Wednesday, 31 July 2013

BHF London to Brighton Bike Ride - some hints for the first-time rider

Are you planning to take part in the British Heart Foundation London to Brighton Bike Ride for the first time? Here are some tips from another novice. 

Every year thousands of cyclists take to the roads to support the British Heart Foundation. This year, for the first time, I was one of the 28,500 who completed the London to Brighton Bike Ride.

Somewhat incongruously I crossed the line with Superman, Batman and Spiderman. And after 54 miles, I felt like a super hero.

I enjoyed every minute of the ride and at the end, the only thing that ached was my smile. I loved the sense of being part of something so huge. I liked the atmosphere and there was unexpected pleasure in discovering that I wasn't, as feared, slower than everyone else. Indeed, quite a few times, it was me uttering those three little words: "Passing on right".

This being the first time I had taken part in anything like this kind of event I got some things wrong and other things worked out really well. If I was advising someone contemplating doing the London to Brighton for the first time, I'd say:

1. Just do it.

2. Entries for the 2014 ride open on January 18. You can register beforehand, which speeds-up the entry process on the day. You will appreciate that because there will be a very long queue of people trying to enter at 9am when the system goes live.

3. The event starts from Clapham Common. There is a hotel there called Windmill on the Common. If you leave it until entries are open to make a reservation, you won't get a room but if you book ahead, before entries open, you should be lucky. From the hotel it is just a five minute walk across the common to the Start Line.

4. The hotel might tell you that it offers secure bike storage. Do not panic when you arrive to find that there isn't any. Lots of bikes belonging to riders will be padlocked outside. Yours will not be the only one and we certainly didn't have any problems - just don't forget to take a lock!

5. Choose an early start time. I didn't - I thought that 8am would allow time for plenty of sleep ahead of the ride. The problem is that by then, you are among the massed riders and you will be caught in a huge number of bike jams on the way out of London. The first ten miles will be very slow indeed. Expect that to happen and don't get worked up about it.

6. If you are staying in a hotel, think about taking one of those porridge pot-things. You just add boiling water from the kettle in your room and in five minutes you've got the perfect cycling breakfast.

7. You don't need to take as much food or water as I carried. There are loads of stops along the way. Really - loads. Many pubs along the route are set up for cyclists with barbecues and refreshment stops outside. They don't mind you just nipping in to use the toilets - or if they did, they didn't say anything. Householders set up trestle tables at the end of their drive and there are lots of official points with cycle mechanics, first aid, food and drink.

8. Instead of overloading yourself with food and extra water bottles consider taking: a lightweight rainproof jacket you can fold away into your rack bag, sunscreen (I needed both and took neither), energy tablets, Vaseline or lip-balm, painkillers, your mobile and a spare battery or charger, money, a puncture repair kit with spare inner tube.

9. Take it easy. There is no point even looking at the time it is taking you to do the distance. If you haven't done the event before it is hard to imagine the challenges of riding among so many other cyclists. Your speed is largely dependent on that of other riders and it is more important to concentrate on the tarmac ahead of you (and making sure you don't land on it).

10. Seriously - take it easy. I saw a lot of quite scary-looking accidents and crashes. Also one rather entertaining scrap between two riders who had crashed into each other and gone axle over tyre. Leave plenty of room to allow for unexpected wobbles or sudden dismounts from the rider in front of you, especially on the hills. If you are one of the wobblers and walkers, try to stay on the left side of the road on climbs, to allow the more masochistic to pass safely on the right.

10. Turners Hill is a challenge worth doing. Lots of people get off and walk but this is one you can handle. Be careful at the top, though. There are refreshments points and pubs at both sides of the road, with hundreds of dazed and confused cyclists wandering around between them.

11. Ditchling? Forget it. There is not for normal human beings. If there is a boy scout at the bottom of the hill, offering to push your bike for £5 SAY YES. I laughed and then discovered that the hill was so near to vertical in parts that it is, in fact, quite difficult to push your bike - particularly if you are wearing the hard-soled cycling shoes.

