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Monday, April 25, 2011

Nottingham to Lichfield

With the lead up to Easter, I hadn't done much riding so decided that I needed to get out and do a good ride on one day over Easter. Monday, 25 April 2011, isn't just Easter Monday for a Kiwi. It is also ANZAC day. Still I am not into celebrating events around wars so it was time to head off for a ride. The ride from Nottingham to Lichfield sounded like a good challenge. The first challenge is how to get to Nottingham and then back from Lichfield. The train was my chosen option but Lichfield isn't on the same train line as used by the Cross Country service to Nottingham. Two tickets rather than a return trip ticket. I had to swap trains at the University station on the way into New Street station only to find the train returned back to Cotteridge. Seemed a waste of time but the train didn't stop between New Street station and Tamworth so I had no other option.

On reaching Nottingham, I decided to head to Nottingham castle before heading off to find the cycle route. This took in a loop round the central city and back to the station. Once on the canal path and working out which way was west, I headed off in search of Route 6. There were no signs for the National Cycle Network along the canal path so with the terrain map in MotionX GPS having the cycle route on it, I used it to ensure that I didn't overrun the point where I needed to make the connection. The iPhone screen in the bike mount isn't easy to read partly because of the mount angle so it meant stopping at possible exit points to check I was on track.

The Nottingham canal path was busy with walkers and other cyclists so it was finally nice to get off and into some quite back streets. I find it easy to miss the signs when the cycle way is in a city. Part of this is because the cycleway sometimes takes narrow paths between houses and if you are like me, riding on the road, you don't always see the. Fortunately, I only did one such detour in Nottingham. Although there were places where the ride took me through parks, it seemed to take a long time before going over the M1 and finally clearing the housing of Nottingham.

The journey to Derby would follow Route 6. In Derby, I needed to change to Route 54 but the connection was labelled Route 68, 6. This proved a little confusing so I took a lunch break while trying to work out in which direction I needed to go. When I found Route 54, the signs pointed along the river heading north. Although some (not many) had place names, they tended to be local destinations rather than the more distant destinations that I would recognise. At this connection point, there seemed to be no signs pointing in the direction that I needed to travel in. Without the maps, I would have struggled to be on the correct route.

The mile posts were better at having more major towns or cities on them so they acted as a better guide as to whether I was heading in the right direction. These are scattered along the routes but not always a key decision points along the route. I didn't see any in central Derby when I could really have done with one.

There were too additional problems with the route marking. Some of the signs had stickers on them obscuring the route number and one had been turned to point in the wrong direction. Fortunately, I recognised that when it said city centre it should have been pointing in the direction that I was coming from making it easier to select the correct direction.

There were some interesting sections on this part of the ride and on the section between Mickleover and Etwall, I passed a Sustrans Volunteer talking to other riders about difficulties maintaining the cycle route. A lot of this section of the ride skirted around the edge of small villages. Some did have signed routes into the village centre.

Route 54 joins Route 5 at the back of Lichfield Cathedral. A quick ride around the cathedral and it was then off to the station to catch the train back to Kings Norton for the 2 kilometre rid home. It was nice to have the rest on the train and meet other cyclists who had ridden part of Route 81 in Wales. They had caught the train back from Shrewsbury.

The total journey distance including the ride to and from Kings Norton station was 94.1 km. I was on the bike for 5 hours 20 minutes and 12 seconds at an average speed of 17.6 km/hr. The photos on this journey were taken with my Canon EOS 300D. It wasn't as easy to carry so that I had easy access and for a lot of the journey, I held it in one hand while I rode. The more compact Canon SX210IS is easier to carry and keep in a camera bag strapped to my Camelback back pack strap.

One of my objectives on these rides was to meet people. I am not finding that this is happening. Apart from other riders or walkers, it is proving a lonely existence. Admittedly my current format, which means that I am fairly self sufficient and I don't stay anywhere along the route, means that I meet people on the way to the beginning of the ride or on my way back at the end. Occasionally, I have asked for direction but that really doesn't get you talking.

