Distance: 38.1 miles. Elevation: 3325 ft.
I haven’t blogged a solo UK ride for ages, in part because I haven’t actually done any! In fact this was my first solo winter ride since January 2018, almost five years ago, such has been the loss of my mojo.
There hasn’t been a complete resurgence of the motivation, nay, obsession I had for cycling years ago, but it has rallied this latter half of the year with my return to club riding. Consequently I have regained levels of fitness I haven’t seen for years. My main driving force though is thoughts of riding in the Alps again next year. So today’s ride was spurred by a desire to keep at it and the good weather forecast helped. Also it’s traditional to do something on Boxing Day.
On a recent club ride to Otford I’d been reminded of all the riding I used to do on and about the Pilgrim’s Way around Wrotham; my old stomping ground is how I’d referred to it to my fellow riders that day. So today I chose an old route from around ten years ago, taking in the delights of the hills and lanes around Wrotham.
It was a cold day – the Elemnt Bolt recorded an average of 2°C for the ride, dropping to 1°C at times. I wore a merino wool long-sleeved base layer, roubaix long-sleeved jersey and my excellent MS Tina winter jacket, so essentially three substantial layers. I also wore a skull cap and snood and full shoe covers. And yet, midway through the ride, I saw another cyclist in a short-sleeved jersey! Maybe it was their equivalent of a festive dip in the Serpentine!
I rushed to get out of the house by midday, knowing that it was a three-hour ride and daylight starts fading before 4 o’clock. There was hardly a cloud in the sky. The main roads were dry but the narrow back lanes were covered in crud after recent heavy rain. Just twenty minutes into the ride, between East and West Malling I heard a ticking sound from my front wheel. I assumed mud or something had stuck to the tyre. I stopped and went to brush it off but it was stuck on. Realisation dawned as I pulled it free. A substantial thorn or something had gone straight through the tyre. Air hissed out after its removal. And so I had my first puncture in years. Luckily there was a large fruit crate by the side of the road which I used as a makeshift workbench while I changed the inner tube. It was the first time I had inflated my 35mm tyres using a small hand-pump. So that answered the question I’d been asking myself about the feasibility of that task. It certainly took significantly more pumping than for a 28mm tyre, and I wasn’t able to fully get the tyre to ‘pop’ onto the rim (see here for details), but still it was fairly even and rolled smoothly enough for the rest of the ride. I’m obviously out of practice with fixing punctures and it took me 17 minutes before I was back on the road.
This time of year the sun barely gets above the horizon and riding towards it I was frequently dazzled to the point of being blind to the road and hedgerows ahead. Must remember to wear a peaked cap under my helmet on sunny winter rides. Also very distracting is the strobe-like effect of low bright sunshine from the side being interupted by the bare trees
As can be seen from the elevation profile there is not a single piece of flat road on this entire route. I had two energy gels later in the ride to help cope; whether it’s placebo, who knows?
Frequently I came across groups of walkers, couples, families taking a Boxing Day constitutional on the quiet lanes. Small children on their new bikes, small dogs on their new leads. In cases where my approach hasn’t been noticed I normally flick my brake levers to create a noise that often alerts pedestrians to my presence. In one case I voiced “ring ring” as I approached from behind a family group, and apologised for not having a bell. Good-natured banter followed.
The puncture having extended the duration of the ride, I got home just as the sun was setting. It felt good to get in from the cold and have a nice cup of tea.
Wear peaked cap on sunny winter days
To prevent getting blinded by low sun
I recently bought a bell and it’s fitted to my other bike. Looks like I need another one for my gravel bike
Snood too long
The snood I wore today is so long that it creates a massive collar around my neck. This, I realised today, is what had led to neck ache after my last ride.
Carry new CO2 pump
I recently bought a CO2 tyre pump but didn’t take it with me today. Doh! It would have saved a lot of time today inflating those fat 35mm tyres