Friday, 23 October 2020

Photo of the day - 23: Giro d'Italia breakaway to Abbiategrasso

Trezzano sul Naviglio, near Abbiategrasso 

As it's Flashback Friday I am casting my mind back to a bike ride I did along the Naviglio Grande from Milan to Abbiategrasso while on a visit to Milan two years ago. That in itself was a nostalgia ride as it reminded me of the two years I spent there between 2012 and 2013. Riding along the Naviglio Grande was a mainstay ride for me in those days, as it was my local run. I was staying close to Corsa Genova, so it was very easy to get onto the fashionable Navigli, ride past the trendy canal-side cafés and continue along the canal path (Naviglio Grande) to Abbiategrasso. This picture is actually taken at Trezzano sul Naviglio, just before Abbiategrasso. It's only about a 45 minute ride from the grand Milan metropolis, but it is pretty quiet, and has a very laid back feel close to the fields of the Milan suburbs. Interestingly, this is the place where today's stage of the Giro d'Italia began. It wasn't planned that way. The professional riders should have started in Morbegno, in the Alps and then headed into Asti (of fizzy wine fame) in Piedmont. But in typical Giro d'Italia tradition, there was a rider protest. The riders had spent yesterday racing in the freezing conditions up the Stelvio Pass, so some decided they weren't prepared to do today's 258km-stage. Instead, the teams were bussed over 130km across Lombardy to a big car park not far from where this photo was taken, and the riders raced the remaining 124.5km from there. Rider protests in the Giro d'Italia are not uncommon. They usually complain about the long transfers between stages, being made to race in difficult climatic conditions, racing over a wet slippery 25% slope like Plan di Corones, or even on the 100th anniversary edition where they were to race around Central Milan, weaving around parked cars on narrow streets! So this protest didn't surprise me - though the director, Mauro Vegni has vowed to take action against the ring leaders. I think rider protests are an Italian bike race thing. I remember in a cyclosportive  we were meant to do a cyclosportive across the Dolomites but it was bucketing down, with snow at the summits. Although the event was reduced to a race up Passo Fedaia, riders still complained that conditions would be unsafe.  On another occasion, at the Giro di Sardegna cyclosportive there was a big deal made about us doing a time trial that involved a long downhill section. After a big open debate between riders and the organiser the stage was cancelled and we did a leisurely ride along the coast instead. It's just an Italian thing, I guess.

Thursday, 22 October 2020

Photo of the day - 22: New Bike Day - a lovely Brompton!

Looking forward to zipping around London and beyond on this

So this landed on my doorstep, and it made my day! It was given to me by Brompton as a recompense for a day I had filming and doing a photo shoot with them in July. I had a good day out with their film crew recording footage and taking photos of a group of us cycling around Central London on Brompton bikes. That was the first time I was riding extensively on a Brompton. When I was based in Milan a few years ago I would do the 3-mile commute to work on a folding bike, so I did enjoy using that. I must admit though, that for me a Brompton is the gold standard in folding bikes. So being able to ride around London on that Sunday in July was great, and I was even more excited to know that 6-speed versions exist for those like me, who live in hilly areas. It was a very pleasant surprise to know I would be receiving one. So at lunchtime a young man arrived at the door with a big box, and I ran to the door like an excited child. It's in exactly the colour I wanted, too. Collegiate green is my thing, and I think it blends well with autumn colours. I look forward to zipping around London and beyond with it. 

Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Photo of the day - 21: At Cherry Pie Music for my first clarinet lesson

Cherry Pie Music School for clarinet lessons and various other instruments 

This quaint looking place near South Wimbledon is a music school. That's where I went for my first clarinet lesson. I figured that if I have an exam in a month's time it would be good to get in a few lessons and to have an expert assess my playing. I have self-taught myself over the years, using a mixture of You Tube, and years before that ever existed, the great Klosé Method Manual with its gazillions of drills. Recently, I thought it would be a good idea to formalize my level by doing the grades, so in the first instant I am starting at the very beginning, a very good place to start! My Grade 1 exam syllabus seems fairly straightforward with short basic tunes and easy scales; the whole exam only lasts 15 minutes, so I am feeling pretty relaxed about it. I wasn't best prepared when I arrived at the place. I was a little hot and bothered from having done the one-mile brisk walk from where I'd parked at the shopping centre. Then I had to put on my mask on my arrival, which made me quite hot. So I spent a few minutes stripping off my layers of clothing before I could take out and assemble my clarinet. Given that this was only a half-hour lesson I didn't want to waste any more time so I got straight into playing without properly dampening the reed. I was also a bit nervous, and hadn't practiced for a few days. I'm sure I didn't sound that good. However, to my surprise the teacher said that I had played well enough to pass the exam. I would need to do more breathing exercises to support the higher notes better and give fullness - but for Grade 1 that's more like the cherry on the cake. That's very reassuring. I look forward to having more lessons; as it is classed as a school it may well remain open even if London moves into Tier 3 lockdown. The place is set up with social distancing taken into account. You wear a mask until you enter the tuition room. The tuition room is divided into two, with a perspex glass to separate the pupil from the teacher. The teacher has a mask and a personal protection perspex face covering, though she removed it once behind the perspex. So it all seemed pretty safe.  Here's hoping my clarinet playing doesn't get too disrupted.

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Photo of the day - 20: Women gearing up for the National Hill Climb Championships


Finish line of Bank Road hill climb: Haddi Conant (with Simon
"100 Climbs" Warren in the background)

With less than a week to go until the National Hill Climb championships there is a bit of fanfare goinng on around the fact that there will be a record turn-out of women competing at the event. A former full-time road racer, Laurie Pestana led a campaign to "flood the National Hill Climb Championships with female entries (ideally 100+ entries), women would have their entry fees paid for them. (Rather like what Helen Wyman did a few years ago to get under-23 women to compete in the National Cyclocross Championships). This was done as a way to encourage a greater female participation at the event, and get organisers to commit to paying equal prize money for the male and female winners. Observers say around 140 women signed up for the event, so folks have been excited at this unprecedented occasion. Some of the entrants were at the Hill Climb at Bank Road. One of the women was Haddi Conant, who has taken to wearing a campaign banner on her back at the races she's been doing. She initially had a banner that said "Equal prize money for men and women!!" But once she heard that equal prize money was being offered at the Bank Hill event and at the National Championships she changed the wording. Haddi has also made a film as part of her campaign. In parallel to this, another rider Gemma Wilks is making a film about women's participation in cycling, as a way to showcase what women do, in a hope of inspiring other women. I am all for doing anything to encourage more women to take up cycling and also to sign up for races. In fact, I have been involved in initiatives, such as the London Women's Cycle Racing League, back in 2010. That has gotten people many women into cycling. It is all very well for women to campaign for equal prize money or better recognition etc in the sport. However, I feel that at grass roots level, women need to step up to the plate more themselves. Sometimes I find it surprising the disparity in the number of women who campaign for various gender issues related to sport vs how many women actually turn up at the start lines of races. I know of race organisers who put on races for women, only to have barely a handful of women turn up. Some even have to cancel races due to a lack of participants - or run the race at a substantial financial loss. During the road racing season, at least once every few weeks a race organiser puts out an appeal for more entrants because at two weeks out from the race he or she has barely 10 women signed up. So while it is great to ask for certain things from those who organise the races, we should also satisfy our end of the deal by participating regularly. Men may be perceived as receiving more favourable treatment, but then again when a race is organised the men always turn out. With women it can be very hit and miss, and high risk especially for people who are running these events on a shoestring budget and organise races as a labour of love. Some folks claim that organisers need to engage with women more, or do more to make us feel welcome. But then I say, why should organisers do more for women than they would do for men? It's ironic to say, "We want gender parity, but can you do more marketing to we women, encourage us more and give us more of a welcome than you do with men so more of us can turn up?" You can't cherry pick what you want equality to look like. I say, if women want comparable returns to the men from race organisers they need to put themselves out there, rather than grumbling from the side lines. I am glad to see that the National Hill Climbing Championships will have so many female competitors. I hope this can be repeated regularly across all kinds of races, and without always needing special campaigns.   

