Category Archives: Cycling in England

Trice Q goes to Colchester

Today I went for a cycle ride – from Great Bromley to Colchester on my Trice Q.

The Q is my original trike, now 6 years old, and it had done 25,000 miles before I bought Alfie (the newer trike) and retired the Q. (For some unfathomable reason the Q was never given its own name, unlike my more recent recumbents).

Anyway, the Q is vaguely up for sale (except I haven’t advertised it) and languishes in the back of the shed at home in Essex. But it does mean that I have a trike to ride when I return home from Germany.

Today, halfway through my visit home to the UK after three months in Germany, there was a concert at my church in Colchester which I wanted to attend. So out came the Trice Q as I didn’t want to suffer the hassles of driving to Colchester, finding somewhere to park and emptying my purse to pay for the parking.

I had brought some cycling shoes with me (with SPD cleats on them) as these are needed for the Q’s pedals. The day seemed reasonably warm so I put on my old cycling clothing that was still here in Essex and got ready to set off, borrowing James’s blue panniers for the journey. The panniers didn’t have any tools in (my set of trike tools are 300km away in Germany) so if I had any issues I would have to phone up for the broom wagon!

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Having barely used the Q in three years (and I’ve done a cumulative 22,000 miles on my other trike and velomobile since), it seemed very different. The boom/bottom bracket seems lower, the trike is a little wider so feels different, and it seems to need a bit more muscle power to steer for the corners. But it is still a very comfortable trike and feels a bit quicker to accelerate than Alfie (it has derailleur gears at the back, not a hub gear, so the rear wheel has less rotation resistance). On the other hand it is shod with three Marathon Plus tyres so these have more rolling resistance and lead to a slightly slower ride time overall.

Off I went along the country lanes of Great Bromley, heading towards Colchester.

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It was strange to be riding on the correct side of the road again!

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The roads feel a little bit more cramped than in Germany but I think this is almost entirely down to the hedges either side that give an illusion of narrowness – all the roads around where I live in Germany have nothing at the sides except wide open fields which makes you think everything has more space.

My new cycling shoes were performing well – here’s one getting into the photo again!

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I must have done this ride to Colchester hundreds of times in the past. In includes two rather nasty hills (well, nasty for a non-climber like me). The first hill, Crockleford Hill, is a dip down to Salary Brook which marks the town limit of Colchester. It was also a bit strange today as there were lots of police about – a few days ago there was a murder in the Greenstead area (near where I was cycling) and they haven’t yet found the person who did it.

As I rode along the Harwich Road I spotted this house that didn’t seem to have noticed that England were now out of the World Cup!

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As I arrived towards the centre of Colchester I passed some of the old houses near to the river Colne.

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This mill building (I think!) has been turned into a very posh block of flats.

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Then I was at the traffic lights with East Hill in front of me.

Now for most cyclists this probably doesn’t look very hilly but believe me, it is. Especially on a recumbent trike, and when you’ve been eating too many cakes and too much chocolate in Germany. I was glad of my nice low gear ratios on the Trice Q so I could winch my way slowly up this hill.

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This is a slight problem with Colchester – the Romans decided to built it on a hill which means you always have to go up a hill to get to it. How inconsiderate of them!

Anyway, I managed to ride to the top without expiring and then rode down the pedestrian streets to get the the church which is slap bang in the middle of the pedestrian precinct central section of Colchester, built above the shops River Island, Costa Coffee and the Body Shop.

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One thing that I noticed almost immediately as I was cycling slowly around the streets is that an awful lot of the people round and about me were fatter than me. In the Kempen area I am one of the lardiest people that I know (well, lardiest woman anyway); here in Colchester I was very much at home in terms of spare tyres and muffin tops.

A possible reason is just opposite Lion Walk – a very nice bakery! (Although, of course, there are lots of nice bakeries in Germany too, as regular readers of my blog may have noticed)

I was very good and just bought a filled baguette from here, no cakes or pastries!

There appeared to be a Giraffe in the church car park.

As I was quite early I decided to park the Trice Q at the church and have a short wander around Colchester to do a couple of boring errands (paying in a cheque at the bank, etc).

Here is the Trice Q arriving at church.

This church began in 1647 but has been rebuilt several times – this particular building is only 25 years old, but the tower was retained from the previous building (which had to be pulled down as it wasn’t very well built!)

The church parking area was surprisingly busy with pushchairs – the pre-school were obviously still there.

