Suffolk Swarm is one of my favourite sportives. There are a healthy number of sportives in Suffolk but ‘Swarm’. organised by Cycle Swarm, is a bit different to any other organised ride I’ve been on. For one thing it’s very reasonably priced. When it comes to local sportives I object to paying more than £50 to ride the same roads I ride for free on a regular basis. For a very modest entry fee of £19 the Swarm organisers gave us everything we needed for the ride and supported us well with marshals and whatnot.
To a small extent the cheaper ticket price for the Suffolk Swarm is reflected in the provisions laid on at the rest stops. I’ve ridden some expensive sportives that lay on huge amounts of very high quality food at rest stops. On waddling into rest stops on other rides I’ve seen mountains of amazing food. But to be honest the last thing I want on a massive bike ride is a bloated belly full of fine foods. Cycle Swarm provide bananas, water, soft drinks, Haribo and even buttered scones at their rest stops. That’s plenty for me.
The other reason I like Suffolk Swarm is the vibe. Unlike some much larger sportives Swarm appears to be entirely devoid of the type of aggressive road trains that can be very intimidating to inexperienced riders. Nobody gets grumpy if you tag onto their group for a little while. The Swarm rides feel very inclusive. These are also the only sportives where it’s fairly normal to see people riding something other than sleek road bikes. I saw plenty of hybrids and mountain bikes. In the nicest possible way I didn’t feel out of place on my ancient ASR* road bike.
Suffolk Swarm – the need to ride and the damage done
Suffolk Swarm has three routes; 25, 50 and 100 miles. I’ve ridden the 100 mile route a couple of times before, but haven’t been feeling too great about my cycling abilities this year (despite cycling to Antwerp) so opted for an ‘easy 50 miles’.
This attitude to assuming doing fifty miles would be easy may well have been my undoing on this ride. I bombed out of the gate and rode hard for about the first twenty miles. It was a mistake. I didn’t wobble and struggle for the last few miles like I have in the past when I’ve blown my legs out early on a ride. But the last few miles did feel more challenging than I thought they should.
The drawing at the top of this article shows my position for big chunks of the ride. Fellow VeloBalls writer Sam was effortlessly bipping through the countryside, while I sucked down gels and fought to find his wheel.
But I very much doubt you’re interested in reading about my lacklustre cycling, so I’ll trouble you with the details no more.
As I sat down to write this post about Suffolk Swarm I realised that I don’t actually have a great deal to say about the organisation. For me that’s the very best thing I can say about the organisers of any sportive. Good word Cycle Swarm! I’m already looking forward to next year and hope to ride the Norfolk Swarm as well!
If you would like to see what Suffolk Swarm actually looks like have a watch of the video we made below.
Trek Road Bikes: The Best You Can Buy, In Almost Any Price Range
Trek Road Bikes are everywhere. Even casual riders are familiar with Trek, whether it’s from the company’s pioneering work in the field of carbon-fibre frames, the brand’s many celebrated racing successes, or the glowing reviews of these exquisite machines that make every rider dream of owning one.
What many don’t realise is that it isn’t necessary to be a world-class cyclist, or spend between £8500 and £10,500 for an Émonda SLR 9, a Madone 9.9 or a Domane SLR 9 Disc, to experience the exhilaration of owning a Trek. The company makes exceptional lines of road bikes built for every type of riding – racing, adventure and pleasure – in very reasonable price ranges that almost any cycling devotee can afford.
What Makes a Trek Road Bike So Special?
Start with engineering. Trek, of course, pioneered carbon-fibre frames using patented OCLV (Optimum Compaction, Low Void) technology; they utilized a special resin developed by NASA for the Space Shuttle to create the world’s lightest commercial bike framesets. OCLV limits the air bubbles inside the frame, making it faster and lighter than the TCT process used by many competitors to make carbon frames. And unlike those competitors, Trek still uses this technology today (at its own manufacturing facility, not outsourced to China or elsewhere), refined for even more speed and performance.
Trek’s higher-end road bikes all feature these industry-leading carbon-fibre frames. Many of the company’s more affordable models have aluminum frames, but it’s not the same inexpensive aluminum commonly seen on competitive bikes. Trek’s research and development team, along with experts in metallurgy, have created a new standard: Alpha Aluminum frames, not only light and surprisingly strong, but able to deliver performance comparable to some of the most popular carbon-fibre bikes on the market.
The Trek model number will tell you what combination of carbon-fibre and aluminium is used for the model; SL and SLR bikes have full carbon frames and forks, S bikes have the same but with an aluminium steerer, and ALR bikes have carbon forks and aluminium frames. All are exceptional choices in their respective price ranges.
The other engineering breakthrough that makes Trek the leader in road bikes is its development of IsoSpeed decouplers, in cooperation with Classics champion Fabian Cancellara. IsoSpeed is why Trek models are so compliant on rough and challenging terrain, yet more comfortable to ride over distances.
In a nutshell, Trek’s IsoSpeed goes in a different direction than the supposedly-improved suspensions or vibration dampers seen on competitors. The process decouples the top tube and seat tube, allowing the seat assembly to flex independently while the frame remains stiff and “one” with the road. That means a smoother and easier ride, since the fatigue of road riding isn’t transmitted to the rider. A Trek bike maintains the handling and power transfer a rider expects, but increases compliance dramatically.
