Riding Further – Cycling in the New Forest on the 2nd G+ Cycling UK Community Ride

Here is my account of a 60 mile ride around the New Forest with a great bunch that I met on the Cycling UK community on Google+. My account lacks the eloquence, drama, epic proportions and perspective of experience of Dave Holmes account (linked elsewhere on this blog – Part 1 Part 2 Part 3), but this is my story such as it is.

The Build Up

Sometime back in the depths of winter 2013/2014 a community ride was proposed. April they said. A mere 60 miles. Hang on, my longest ride to date was 40 miles. Could I really ride 60 miles? Ah, what the hell, I’ll get some miles in, do the 40 again, maybe a 50 and it won’t be a problem.

Despite the usual winter conditions at the time I contemplated the Spring and imagined warm, sunny, blossom strewn conditions. The months that followed were a rain sodden, ride free cyclists hell. I got out when I could between downpours and sweated away indoors on the exercise bike when I couldn’t. My hopes of a 50 or even a 40 disappeared. I’d barely managed 2 or 3 25 mile rides.

Before I realised it there was only a month left. Then it was a week to go. Time for a couple of rides and a rest day or two before the big day. Nerves were setting in.

The Day Arrives

A Giant Defy road bike will fit in a Mini Cooper S

A Giant Defy road bike will fit in a Mini Cooper S

Well, Saturday dawned. I’d tried to get everything packed and ready the night before. There had been a small hiccup a couple of days before. My car had developed a sticky rear caliper and the prospect of arriving in the New Forest with the rear wheel on fire didn’t appeal. My first option was to use my wife’s Mini Cooper S. I’d never tried to fit my road bike in the Coop having read online that it simply wouldn’t fit. Turns out I should have ignored the internet (usually a good strategy) and tried it. Having removed the front wheel (from the bike not the Mini) and shoved the passenger seat forward the bike slotted in a treat.

Lyndhurst is only a 25 minute drive and as I set off the sun made an appearance in a mostly overcast sky. If only I’d known what was to come I would have been more appreciative of its cheery brightness. Literally as I reached the New Forest the drizzle began.

We were meeting in the main car park in Lyndhurst, but I’d done a bit of scouting on Google Maps satellite and street view and found one of the Forest’s many free car parks only a quarter of a mile out of town. In fact, a I headed out of Lyndhurst to find it I discovered a car park even nearer. The drizzle had set in by now. Having retrieved the bike from the back of the Mini and clad my top half in pretty much winter gear I set off. Unfortunately, I’d opted for shorts rather than my tights, but how bad could it be? The forecast was only for showers. I’d be glad of the shorts later.

Meeting the group

I’d never met any of the group ‘in real life’, but several of them had met on a previous group ride and had ridden with one another on other occasions. From our online conversations I knew they were a sound bunch of people so didn’t pay too much attention to my son’s assertion that it was just a plot to drag me into the depths of the New Forest and murder me.

I found a couple of likely looking candidates unloading bikes and slowly in ones and twos our dozen riders assembled. There were the usual greetings between those that had met before and introductions for those that hadn’t. I find it’s always fun when you meet people for the first time having usually only seen their profile pictures online. In my experience they are never quite what you expect. This process is even more interesting when they arrive in cycling ‘disguise’.

So we surreptitiously eyed one another’s rides and waited for a latecomer. Karl who had organised the ride produced a goody bag with flapjacks and muffins for all (Note to self: Try and remember to ask Karl for the flapjack recipe). Our start time came and went with no sign of our missing rider and after 20 minutes we decided that we’d be better riding in the drizzle than standing in it. So off we went.

The Ride (Pre-Lunch)

After a brief GPS malfunction, and a short loop out of Lyndhurst and back into it again, we were off. This was very much unknown territory for me. I’d never ridden this far or with this many people. We soon broke up into a number of amorphous groups. There was inevitably a range of abilities within the group and so it was easy to choose a pace that suited. The rain continued to fall and made a good conversation starter as those that hadn’t met before got to know one another.

My memory is already a little hazy, but I think there were a couple of brief breaks in the drizzle. Apart from that it was dampness all the way. Despite my usual reluctance to venture out when it’s wet I knew from past experience that once I was out in it the rain doesn’t bother me much.

Karl makes a new friend shortly before we tackled Blissford Hill

Karl makes a new friend shortly before we tackled Blissford Hill

One of my biggest worry had been cattle grids. I’d remembered them from my many previous excursions in the New Forest. In my mind they were like huge bumpy drain covers. Having had a few nasty frights cycling over drain covers I wasn’t sure how ‘interesting’ cattle grids would be. I’d done a little research on Google and the concensus seemed to be that they were fine as long as you just went over them fairly neutrally. Just don’t brake, accelerate or steer and spread your weight. And so it proved to be. An interesting aside from my research was an online comment from someone in, I think, Yorkshire, who mentioned that local sheep had discovered that they could roll over the cattle grids. Now there’s something I’d like to see.

