Moments of movement / Girona bike-packing

‘I consider these to be Mediterranean bikes. Rooted in the soil and culture of this beautiful region where I ride. Combining a sense of movement through a changing landscape with a timelessness that nature represents.’

These words, spoken by Clementina Bicycles founder Pau Tena, are the reason I’m being met outside the arrivals hall of Girona Airport. Accompanied by photographer friend Ian Walton, we’ve planned a 4 day bike-packing trip to the north of the city and Pau is here to hand over a couple of newly-built bikes that he’s transported from his Barcelona workshop.

Although we’ve been regularly messaging since the idea for our trip was first mooted, this is the first time I’ve met Pau in person. Calm and measured in conversation, initial impressions suggest an individual with considered views on his craft; his passion for this region of Spain abundantly clear and translating into the custom frames that we’re fortunate enough to be riding.

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Both constructed from steel – Ian’s ride differing slightly in having a carbon fibre down tube – what’s first apparent is the flawless paintwork. One a deep, lustrous black with the Clementina brand name and a stylised crow’s eye picked out in gold. The other referencing blossom, fruit and wildflowers in the coloured dots that adorn the frame and fork; all set against a blue fade of the Mediterranean sky. Arranged – as Pau describes it – in their natural order.

With introductions out of the way, Pau kindly drops us off at our hotel where we complete a final kit check before finding somewhere to eat dinner and discuss our first day’s ride. Taking us north towards Camprodon and the foothills of the Pyrenees, our trip is loosely based on the Pirinexus 360; a circular route that crosses into France before looping back along the Costa Brava coastline. For the hardiest of riders this can be completed in a single day but we’ve decided on a more leisurely pace to allow us time to stop and enjoy the spectacular scenery.

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Waking to the promised leaden skies – we’ve tried a number of different weather apps yet none are offering much hope of bright sunshine – with our bikes loaded we head westwards out of Girona along the Via Verde. A greenway of compacted gravel that follows the original path of the Girona – Olot railway, this offers a quiet and car-free route out of the city centre that criss-crosses a patchwork of allotments and tree plantations. There’s a distinct feeling of spring in the air with blossom petals covering the track and birdsong softening the crunch of our tyres. Even the sun decides to make an appearance; prompting us to remove a layer next to grazing cattle far more interested in their morning feed than Ian’s exhortations to look towards his camera.

Staying close to the River Ter, we pass the towns of Bonmatí and Anglès before a steeper ramp rises into woodland; sheep and goats momentarily blocking our path until the shepherd and his dogs move the straggling flock further up the hillside. The collar bells of the grazing animals echoing across the valley until we crest the top of this first short climb and all is once again quiet.

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At Amer the origins of this gravel trail are evident in the disused platform, station house and engine sheds; the latter now roofless with a covering of ivy and tree saplings taking root in the crumbling brickwork as nature gradually reclaims the man-made structures. As we take a moment to photograph the scene, an elderly gentleman approaches; introducing himself and questioning where we’re heading. One hand pointing north, Ian explains our route before asking the gentleman for his own thoughts on the day’s weather. Even with my limited Spanish I can understand the shrug of the shoulders with a nod towards the darkening sky.

Sure enough we feel the first spots of rain after pausing to fill our bidons at the natural spring adjacent to the Fonter bottling plant. Fortunately arriving later than forecast, the weather gods are feeling benevolent and we arrive in Olot only slightly damp but with one eye on the nearby mountains now disappearing from view as the cloud thickens. Deciding to abandon our lunch plans – refreshment now entails a shared bag of salted crisps and a Coke – we push on in the knowledge that the Coll de Coubet lies between us and our first overnight stop in Camprodon.

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At a little over 10 km in length we begin to climb almost immediately after leaving the outskirts of Olot. Never too steep – averaging 5% – the road takes us up through wooded slopes offering breathtaking views to the valley below and cloud-shrouded mountains to the north and west. With our bikes’ unladen weight of 7.5 kg and the uniformly smooth surface, the kilometres pass easily; the number of vehicles countable on the fingers of one hand. Reaching the plateaued top we descend rapidly; rolling up outside our hotel as the clouds finally burst and the rain pours down. With a knowing look passing between us, we unpack the bikes and roll them into the basement garage before minutes later settling comfortably into our room with the radiators turned to max and our shoes drying.

The evening passes enjoyably in the company of Lucas; Camprodon resident and friend of Ian’s. Our only concern as we sit in a restaurant eating dinner being the increasingly sizeable snow flakes mixed in with the falling rain and the thought that we’ll be climbing to 1,500 m the following day. And sure enough, morning sees us pulling back our room’s curtains to discover clear skies but a few centimetres of snow covering the town’s roof tiles.

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Retrieving the Clementinas from their overnight storage – a week earlier the garage was full of police motorbikes supporting La Volta a Catalunya – each now wears a reddish coat of sand and grit from the previous day’s gravel trails. A quick stop at a supermarket for ride provisions – the town is gradually waking to the sound of church bells and the scrape of snow being removed from car windscreens – and almost immediately we find ourselves climbing the Col d’Ares which will take us up and over the border into France.

The overnight snow has settled along the tops of the road’s guard rails and the trees on the wooded slopes are each coated in a silvery layer that glitters when it catches the morning sun. It’s cold but not unpleasantly so and the climb helps to warm our hands as we follow the steadily rising contours. Only in the shadows is the road surface icy but the absence of traffic means we can pick our own path.

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Passing mountain villages and stone-built farm buildings we continue to rise; each bend in the road revealing a new vista with the tops of Pyrenean peaks stretching away into the distance. And again the sound of bells; this time from cattle, their breath condensing into clouds as they feed. Higher still a large bird of prey glides effortlessly on the thermals; the markings on the underside of its wings offering a contrast against the blue of the sky.