I left the Q there and went off on foot through the pedestrian area. I was reminded how many mobile phone shops there are in the UK, as well as pound shops like this one:

However there is also some culture in Colchester with the castle:

And the town hall:

Once again some people are still flying the flag for England, despite their exit from the World Cup first round!

I had to cross the main road at one point and I suddenly realised that I was standing at the traffic light (with a red man for the pedestrian) waiting for it to turn green – but everyone around me was crossing the road as there was no traffic. My three months in Germany have made me very law-abiding!

There’s a small street market around Culver Square and it was all reasonably busy. The vegetable seller was doing the fabulous market calling of his wares but I couldn’t get a good recording of the special way in which they speak – it would have been interesting for my non-Brit readers! Sorry.

Here I am arriving back at Lion Walk church – dangerously close to an Apple Store!

I went into the church and had my lunch (they offer light lunches before the concerts) which involved me spilling some asparagus soup down my front (very messy!). I was then talking to Paul the church caretaker (who I know quite well) and he told me he had a new bike – well I really had to see it! Paul lives above the church in a flat so we went up to the roof of the church (which is itself built over some shops) to admire his wonderful new Pashley bike.

Interestingly Paul didn’t provide me with a safety harness as the sign suggests!

This is the view across the rooftops of the Town Hall.

And here is the beautiful bike!

He’s going to take the lock off and put it somewhere else which is a good decision – it rather spoils the lines of the metal.

It has a nice Brooks saddle, a Sturmey Archer 5-speed hub gear, drum brakes front and rear.

Paul says it is great to ride, which I can believe (for those who can ride uprights)

Some more views across the rooves – on the left is St Peter’s Church at the top of North Hill, the Jumbo Tower and on the right the Town Hall.

And this is looking over to the church – the grey stuff behind the brick tower is the area for the organ pipes and then the top skylights of the octagonal church sanctuary are visible.

After a good look around and chat about the bike it was time for me to go down to the concert which was a wonderful cello and piano event. Beethoven’s Sonate in A Major (Opus 69) played by Oliver Ray on the cello accompanied by his father Ian.

After the concert (which was 45 minutes and included a lovely Vaughan Williams piece as an encore) I stopped off at Aldi to buy some curry sauces for Germany and then rode home, once again hauling myself up the two significant hills at a snail’s pace.

Still, it was good to get out on the bike and it’s worth me knowing that three months in Germany absolutely kills my hill-climbing ability. I’m going to have to tackle the Süchtelner Höhen at least once per week if I’m to have any chance of coping with Essex Hills next time I visit.

My top speed was quite good though! Unfortunately it appears that my ‘Moving Average Speed’ has turned into ‘Sunrise’ so I’m now sure how long it all took but I reckon it’s about an average of 10mph which is pretty slow!

Here’s the track of the ride:

Picture 1

And here’s the elevation information:

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The Trice Q acquitted itself well seeing as it’s been mostly ignored for three years except for when I’ve lent it to people. I am more used to Alfie and definitely prefer his hub gear (I am rubbish with derailleurs) but the Q is still a very decent trike. And it’s up for sale at a bargainous £1,000/1.125,00€ if you’re interested!

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A ride around Thaxted, Dunmow and Stansted Airport

Although most of my cycling is done alone as I pootle around Great Bromley for 24 miles every day, occasionally things are made a bit more interesting by riding with friends. Even more occasionally, I take the bike somewhere different to ride with friends. And, very fortunately, friend Wowbagger (also known as Peter) had organised a ride in the Saffron Walden area for today.

The weather forecast for this ride was looking pretty appalling (non-stop heavy rain all day) but at the last minute the forecasts changed to less rain. However, the originally fairly large group of people planning to come had thinned out a bit when the forecast was poor so there were actually ten of us who met up at Audley End railway station in Wendens Ambo at a very early 9:30am this morning.

The drive from home had taken me almost an hour and a half so I’d got up rather early but it was good to ride somewhere different again and to do it in company with old friends.

Here is the route that we took today:

Today's Route 2

Three had arrived by train (Andrea, John and Wowbagger) and the rest of us had come in a selection of cars. TimC had brought his son along on his blingy bike, the rest of us were on more normal touring bicycles. I was the only one with three wheels this time round.

The first part of the route was surprisingly up-and-down. I tend to think of Essex as flat, and I suppose my bit of Essex is largely flat, but this bit was quite rolling. I have had a slightly dodgy knee over the last week so I had to spin a bit more up the hills to keep the pressure off.

