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UK Cyclist: Long-distance and leisure cycling in the South-west and elsewhere

Towards the latter part of 2014 I started thinking about the next Paris-Brest-Paris, and how to ring the changes. To explain: I had ridden two 90hrs, one on gears and one on fixed, an 84hr and an 80hr, both on gears. I didn't particularly want to repeat myself. So the logical thing would be to ride an 84 on fixed, except that I hadn't ridden anything serious on fixed-wheel for several years, and I was conscious of advancing decrepitude.

The LD line to Le Havre is cheaper than the ferry to Caen, and anyway I had conceived a fondness for the former port since being stranded there four years previously, the ferry leaving rather too precisely on time for Dr V's and my schedule. Preparation is everything, so I'd prepared a gps route to Paris and loaded it into the Garmin. A large roll-top sac strapped to the saddlebag carried the stuff I wouldn't need on the event.

I’d promised myself never again. Twice. So I'm feeling miffed at becoming caught up in the frenzy to the extent of finding myself standing again in a crowd of Paris-Brest hopefuls. And in the rain!

The Good Doctor and I set sail from Portsmouth to Le Havre, this particular sailing chosen for its comparative unpopularity with the audax crowds. However, there were two or three other groups on the boat and it wasn't until after crossing the Seine at Quillebeuf  that we managed to shake the last of them off.

From: "Ian Hennessey" 

To: "Randon" <randon@ cycling. org>*

*[Randon is now at]

Subject: Paris-Brest

Date: Mon, 30 Aug 1999 15:16:37 +0100

I arrived home yesterday after around 1850kms on fixed - 3X more than I've attempted before. 35yr old Claud Butler stood up well, though I think I've destroyed the headset. The back wheel I built the day before leaving also survived - no truing needed. I kept the luggage to a minimum. 2 sets of cycle clothing (wear one, wash one); shirt and shorts + sandals for off the bike; camera; maps; toothbrush and travel-towel; 2 light capes (1 waterproof - not used); and essential tools. The off-bike wear I left at the hotel during the event. Managed, with the aid of an accomplice, to get to the head of the 90hr queue. Joined in the 'road-race' as we set off- thinking "This is stupid/I shall suffer for this/I should have more sense." etc. Passed the courageous fellow on hand-cranks - shame he didn't finish. Caught and passed most of the 'silly' machines, before finally losing contact (thank goodness) with the last of the fast groups.

Words by Anne Learmonth

Shawn Shaw has bowed out of organising his classic Wessex Rides this year. A long and involved tussle in the high court of the AUK committee room has resulted in Shawn calling it a day. I can sympathise. I run a modest 100k grimpeur and find that the necessary risk assessment paperwork plus the yearly search for new information controls detracts from the fun.

A few years ago I had the pleasure of Ray Craig's company as a result of a breakdown of one of the dilapidated ferries running from Dieppe.  He had no lights, and it was very late when we finally hit the UK, so I gave him and his Moulton a lift to Tadley.  A fascinating conversation about the early days of AUK developed, and he told me some of the story of the original Brindisi Seven (For, yes, he was a member of that magnificent bunch).  The details I cannot remember, but there were stirring tales of riding alone through the night, trying to catch the others (Cries of 'They're behind you').  2250km in just over 8 days.

Reuben was born, as far as I am aware, in the village where he lives.  He lived with his parents until they died, and is still in the same house.  He keeps a dog, and, although he is careful about security and always locks up before going out, the dog-flap is quite large enough to admit a human of considerable size.

He has always been a cyclist.  He never had a driving licence, though rumour has it that he once, briefly, owned a car, to the terror of his neighbours.

He gets by with a bit of poaching, and odd-jobs around the village.

His bikes are a mixed lot.  His best bike was stolen from his shed, so he rides a nondescript road-frame.  The time-trial low-profile frame he bought from somewhere and equipped it with a 24” front wheel.  He had to use a BMX calliper on the front to reach the rim.  Someone suggested that perhaps it was built for a 26” wheel, but he got a friend to cut down the forks and re-braze the ends.  It certainly looks pretty radical now.  An ever-changing selection of hack bikes, bought as bargains from here and there, complete the stable.  Mechanicals are not his strong point, so they tend to leave his hands in a worse state than that in which they arrived.

Reuben’s nephew is often persuaded to deal with the trickier aspects of maintenance.  For example:  Having said that he needed a wheel truing, he arrived with a bagful of spokes, a hub, and a worn rim.  On one occasion it was pointed out to him that the binder bolt was missing from the stem of his bike.  Reuben said that, yes, he knew, and, in fact had removed it himself  – the stem was seized into the steerer, and he was hoping it would eventually work loose if he rode around like that.

He had tackled the occasional 100 or 200k audax event.  His tactic was to follow the other riders, as he found routesheets strangely impenetrable as to meaning.  He has been known, in fact, to get lost during a 25m time-trial, more than once.

The pinnacle of Reuben’s randonneuring efforts was the completion of the Bryan Chapman 600 in Wales. He had never ridden so far before, though he was a notably strong cyclist.  His nephew and others bombarded him with advice.  A clubmate told him he would need a cape.  
“I gave mine away,” He said, then, reflecting, “I’ve got another with a tear in it, though.”
Another said he needed lights.  He had seen a chap somewhere with a homemade, double-sided Sturmey-Archer hub dynamo (two welded together).  He spent weeks worrying, trying to remember who it was, and where.

The day came and he cadged a lift, very early on the morning, to the start.  Assembling his bike, he discovered that the old Eveready with its plastic handlebar clamp did not fit with the barbag.  He was dissuaded from attaching it to the fork, and it went in the bag.  

