Howden - South Cave - Riplingham - Eppleworth - Hull: 58miles
Terrain: undulating/flat
Weather: very cold, misty, frosty

View Larger Map

Tuesday 25 November 2008


What can I say - I helped the guys from Addiscombe CC to set up the course last Saturday. It was mainly dry and 99% rideable...............we were even worried about the course not being interesting enough !

But what a difference 24 hours makes ! Snow, sleet, rain and every other type of precipitation dumped itself on the grounds at the Penshurst Off Road Cycling Centre.

So by lunchtime on Sunday everything was nicely muddied up ready for our race in these scenic grounds in the heart of the Kent hills.

It was tough just ploughing through thick mud the whole time. The course, which is essentially on the side of hill was tricky. The descents gave a bit of respite, but demanded concentration as there were some gravelly corners which interspersed the very muddy corners.

Going around the corners sent you and your bike all over the place. One particular 180 degree turn was the scene of a 1 hour long crash fest - great entertainment for the race marshals !

Once you'd negotiated the downhill, you then had a long slog back up the various muddy switchbacks to reach the start line.

Oh, and if that wasn't enough, there was also a mini BMX circuit thrown in for good measure.

Anyone who moans about racing around wide open fields that don't have much variety should get down and do a cyclo cross race at Penshurst. Well, you'll have to wait until next year now. Sunday was the one and only round happening there this year.

Pictures by Marky Mark of Addiscombe CC (

Monday 24 November 2008

My Least Favourite Time of Year........ now - that November/December period.

The low temperatures, biting wind and short days are bad enough, though we learn to get used to that.

The long summer days are now a distant memory, and Christmas festivities are just that bit further way.

So where do we find ourselves - in that awkward in between stage where there's nothing really exciting happening. It's all about coasting through an impasse - rapidly reviewing the year, and seeing what we can salvage of it, or just resigning ourselves to the lot we've got and just grinning and bearing it, while saying "next year, next year will be the year when it all happens."

So while I wait for this "blah" period to be over I intersperse the London drudgery with cycling !

Not that easy. For all the road races I've done in the pouring rain, and the mud-fests aka cyclo cross races, I still consider myself to be a fair weather cyclist. I hate rain, cold and wind. It makes me cross and anxious and it affects the way I ride. It's always a massive "getting out of my comfort zone" exercise.

I just about manage to cross the comfort/discomfort line between January and October. But November is always that bit harder. It's damp, it's cold, it's grim and I'm generally in that unpleasant phase of not quite having a cold, but yet not being fighting fit. The echinacea, the zinc, the Vitamin C are on full through throttle during this time and I can't go out of the house with fewer than 6 layers on.

So riding my bike becomes a balancing act between riding well enough to get a training benefit, but not working so hard that my immune system gets depressed further. There's a fine line between the two, and most of the time I don't know where the line is. Training but not training at the same time. Just battling against the dreaded bug, that's lurking around. I don't know exactly where it is and if or when it will give me a body blow, but I have to be ready. I need to be putting on the fighting talk !

If I get through this period without being struck down with the virus, I see it as an achievement. Any riding benefit gained is just a bonus.

So for the next few weeks my riding will be rather akin to when I was a small child going through the Ghost Train. I'll just have to hold on tightly to the barriers, close my eyes and grit my teeth as the ghouls and demons get dangerously close to me, but I know that as it's only a short ride all will be over soon and I'll re-emerge at the other end, unscathed and in pleasant sunshine.

Roll on 2009.

Tuesday 18 November 2008

In Dublin's Fair City

Our first non-biking or even non-sporting trip away this year - and what a great place to do it - whisky in the jar, tasty Liffey Water, and a great craic too !

Sunday 9 November 2008

The Mud Thickens - Lydden Hill

After a 2 week break I was keen to get in my fix of cyclo cross. I wasn't that keen to put in a 90-minute journey down the A2 to get there, all with the prospect of racing in the pouring rain, and muddying up my newly cleaned and serviced knobbly steed.
To compound things further I'd had trouble getting out of bed before 10.30am and my head hurt - all due to having been on a bender with Fred last night.

Well, after weighing things up I realised that I had no choice but to go - especially as I was going to miss a couple of London League rounds due to upcoming weekend trips away, and I wanted to build on my healthy points tally in the league.

So when George pulled up at my house to pick us up we hurriedly scrambled our bits and pieces together and boarded his big van, Doverbound.

When we got there, I realised I hadn't factored in just how muddy it was going to be. We'd had rain all day on Saturday, and even as we arrived we had a heavy downpour. I penned myself into the van, hoping that the rain and wind might subside. Eventually it did, and the sun even made a tentative appearance.

Five women signed up, which was a healthy turnout considering the bad weather. At these races I tend to limit the amount of time I spend riding around the course as I prefer to start the race on a mud-free bike. I couldn't avoid this hitch though. I did my recc'ing on the trickiest and muddiest section of the course.

Having so much guey stuff to ride through tends to level out the playing field. In fact the five of us were never really that far apart.

