Lakesman Half – The Bike Loop

My beautiful and amazing wife has entered the Lakesman Half Triathlon this year, which is in four weeks time. Helen wanted to ride the bike loop to have a look at it and to make sure that she can make it back for the run within the time limit. I’ll let you in on a secret, she’ll have absolutely no worries about the time limit.

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I downloaded the route, we loaded up the car and headed off nice and early this morning (Sunday). Arriving at the carpark in Keswick where the race will start and finish, we found it to be nearly full. Unbeknown to us, the Keswick Mountain Festival was on, with fell races, walks, sportive and a swim all occurring over the weekend. I mention the swim because there wasn’t actually a swim. It had been cancelled due to a harmful algal bloom in Derwent Water. Lakesman are aware of the situation and are monitoring the water, but there is a possibility that the races might have either shortened swims or no swim at all. Currently refunds or referrals are not being offered. This is a difficult situation for the organisers with plenty of people venting their anger on social media. I think that it is sensible to ere on the side of caution, and it the water is deemed to be unsafe to swim in, then you have to accept an altered race. Worst case scenario, the race goes ahead while there is some doubt about the water,  and if a few triathletes fall ill people will want to know why the swim leg wasn’t cancelled.

Back in the carpark once we had set up our bikes we headed off, straight through the sportive. Fortunately they were all turning right at the very first junction, while we headed out of Keswick and onto the A66 towards Cockermouth. This isn’t a road I would normally ride on, but it wasn’t too bad on a Sunday early in the morning, although it was a bit boring. After ten miles we turned left onto a smaller road, which was actually worse than the A66 as it was narrower, leaving less room for cars to overtake. Soon though we turned off this onto a very pleasant country lane, with a great descent into Branthwaite. Best section of the route by far.

Joining the A595 there’s a great view of the Irish sea, and with over half the bike leg completed you’re nearly home. The route then does a loop through Distington and back along the dual carriageway. This again wasn’t too bad as there was plenty of room for us. Unfortunately the A595 back towards the A66 was fast with little room, so we opted to use the separate cycle lane, which won’t be an option on race day. Once we reached the A66 we had a stop and a chat. The route back to Keswick will be fast and impossible to go wrong, so we decided to enjoy the ride and head back along some quieter roads. This was slightly longer and a lot hillier, but was a brilliant diversion, especially as for much of the time we could still see the A66.

Cockermouth was a revelation, with a wide street lined with trees. This isn’t an area of the lakes that either of us have visited, although I did a triathlon there many years ago, before Stava. Cockermouth; we will return. There’s also plenty of signs pointing to Maryport, which sounds like a classic Game of Thrones town.

If you’re going to cycle from Cockermouth to Keswick there really is only one route; up and over Whinlatter.

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Whinlatter isn’t one of the ‘hard’ climbs in the Lakes, but it is still a bit of a beast, although we were climbing it from the ‘easier’ side. I had also never climbed it from this side. Helen wasn’t particularly keen on this hill, but the huge grin on her face after the glorious descent made it all worthwhile. Back into Keswick and once again we were mistaken for sportive riders. A couple of years ago we did the Tour De Bolton sportive and I was saddened by the dozen riders waiting outside the school gates to take part in the sportive without paying for it. I really hope that the marshalls didn’t think that we had done the same thing.

My thoughts on the Lakesman Half bike route is that most of it is on roads that I wouldn’t normally ride on, but on race day, with so many other triathletes on the roads it should be fine. The main roads also makes it easier for the organisers, with fewer marshalls required at critical junctions. I’ve chatted with people who have done Lakesman in previous years and they have all said that the roads were not an issue.

If you’ve entered Lakesman I wish you all the best in the world. As for me, I’m really looking forward to supporting my amazing wife as I know that she will surpass all of her expectations.

 

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Quiraing Mountain

As with most cyclists I love a good hill to climb. I’m also an avid collector of Simon Warren’s books; The 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs, sequel and subsequent regional spin-offs. So when my beautiful wife booked us a weeks holiday on Skye, and that we would be bringing our bikes along, I had to check to see if there were any climbs near to where we were staying. Low and behold, climb #170, Quiraing was ten miles away. Confusingly though, it is given a 5/10 rating in the Another 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs book, and a 6/10 in the regional Cycling Climbs of Scotland book.