12. Enjoy yourself and savour the moment when you cross the finish line feeling just like Bradley Wiggins - or in my case, like Super Girl.

Note the bandage - both me and the bike were damaged when I crashed on my final training run a few days before the event. Fortunately, experts patched-up both of us just in time.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Banana Muffins - a recipe for better cycling

On any ride over about 10 miles, the chances of my completing it successfully (and not spending the rest of the day in bed) are increased enormously by a banana muffin. You can find my recipe for the perfect banana muffin below.

Using a similar fuel economy calculation to a motorist, I have established the perfect MPM (Miles per Muffin) figure of approximately 17.5. I now bake in bulk and keep a large quantity of these precious fuel sources in the freezer. As I set out, I simply remove the required quantity (using the above MPM calculation) and pack them, still frozen, into my rack bag. Because they are frozen at the start of the journey they have less chance of being squashed and by the time I need to top-up my energy sources they are ready to eat.

Here is my recipe for banana muffins. Do not confuse these with something you would eat for pleasure. Think of them as a fuel more palatable than petrol and you will not be disappointed.

Banana Muffins


115g butter
100g brown sugar
3 bananas, mashed with enthusiasm (and a fork)
115ml milk
2 eggs from free-range hens
175g wholemeal flour
100g wheat bran
1tsp baking powder
1tsp baking soda
a pinch of salt
a couple of good handfuls of sultanas


1. Pre-heat the oven to 190c/375F/Gas mark 5 and line your muffin tray

2. Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and mix vigorously, or as my mother used to say: "Batter the bejeezus out of it."

3. Add the bananas, milk and eggs, then stir.

4. Combine the dry ingredients and mix into the mixture.

5. Divide between the muffin cases and bake for about 20-25 mins. Cool in the tray for a few minutes, then turn onto a rack.

I make double that mixture to freeze.

I would say 'Enjoy', but that might not be appropriate. Better, perhaps, with a nod to their energy-giving properties, 'Endure!'

Keeping me on the saddle: a banana muffin, ready to ride. 

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

A royal baby and why I'm on four wheels instead of two today

Shakespeare would have been sharpening his quill this morning after the birth of a royal baby. A prince is born and storms rage across the land. The portents don't look good. I'm fairly sure I spotted three witches sitting on the breakfast TV sofa, mouthing vague incantations about nursery furniture and breastfeeding.
The royal birth means very little to me, personally. I am always delighted for new parents, as long as they don't make me hold the baby and I should imagine that's very likely to happen with William and Kate. I must be a few million steps down the baby-holding line of succession.
The storms, though, have driven me off my bike.
I am no fair weather biker. I have frozen in the snow and baked in the summer heat. I used to be downpour-proof, too. I simply wore one of those hotel shower caps under my cycle helmet and pedalled to work as normal. That changed the day of the Really Big Fall. Having underestimated the slippery effect of a wet road I took a bend too fast and completed the manoeuvre sliding sideways across the tarmac beneath my bike.
The bike was repaired and so, eventually, was my leg. My confidence, though, has been slower to mend. So today I'll be leaving the bike at home and retreating to my car. The attempt to beat my best weekly mileage total is doomed. I'll be miserable and migraine prone. And the roof is leaking. Shakespeare and I know a thing or two about the new Black Prince.  

Sunday, 21 July 2013

On waving (not drowning)

One of the first important lessons I learned as a born again biker concerned The Etiquette of The Wave. 

At first, I was so thrilled to see another cyclist heading towards me that I would wave, vigorously, assuming that they too would be thinking: "Oh look, how marvellous, someone just like me!"

They weren't. Instead, they were clearly thinking that this was another Lycra newbie ready to be road kill. At best, I received a grunt and scarcely perceptible nod of the head in response. 

The golden rules of roadie waving are as follows:

1. The better cyclist waves first. This status will have been mutually established long before handlebars are within twitching distance. 