I was madly chasing down Claire (London Dynamo), while Helen (Crawley Wheelers) and Abi (London Phoenix) were madly chasing me down, followed by Nicola (Kingston Wheelers) who battled to chase down the 3rd and 4th placed women.

It was a very unpredicatable race, with all of us falling at some point or other. One of the climbs quickly became unrideable as the mud on the slope was so churned up. For a few people, myself included, it even became unwalkable. Many of us slid around on all fours struggling to keep hold of their bikes and get some upward motion. We might as well have ridden up a custard covered slope - at least it would've tasted nicer !

In my mad attempt to chase Claire down I made a few bold moves on the obstacles. On one short steep mound I approached it at full throttle hoping the momentum would carry me up and over it. In fact I went so hard at it that me and the bike got airbourne and I landed with a splat in the mud. At least I managed to provide some entertainment for Helen, behind me as she couldn't help but giggle !

Sadly, Helen soon stopped giggling when her rear mech snapped and it was game over for her.
I continued on my soggy way, wriggling through the mud and skidding around on a few of the gravelling turns. As the race wore on, I fell more and more frequently as I was getting too tired to wrestle with my bike which at times had a mind of its own!

Then, just when I was calculating my final moves on how I should catch Claire, I heard "snap" as my pedalling motion was abruptly stopped. I looked down, and there was my rear mech in the spokes - bugger !!

So with a sorry heart, my race ended. I almost came second, but now I was nowhere.
Although there'd been a good vibe at the race and overall it had been fun, you always get a real feeling of futility. All that travel and effort for nothing.

True, the muddy stuff adds to the fun of cyclo cross but sometimes that fun goes a little too far and things just get a bit frustrating.

So in the end, Claire won, Abi was second, and Nicola finished third.

Well, I've got another break as we're off to the (cyclo cross free) Emerald Isle. Hopefully, my knobbly steed will show me that it can get the better of the mud in a couple of weeks time at Penshurst.

Top 2 pictures by Fred, bottom 2 pictures by John Mullineaux @

Wednesday 5 November 2008

Riding into History

Congratulations Mr Obama, and thanx to the American people for voting for change.
Much respect.

Sunday 2 November 2008

London Women's Cyclo Cross Team - Doomed

D'you ever get the impression that something just wasn't meant to be ? You try hard, but you can't make it work.

Well that's what happened with our women's London Cyclo Cross team for the Inter Area Championships. We were meant to race there today but we couldn't quite get it together.

Our entry for the race had our team listed with four riders and two reserves. In actual fact neither of the reserves were able to ride. Katharine was unavailable and Emma couldn't ride for health reasons.

So we just had the four riders. That was ok. We only needed four to make a team and the results of the first three riders was what would count towards our ranking.

Unfortunately, though, Nicky became ill with a stinking cold and announced last Friday that she wouldn't be well enough to race. That left the three of us to make sure that when we raced we all finished.

The problem was that Helen had been relying on Nicky for a lift up to the venue which was about 100miles North, in the Midlands (Lutterworth). So there were lots of phone calls made backwards and forwards to see how we could get Helen up there. To compound things even more, Claire, who I was to travel with had a problem when her car broke down on Friday so it looked like none of us would be able to get there.

Finally, help came in the shape of Claire's boyfriend who was going to drive 30miles up the road from Woking to Crystal Palace to meet us and take all 3 of us to and from the race.

This meant that Helen would have to set off at 7 o'clock in the morning from her home in Haywards Heath to meet us at Crystal Palace so that she could get a lift to the race in Lutterworth.

That was a bit of a tall order for her, and it was going to cost her quite alot in petrol and babysitting fees.
And for all our travelling up there the women's cyclo cross race would only last 40minutes.

Don't get me wrong, the Inter Area Champs are good fun and it's a good day out. It's also a chance for team bonding. In previous years London has even fielded 2 teams.
But this year things seemed tougher for us. Bringing the championships forward to November from the original date in January is meant to encourage greater participation. It does generally, but the problem is that because the deadline for entry is only a few weeks into the cross season it makes it difficult to contact all the riders and invite them to join the team. Some riders are still busy wrapping up their mountain bike/road race season to think about entering national cyclo cross races.
So due to these difficulties we could only field one team.

Despite all the setbacks mentioned above, all three of us were still determined to make the trip up to the Inter-Area Champs...........until.........

I went to pick up my bike from Fred's flat last night. As far as I was concerned my bike was ready to ride, apart from a quick lick of oil on the chain and a bit of air in the tyres.
But when I began to ride it to the station I found that it was almost impossible to turn the pedals, and I couldn't change the gears. I would love to have done something about it, or take it to a bike shop but it was 10pm.

Disaster - I was really disgusted. My bike doesn't normally let me down like this. We'd had very muddy conditions last week but the bike had been washed the same day and I had ridden it after the event, and everything was fine then. Things were well and truly doomed. I could have opted to take my mountain bike, but that was locked in Fred's garage and he was away for the weekend.

Emma was going to look for a bicycle for me but my record of riding unfamiliar bicycles in a race is not good and I couldn't guarantee I'd be able finish the race. If only 2 riders finished we would have either been placed last, if we got a placing at all. For Helen and Claire this was going to be their first experience of doing the inter-area champs and it could have ended up being something they wouldn't want to do again. I didn't want to be responsible for that.

