Bridgwater to Tintern
Our ride this morning went swimmingly for the first five miles but we were then held up for perhaps twenty minutes by a great many cows on their way to be milked. Any advantage my little group may have had (and yes, I do know it’s a holiday and not a race) was wiped out as we all walked slowly behind the last cow wondering when they were finally going to turn off into a field.
The back ends of some cows
The back ends of a load of cyclists
But the photo above got me thinking about what you wear when you ride a bike (or what Rapha, the high-end bicycle clothing company, would call cycling apparel). When Ian joined me yesterday he was wearing a very sensible bright orange T-shirt, but my companions and I are nearly all wearing a tight-fitting collared jersey with a full-length zip and three pockets at the back, sometimes advertising Sky TV or a bicycle manufacturer. Why this particular style? Do we get any marginal gains from such attire?
I admit that I gave quite some thought beforehand as to what I would wear during this ride. For my top half I quite liked the idea of having no advertising and no artificial fibres, so I went with Roadrags: “A line of cycling wear which is not only remarkably stylish and comfortable, but also breathable, odour-resistant, and environmentally sustainable.” It sounded unimprovable, but as a friend pointed out, the merino jersey had an alarming tendency to droop whenever you put anything in one of the back pockets—a mini pump, energy gel, phone or wallet. This not only looked silly, but it was a real nuisance when the back of the jersey got snagged under your saddle. Evidently, Roadrags are really good for posing moodily in cafés—and road cyclists really enjoy posing moodily in cafés—but they aren’t so good on the road.
So instead I went to Bon Velo, my fantastic local bike shop, and bought one of their jerseys. The great thing to remember when buying bicycle jerseys is that the sizes are based on the average person in the peleton of the Tour de France; they are not based on the average person on the street. So what might be a medium on Chris Froome (height 1.86 m, weight 68 kg) or Geraint Thomas (1.83 m, 71 kg) might be a little tight on you or me. With this in mind, although I am a medium in almost everything else, I went for a large, and I’m pleased to say that it is only slightly too snug.
Since then, however, I have discovered the wonderful Fat Lad at the Back cycle wear. Now you’re talking. It’s sized for normal people, so I am a medium again, and it is cut for what you might call the fuller figure—for those of us who may have acquired a little avoirdupois in later life. It also eschews the flamboyant logos that I hate so much. It’s not made of merino, but that does mean the pockets don’t droop and you can carry everything you need. And the style minimises wind resistance and makes you look as if you’re a cyclist. So of course you go faster too!
Over the next few days I’ll have a think about cycle shorts…
Returning to why I’m here, I should say first that it was a fantastic day. I cycled with Allison and Lisa, and I am grateful to them for helping keep me going. The first section was on the Somerset Levels, and how nice it was to hear the word ‘level’ applied to part of our ride.
Illustrating the Somerset Levels at the start of our ride
This flat section was followed at about 20 miles by Cheddar Gorge. I had been slightly nervous about this, because it’s another long climb, but it worked out pretty well. Am I getting fitter? I doubt it. But it was impressive and beautiful. Why have I never been here before?
Lisa cycling through Cheddar Gorge
Lunch followed at about 40 miles, but not before Allison had been stung by a wasp and later had serious chain trouble, only to make the cardinal error of wiping her oily hand on her face:
Then it was over the Severn Bridge and into Wales. The bridge was incredibly windy. I lost a camera case when i was trying to take a photo, and almost lost my rain jacket.
Looking east on the Severn Bridge
Your jacket is about to fly away!
From the bridge it was a fairly easy run into Tintern, but we were all feeling pretty tired by then. Not so tired that we couldn’t take a photo of our bikes and the Abbey, though:
Tintern Abbey and my bike
I was reminded of the times I came to this part of Wales with my school, and indeed with old friends like Ian. We would visit the castles at places like Chepstow, Raglan, Grosmont, Abergavenny and Usk.
As in previous blogs, here is today’s ride, followed by how far we have come so far:
How far we have come, and how far we have to go!
Tomorrow will be 80 miles—the longest yet. Will we make it? I expect so.