Archive for September, 2008

No. 20 – DIY Golders Green – 220 Km

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

Overall – an enjoyable ride, but some inevitable issues have cropped up.

Let’s start from the start. 6 am is NOT a very pleasant starting time this time of the year, but waking up to a complete and dense fog and total darkness is not my idea of a fun day out. It was miserable. Cold, wet, and just yak. Not only does the fog prevent me from seeing properly ahead – and prevents other drivers from seeing ME too – having my glasses all misting up and dripping minutes after I wiped them dry is quite disheartening. So for the first THREE hours (way beyond the sunrise time) I was cycling in that appalling weather condition. For a short time I actually saw the sunshine – when I was at the top of a ‘hill’ (just 240 meters above sea level), but as soon as I descended the fog engulfed me again. I think it was around 10:30 when the fog finally dispersed. Weather-wise all was well after that time, but I did lose quite a lot of time during the first few hours, both going slower than normal and frequently stopping.

At Aylesbury I was pleased to have switched from one petrol station to another (Esso), which not only provides a decent cup of cappuccino but also has Toilets!! So I had a nice break there. Moving on, all was fine until about 4 Km before the Markyate village. Unexpectedly, my GPS told me that I have to turn left. OK – I usually obey my GPS but this time it was clear that this is NOT a road, not even something resembling a road. It would be best described as a narrow path, clearly intended for pedestrian and POSSIBLY cyclists. Well, the weather was (by then) good and I was in a much better mood so I decided to ‘brave’ it. It was good fun, easy going and after about 2 Km I hit the road again. That made me think of how did I get to be directed this way – it never happened before. So now you will be reading, if you care to persevere, about the subject so close to my heart – the GPS and route mapping.

OK – so the basic is simple: I create a route and I download it to my Edge. It then keep an eye on me and my position and if I deviate 0 it beeps on me and brings me back to the straight and narrow. So far – so good.

The first hurdle is thus plotting the route on a map. There seem to be a large number of web sites that allow you to do so online. I think most, if not all, of them are based on Google Maps and their published API. Here is the list of the sites that I am aware of from my bookmarks:


At first I was very enthusiastic and learned the (sometimes odd) interface quite happily. Alas, with some use, few glaring problems started to emerge:

1. ‘Follow the road’ facility, whereby you click on a point further down the road and the software links your current end point to the new end point via existing roads is NOT universally available. Some programs expect you to ‘draw’ the route yourself.
2. When ‘follow the road’ exists, it would ignore minor roads and insist on taking you round and round the place, instead of getting there in the shortest possible way. In such cases one has to go as far as the program allows then switch OFF the ‘auto route’ facility and draw the lines over the minor roads and resume ‘auto routing’ once the course hits a respectably large road.
3. The programs have different degrees of easiness in placing ‘marks’ along the way, such as where controls are to be, rests are to be taken or anything else of importance. It’s nice if you can do it – but one can live without them.
4. If you decide to ‘retract’ and try another route WHILE you create one, it takes forever to ‘undo’ your previous moves. With routes having thousands of points you have to literally click as many times to ‘erase’ the last entries in turn. It is REALLY a painful experience. The only exception I found is ‘bike route toaster’ which keeps the locations you CLICKED on and backtracks to them. that place instantaneously. It is an amazing relief – in comparison. I prefer the site for just that reason.
5. The ‘killer’ problem is making corrections after you have SAVED the route. Here even the celebrated ‘bike route toaster’ falls flat. You can make changes, but it will not follow the route and I couldn’t find a way to make it work seamlessly. Needless to say, ‘undoing’ the route up the place where I wish to make a small change was not an option.

So what does work fine? Well, not surprisingly perhaps – the good old original Google Maps!

It has the big advantage of ‘drag and drop’ functionality. You pick up any point on the route and as you move it to another location, the route changes so that the course includes the new location. It’s just great! Moreover, while building the route with all the other online tools you get to know the full length only once you have finished the plotting (by which time you may realise that it is either too short – too long – or just about right (one does get lucky occasionally). With Google Maps you have full visibility of the length at ALL TIMES and any change is immediately reflected. Finally, Google introduced ‘walking’ as a transport mode, in addition to ‘car’. What this mode does is to to find the absolute shortest route between the designated points, using any available path (but not just going in a straight line crossing ‘everything’ arbitrarily. It is as damn near to ‘cycling’ as possible. So here is what I do now:

– I meticulously create my course in google maps. See for example my route for the next ride (near identical to the one I just did).
– I then use the nifty utility to convert the map to a GPX file – GMapToGPX (use the ‘full’ option for best results)
– Having saved the file, I upload it to the bike route toaster, which also looks up the elevation data and creates route ‘profile’ + calculates what is the total elevation
– Finally I upload the TCX file to my Edge – all ready to go!

