There are probably a lot of cyclists out there who occasionally, on good days, when the sun is shining, and the wind is from behind, think that perhaps it would be nice to be able to ride for a living. To guide tours in Mallorca, or turn professional, or just tour the world making money from writing books about the journey.
Of course, this is the dream, and the reality is somewhat different. Being a professional racer holds no appeal whatsoever (to me at least), and the rest of it is largely just wishful thinking.
Well, it was until last week, when I managed to live the dream for three days. The company I work for purchased another company based in Edinburgh last year, and as a team-building, fund-raising effort, decided to send a group of cyclists from one office to the other. Three days of cycling as part of the day job? Yes please!
I had another reason for being keen, though – I’m doing the Inverness 1200 Audax in early July, and this was an ideal opportunity to both get in some good training, and test out my intended steed. Last year’s Audax was done on what I now call ‘the other bike’, which is lighter and quicker, but less comfortable. Now that Wilma is on the scene, I wanted to see how quick and comfortable she’d be over longer distances.
So it was (after numerable boring administrative details not worth recounting) that we headed out from central Edinburgh, with a stiff following breeze, on a distinctly chilly morning. First highlight: deciding to split into speed based groups. Second highlight: some of the Scottish guys (and girls!) were fast. Third highlight –an absolutely stunning climb up through the Granites, on fresh, smooth tar, with the sun coming out, and a wind behind, slowly getting a better and better view down over Edinburgh.
By the time we crested, and sped down the other side on a gently winding road, I knew that this was probably going to be one of the best days’ riding ever, and that Wilma was rocking it. She’s sure-footed, rolls like a bowling ball, and smooth – easily the most pleasant bike to ride long distance I’ve ever been on. While I struggled to keep up with the two strongest riders on the steeper hills, and mudguards impeded my ability to keep up with the aero bikes at above 35mph, on both flats and the gentle ups and downs it was dead easy keeping up an average speed of around 19mph.
Finishing in Penrith, after 112 miles in just under 8 hours, I felt as fresh as ever, with no back pain, and much less shoulder ache than usual. Brilliant.
Here’s where the weather steps in. A chance of rain exists nearly the whole day, and we start in a light drizzle. Due to the wonders of GPS technology, we do two tours of the centre of Penrith before heading off in the right direction of the Lake District. Grumble. But then the rain clears, and the scenery improves, and before long we’re zipping along the shores of Ullswater in ecstasy, while keeping on mind the need to store a little bit of energy for the coming climb over Kirkstone pass. However, that proves not to be necessary, as the tailwind gets stronger and stronger the higher up we go, until by the top it’s fairly blasting me upwards. The scenery reminded me of my last day’s riding in Wales, where I had a 20mph headwind going up a similar pass, and the difference between those two couldn’t be greater. Averaging 10mph up a 5.6% incline over just more than 3 miles on a relatively heavy steel framed bike on a day you’re planning to do 130 miles? That’s not going to happen every day.
The descent wasn’t quite so much fun, though – the road was rough, and a bit gravelly, and I’m too chicken to really let go and enjoy things in those circumstances. But a coffee in the café on the shores of Windermere was decidedly welcome. Right, 100 miles to go, should be a breeze from here?
And it was, generally. There was a rough patch where the route organiser had relied on mapping software too heavily, and directed us down a bridle path which was like the son of a motocross track and a construction site had grown up in foster care and gone delinquent. There was the section that goes between Manchester and Liverpool, which is where the heavy traffic started. And then there was the last hour in rather heavy rain. But apart from all that, it was great. Much better than trudging the A6, which is what I’d done in this area on LEJOG seven years ago.
We’d always known that there was going to be a lot of rain on the last day. So it was just a case of putting on warm and waterproof gear, keeping the head down, and pushing on with it. Once out of Northwich, the roads were largely single-track lanes threading the beads of villages together in typical Midlands scenery, and it felt like home. Then the rain stopped and the hills started just outside Kinver, and the lumpy stuff kept it up for a steady rise till we got to the office in South Birmingham.
Not the best day ever, or even particularly notable, but it was there. We arrived ahead of schedule, and ended up waiting for 30 minutes before doing the last mile to the office. At this point, crazy things happen. I make the ludicrous suggestion to a particularly Strava-addicted cyclist (who’s styled herself after a rambunctious rodent) that there were a couple of QOMs to be had nearby due to a road recently being resurfaced. She takes me up on the offer (and drags me along, dammit! That wasn’t the plan!), and gets three. Talk then turns to what route we can take to the office to use up the time available more effectively – yes, after cycling 94 miles, we’re figuring out how we can best increase that number.
And then it’s over – champagne, applause, a quick ride home and a shower. My first (and hopefully not last) trip that I actually get paid for riding.
Ah yes, one last mention that this was organised to raise money for the Air Ambulance Service – if you’ve enjoyed reading this, please head over here and help us out!
For those who like this sort of thing, here are the Relive videos of the three days. This is the first time I’ve been annoyed by Relive’s method of circling around the rider during the playback. Normally, with circular routes, it’s less obvious what they’re doing, but when you ride in a straight line, it’s a bit silly. Sorry about the lack of photos on day 3 – it just wasn’t the sort of day to stop and take any.