So, for the first time ever, we were unable to get a London team up for the Inter Area Cyclo Cross Championships. I am sorry that it didn't happen. I really would have liked to race against the other women from other parts of the country, but this year things just seemed to be doomed.

We are determined to get a London women's team to the champs next year and make a full and worthy account of ourselves.

Friday 31 October 2008

The cold is here......bbrrrr

The late Indian summer is well and truly over, the sun shines even less than ever, the clocks have now gone back, the central heating is on more often than not.

It is cccooold !!

On Tuesday, for the first time ever, I did not enjoy my commute into work because of the cold. I was wrapped up, but had missed out that little bit above my ears, and that other bit in the nape of my neck, and I felt it - the full impact of the biting wind from Siberia!

I felt it as I zoomed down Dulwich Wood Park to Paxton Green, and it didn't go away until after I'd been sitting at my desk for more than an hour.
Needless to say I was not looking forward to my ride home.

In fact, I didn't ride home. I went to my Italian class at Covent Garden first, which meant it was quite late when I started the homeward trek. The rain was falling quite heavily. A bit of dampness wouldn't hurt, I thought.

But then as I headed down Drury Lane the rain turned into something heavier, colder and even painful as it was smacked against my face by the easterly wind. It was the white stuff. It was snow ! In October, and in Central London ! What is all that about ??

I'd been humming and ha-ing about getting the train. Well, my mind was now well and truly made up. I would scoot over to Waterloo where I could get on a train straight to South London.
Of course, this didn't happen without me getting completed drenched - not only by the heavy precipitation, but also by the double decker buses that thoughtlessly rolled close by me just where there was a large puddle !

Once I got home I spent another hour thawing myself out on the radiator.

Snow in October in London - tut tut, what next, I say, what next !

Wednesday 29 October 2008

Boris and Cycling

Hey Mister Johnson,

You know how you said you would improve the lot for the cyclist all those months ago while you were campaigning to become our Mayor ?

All that stuff about trebling the level of cycling as a proportion of all journeys made, introducing an even bigger "Velib"-style bike rental system in London.

There was that article where you hoped for cyclists to become ubiquitous in nature, around the streets of London.

And what about all that you said when you went to Redbridge and opened the new Cycling Centre (aka Hog Hill) ?

So, what have you done for cycling lately Boris ?

Well, there was that footage of you jumping red lights and scooting along the pavement, plus various pictures of you talking on your mobile phone while riding.

Ok, so you wrote your little A-Z guide to cycling. It may not have actually increased cycle usage, but admittedly it was a good read.

But what about the funding, the improved cycle lanes ? And what were you thinking when you decided to allow motorcyclists to join us in the bus lanes ? Is that what you call safer cycling ??

Well, you've been Mayor for 6 months now, and really we aint seen much improvement round here.

Ok, so Mr Livingstone didn't quite achieve the targets that he'd set out for cyclists either, and we never ever saw him on a bike. But then that may actually make his foibles more forgiveable.

So are we gonna get, yet again one of those typical political cycles (excuse the pun) ? The caravan passes with all it's publicity, you sprint around the circuit with campaign promises, freewheel across the finish line, hands in the air for the electoral victory salute - but just as the real work begins the wheels begin to wobble all over the place and we end up somewhere else - oh dear!

Well, you're only 6 months into the job. You have got 3 and a half years left. Who knows, you might deliver your promise.

So, while we wait for the promises to be delivered we'll read your A-Z of cycling. (We may have to read it more than a few times I suspect !)

"FOR the busy mayor of a capital city, a bicycle is an indispensable tool of survival. I can get from Holborn to City Hall in 11 minutes. No single piece of technology – not even the mobile phone – is so vital. So here is my list of do’s and don'ts of cycling in London.
A is for abuse, which you must, frankly, learn to accept. You will get it from people driving lorries, cars, rubbish vans or any other type of four-wheeled vehicle. B is for bollocks, which is the most vigorous rejoinder you are permitted, preferably under your breath. You may, at a pinch, mutter “belt up”. C is for crash helmet: I urge you to wear one – I don’t myself. D is for death: Every successfully completed bicycle journey should be counted a triumph over this. E if for exertion, endorphins and ecstasy: The first produces the next, which produces the next, as you whiz through London's lovely streets and look at the play of light through the plane trees, and you inhale the open air, and you think of the poor souls stuck in the taxis, the cars, the buses and, God help them, the Tube. F is for freedom: With no other means of transport, except possibly skiing, can you determine so exactly the path you intend to follow and arrive there so quickly.
G is for gears: I have never seen the point of the very high gears. Why sit and pump like a maniac when it is so much easier to stand up and grunt?
Once, my bike was nicked, but because my children had been fiddling with the gears I was easily able to overtake the thief on foot. H is for handlebars:The key thing about handlebars is not to shoot over them. I is for indicate: Something that I suggest you do. J is for jelly: This is what you become, psychologically and physically, if you forget to indicate, shoot over the handlebars and bite the asphalt of Trafalgar Square. K is for klaxon: Mine fell off, and I don’t really recommend them. Time spent parping a horn or ringing a bell would be better employed braking, weaving or possibly just screaming. L is for lights: You gotta have ’em – by law. Also, they will greatly reduce your chances – at night – of being squashed by a lorry. M is for mudguards I suggest you get some, as otherwise you’ll find that road spray will produce some embarrassing and wholly ambiguous trouser stains, even when it isn’t actually raining. N is for no-hands What I like to do at night, down a deserted street in Islington, when I have had a couple of pints and am feeling moderately invincible. O is for oil What you get all over your hands after executing the manoeuvres above, coming a cropper and being forced to spend ages putting the chain back on.