Monday, 19 October 2020

Photo of the day - 19: Short bike ride along High Peak Trail


As this was my final day in Matlock before returning to London I thought I would have an "easy" day riding along a rail trail. The nearest one to me was the High Peak Trail, which can be joined in the nearby village of Cromford. So I rode three or four miles along the A6 to Cromford where I could pick up the trail. It wasn't that easy to find, and I did a few a couple of unnecessary detours. But eventually I found a back lane which rose up quite steeply to get me onto the trail at Black Rocks. I guess they don't call it "high" peak for nothing! The trail is very pretty, though I found it tough-going at times, especially in the initial part where the trail dragged uphill to Black Rock. It then dropped down, only for me to start climbing again to reach Middleton Top. This trail also doubles as the Pennine Bridleway, a long-distance off-road path with different sections I have ridden in various parts of the Peak District. The path also goes through Yorkshire, and is quite challenging. This may explain why the High Peak Trail felt like harder work compared with the nearby Tissington Trail which I rode a few years ago. It was possible to continue along this trail to Parsley Hay, where I could join Tissington trail and do a big circuit to get back to Cromford and Matlock. However, being stuck for time I left the High Peak Trail and navigated my way along various un-named bridleways to head towards Grangemill Farm, then back to Matlock via Brightgate. This was a fun route, though at one point I made a wrong turn and ended up on the edge of an industrial quarry - which would have been interesting if I had fallen on track! In the end, this "shortened" route still had a riding time of over two hours, and with extra time added on for map-reading and getting lost the total outing was almost three hours! It had been a good day's off-road riding. Now I know why so many people rave about off-road riding in the Peak District. There is so much choice. Also, there's a chance I will be back here again soon as I have signed up for a cyclocross race in Matlock, which will take place very close to Grangemill. At least I will know what to expect.

Sunday, 18 October 2020

Photo of the day - 18: Out and about in Matlock

Matlock as seen from the Limestone Way

I had an active Sunday in Matlock. Doing a hill climb race on the South Downs yesterday meant that I didn't arrive in Matlock until late yesterday evening. So I felt like I had some catching up to do. So the first thing this morning I did a mini ride around the local area, taking in Bank Road, where I would later do the hill climb race that afternoon. I then continued towards Wirksworth and Middleton Top, going via Riber Castle. A hill climb race was going on there too this morning, and I exchanged a few words with one of the marshals. Matlock is a hilly place, I must say. Keen to not overdo things like I had done the previous week at the Brighton Mitre events, and turn up at the afternoon hill climb feeling tired, I kept the bike ride brief. I did do a mini cross country run along the Limestone Way though. I decided that that was round 2 of my personal cross country series. But in fact, this run was not so much as cross country but a fell run! There were great views of the town below, with Riber Castle in the distance. I then returned to my hotel room in time to change into my cycling gear to do the hill climb. After the climb, given that it was a sunny day I felt I had to make the most of the nearby country lanes. So I did a little walk along the River Derwent and then up to the war memorial at the top of a hill. By the end of the day, my legs were shot and I was ready to put my feet up. I slept well. In short, Matlock is a place where there's no shortage of things to do.

Saturday, 17 October 2020

Photo of the day - 17: Another hilly bike ride on the South Downs


On the way down from Bo Peep - great to see the paragliders out 
Continuing my hill climbing season, today saw me once again on the slopes of the South Downs. My day started with a hill climb competition up to Firle Beacon. It was similar to the one I did at Steyning Bostal last week, except that in this one I actually had the time to reccie the climb. Well, the sign-on was located at the summit, and given that I had chosen to park in Firle village I had no choice but to ride up the climb to pick up my number. Last week I had been the minute woman to local rider Cathy Wallace. I had managed to stay ahead of her, but she still put time into me and beat me by 30 seconds. This time she wasn't there and I was minute woman to another local rider, Erica Martin of Eastbourne Rovers. She caught me three-quarters of the way up the climb. For me, that was a good result as she is a strong rider and Firle is slightly harder than Steyning. I finished third last in this one, which was an improvement on last place in my previous hill climb! One thing about racing is how you keep bumping into people you recognise from other races. Debbie Percival, racing for Kent Velo Girls was there - she had been at the two races I did last week. Also, it was good to see Natalie Creswick, who I know from other cycle races I have done in the past. It's that that gives cycle racing a community feel too, as you go around the circuit and get to know different people - like in many competitive sports. 
After racing up Firle Beacon, I thought it would have been rude not to pay a visit to the other nearby well-known climb, Bo Peep. So I did a little loop further to the east where I picked up the little lane that took me to the summit. That climb is shallow initially, and there is around a 10% ramp as you turn the first bend. However, the real sting is the final bend, which must be more like 18%. I am glad that wasn't included in the race. Along the way, I saw a couple of guys on hybrid bikes who were really suffering on the slope. We congratulated each other when we met again in the car park. Talk about solidarity in pain!
As well as the company of other bike riders mad enough to ride up Bo Peep for pleasure, we had many paragliders up and above us, making the most of the thermals. Gee, the lengths people go, to reach the summit without pedalling a bike - cheats!

Friday, 16 October 2020

Photo of the day - 16: Low Traffic Neighbourhoods - Are they working?


Planters in the low traffic neighbourhood in Wandsworth Town
As a way to help social distancing and encourage sustainable ways of transport around London, councils were given the go-ahead by the government to set up Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs). Basically it means blocking off residential roads (often used as cut-through routes by motorists) with boxes of plants (planters) so that only cyclists and pedestrians can use these roads. In principle, these sound a great idea. I really enjoyed cycling along this road in Wandsworth Town along with other cyclists, and being able to stop and sit at one of the many cafes with outdoor seats. It definitely gave a continental feel to the road. It was also nice to see families with young children cycling, just like you would see in places like Amsterdam or Copenhagen. The problem is that all the motorised traffic has now been displaced onto main roads, so there is horrendous traffic on the roads surrounding these LTNs. On the facebook group for my local area there has been a massive outpouring of outrage and disgust at these LTNs in Crystal Palace. People report spending half an hour to make a car journey that previously took 5 minutes. Then the car haters turn out and advise people to travel by bicycle - which inflames matters even more as folks very sternly retort that it is totally impractical to work as an electrician, builder, ferry children around or provide community care on a bicycle. I had the "pleasure" of experiencing an LTN as a motorist today when driving back to Crystal Palace after buying some gardening items. I must say, as someone who is solidly sold on the matter of travelling by bike, these LTNs have not been helpful. I did so many U-turns to find alternative routes just to get out of the horrendous traffic jam. All routes into Crystal Palace were chock-a-block. In the end, I chose the least worst option - which was still 20 minutes when it would have taken me 3 minutes. I could have got home quicker if I'd run. But then I would have made myself ill with all the thick pollution generated from the traffic jam. So, unfortunately I have to give these LTNs the thumbs down. I have heard that Wandsworth Council and Lewisham Council have decided to remove the LTNs. My local borough, Bromley made a decision not to introduce them. However, Croydon have been so zealous about them that at times it almost looks as though those folks who live within an LTN may never be able to leave their neighbourhood by car ever again! These LTNs were a nice idea, but I think there needs to be a rethink.