After nine miles of hilly up and down but generally quiet, country lanes, we arrived in Thaxted. Anyone who does Audaxing in this part of the world knows that all routes go through Thaxted, so it was fitting that our non-Audax went through too. In honour of audaxing we stopped at Poppy’s Tea Room for a restorative cuppa.

Here are most of us (I am behind the camera and TimC’s son was hiding behind me)

Audley End WARTY 2

I decided that, after nine miles, I really needed to clog up my arteries a bit so had a proper cream tea.

Audley End WARTY 1

We had arrived just as the café was opening at 10:30am and spent a nice relaxing hour there, enjoying the cakes, cream teas, cinnamon toast etc.

We had, as usual, dumped our bikes outside. I had tricked Keith the Moultonaught into locking his Moulton to my trike through the front chainring guide so I think he got a bit oily unlocking it. Sorry Keith!

Audley End WARTY 3

We continued on, leaving Thaxted and heading just west of B184 on various quiet side lanes. The main road went through Great Easton, where I worked at the LEL control a couple of months back, but our route went through the smaller Little Easton.

Audley End WARTY 4

I now see why all the LEL Audaxers were complaining about the hills – it is hilly around here!

As we went through Little Easton I wondered where Tom the LEL controller and cycling chum was, as he lives in Dunmow. I sent him a text to say we were approaching Dunmow and we exchanged a couple of messages. He said he was just out for a ride and, lo and behold, just as we were arriving in Great Dunmow who should I see behind me but…

Audley End WARTY 6

Tom!

Not bad for a selfie photo taken when on a busy-ish road. Here was the view ahead at that time…

Audley End WARTY 5

Tom guided us round the big roundabout under the A120 and then he headed off a different way as we headed up to Barnston and from there towards Pleshey.

We stopped for WobblyJohn to mend a puncture.

Audley End WARTY 7

It didn’t take him long and we were soon on our way, having got a little cold whilst waiting in this fairly exposed spot. Apart from the fact it wasn’t very warm (about 11-12 degrees) it was turning out to be a lovely day with quite a lot of blue visible in the skies.

One plan had been to have lunch at the Leather Bottle in Pleshey but we felt it was a bit early on in the ride and it would be good to get a few more miles under our belts so we continued on through High Easter and then arrived at High Roding where we went off our route to find the pub Wowbagger had selected for us.

So we arrived at the Black Lion, High Roding, a lovely 14th century inn where we were almost the only customers. They had a good choice of food and were very friendly but as it was less than 20 miles since my cream tea I didn’t need too much (I had a sausage baguette).

Good, proper pub food.

Audley End WARTY 8

We spent a long time there, enjoying the food and the chit-chat, and then suddenly it was 3pm and I realised time was marching on. I had to get back to look after the dog and we had 17 miles to go yet. So we all trooped out and reunited ourselves with our bicycles.

Audley End WARTY 9

Now very eagle-eyed readers will notice something about my trike in that picture which I didn’t. Can you see something white on my flags? Well, I didn’t see that and we rode off, heading north west towards Takeley. There were some nice, smooth roads with swoopy downhills so our overall speed increased fairly well. TimC’s son tried drafting me but it didn’t work too well for him – but it was fun!

Anyway, as we were heading down the hill to Hope End Green I decided we needed to stop to let some of the others catch up. Just as I was pulling up Bob shouted “something’s fallen off your bike.” In the road was a small square of white paper. “That hasn’t come off my bike,” I said, as my sidepod bags’ zips were closed. But he and TimC had both seen it come off my bike. Bob picked up the paper, opened it and said “it’s definitely from your bike.” You can see why!

Spielst du Harmonika

Do you play the Steirische Harmonica? I have a question.
House opposite the parking place with thatched roof.
Knock on the door.
David.
Or telephone 0044 (0)1371….

Well I don’t play the Steirische Harmonica, but what a random note! But yes, it must have been for me, and then I noticed a paperclip on my German flag and we concluded the note had been on there. When I got home and looked at the photos we were right.

Trike with note on flag

Still, I couldn’t do anything about it now, so we carried on, zooming along again.

We had a brief stop for Bob to have another puncture (he had one on my Joy Of Essex ride!) We didn’t pick the nicest place to stop to mend it.

Audley End WARTY 10

Whilst Bob was fixing his puncture I put some insulating tape around my front derailleur gear cable as I noticed that the outer casing has worn away where it rubs against the track rods. I was showing WobblyJohn how it has worn the track rods and ran my finger along the cable, getting some metal stuck in my finger as a reward. Anyway, a bit of insulating tape will look after it for a little while.