P is for phone I see no reason why you should not treat your bike like an office. Provided you hug the kerb, you should be entitled to make phone calls. It is probably safer to use a hands-free gizmo, but to all those who want to ban the use of mobiles on bikes, I say this: there are plenty of one-armed people in the world. Are we so cruel as to forbid them from using a bicycle? We are not. What is a mobile phone-user but a cyclist who has, effectively, only one arm? I rest my case. P is for pavement This you should only mount in the most extreme circumstances (for example, if you are driven off the road by one of my predecessor’s demented new single-decker buses, so long that they can’t turn corners). Q is for queue As in queues of cars, throbbing, panting, waiting. Tee-hee. R is for Ridgeback This is the make of my bike. S is for saddle I have had five bikes stolen in four years, which is a pretty devastating comment on law and order. But the most traumatic moment was discovering someone had taken my saddle. Why? To what perverted end? T is for thieves Who are everywhere and who will be tackled with sharia ruthlessness when the Tories come to power. V is for V-sign Permitted, but only under the grossest provocation.
W is for women cyclists Who are indistinguishable, in manners and morals, from male cyclists. Some are charming and “After you, Claude”. Some are extremely aggressive and judgmental. Y is for yellow light
And the ancient dilemma: when you spot one of these 20 yards out, do you give it some welly and scoot across just before the first motorbike can knock you over? Or do you play safe, rest your left foot on the kerb and have a breather?
Z is for zoom Which is what you had better do if you decide to go for it, and I cannot, in all conscience, recommend that you do. Be safe, my friends."

Monday 27 October 2008

Sliding Around and Not Looking Pretty - Classic Cross (again)

Having missed a couple of weeks of cyclo cross I was keen to make it to the London League round at Reed Court Farm.
My knee had been playing up in the last couple of weeks so I'd had to rest up. Since it had been slowly getting better, and I was missing cycling I decided to go with Fred to the race on the Kent farm. My knee was twinging as I left the house, and at one point I thought that it might be better for me to just spectate.

But given the miserable weather conditions I was loathe to standing around in the pouring rain for an hour. When the weather is wet and dismal you tend to forget about those facts while racing. As a spectator, an hour can seem like alot longer.

So I paid my entry fee and joined the runners and riders.

This was the third time I was racing at Reed Court Farm - and still I hadn't quite got the hang of getting to that venue in good time. Well, at least this year I had 5 minutes to spare when I reached the start line !

The commissaire blew his whistle promptly at 1.30pm to set us off on our 60-minute mud-fest in the damp.
As I wasn't actually sitting on my bike when everyone set off, I immediately found myself at a 10 metre disadvantage to the herd !

This didn't phase me as I'd been in this position countless times. Anyway, given that I'd had no warm up and my leg was twinging, I preferred to ease my legs in gradually rather than rev them up too quickly.

Soon I gained ground on the riders at the back and managed to pass a few people, including Nicola from Kingston Wheelers. I must thank her for pointing out the various dismount points ahead of me like the big log and the steps to run up. These are the trip hazards for those, like me who try and race around in the mizzle without having recc'd the course.

I passed a few guys, then managed to catch more women racers - Sarah from San Fairy Ann, and Abi from London Phoenix, who put up a bit of a fight to not let me pass her. A couple of years ago she would have mown me down in this race. This time I managed to hang in there and make my move past her. All this catching and passing people during the race actually gave me confidence.

I was even beginning to enjoy myself. Not even the mud in my eyes or the grit in my teeth were going to spoil this party.
In previous years this course had been a real arduous task in the dry conditions. It had been an energy sapping boneshaker ride trudging across ploughed furrows. Today it was an energy sapping ride squelching and sliding around mud tracks. But the mud is what makes it fun !

I found that losing a few seconds at the start to let air out of my tyres had paid off. I felt comfortable taking the slippery corners at speed, and I didn't fall down at all - something that wasn't the case for my next opponent in the race - Helen from Crawley Wheelers. She took a tumble on the 180 degree corner while I was on her wheel. I would have preferred to overtake her while she was upright and riding, rather than while she was face down in the mud.

And thus I romped and slid around the course at speed, battling to catch whoever I could. I wasn't sure where I was among the women because I didn't know how many of us there were. Just when I was hazarding that I might be third, behind Nicky Hughes (Folkactiv) and Claire Beaumont (London Dynamo), I heard a female voice shout - "on your right" ! I moved out of the way to find myself being lapped by schoolgirl Corrine Hall (Team Corridori). And didn't she just make me feel like I was standing still !