Thursday, 15 October 2020

Photo of the day - 15: A good read

I am very interested to know this guy's story
Don't tell me the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown have meant you have more time! That's not been true for me at all! Yes, the year has been extraordinary with something one thousandth the size of a pinhead managing to topple economies and bring chaos and consternation to people's lives. I have done my best to keep my head above the water, and keep the plates spinning. This has led to work being busier than ever. Also, setting myself new goals and challenges has meant that preparing for those has also led to things being busy. So I haven't had the chance to order in more beer or gin and do a Netflix box set binge, or spend the day on House Party or Zoom - tempting as they might be! But I have tried to get in a bit of reading - an important thing to do as a writer. These days I enjoy reading biographies, especially those of athletes and high profile people in sport. I always find their stories inspirational, and in many cases the athletes will have had to overcome hurdles and setbacks on their route to achieving great things. They don't always have to be professional bike riders, but stories about all types of sport stars interest me. As a Londoner living in Crystal Palace it would seem remiss of me to not read the autobiography of Ian Wright. Having heard his emotional reflections on his life earlier this year on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs I have been even keener to read his story. I am only at the beginning of the book, where he talks about his early pre-Arsene Wenger days at Arsenal. Talking of Wenger, his autobiography has just been released too. For me, Wenger is a football manager for whom I have great admiration. He was one of the first managers to change the style of football management in English football. It is hard to ignore the work he did to give Arsenal the nickname "the invincibles" during the 2000s. So knowing that book is out actually gives me more incentive to hurry up through Ian Wright's book - not that it won't be an interesting read though. 

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

Photo of the day - 14: Pimping my ride!

Found on my ride - at the side of the road!
It's not particularly good form to leave your unwanted items outside your house. Folks are encouraged to take them to recognised recycling venues or charity shops. But in London we are seeing it more and more, especially as the things left outside do get picked up. I once saw a piano left in the street. And that was taking too, even though it looked in bad shape and would have been horribly out of tune. Today, it was my turn to do a roadside pick-up, of an unwanted item. It was left outside a house a couple of streets from where I live. The design of this coat really caught my eye as I rode past, at the start of my training ride. Initially, I thought I would wait to pick it up on the homeward run, but then changed my mind because to me, it looked stylish enough that someone else would pick it up during the hour that I was out riding in the country lanes. Usefully, I had my customary mini rucksack with me, so I was able to stuff the coat into my bag and continue my journey. I have no idea if it really was a high price coat, but it looks like something you don't see very often and that is what made me pick it up. Mind you, it was left outside an expensive looking detached house with a blue plaque on the facade, so that could give a clue of the value of the coat! As I stuffed the coat into my rucksack a Mercedes estate pulled up, and a young couple stepped out of the car. As they looked at me, they greeted me and said "thank you". Then they walked into the house with the blue plaque. I felt a mixture of slight embarrassment, but also satisfaction that they perceived me as having helped them get rid of their "rubbish". The coat proved useful, as later on it got a bit cold so I wore it for the run-in home. It's not quite Rapha cyclewear, but it was just as warm, and stylish!

Tuesday, 13 October 2020

Photo of the day - 13: The pain of hill climbs

Grinding up Steyning Bostal at the Hill Climb (photo: Dave Hayward)

This was me struggling up Steyning Bostal, on the South Downs during last weekend's hill climb. I had only had time to reccie two thirds of the 0.9-mile route, but I had an idea of what to expect. Setting off I pushed as hard as I could on the early steeper section of the climb, making an effort out of the saddle. As the middle section was less steep I continued to push a hard gear though with a higher cadence, while in the saddle. Then when the final section steepened again, I had that slightly anxious moment where I thought "Help, I am fast running out of gas here; how will I get up that last 12% gradient??" At that moment I just ground away with my head down. I didn't want to see the road as that would have freaked me out, so I focused purely on turning my legs. Then my breakfast was wanting to repeat itself on me. No, I must not vomit. I could hear the few spectators [in low numbers due to Covid restrictions] cheering and encouraging me, but I couldn't acknowledge them as I was concentrating on hanging in there. Breathing really hard, sweating, dribbling, full of snot, my bike weaved all over the road as I was willing the finish line to come soon. Then at last, as the the gradient seemed to lessen a little, I made a final effort out of the saddle to the chequered flag. Finally, the pain was over and I heaved a massive sigh, spinning my achy legs, and feeling gaga while trying to get my breath back.

That had felt like a Herculean show of force from me, though looking up my result on the Cycling Time Trials website today the result shows that I came second last! In the other hill climb I did that afternoon on Mill Hill, near Shoreham-by-Sea I came last and was a full minute behind the second-last placed rider. So it goes to show, you may be in pain and giving it beans, but at the end of the day the hill climb just slaps down my effort and puts you in your place. One light at the end of the tunnel is my future results can only go in one direction! Funnily enough, there's something slightly addictive about these quirky kinds of races that makes me want to do more! In fact more hill climbs are on the calendar, so I look forward to doing it all again. I'm just a glutton for pain!  

Monday, 12 October 2020

Photo of the day - 12: Cyclocross is boss

Cyclocross at Astor College, Dover [Photo: Matt Bristow]

I enjoy that Monday feeling after having spent the previous weekend racing. There were two hill climb races, a bit of trail running, and of course, cyclocross race. After all, it is that time of the year. This was my first cyclocross race of the season (though the second race in the series). So I took myself over to the course in Dover and took the start line. (I had pre-entered, as is now compulsory during these Covid times.) Still feeling tired after the previous day's efforts at the two hill climbs and a bike ride, I didn't imagine I would be able to ride really hard. So, over the 40-minute race, I just raced to get round. There were a lot of twists and turns on the cambers of the hills, as well as a couple of steep climbs and a sand pit. I negotiated my way around these obstacles somewhat sketchily like Frank Spencer, though that was part of the fun. I finished 12th out of 14 women, and was lapped twice by the winner, Emily Ashwood. (22 women had entered the race but there were eight non-starters.) In any case it was an enjoyable afternoon out, with a friendly atmosphere. It was good to catch up with the old faces from last year too.   