From Takeley we rode through Bambers Green and then around the north-east side of Stansted Airport, watching lots of planes taking off. We had an airline pilot as one of our number today so he was talking to us a bit about his job which is all very interesting. I was slightly surprised to hear that he’s never crashed but he has been shot at so that sounds more interesting (not whilst flying civilian airliners though).

We rode up to Henham, going pretty fast now as the wind (not that there was much) was behind us. We passed Ugley (such a good name, and Nasty is just down the road too!) and then headed up towards Newport at which point I was joined by a road cyclist who spent a few minutes chatting to me about the trike as we went along. He whizzed off ahead so I tried to go a bit faster and catch him up (which I couldn’t), but I provided a good tow to Bob and TimC and SonC for a few miles so that was good fun.

We got back to Audley End station and SonC rode round the car park on my trike. He seemed to think it worth mentioning to Tim that Christmas was approaching…

We waved goodbye to those catching the train and then installed our bikes in our cars and headed off.

A good day’s ride was had by all – we did 47.24 miles in a moving time of 4 hours 7 minutes (that’s an average of 11.4mph). My maximum speed was 33mph and the total climb was 1,491 feet.

I drove home and once I’d walked the dog and had a shower it was time to phone David, the man who had left the note on Alfie.

We had a nice chat once I had identified myself. He said he had heard tales of a cycling German lady who was a harmonica player, thus the seemingly random question as to whether I played. No I don’t, but the reason he wanted to find a German harmonica player is that he plays the Steirische Harmonika which is a special type and he’s been looking, for seven years, for the sheet music for a particular song (Schützenliesel-Polka). And it’s not normal sheet music but instead something called Griffschrift, which is different notation. He has asked loads of German friends and failed to find any source of the music.

I said I didn’t know any harmonica players but I knew some German people so I’d have a look. I posted a thread on Toytown, the English-speaking expats in Germany forum, and within nine minutes had a link to exactly what David wanted – a sheet music book which includes, as the last song on the list, the very one he was looking for. So I rang him back and gave him the info – he was very pleased! Just goes to show what paperclipping a note to a German flag attached to a recumbent trike can achieve!

It was a fun day overall and we didn’t have a drop of rain. Good food, good company and good cycling – is there a better way to spend a Saturday?

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The Joy Of Essex 2 Cycle Ride

I led a ride around my bit of north east Essex about six weeks ago and it was very well received, although lots of people who wanted to come weren’t able to. So I organised a similar ride for Sunday 11 August which more people were able to attend. It turned out to be a very enjoyable day – and one with three ICE Sprint trikes!

As usual the plan was to meet at Manningtree Station at 9am for breakfast, leaving for the ride at 10am.

When I arrived at 8:45am Delthebike was already there, having cycled all the way from Southend (50 miles). He left home at 5am!

I ordered my traditional Station Café Half Breakfast to set me up for the day.

MNG Station Breakfast

Del had already eaten his.

We sat around chatting as more people gradually arrived.

MNG Eating Breakfast

Then James arrived and sat next to Del – can you tell them apart?

MNG James and James

Delthebike took this pic of me before the start.

Auntie Helen and camera (photo courtesy of Delthebike)

By the time we were ready to go, a group of twelve of us, we had a good selection of bikes including three recumbent trikes, a Moulton, a fixed-gear bike, a Dawes tourer, two Thorns, a Mercian singlespeed, a Ridley carbon road bike and two audax-type bikes that are the same frame but different brands (a Hewitt Cheviot and a Byercycles Aravis).

MNG a row of trikes

Here we are ready to leave the station.

MNG Leaving The Station

And this was our route for the day:

Joy of Essex 2 Route

So we headed off through the centre of Manningtree, enjoying the faces of passers-by as this group of different vehicles (and three recumbents) passed through. There was another cycling group starting from Manningtree at 10am (apparently) and we saw several people in lycra who were probably heading for that ride. I think we may have eaten all their breakfasts!

We were a group of mixed abilities (as usual) but I thought it would be good to try to keep reasonably together so I stopped regularly for people to catch up.

A brief stop

Obviously on the hilly bits it was easier for each to go at their own pace – Graham on the ICE Sprint FX whizzed ahead on the uphills as his legs needed to get going, I trundled uphill at my usual pace.

Here’s Del’s picture of Mrs Wowbagger, Wowbagger, James and Mark underway

I had made a slight mistake with the route and so had to ensure Delthebike was with us when I went off route as he was following the route on his Garmin and stopping to take lots of photos – I didn’t want to lose him!