As the road finally flattens there’s little to delineate the border save a thick black line on our navigational devices and the signs changing from Spanish to French. We park our bikes in a snowbank before adding extra layers of clothing to combat the expected chill of the descent. With the road disappearing downhill into the northern lee of the mountain we’re in the shade for longer stretches and both of us are struggling to brake with cold fingers.

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Entering the town of Prats-de-Mollo-la-Preste we immediately head to the nearest café; warming our hands on our coffee cups before continuing down the valley with the river at our sides. A steady gradient and the road’s sweeping curves make the descent a delight and the kilometres pass swiftly. Arriving at Céret we’re greeted by tree-lined streets with open channels on either side; each flowing with crystal clear melt water from the nearby mountains and adding a musical counterpoint to the sound of conversation from the pavement cafés.

With historical links to the art world, after storing our bikes and freshening up we decide to take a walk through the town. Quiet passageways radiate from the fortified centre; roadside reproductions of paintings depicting a particular viewpoint adding another interesting element to an already pleasant environment. An enjoyable interlude at the halfway point in our trip before we wake to another cold but sunny morning and prepare to cross the border once again.

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Re-entering Spain at La Jonquera offers a very different experience to our previous crossing and is the only time in our trip where the number of vehicles on the road feels a little oppressive. Ian in particular dislikes the frontier feel to the sprawl of urbanisation but brightens up immediately when our route takes us on a rocky trail away from these busy roads. Here our Clementinas again prove their versatility as they climb and descend the loose surfaces with an easy confidence before we reach a sinuous stretch of road that twists and turns towards the sea between dry-stone walls and groves of olive trees. 

As the day warms and the terrain flattens, our route alternates between gravel farm tracks and quiet country roads edged with wild flowers. The fertile soil of freshly ploughed fields is a rich, dark brown and the hills that ring the coastal town of l’Escala gradually grow on the horizon.

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Reaching the middle distance of this third day the wind begins to build and we each take a turn on the front. Passing the small working town of Sant Pere Pescador our thoughts turn to lunch and we decide to stop earlier than planned before pulling up outside a bar advertising a daily menu. Sitting at our window table we notice passers-by hunched over and leaning into the wind; promising some tough kilometres ahead but not until we pay due attention to our meal. Homemade soup, a meat course and dessert followed by coffee and it’s time to settle the bill and continue our ride.

The rest of the day is a war of attrition with the wind sapping our strength as we each take turns sheltering the other. The road signs count down the kilometres until we finally reach the outskirts of Palamos; approaching the town down another section of the Via Verde before arriving at the hotel and the promise of a hot shower. A wonderfully fresh Thai meal is followed by a peaceful evening in the hotel lounge. A converted farmhouse, the well-stocked library offers a choice of reading material as Fuji, the resident cat, takes turns to warm our laps.

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After waking during the night to the sound of heavy rainfall our final day dawns with the promise of clear skies and sunshine. Still feeling the morning chill as we ride across the seafront, the wind is blustery but should be behind us when we turn westwards towards Girona. Sunlight reflects off a sapphire blue sea as workmen busy themselves erecting the beachfront café bars in preparation for the start of the season. Our morning ritual of a supermarket shop complete, we ride inland on a gravel path; a short 50 km stretch through a mixture of farmland and forest that takes us first towards the towns of Llagostera and Quart before we reach the outskirts of Girona. Two friends – down for a week’s riding – our welcoming party as we lean our Clementinas against a wall and mark the occasion with a beer.

Journey complete and with time to reflect, highlights of the trip include the people we’ve met on the roadside and in the towns where we’ve stayed. Whether offering advice on locating the nearest fountain or strangers leaving the bar where we’re eating wishing us a casual bon profit; everyone has been friendly and happy to help. The landscapes too – from the mountains to the flat coastal plains and rolling wooded hillsides – have been as varied as they are stunning. Towns and villages rich in history yet still home to real communities where neighbours gather in tree-lined squares to pass the time of day. Our Clementina bikes have also been a revelation; light, responsive and taking all manner of surfaces and terrain in their sure-footed stride. What better confirmation of their quality than the daily excitement at loading up our packs before riding off on the next section of the route? Above all, however, this has been a trip made by two friends. Sharing the road with time to enjoy the beautiful scenery, conversations over dinner and quiet efforts climbing mountain roads. Appreciating – as Pau sees it – those moments of movement through a changing landscape. Decisions reduced to the turn of a pedal.

 

We owe Pau Tena of Clementina Bicycles a huge debt of thanks for making this trip possible. His bikes were never less than a joy to ride whether on gravel trails or climbing Pyrenean peaks.

To Far Ride Magazine for first publishing the story.

To Rapha for their excellent Explore clothing and luggage.

To Parcours for the wheels on my Clementina. Lightweight and beautifully understated; they smoothed away the kilometres.

To Lucas for his generous hospitality as the rain poured down.

And lastly to Ian – my bike-packing mentor – who took the vast majority of these images. I learnt and laughed in equal measures.

Roger Seaton / TransBromptonental

One of the world’s most arduous ultra-distance events, the Transcontinental is an unsupported cycle race that saw competitors on the 2018 edition roll out of Geraardsbergen in Belgium on Saturday 28th July before crossing the finish line in Greece some 4 checkpoints and 3,900 km later.

So deciding to race across Europe on a Brompton might seem an unusual choice of bike for such a challenging feat of endurance. But ask Roger Seaton to recount his experience – he can list the individual weights of his equipment down to the gram – and you soon begin to appreciate his serious intent when entering such an extreme event.

Now back for a 7th edition with an East / West route, in his own words Roger describes the decisions that led to a second Transcontinental start line, the preparation required to race a bike across a continent and why – no matter what challenges lay ahead – he was intent on having as much fun as possible.