The company continues to improve its IsoSpeed technology, adding IsoSpeed decouplers to the front of higher-level Domane models, while making the rear decouplers adjustable and adding IsoZone padding to its industry-leading E2 asymmetric steering handlebars. This makes these bikes even more balanced and comfortable to ride, and it’s another example of how Trek’s engineering is so far ahead of the competition.
Trek also meticulously selects the rest of the components on each of its road bikes, from Shimano derailleurs, shifters and chains, to its own highly-praised Bontrager Race handlebars, tubeless ready wheels and tyres. When combined the advanced design of these machines, shifting is flawless, handling and acceleration are outstanding and the ride is virtually effortless. It’s hard to believe how lightweight – and gorgeous – the whole package can be.
Choosing a Trek Road Bike
Trek makes three series of road bikes, all widely praised by reviewers and favoured by professionals. Before we take a closer look at each of the Trek road bike series let’s have a look at how these bikes perform in reviews. To make the table below we looked at the reviews for comparable, or very nearly comparable models on each website.
Trek Road Bike reviews
Madone The Madone is designed for racing, pure and simple. It’s designed for aerodynamic perfection and independent testing has shown it to be the fastest road bike available, yet it’s incredibly comfortable whether you’re in the middle of a difficult race stage or just out challenging your friends.
Since this is Trek’s signature racing line, you won’t find many models available that might be considered “reasonably-priced” for weekend warriors. The least expensive is the Madone 9.0, at £3500 – but oh, what a bike. The 600 OCLV carbon-fibre frame and fork, along with the IsoSpeed decoupler, provide the ultimate balance of weight, compliance and efficiency you won’t find in any other racing bike in its price range.
The imaginative design, from the KVF tube and fork (with carbon E2 steerer) to the positioning of the components (including brake cables that are run internally) make the handling and aerodynamics of the Madone nearly perfect. The drivetrain is Shimano Ultegra, the caliper brakes and tyres are Bontrager, the ride is soft, fast and responsive, and this beautiful machine looks like it belongs at the front of the pack. As we’ve already said – oh, what a bike. Find out more about the Trek Madone range…
Émonda The Émonda is many pros’ bike of choice for hilly terrain since it’s the lightest road bike that Trek produces. It rides like a dream on flatter terrain, but it climbs and descends as if you were simply tackling gradual inclines.
You’ll find eight models (not counting the ones designed specifically for women and children) of the Émonda in what might be called a “reasonable” price range for most amateur riders, £500 to £2000. At the low end is the £1000 Émonda ALR 4 and the ALR 6 is at the high end at £2000; each has an elegant look and performance that will amaze you. The framesets are 300 Series Alpha Aluminum with carbon E2 steerers, Shimano drivetrains and brakesets (Tiagra for the ALR 4, Ultegra for the ALR 6) and Bontrager rims, tyres (R1s for the ALR 4 and R2s for the ALR 6) and components.
The Trek Émonda was ridden by none other than the recently retired Alberto Contador, here’s what he had to say about his favourite bike. The video is in Spanish, but has English subtitles, and it is well worth watching.
Domane The Domane is also fast and able to tackle hills with confidence, but it is Trek’s best bike for endurance challenges. Combining IsoSpeed with Trek’s Endurance Geometry technology (for example, a head tube that’s slightly higher to increase stability), Domanes are able to glide over bumps, ruts and potholes without hesitation and they turn a ride over difficult terrain into a real pleasure, instead of a rider’s worst nightmare.
This Trek road bike series is considered by some to be the company’s “middle of the road” bike because it performs well for all types of riding, and it’s also the most accessible for those on a budget. There are nine models in our “reasonable” price range, from the £650 Domane AL 2 with a 100 Alpha Aluminum frame, to the £1900 Domane SL 5 fully loaded with a 500 Series OCLV carbon-fibre frame and front and rear IsoSpeed decouplers.
Despite the 8-speed AL 2’s low price, it’s still a great example of Trek’s technological know-how. It’s lightweight yet completely stable, featuring Shimano Claris and Bontrager components, dual-pivot brakes and a ride that will let you keep going comfortably for hours on any terrain. It’s an ideal “entry level” road bike.
In addition to IsoSpeed and the carbon frame and steerer of the 11-speed SL 5, the higher-level model includes many extra design feature you wouldn’t expect at anywhere near its price. An E2 tapered head tube, direct mount brakes with internal cabling, a Shimano 105 drivetrain and brakeset, flawless Bontrager components, a Ride Tuned seatmast, and even extra tyre clearance to accommodate the terrain you may encounter on a tough course. One more thing: whether you choose the SL 5 in matte dark blue with sky blue accents, or in charcoal with viper red accents, you’ll turn heads. Find out more about the Trek Domane range of bikes…
Trek Road Bikes – why you can’t go wrong
Trek has meticulously crafted a lightweight machine for every preferred type of road biking, with the very latest and advanced technology as well as striking good looks. Racing, climbing, endurance – there’s no question why world-class riders choose Trek, year after year.
The full range of Trek Road Bikes – massive comparison table.
Today was a fabulous commute, I was moving faster than any car, I took a route shorter than any car could take and I had a grin as wide as the Cheshire Cat as I cycled in serious smug mode. Why? Well I need to give you a short history lesson.