I liked this identical body language between Bob and JenM!

Body language

It’s an enjoyable ride from Manningtree up to Mistley, Bradfield Heath and then down into Wix. At Wix we headed towards Tendring, at one point stopping next to a field of onions which was being harvested. I like to pick up roadkill onions so may have to go back that way in the next few days to see if any have fallen off the tractor trailer!

We headed to Beaumont-cum-Moze and then headed inland again through some lovely quiet lanes until we arrived at Weeley. A quick spin up the hill out of Weeley over the railway line and we arrived at the Hilltop Garden Centre and its Floral Cafe.

The Garden Centre manager had said (when I visited earlier in the week) that we could take our bikes through the Staff Only bit to park them where we could see them whilst having our cake, so we wheeled our way up a little corridor and parked them on a grass patch near the cafe.

We went into the café and everyone lined up for their tea and cake.

Which cake to choose

It was a bit like school dinners!

School dinner queue

I had a piece of chocolate cake but unaccountably forgot to photograph it so here is a picture of the slice of cake I had on my recce trip to this tea room earlier in the week.

Hilltop cake

We were ready to leave at just past midday which was way ahead of my expected schedule. I phoned the Haywain, where we were going for lunch, to warn them we’d be about an hour. Andy the landlord was a bit concerned as they were due to be busy around 1pm (I’d originally expected us to get there at 2:30). He said we may have to wait a little while for food – I said we’d try to ride in a leisurely manner.

So we faffed around a bit more, Andrij using some insulating tape to stop a broken spoke from moving around too much. On we went, into a surprisingly fierce headwind as we rode towards Great Bentley.

The headwind made conversation a bit difficult but we pootled onward, enjoying the sunshine and the views, on this flatter section.

From Great Bentley we headed to Frating where James (my husband) took over the lead for a little bit, bringing us into Great Bromley and then up the back lane past the church to head to the Hawywain, which we reached at 1:20.

Sitting outside were TimC and his daughter who had ridden from Manningtree Station (Tim couldn’t make the beginning of the ride).

TimC, Wowbagger and Georgia (courtesy Delthebike)

We went into the pub and they had set aside a room for us which we all managed to squeeze in (there were 14 of us now and I had said 12 to the Haywain). We mostly ordered baguettes although Bob had a full roast dinner and a few people were still full of breakfast and cake and so just had beer.

Here is my roast chicken baguette – it was very nice!

Haywain lunch

After a leisurely lunch we pootled off, this time with TimC and Georgia along.

When we reached the end of Waterhouse Lane between Ardleigh and Great Bromley James and Mark turned off to go back to my house. James was having a bit of trouble with a painful knee so didn’t want to irritate it further by riding the extra 20+ miles.

Goodbye to James and Mark (photo courtesy of Delthebike)

We were down to 12 cyclists again.

We rode the back route through Ardleigh, passing the field of alpacas (we stopped and had a look at them), then heading to Lamb Corner where we took the road to Langham, crossing over the busy A12 on a bridge.

Delthebike had planned to ride home from somewhere round here but decided to keep going with us and headed down Gun Hill with us on the super-zoomy descent into Stratford St Mary.

From here we headed past Stratford St Mary Church and then rode downwind at a good pace into Dedham. The original plan was to stop at The Boathouse for an ice cream but we could see it was heaving so we carried on into Dedham Village, noticing the ice cream machine at the Essex Rose tearoom had no queue and there were seats outside. So we stopped, parked up all our bikes and queued for our 99 Vanilla Ice Cream.

Whilst we were queuing some other people arrived and took some seats but we were able to sit down and watch Bob fixing the puncture on his front wheel that he’d got just as we were arriving at Dedham.

Bob fixing his puncture with help and advice from 11 other cyclists… (photo courtesy of Delthebike)

Here are Mrs Wowbagger and Wowbagger with their ice creams.

Ice cream queue

It was then time to head off for the final five miles or so to Manningtree.

I’d chosen the route that avoids the A137 as much as possible; it’s a scenic route but pretty hilly so there was quite a lot of waiting at verges for people to catch up.

Waiting

Whilst waiting at the corner of Jupes Hill and Mill Hill (next to Stour House in Dedham Heath) JenM noticed that Georgia’s fantastically yellow-accented bike had one black valve cap and one yellow one. It just so happened that Jen had a yellow valve cap on one of her wheels too, so a trade was done and bicycle/clothing matching was restored!