I rode throughout my teens; in and out of trails around London. Seeing where the bike could take me on casual trips with friends. Even years later never really losing that sense of adventure you get every time you set foot across your own doorstep. And thinking back to my first attempt at the Transcontinental during the summer of 2017, I suppose I was looking for a challenge; something on an epic scale.

Both riding regular bikes, I’d entered as a pair with a fellow Rapha Cycling Club member but to be honest I’d pretty much coerced him into doing it. He was very unsure as he’d never tried sleeping wild before. In my opinion a minor detail because you don’t need much experience to lie down on the ground after riding 250 km. If you’re tired, you’ll sleep. It’s that simple [smiles].

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A week out of the start he’d decided to pull out but I still felt good so re-classified as solo. And then barely a day into the race I bumped into a fellow rider and he asked if I’d heard about Frank Simons who, as I soon found out, had tragically died following a hit and run incident shortly after the start in Geraardsbergen.

My family back home in the UK had learnt about this on Facebook and immediately tried to contact me. 17 or 18 missed calls later they finally got through but by that time my children in particular were increasingly concerned and upset. Especially as 6 weeks before the start of the race I was the victim of a hit and run driver myself when someone knocked me off my bike leaving me unconscious on the roadside with lacerations and broken ribs. The seriousness of these injuries preventing my doctor from signing me off to ride but fortunately not detering my dog’s vet from passing me fit [laughs].

After speaking over the phone I told them I’d think it over before calling the following morning. My daughter was still very tearful after a sleepless night so I decided then and there to scratch from the race. I’d lost my ability to focus entirely on myself and what I needed to do in order to complete such a mammoth undertaking. Not an easy decision as I was feeling great but it was the right thing to do and I don’t regret it. In my mind it’s only a bike race – a fun run – and if your journey isn’t a happy one then why would you do it?

When the 2018 edition was announced I decided to give it another go but this time riding a Brompton. To some maybe an unusual choice but it’s all about your frame of reference. A Brompton has smaller wheels but the geometry isn’t miles off a normal bike. And I wanted to ride the Transcontinental again but on my own terms. Yes, it’s a race, but I wanted to stop and smell the flowers along the way and the Brompton is a bike I always associate with maximum amounts of fun. Just as importantly my family felt the same way which helped alleviate any concerns left over from the previous year.

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I use a Brompton every day as transport and CHPT3 – the company ex-professional cyclist David Millar and some friends founded after he retired from racing – had produced this pimped up and modified superlight version. I’d arranged to pick mine up from the Brompton Junction in Covent Garden and when I arrived David was there; chatting to the people who’d bought the first run of these bikes. I remember making this off the cuff remark that I was entering the Transcontinental again and, if I got a place, I was thinking of doing it on my new CHPT3 Brompton. He was very nice about it and suggested I get in touch if I got a place. So when my confirmation came through from the race organisers I sent David a message to let him know I was in and to ask if they were still interested. From there it went very quickly to full team support.

The individuals behind CHPT3 are super fun but my entry in the Transcontinental was treated with absolute seriousness to the extent that we immediately planned several long weekends away to put the bike and kit through its paces. Basically a series of big days – 250 km back to back – that included a fair bit of mixed surfaces as I’d already decided to vary my race route to make the riding more interesting.

The route planning is such a crucial part of your preparation. Make or break in some senses and the more time you spend on this aspect the better the ride experience. The checkpoints determine your general direction but it’s down to each individual competitor to plan from there. You’d think that cycle paths, for example, might seem appropriate but they can be very variable in surface and you need to constantly slow down to avoid other cyclists and pedestrians. But you wouldn’t want to travel the whole way on dual carriageways with trucks thundering past you day and night. And that’s before you factor in the ban on using tunnels and whether there are places to stop and refuel because on a big day you’re burning 11,000 calories. One thing I quickly discovered was that nearly all French cemeteries have a tap that you can use to refill your bidons.

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Luggage was one of the easiest considerations when prepping the bike. Apidura’s seat bag fitted perfectly on the rear rack without any need for modifications and that’s all the storage I’d planned on taking. In terms of sleeping there’s two schools of thought. If you book hotels then it can be expensive and you need a fixed route which can be an added complication time-wise. But a hotel room means you can easily power up devices, wash your kit and generally have a good night’s sleep. I wanted a more fluid approach and didn’t start with any preconceived plans. If I was at a hotel at the right time and the right price then I’d take it. If not I was going to sleep rough.

Not including navigation, my kit came in at just under 2.5 kg. Very pared down but when your equipment is good then this allows you to make tough decisions in the sense of what not to pack. You take my CHPT3 1.21 jersey for example and the moment I’d opened a tin of mackerel and managed to tip the whole contents of oily tomato sauce all over me. I washed it out in a stream with some soap, it dried within minutes and didn’t even smell. Superb quality kit that will take a good beating yet still functions perfectly.

With the start day fast approaching I crossed over on the ferry from Hull and then rode the 110 km from Bruges to Geraardsbergen ready for the off. A useful distance to make sure everything was working in terms of both kit and rider [smiles]. I was feeling apprehensive that it would seem a little disrespectful to be rolling up on a Brompton but the reality was I meant business. As it turned out the reception I received was great and people were genuinely interested. Some, it must be said, thought it was absolutely crazy but the bike was clearly kitted out for adventure and the camaraderie I enjoyed with the CHPT3 team was such an important aspect. Constant messages to motivate and reassure me to such an extent that even David’s mum had texted to wish me good luck.

