FNRttC: London to Brighton and back

Friday 26 March saw the biggest and smoothest ride in the recent history of the Friday Night Ride to the Coast.  This write-up is a few days overdue – I’ve been a bit sleepy and a bit busy since Saturday to get this written, so sorry for the delay.  Anyway…

I got home from work on Friday and settled down for a couple of hours sleep.  I never get any real sleep when I try so early in the evening (even after avoiding caffeine all day), but lying down for a rest does help a bit.  I got up about 20:30 and headed downstairs for a double espresso and pasta with tuna, then checked the weather forecast.  On Thursday, Metcheck had been forecasting a dry night with a very light southerly, which was quite favourable, but during Friday the forecast had started to indicate rain.  It was still showing some rain, but not terribly much. That kind of forecast makes it difficult to decide what to wear and what additional clothing to carry.  At least I knew how cold it was going to be – no less than 4C.  The almost complete cloud cover would prevent it getting any colder than that.

By the time I’d had a shower it was 22:00 and had started raining quite heavily outside.  The rain only lasted a few minutes, but it meant that the ground was going to be wet and more rain could be coming, so I slapped a race blade over my back wheel.  I didn’t want to carry a bag with me so I set about organising my pockets to squeeze in my waterproofs, phone, keys, money, short-finger mitts and a bunch of gels.  Spare tubes, CO2, other tools and things were safely stowed in the little bag under my saddle.  Just one more espresso required.

I set off for Hyde Park Corner about 22:40, riding across Richmond Park and up through Barnes, Hammersmith and High Street Kensington.  The crowds were already building up under the Wellington Arch as dozens of cyclists arrived from around London and the local railway stations.  This FNRttC was a little different to usual.  About 60 regulars were attending and escorting a contingent of 65 riders who were fundraising for the Martlett’s Hospice.  This made the ride an official CTC event rather than an informal ride, so everyone had to sign in.  We had a quick safety talk and then set off at midnight around the Hyde Park Corner one-way system, through little roads to Sloane Square and across Battersea Bridge towards Clapham Common.

A field of 125 riders is a lot larger than the FNRttC had seen before and given that half of the participants were new to the concept of night riding, with some on heavy and/or dodgy looking bikes, one could be forgiven for having a little apprehension about whether or not the ride would run to schedule.  The rides routinely arrive at the coast an hour behind schedule with half the number of riders, so how was this one going to fare?

Against the odds, this was probably the smoothest running FNRttC to date.  It must not be forgotten the Simon Legg is quite a legend.  He had beefed up the group of Tail-End-Charlies (TEC) so there was a high level of expertise available to anyone who suffered a mechanical problem.  Canisters of compressed CO2 were in abundance to speed up puncture repair (perhaps this should become a permanent feature).  There were plenty of wayfinders at the front of the pack ready to give directions at intersections and mark significant potholes.  Riders were appearing on Madeira Drive in Brighton by 8:00 am, which wss right on schedule.  It couldn’t have gone much better!  Let that be a lesson to my pessimism.

I did my share of wayfinding along the route and marked a big pothole in the middle of Lonesome Lane, just south of Reigate.  Standing in the middle of the road signalling for riders to go either side of me, I felt like I should have been blowing a whistle and holding a little triangular flag above my head, like you see in front of traffic islands in the Tour de France.  I was really impressed with all of the riders I saw coming past me while I was wayfinding.  Even towards the end people were looking fairly fresh and smiley.  The half way stop at the scout hut in Horley was instrumental in keeping both spirits and carbohydrates high.  The Martlett’s volunteers pouring tea and coffee, and providing sandwiches, cakes and bananas were marvellous.  It was a well deserved rest for everyone and well-timed as it came just before Turner’s Hill.

To the half way point there had been two drop-outs.  One was a Martlett’s girl who was clearly struggling from the beginning and ended up in the minibus (or sag wagon) early on.  The second was Charlotte, who I recognised from the ride to Bognor Regis in August 2009.  She had been riding a brilliant looking penny farthing, but had come into mechanical difficulty after one of her cranks fell off after descending Reigate Hill.  Despite some attempts, it was unable to be fixed so she unfortunately had to pull out and ride the sag wagon the rest of the way to Brighton.