2. A sport cyclist will not acknowledge a rider in overalls, bucket and brushes strapped to the crossbar. Neither will he or she wave at a parent grimly toiling uphill with a trailer full of toddlers attached to the frame. 

3. When passing another cyclist who is on the ascent of a hill as you speed freely in the opposite direction, waving is inappropriate and possibly triumphalist. The correct greeting here is a sympathetic lifting of the offside eyebrow. 

4. Further to (3), taking your feet out of the pedals and hollering "Weeeeeee!" marks you out as a rank amateur. 

5. Mountain bikes do not count as real cycles. 

6. The rider in front, gesturing at something on the left has not found a cake shop. They are failing to draw your attention to the pothole which is about to cause your puncture. 

7. All rules are waived in heavy rain or hail. At these times all two-wheeled travellers are united in superiority over the softy motorist and everyone waves, soggily. 

If you see a short, stocky, happy looking cyclist on your travels, give me a wave. 

Friday, 19 July 2013

Fat Gritty Bradley

Some men call their wives “darling”. To my beloved I am, variously, Cannon Girl and Fat Gritty Bradley.

Cannon Girl was my winter nom de plume. It came about as I swaddled myself in multiple layers of ‘technical performance wear’ (pants), thermals and folded newspapers, topping the whole lot off with a pair of black, bib leggings. I looked like an overstuffed sausage or, as my husband guffawed, as though I were about to be fired from a cannon.

Incidentally, newspaper is a jolly effective insulating material for cycling, unless it rains. I even fashioned myself some little ear-warmers out of the local paper and wore them, elf-style, very successfully until I got caught in a downpour. I was picking papier mache out of my ears for the rest of the day.

In my head, I am Bradley. I asked for a pair of stick-on sideburns for Christmas but was disappointed to find nothing fuzzy in my festive stocking.

At first, I was Other Bradley. Then, the day I finally completed the eight-mile circuit from our house without having a lie down at the top of the hill, I became Bradley. Henceforth, Sir Wiggo can only be referred to as Other Bradley.

To be honest, I have been a bit disappointed in my alter ego of late. I fear the knighthood might have softened him up. Perhaps he has been spending too much time at the round table and not enough in the saddle. I explained as much to my permanently bemused other half: “I’m not the Bradley after the Olympics, I’m the bolshie, determined, winning Wiggo. I want to be that gritty Bradley.”

“You want to be Fat Gritty Bradley?” he queried, very little about his wife puzzling him now.

So that is how I came to be known, despite my best efforts, as Fat Gritty Bradley.
                                         Me, ready to ride.


Thursday, 18 July 2013

The Olympic legacy Seb Coe hadn't expected

When London won the bid to host the 2012 Olympics there was a lot of talk about ‘legacy’. Lord Coe promised that the Games would inspire a generation. Nobody needed to ask which generation.

The legacy of London 2012 would be legions of long-legged teenagers following Coe to middle distance glory. 

Twelve months later the relay torches are on Ebay, funding for school sport is under threat, the future of the Olympic Park uncertain and the teens have returned to their x-boxes. It is as though that magical fortnight never happened.

Some of us, though, were inspired. We are perhaps not the legacy generation that LOCOG anticipated and we are highly unlikely to podium (even if we accepted that there was such a verb) in Rio. We are the middle aged and we haven’t sat still since Super Saturday.

I am part of that legacy.

I got on my bike for Bradley.

I fell off it and I got straight back on board.

In the twelve months since London 2012 my stocky little legs have pedalled miles - one thousand five hundred miles to be precise. That might not be Olympian but it is certainly  Herculean for a woman who was sick after her first five miles.

I have pedalled through puddles so high that I had to stick my legs out, horizontally and hope momentum would carry me to the other side. I pedalled in temperatures so low that I had to interleave my thermals with copies of the Sunday Times. I have pedalled through sunstroke, blisters and punctures. I have pedalled through punctures and potholes.

I still can’t start cycling without pushing off from a kerb and I fall off whenever I turn right. But now I am more than I was. I am a cyclist. A born-again biker. And this is my blog.