The race got under way at 22:00; a parade lap before immediately climbing the Muur and its 20% cobbled ramps. It’s very frenetic with all the riders charging ahead in the heat of the moment but the Brompton was just sensational. And one of the most profound experiences of the race was hearing people shout my name as I climbed – individuals I’d met the day before or who’d seen me on local news programmes – until you reach the top and it all quietens as the race itself gets underway. For 30 to 40 km you’re riding alongside the other competitors before, one by one, they gradually veer off to follow their own routes into the night.

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The first few days went better than expected as I pretty much settled into a rhythm from the off; riding my own race. The Brompton felt fast and I just needed to keep on top of my hydration as it was very hot. And this also makes keeping clean one of the hardest things to manage as you sweat with a corresponding build-up of salt. One evening I’d pulled up in a forest and got my kit out ready to bed down but the moment the dew point changed all this dried salt became slimy. Not particularly pleasant as you climb into your bag [laughs].

For me, the secret was breaking the day down into manageable chunks; both physically but also mentally. At times the temperatures during the day were unbearably hot so why wouldn’t you sleep for a couple of hours after midday before making that time back later when it’s cooler? And I’d already decided not to bury my head in terms of counting off the kilometres. I swam in streams, stopped to take photographs of the amazing scenery and I’ve got quite a sweet tooth so if I passed an open patisserie… [smiles]

Approaching Checkpoint 1 I’d pulled in at a McDonald’s. Not my usual choice of restaurant but there’s power to charge your appliances, toilet facilities and WiFi. I’d checked the map before leaving but managed to end up on a really fast dual carriageway before backtracking down my alternate route that brought me to a 20 km gravel fire track through a forest. Serious off-road sections that would’ve been great on a mountain bike but were decidedly sketchy on my fully-laden Brompton. So there I was, roughly 8 hours outside my plan and having to ride all night through thunderstorms and torrential rain to get back on track; making the checkpoint with a good four hours to spare to receive my first stamp after roughly 800 km and 3 days of riding.

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It was on the Silvretta-Hochalpenstraße with its 34 hairpin bends that I first heard an odd clunking sound that I assumed was just something touching or rubbing a wheel. I had a good look but couldn’t see anything amiss before noticing that even on the flat I was 2-3 kph down on my average pace and it was becoming harder and harder to pedal. Still not being able to work out what the issue was I decided to carry on but over the next 200 km the noise got considerably louder. I was in the Tyrolean Alps at this stage and the effort required to keep moving was just horrendous. So I phoned the CHPT3 guys for advice, we diagnosed a failure of the rear internally geared hub before realising that as I couldn’t retrofit a standard hub my race was over.

Obviously very disappointing and whether it’s unfinished business is yet to be decided. I still have faith in the Brompton as a valid choice of bike for this event if we can just overcome the issues with gearing. And I came away with wonderful memories of all the people I met: fellow competitors, the race organisers and those random individuals you encounter along the route. Then there’s the mountains, the breathtaking views; even the extremes of weather. That overnight effort to reach Checkpoint 1 fuelled on tinned ravioli with the road ahead briefly lit by each lightning strike. Little things like the message from home asking why I’d stopped before suggested I get moving again – they were dot watching and tracking my progress – that make you smile.

There’s a quote that I find particularly appealing that mirrors how I feel about my experiences on the Transcontinental: ‘Blessed are the curious as they shall have adventures’. Yes, I was very sorry to pull out but it’s not the end of the world and now there’s the next journey to plan.

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Image of Brompton descending by courtesy of CHPT3 and Alex Rory Jacobs

All other images with kind permission of Roger Seaton

Transcontinental

Karly Millar / Keep keeping on

Karly Millar is no stranger to challenging cycling conditions; an innate hardiness helping her ride year round in Scotland where she lives and works. That being so, she clearly remembers a certain sense of trepidation when signing up for the 2017 Rapha Manchester to London; an event that involved riding north to south on a demanding 220 mile route sandwiched between Peak District climbs and the rolling hills of the Chilterns.

Back for 2019 with a revamped format and registration now open, in her own words Karly reflects on that Sunday in September when she left the Manchester Velodrome at dawn and rode south to London in a single day. An honest account of a physical and emotional journey that tested her to breaking point.

I wanted a challenge. Something so big that I wasn’t absolutely sure I could do it. An 80 km club run would leave me totally empty and eating macaroni in the bath with a bottle of flat coke to recover; so I genuinely didn’t believe I would make it all the way to London.

I’d tentatively floated the idea quite early in the year; initially to myself before discussing it with friends until the more times you mention something the greater the social contract that says you should probably follow through on what you’ve been talking about.

In terms of preparation I just kept on riding. I think subconsciously pushing the distance but my biggest ride before M2L was still only 120 miles. Well short of the 220 mile total that I would be riding on the event. But I remember talking to a friend about long distance cycling and him suggesting that once you reach a certain point – as long as you’re putting fuel in the tank and you keep turning your legs – then it’s different. It’s all mental.

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In the final few weeks running up to the start date I felt a little bit sick if I thought about it too much. But as the weeks turned to days I grew calmer. What would be, would be. I couldn’t change anything; couldn’t train any harder. My only concern was letting down everyone who’d sponsored me. They’d been so generous and I didn’t want to feel that I might fail them. But my partner pointed out that simply rolling up at the start line was big enough. And I kind of found my peace with that.

At the pre-ride party you could feel a real sense of nervous energy in the Manchester clubhouse. The magnitude of what we were taking on suddenly hitting me and that I was part of it. And then standing on the start line at the Velodrome; actually feeling very irritable with the degree of faffing around in my group but more likely because I’d been up since four in the morning after only a couple of hours sleep.

The ride itself I broke down into the feedstops. Manageable chunks of effort. And I felt really good when we rolled into the first at Carsington Water after completing a hilly 50 miles through the Peak District.