There were some other interesting bikes on the ride too.  One enormous contraption fabricated from at least three bike frames set the rider about two and a half metres above the ground.  At the other extreme, a recumbent trike with a swept back windshield placed the rider’s head lower than the height of a 700c wheel.  My friends Wheeled Weenie and Cathy rode the whole route on a tandem, the first time either of them had ridden on such a bike.  Quite an achievement.

The tallest bike I've ever seen approaching the summit of Ditchling Beacon

The weather was dry the whole way to Brighton and it wasn’t too cold.  There were several stops along the way but none were too long.  Everything flowed nicely.

A few miles before Ditchling, I noticed that my front tyre had lost a lot of air.  It wasn’t flat, but was quite soft.  I decided to top it up and keep going.  By the bottom of the Beacon it had gone down again, so I stopped to change the tube and then it was up the hill.  I’ve ridden Ditchling Beacon a few times, but this time was the hardest I remember.  My fitness is just not what it was before the winter and it was quite an effort getting up there.  I resolved at that point to start featuring more big hills in my training.

After the Beacon, it was a nice ride past the golf club and down into Brighton for a full veggie breakfast (with hash browns) at the Madeira Café.  There I got chatting and managed to put a lot of faces to names I was familiar with from the CycleChat forums.  It was nice to meet lots of new people.  I also managed to meet on this ride another Willesden CC member who lives not far from me in Twickenham.  He noticed my club jacket while we were preparing to depart at Hyde Park Corner and came over to have a chat.

After some breakfast and chit-chatting, a bunch of us, about 12 I think, got ready to cycle back to London.  At that point I discovered that my front tyre was gone again.  It looks like a little flint stuck in the tyre must have been poking through to the interior just enough to cause a slow leak in the tube.  So I changed the tube again and with no spares left, we set off north.

We ascended what must have been one of the steepest streets in Brighton, up under the entrance to the railway station, and continued from there towards Devil’s Dyke.  Going down the other side of the Dyke was fun and I clocked about 75 km/h!  The route we took followed some beautiful little country roads that were a pleasure to ride through after having been up all night.  But there were a lot of hills and one of our number bonked half way up one of them, opting to stop for a long rest before finding the nearest railway station.

We stopped for a while in a little village and grabbed some food and drink to keep us going, then we jumped onto an A road and picked up the pace past Crawley and Gatwick.  The group then split with four of us heading north-west and the others heading north-east towards Bromley and central London.  We said our goodbyes and Mistral guided us back onto quieter roads towards Dorking.  Along this stretch we encountered our first rain since leaving Hyde Park Corner the night before.  As it got heavier we stopped to neck some more gels and put on our waterproof jackets.  A little later the rain had stopped and I was starting to get a bit hot in the little sweatbag I’d zipped onto myself, so off came the jacket.

With Box Hill towering upwards on our right, we diverted left and took a nice narrow country lane towards Stoke D’Abernon.  We started to see a number of other roadies out for their Saturday training rides.  Mistral told us that there would be one last hill that is a little steep but not too long.  This last hill resides on Chapel Lane and its gradient is over 20% for a good portion of the climb.  After almost 200 km and no sleep, ‘not too long’ felt like it would never end and I had to summon every last bit of will power to keep myself going.  I got to the top in one piece and took a good long breather while waiting for the others.

We rode past Stoke D’Abernon towards Cobham and past the Chelsea FC training grounds.  The road inclined slightly as we approached a bridge over the railway line and then disaster struck.  As I put on a little acceleration, I heard a massive clunk, my back wheel stopped spinning and I couldn’t move the cranks.  I managed to unclip and get off the bike without falling.  My first guess was that one of the rubber straps from my mudguard must have gotten caught in the spokes, but on taking a look it was in exactly the right position and the straps were well clear of the wheel.  I took a closer look and then saw that a spoke on the non-drive side had snapped up near the rim and flown into the chain.  It had then been wrapped around the underside of the cassette and gotten trapped between the chain and one of the jockey wheels causing the derailleur to bend out of shape.