Sunday, 11 October 2020

Photo of the day - 11: Running along the White Cliffs of Dover

As I was in Dover for a cyclocross race, and it was a sunny day I thought, why not make a quick trip across to the famous White Cliffs, for a quick trail run. I had a hire car, so wanted to make the most of the hire time, and the cliffs were just a 10-minute drive from the cyclocross venue at Astor College. So off I popped. This is actually National Trust land, so you pay a £5 fee to park there, and you have access to well-maintained sign-posted trails, picnic spots, a cafe, toilets, plus lovely coastal views, including of France, 20 miles away. You also see all the action at the ferry terminal right below, if that's more your thing. As I had been racing less than hour earlier my legs wouldn't allow me to run any long distance in this area, but the 4km I did were a good introduction - especially as it involved around 130m of climbing! Yes, this is a particularly favourable area for fell runners! On all the recent times I had been to Dover I breezed through on my bike to get on a boat to France. I had never thought of sightseeing in Dover. But witg this extensive area of the cliffs, the nearby castle, and the old town, there is a reason to do a day trip here. So I will make a day of it next time - before catching the ferry to France!

Saturday, 10 October 2020

Photo of the day - 10: Birthday get-together

It was great to catch up with my family to celebrate my sister's birthday. Fortunately, we can still get out to bars and restaurants in these Covid-19 times (albeit with a 10pm closing time), so we were able to go to this gastro pub in South London. My day had been quite fun-packed as my it started with an early-morning train journey to Shoreham-by-sea to take part in two hill climb races on the South Downs. It was early evening when I got back to London. Then it was a quick change to zip across from Crystal Palace to Kidbrook. I was a bit late getting there, but I was glad to have made it for Eromi's special day.

Friday, 9 October 2020

Photo of the day - 9: Skipping rope sessions and hula hooping


I always like to find a way of keeping my health and fitness regime interesting. One of the ways is by skipping and and doing hula hoop. I especially like skipping, which is something I have done since I was a teenager. It's the most efficient way of keeping fit as I don't have to do much of it before I am out of breath. It is also the exercise that has kept my legs in trim over my 50+ years! The hula hoop is also a very useful tool. It is great for the waistline and mid-riff in general. The thing about both of these activities is that they are fun, and for me when I do them they don't feel like real sport or exercise - just playing around really. Interestingly, many people have taken up these exercises too since lockdown. So I must be doing something right! While out skipping in my local park today I had a bit of an audience from some young kids, who were quite fascinated by what I was doing. It looked as though they would have abandoned their bikes to have a go at what I was doing! That actually makes me think I must be cool - that's weird! And I always thought it's we oldies that want to do what the young'uns are doing!

Thursday, 8 October 2020

Photo of the day - 8: The joy of (waterproof) socks!

 I don't normally get excited about a pair of socks. But I must say I was very pleased to see this pair of Sealskinz land on my doorstep, thanks to Vikki at Aspire PR. We are well and truly into the wind and rain season, so these will come very much in handy for whatever type of bike riding. The would have been particularly useful last Sunday during rainy ride through the Surrey Hills. I guess overshoes can do the job too when it comes to keeping your feet dry and warm, but you need specific overshoes for the different cycling shoes - for mountain biking shoes, road riding, etc. And some have a more optimal fit than others depending on the design of the shoe. But with a waterproof/windproof pair of socks it's one less thing to worry about when riding in this autumnal weather. I look forward to testing them out.

Wednesday, 7 October 2020

Photo of the day - 7: My top six South London Hills

Part way up the wall aka Canonbie Road

 As part of my regular set of rides I like to do a loop taking in my local hills near Crystal Palace. I am "blessed" to have these hills right on my doorstep so I can get in some good cycle training and leg strengthening - or at least that's the intention. So once every week or two I do a loop that takes in a few hills. I usually do six, though if I am pushed for time I do four, and if I am feeling motivated and time rich I do at least seven. This morning, I did the customary six - Crystal Palace Park Road, Kirkdale, Westwood Hill, Canonbie Road, Elliot Bank, and Wells Park Road. Crystal Palace Park Road is a nice little leg warmer, with the slopes getting steeper up to the 18% Canonbie Road. I then finish with a "gentle" 10% on Wells Park Road. And after that, I am ready for breakfast! 

This is the route on Strava.

Tuesday, 6 October 2020

Photo of the day - 6: Hill climb (no turning back now)!


Full start list of riders for the hill climb is on Cycling Time Trials website

Well I'm in it now! I signed myself up to do a day of hill climb races, and I received confirmation that my entry has been accepted. So Steyning Bostal and Mill Hill here I come!
It's been ages since I did one of these races. The last time was on Swains Lane, Highgate, at the Urban Hill Climb about 10 years ago. They are quite a fun - well more for the spectators than the riders who, at the time, grimace and strain their way up the steep incline while spectators shout into their faces, egging them on. With a bit of distance, I have good memories of these races even if they were painful at the time. There is something quite exciting about these quirky types of races over 800m-1500m with steep gradients. It's not that I am particularly good at them, but I guess living in hilly Crystal Palace has taught me to "like" hills, thus why not test myself out with a race number on and an official timer. So when I heard that the double header of the Catford and the Bec Hill climbs would be taking place in Kent and Surrey I planned on entering them. However, as with a lot of events this year, these races were cancelled. But I found an alternative, in the shape of two hill climbs being organised by Brighton Mitre Cycling Club, along the South Downs. In the morning I will "race" up Steyning Bostal. The fact that I am the second rider off means that I am hardly going to trouble the competition! If I manage to stay ahead of the young local girl, Cathy Wallace, without vomiting at the finish line, that'll be an achievement! Then I just need to save a bit of energy to do it all again on Mill Hill a few hours later. Wish me luck!

Monday, 5 October 2020

Photo of the day - 5: Vegetable gratin - good cold weather food

I do like a bit of home cooking. Ever since I got an allotment four years ago, I have been keen to have home-made meals using the crops I have grown. It has made me totally turned my back on ready meals and takeaways. Taking an active interest in my food has helped me maintain a healthy diet and stay off snacking, so that I can appreciate my meals. As the weather gets colder I like to have soups and what I call "warming" food. One of my favourites is vegetable gratin. Sometimes I do a plain old Gratin Dauphinoise with potatoes, sometimes a gratin with homegrown courgettes. Today I went to town a little and threw in various vegetables - courgette, parnips, carrots, sweet potatoes, mushrooms. Then I put single cream with garlic, onion, and fennel seeds, and cheese on the top. Into the oven for about an hour, and hey presto! The vegetable gratin is nice and filling, without much sugar, and great for appetite control. It's a bit like mountain food that gives me energy to be out on a cold day hiking or skiing. This vegetable gratin gives me the energy to do a nice long run or bike ride on an autumn day. Well, I just need to do a long a run or bike ride now, and not sit on the sofa watching Netflix!

Sunday, 4 October 2020

Photo of the day - 4: No cyclocross for me; mountain biking in Peaslake instead

This is the village centre at Peaslake, in the Surrey Hills. The bus shelter and the village shop and post office are normally heaving with mountain bikers at the weekend. On this very rainy and windy day there were very few people out. Just a few hardy souls, and me. I was there as consolation for not being able to get to the cyclocross race I was meant to do in Sandwich. My 'cross bike had dodgy handlebars and I couldn't get them fixed in time. With the race being an almost 2-hour drive away I wasn't going to get there in time, so I had to forego that and instead went mountain biking closer to home. It was good to get out to this part of Surrey Hills, as normally I tend to be on the nearer Leith Hill side. Biking turned out to be a real muddy mess as I splished and splashed over the trails at Pitch Hill and down Barry Knows Best. It wasn't pretty - it wasn't a long ride either given the weather, and it was getting a bit dark. But I am glad I went. Shame I didn't think to get out my camera while on the rain-swept trails!