This ride took in some country lanes and paths across farm land. It also took some back allies or followed along beside roads through cities. In Nottingham, there was a section through a park were sports were happening. You do get to see a diversity in styles and standards of dwellings but if you want to explore some of the UK's heritage then you have to plan side excursions. The ride to Stratford took in some historic sites but the objective of the routes isn't to take in historic sites or necessarily scenic beauty (although there is some of that), the key objective is to have safe cycle routes that are free of heavy traffic flows. As a result, you end up on relatively quite roads or tracks that are traffic free. However, other than in areas close to cities or towns, they are also free of cyclists and pedestrians. Even in some areas close to cities or towns, the volume of users is extremely low.

I have found a way to put all of my rides on a Google map so that it is easier to look at the details of the ride. One of the options shows the cycle routes as well so I am looking at how I can adapt this so it can be accessed from the blog. It would also be good to be able to link back to the blog entries from the map / index. Another small project.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Newbury to Oxford

With Marilyn heading to Kingsclere south of Newbury, Berkshire, I had an opportunity to do some cycling in an area of the country that we used to explore when Amanda (our daughter) and her family lived in Thatcham. Marilyn dropped me off at the Sainsbury Supermarket in the centre of Newbury. I found my way quickly to the canal path and stayed on it until Reading and the junction with the River Thames. I avoided the road portion through Thatcham having travelled this many times previously. Admittedly, the portion of the canal path past Thatcham is rough but not difficult to ride.

Apart from the flock of geese on the edge of the canal, the main interest on this leg of the journey was the number of canal boats. Not all were narrow boats. Some seemed to be double the width and some were set up for permanent living. At one point there were even structures on the canal bank to aid in canal boat living.

Even at 10am, I could tell this was going to be a hot day's riding so I was pleased to have five litres of energy drink in my backpack and good food supplies.

None of this part of the ride was that difficult although there were plenty of locks and people out walking and riding. However, a puncture a little after 20km of riding as I neared Reading caused me to stop and take my first break.

After passing through the central Reading shopping district, the canal joint the River Thames. Route 4 continues on into London but on this journey, I had set my sights on getting to Oxford and beyond. At the junction Route 5 begins and heads up the side of the River Thames. On this part of the ride, I ran into the first of my problems with the route signage and I continued up the river while the route actually crossed the river and headed into the surrounding hills. The river bank park on the edge of the Thames was full of people taking advantage of a beautiful spring day with as a shop assistant told Marilyn many showing off their best assets!!! Sorry no photos.

The detour along the river bank allowed me to see how the affluent of Reading live with many of the houses on the opposite river bank having boat sheds or summer houses along the river edge. This was obviously not an area in which we are going to live. Maybe this is a sign of being in the London commuter belt. A lot of this area and the next stage of the ride up onto the Ridgeway had that feeling of affluence and not the cramped housing developments of Bournville and the suburns of Birmingham. There are country mansions around Birmingham but not in the way that the affluence seemed to show in this area of the country.

This well at Kidmore End was one of the many interesting features as I climbed my way up and over the Ridgeway. Cycling along the Thames River pathway may have been easier after all.

I took my second break in what was labelled a quite lane amongst the trees just below Stoke Row. For this ride, I had brought to systems for recharging the iPhone batteries on the ride. I didn't want a repeat of the battery going flat that occurred on my ride to Lichfield. One of these is solar powered (Solar Power Pack TB-SC02) so I had attached the iPhone when I repaired the puncture just before Reading and I did the same on this stop. The iPhone appeared to be holding its charge but I didn't want to take any risks so making sure it didn't drop below 50% battery charge was part of my objective. With the sun on my back. I put the solar panel facing out through the mesh on my back pack in the hope that it would recharge. Supposedly the LEDs should be red but in the bright sunlight, I couldn't tell. They certainly glowed green when charging the iPhone but the charge didn't seem to increase as much on the second stop. At the next stop, I switched to the TeckNet iEP380 External Battery Pack. This pack is rated as 5000mAh and I had tested it riding to work during the week. In 30mins it had almost completely recharged the phone so I rode with it connected for the next hour or so.

Once on top of the Ridgeway, the views across Oxfordshire were spectacular. I could see in the distance the cooling stacks at the Didcott Power Station. That was the direction in which I was heading but I had a few villages to pass through on the way. These included historic Wallingford with some splendid examples of English thatch roofed houses.