The final run down Cox’s Hill was great fun – I reached 36mph which was 4mph less than last week when I had a tailwind for it (and was chasing a velomobile).

Cox’s Hill is fun going this way! (photo courtesy of Delthebike)

We stopped for a cuppa at the station and talked to a Dutch family of a mother and three children who had cycled to Cardiff and back. The children looked fairly young (young teens) so this was a very impressive feat!

We waved goodbye to our plucky group of cyclists and then I rode home.

A very enjoyable day with great weather and good food!

One of the other recumbenteers, Graham, was videoing much of the day and he has put together a pretty long but good video of our day.

Graham Williams’ video

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Dinner with Velomobiles

Eight days ago I found myself having breakfast with a bunch of velomobiles and a recumbent bicycle on their way to LEL2013 (cycling from London to Edinburgh and back to London again in four and a half days).

I saw two of the riders at the Great Easton control on the way back from Edinburgh, Rolf and Morten, but Gabriele went through in the middle of the night and Bas had an injury which prevented him from completing the ride.

I’d been in contact by SMS with Morten who was going to stay overnight somewhere near Harwich tonight, so I sorted him out a room in The Crown pub/B&B in Manningtree. And last night I had a text from Gabriele saying they were riding back from London today and would love to meet up with me if that were possible on their way through.

I was going to be in Colchester early this afternoon to visit once again Chavasse VC House, the Colchester Personnel Recovery Centre for wounded servicepeople for which I raised money on my Berlin to London ride last year. However it was likely that the cyclists would be coming through Colchester after that so I suggested Gabriele texted me when they were about an hour from Colchester.

So I rode to Colchester and met my parents for lunch at a pub where I very much enjoyed a choc nut Sundae.

Ice Cream Sundae

We then went on to Chavasse VC House and had a really good look around (the first time my parents had seen inside). In the support staff office they have copies of all the fundraising cheques on the walls – and I found my one (the second one down in this picture) I’ve since raised over £1000 more.

Help For Heroes Cheque

We had a good look round, enjoyed a cup of tea and then I had a phone call from Gabriele to say they were about half an hour away from Colchester. So after a bit more chatting I decided to head off to see if I could intercept them as their route passed only about two miles from where I was.

I said my goodbyes to my folks and headed off to Shrub End Road, the road that goes out of Colchester towards Chelmsford (eventually).

I pulled in to a pub to wait for them, not knowing how long they would be. Bas had injured his achilles tendon which is why he had been unable to complete LEL so they might well be going very slowly on account of this.

After just five minutes I saw them all trundling towards me! I pulled out and joined the stream of traffic of weird vehicles.

I took them a short-cut through Colchester which included going down the High Street – an amusing sight for all the Saturday shoppers. We had a few climbs out on the Harwich Road but Bas seemed to be riding without too much difficulty and we were going at a very reasonable pace.

This was my view for some of the ride – there’s a metal ring on the back of Gabriele’s velomobile. I was rather tempted to put some rope through it and get her to pull me along!

Chasing Gabriele

We rode for about eight miles together before reaching the outskirts of Manningtree and the fantastic Cox’s Hill. This is a great downhill and I told Gabriele to enjoy it, except that there’s a roundabout at the bottom so you’ve got to be able to stop. I did my best to follow her down but couldn’t keep up. I did 40mph, she said she got up to 72kph. Great fun!

We rolled into The Crown at Manningtree (where we had our breakfast last week) and parked our five weird bikes, managing to fit them all in one car parking space!

Five weird bikes

We settled down with some drinks and Gabriele and Morten showed us their LEL Medals.

They come in a very nice bag.

LEL Medal Bag

Gabriele reported some problems when night riding with cyclists behind her shining their lights in her rear-view-mirrors, they could be quite dazzling. Morten pointed out that one of these bags, upside down over the mirror, would fix the problem. However, Gabriele has two mirrors, so she’d have to do another LEL; she didn’t seem too keen on that idea at this point!

Inside the bag, the medal!

LEL Medal Side 1

And the other side has the vague shape of the UK with the sames of the controls (although I notice the St Ives is placed where the Cornwall one would be and the St Ives on LEL was in Cambridge!) Also Great Easton has inexplicably moved south of London. But all in all it’s a really nice memento!

LEL Medal Side 2

Bas decided that despite his gammy ankle he’d have a go on my trike and whizzed down the road in it.

