The cycling season is now in full flow, and although the rain is coming down as I type this, we have had a good spring.
We have all been saddened by the death of Helen Beane in early May. Helen served for a number of years on the CTC Oxfordshire committee, including as Minutes Taker and as Isis group rep, and last year was one of the organisers of our successful Tri-vets event. Very much a people person and down-to-earth, Helen was always prepared to help with the nitty-gritty, the kind of support that is often unsung but so valuable in helping to run local activities such as ours. We shall all miss her engaging presence on our rides and events. Our condolences go out to her family.
Last weekend, I completed my second Audax – the 106km Blowingstone Audax – on which there is a full report elsewhere. It was an excellent day out, and I add my thanks to other positive comments I heard about Nick Dunton’s organisation and all the people from CTC Wantage who helped before, during and after.
My legs were aching for a couple of days afterwards and I know exactly why.
It was a wonderful sunny day, and I had a couple of jobs at home that I needed to get back for. So I picked my wonderfully light carbon ‘not-quite-race’ bike for the day. I knew there were hills, but this bike benefits from fairly low gearing, with a 34-tooth ring on the chainset and a 30-tooth cog on the back. And did I mention it was light? How hard could it be?
Starting off up Blowingstone Hill, I was quickly in the lowest gear and was able to turn that up the hill while still seated. I hooked up with a few riders from the Forest of Dean and we rode swiftly and companionably.
Then we got to Ramsbury and Spring Hill. Spring Hill is one of the biggest around – long with stretches at 1 in 6. No way could I stay seated for that, and I don't like giving up, so I stood on the pedals and honked my way up. The hill steepens on a corner, and round that was John Talbot with his camera. Inevitably that spurred me on to a final effort to make it look easy.
I crested the hill and was soon going down the other side. But, from then on each hill was a bigger effort than I remember it being when I’d tested out the route with Nick and John in the winter. Even after a good lunch of homity pie and chocolate gelato milkshake (as good as it sounds!), I never quite recovered my starting form. I did enjoy the rest of the ride, but I was certainly feeling it.
Now the gearing on this bike was only 13% higher than the 1:1 ratio that I used to consider adequate for touring in Europe with a tent – albeit when I was in my 20s. My touring bike now has gears mainly from mountain bike parts, with 26 at the front and 32 on the back. And there is no denying that my legs felt a lot fresher after completing the same route in wind and rain on that bike in the winter, despite the bike being 5kg heavier. The same was true for my first Audax – 105km in Cornwall at Easter.
That tells me a few things. First, that I’m not quite so much of a spring chicken as I was once (or more hopefully that the inclines on the continent are more gentle). Secondly, that low gears are a wonderful thing, trumping even light weight for long rides. With low enough gears, I am quite happy to sit and spin my way gently up one big hill after another – even if I’m going no faster than a committed rambler. I notice that some ‘race’ bikes now come with a 32 cog on the back, and this has been legitimised by its use by some of the pros on Tour de France mountain stages. But, for proper low gears, you need a chainwheel smaller than your biggest rear sprocket.
The third and final learning is the value of companionship on a long ride. One of the great things about an Audax and other organised rides is that you can pick your own speed, but still be fairly sure that it will also be someone else’s chosen speed too. So you can share a conversation, and you can share front position into the wind, and generally keep each other going to the end.
A week later, my legs are back in shape and I’ve just enjoyed a more gentle version of the same journey to Marlborough with my wife and daughter. We rode down on Sunday, stopped the night in a pub with rooms, and rode back on Monday. We now try to fit in 2 or 3 of these ‘mini-tours’ each year. Do you do anything similar? Let me know and I’ll try to include some ideas for ‘mini-tours from Oxfordshire’ in a future edition.
I reported last time on the formation of the Oxfordshire Cycling Network, to work towards improved cycling usage and facilities in the county. In May, we had a very productive workshop with the County Council. They presented some initial ideas for their ‘Local Transport Plan 4’ and asked us for input on how they might affect cyclists and how cycling might contribute to the objectives. We also created some ideas for the county-wide Cycling Strategy – what could cycling in Oxfordshire be like in 5 or 20 years time?
Programme for 2014
Meanwhile, our programme of rides for 2014 continues, covering all parts of the county and sometimes beyond. Coming this quarter are:
- Explorer rides from Banbury on 22nd June and Hungerford on 31st August. These will be around 40 miles in length and give you a great opportunity to spin your wheels somewhere new.
- A Century (100 mile) ride on 8th June, starting in Wallingford at 8am and reaching parts of Berkshire, Hampshire and even Wiltshire. (That’ll be one for the low gears then!)
- A ride to Burford for elevenses, where we’ll join up with CTC Cheltenham for a ride to lunch, on 29th June.
- A series of off-road rides on the second Saturday of each month, about 20 miles each.
- An expanded programme of rides from Witney, including afternoon rides on the first Saturday or Sunday of the month and shorter day rides on the 4th Sunday of each month. We encourage new riders to join these rides, whether they are CTC members or not, to explore the western part of our county.
Two other dates for your diary:
- 12th July is the CTC Oxfordshire Pot Luck Supper. This year it will be at my house 97 The Causeway, Steventon, 6:30pm for 7, and local CTC members and their families are welcome. Everyone brings food and drink to share and we have a great social evening.
- 21st September is our 90th Anniversary celebration. We will have many led rides on the day, starting from different locations and at different grades – from family to full day rides – all converging at Standlake Village Hall for a giant afternoon tea party! If you have an idea for a ride, please let me know and we will co-ordinate them with others.
As ever, further details of all these events, and a couple more, are on our website: www.cyclingukoxfordshire.org. If you would like to help out with CTC Oxfordshire or the Oxfordshire Cycling Network, please let me know and I’ll put you in touch with the right people.