So in the end, I finished 4th out of the eight women. I was pleased with my ride, considering I hadn't ridden much in the preceding fortnight.
With a snotty muddy face I didn't look very photogenic, but at least I'd put in a solid ride.
My next goal should be to do cyclo cross Italian style - with full make-up on, not a hair out of place, while still looking immaculate as I cross the finish line for a podium spot !

Thursday 23 October 2008

Age - I can feel it in my commuting !

There are lots of things around that are indicators of your advancing years - a few more lines on your face, getting more interested in classical music, favouring the practical over the fashionable, wanting to get home by 11pm on a Friday, needing glasses, forgetting where you put your glasses, etc etc.

I have found that my commute into work is as big a sign as any that shock horror, I'm getting old(er) !

When I first started commuting to work by bicycle in 2001, I was working at Marylebone. I had an 11 mile commute and could do it in 50 minutes. I had the same bike then as I do now - a heavy Ridgeback hybrid.
Also at that time I could fly up the 10% gradient of Anerley Hill on the 42 chainring first thing in the morning.

Nowadays I work at Westminster, 9 miles away, but it still takes me 50 minutes. In fact, when I go up Anerley Hill I rarely use the 42 chainring. The granny 32 ring is my gear of choice. I just don't feel I can attack any hill, first thing in the morning. Even the slight rise going over Lambeth Bridge becomes a slog !!

There's no getting away from it, I'm getting old. Just the other day I cursed the fact that I had left my wooley bonnet at home when I was riding in. It seemed like a more palatable solution to battling against the cold than riding my bike faster !
I spent the rest of the day at work trying to keep warm.

Having said all that, the age thing is not just about ability. It's also about my changing attitude. In those days my commute to work was treated as a (twice) daily time trial. I would try and get a pb each week. I didn't want anyone to overtake me -not even the flash harries on their Canondales. I was always up for a race, and I would even jump the red lights.

Nowadays I am much more sensible. I adhere firmly to the Highway Code, I dress appropriately, and most importantly for me it's about getting to my destination rather than beating the clock or anyone else.

Admittedly, I do alot more cycling outside of commuting nowadays than I used to. In fact, sometimes I see my commute as a good respite from the whole training/racing/training mill. Commuting should be enjoyed and when you get to work you should feel ready for work, not feeling like you need to lie down and stretch off your legs. Uh oh, these sounds like the words of an old CTC friend of mine who was of a certain age.

OK, so I admit it - I commute to work slower than I used to, and nowadays I am more of a sturdy mare than a dynamic filly. But hey, I'm allowed to. I'm the wrong side of thirty and I have a landmark birthday coming up so I've got my excuse.
I don't mind how the cycling goes as long as I'm allowed to age gracefully !

Monday 20 October 2008

On the road again in Northern France

I'd done my London - Paris bike ride, soaked in the vibe and dug the people of the beautiful French capital. Now it was time to make the journey back home.

It would've been a bit too predictable to jump on the Eurostar or get a flight straight back to London, so I chose a more convoluted approach.

The aim of my weekend away at the end of September was not just to get from London to Paris by bicycle, but I had also wanted to take in as many sights as possible while in Northern France.

So, at 9am I scooted from my youth hostel in Porte de Pantin, across to Gare du Nord and took a train towards the Compiegne area. I was back in the Picardy region but this was a very pleasant side to the region.

This area is a popular getaway for the bustling Parisians. I got off the train at Longueuil Sainte-Marie, just ahead of the Foret de Compiegne.

View Larger Map
It was a fairly sleepy town with a pleasant river running through and forested tracks. I did quite a few circuits of the village in order to find the road to La Croix St Ouen. Soon I bumped into a local who seemed very happy to help me out. It was an old "Marcel" type who was trundling along from the bakers on his bicycle. With a baguette, under his arm, riding an old sit-up-and-beg bike which he pedalled through his heels, wearing a beret and an old jacket, I wondered if I'd stepped into a timewalk of by-gone days in France. I could've sworn he had a string of onions around his neck under his jacket !

Given that the guy wouldn't have been much under 70 years of age he was incredibly spritely in the way he spoke. Again, as with other folk I had met in the provinces he was very surprised and almost flattered that an outsider was in his town touring around.

I'd been trying to get to Pierrefonds, and my initial question had been to ask him the way to the D85 towards La Croix St Ouen. "You don't want to take the road - not with all these tossers that are gonna knock you off," he said. "No, follow me - I'll show you a really beautiful ride along the side of the river, where the birds sing and there are cute rabbits. You can even get little views of the castles around here. And right at the end of the ride there's a pretty little bridge to go over."

"You see," he continued, "You're in the most important part of France, and I know everything there is to know round here. I was born and raised here, and I don't know anywhere else - I don't need to ! Follow me !" He was lively and enthusiastic, but not a psycho so I obliged and followed him.