A non-drive side spoke snapped at the rim and wrapped itself under the cassette, becoming trapped between the chain and a jockey wheel and causing the rear derailleur to bend out of shape

I couldn’t believe it.  Not only was I almost at the end of the ride (about 20 km remaining), but the wheel was almost brand new, received from Planet-X in late February.  I really didn’t expect to get broken spokes so soon after buying the wheels and in normal riding conditions.  I’ve even been extra careful in avoiding bumps and potholes since getting the wheels as I haven’t wanted to cause them any damage.  I was gutted.

The four of us all stopped and had a think what we could do.  We removed the derailleur, which was bent well out of shape.  We managed to get the broken spoke out and then set about shortening the chain with a view to me riding single speed the rest of the way home.   That was no good though.  The wheel was way out of true, so that was the end of the road for me.  I thanked the guys and plodded off towards the railway station, which fortunately was quite close by.  A 20 minute wait got me onto a train to Wimbledon where I grabbed an espresso, switched trains and then walked home from Norbiton.

I got home about 17:00.  Recovery drink?  Bit late for that, should have had it just after I stopped pedalling.  Had a shower, got into my compression tights and cooked some more pasta to go with the remaining tomato/tuna sauce from the night before.  Visited Wiggle to see what a new derailleur was going to cost me.  I could always try bending the current one back into shape, but I don’t feel too comfortable with that.  Maybe I could use this as an opportunity to upgrade from 105 to SRAM Rival or Force (or maybe Red, are there any specials on?)  Of course I’d need to replace the shifters in that case (how much are they?  Hmm, quite a lot.  Been awake too long, starting to imagine silly things, spending money I don’t have.  Better stop looking before I press Buy.)  Felt sorry for myself and set my Facebook status accordingly.  Maybe I’d get some sympathy.  Opened a bottle of Gran Bombero, the older, wiser sibling of my favourite El Bombero.  That’s nice.

Managed to stay awake until 21:00 and even thought for while I might be able to have a cosy evening in with wife, wine and a film, but that was delusional.  My head hit the pillow and I was out in an instant.

Mechanicals aside, I had a great night/day out.  The FNRttC was phenomenal, the weather was ideal, the ride back was fun and I made some new friends.  It couldn’t have been much more enjoyable!  The Martletts riders were an inspiration and the charity director who came and shook all of our hands on Madeira Drive was overjoyed with the success of the event.

But I now have a broken bike.  I emailed Planet-X telling them what had happened.  Dave Loughran got back to me saying that they get very few problems with their Model B wheels but that he’d like to take a look at it.  I’m going to get the wheel and broken spoke boxed up tonight and sent back to them.  I hope they’ll be able to fix it up under warranty.  But for now, I’m off the bike.  I’ll keep you updated!

The route we took from HPC to Brighton can be found on Bikely.

Registration for the next FNRttC on 30 April is now open.  The route is to Southend-on-Sea.  More details here.


4 Responses to “FNRttC: London to Brighton and back”

  1. 1 wheeledweenie Tuesday 30 March, 2010 at 15:08

    Gosh, I’m so glad you didn’t come off when the spoke snapped. I hope if they get to the root of the problem they’ll compensate accordingly, that could’ve been a VERY nasty accident!

    Nice to see Cathy and I mentioned, that tandem ride was exciting to say the least!

    • 2 aeroprofile Tuesday 30 March, 2010 at 22:06

      I can hardly not mention you!
      I’m very glad the mechanical happened when it did, firstly as I was quite close to a train stations and secondly because I wasn’t going too fast. Maybe those should be the other way around, but either way, I’m still in one piece and got home safely!

  2. 3 Greg Collins Tuesday 30 March, 2010 at 17:28

    Great little blog, neat write up of Saturday’s mayhem. It was amazingly slick wasn’t it? Thanks very much for the sponsorship btw, just chasing the last few malingerers to hit the £1k target!

    Hope the wheel gets sorted pronto.

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