Saturday, 3 October 2020

Photo of the day - 3: My own private cross country running league!

It's that time of year when up and down the country cross country leagues are beginning. With my first claim club, Serpentine Running Club, I do the Metropolitan League in North and West London. Nearer to home I take part in the Surrey League with my second claim club, South London Harriers. I have also run in the East Yorkshire League with East Hull Harriers too. In short, I do like cross country running! Unfortunately, Covid-19 restrictions have meant that racing was restricted, and although England Athletics have now given the go-ahead for socially distant events, the leagues don't find this workable so there aren't any cross country leagues taking place anywhere near me. But hey, no worries. I'll just do my own So today was my first round of the my own cross country league. And what better way to do it than on a rainy Saturday afternoon in Lloyd Park, Croydon! Actually, by the time I started it the rain had subsided and it was actually quite sunny. The mud didn't disappoint though. I will aim to do 10 cross country races around London, Surrey, and maybe further afield between now and mid-February. I am actually quite looking forward to it.

Friday, 2 October 2020

Photo of the day - 2: Playing the clarinet (at least trying)!

I first played the clarinet about 30 years ago, as something to do when I first moved to Paris. Although I got to a decent level, I didn't take any of the exams. As this seems to be the year when people are taking up/revisiting hobbies during lockdown I have decided to get back into clarinet playing and do the grades.  The deadline for applying for the exam is next week, so I just need to decide whether to go with the Royal Society of Music or London College of Music. As the exams are identical, it will come down to the one with the nearest exam centre to where I live. I practice around 45 minutes per day. Hopefully my neighbours don't mind the noise, and I do try at least to make that noise tuneful! I must say, clarinet playing is more physically taxing than I realised. As a youngster I'd play for hours without thinking about it. Nowadays, I have to balance that carefully with the sport I do! Oooh, I'm getting old!

Thursday, 1 October 2020

Photo of the day - 1: Cycling on the Wandle Trail

I normally do a "One day, one photo" series during the month of September. This year I have switched it to October, just to vary things. But also because I was so crazily busy in September that I couldn't get on and blog each day! So here goes:

I did a bike ride along the Wandle Trail, a mainly traffic-free route through South London that goes from Croydon to Wandsworth. The route follows the River Wandle, a tributary of the River Thames. It's a pleasant, well-surfaced 12-mile (20km) ride that goes through some less well-known parts of South London, like Beddington, Morden and Earlsfield. You pass through a few parks and go around the back of some industrial areas. I cycled the route with Liv Thrive E+ e-bike, which was very handy as I was pushed for time and wanted to do the ride quickly! This is me at the start of the trail, at Wandle Park in Waddon, just outside Croydon.  


Friday, 21 August 2020

Women's Tour de France 2020

Well, it wasn't an official race, but a group of intrepid women, Donnons des Elles au Vélo managed to ride the entire route of the 2020 Tour de France. Given the current coronavirus times we are living in, that is no mean feat. 

Photo: Marie Istil photos

Originally they should have been riding the Tour one day ahead of the professionals (J-1), who were scheduled to start on 29th June. However, everything was pushed back with the professionals starting on 29th August, and the women doing their ride exactly one month ahead of the professionals (M-1).

It hadn't been sure whether or not they would start, and some wondered if it would be a good idea, given the risks.

But in the end the women went ahead and rode all of the routes without too much of a hitch. I kept in touch with them regularly, and wrote about their journey in a feature for Cycling Weekly.

I must say that even though I wasn't riding the event, I found following them to be quite a full on thing as they rattled through the stages and then had to go on-line to watch their Facebook live broadcasts, then phone up one of the women, transcribe the interview, gather data on the ride and put it together for the article. It was almost as though I was living through the ride with them, except that I didn't suffer from saddle sores, fatigue, or sleep deprivation!

The team, led by their enthusiastic captain, Claire Floret had some pretty long days. They would be up at 6am, be on the road by 7.30 to drive to the start of the stage. After meeting with the local councillors or the Mayor for a speech and photo session they would do a briefing for the many guest riders who were joining them for the day, and finally they merry band would set off around about 8.30am.

Photo: Marie Istil Photos

It was a merry band as they had in tow a support car, a van transferring their items, as well as a motorbike outrider as an escort on the road.

With the women, were a few physiotherapists, mechanics, a photographer and social media executive, as well as a Sports Director - Matthieu, Claire's partner. So they were pretty well supported. In fact the whole set-up seemed not disimilar to being in a professional team.

There were people to help them with mechanicals, with any problems like muscle cramp, have meals and refreshments ready every couple of hours. Also, on the days in the Cote d'Azur or the Pyrenees where temperatures went over 40 degC there were soigneurs ready to pass them copious amounts of water for drinking but also to shower them down.

Their day in the saddle would finish any time between 6pm and 8pm, with one of their days in the Alps finishing after 9pm. After all that, they would still need to have a reception with light refreshments and smoozing with the local councillors and sometimes local media, before travelling to their hotel, getting showered, massaged and dining in the local restaurant. No one would be in bed before midnight, so it wasn't surprising that a few of them would get shut-eye while riding!

Photo: Marie Istil Photos

Also, all of the women had a day or other where they would have a low moment. Caroline had a day on the col de la Madeleine where she just felt like she had no energy in her legs and her saddle was really rubbing on her "lady bits". Coralie had pains in her glutes, Claire was suffering on the 20% Col de la Loze and all the effects of the fatigue caught up with her. Bettina suffered on the climb to Grand Colombier, and at one point had even asked Mathieu if someone else could take her place.

But the beauty of this sort of group, when it works is that everyone got on and they were able to encourage each other through those difficult moments.

It was very important for the group to get along as they were really in a tight coronavirus "bubble" together. They were sharing rooms - sometimes three to a room, even two to a bed. They would eat all meals together, ride together, suffer together and triumph together - whether it was hard climbs such as the 20% col de Marie Blanque, the wind and rain in the Massif Central, or the rousing welcome the women were given at the ski resort of Orcières-Merlette.

So on their arrival in Paris it was just such a massive relief and joy to have finally made it, at a time when many sports events had been cancelled due to coronavirus.

I had actually booked to join them on the stage to ride up La Planche des Belles Filles, and to also ride the final stage from Mantes-La-Jolie into Paris, but UK government rules on quarantine meant that I couldn't travel to France. 

Photo: Marie Istil Photos

I have a lot of admiration for this group of women, and I feel inspired to go out and have a go as well. You can have a go at this ride by applying to be part of the Donnons des Elles au Vélo team. Applications open in October. Alternatively, you can guest ride with the group on selected stages. To find out more about the women's 2020 ride check out the Donnons des Elles au Vélo website. Also, 

Chapeau ladies!

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Let's hear it for the Women's Tour de France

52 Cycling Voices: Claire Floret

52 Cycling Voices: Maria Canins

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Lets hear it for the women's Tour de France - by Donnons des Elles au Velo!

In exactly a month's time the Tour de France professional race will start, from the sunny town of Nice. Today, a group of around 13 women complete with support staff and team bus will set off from exactly the same place to do the same route of the Tour de France. This is the sixth year that the Donnons des Elles au Velo group are doing this challenge. Normally the stages are ridden one day ahead of the professionals, with the ride being known as J-1. However, with the issues around Covid-19 pandemic the ride is taking place one month ahead of the Amaury Sports Organisation race, and is known as M-1.