In 1985 we were listening to Jennifer Rush’s ‘Power of love’ and Huey Lewis and the News’ err… Power of Love. We were watching Micheal J Fox in ‘Back to the future’ and ‘Teen Wolf’ and Burton on Trent had just one road bridge crossing the River Trent, a River that splits the town in two, it was heavily congested. In the summer of ’85 a second ‘new bridge’ opened and soon it too was crazy busy and became clear it should have of been made four lane instead of two…..
St Peters bridge (as the ‘new bridge’ is properly called) now carries 24,000 vehicles a day… and today it shut for the next three months for essential maintenance… its thirty two years old and knackered. Strange the original bridge is nearly two centuries old and is closing next year for just two weeks again for essential maintenance… Modern bridge = 3 months, Victorian Bridge = 2 weeks. Work that out, because I can’t.
Today, the 24,000 vehicles joined the traffic that still uses the ‘Old Bridge’ or Burton Bridge…and to quote Phillips Madoc’s U-Boat Captain in Dads Army –
‘Nobody is moving….’
It was a complete shambles, Burton was gridlocked and so were the villages of Walton (five miles south of Burton) and Willington, (five miles north of Burton) both of which have river crossings. The local papers talked of four hour delays, and the schools aren’t even back yet
Me? I used a Joint Pedestrian/cycle bridge that I always use, it did seem a lot busier, it seems a lot of people who normally drive in walked and cycled,I hope they carry on when the road bridge reopens. It seemed at times though, I was on Blackpool Prom.
I cycle most days unless it’s raining and then I take our son to childminders to save him (and my wife) from getting wet. Unfortunately now I’m not even going to try and do the ten mile commute by car in the thirty minutes between the childminders opening time and my start time.
So three months of hundred mile a week commutes beckon… at least while I’m getting wet, I’ll be moving which is more than I would be in a car..
Mention Unicycling and most people think of comedy unicycling, clowns or jugglers, in fact there is a discipline within unicycling called comedy, but its just one of many styles. Freestyle is another style; a cross between ballet and figure skating on a unicycle. Another discipline is Mountain, which is self explanatory and then there is Street unicycling, which is a bit like Free Running but on a unicycle.
Big Street is the same, just more extreme. Like jumping off a five foot wall and twisting round 360 degrees, maybe 540 or the Holy Grail of Big Street Unicycling a 720 twist. To reiterate what this means to a non unicyclist…. Throw yourself off a wall (one you’d think twice about jumping off on foot) whilst sitting on a one wheeled bike with no brakes and spinning around twice before you hit the ground then cycling off.
They have been landed (a term used in unicycling for performing a trick and landing perfectly then continuing to cycle onwards) outside the U.K, but a perfect 720 according to unicycle sources has not been landed in the U.K with an independent witness or filmed.
Three people in the world have verified witnesses and footage of a 720 they are Max Shulze of America, Eddie Ducol of France and Edmund Luduc of Canada.
The man trying to be the first in the U.K is Ben Scott. The word amongst the Unicycling scene is that Ben is the man most likely to achieve it in the U.K. He’s got close and even has footage of attempts with the right amount of spin but with an awkward landing. He’s confident it will happen this summer… in the meantime his tricks are getting bigger and bolder.
A few weeks ago whilst stuck in a traffic jam for nearly two hours he and his two friends got their unicycles out of the boot and started performing tricks to amuse the stationery, hot, bored drivers. Dash-cam footage found its way on to the local papers website.
I won’t condone what he did, unicycling on a dual carriageway but I can see why he did it.
The other tricks he is working on are –
Front Flip, hurtling forward off a wall then throwing yourself forward off balance (think going over your bike handlebars) and flipping 360 degrees head over heels before landing a few feet below
Uniwhip, Jumping off the Unicycle and whilst in the air, flipping the bike 360 degrees top over tail underneath you, then landing back on it.
Unispin, Again jumping off the unicycle then spinning the bike around sideways as many times as you can before landing back on it, This is one of Ben’s regular tricks, he’s just trying to spin the bike faster with more rotations.
I managed to keep him still for five minutes and talk to him. If he isn’t on his unicycle, he’s on his mountain bike at Cannock Chase or hurtling the ten miles between his house and his girlfriends house on his Road Bike.
I joined Ben on one of his Road bike training rides, I managed to get several Strava personal bests while out with him. His confidence was frightening, filtering through gaps I was sure didn’t exist a second before (or after) he went through them, again not exactly something I would recommend but certainly impressive in a slightly scary way. I waited and went through larger more cycle friendly gaps, then belted at top speed to catch him up. He wasn’t slowing down and waiting for me… honest, okay he might have been but he has got nearly thirty years on me.
He’s currently riding his spare unicycle (is it his N+0.5?) as his bestie is being custom painted and he’s rebuilding its wheel on to a hub he’s glitter painted.
I have in the past toyed with the idea of buying a unicycle, I’ve even got as far as the correct pages on Amazon and Ebay (other buying websites are available) only to be stopped by an insistent wife… ‘But they’re only thirty quid’ I replied, ‘It’s not the money, it’s just you are the clumsiest person I know, please stick to two wheels’ she explained (perhaps in stronger terms.)
So cue the interview I had with Ben.
‘So’ he asked, ‘have you ever been on a unicycle?’ ‘Err, I thought I was asking the questions.’ ‘Well, have you?’
