Day 2

Par to Whiddon Down

Bicycles

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.

Cycling

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:

Screenshot 2018-08-05 22.44.54.pngStats

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.

DSC00037.JPGDappled lane

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.

DSC00042.JPGKing Doniert’s stone

DSC00043 2.JPGIt’s not about the DNA sequencing technology

DSC00044.JPGRefuelling—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.

DSC00047.JPGInto Devon

DSC00049.JPGThe 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.

DSC00055.JPGAt 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.

DSC00057.JPGThe bike

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.

IMG_4359.JPGIan

IMG_4358.JPGSky

And what did we achieve today? This:

Screenshot 2018-08-05 22.42.41.pngToday’s ride

Which again looks impressive until you look at this:

Screenshot 2018-08-05 22.45.57.pngPutting 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.

Day 1

Land’s End to Par

I guess there won’t be that many people who will find this blog interesting—in particular, it won’t be terribly different from the many other blogs that have been written with exactly the same title. But it’s a useful aide-memoire for me, so on we go.

DSC00017.JPGOur hotel; bike store to the right and restaurant to the left

Day one proper started with various attempts to break the record for the biggest breakfast ever consumed, followed by last-minute panics about our bikes. One poor guy kept having a puncture—every time he installed a new inner tube and put on the tyre, the tube burst when it got to 100 psi. It eventually turned out that there was a slight and invisible protrusion from the wheel, where the inner tube sits, so the fix was simple and (as far as I know) he got through the day without incident.

Of course we had our photo taken by the famous sign. It turns out you have to pay to do this, and the group picture will be emailed to our leader Rob. But I did manage to get a snap of Father Paul and his friend from Kansas, and here it is.

DSC00020.JPGFather Paul and friend

The answer to the next question is ‘no’, but his cycling jersey was cunningly adapted to allow him to wear his collar. Pretty cool.

We were given pause for thought as we left.

DSC00018 2.jpgBe careful out there

It was cool and overcast as we set off, and I wished I had my (ahem) newly-acquired arm-warmers with me. Here is a typical scene—apparently the view is pretty spectacular if only you can see it. That’s Karen a little way down the road.

DSC00024.JPGMist

But by fifty miles the mist lifted, the sun came out, and I wished I had slathered myself in Factor 50. I now have a cyclist’s tan, of sorts. Here is what Cornwall looks like when the sun comes out.

DSC00032.JPG

DSC00034.JPGSun at last

The day was hilly—really hilly. I was glad to have an 11-32 cassette, although 11-34 would have been better. But the main problem, and the main worry for tomorrow, is the heat. Strava records my speed, heart rate, power, and the temperature. I can hardly believe it reached 122 Fahrenheit, but it’s clear how quickly the temperature went up. And how much my speed varied.

Screenshot 2018-08-04 18.50.10.pngData

I reached the hotel at about 4:15, had some orange juice and peanuts (hydration, protein, salt…), and then a shower. The question of fuelling myself is an interesting one. I nearly bonked once, and I really don’t want that to happen. Slower tomorrow, with more breaks…

This map shows how much progress we have made so far:

Screenshot 2018-08-04 17.37.14.pngNot bad…

And this map shows how little progress we have really made:

Screenshot 2018-08-04 18.38.40 copy.pngA long way to go

And finally, it shouldn’t be about the bike, but I am jolly pleased so far with my Mason Resolution2. I have explained to some people that when I had our elderly Vauxhall Zafira valued on webuyanycar.com, I calculated that I’d have to sell 17 of our cars to buy the Mason. But I’ll cycle more per year than we drive the car, and it’s a beautiful machine, so I think it’s money well spent.

LEJOG Day 0

Prologue

London to Penzance by road is 284.4 miles (if you take the A303 and the A30). This is 27% of the distance I’m proposing to cover over the next two weeks by bicycle, so it was pretty scary this morning looking out the window of the train and watching the countryside flash by at 100mph or whatever it was. It’s a long way from Land’s End to John O’Groats. But I hope my bike is more reliable than the train. Just over an hour into the journey it came to an abrupt halt and were told that the buffet could no longer serve hot drinks. I assume the two were not linked.

DSC00007.JPG

Paddington this morning

Eating up the miles

But I made it to Par, took a slow train to Penzance, and met fellow travellers Lisa, Karen, Nigel and Pam in the car park. Rob picked us up and drove us to the Lands’s End Hotel, where we spent a happy hour or two assembling our bikes. I was relieved that my precious Mason was undamaged, although I had the usual angst about how best to carry stuff like spare inner tubes, a jacket, a lock, and so on. The saddlebag proved to wobble too much, so I went for a handlebar bag. I hope it doesn’t mess up the handling too much.

The weather is cooler and cloudier than in London, though it’s pretty changeable. The two pictures below are separated by dinner—about an hour and twenty minutes.DSC00010.JPG

Mist

DSC00013.jpg

Looking out at the lighthouse

After dinner I came back to my room, with (to followers of LEJOG blogs, at least) its familiar views.DSC00015.JPG

The hotel and the tourist stuff associated with it

We set off tomorrow at 09:00, presumably with a picture of all of us gathered round the famous sign. Seventy-odd miles with a lot of climbing. It’s the beginning of a fourteen day cycle of sleep/eat/cycle/eat/sleep. Time will tell if it’s catharsis or something else.