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We had been for a run on our first full day on Skye and had been caught in a sudden snowstorm, so when the forecast was good for the Monday we decided to go for it. Many of the roads in the area are very narrow with frequent passing places, so you get used to having to pull over to let cars past. It can be frustrating and slow going, but we were on our touring bikes anyway.

The ten miles to Saffin Bay flew by with amazing views almost constantly, and then we were are the start of the climb. The revised score is only a 6/10, while our local climb, Jubilee Tower is a 7/10, so how hard could it be. We slowly made our way up the lower section, stopping a couple of times to let cars, vans and a minibus past.

The, just beyond the cemetery, we saw the road curving up, with a couple of hairpin bends and plenty of snow at the top. It looked formidable.

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“Steady way” was our motto as we slowly made our way up, avoiding cars coming down and the snow in the middle of the road. I stopped at the last hairpin to take a few photos and to warn Helen if there was any traffic coming down.

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And then we were at the top, where the car park was full. We opted to push on down to Uig, the gentle side, with much less traffic, although we had to contend with a horrific head wind.

Fortunately, we changed direction for the last four miles back to our rented holiday cottage. Funnily enough, we both said that the climb looked far tougher than it actually was, and turned out to be a pleasant climb. It was the middle of March and there were still quite a few cars on the hill, so I would not want to cycle up there in the middle of summer as it would be far too busy.

The Rapha Festive 500 – 2018

At this time of year Rapha sponsor a Strava challenge, the Festive 500. The aim being to cycle 500km in the eight days between Christmas Eve and New Years Eve. Read about the 2017 edition here and the 2016 edition here.

I have completed this challenge every year since 2012, so I was looking forward to this again. Over the years I’ve encountered the usual and expected problems, including very bad weather and having to work. This year though, I was attempting to run every day in December (read about it here), which when time is limited meant that the Festive 500 was put on the back burner. I managed three rides and a total of 219km. I don’t mind because I got to spend time with my parents, who came up from Salisbury, and then quality time with my wife. I also ran the Lancaster parkrun on Christmas day and the following Saturday, which was a great deal more fun than a three hour slog on the bike in the cold and the rain.

I did also manage to run on 30 of the days in December, only missing the 16th due to running a very tough half marathon in the Forest of Bowland the previous day (read about it here).

Next year who knows? Currently I’m enjoying riding a bit less, but riding more with my wife, as well as running with our silly pointer.

Wishing you all a happy new year.

Strava Route Builder

I’ve generally always created my own routes using the website Bike and Hike. Unfortunately Google have recently changed their pricing structure for websites that use their maps, making the course creator function on the Bike and Hike website almost unusable.

Therefore I needed an alternative, especially when you have five days of cycle touring with over 90% of it on roads that I’ve never cycled before. Up stepped Strava Route Builder. In theory this should be brilliant. Local cyclists know the best roads and the ones to avoid, so any route using this data should be good.

Day 1 of our little touring holiday and I became a big fan of the route builder. The route from Kenilworth to Cheltenham was great, especially the first 30 miles. The next 20 miles were a little busier, although this was mainly due to diversions. The route builder has a flat option, which I hadn’t clicked, so we ended cycling up Cleve Hill, although the flat option would have added another 10 miles.

Back when I joined Strava it wasn’t uncommon for a segment to have less than 100 people on the leaderboard. Now it’s rare for a segment to have fewer than 1,000, and Box Hill in Surrey has over 100,000 different athletes. This is a lot of data and I’m pleased that Strava is using it and helping regular cyclists (and runners) find good routes in new areas.

Day 2 of our little cycling holiday and Strava route builder goes from 5/5 to 0/5. Fifteen bloody miles on the busy A46, a horrible road that no one would ever want to cycle on. This section of route almost ended our holiday.

We did see a few cyclists using the A46, which has obviously skewed the algorithms into thinking that it is an acceptable route. The moral, don’t take it as red that a route will be good, check it properly.