Bas On Alfie 1

Note the Dutch registered car behind him. We were sitting chatting on the tables outside the pub and there was a Dutch couple on the next table. They joined in with our conversation on the merits of Poffertjes and how to cook them yourself, and more. Everyone was very friendly!

Can you spot the difference between Gabriele’s Quest (centre) and Bas’s (right)?

Three velomobiles

Bas offered for me to have a go in his Velomobile as I have to say I’ve been rather taken by these contraptions over the last week. However, when he showed how you get in and out it was clear that I probably wouldn’t be able to get out on my own due to my arm disability (I could only pull myself up with one arm and Bas said he definitely needed both to get out). Oh well, I suppose it’s saved me the expense of buying one of these (and the trickiness of explaining to my husband why I really do need yet another weird bike).

And let’s not forget Morten’s Saki. There was another one of these on LEL as well.

Morten's Saki

Here we all are with our dinners.

Dinner at the Crown

It was time for those getting tonight’s ferry (the three Velomobiles) to head off, so we said our goodbyes. They had an hour’s ride on reasonably gentle roads to get to Harwich so hopefully all went well.

Velomobiles leaving

And as an amazingly generous parting gift, Bas handed me two Schwalbe Kojak tyres, spares he had for his velomobile. He said that his achilles problem would probably stop him riding for two months so I might as well have them. I wasn’t previously aware that these things go ‘off’ that quickly (!!!!) but I’d been thinking of trying some out so this was a wonderful gift and I am very grateful!

But how to get them home? Bas showed me the correct way of stowing spare tyres on a trike (apart from my usual place which is round my middle!)

Alfie with Kojaks

They were held on with a bungy which worked really well and I rode home, leaving Morten with his extra Cheesy Chips at the Crown. He’s feeling hungry after all that cycling!

How to carry two spare tyres

It was a very enjoyable day, it’s great fun riding with other recumbents as your speed profile is similar. In other words, on uphills and downhills you tend to keep together whereas riding with upright bikes I get ahead on the downhills and left behind on the uphills.

Even better, I mentioned wanting to visit SPEZI (the German weird bike exhibition) in Germany in April as I will be living there by then but wasn’t sure how I was going to get there. It turns out Rolf was planning to drive down for the day and I think I should be able to cadge a lift with him (he lives very close to where I will be living in 2014). Bonus!

It was great to meet Rolf and Bas and Gabriele and Morten and I hope they’ve enjoyed their brief stay in England and bits of Scotland. They’ve cycled the length of it, after all!

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Filed under Cycling in England, Recumbent Trikes

Volunteering at LEL2013

LEL Logo

LEL2013, or London Edinburgh London, is a long cycle ride (Audax) whose 1400+km have to be completed in under five days (116 hours, 40 minutes to be exact). It takes place every four years and I know a lot of friends who had been preparing for it for ages.

I wasn’t originally involved but following my breakfast with velomobiles, where I met some Germans and a Dutch man riding to the start in London, I wondered whether they needed any help in the controls near my part of the world.

Controls are obligatory stops where the cyclist has to get their brevet card stamped. This is proof that they have been at the control and this ensures they do at least the minimum distance (1400km). Many cyclists will do a much more significant distance through lack of directional ability when tired and taking unintended detours!

I checked the LEL website and saw that chum Tom Deakins was running a control at Great Easton which is near Dunmow, not far from Stansted Airport. I sent him an email just asking if he needed any help and he said yes, they’d like help on the desk stamping the cards and checking riders in to the computer for rider tracking.

They were short-handed on Wednesday so I agreed to come along then. As my husband was away I was looking after the dog so told Tom I could give them six hours (with an hour travelling time each end for me) if I had to leave the dog at home, not wanting to leave her more than eight hours, or longer if Poppy came too. Tom checked with Gill who was running the front desk and she said it was fine to bring Poppy along, and could I come at 10 on Wednesday.

Wednesday 31 July 2013

So Poppy and I set off in the car on Wednesday morning for the village of Great Easton. It’s a very traditional English village with a lovely church and, of course, a pub (which I am reliably informed keeps decent beer and does good food).

Great Easton Church

It was good to know that the riders would get to see some of our nice Essex countryside – although they would all be massively into sleep deprivation at this point so possibly wouldn’t notice a thing!

I arrived and was introduced to Gill on the desk as well as the other volunteers, several of whom were also members of the YACF forum. It’s strange to meet people that you only know of by a name and a small avatar.

I gave Poppy a short walk and then it was time to settle down to my duties.