By the second – 90 miles in – my mood had definitely dipped. It was the first time during the day that I actually wondered whether we’d make the time cut-offs. It had started to rain and I was feeling the pressure of all those miles ahead. But we pushed on, into the headwind that had dogged us all day and it was a special moment when we reached the halfway point.

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I can picture us pulling into the third feedstop at this grand stately home but the rest of that section was rather a blur. I knew I hadn’t eaten enough and what lay ahead would be tough. In hindsight we should have taken a little longer to eat the hot food on offer rather than grazing on snacks. That would have been a wise investment in time.

You’re physically tired but more so mentally. And as we set off once again I was steeling myself for the hard slog into the night. Running on absolute fumes, I knew we still had 77 miles to go and the thought of carrying on made me want to cry.

But we worked together – following Simon Mottram’s [Rapha CEO] advice to ‘just keep on keeping on’ – until we finally reached the last feedstop. Feeling absolutely broken but with a realisation that this might actually happen.

On that final 25 mile stretch I was bargaining with myself when I was allowed to press the backlight button on my Wahoo; trying to guess how far we’d gone from the last time I’d checked. Mind games to ease the passing of those last few miles until, almost without warning, we were out of the dark country lanes and riding under street lights. Crossing the line in tears; a mix of emotions that I’d never experienced before and I wonder whether I ever will again.

And although I felt such a huge sense of accomplishment, it took until the next day’s train ride home before it all sank in. When I sat down with my helmet on the table in front of me and the passenger opposite asked where I’d cycled from and I answered Manchester and the look in their eyes when I told them it was in one day. I’d spent the past 48 hours in my M2L bubble and this was the first proper acknowledgement from the outside world. That we’d finished. That all the doubts and soul searching were now behind me.

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Experience has since taught me that if you put your mind to something you can do it. And I think, previously, I’d underestimated myself and I walked away from M2L with a far stronger ‘can do’ attitude. I don’t feel like I need to prove myself anymore. We did good.

As for highlights? Riding as a team; each looking out for the other. The guy who rode it in an Elvis costume. Those random acts of kindness from the helpers at each feedstop. And if I had to advise anyone contemplating signing up for this year’s L2M? I’d tell them to do it. 100% commit because you will never know unless you try.

And just remember to eat. Eat all the time.

Now in its sixth edition, following last year’s ‘win’ by the North the route will reverse and for the first time riders will set off from London; just one of the new changes introduced for the 2019 Rapha London to Manchester.  More information and sign up can be found here.

Image of Karly arriving at the 2nd feed stop with kind permission of Jess Morgan

Karly Millar

 

Ride Like A Girl / Race Series

Amy Cuthbertson (pictured right) and Elle Haigh are both fairly new to the sport but have big ambitions for where their cycling journey is taking them. Responding to the current provision available to women wanting to give racing a go, these passionate individuals sat down to discuss the reasons they ride, why they’re both tired of ‘mansplaining’ and how this in part led to the launch of @ridelikeagirlrs

Amy

Until just shy of two years ago I hadn’t done any cycling since my paper round when I was 10. I got the hump because my other half signed up for a Leeds to Manchester charity ride and didn’t even bother asking if I wanted to do it [smiles]. My first ride after deciding to buy a bike was a whole 3 miles before I stopped for coffee and cake and then went home. But since then I’m joined some clubs, worked at getting stronger and started to enter time trials and hill climbs; discovering in the process that I’m actually quite competitive.

Elle

For me it was all on a bit of a whim. I was looking for a way of fundraising for a charity and everyone knew I didn’t particularly feel comfortable riding a bike so I decided to sign up for a mountain bike ride across Kenya. It initially didn’t go that well – I went down a couple of days early and managed to break my hand – but I still had the best time before realising when I got home that I didn’t really know how to cycle on the road. So in April this year I bought a bike and went out on my first ride. I’d already decided to join a club so that I’d be motivated to keep riding and within the space of a couple of weeks I had an effective fitness regime and a whole new group of friends; especially important as I’d just moved back to the UK.

Amy

And then you decided to ride from London to Paris just a few months after getting your first road bike [laughs].

Amy climbing Holme Moss

Elle

Rather a baptism of fire as I kind of threw myself in at the deep end but I’d already decided to be a cycling ‘yes’ person and then find solutions to the rides or events I’ve chosen to do.

Amy

For me, riding my bike is all about the exhilaration of exertion. I’m a project manager and I’ve worked from home for the last six, seven years; doing absolutely nothing with my day beyond getting up and walking to my desk. I snowboard and cycling takes what I enjoy about that – being outside with my friends – but on a day-to-day, year-round basis and without the need to fly out of the UK in search of some snow. When you’ve been sedentary for so long, the physicality is a really addictive feeling. That sense of tiredness; of pushing on and making your body do what it’s meant to be capable of doing.

Elle

In some ways it’s been a little overwhelming. My life has changed quite dramatically since I’ve started cycling. I’ve made new friends like Amy and I’ve discovered a place where I can be myself. I climb onto my bike, I clip in and even if I’ve had a particularly rubbish day my mind clears. I sleep better and generally feel uplifted.

Amy

We’re both members of the Rapha Cycling Club and I very much appreciate the opportunity to go out on women’s rides that are a little stronger and faster than what I’ve previously experienced. A lot of female-specific cycling is focusing on getting more women on bikes and I wouldn’t be here today chatting about my riding if it wasn’t for those initiatives. The RCC also offers this same provision of introductory sessions but with the progression of more challenging rides.

Elle

The discipline within the RCC is good as well. Everybody rides how you should ride on the road; everything is kept really tight which is nice because it gives you that security blanket that comes with working together. If someone’s new to road cycling there’s plenty of friendly advice and support to overcome any initial worries or concerns. And because I spend so much time travelling through my work as transatlantic flight crew, I find I have this instant friendship group at whatever clubhouse I visit across the world. I can easily rent a great bike so I don’t have to lug my own along with me and I know I’ll be riding with a like minded group of people. There may be different languages and cultures but they all share the same connection of wanting to ride their bikes.