In the 3 mile ride that I did with the old boy I was given a brief history of the local area and a quick low down of all the best places to visit around. Judging by the ecstasy he displayed when talking about the castle of Pierrefonds it was apparent that that was the number one place to visit.
"But take it easy," he said, as he bid me good bye. "It's a good 15km to Pierrefonds. It could be a long day !"
"I'll be careful", I replied. I didn't want to give him a heart attack by telling him where I was really hoping to get to. (Amiens).

The ride to Pierrefonds was beautiful. I could see why he was excited about me going there. Compiegne forest is idyllic, and provides lots of possibilities for off-road biking. All the trails are waymarked as well. The sun, shone and there were hardly any cars. It was great. The terrain was fairly easy too, apart from a mini climb up to St Jean des Bois.

"Marcel" was definitely right about Pierrefonds castle. It was a very imposing august piece of military architecture which dates back to the Middle Ages.

I stopped, along with a whole load of tourists, to marvel at its sheer size. The way it suddenly surges into view as you approach the village is so impressive that you can't help but stop and stare.

That was the high point of the day as far as scenery went.

I then pushed on back through the forest to reach the town of Compiegne itself. I could have stopped and looked at a bit more of the town, but I didn't. There's a very nice town hall and castle there too, but I didn't stop. Too much spinning around the outskirts of towns looking for the road I was after meant I wasted a bit of time and was keen to make progress Northwards. Still, I was glad to have made the circular detour around the Compiegne Forest. It was definitely worth the trip.

The road back up to Amiens took me through the Picardy region. This department of the Somme is quite undulating. As well as fields, there are a few military cemeteries reflecting its war-time past.
The road may have had a desolate feel it, but it was more interesting than say the road to Gisors, as it undulated constantly and twisted through various small quaint villages - Rollot, Montdidier, Moreeuil, Boves.

Also the wind was behind me, which made a lot of difference. I could have taken the quieter D26 through Ailly sur Noye. But really the more principal D935 was very quiet on this sunny Saturday afternoon. In fact I saw a number of club cyclists along this road. So it seemed like this was the place to be.

From Mondidier onwards - around 18 miles from Amiens I could see a tall tower and a church steeple over the hills in the distance. Could that really have been Amiens ? I hoped it was, as it was good to have something concrete to aim for. In fact, this proved to be true as I reached the main suburban road that led to Amiens city centre. My bike ride ended right in front of Amiens train station - next to this tower. Well, I had been wanting something concrete to aim for - that's exactly what I got !

In the distance the tower had been a guiding light - a star to follow, an expectation of making it through the end of a long journey.

Once past the initial celebration of achieving the goal, it then became apparent what an architectural monstrosity the Perret Tower really is ! This ugly ode to concrete makes for a stark contrast to the beauty and intricacy of the world heritage site of Amiens cathedral.

I had around 2 hours to kill before catching my train to Calais. So I used the time to stroll around, and have a well deserved quiche, cake and beer. Apart from the Tour Perret, this town was quite pleasing to the eye. There was even an affluent feel to the place. I could have fallen asleep in the park quite comfortably, but I decided to do that on my train journey.

Once in Calais, I felt a real sense of achievement that I'd it made it round Northern France. There may not be the breathtaking sights of the high mountains characteristic of the Alps or the Pyrenees while out cycling, but Northern France is definitely worth a bike trip as there are still lots of other sights to see.

Sunday 19 October 2008

Paris in the Autumn

Paris in the Spring may be a beautiful time of year with the wide array of bright colours from flowers and blossom, bright sunshine, birds singing, love in the air.....and all that.

But I just love Paris in the Autumn. Ok, maybe I'm biased - Autumn is my favourite season.

The day after my arrival in Paris (on my recent cycling trip there) I spent the time just strolling around my favourite places in Paris, digging the scene and feeling glad to be alive.
Here are a few picture memories.

Tuesday 30 September 2008

Cyclo Cross - The Story So Far

It's only just the end of September but I've already done half a dozen cyclo cross races. What's strange about it is that my 'cross bike hasn't seen any mud !

It's fair enough that I started my cyclo cross season in August, so not much dirt expected then. But the first few London Cyclo Cross League rounds have taken place in bright sunshine and even summer temperatures.

You were more likely to need suncream than warming embrocation cream on your legs !

The league has not been going too badly as yet. I haven't won any rounds - unlike last year, but my performances have been solid. For the first 3 rounds we've done so far, I've finished second in two rounds, and third in another. However, once Nicky Hughes (Activ Cycles) and Katharine Mason (Sussex Nomads) arrive we will be battling for third - so my position will probably slip. I don't mind too much, as it's all meant to be abit of fun for the winter months. Well, that's when winter eventually arrives !

photo by Andy Waterman:

2Wheel Chick goes to Paris

As the weather forecast for last weekend was looking really positive I made a last minute dot com decision to go on a mini cycling trip to France.

I'd originally had a mega plan to do La Route des Grandes Alpes, but then thought against it for logistical reasons. But hey, riding in France doesn't always have to be about the high mountains.

For all the times that I've been cycling in France I had never ridden in or to Paris. It's something I've always wanted to do, and getting there can't be that difficult once you've crossed the channel.

So that's what I did last weekend.