The cycle route takes in a variety of paths and surfaces. Some are almost single track but there are a lot of country roads or country lanes. This one took me across the open country on the way to Didcott. After taking a loop around the Didcott Park railway station and yards, I went around the Didcott Power Station.

Along the route are mile posts put in as a millennium project. This one was the other side as you crossed the paddock to Sutton Courtenay. Not only are they helpful for determining whether you are on the correct path, they give the distance to places in either direction. In this case, it is showing the distance back to Didcott and on the Sutton Courtenay. The other side of Sutton Courtenay, the mile post was accompanied by a notice board that showed part of the route and more importantly the route into Oxford.

This was at the beginning of another of those country lanes that took me into Abingdon. In Abingdon, I again meet up with the River Thames. I had crossed it coming into Wallingford but hadn't realised that it was the Thames. The route didn't follow it for long before heading again to Radley and then along the side of the railway line to another short section on the Thames Path before departing into Oxford. This departure point was were I saw my last mile post although I did cross the Thames again just before heading into the centre of Oxford. With it being past 5pm. I knew Marilyn was on her way to the Oxford Peartree Services on the A34 where we planned to meet up. I was a little surprised to find that I had stayed on Route 5 almost to Peartree. By now, I was more concerned that I didn't keep Marilyn waiting too long. I arrived at the Peartree Services around 6pm. Yes, it had been hot enough to wear shorts for the ride.

According to the bike computer, I had completed 110km in 6 hours 16 minutes 20 seconds of ride time at an average speed of 17.5 km per hour and a maximum speed of 54 km per hour. MotionX GPS reports 7 hours 26 minutes 28 seconds of ride time at an average speed of 14.6 km per hour. I hadn't realised I had stopped so much for photos (90 in total). I did pause its recording for my major breaks hence it isn't showing the elapsed time. My average cadence was 80 rpm with a maximum of 135 rpm. What was pleasing was that my average heart rate was 135 bpm with a maximum of 170 bpm. That peak in heart rate occurred on one of the climbs coming out of Reading. An enjoyable days riding on a nice English spring day. This ride has given me confidence for the others that remain ahead. I know feel confident that I have completed over a hundred miles (this ride is about 75 miles) of the National Cycle Network although most of it is on Route 5 with the stretch from Newbury to Reading being on Route 4. My next two goals are to fill in the remaining gap in Route 5 from Oxford to Stratford on Avon and to do parts of Route 54 and Route 6 to complete the Lichfield to Nottingham extension of my northern journey.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

To Rowington Green and return

This ride wasn't a journey on the National Cycle network. Instead it was a ride with a friend, Joe Baker, to help increase my endurance riding. I knew Joe would be on a road bike but I decided to ride my commute bike, the Avanti Montari. It is heavier than a road bike and I usually struggle to retain an average speed over 21 km per hour. Joe quotes his distances and average speeds in miles per hour and was talking of averaging 20 miles per hour (approximately 32 km per hour). I knew this was going to be hard work and it showed before we had really travelled that far. I spent most of the first half hour chasing Joe in an attempt to stay in reasonable contact.

Again, I used MotionX GPS to record the actual route as shown on the map. This time the bike computer and MotionX GPS almost agreed on distance and speed. The bike computer registered 41.61 miles in 1 hour 45 minutes 51 seconds at an average speed of 23.5 km per hour. MotionX GPS said 41.7 km in 1 hour 47 minutes 5 seconds with an average of 23.4 km per hour. There were few stops on this journey compared with my other reported rides. The maximum speed was 43.9 km per hour (MotionX GPS) with a maximum cadence of 144 rpm (bike computer, average 89 rpm). The cadence statistics are really pleasing because it means that I still have reasonable leg speed. The maximum speed would have been on one of the downhill sections but it is pleasing to see the old Avanti (20 years old and still going well) being able to be wound up to those speeds.

MotionX GPS now reports altitude changes. It claims that we climbed 191 meters and descended 182 meters. I am not sure how it achieved that since it started and ended in the same place. It claims the maximum positive gradient was 3.7% and maximum negative gradient 3.5%. Interesting statistics.

Partly because we were time constrained, I didn't consider taking the camera so there are no photos of the journey even though we passed through some interesting places.