We set off (yes, I was riding too – my first 600).  It was hard work keeping Reuben down to our speed.  If we had allowed him to drop us, our chances of finding him again would have been remote.  We explained the need to conserve energy.  On a mountain road not far from  Aberystwyth the temperature dropped several degrees and a sleeting rain began.  We stopped to cape up.  Reuben, in a short-sleeved jersey, looked puzzled.
“I didn’t bring a cape,” He said.
We watched him turning a peculiar shade of purple, and shivering, as we descended.  One of our group had mechanical problems and so we stopped at a bike shop on the edge of a town.  The owner donated his Daily Mail to Reuben, who shoved it under his jersey.  

Our journey continued.  We took it in turns to shout at Reuben each time he started to increase the pace.  It grew late and dusk came.  It was time for lights.  Reuben’s best effort was to strap his front light to the top of the barbag, from whence it beamed faintly up at the trees.  He switched the rear one on; it seemed okay.  We set off and it went out.  His nephew rode alongside, tapping it.  It flashed a few times, then finally stayed on, only to fade gradually to nothing within half an hour.

The lights of the control at Menai were welcoming indeed.  It had started raining.  We ate, and dozed for a while, then set off Southwards.  I remember the strangely disorienting effect of bike lights dancing like flames as I climbed in front of a group on the Llanberis Pass.  Reuben’s light, of course, was pointing elsewhere.

It was daybreak when we reached Dolgellau.  I decided on an hour’s sleep and retired to a bunk.  Being woken almost instantly, as it seemed, and having to pull on cold wet clothes, ranks as one of most memorably unpleasant events of my cycling career.

Downstairs, Reuben was sitting, glassy-eyed, his head drooping, then jerking up, repeatedly.  I consumed a sizeable breakfast, wondering, vaguely, why he had not taken a bunk.

The rain had stopped.  We continued.  Reuben lost us on the climb out of Newtown, but we found him again on the descent.  Eventually we came to the Wye Valley, and, suddenly, lots of traffic.  Two youngsters on cheap mountain-bikes were climbing ahead of us.  I tried, but failed, to catch them.  The cars showed signs of impatience as we ground up the hill.  A little later Reuben stuck his left leg out, pedalling with his right.  He did it again.  He repeated this, and waved his leg around in the air.  He was suffering from hotfoot.  It slowed him down, and the rest of us were pleased that we did not have to shout at him any more.

At the finish, we had food and a doze, and then set off on our various journeys home.  Before we left, Reuben asked,
“How much did the bed at the hostel cost?”
“Nothing.”  Was the reply.
“Oh.” He said, deep in thought.

I got the bug.  He never rode another one.



It was a cold but sunny February morning in the car-park by Chepstow Castle.  A queue of cyclists had formed.  At its head the organisers, Nik and Jen, were handing out brevet cards for the Gospel Pass 150km.  More cyclists were still arriving, others milling about, in conversation or anxious to go.  
There were a few comments about the recycled, year-old route-sheet, but, hey, the entry was only a pound.  

Event report of the 2013 event in the Southwest.

Jamie's photos of the event
and they're off (riders leaving the start)We had 108 entries in total. The weather forecasts during the week before were not inspiring, but nonetheless 88 turned up at the start. Chuffy and Baggy served breakfast , aided by Jamie, Peter, and others.

The first shower began just as the riders left. Late starter, John, arrived and left in the rain.

Link to Barbara's blog.

Our LeJog plan gradually came together over several months, but the day of departure came upon us with a bit of a rush, as suddenly it was the 26th April. At 05:30 we picked up Steve and all his kit and set off for Lands End. With little traffic on the road we made good time and arrived at 08:15. It was blowing hard and very cold but this had not deterred Phil, Maggie and Richard turning out to see us off. We got the bikes loaded up with the panniers, pumped up the tyres and posed for photographs at the famous finger post. The Dorset flag was produced for the first time and it acted as a sail in the strong wind, almost lifting us up.

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Words: Chuffy Simmonds

I have spent the last two hours staring at the arse of a man with a flashing red biscuit on his saddlebag. It is bitterly cold. The hills are getting longer by the minute. I’ve been circling the drain for 10 of the last 16 hours and have spent almost the entire day praying for a poo. Welcome to the Old Roads 300k, this is my tale.

Words: Mark Hummerstone

Although I am told that this is one of the hardest 600s in the diary, I found it a very enjoyable ride. Route directions were good on the whole and it went through some beautiful countryside. Two of the controls were at people’s houses which was most welcome.

Report of the 2013 event

Fifty riders completed the 2013 event along the new route. The ladies at North Curry enjoyed the challenge of coping with the crowds (augmented at intervals by their regulars). The weather was kind; there were no reports of ice even on the early hills. There was, however, mud. A few people relying just on gps followed the track (literal and virtual) that ran parallel to the High Ham road. The organiser's reward was in the form of tracks of muddy footprints across the kitchen floor at the finish. Well done to all who finished, and thanks for riding.

Link to Jamie's blog

Last ride of the season to get the full set for a South West Super Randonneur series.

I left the house just after 6am into a dark world of fog. The start point for the perm was about 5 miles from my house, so in theory time to warm up. Or get damp from fog moisture…

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Long-distance cycling under AUK rules is often (though inaccurately) referred to as audaxing. Mudguards are not required for any of these events. Use whatever bike suits you. If you don't want to follow a routesheet then download the GPS file. You will need to be fit and self-sufficient. Most of these events, especially the longer ones, are hard. You should be an experienced cyclist with both fitness and stamina. There is a minimum speed of 15kph for all the events of 200km and above. Don't worry about the maximum speed of 30kph, you won't get near it. Prepare your bike and yourself carefully for any of these events. If you do all the distances, you become an Exeter Wheelers Super Randonneur.

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