This crew of women will be tackling the route of this year's Tour de France

So the women have ahead of them around 3,500km of riding to do all around France over the next three weeks. Their ride is a way of showing solidarity to women's cycling, and is also part of the campaign for there to be a women's Tour de France.  

A women's Tour de France took place between 1984 and 1989, where the likes of Jeannie Longo, Maria Canins, Connie Carpenter-Phinney, and Mandy Jones competed. The race happened at the same time as the men's event, with them racing stages over the last 60km of the men's stage ahead of their arrival. They didn't race all 21 stages, as only selected stages were included in the women's race. Also the women were not professional racers, so many were not sponsored and did the racing more as a hobby. When I recently interviewed Maria Canins and Jeannie Longo for an article I wrote for Rouleur magazine they both had fond memories of that era.

After the women's Tour de France ended it was replaced by a 10-day women's stage race around France, given different names - notably La Grande Boucle Feminine. However, those races were no longer part of Amaury Sports Organisation, and given that these races took place at a separate time of the year from the professional Tour de France race, women's racing happened largely under the radar.

So Donnons des Elles au Velo, by doing this M-1 ride are joining the chorus of people from different corners who would like to see a women's Tour de France be restored. At the moment, there is a one-day race, La Course. This year that will take place on the first day of the Tour de France, in Nice. However, many feel that having a stage race would be a more positive way for ASO to show its commitment to women's professional racing.

So, here we are in Nice with a group of motivated women about to ride their Tour de France feminin. It hasn't been an easy ride for them.

The route: 21 stages; 3443km; 6000m of climbing - a bit more than doing Surrey Hills!

Bear in mind that France went into lockdown for two months and they lived through a proper lockdown. People were only allowed to go out for one hour per day, and couldn't be more than 1km from their home. So that didn't bode well when trying to get in training rides.
A lot of rides were done on Zwift, plus a lot of Crossfit, virtual body toning classes, and a little bit of running. But admittedly, none of this can really replicate the 6,000km+ that people do as part of their preparation.

Furthermore, some were directly affected by the Covid-19 crisis as they were working on the front-line; or they even suffered from coronavirus themselves. Claire, the team leader lost her sense of taste and smell and experienced psychological effects from the disease too.

One of the team members, Caroline who lives in London managed to make the trip across to Nice, but her bike had still not arrived in France the day before the race! 

But despite all the various impediments and measures in place, the women finally made it to the start line, all rearing to go.

I will be following the fortunes of Donnons des Elles au Velo as the wend their way around France. I too, would like to see a women's Tour de France - though the form it would take would need to be carefully considered. My main motivation for following this M-1 ride is my interest in seeing how this group of women are able to inspire people through taking on such an onerous challenge against the inherent obstacles of a 3-week stage race plus the additional issues that we have today. 
The women come from all parts of France, and beyond, including the UK

You can follow the women's progress on their Facebook page. On their website you can find out more about them and sign up for free to ride individual stages with them. I will also be catching up with them to hear how they are getting on.

Photo Credits: Mickael Gagne and Marie Istil

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Saturday, 18 July 2020

Cycle route: Local gravel ride around South London-Croydon suburbs

Following on from my previous routes on road in the Kent/Surrey lanes, and a traffic-free route into Central London, I thought I would go off-road and share a route I like to do into the nearby trails. It is nice to get in a ride on some off-road trail, and some of them are nearer than you think.

An off-road ride need not be all about doing epic adventures along the South Downs or through the Surrey Hills (though admittedly they are fun). 

Sometimes, when pushed for time a ride just on local trails hits the spot for me. It is a kind of sweet spot as the trails are not particularly challenging technically, and even though I don't go far I can work up a sweat as there are usually one or two climbs, which can be a proper work-out if taken at pace.

And of course there's always an added bonus of riding around in nature, away from built-up areas and traffic. Funnily enough, the local trails are only within a couple of miles of Croydon but you really wouldn't know it.

One ride that I do goes out to Croham Hurst, on the edge of Selsdon, South Croydon. I start off from home and very quickly am in South Norwood Country Park and Nature Reserve. This is a place that was previously waste land, and sewage farm, but has been significantly spruced up in recent times. There are lots of walking and cycling trails, as well as a lake, popular with anglers.

From there I go around the Croydon Athletics Arena to go through Ashburton playing fields and Spring Park, which have a mini trail for cyclists. The first mini challenge is the climb up through Pine Wood where there are some tree roots to negotiate, though you can always wheel your bike if it's a bit too technical. 

At Croham Hurst

Opposite this area is Addington Hill, locally known as Shirley Hill. This is a great area for off-road riding and was previously used as a cyclocross venue in bygone days. However, there are some special pebbles on the ground among the heather which means that it is banned to cyclists. So I just make-do with going around the edge of it. Sometimes I do have the odd rebellious moment and ride over to the viewpoint, which has great vistas of London in the distance. It's worth the excursion, I'd say!

Once on the other side of Addington Hill the route drops towards Selsdon along a bridleway behind residential property, to then climb steeply to reach Croham Hurst.

This area of woodland is not very big, but there is a lot going on there, with many species of bird, insects and ancient woodland. So it is designated as a Special Site of Scientific Interest. When here, stick to the bridlepath and you'll be fine. Sometimes people from the Friends of Croham Hurst get a bit annoyed with cyclists who ride all over the trails. If in doubt just follow the horse poo, and you'll know you're on the bridleway!

Going up Conduit Lane

From these woods there's the option to turn round and return home via the steep bridleway known as Conduit Lane, and then pass through Coombe Woods and Lloyd Park. That makes for a short spin, but you do burn calories - especially when riding up Conduit Lane. 

It's not a given that I would be able to get up that path, especially as it can be a little loose or muddy, and require that bit more effort to get any forward motion on the 12% incline. One good thing about this is that it doesn't last long as the slope begins to level off just as you start thinking it's excruciating, and thereafter the bridleway is either flat or downhill. Then at the end, there is a cafe to reward your efforts and replenish those burnt calories!

Bear in mind that the ride through Lloyd Park is also slightly uphill so take your time over your break (if you've got time)! Once out of Lloyd Park the ride is in its closing stages and the route passes once again into Ashburton Playing Fields before returning to South Norwood Country Park. Given the size of this area and the abundance of trails you can extend your ride by doing a few loops of this area if you suddenly feel the urge to stay out for longer, without being too far from home.

Back in South Norwood Country Park

So in a nutshell, that is one way of getting in a 60-90 minute ride while burning a few calories, being in touch with nature, and away from the London hustle and bustle.

There are other variants for extending this ride, like going on to Little Heath Woods, Selsdon Nature Reserve, or on to Three Half-Penny Wood. I detail those routes in another post in the future.

This route, along with other local routes can be found on my Strava feed.  