Ten seconds later I was sitting on his unicycle with hand on a nearby wall, I just couldn’t pluck up the courage to push off and go for it. The reason? I thought the phone call to my day job boss explaining the broken leg/arm/neck (delete as appropriate) could be an issue.
So I reluctantly got off and left the unicycling to the expert.
Ben got into Unicycling to upstage his brother who is a skateboarder, snow boarded and skis. Ben decided to go one better and started unicycling. His brother tried but couldn’t cut it. Ben found unicycling almost spiritual in the early days as it required so much concentration everything else was purged from the mind.
It was his form of meditation.
It hasn’t always been great fun; once at an event he had a catastrophic leg break that kept his leg in traction (and his Mum on a mattress on the floor next to him) at an hospital in very rural Wales for two weeks before he could be moved back to the Midlands. Did it stop him? What do you reckon? He was back on his unicycle in six months, against his Doctors advice of course.
The Unicon World Championships is where he wants to end up, Ben is one of only a handful of U.K. Riders skilful enough to possibly earn a place, unfortunately there is no big money sponsorship deals in the sport and the next event is in South Korea next year, so as a student, he doubts he will be attending.
He once won an open talent contest (singers, dancers, etc) sponsored by Fox’s biscuits. his prize? An awful lot of biscuits of course.
He’s often to be found at his local skate park or on Burton library steps, while he was at the latter he attracted the attention of both the library staff and a certain young lady, who is now his girlfriend, he has tried to get her unicycling but at the moment she is resisting his charms in that department.
I have warned him one day he will stop bouncing and start bruising. If you want to check out his skills have a look at the video and click the links.
I like to ride my bicycle. That much is clear. After all, that’s why I started VeloBalls. I like using my single speed for transport around town and I like bimbling around the Suffolk countryside on my geared bike. But what I really like is cycling adventures.
Recently I’ve been getting a bit fed up with the whole going in a circle of local rides and I’ve been itching to cycle on roads I haven’t ridden a hundred times before. I quite like sportives, but paying good money to cycle the same roads I ride for free is losing it’s appeal.
Riding with large groups of people is great, but sportives can occasionally get a bit competitive and Critical Mass rides aren’t very easy for me to get to. So to summarise I think it’s fair to say my cycling had hit a rut. Albeit not a literal rut (thankfully).
Earlier this year my London-based cycling companion (and VeloBalls contributor) Sam asked if I fancied doing some cycling on the continent. I asked which one, he replied ‘Europe’ and I figured why the hell not. This wouldn’t be cycling for the sake of cycling, we would be attending a punk rock festival called Brakrock in Belgium.
I think most British cyclists know the tales of how the cycle paths in Holland are paved with gold, so I wanted to take a look for myself. Well not gold perhaps, that would be slippery, but certainly if the rumours were true they are paved to a gold standard.
There are many reasons that the Netherlands appears to be a haven for cyclists. Those reasons can partly be explained by facts. My favourite fact is that there are more bicycles in Holland than there are people. 17.1 million people live in the Netherlands, and there an estimated 22.5 million bikes. The people of Holland don’t just like their bikes, they are the N+1 personified.
The miles and the damage done. It’s really easy to agree to a long bike ride when it’s set for a faraway date. The ride was shaping up to be 80 miles from the Hook of Holland to Antwerp, then another 8 or 9 miles from where we were staying to the festival. It may sound like a humblebrag, but I’m kinda okay with doing 80 miles on a bike. I’ll feel it, and it will be tough, but it’s just about inside my comfort zone.
I’ve done rides that were around the 150 mile mark, like the year I rode the Dunwich Dynamo and got lost. But the most hardcore rides I’ve done have had an element of external pressure on them. The Dunwich Dynamo is through the night and the last few sportives I’ve done have been beset by foul weather and too many hills in the last few miles (when my legs are blown). The last long ride I did (90 miles from London Liverpool Street to Ipswich) was spoiled to a certain extent by heavy motor traffic. This turned what should be a leisurely ride into what felt like a death race against too many impatient drivers. You know the type, they’ll patiently wait behind you for a hundred yards or so before getting frustrated and squeezing past you despite the oncoming traffic. No fun.
So the prospect of 80 miles on flat roads, with no hills, in a country where the population doesn’t just tolerate cyclists (because they are cyclists) was very appealing. But as the date of the adventure drew closer I started to get a bit anxious about whether I could hack not just one ride, but two long rides with a punk rock festival in the middle. I don’t ride as often as I would like, but then I guess that applies to all cyclists. After all, we need jobs to buy food and bike parts. But I wanted to not just survive this ride, I wanted to ace it. Unfortunately a series of mild injuries dented my preparation, but I was determined to ride in style. Well, as much style as a gentleman of my stature can muster while crammed into Italian lycra and balancing on a thin bike.
The original plan was for Sam to join me in at my home in Ipswich. We would then cycle ten miles to nearby Shotley, and then catch the foot ferry across the mouth of the River Stour and Orwell to the Port of Harwich. But unfortunately the foot ferry didn’t work out so we took the train to Harwich.
Getting onto the ferry was very simple. We tied up our bikes below deck, along with about fifty other cyclists, and headed to our tiny cabin for a good night’s sleep. The ferry left at 11pm and arrived at the Hook of Holland at 8am. I have no idea why the crossing took so long, it certainly doesn’t look very far on a map. But hey, you’re not reading this post for details on shipping.