One of the notable parts of the morning was Blissford Hill. If you’ve read Dave Holmes’ accounts (links above) you’ll have some idea of the ridiculous steepness and general hilarity that accompanied this climb. To be honest I was somewhat oblivious to most of it. I was among the first to attempt the hill and spend a short time at the top remembering how to breath again and coming to terms with the fact that I’d somehow made it up. My comment on reaching the top may have lacked eloquence, but summed up my feelings perfectly. It went something like “Holy sh*t!”

So the morning passed in a fairly uneventful, damp sort of way and pretty soon we’d covered about 30 miles and were thinking about lunch. Unfortunately, at this point we were about to lose Tasha, our only lady rider. She was suffering from a nasty sounding chesty cold and should probably have stayed at home in bed. But, hats off, she made a supreme effort and managed the first half of the ride. Luckily, the route was two large loops so at this point we weren’t too far away from our start point. Losing Tasha also meant losing Team Tasha (husband & brothers) as well. So we were now down to eight. Great job, Tasha. I’m looking forward to the next ride and better health and weather all round.

Lunch

The remainder of the pack pedalled our way into Burley and lunch at The Queens Head. With the bikes locked together out front every available spot on adjacent radiator space was adorned with wet cycle gear. Strangely, the windows in our corner of the pub quickly steamed up although others elsewhere remained clear. There appeared to be some sort of heating under the bench I sat on and so I went for the wetsuit effect with my shoes and socks.

I couldn’t resist the carb hit of a plate of fish & chips and, unusually for me, I went for the full sugar coke option rather than my usual diet choice. I figured I’d easily burn the sugar once back on the bike. The staff were great and happily accommodated a table of eight who all wanted to pay separately. And so we passed a pleasant hour of mainly cycling related chat and all got to know one another a little better. Finally, after compulsory coffee (we is cyclists!) we realised we’d have to go back outside where the weather seemed to have turned to a heavier, more persistent drizzle than before. In a few miles I would have cycled further than ever before and be into unknown territory.

The Ride (Post-Lunch)

Shortly, after we set off I suffered my only real mishap of the whole ride. I’m not sure exactly where we were. Let’s say ‘somewhere south of Burley’. Some way up a short hill  I felt something amiss with the back of bike and discovered I had punctured. Fortunately, this particular occupational hazard of cycling wasn’t a problem at all with so many helpful hands. It’s not often that you puncture on a ride and be asked what pressure you’d like in the repaired tyre. It’s even less usual that they’ll be holding a mini track pump. Another great bit of kit to add to my wishlist.

And so on we went. And on went the rain. The groups broke up a little and spread out along the road. We were all pretty wet by now and were straining for home so it was natural that the quicker riders pushed on ahead. Only a handful of miles from the end we lost a rider. It was soon discovered that one of our number had suffered not one, but two broken spokes. Karl, who did a great job all day making sure everyone was OK and was one of the quicker riders, sped off to fetch a rescue vehicle. And so it was that we straggled back into Lyndhurst in twos and threes. Everyone was keen to get to cars and head home or to accommodation. I managed one or two brief goodbyes and was soon back at the Mini and stripping off my sodden kit.

Ironically, after an earlier discussion about the impossibility of driving in cleats, I realised about a mile into my drive home that I hadn’t changed my shoes. Maybe the cold and wet had got to me in the end.

Memories and lessons

  • One of the abiding memories of the day was the very start of the ride. Probably because it was new to me there was something special about wheeling out of the car park and onto the roads. I suppose, for me, it was a leap into the unknown. Maybe that feeling goes away after you’ve done a few group rides. I hope not, it was a special feeling.
  • I learned loads about riding in a group, but I know I have so much more to learn. This was a very informal, relaxed ride. I suspect more discipline and care is needed in bigger and/or faster groups. Anyway, I didn’t crash into anyone or have anyone off so I count that as a result.
  • The relaxed nature of the rise meant that there were plenty of opportunities to eat and drink. This is something I often don’t pay enough attention to as I ride longer distances. It wasn’t an issue on this ride.
  • Overall, this was without doubt my best day’s cycling to date. Great, if somewhat damp, scenery and great company. And a new achievement in terms of distance.

So thanks to everyone involved for making it a great day. Special thanks to Karl for organising and shepherding everyone. Here’s to the next community ride.

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