Day 3 and it was the best route yet, all on quiet roads except for the last couple of miles into Salisbury, but there isn’t always a lot you can do when entering a city. The other days were also very good routes, so I would definitely use Strava Route Builder again, although I will check that it hasn’t thrown me onto a main road for too long.

The route for our little cycling tour can be seen below, and day one can be read here.

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Edit: I wrote most of this back in September but didn’t manage to blog about it, but since then the website Bike and Hike has started to use a different mapping site. This is good because sometimes my routes go all over the place, mainly when I’m tile hunting (read about it here).

My advice is if you know where you’re going, create your own route with Bike and Hike, but if you’re going somewhere new, use Strava route builder.

Cycle Touring – Oxford to Kenilworth

Our last day of cycling started a little too early with a fire alarm going off in the middle of the night, but a good breakfast served by the friendliest staff, even at 7am was very welcome. (The other four days can be read hereherehere and here). As we retrieved our bikes from the bike store we were surprised to see two high-end Cannondale road bikes unlocked. Even though the bike store was locked I wouldn’t leave a bike unlocked in there. We opted to leave them there as neither bike had anywhere to put our panniers.

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Once we were loaded up we headed off through north Oxford and past yet more posh houses. Having lived in Oxford and cycled around the area for many years the first 20 miles today would be on very familiar roads. It was over five miles to get fully out of Oxford, but there was very little traffic about. We soon left the main road and reached the small village of Bletchingdon. The Oxford Tri Club used to organise mid week bike and run events from there. Fond memories.

With some flat roads and a strong tailwind we were making good progress, and the only other people we saw were other cyclists. After the first tough climb of the day we stopped for a breather, as did a group of cyclists who had been quickly catching us up. It turned out that they were from my old tri club, Oxford, although I didn’t recognise any of them.

We stopped for some food under an old walnut tree in Upper Tysoe, and with a little over 20 miles to go we expected to reach Kenilworth before 2pm, much earlier than we had planned. Helen sent her brother a text to explain this, but he was probably out on his bike so we didn’t get a reply.

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“Would you like to go to Hampton Lucy?” I asked Helen when we saw a sign. “Yes please, I would like to go to Hampton, and don’t call me Lucy.” Dad jokes are the best.

Reaching the outskirts of Warwick we hit a main road, although there was an excellent separate cycle path that took us over the stupidly busy A46. Note to town planners. If you build good quality cycling infrastructure, cyclists will use it.

The last few miles into Kenilworth were the only nasty roads of the day, but by 2pm we rolled to a stop at Helen’s brother’s house. Coffee, cheese on toast, loading up the bikes and we were ready to head home, stopping off in Hambleton to pick up Nelly, who was very pleased to see us.

It was a great little touring holiday, with just the right amount of cycling for both of us, along with visiting family and sightseeing some great places. The obvious highlights were Avebury and being able to show Helen around Oxford. Thirsty Meeples was an added bonus.

Both bikes behaved impeccably, although Helen’s did need a little gear fettling. Over the five days of cycling we covered 435km with almost 4000m of climbing and 395 new Strava segments.

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Finally, we’ve already started to plan for our next little touring adventure.

Cycle Touring – Salisbury to Oxford

This was the fourth day of our little cycle touring holiday, and our longest day with approximately 72 miles. You can read about the three previous days here, here and here.

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After retrieving our bikes from the garden that my parents call a jungle, we set off. I made my usual morning joke.

“Come on ya big old beast… and you Helen.”

Steady away, was the plan, and after fettling with Helen’s gears the day before, her bike was smoother and Helen was therefore quicker. Our route had a couple of dog legs to avoid main roads, as we headed north towards Amesbury. Salisbury Plain, just north of the city is full of army bases and is famous for the tanks, so when we came across our first ‘Warning Tank Crossing’ sign, I propped my tank (my Trek 920) against the sign for a photo.

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Helen noticed that there was a rumbling noise, but I dismissed it as distant traffic. Moments later the first tank came into view, followed by another four. I was literally jumping up and down in excitement, hoping that I didn’t get arrested for photographing tanks!

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What a great start to the day, although the weather forecast had said that there would be no rain, so after an hour of persistent drizzle we stopped at a convenient café next to the Avon and Kennet Canal.