Cycling in Holland, the reality. You will probably get a strong feel for what cycling in Holland is like from the first thing I’m going to tell you about it. Out of the 80 miles we planned to travel only a small handful of miles would be on standard roads. I say ‘standard’ by way of explaining that these few miles would involved cycling on roads that also have motor vehicles on. This may seem like a strange point to make, but a lot of the cycle paths in Holland are as big as standard roads here in the UK.
The majority of cycle paths we used were smooth concrete or cheerfully coloured tarmac. But just as many of the routes were made up of brick paving, rough tiles or even cobbles.
It was great being so far away from motor traffic, but it only took a few miles to realise that I was probably on the wrong sort of bike for Holland. My 23mm tires and sportive geometry frame was quite uncomfortable for many of the rougher paths. We saw almost no road bikes during our time in either Holland or Belgium, almost everyone rides either mountain bikes or ‘sit up and beg’ style bikes.
Sam was riding a very tasty Titanium framed bike he had just built. I was riding a Bianchi frame I found on ebay for £30, surrounded by and mis-matched assortment of bits and bobs, some of which came from the spares boxes of the legendary Ipswich Bike Doctor (Kevin, to his friends).
I was glad I had some bombproof Mavic Askium wheels considering the beating my bike was taking. I’ve ridden Askium on both my bikes for years, partly due to their extreme toughness (in my experience). But the bike roads of Holland were too much for them. A few miles before the end of our weekend of cycling I got a pinch puncture that also thwacked away a fair chunk off my rear rim.
While the roads are not quite akin to the pavé of the Paris-Roubaix, they’re not far off. The biggest mistake I made for the first 80 miles of the weekend was not wearing chamois creme. I won’t go into details, not just to save your blushes, but also to save me from remembering the visceral sensation of my poor battered ring. For the record Sam’s Mavic Ksyrium remained unscathed throughout the whole trip.
The generous number of cycle routes through Holland wasn’t the biggest surprise to me. I was expecting them. What came as a pleasant shock was just how well thought out the routes are at places where they cross paths with motorised traffic. When a cycle route crosses a road junction the cyclists have priority and motorists are obliged to give way. This was great enough, but what really struck me was how cool the motorists were with this arrangement.
Perhaps it’s because so many motorists in the Netherlands are probably also cyclists. Therefore maybe they have a greater affinity and empathy with cyclists than some motorists in the UK have. In the Netherlands cycling is the norm. Here in the UK one would be forgiven for assuming the population assumes cycling is something only children do. Perhaps cycling is seen as a phase that everyone goes through before they can legally drive, at which point they abandon cycling for their cars.
The space given to us as cyclists in Holland extended beyond mere legal obligation on the part of the drivers. At one point I became separated from Sam when he crossed a dual carriageway. The driver of the car that came between us actually stopped and ushered me across so I could rejoin Sam. Not only was I very grateful (because Sam had the map), I was also forced to realise that I don’t think I’ve ever seen similar behaviour on British roads.
A lot of roundabouts that were shared with road users had an additional, segregated, ring around them just for cyclists. Where the cycling roundabout crossed the road, you guessed it; the drivers gave way.
The cycling infrastructure in Holland appears to be set up to keep cyclists moving. Anyone who has experienced the relentless stop – start of cycling in London knows that here in the UK the opposite appear to be the case. Cyclists can be made to feel like they’re getting in the way, even though with a lot of urban cycling it is in fact motorists who impede the progress of cyclists, not the other way around. In Holland it appears that cycling is very much encouraged over driving. A theory perhaps shored up by the relatively high price of petrol and diesel in Dutch petrol stations.
The only downside to cycling in such a flat country is that the headwinds can be brutal. I’ve done a bit of cycling in the Fens of Cambridgeshire so thought I would be prepared for what the locals call ‘Dutch Mountains’. I was wrong. Holland makes the Fens look like the Alps.
Unrelenting headwinds are demoralising. They’re not so bad if you’re riding in a large group of cyclists, but if there’s only two of you they can crush your spirit. The winds got stronger, or were noticed more acutely, the more rural the route became.
By the time we reached the massive bridge over the River Haringvliet both Sam and I had passed the point of grinning and bearing it. We were in danger of being broken. I remember looking at the trees being whipped around and the grasses on the verge being thrashed and being grateful for their cover from the wind. When we shoved ourselves onto the Haringvliet bridge we had almost no protection at all. I rode as close as I could to the concrete wall that separated us and the motorway traffic. The noise and filth was terrible, but it was worth tolerating for just a tiny bit of respite from the winds that were pushing us backwards. Looking back at the footage from the Garmin Virb on my handlebars we were doing well if we reached 9mph.
By the time we had crossed the bridge I told Sam I desperately needed a rest, by shouting as many expletives as I could muster, which was a lot. He replied that he also would enjoy a few minutes of not pushing his face into what felt like a gale force wind. His language was also creative and possibly Anglo Saxon in origin.
I slowed down and gently bunny hopped over a kerb onto a grass verge. Unfortunately I bunny hopped right into a hole and promptly went over the handlebars. I was lucky to escape with just a bit of road (or rather grass) rash. I also managed to move one of my brakes. I knew I wasn’t badly hurt, but stayed half clipped in and under my bike for a few minutes. Bloodied but unbowed, and glad to be laying down.