Amy

And there’s coffee at the clubhouse before we roll out [laughs].

Holme Moss

Elle

Getting to know Amy, pretty much one of the first things she mentioned was her determination to race before explaining that she couldn’t find the right platform to achieve this goal. As a friend I found this really frustrating as I knew she was a strong rider and had been competing in local time trials and hill climbs. But in terms of road or circuit racing, she couldn’t find a 4th category only event. There are 4th category fields entered in races alongside the elite 1st, 2nd and 3rd categories but our gut instinct is we’d just get in the way and it would be massively intimidating. And even if you have the self-confidence to enter a mixed category race you need to finish in the top ten to score points and that’s potentially against elite riders assuming enough sign on and the race isn’t cancelled.

Amy

Every time a race day arrived and I asked why there was a men’s 4th category race but the women were all lumped in together, I pretty much got the same response: there’s not enough interest and women don’t want to race.

Elle

And we both know incredibly strong riders that compete in triathlons – mastering three disciplines – and have the mental toughness to enter these gruelling events but baulk at the thought of racing on a circuit. So we decided to launch @ridelikeagirlrs and explore ways that women can give racing a go.

Amy

It can be a question of confidence. I had something similar myself a couple of weeks ago when I said I was going to enter my first crit race and people – actually they were all men –  suggested that maybe I should work on my skills first; that it was too dangerous. And I honestly don’t think a man would have had the same response. It would have been, ‘Cool, go for it.’

Elle

Elle

There is this problem of ‘mansplaining’ to women. Very patronising and something we’ve both come up against throughout our lives. Especially when you’re young and you hear comments that you run like a girl, throw like a girl. This derogatory term for a girl being worse at something than a boy and it’s usually a boy that’s saying it. So we’re turning that back round by saying that if I ride like Tiffany Cromwell, Hannah or Alice Barnes, Marianne Vos; then, hell yeah, I ride like a girl. And a lot of people have responded really positively to this idea because they understand where we’re coming from.

Amy

It’s all snowballed really quickly with a Q&A session planned for the end of September providing an opportunity for women to ask anything and everything about bike racing. Off the back of that, once everyone’s hopefully had their questions answered, we’ll be organising coaching sessions before we run our inaugural race that’s pencilled in for November 3rd. This will involve a 60 minute coaching session followed by a 20 minute Go Race around the Brownlee Centre’s cycle circuit. And because it’s a Go Race event with no points available there’s also no need for a race licence but we do have a friendly commissaire who’s volunteered to run it in the same format as a 4th category race so riders can understand how everything’s organised. Time trials and hill climbs are all well and good but it’s that first across the line feeling that we want to address.

Elle

That’s the whole point. It’s for anyone who’s ever considered competitive racing whether that’s for her own fitness or to satisfy an urge to test herself against other women.

Amy

In the same way that you have a social ride run by your cycling club, it’s not always about being the fastest but taking part in something a little different. An opportunity to learn a new set of skills and have some fun alongside a great bunch of women.

IoS

Elle

As individuals, we sometimes talk ourselves out of stuff but as a group we’re really good at building ourselves back up. So I think our message with this @ridelikeagirlrs campaign is to just give it a go.

Amy

To be honest the response has been a little overwhelming. You can expect a degree of interest from friends and fellow club members but within the first few hours of launching our Facebook page we had hundreds of requests from people we didn’t know. Responses from coaches; even from British Cycling themselves saying they want to get involved. And what’s also exciting is the messages we’ve had from race organisers to tell us what they’ve done, that it’s not worked before asking whether we have any ideas of what they can change. We’re not setting ourselves up as experts but there isn’t a massive number of women fighting for women’s racing and we both want to be part of that journey.

Elle

We’re building this network of women that want to race, can support each other in doing that and if race organisers want to tap into that interest and work with us that would be perfect.

Amy

Currently there’s a huge focus on getting women on bikes which is just brilliant and there’s fantastic things happening in professional women’s racing with the Tour of Britain and other high profile events. But it’s the gap between the two that we’re looking at. What do you do once you’ve got all these women on bikes? So in one sense it’s me being selfish. I wanted to race but couldn’t find a suitable event to race in so we’re creating our own.

Elle

And this isn’t our job. We’re not doing it to make money. It’s born out of a passion and in some ways it’s kind of an experiment but with the knowledge that if we go out to achieve something together we’ll be totally fine.

 

For more information on the Ride Like A Girl // Race Series

@ridelikeagirlrs

Temple Cycles Adventure Disc Review

Recently launched by Bristol-based Temple Cycles, their Adventure Disc model encourages exploration beyond the limits of paved road surfaces; opening up route planning to include bridleways, dirt roads and gravel tracks. It seemed therefore fitting to test the bike’s abilities on an appropriate parcours with Rapha Manchester’s ‘A Day In Hell’ proving the perfect setting for putting the Adventure Disc through its paces.

A tribute to Paris Roubaix – one of the Monuments of the European racing calendar and affectionately referred to as the ‘Hell of the North’ – riders left the city centre clubhouse on a testing 66.6 mile loop before returning to beer, frites and the closing kilometres of the race. With Rapha referencing this moniker in their own event branding, the cobbles of Castlefield and Hocker Lane to the south of the city offered a flavour of the continental pavé with the additional challenges of riverside gravel and dirt farm tracks. A mixture of surfaces to test both bike and rider alike.

