Par to Whiddon Down
Readers of the road cycling literature will be familiar with Lance Armstrong’s It’s Not About the Bike, his own version of his early life. Less well-known is Rob Penn’s It’s All About the Bike, Rob’s amusing and informative account of how he built his dream machine (seriously, it’s a great read—don’t miss it). For many reasons I tend to Rob’s view, and this blog begins where the last one ends—about my bike. Along the way I’ll answer my friend Chris Bird’s Twitter question, where he asked whether I had bought the Di2 version of the Mason. More on that later, Chris.
I have bought a few bikes in my time. The first serious machine was from Pete Matthews in Liverpool, in about 1993. I had just come into some money, and there was about £1500 left over once we had built a new garden pond. I scoured the internet to find the best bespoke bicycle builder, and happened upon Pete. His main claim to fame was his wheels—they’re strong, light, and built just for you. However, he also designed frames, and these too were strong, light, and built just for you.
If you think the size and shape of your bicycle frame depends on nothing more than your height, then Pete has news for you. Height, inside leg, length of femur, length of trunk, length of arms, width of shoulders, your weight…you name it, he measured it. And six weeks after my fitting I had my beautiful black bike. The frame was made of Reynolds 853 steel, the groupset (the brakes and drivetrain and so on) was Campagnolo Daytona, and the wheels were Pete’s own Pianni brand. I still ride this bike most days to work. It’s been re-sprayed and I have upgraded the groupset a little, but the wheels are the same, and after 25 years they still run beautifully.
Since then I have bought a fixie in French powder blue from Mercian cycles in Derby (where I was fitted on a special sizing jig), a folding Bike Friday from Eugene Oregon, and a blue Brompton S2L (made in Brentford and then Greenford and sold by Bikefix).
So why did I need a new bike for my LEJOG trip? Well of course I didn’t. I could have put a new groupset on the old Pete Matthews to give it a wider range of gears, but I was quite happy with the gearing for my regular commute, and I didn’t want to spend about £1000 to make the bike probably less useful for its normal purpose. The fixie was no good, and nor were the folders, so a new machine was clearly the way to go.
So I scoured the internet again. It seems that framemakers are busier these days, and any bespoke machine wouldn’t have been ready in time for my ride, so I went for an off-the-peg job instead. To a man used to bespoke frames this was a risk, but it turns out that I am not an unusual shape (well, not a very unusual shape), and that most off-the-peg bikes would fit me OK.
Initially I was very taken with the Fairlight Strael, but so popular is it that this wouldn’t have been available in time either, so I ended up with the Strael’s arch-rival, the Mason Resolution2. The reviews were terrific, I liked the look of the frame, the fact that it was made of Columbus steel made a change from my usual Reynolds, and I liked the beautiful paintwork. I went to Lancing, to the barn where the cycles are assembled, and I loved it. I went for blue with black handlebar tape, and rather than Campagnolo I opted for a Shimano groupset. For the long-distance cyclist Shimano is preferable because spare parts are more easily found.
And did I go for the top-of-the-range Dura Ace Di2 Hydro? As Chris Bird will know, this is lightest version you can get, and with electronic gear shifting as well as hydraulic disc brakes. Alas no. Referring back to my previous blog, our car is worth a paltry £200, so if you do the multiplication you’ll work out that I have the Ultegra groupset with hydraulic brakes—and very nice it is too. I’ll write more about the bike some other time.
But what of today’s ride? Quite simply, it was the hardest day I have ever had on a bike. It started out tough and got tougher. Perhaps the best thing is to start with the stats, and here they are:
Although we only (only!) cycled 56.6 miles, we climbed 6391 feet—that’s 1.21 miles. If you have a moment, stand outside, look up at the sky, and imagine going up 1.21 miles. Or to put it another way, imagine climbing the equivalent of Mount Loma Mansa, the highest peak in Sierra Leone (isn’t Google wonderful?).
We started by climbing out of Par through some rather attractive sun-dappled lanes, and although it was steep at the beginning the climbs weren’t too long and there were some compensatory dowhills that made up for it.
But then we started heading up towards Bodmin Moor, and here it got tough. I was fortunate to join up with Allison and Lisa, and together we kept ourselves going as we passed King Doniert’s stone and reached the first cafe stop, where quite a few of us were already gathered. On the way to the cafe there was some excitement that we were to pass through Minions, and I was pleased that so many of our number were aware of the latest advances in DNA sequencing technology, but I think the word means different things to different people.
King Doniert’s stone
It’s not about the DNA sequencing technology
Refuelling—Rob from Bike Adventures on the left, Lisa in the middle in the foreground and Allison behind her
So far so good, and from there we went up and down to the River Tamar, where Cornwall becomes Devon. We regarded this as progress, with the sign a welcome sight.
The view from the bridge over the River Tamar
But then, after lunch in Tavistock (bacon roll), it got tough, as you can tell by the fact that I took so few photographs. We climbed and we climbed and we climbed onto Dartmoor. It was steep, it was relentless, it was hot and it was sunny. I had refilled my water bottles in Tavistock, but I was really worried that I’d run out before we got back to civilisation. (I did, in fact, but it wasn’t catastrophic.) This is where it helps cycling in a small group, and the three of us (metaphorically) pulled each other up the hills. Here are Allison and Lisa at about 40 miles, at what may have been the highest point.
At the top
It rolled a lot after that, and there were some more steep climbs. My technique was to get up as much speed as I could on the preceding downhill stretch and then try to blast up the hill. This usually worked for about 10% of the climb, but the rest was just grind, grind, grind. But then we had a left turn, a fantastic long ride off the moor, followed by just a few more difficult bits (one where we had to get off and walk) before reaching our hotel at 5:15. The hotel let us take our bikes into our rooms, so having written so much about it above, I’m pleased to show a photograph below.
I showered, did my washing, and lay on the bed groaning for a bit until Ian arrived. Ian is my oldest friend (I mean the friend I have known for the longest time) and he moved to Devon a few years ago. He kindly came to the hotel and we drove off to Chagford for dinner and a long chat. Great to see him again, and with a bit of luck he’ll join me tomorrow on the next section of the ride. As we left the hotel for dinner, at about 7:00, we heard that only ten out of eighteen of us had yet arrived. There’ll be some tired legs at breakfast tomorrow.
Here is Ian, and a view of the sky while we were having dinner.
And what did we achieve today? This:
Which again looks impressive until you look at this:
Putting it into context
But we have only done two days out of fourteen, and I have every confidence we’ll be further on tomorrow. Watch this space.