If it wasn’t for the unrelenting and brutal headwinds in Holland the whole experience would have been a total joy. The best average speed I’ve ever managed on a 100 mile ride was 19.4mph. The average speed for the 92 miles (we got lost, which accounts for the extra 12) was a measly 12.59mph. But this wasn’t just caused by the headwinds, or the fact I’m older and fatter than when I did the speedy 100. A contributing factor to the low average speed was that a lot of the cycle paths through urban areas are quite tight and winding it’s just not possible to go so fast.
Cycling in Belgium – the reality. There was very little indication that we had crossed the border from Holland to Belgium. We were hoping for a large sign, like the ones that you find when entering towns. A sign would have given us a neat photo opportunity. What we did notice was that the cycling infrastructure wasn’t quite as good. By UK standards it was still outstanding, but the surfaces weren’t quite as well maintained, and the junctions over main roads weren’t quite as smooth. In Holland we just rode over junctions. If there was occasion to stop and press a button in order to halt traffic it took no time at all. There were even tall poles for us to hold onto while we waited, so we didn’t need to unclip or dismount. But in Belgium we had to stop at most junctions, and wait just a little bit longer. A small inconvenience, but one worth noting. In urban areas a lot of the cycle paths were on pavements. They were clearly marked, and on the whole pedestrians stayed out of them. But they just didn’t feel as glorious as the entirely segregated cycle paths of Holland, which on the whole were nowhere near roads or sidewalks.
By the time we were deep into Belgium the constant bone rattling of the lumpy cycle paths started to take it’s toll on my ancient steed. The drive side crank shaft worked loose. This was particularly stressful because cycling on a loose crank kills it. In fact it not only marks the death of the crank, it can also destroy the bottom bracket. This kind of damage at this stage of the ride would have forced us to abandon.
I’m particularly fond of the drivetrain on my old bike. The crank and derailleur are Dura Ace. Admittedly they are very old Dura Ace, and on the rear only eight of the nine gears are accessible, but it’s something special. At least to me. The crank and BB are held in place by a single bolt, unlike modern systems, hence the severity of what was happening. By a stroke of luck we passed a big posh bike shop who were more than happy to tighten my crank at zero cost. When I told the nice chap that we had cycled from the Hook of Holland he stood back and looked my bike over. His response was to say ‘you came all that way on this? These parts are very old!’. Cheeky.
Everyone we were fortunate enough to interact with in Belgium was really friendly. At one point we had run out of water and it appeared that all the shops were shut. Sam had the bright idea of asking at the local ambulance station if we could use their taps. They had no problem with it. In fact I got the impression that it was fairly normal for cyclists to knock on their door and ask for water.
Bike Punx. After a carefully measured number of Belgian beers we retired to a really nice Air BnB place (this one). The owner of the place offered us the use of his old tandem to make our way to the festival. Following some fairly disastrous attempts at riding it up and down the street we politely declined and borrowed a couple of sit up and beg bikes. After the pommeling my arse took the day before I was glad of the large cushioned seat. Sam wanted to borrow a very cool looking cruiser bike, until the owner pointed out that it was a little girls bike. To be fair to Sam that didn’t put him off, why would it. But in the end he decided on function over form and borrowed a sit up and beg bike.
The eleven kilometers to the festival was comfortable and uneventful. Like a lot of the cycle routes we took it was alongside a mainline railway. Once we’d gotten over the shock of express trains hammering past at incredible speeds we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The ride to and from the festival was the only cycling we did in ‘normal’ clothes, and it felt kinda cool fitting in with the locals.
The Brakrock EcoFest festival itself was brilliant. We locked our bikes up along with many other bikes that were scattered throughout the small wood that was the venue. Although thinking back I think ours may have been the only bikes that were locked. Because this is a cycling site, not a punk rock site I won’t write a full review of the festival, but watching the short video below will give you a good idea of what it was like.
Due to the fact we left the festival well past midnight we had some consternation about cycling home in the dark. I dearly love the Dunwich Dynamo but having done large chunks of it in near total darkness (after cheap lights have crapped out) I wasn’t looking forward to the prospect of cycling back to Antwerp in the dark. We had also made ourselves fairly familiar with the wares of the beer tent. We needn’t have worried. Despite the fact a big chunk of the ride home was rural, the cycle paths were lit the entire way. Nice one Belgium.
In conclusion. By the end of the weekend we had cycled 192 miles. And if the ride from the Hook to Antwerp was one of the toughest I’d ridden, the ride back was one of the easiest. Apart from that pinch puncture.
If you’ve got even a passing interest in cycling in Holland I heartily recommend you give it a go. The ferry was reasonably priced and remarkably comfortable, the locals were friendly and the cycle routes were fantastic. The only issue I’ve returned home with is the burning desire to buy a proper Audax or touring bike for the next time I visit the continent.
Other things I learned cycling in Holland and Belgium.
Mopeds are allowed to use most of the cycle paths, but the vast majority of riders are very considerate and careful when passing cyclists. Possible due to the fact that so few of them wear helmets.
Almost nobody in Holland or Belgium wears either lycra or a helmet.
I shot the video below this morning. I record my rides, not so much to glorify my riding (slow & inelegant) but because I love to film the countryside around where I live in Suffolk. This morning I was descending what passes for a hill around here and a motorist gave me a bit of a fright. I’m not posting this video to moan about the driver in question, but because I think some motorists don’t understand why close passing is so dangerous.