OK – so now that you have all this wonderfully useful and informative knowledge fully absorbed – what’s the point? Ah, well, the point is that the route that Google maps creates in the above manner is TRULY of pedestrians! That means that on three separate occasions during my last ride I faced the prospect of going via non cycle path towards my destination. The firs tone, which I mentioned above, was the most pleasant one. The other were less so. One of them was a dirt road up the mountain (forget it!), the next asked me to cross a 2 meter barbed wire fence (yeah right)and the last one took me down a beautiful valley in what seemed to be a respectable, albeit little used, road. That turned out to be a very unpleasant, bumpy and full of stones ride, which turned into walking up the hill when the cycle just would not hold its own in the slippery surface. So now I know to be more careful, and am trying to avoid the clearly ‘for hikers only’ alleys.

The certificate:

No. 19 – DIY Temple Fortune – 205 Km

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

So this was a strange one. Overall, I felt very good and I was going at a very good pace. In fact, I was going the fastest ever for such a distance (18.4 Km/h). Yet – I think I flopped it and arrived 15 minutes after the very last deadline. Pathetic, right? It’s all to do, of course, in me taking BREAKS and LOOOOOONG ones too!

Some of the breaks I can, sort of, excuse. One has to stop for bare necessities, be it putting organic material and liquid into the body and allowing the remains of the above leave the body in peace. Well, one can make a dance and a song of every such occasion but I don’t think I did…

I did stop for other reasons. For example, I must have spent at least 20 minutes trying to sort out a very faint noise from my front wheel. For some reason I get totally incest by the slightest noise from my bike. Anything that merely HINTS at one part rubbing unnecessarily against another is driving me spares. I know it’s not rational, but in my mind I see how the bike is falling into total disrepair and disintegrates any minute now. So I must sort it out – right? Well, I didn’t and at the end I just had to continue as is.

The noise was, as I said, faint to start with, but then it became occasional and finally I don’t think it was on at all – so – I don’t know.

I got up really early, like 05:45, trying to do the vast majority of the way during light time and not get back in the dark. You can appreciate that I failed there too 🙂

Last time I decided that I am using too busy roads on my way back and decided to find an alternative route, which should also, as an added bonus, spare me the ‘massive’ Maswell Hill towards the end. I certainly managed to avoid the latter with my new route, but the roads I have chosen were even busier that my previous week! Well, perhaps not OBJECTIVELY busier, but as they were rural and isolated and narrow (that’s how I have chosen them), the speeding cars that zoomed by in abundance left me feeling very uncomfortable and unsafe. I think I’ll go back to my previous routes. They may have been busier – but the road ALLOWED for it so it was not so scary.

I also managed to lose TWO water bottles – both in the same irritating way. The first one I lost on the very big descend towards Eylesbury. Trouble was, the road was in an appalling condition and my bike was jumping up and down like a rodeo machine. In one of the huge jumps my water bottle dislodged itself and got knocked against the pavement with such a force that it split open. I stopped (with great difficulty) climbed back and drank from it whatever I could – and left it there.

The second incident was very similar: Nice descent with highly irritating and strategically placed bumps. They were small and you had to REALLY slow to avoid being catapulted to the sky. I didn’t. So my next bottle has gone the same way as the first. I drank as much as I could and vowed to PAY ATTENTION on such roads.

Finally – I managed to get my Cadence to be approaching the golden 60. OK 57 is not quite there yet, but compared to the 51 and 53 this is pretty cool. I now manage to get even 66 and 67 during my commuting journeys, so I am quite sure I’ll do better next time. And next time means THIS Saturday.

I checked again what would it take for me to do the LEL and after considerable effort and working out distances times and permutations to those elements I ended up with a 14 hours deficit. That’s not good at all, and unless I can recover from a 300 Km journey in 4 hours or so I don’t see how I can make it. The whole thing looks plainly unachievable for me. I need to do an average of 20Km/h while riding and take no more than 30 minutes for each 100 Km in breaks – so if I manage 200 Km in 11 hours – then I would probably be OK. I am nowhere near it.

The certificate:

No. 18 – DIY Temple Fortune – 212 Km

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

It was a good ride – albeit somewhat slower than I expected and for no obvious reason. Just did not have enough energy… I climbed about 2000m, most notably the climb at Whipsandale. Interestingly it always seems that the downhill after a hard climb is not nearly as rewarding as I would have expected (or liked) it to be! It’s too short!!!

Nothing much happened of significance. I was not hurting anywhere in particular and the route was good (more about it later), the weather was good (not too cold – but not too hot either!