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The Honey Street Mill Café was surprisingly busy despite seemingly being in the middle of nowhere. Coffee and a shared cake later, we set off up Pewsey Hill before dropping down into Marlborough; famous for the posh school not cigarettes. I’m sure Marlborough is a pleasant town, but the traffic makes it deeply unpleasant to walk or cycle through. This is one High Street that is crying out to be pedestrianised.

Leaving the chaos behind we headed east with the wind behind us, making good time, before turning north towards Lambourn; The Valley of the Racehorse. Climbing out of the town there is a mock racetrack with the funny white fences and furlong signs. No racehorses though as it was the afternoon.

From there it was mainly flat all the way to Oxford with a couple of miles on a minor A road and then 100m on the busy Oxford to Swindon road. Apart from those two small sections it was minor roads the whole way. As we neared Oxford I started to recognise a few of the roads, even though it was 12 years ago that I left. I definitely recognised one dodgy roundabout near Cumnor, as a driver pulled out even though it was my right of way, just like they used to many years ago. Some things never change. Maybe I should ride with a Go-Pro.

Another thing that hadn’t changed in Oxford was the nose to tail traffic in both directions along the Botley Road. Fortunately we could use the bus lane, smiling to the stationary drivers as we sailed past for the last mile. Why would you do that day after day?

A quick shower at the youth hostel and I took Helen to see my old pub. Why I say my old pub, it was where I worked for almost 15 years and running it for the last two. The Kings Arms is a very bust student and tourist pub opposite the Bodleian Library.

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Nothing much had changed. A new coat of paint, but the smell was the same, as was one of the regulars in the back bar, sitting in the same spot, not moving for 50 years. An old photo of me from 1992 was also still on the wall, looking young, with hair and no beard.

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We stayed for a decent pint of Young’s and had a quick look at the Radcliffe Camera in the evening sun, before heading off for some food.

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We finished off the evening playing board games and drinking craft beer at Thirsty Meeples. A brilliant end to a great day.

Cycle Touring – Bath to Salisbury

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Day three of our little cycling tour was from Bath to Salisbury. You can read about the first two days here and here.

A great night’s sleep and a relaxed breakfast at the Youth Hostel meant that we didn’t set off until after 9 am. It was fine as this was going to be our shortest cycling day with less than 45 miles to Salisbury, although the start did continue up Bathwick Hill from the previous day. This was followed by a decent descent and five minutes of confusion at the junction with a main road, as my route indicated we should go straight on at the T junction. There was a small farm track which with trepidation I cycled down, which was all good as it ended at the Kennet and Avon Canal. Flat and no traffic for a few miles to get us out of Bath. Perfect.

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We stopped to take a few photos of a heron looking for breakfast before he flew off. I then spotted a ring. It wasn’t fancy or valuable and I did post a couple of photos on Facebook on the off chance that someone might claim it, although my wife has her eyes on it.

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Leaving the canal we found the steepest hill ever! Both of us were off our bikes and walking. Thankfully it wasn’t too long. At the top there was a sign saying that it was unsuitable for coaches. There must be a story behind that sign.

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A few miles later we hit an A road, but we knew that we would only be on it for one mile. I had done some checking on my routes to ensure that there were no nasty surprises. After that the roads were great as we stopped to take a couple of photos of the white horse at Westbury. I hadn’t realised that there were four different horses in the area. Most famous is the white horse at Uffington created over 2,000 years ago, followed by the Cherhill horse from 1780, the Alton Barnes horse from 1812 and finally the horse that we spotted near Westbury from 1778. You can almost make out the white horse in the background of the photo below (almost).

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Not being in a rush we stopped for a brew and cake at the Ginger Piggery.

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Carrot cake was good but the lemon cake not so good, although we could have stopped to watch the pigs for ages.

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We then ambled our way towards Salisbury, passing through Wilton, the former capital of Wessex and home of expensive carpets. A short dog leg up a hill to avoid the busy road into the city and we were at my parents by 2.15 pm. I then had to fight my way through the wild and jungle like garden to find the shed for our bikes.

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After some food we walked into Salisbury and had a look at the world famous cathedral before making our way back to my parents for more food.

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After three good days cycling we were both looking forward to a rest day tomorrow.