Leaving London

Actually, my journey started on Wednesday night when I rode my pannier laden bike from my office in Westminster and across the way to Victoria Station.

I boarded the 7.47pm from Victoria to Newhaven Harbour. When I arrived there at around quarter past nine the place looked a real ghost town. Not a lot happening, no one in the streets. I could see the port, but I had to go around in circles a bit to find the ticket office.

Boarding the ferry was a pretty straight forward affair. All 10 foot passengers plus 5 trucks, 2 cars 3 transits boarded the frigate. There would be no mad scramble for the best seats on the 10.30pm crossing for Dieppe !

We promptly boarded the ferry and I found a spot where I could curl up and go to sleep.

Once in Dieppe, at around 4am (local time) I rode across town to my hotel. The road out of the port was cold, lonely and pretty hilly. In the darkness, I was able to adjust my eyes so visibility was not a problem. There were hardly any oncoming vehicles so there were no scary instances of getting dazzled.

I took the main circular road (La Rocade) to get to the Formule 1 hotel, but I believe there was a shorter route on quieter roads. At that time of night I couldn't be bothered to try and find it though, and it wasn't as if I would be caught up in sprawling traffic at half 4 in the morning !

Once I arrived in my hotel I was relieved to get my head down and rest. The 5 mile ride into town had been pretty much uphill and I was quite tired. Hopefully I'd have a bit more energy the next day to make the 100+mile trip to Paris.

I kept my bicycle in my room, which the receptionist was happy to let me do. He had suggested I leave the bike outside as it would be safe. I replied by saying I would rather not leave my bike outside all night. "But let's face it," he said, "night time has finished !" He had a point I suppose.

Normandy and Picardy

The 1 hour time difference meant that sun rise was at almost 8am. I didn't leave the hotel until after 9 o'clock.

Dieppe is an old town, with nothing special to see, but as port towns go it was quite pleasant. It was certainly a more cheerful place than Newhaven.

The sun shone brightly, even if it was a little cool. The rush hour traffic could hardly be called rush hour. Traffic was light and orderly. Very soon I was on the minor departmental roads heading down towards St Saen (Normandy). There were hardly any vehicles along this road. I think I counted 6 cars along the 20 mile stretch ! The architecture was pleasant - mainly wood panelled bungalows that had windows adorned with flower beds.
The terrain was very easy - flat with very gentle undulations. I didn't care to ride particularly quickly. With 9kg of panniers to move along on my heavy cyclo cross bike and my unsylph-like frame, there would be no rushing on this journey !

Anyway, my friend Rachel wouldn't be home until evening, so I had all day to get to Paris !

St Saen was a quaint Normandy village. When I arrived, there was alot of activity as it was market day, and all the locals were out to meet and greet each other - exchange stories about life and the universe while getting their kilo of butter.

I proved to be a bit of a novelty as they could see I wasn't from round there and they seemed quite flattered that I'd stopped in their town. In fact that seemed to be a bit of a recurring theme on my trip.

After a croissant aux amandes I pressed on towards Buchy, where the architecture and the terrain began to change. There were more two/three storey brick houses that had balconies and window boxes. The roads even began to climb uphill a little. But still, it was nothing that required the granny ring.

I then passed through towns that ended in Andelle - Croisy sur Andelle, Perrier sur Andelle. Things were quite scenic here. I lost a bit of time when I missed a turning for Lyons La Foret and had to go back on myself. It was a bit irritating as I ended up climbing back up the lovely descent I'd just done. Then after that the road up to Lyon La Foret was a 4 mile climb. In fact, that was the main climb of the day.

The scenery around here was beautiful, and I imagine it's one of the local areas where cyclists go. There were also various trails through the forest, so probably alot of off-road stuff goes on here too.

I also noted the town of Lyons La Foret to be quite a sought after place to live. It's got a very old feel to it, with some parts having preserved it's original 17th century architecture. It's that part of Normandy where the houses are decked out in period decor, some even with thatched roofs and oak beam exteriors to give it that extra historic feel - then topped up with a satellite dish on the roof !

The area of Andelle, Bray and Lyons La Foret is definitely a pleasant area to spend a bit of time and stop at a country cafe.

I was keen to make progress on my journey so pushed on further south towards Etrepagny. After Lyon La Foret, fortunately the road went downhill. Unfortunately, so did the scenery.

La Neuve Grange and Etrepagny were grey dismal towns that complemented the non-descript, flat windswept landscape. This area was rather like Flanders but without the bergs or Trappist beers - just combine harvesters and municipal housing. I even passed through a place called Doudeauville, which I thought might be an inland version of that swanky Deauville place by the sea.
But it wasn't - just ordinary folks hanging around the streets with not alot to do.

I then headed on to Gisors, which, scenery-wise was the only saving grace on this section of the journey.

Here, I had my afternoon snack before taking the road to Marines.
This was another boring trek across flat roads. Also the traffic was a bit heavier now, with a few trucks and transit vans passing. I was looking forward to getting away from these unpicturesque plains of the Picardie region, and heading into the Parisien region.