If you see a cyclist in ‘tuck’, meaning they are leaning hard over their bike, rather than sitting in a usual riding position it’s because they are trying to get out of the wind. The problem with doing this is that it means controlling the bike is a little more challenging. But within a safe margin. Getting a close pass can give cyclists a fright, and a fright can leave to a physical jolt. A sudden shift in body posture or even a tightening of the arm muscles that getting a fright can have lethal consequences for cyclists.
Over about 25mph, especially if we are ‘tucked in’ the level of concentration needed and the fine motor controls required to stay safe exist within a very narrow margin. It’s more or less safe, as long as we don’t get the shit put up us by a close pass from a vehicle. We’re concentrating on not hitting pot holes or other road detritus. We’re watching the oncoming traffic. If there are pedestrians in the mix we’re watching every single one of them, because they can be unpredictable.
Cars these days are a lot quieter on the road than they used to be. With the wind whistling around our bikes and rushing through our helmets (or hair) we may not even know we have a car behind us. We simply can’t here a lot of modern cars. In the video you can see that I moved to the middle of the lane on several occasions during the descent. This isn’t just to find the safest line through a corner, it’s also to try and show any motorists who are behind me that now is not a good time to risk passing me.
The car that passed me had to swerve back in front of me as soon as he / she had passed, further complicating my attempts to safely ride my bike. If a car that passes me hits oncoming traffic there will be a catastrophic outcome. The chances are the people in the cars, protected by crumple zones and airbags will probably live. I will not. Just a few moments later I get passed by a silver car, which gives me more space, but again has to swerve to avoid oncoming traffic. I removed the sound from the video because it’s terrible quality, but the driver of the oncoming car gave a fair blast of their horn.
So please motorists, I will continue to do everything I can to use the roads safely, but I do need a little more consideration from some of you.
P.S Bike cams have very wide angle lenses, this pass was a lot closer than it looks!
In the aforementioned article I mentioned that I would love a go…. well, the In-laws for my last birthday called my bluff and bought me gift vouchers for stage 1 accreditation.
So a few weeks ago I found myself hurtling round a 44 degree wooden banking, whilst on a bike with no brakes and a fixed wheel and I loved every second. Okay I’ll admit I was scared, but exhilarated at the same time and the adrenaline rush was very real.
Whilst no one had an off, it was certainly not easy and the track needs to be treated with the respect it deserves, I did feel a bit like ‘Fat lad at the back’ at times though. There were two reasons for this, firstly I don’t think my fitness level was as high as some of the group, some were sporting time trialling and triathlon logos on their shirts and I tend to bimble along on my commute. The other reason was, I haven’t done any club riding so I’m not used to riding on the wheel of the rider in front and it just felt wrong to me.
If you have a velodrome reasonably near you, then think about having a go, because ‘it’s cycling (Jim) but not as we know it….’ I did pass level 1 and was invited to book level 2, I’m going to get fitter and faster then re-do level 1 to gain more confidence of group riding as they get you even closer on level 2.
Whilst belting around the very top of the banking (yes we did go right up!) I was thinking something along the lines of…’I have a job I have to go to on Monday and a mortgage the size of a house (see what i did there?) so why the flip am I risking injury when I don’t need to?
Because sometimes you have to take life by the handlebars and ride to the extreme….
No I’m not trying a dodgy chat up line on you, I’m just wondering what your mileage is for the year.
In the past I’ve hit 3300 for the year not bad as commute was only a 15 mile round trip but last year due to covering sites elsewhere for a few months and having to use a company vehicle to do so I only managed 1800 odd miles.
This year in a new job with a 20 mile commute I set myself a target of 3000 miles, with a few leisure rides I thought it would be a breeze.. So half way in to the year, how am I doing?
Err, not very well. It seem fate is trying to keep me off my bike.
A twisted ankle followed by a knackered knee (This has been covered in slippery when dry) an eye infection (again covered in my prescription cycling glasses review) and finally a bout of acute badbackanitus has kept my mileage to 900 so far.
So I metaphorically kicked myself up the arse and thought about school report comments of the past… ‘must do better’
So…. On Saturday we popped in to see some friends and got chatting (some of the chatting involved a possible LEJOG!!! maybe more about that in the future…) Anyway our respective Sons got talking and decided they were having an impromptu sleepover, Our friends were like ‘whatever’ as their daughter had two friends stopping over, what’s another child… So we lent our ten year old to them and drove off… quickly.
Fast forward to Sunday morning and I figured a lie in was in order, however my wife had other ideas and announced she was going to do some painting at 7.30 A.M… (that’s decorating not art) One thing my darling wife isn’t is lazy.
And I figured I stood more chance of Elon Musk calling to ask me to command the first manned mission to Mars than spending another two hours peacefully in bed. So I got up and got a cheeky 15 miler in . Not a massive mileage I’ll admit but more than I’d managed for a while.
This week (Its probably at least last week as you reading this) I’m trying to get a full five days commute and a day off ride of at least twenty five miles in. Don’t think I’ll be able to pull my mileage back on line for the 3000 but might get to 2500… and next year well I’ll possibly be training for that LEJOG in 2019.