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After the previous day’s torrential rain, it was with some relief that I woke to low-lying mist on the morning of the event but with the promise of clear skies. The Adventure Disc had been easily set up following delivery; rotating the handlebars, inserting the seat post and attaching the front wheel all that was required before the bike was ready to ride. Attractively finished with glossy dark grey paint and an elegant headtube badge, the Adventure Disc never failed to receive favourable comments on its appearance. Perhaps an unimportant aspect compared to the quality of its ride but nevertheless gratifying.

With a Shimano 105 groupset, mechanical disc brakes on handbuilt wheels and a Brooks saddle nicely complementing the brown leather bar tape, the competitive pricing reflects the direct-to-customer sales approach favoured by Temple Cycles. To such an extent that you’re encouraged to discuss your needs and ride requirements prior to making a purchase and your bike being built.

With the addition of a rear rack I’d commuted on the bike for a week prior to our ‘Day In Hell’. Whilst not exactly lightweight – a stock build on a medium frame comes in at 11.5kg – this perhaps misses the point of its intended use and I always looked forward to every ride. With each twenty mile round trip including 1,500 ft of elevation, the compact chainset and 11-32 cassette made climbing surprisingly comfortable and it’s important to remember that, unlike a stripped down carbon racer, the Adventure Disc is designed to cross continents on a variety of surfaces. It has a relaxed and smooth stance that irons out any imperfections in the road and proved an absolute delight when descending.

Although the frame has bosses for mudguards, rightly expecting our tribute route to be muddy I decided to leave clearance free and rely on an ‘ass saver’ to keep me dry. With SPD pedals in place and rolling on the supplied 35mm Schwalbe G-One tyres, I set off through the Manchester suburbs enroute to the Rapha clubhouse.

Located in the shadow of St. Ann’s Church, the bikes arranged in formation outside the clubhouse entrance suggested a good turnout; a hum of conversation carrying down the pink painted stairwell that leads you up from the ground floor workshop to the cafe area above. With coffee in one hand and a croissant in the other – this was a tribute to a French cycle race after all – discussions ranged from tyre width to who would eventually triumph later in the day at the Roubaix Velodrome.

Our start was a little less frenetic with groups setting off along Deansgate following a pre-ride briefing before we immediately reached our first ‘sector’ of cobbles in Castlefield. Once a thriving area of mills and warehouses interwoven by canals and railway sidings, it’s now home to bars and apartment living but still conveys a strong sense of the city’s industrial past.

Railway crossing

In this setting the Adventure Disc was in its element. Handling the variety of surfaces – both wet and dry – with surefooted ease before we left behind the city centre along the gravel pathway that edges the Bridgewater Way.

Approaching Sale, the canal towpath was substituted for quiet suburban streets and it was here that I paid a slight penalty for my heavier tread and wider tyre profile; riders on standard road rubber finding the going a little easier.

This however proved a temporary advantage as we soon reached the next off-road section; a delightful dirt path that wound its way through wooded copses before emerging out onto a farm track. Arrow straight and bisecting hedgeless ploughed fields; the dark, peaty soil in the still lingering morning mist giving more than a passing impression of the fields of Flanders.

Without the penalty of rim brakes collecting the heavy mud left over from the previous day’s rainfall and the added confidence of wider profile tyres, the gaps to riders ahead began to close as I chose my line without fear of slipping or sliding on the unpaved surface. An off-road affinity that was once again demonstrated on reaching Hocker Lane; a cobbled farm track located immediately after our midpoint coffee stop that I can easily imagine prompting envious appreciation from Les Amis de Paris-Roubaix [The Friends of Paris-Roubaix].

What followed was a concertina of progress as I was distanced by riders on the linking road sections before reeling them in again when the surface became more challenging. In part supporting the Temple Cycles’ premise that, although the bike is designed to embrace off road adventures, swap out the heavier tyres and you’re good to go on the weekend club ride.

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Considering the weight advantage I was giving away, not even the 20% ramps of Beeston Brow could halt my progress; the Adventure Disc taking this cobbled climb out of Bollington in its stride before a descent down from Pott Shrigley and the final stretches of disused railway lines and riverside pathways before we once again fetched up at the clubhouse. This time to be greeted by a fish & chip van; a welcome indulgence whilst watching Peter Sagan drop the hammer.

On reflection this proved a well-organised and enjoyable event made all the more pleasurable for riding Temple’s Adventure Disc. It’s performance over a range of surfaces – cobbles, gravel, dirt – was always assured and never skittish. And with the frame having mounts for front and rear racks together with full mudguards, there really aren’t any limitations to where the Adventure Disc can take you. Factor in the numerous appreciative comments the bike receives and though you might not cross the finish line first, when you do I can pretty much guarantee you’ll be smiling.

Temple Cycles

Rapha

*Feature image by Alex Duffil

*Ride images by Martin Wilson

Frame detail by @openautograph

*With kind permission of Rapha UK

M2L

Departing at dawn on 3rd September 2017, I joined riders on the Manchester to London challenge as they headed south on a route that threaded its way through the heart of England before finishing at Ambitious about Autism’s TreeHouse school.

Described as ‘220 miles of hard British riding’, it’s almost inevitable that you focus inwards. The chatter ceasing as the pace line forms. Decisions reduced to your turn on the front before dropping back to recover. On the need to keep eating and drinking. To keep moving forward.

Later in the day – raw emotion etched across faces – it seemed fitting that, though each individual may have had their own starting point in terms of fitness and cycling experience, in riding together they all shared the same finish line.