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Cycle route: South London to Surrey and Kent Lanes

Cycle route: South London to Central London (mainly traffic-free)

Bike review: Canyon Grail WMN AL 7.0

Lockdown London brings out large number of cyclists

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Review: Just doing things with Rapha + Outdoor Voices jersey

It's all about just doing things

The latest offering from Rapha is a range of clothing that's a slight departure from the traditional designs. After a chance meeting with the American activity clothing company, Outdoor Voices while on a trip to Mallorca a couple of years ago, the two companies decided to collaborate's and design this cool range, Rapha + Outdoor Voices

Rather than the cycle wear that evokes hardcore bike riding (and suffering) on epic climbs in the Alps or ultra-distance rides from Paris to Brest, the Rapha + Outdoor Voices range is about doing more "normal things" like fun, recreational things and chilling with your mates.

In these times I haven't been doing much chilling with mates, but I certainly like to do leisurely things. I'm averse to suffering on my bike! So this range seems right up my street. I was sent a lightweight jersey (medium) and a support bra (large) to try out. 

Lightweight jersey

The jersey has a slightly rustic-looking terracotta shade, peppered with black and yellowish specks - something I associate more with doing leisurely things rather than hard-core racing. For me, the overall colour is soft on the eye, and probably a garment you can wear even when not cycling.

There's taping on the sleeve ends and pockets to help preserve the jersey's shape. I particularly like the layout of the pockets. There are the usual three rear pockets, with the middle pociket having additional capacity - a see-through pouch for a phone or other small item, and a detachable mini purse for coins.

On top of all that, you can unzip and open the whole of the pockets section to store a larger item like a waterproof jacket. It's very cleverly designed, with the idea that people have practical lives and aren't just nose to the handlebars racing. Yes, sometimes people want to stop, buy an ice cream and enjoy the scenery.

Rapha have kept their form of putting little slogans on the fabric, so inside this large pocket there is a tag saying, "Don't forget pump, tube, tire levers, snacks."!
All overarching this are the excellent wicking properties of the polyester/elastane fabric, which works well for me and kept me dry when things got a bit sweaty for me!

I found the lightweight fabric just right for the season. It felt soft on my skin and I could move around quite easily in it, especially on those moments where I had to stop and pick up or wheel my bike on certain trails.

The medium size fitted me okay, and medium is what I normally wear in Rapha jerseys. But I think that the cut in this range is slightly smaller than other Rapha jerseys, so I think a large would have given me a looser fit, which is how I generally prefer to wear jerseys. The lightweight jersey is available in dark green, pale blue and terracotta. £120

Support Bra

I took the large size support bra as I take a D/DD cup in bras normally. That was the right fit for me. However, bear in mind that having ample breasts doesn't always equate with ample size trunk/rib cage and so the bra covers the bust well, but may not be tightly snug around the trunk. So it might actually be better to get a size down if you are looking for that snugness. It comes down to personal preference. 

I like the fit of my bra, and I felt confident that it was doing it's job, even on those occasions that I cycled across rugged, bumpy terrain. The nylon/elastane/polyester fabric gives it excellent wicking properties, and the back-cut straps allows good freedom of movement. It also pairs with the bib shorts, though I don't have those, so I'll take their word for it! The bra is available in dark green and pale blue. £40

Overall Impression
To look at the clothing you wouldn't know that it is Rapha, unless you see the Rapha + Outdoor Voices branding on the inside seams on the neck or when the jersey is unzipped - or if anyone gets sight of the support bra in its full glory.

This has been a deliberate move by Rapha as a way to give a brand essence that is less intimidating for women who would like to get into cycling but without doing hard core, high performance activities. I think that's a good move as there is definitely a growth in the number of women cycling, and the profile of women cycling. So it is good to have something that can have a universal appeal.

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Friday, 26 June 2020

Bike review: Canyon Grail WMN AL 7.0

Following on from the Cube Nuroad gravel bike that I tested and reviewed for Cyclist, I have tested another gravel bike, the Canyon Grail women's bike. The Canyon Grail was first launched in 2018 as a carbon fibre version. Since then an aluminium version has become available, making it a more accessible price point, at £1,699, than the carbon fibre bike. The thought of a women-specific gravel bike was something to look forward to, particularly from a company that prides itself in researching women's geometry. 

However, I must say upfront that the geometry of this bike is no different from the men's bike, which is now referred to as a unisex bike.

The colours are different with his being silver, and hers being claret, and there is a women-specific saddle, the Sella Italia X3 Lady. A  comfortable saddle is useful, I guess.

Canyon marketing department have said that from their research, women riding a unisex gravel bike is less detrimental in its handling than when riding a road bike. When doing gravel riding the technical and changing nature of the terrain, as well as constantly changing speed means that the positioning and the handling on this bike varies, so a women-specific geometry becomes less important than on a road bike. 

As a company they have taken women's measurements across a wide range of women of varying shapes and sizes, and have found that the unisex measurements caters to this range. So the stem of the bike is shorter than would be expected and the reach for a man and a woman of the same height would be the same, where normally the women-specific bike would have had a shorter reach.

So, that's the explanation regarding the lack of women-specificity in the women's Grail. It's not so much a case of shrink it and pink it, but just be bold and burgundy.

That aside, the fit of the Grail was fine for me when I took it out on my local trails and I found that the reach and the width of the handlebars were perfectly fine. 

The bike came with 40mm tyres on 700c wheels, which is standard for gravel bikes. 

The frame does allow clearance for wider tyres though, if you prefer something fatter to allow for lower tyre pressures and a more comfortable ride. 

You can also put on smaller, 650b wheels and get even wider tyres on the smaller sized frames. This also avoids the possibility of your toe overlapping the wheels when negotiating twisty trails. 

It is recommended that to get the best fit with tubeless tyres it is good to have the same make of valves and rims - in this case DT Swiss. And the Schwalbe G-One tyres seem to be the most popular tyres used on these types of bikes and in the Canyon Grail this is no exception. 

Still on the subject of wheels, the rims come ready to fit tubeless tyres - recommended when doing gravel riding as punctures simply repair themselves and there are no annoying interruptions to deal with punctures during the bike ride.

When pedalling along I was struck at how smooth and reactive the bike felt. At 9.37Kg the bike is lighter than the Nuroad that I tried, but is not the lightest gravel bike. It is more mid-range in terms of weight. 

However, the groupset on the bike, a Shimano GRX810 helps in the pedalling and smoothness of the ride, as this new groupset is specially designed for gravel bikes. 

This gearing is an 11-speed 11x34 cassette with the double 30/46 chainring. That's a good range of gears to get up the short sharp ramps that I crested on local trails in Surrey and Kent.  

As mentioned earlier, the saddle is the cut-away Selle Italia X3 Lady. For me, this saddle was comfortable and did the job. I would recommend it, but I know that saddle comfort is a personal thing for each rider. 

There are mounts to put on mudguards if you don't want too much of a splattering off-road or on-road.

The one gripe that I do have is the lack of means to carry luggage. Bike packing is quite fashionable, and so with that there is space to put a rack - though it is limited space. One rack that is recommended is the Tailfin, though it would be a case of shopping around to see what other racks fit. 

As someone who is more used to old-school panniers there are no mounts for this type of carrier mechanism, which is a shame. And putting a seatpost rack on, is not ideal given that it is made of carbon fibre.
I would therefore be interested to know how others do bike packing with the Grail. 

Overall, the "women's" Canyon Grail was a comfortable, enjoyable ride. and felt like a bike I could depend on as I went around the Surrey bridleways and woodlands. The disc brakes and smooth changes across the wide range of gears meant that I had the tools needed to deal with varied, undulating trails.