I could have taken the more picturesque lanes that followed the railway line, and then cut down through to Marines. However, I became impatient and eager to reach Paris sooner, so I took the faster D915 road. I soon regretted this as it was a soul destroying ride into a head wind, with lots of transit vans and trucks. Fortunately, most of these vehicles were travelling in the opposite direction. I suppose, with it being around 5pm commercial traffic was moving away from the city rather than going towards it. Also, with the higher density of traffic I figured that I must be on the edge of the Parisian region. Well, I was in Ile de France - the outer 'burbs of the Paris area. At this moment I turned down a road that took me due South - the D53. This was such a relief as suddenly the wind was no longer against me and I was no longer constrained to riding at 10 miles an hour !

The Route into Paris

View Larger Map

Uh oh, I then hit a problem when, this road took me to a fast national road, which was banned to cyclists. How annoying was that. I was only about 25miles from Paris. I could smell it, I could even taste it, but I couldn't make the link to get there. What a heart-sink moment. A local club cyclist stopped to assist, and gave me directions on how to get across.

It involved going back on my self to some small villages - Gouzangrez, Us, Ableiges, Montgeroult and then through to Pontoise. That meant I would then have had a really tedious couple of hours of riding a couple of miles, then studying the maps as I picked my way through the various suburbs - places like St Germain en Laye, Maisons Lafitte and La Defense. Ok, these places do look nice on sunny days like this, but it was around 6pm now and the sun was going in - I was getting a bit fed up of turning the pedals and I was just looking forward to putting my feet up in a Parisian Cafe - regardless of the fact that I my panniers and high visibility day-glo jacket were somewhat lacking in Parisian chic !

The guy, Patrice, was a friendly chap who was originally from Guadeloupe. He'd been out and done his regular 100km club run so was quite willing to twiddle his way back to Pontoise with me. I was feeling a little irritated and the idea of having to ride my heavy bike and panniers at even semi club run pace over rolling hills didn't sound that appealing. So I just politely thanked him for his offer and told him I'd be able to manage myself.

My ride to Paris officially ended at Pontoise - about 20miles out from the Arc de Triomphe. The next time I do this ride (which I most certainly will do next summer) I will make sure I ride right through the Parisian Western suburbs as the limited exposure I had to these places gave me a flavour of how picturesque these areas are.

The neighbourhoods were very green, with woods and rivers nearby. The architecture was old and had character. Alot of those houses had nicely painted fronts with window boxes full of fresh colourful flowers. The pavements were very neat and the folks walking down the streets were turned out in their Sunday best, even though it was only Thursday early evening - and of course some had the obligatory poodle ! This is definitely the area for the so called "BCBG" (bon chic, bon genre) - the French sloane rangers !

And of course, the rolling hills and green spaces also seemed to be a haunt for the club cyclist. I saw quite a few of them round here. All in various hues of sponsored kit, and all very polite in the way they acknowledged me.

Arrival in Paris

I caught the train into St Lazare station. My next mission was to make the short ride across to Porte Maillot, where my friend Rachel lives. It was almost 8pm and it was beginning to get dark.

There was a real bustle in the streets as people were either making their way home from work, or were on their way out for the evening.
Coming out straight onto Boulevard Haussmann was a real baptism of fire, in terms of riding around Paris. I had to dodge round shoppers, tourists, and of course the numerous scooters, buses and taxis. Motorists don't really use indicators when driving around Paris. There seems to be no etiquette about which lane you travel in either. You might be in the left hand lane, but that doesn't mean you won't be turning right ! And as for junctions, you need to use all 7 senses !
I was just glad to be lit up brighter than a Christmas tree.

Despite the chaos in the traffic, I was just glad to be there riding through central Paris. It was such a buzz.
From Boulevard Haussmann, I made a left turn into rue de la Boetie. This was a long but narrow road (in contrast to the wide boulevard). There were lots of small boutiques, which got posher as I neared rue Faubourg St Honore and eventually Champs Elysees. There were lots of swanky black 4 x 4's pulling up and picking up beautiful or important people to go "Somewhere".

The traffic on Champs Elysees was moving but it was cramped and there were zillions of traffic lights. So when we did eventually get the green light, there was a massive surge for 25 metres to the next set of traffic lights. As I had to accelerate with the motorists, it made for quite a bumpy ride as I rolled over the cobbles. I now have even greater admiration for the pro cyclists who speed up and down this road 10 times at the end of the Tour de France every year. Drivers on the Champs have a real knack of being able to fit their cars in spaces you wouldn't think a car would fit. But then again, they seem quite blase about scratches or dents on the car bodywork as well.

At the top of Champs Elysees I stopped and photographed the majestic Arc de Triomphe in all it's glory, with the 12 avenues radiating out from it in all directions. Immediately, I was back on my bike, whizzing around this fairground of a roundabout, and down to Porte Maillot. By half past 8 I was in Rachel's flat enjoying a celebratory meal with her and Yves.

I'd had a great day out in the saddle. I had done just over 100miles in wall to wall sunshine. It had been beautiful all day. That was something I'd always wanted to do. Now I know it can be done quite easily, I imagine I will probably do this a few more times.