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I knew it was going to be a tough day but everybody pulled each other through. And rather than be negative when things got difficult we chose to look at the positives. Each mile, every metre of climbing; a step nearer to our goal. Enough to keep you moving forward. At the finish, that’s the poorliest I’ve ever felt on the bike. Suffering with dehydration and hypothermia. One of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do but, as much as it was hard work and it hurt, it still didn’t break me. Sarah

I think it’s an amazing achievement that we finished. And it’s definitely a case of mind over matter. You can make yourself push past limits you never thought possible. I’m proud of my body and how far it went. Crying helps. As does swearing. But all of this was only possible because of the company on the road. Everyone looking out for each other. Karly

It was tough. Well over twice what I’d ever ridden before. And I had moments when I did wonder why I was doing it. But I came out of it releasing that I’ve completed something that I wasn’t absolutely sure was possible. With the knowledge that if you put your mind to a task, if you just keep going, then it’s surprising what you can achieve. David

Such a hard ride. A brutal headwind but we all worked well as a team. You learn how deep you can go and that, mentally, we’re all so strong. You just have to keep going and, when you cross the finish line, you realise it was worth the effort. Hannah

There’s a point where things start to get really hard. Hurting all over and weary from the long hours of riding, just sitting down in the warm community hall at the final feed stop was a welcome relief. But there was still the need to step out again into the dark and the rain; the grim reality of two more hours of effort. And that’s when companions come into their own. You’re not venturing out alone. We worked together, suffered together and finished together. This is what I’ll always remember. Adrian

Ambitious about Autism

Rapha M2L

HOTN ‘up North’

Riders from Rapha Manchester rolled out on the morning of Sunday 9th April to pay tribute to Paris Roubaix. Taking in a mixture of gravel paths and cobbled lanes to the south of the city, the 50 mile ride included the iconic climbs of Swiss Hill and Beeston Brow before returning to the clubhouse in time to witness the race leaders enter the Roubaix velodrome.

One of the ‘Monuments’ of the European professional race calendar, the race has been contested a total of 117 times since its inaugural run in 1896. Commonly referred to as the ‘Hell of the North’; this appellation acknowledges not only the challenges of racing over sections of cobblestone pavé but the First World War battlefields the route crosses.

With the Manchester tribute comprising six sectors of varying degrees of difficulty – the cobbled climbs peaking at a challenging 25% gradient – recently joined Rapha Cycling Club (RCC) member Hannah Davies reflected on the ride over a cold beer back at the clubhouse.

You’re quite new to the RCC?

I’d been riding for about two years – enjoying the Saturday Women’s Rides out of the Manchester clubhouse – but never considered joining a cycle club before.

Was there anything that put you off? A perception, maybe?

I did think that clubs looked very elitist from the outside. But then I rode the Rapha Women’s 100 last summer and everyone was so friendly that I just went from there.

And joined the RCC?

I wanted more options. More rides to go on. To ride in a mixed group with faster people so I could get stronger.

How do you find group riding?

I was a bit self-conscious at first and a little apprehensive. If you’ve not done this before it can be a little nerve-wracking but ride leaders like Sarah really help in developing these skills. You have to put your trust in the people you’re riding with. And there’s no way I would have done this ride on my own.

Were you looking forward to today?

To be honest I wasn’t, no. Just because I’d never ridden on cobbles before. I thought I couldn’t do it and I wouldn’t enjoy it. So I wasn’t keen.

But you still signed up for the ride?

Sarah didn’t really give me much choice [laughing].

And how did you find it?

It was ace. Some of the gravel paths early on, I was worried that I might come off but I was fine. And later, when we got to the climbs, it wasn’t the cobbles that were actually hard. It was the gradient.

How did you feel at the top?

I was elated. So pleased that I’d achieved it. But that’s why you ride, isn’t it? It’s a whole series of mini challenges that you complete. But I’ve never completed them all because I’m forever moving the goalposts and that’s what motivates me. I just feel I’m progressing with the club; I can see that I’m getting quicker. And cycling means so much to me. It keeps me sane; makes me feel happy.

Rapha Manchester

Rapha Cycling Club 

Braver Than The Elements

Why we ride

There’s a moment, just before you draw back the curtains on the morning of a ride, when the day ahead is quite perfectly formed. The route is set, meeting points agreed and equipment readied. And even though we understand that the weather can be a capricious companion, there’s an innate optimism that can fly in the face of considered forecasts. We become experts at looking for that window of opportunity on the satellite maps we check with increasing frequency as our ride day nears.

All too often, however, the reality fails to meet these expectations. Any ride, at any time of the year, can fall foul of the weather gods. Especially in winter – after coffees are drunk and layers adjusted –  you notice an involuntary narrowing of the shoulders as riders roll out their bikes; elbows hugging sides as they struggle to maintain warmth before the effort of riding counteracts the bitter wind. When feet gradually numb, finger tips burn with the cold and you taste the grit spun up from the wheel in front; even the most hardened rouleur can question their commitment to ride.

So why venture out and forgo temperature controlled comfort? When cloud shrouded summits, ice paved roads and the water droplets that blur a Garmin’s passage only act to acknowledge a combative relationship with the weather. When what awaits is windswept moorland and muddy lanes; hard roads for hard riding.

In an effort not to be defeated by the weather’s unpredictable whims, we choose rather to deflect the disappointment of a rain-sodden route with humour and good companions. We ride forearmed with hopes that the wind will drop and the sky will clear.

We ride to escape the pressures of daily life; seeking adventure in an increasingly structured world as we simplify decisions down to the turn of a pedal. We ride for the laughter, the stories shared, the quiet words of concern. The waiting after a climb and the out-stretched arm. We brave the elements in the knowledge that the road is always there to welcome us.

In defiance of the wind and driving rain, on Saturday 18th March two groups of women rolled out of the Rapha Clubhouse in Manchester. These words and pictures are dedicated to those who chose to ‘brave the elements’ with good humour and a shared sense of comradeship.

#BraverThanTheElements

Thanks to Dean for help with the photographs and the warm welcome back at CCMCR.