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Saturday, 20 June 2020

Cycle route: South London to Central London (mainly traffic-free)

As more and more people take to two wheels, particularly around London, I wanted to share a route I took last Sunday when going from my local area, Crystal Palace, to central London.

On Blackfriars Bridge

This is a route that a lot of people will take, particularly if are among those who don't work from home, and therefore must travel to their place of work in London. Others may even just want to go to London for a recreational visit, stroll around the royal parks, go shopping, or meet a friend - in a socially distant way of course!

Quite a lot of people talk about how dangerous it is, how there are too many cars, how cycling unfriendly London is.... Well, I took this route and I was quite happy with it. It's a route I would recommend to anyone who wants to cycle into London. It's around 10 miles, goes along quiet roads, segregated cycle paths, and through parks. You can even do the route at a leisurely pace and enjoy the scenery and landmarks that London has to offer.

For this ride I rode an E-Bike, the Liv Thrive E+, which I have been riding of late, to get around London and beyond. It's been so useful to have it - including for me, as someone who also does training rides. Sometimes it's just nice to have a bike that can give me a little bit of assistance after a training session, especially when getting out of hilly Crystal Palace while I'm a bit pooped!

Leaving Crystal Palace

The first section of the ride takes me across Betts Park in Anerley, and onto Maple Road to reach Penge. Going up through Penge is where the climbing starts. It is possible to ride up through Crystal Palace Park to reach the top of the hill, though I stayed on the main road as there is a wide enough strip marked out for cyclists, and the road is wide enough to accommodate motorists and cyclists.

The top of the road near the junction and mini roundabouts has a bus lane, and cycle paths to get you across the junction to turn right for the descent along College Road. 

In Edward Alleyn's backyard

College Road is very popular with cyclists of all ages and levels. And on this sunny Sunday there were many riders out and about. Given that part of it is a toll road, there are fewer motorists than on other roads. Just beware of the speed bumps!

Dulwich Village
College Road and Dulwich College, on that road, are two well-known features that form part of The Dulwich Estate, founded by the actor and friend of William Shakespeare, Edward Alleyn in 1619. 

This guy was big in Dulwich, having set up the Estate as a charity to provide education for underpriviledged children through its various schools - including Dulwich College and Alleyn School. 

A number of roads and a pub are named after Edward Alleyn. The Estate owns a large amount of land and property, including Herne Hill Velodrome. Between interests like the tolled College Road, income from rented properties and leased land, the Dulwich Estate has the means to keep the listed buildings of Dulwich Village and the surrounding areas looking immaculate. 

Once at the bottom of College Road I reach Dulwich Park, another stretch of land originally owned by Edward Alleyn. These days the Grade II listed park is run by Southwark Council, and I must say it's always a pleasure to stop by there. 


Onwards from Dulwich Village, my route goes to East Dulwich, where there is a traffic-free cycle path called Green Dale. It is a steady climb up to Denmark Hill, where you cross the road, go through some back streets to reach Ruskin Park - named after the artist and painter John Ruskin who later settled in the Lake District.

South London massive

Very soon I am at the large medical teaching and research centre, King's College Hospital. From here there is a distinct ambiance of being in "urban London", as some of the tall buildings of the city come into view. The route goes through the back streets of Camberwell, Myatts Fields, and Kennington, to reach Elephant & Castle roundabout.

This junction used to instil fear into most cyclists, and was sadly the scene of a number of cyclist fatalities. Thankfully, following a £25m overhaul of the roundabout, including improving the cycle lanes and quiet ways around there by the Mayor of London, you can cross the junction safely.

Elephant & Castle is the first place where you find a segregated cycle superhighway, and in fact from here on in, the route is largely traffic-free as there are various segregated cycle paths to use. This path leads to Lambeth, near Westminster Bridge, though I turn right before that onto a spur road to St George's Circus, where I reach the extensive Cycle Superhighway (known as CS6) that goes to Clerkenwell, via Blackfriars Bridge. 

This is a nice and wide that allows two-way traffic for cyclists, complete with cycle-specific traffic lights too. On a working day huge numbers of riders snake up and down this path and, dare I say it, even a bit of commuting racing going on!

Welcome to Westminster

At the end of Blackfriars Bridge a left-hand turn gets me onto another Cycle Superhighway along the River Thames to Westminster. It's an iconic stretch giving views synonymous with the famous London skyline - South Bank, the London Eye, Big Ben (once they remove the scaffolding)!

On The Mall - traffic-free on a Sunday
From Westminster a system of traffic lights takes me across to the different lanes on Parliament Square, and into Great George Street to reach St James's Park and Buckingham Palace. 

With segregated cycle paths either side of this Royal Park - along Birdcage Walk and parallel to The Mall you are spoilt for choice. 

On a Sunday, the day I was there, the choice was even better as The Mall is traffic-free on this day and on bank holidays. 

So you can happily ride up the main carriageway and dodge around walking tourists rather than London taxis!

My route then goes up the path next to Constitution Hill, to reach Hyde Park Corner. Some cyclists who like a challenge will ride along the main carriageway of this busy junction, mixing it with London traffic as it whizzes around Wellington Arch. However, most people will use the crossings that take cyclists, pedestrians, and horse-riders safely across the thoroughfare to enter Hyde Park.

Park Life

On entering Hyde Park you can either turn left to ride along the segregated lane on South Carriage Drive, turn left into another parallel cycle path that goes towards Rotten Row, go straight on along the shared use path known as the Broad Walk, or do what I did and take the new segregated cycle path that goes along Park Lane. This is one of many pop-up cycle lanes that were quickly built as part of the response to the coronavirus pandemic, designed to entice more people to travel by bicycle rather than crowding out public transport.

This path is slightly narrower than the permanent cycle superhighways in London but it is still functions well, and I must say it is better than putting up with the sharp bumps on the parallel Broad Walk. The path ends at Marble Arch, from where you can end your journey there and head into the shops and cafes nearby Oxford Street.  

Hyde Park, near the Serpentine Gallery and Lake
I'm not big on shopping so I just continued through the park along North Carriage Drive and got onto the segregated path that took me past the Serpentine Gallery and the lake, and down towards Knightsbridge.

Made in Chelsea

I exited Hyde Park via South Carriage Drive, near the opulent Mandarin Oriental Hotel, to pedal through the back streets of Belgravia to reach Sloane Square. Like Dulwich, which has a lot of places named after Edward Alleyn, this area is named after the main landowners, the Cadogan family and the Grosvenor family (surname of the Duke of Westminster). 

Quiet roads and little mews with luxury cars parked outside are the characteristic feature around here. Yes, there is a car culture, but the cars seem more for show than to actually drive around - which suits me fine when I'm trying to get from A to B on my bike! Eventually, I emerge at the bustling Sloane Square, and stop to enjoy a light snack on the benches before heading home via Pimlico, Vauxhall Bridge, and Oval.

My total distance door-to-door was just over 40 km (25 miles), though the ride from South London into Central London is around 16km (10 miles). If you don't want to ride home it is possible to jump on a train (while remembering to take a face covering or mask) at Charing Cross or Victoria Stations to get back to South London. 

This was a very pleasant bike ride for me. I feel blessed to have so many cycle lanes to take me into and around Central London, and be able to ride around some of the most famous places in the world.

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