The GPS was as always just great. It’s the kind of thing that once you get accustomed to there is great pain in not having it. Tells me my position, tells me my route, tells me my speed, cadence, heart rate – the lot! It can also tell me (took me a while to master that aspect) how much longer do I need to climb to get to the top of the hill. This is SO GOOD when I am puffing and huffing and thinking all sorts of morbid thought as to why am I doing it and gee this is REALLY hard and when the hack this climb will end for pete’s sake and such like. So now I know – and it is really comforting to take the struggle with the unknown out of the equation.

Now the route was good, but it had too many busy sections. Busy as in – far too much traffic and far too fast cars! It’s really quite hard to predict by just looking at the map which road is going to be so busy, and it is also quite deceiving as to how long it takes to cover a busy section. On the map is a mere centimeter, but in reality it’s few Kms, and a real pain. I know how to cycle in traffic, I do it all the time in London, and I am VERY visible (with lights all over and a very bright yellow jacket on at all times) so I overall OK – but still it’s not pleasant. So I went through the route again and tried to minimise those sections to the bare minimum. While at it I also decided to cut out the big climb at Whipsandale and also to remove the ‘shortcut’ which in reality turned out to be a private road which I did not feel I should go through.

On the plus side, though, I somehow managed to map my route through some of the most isolated and rural roads I have been to, with streams crossing my path from time to time and a lot of trees – absolutely lovely. I am hoping to do the nearly identical route this weekend so I can ‘learn’ it a bit more and be less apprehensive as to where and when is my next turn.

I have already prepared a thoroughly researched 300 Km ride but I am really not sure when I am going to do it. It will take me the good part of 20 hours, which means riding in the dark for quite some time at this time of the year. Hmmm… don’t know…

Since I received the Cadence sensor I have been trying to make myself go faster. It is really hard – I am almost constantly on the 53-54 mark on the average. I must get to 60+ to be able to improve my speed. So I am training to do so during my commuting sections and I think I have had a breakthrough – having achieved about 64 both ways! This is very promising and I’ll try to keep it up. For some reason I thought that I need to feel ‘resistance’ when I pedal, otherwise I am just ‘treading water’. This is, of course, nonsense and I can clearly see that pedaling faster at a lower gear makes me go faster than pedaling slower at a high gear. It also feels much less of an effort – although I suspect my heart rate does go higher.

So this weekend I hope to do another 200 Km. I really enjoy it I must say.

The certificate:

No. 17 – Alan Furley’s Up the Downs – 200 Km

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

It was certainly up. and up. and upppp…

Overall I climbed a lot – some 2300 meters. Some of the ascends were so steep that my heart went boom budiboom budiboom (up to 175 bpm) and I had to go in hairpin rounds to climb higher. Luckily the road was closed to all vehicles so I was not afraid that an incoming car will knock me down.

I had my Edge set to record a lap every 25Km – I did not mean to but I forgot the settings from my last AUDAX so I let it be. That means that I now have 8 chapters in my saga that tell a very telling story. My average Km/h speed was (rounded) 21, 20, 18, 17, 14, 13, 16, 18. Right – so what does it tell me? That I was totally and completely exhausted in the 125-150 section, but once over it (and I think it was the Control at the 155 km mark with the Tea and Coffee and biscuits that did it) – I actually went faster and faster towards the end.

Well – I did not have much choice as I reached the ARRIVE point with no more than 15-20 minutes to spare, but in fairness it was simply not too difficult. The roads were smooth and I just sprinted along. I think that if it wasn’t for the darkness of the night that accompanied me for the last two hours and the consistent rain that prevented me from seeing clearly the instructions I would have done it even faster. Considering that I did not even come in last (only just…)- I am not displeased at all.

So the weather WAS bad. Not at first – only from about half way – but still bad. Rainy and dark and cold – yak. The wind was mostly against me – but that’s just part of the riding experience anytime – so overall I reckon that this was my second hardest ride. The first being the one I did in a sweltering heat.

So – what am I grateful for? First – my lights. They are just amazing. Always there and oh so very bright that the cars coming towards me have to dip their headlights ! The joy!!! A very close second is my Edge. It’s just indispensable. I have so grown accustomed to it and its ‘keeping an eye’ on my route so I don’t get lost that I just can’t fathom what would I do without it. Yes – I know that 99% of the AUDAXing people do not have the Edge and they are just fine as was I prior to owning one, but with it I can concentrate on the way and the cadence and the speed and most importantly – the views. So REALLY like it – a lot. Needless to say, the gadget man in me also drives satisfaction from the options and screens and buttons – just great 🙂

The certificate: