Sunday, November 27, 2016

New bike day

Not for me, but for Nicole. A new Fuji adventure bike. Here's to many adventures in the days and months to come.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Chasing ghosts for self-amusement

The quiet roads of the Huon Valley.

I'm not a terribly competitive cyclist, which is probably a good thing given my general lack of application to anything resembling a training regime and the odd sorts of bikes I get around on. But  even the least competitive among us has the odd stretch of road where were like to have the occasional lash. In the age of Strava, the impetus to ride - and sometimes to ride fast - is one which seems to hit the best of us from time to time.

Given I'm not the fastest of riders, my personal collection of KOMs on Strava consists mainly of places so far off the beaten path that nobody else has thought to ride them. A good example of this is the Airwalk to Southwood segment which is an absolute cracker of a ride but doesn't get a mass of two-wheeled traffic.

Closer to home there's the loop from Judbury, near where I live, in to Huonville, the closest town. There's a road either side of the river, so it can be done as an out-and-back or as a loop. My favourite way is to head into town on the tarmac on the south side of the river and coming back on the unsealed North Huon Road. The circuit is about 27km.

A couple of years back my mate Ben and I used to ride this circuit most nights, starting from near his place in town and doing the anti-clockwise in the preferred manner. Since we these were mostly after-work jaunts and we tend to chat a lot we seldom got much of a speed up, generally getting around in about one hour and five minutes. Now and again we'd inadvertently have a lash and would come close to breaking the hour, most memorably one night when Ben stopped to look at fish from the Huonville bridge when I was more intent on the PB. Noticing he wasn't behind me, I doubled back to find him leaning over the bridge staring into the water below.

Although I ride this way most weekends, I usually break my trip for a coffee at the lovely Summer Kitchen Bakery on the way home. Yesterday I had a tailwind on the way in and was feeling pretty good when I stopped for coffee, noticing later that my moving time for the whole circuit was one hour and one minute. I wondered whether I might be in good enough shape to be able to knock off the elusive goal at last.

This morning I wandered up to the shed. My trusty Bianchi - the only road bike I have - has been loaned to my wife, who needed it for a group ride she has been on and to my surprise the fit wasn't too bad on her. So this morning I raised the seat and put the longer stem back on and prepared to see what I had in my legs, which were a little weary after yesterday's dash.

I've been losing a bit of weight lately so the plan in my mind was to set a bit of a mark to challenge later on so see it dropping a few kilograms (and maybe a new bike I'm planning as a reward) makes a difference. It was about 11 degrees when I set out, just a hint of wind and a little rain. I'm not much of a time-trialler, so the tempo was intended to be more of a brisk ride than an all-out effort. I decided to try to put in my best effort on the uphills and flats and use the downhills to recover, trying to exceed a 27km/h average. None of the hills are too steep or long, given there's only 160m of climbing over the entire ride, but rather a series of gentle ups and downs which are perfect for effort and recovery.

By about half-way, I realised I might just be able to knock the old mark off as long as I didn't blow up. I knew the key was getting to the bakery at about 16km close to the half hour point and I was in the ballpark. There's a couple of slightly longer hills on the way back which were set to challenge my momentum but I knew the last 6km is pretty easy to do in about 12 minutes when the road is in good condition so it was a matter of getting to there by the 48 minute mark and not much later. And I was close.

I didn't really want to ride to bursting point, so I focussed on sitting above 30km/h and avoiding hitting any big potholes along the smooth and surprisingly dry 5km dirt section into Judbury. As the dirt gives way to tarmac although tiring, I was doing even better than I thought and hit the 1km to go with three minutes remaining and a downhill run to the finish. It was an easy roll and it was done. The old mark was gone - beaten by a solid minute.

Given how long this silly milestone has lurked in the back of my head, I'm chuffed at beating it - although I was also a little surprised at how easy it was in the end. Time now to set a new goal and see how that goes. Maybe 55 minutes is possible.

2497km so far this year.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

North Bruny circuit

Every ride is the same, every ride is different. After a couple of months without much cycling I really needed the familiarity and the novelty of this delightful circuit. The scenery is already magical and the roads don't see many cars, particularly if you pick your times well. Weather and the mood and the riding companion are the variables. Go alone, go with some mates, this ride never disappoints.

I had planned to do the circuit alone. A combination of events had left me with a morning to fill. Ben said he'd come along, and then Hugh, and Stuart decided to put a few more miles in his legs before a riding trip to Japan. That's a good group, four, though a good day out can always be had with a few more or less. 

Mornings are always chilly at the ferry terminal so there's some decisions to be made about what to wear. I skip the raincoat, for once that's the right call. Stripped of the winter lights and generator, the bike feels light. The first few kilometres are uphill so it's no easy start but the distance starts flying by. It's a ride of ups and downs and from the hilltops there are great views. We spread out and regroup, never in too much of a hurry to stop and enjoy the glimpses of hidden bays and beaches and more distant coastlines. I give my camera to Ben and he snaps some photos of me churning up the big climb. 

We stop for coffee at Dennes Point. The weather is mild. There's no wind, it's not cold, but it's still early enough in spring that there aren't any tourists about. We have the cafe to almost to ourselves. There's an old border collie ties up outside, waiting patiently for this owner, who is in no hurry either.

The road ahead is more up and down but there's something funny about riding on Bruny: the hills are never too long or too steep. Again some stops for views and photos. An echinda hunkers down into the roadside verge as we pass. A couple of cars come by, slowly, with a wave. 

The timing of the ferries home makes the 44km circuit a bit more interesting. On previous rides there's always been a couple of detours and a distinct lack of urgency. But today with a 9am departure, the 12.30 ferry looks like the shot, if we come up short the next is at 2pm, which is a bit too long a wait. Even though it looks light we throw in one last diversion for the sheer scenic value.

For some reason I'm feeling better than I deserve to today. I'm feeling better in the hills than I thought, not fast but at least smooth. Even the last climb, which I always find tough, seems easier than I remember. We have ten minutes to spare before the boat back to the mainland. 

It's six bucks for a bike, out and back to Bruny Island. I reckon it's the best six bucks I spent last week. 

2424km so far this year.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The controversial Oppy of 2016.

Sadly due to work commitments and a distinct lack of fitness I wasn't able to take part in the Fleche Opperman All Day Trial this year. It's an event I greatly enjoy, having completed it in 2015,  2013,  2011,  2009, 2008 and 2007. Missing out was a shame but there is always next year. Besides, the chaps of the Lancefield Lairs said they struck a fair bit of wind out on the road so I most probably would have struggled a little - something that's not much fun on a 24-hour event, if riding a bike for the better part of 24 hours can ever be described as 'fun'.

The 'Oppy' has been attracting a lot more interest from people outside the Audax fraternity in recent years. I've noticed in some places (including - surprisingly - the Audax website) the event is being referred to as the Opperman 24-hour Time Trial which makes it sound a lot more like a race or a competitive event than it actually is. 

For the sake of those who haven't heard of it, the object of the Oppy is to ride as far as you can in 24 hours. Teams start from wherever they like and ride towards a central point - for example Geelong in Victoria or Wagga in NSW. The rules are pretty simple, requiring a team of three to five bicycles, a designated route and controls and so on. You have to cover at least 360km and complete at least on the road 25km in the last couple of hours. It's based on the Fleche Velicio run by the famous Audax Club Parisien. Similar events are held all over the world. It's sometimes described as a rally, where riders meet at a central point and celebrate their achievements together. 

On the road in the 2015 Oppy.
This year a couple of gun teams decided to have a go at the distance record for the event after a few have been a few unsuccessful attempts in recent years. The men's mark was set about 20 years ago, in circumstances which are still occasionally discussed in incredulous tones: the team left a struggling member behind in pursuit of their goal, something that for many Audax riders would be unthinkable. 

For the first four or five years I rode the Oppy, I didn't even know there was a record. Audax is a bit uncompetitive and unconcerned with records like that. At any rate, it's not really an official Australian record. It's just the furthest anyone has ridden in an Oppy. A 24-hour road team time trial would be carried out under completely different rules and conditions and presumably by a club that wasn't dedicated solely to non-competitive cycling.

Anyhow the roadies came and saw and conquered. The men managed 800km, the women I believe made it 600km. Both were rides were grand athletic achievements. 

Sadly though, both teams broke the rules in achieving their records. After complaints, both were disqualified by the Audax hierarchy for receiving support between controls. An email to members read in part: "The rides undertaken by both teams were incredible feats of endurance cycling, however they were outside the rules of Audax".

The breaches don't really amount to cheating, in the sense that little the advantages gained were likely only small in the scheme of things but they were breaches nonetheless and a departure from the spirit of the event. It's the first time in my decade-long involvement with the club that I've heard of anyone being disqualified from the event or any event really. It is a shame but the rules are simple and clear and well-known to anyone who has done more than one or two rides. 

Watching events unfold, I found myself bemused by the the hyper-competitive and high-profile nature of the attempts. With my tongue slightly in my cheek I wrote elsewhere: "There is no prize in cycling quite as sweet as snatching a win from a bunch of beardoes in their sixties on steel bikes who didn't even know they were racing." But it's true of Audax in general, it's not a race and finishing times are barely recorded and certainly not remembered or exalted except in very rare circumstances. 'Winning' the Oppy is a bit like winning Around the Bay in a Day or the Gong Ride. It's missing the point and the spirit of the event.

Oppy team comes out of the long night.
But I suppose there's plenty of people around to miss the point. I've noticed in recent years the growth of the "lycra mob" in cycling: a large pool of folk who look like a lot like racers and spend a lot of money on their bikes and gear but don't race. The number of outlets for racing haven't diminished in that time but I suspect the proportion of serious cyclists who actually do much racing has fallen quite steeply. I've been surprised by the growth of the sportive ride and of Strava, which promote an unusual kind of unsanctioned and almost meaningless competition among cyclists for prizes not worth having - generally the esteem of others online or occasionally in real life. It has been lamented by others, most recently in this piece by Tom Marriage.

For me, the spirit of Audax is the lone rider out on the road, who battles the night and the wind and the rain and that little voice inside that says 'you can't' and challenges themselves and fails or triumphs almost unseen and unnoticed. The very word Audax means audacious. It is someone on a journey and if the only person they end up impressing is themselves then that is all that counts. The external validation sometimes hard to detect aside from the odd medal or distance award or pat on the back at the finish. That is the spirit of the Audax, and of the Oppy. 

1200km so far this year.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Never thought I'd do that!

There's nothing much that disrupts the course of an ordinary life like a trip to Antarctica. A quick glance at this blog reveals I haven't made an update since October, in part because of preparations for this summer's trip south.

Antarctica is a terrific and fearsome place, but that's a story for another blog. One of the highlights of a couple of months in the frozen white hell was spotting a bike on the disused runway at the French station Dumont D'Urville.

Apparently the base has a few for getting around on the gravel tracks between the icy bits. Despite the fact it was minus eight and blowing about thirty knots and wearing bulky full cold weather gear which makes cycling ungainly at best, I managed to knock out a couple of kilometres and promptly ticked 'ride a bike in Antarctica' off my bucket list.

393km so far this year.