I’d never given prescription cycling glasses a thought before as I, until recently had worn contact lenses for nearly thirty years, I started wearing them in my early teens, honest! Okay it may have been VERY early twenties, but definitely no later than that.
Unfortunately after a painful eye infection I was advised to cut down my wear time from fourteen hours a day, seven days a week to no more than eight hours a day once or twice a week. I took the difficult decision to stop using contacts entirely; I couldn’t see the point of such short wear time.
After open wallet surgery for two pairs of vari-focals I then turned to the problem of cycling glasses. I have always ridden with cycling glasses, whether dark lenses, clear lenses or yellow night lenses. I hated dust and bugs in my eyes, especially when I used contact lenses. I tried cycling in my normal glasses and hated it, they were not suited to the purpose and the thought of an accident and my glasses flying through the air sent shivers down my spine.
With a reluctant ‘yes’ from my wife I started to look round for suitable cycling eye wear. I looked longingly at the big names, prescription insert (a small prescription frame attached behind plain interchangeable lenses) Oakleys and Rudy Projects were both pipe dreams and direct glazed (prescription lenses fitted into frame) budget tinted options seemed ugly and would be useless for winter commutes.
After trawling around the web I found the Base-Camp glasses by FreeMaster. These FreeMaster glasses have interchangeable lens and blank prescription inserts that you get glazed at your own opticians.
I read the few short reviews under the product description and decided at £16.99 they were worth a punt, so I popped them in my virtual basket. Amazon then wanted to charge me £4 on top for delivery. So I used the ‘add on item’ search to take the value over £20 free delivery threshold and found a Pyrex jug for £3.50… so I got the jug and the glasses for fifty pence less than just the glasses (plus postage charge), go figure! You’ve got to love Amazon.
FreeMaster Base-Camp glasses – what’s in the box? On their arrival I checked the glasses over and I was very happy with the quality of them. The package consisted of the following:
Rigid zip case
Six interchangeable lenses (Dark tint, Bronze tint, Yellow tint, blue tint, Mirrored tint, Polarised and clear.)
Two straps (one ‘normal’ string strap and a goggle type that replaces the arms)
All the lenses carry a U.V sticker indicating they exceeded the specification required for sale in the U.K. I assume as Amazon supply the product from their own warehouse then this information is accurate.
Getting glazed. I took the the insert to a local optician Faye Newman at Personal-Eyez in Swadlincote. If you’re curious you can find her on either Facebook or Instagram.
Faye offered to fit the prescription lenses into the glasses for a very reasonable £35 . The service and product I received from them was fantastic. Turn around was less than a week and Faye clipped the inserts into the glasses to make sure of the fit, even though she hadn’t supplied the frame or the empty insert herself.
FreeMaster glasses – on the road. I have been using the glasses for a week now and I am really happy with them. The mirrored and dark lenses come with top vents to stop fogging when you stop at lights etc. The other four lenses don’t, I can’t work out why this is the case.
The glasses sit securely on my head and comfortably around my nose. Whilst the edges of the insert can be seen out of the corner of my eye, they are in no way obtrusive. The wrap around style of the outer lens keep out bugs and dust as well as any ‘plain’ cycling glasses I’ve owned ever have. I am currently using the mirror tint outers as they hide the insert, it can look a bit like you are wearing goggles underneath if you use the other outers, no big issue for me, but just looks better if the prescription parts are obscured. I will still be happy with the overall look when I change to the clear or yellow lenses for winter commutes.
The case is a rigid one and can hold all the lenses and straps etc.
Conclusion. Overall I’m amazed with the quality of the product for a total price of around £50 (including locally sourced prescription lenses) and would recommend them. If you are on the search for a similar item, you could spend a lot more money and achieve nothing more than a ‘name’ on the frame arms.
And if you are wondering if I’m happy with the jug then….. err…… it’s a jug what more can I say about it.
For this edition I thought I’d try to give some practical advice regarding breakfast and not my usual random mueslis. Sorry I’ve still got breakfast on my mind. I mean random musings. So I’ve actually done some research. Honestly, I have promise.
Normal pace cycling burns around three hundred to four hundred calories per hour, so a ten to fifteen mile commute each way, will burn approximately the above amount of calories on a round trip.
Carbohydrates have had a bad press in the last decade, but we do need them as they convert to fuel.
So here’s some pointers towards your breakfast options.
White bread contains carbohydrates but the body converts them to energy quite quickly so whilst good for short term exercise a longer commute could leave you hungry later at work.
Wholemeal bread also contains fibre that slows down the conversion of the carbohydrates to energy so it takes two to three hours to take effect, so whilst not that effective to provide energy an your commute, it will help you later in the morning.
Porridge and muesli, these again have lots of fibre so similar effects to wholemeal bread.
Jams and fruit contain energy in the form of sugar so these can help with the commute.
I myself have toast usually a slice of white and two slices of wholemeal to combine the benefits of short term and long term gain of both types of bread.
You could add fruit to your muesli or jam to wholemeal bread to get a similar effect. I sometimes eat a banana when I arrive at work to give me some energy back, so I don’t get hungry mid morning.
An energy gel or bar isn’t really a good idea as a breakfast substitute as they contain a ‘hit’ of carbohydrates more suited to a sportive i.e. Over an hour of fast paced riding rather than in my case a 14 mph ambling commute.
And my breakfast option if use the car? Well a ‘Drive Thru’ is often involved but that’s another story.