People had nametags but these had actually run out. I was going to just stick a random white label on my t-shirt but remembered that I had brought along the LEL YACF nameplate (that lots of YACF forum members were fitting onto their bikes) so I’d use that. I stuck an “Ich spreche Deutsch” sign on mine too and used one of the many lanyards to hang it round my neck.

Auntie Helen name tag

And then it was time to unwrap my LEL Volunteers t-shirt, a nice bright red (a colour I like). It made it much easier for tired cyclists to know who to ask for help when we were all wearing the same thing.

Volunteer T-Shirt

I was also offered a spare Drop Bag (these are different coloured bags which riders used to put a change of clothing in and these bags were taken to different controls so the riders didn’t have to carry the clothing). I picked Moffat as it was another nice red!

Moffat Drop Bag

It was also mentioned that we had rather an oversupply of lanyards and they were being used for lots of different things. I instantly put one into use as a dog lead holder thingie to keep Poppy secured behind the front desk.

Lanyard Usage

Here is Poppy in situ with her food and water available.

Behind the Reception Desk

She had enough lead length to reach the chair where some riders sat down to remove their shoes and she was made a fuss of by dozens riders over the time we spent at Great Easton. She loved it!

And here’s another lanyard, holding the outer door open.

LEL Lanyard Door Stop

As the cyclists arrive, passing the church, they are met by a group of LEL Volunteers who point the correct way to go to get to the control desk.

Outdoor team

There’s also some helpful signage!

Control and London signage

We had a sign for London, as you can see.

Londong This Way

But also a spare one for Edinburgh which we wondered about putting up for a joke but thought very tired cyclists who had ridden 1350km might not find it too amusing!

Edinburgh This Way

Poppy and I quite liked it though!

Auntie Helen with sign

As Great Easton was the last control before London we had plenty of time to prepare for the onslaught of riders which would, by this point, be spread out over several days. The first controls had had lots of queues as dozens of cyclists turned up at once; we knew we were unlikely to get this, but would instead have people arriving 24 hours a day, tired and needing hot or cold food, tea or coffee or cold drinks, fresh water in their bike water bottles and maybe a little TLC as well as stamping their brevet cards.

Here’s the LEL control information, our control was only open on the way back (to shorten the final stretch for those who are really tired and need more frequent breaks by this point).

LEL Ride Plan

Here is our controller, Tom Deakins (Tomsk), who has ridden several LELs before, plus also PBP (the French version, Paris Brest Paris, which is a much bigger event with about 6000 riders).

Controller Tom

Notice the plates of food and sweeties on the reception desk. We put these there after the first riders started coming through and it was amazing how much people sppreciated the mini Haribo and other stuff. They were so hungry at this point that they just fell on the snacks, often stuffing doughnuts or krispie bars into their back pockets for the rest of the journey. We were constantly refilling the bowls/plates. It didn’t help that all the receptions staff quite liked the haribo chews as well!

For my job of stamping the cards we, of course, needed a stamp. Tom runs several audaxes throughout the year and he has a stamp for them which seemed rather apt and which we used.

Control Stamp

And this is what you get:

Great Easton stamp

We got lots of comments from riders about this stamp as it appeared on their cards – they loved it!

It was also our job to enter riders into the computer system for rider tracking. The brevet card is the official record but the rider tracking was for friends and family to follow cyclists’ progress.

I’d been following about a dozen friends who were riding this and there had been a few cases where controllers had forgotten to log someone in at a control. Sometimes this meant you got a bit worried that they were taking overlong on one section and the Facebook LEL page had posts from a woman worried about her son who was riding as he had apparently failed to check in for about fifteen hours. Eventually he checked in at the following control and when I saw him at Great Easton everything had been fine (and he had no idea there had been a problem with his tracking) but this confirmed to me the importance of this task and we did our utmost to ensure everyone was tracked electronically at the same time as having their card stamped.

The first rider had already finished on Tuesday evening. Anco de Jong had ridden an amazing audax, especially as he explained to the staff at Great Easton that he’d gone wrong near Edinburgh and lost a couple of hours there, as well as also losing an hour later down the line.

Here he is getting his medal at the finish:

Anco de Jong

This is a picture of us tracking his ride which had finished long before I started my stint at Great Easton.

Anco's timings

Here is Gill at the reception desk with Poppy standing guard as she did most of the time.

Reception Desk

And here we are, ready for the onslaught.

Ready For The Onslaught

We seemed to have masses and masses of food.

Food Stores 2

Food Stores 1

Not to mention hundreds of doughnuts!

Doughnuts

The hall had a freshly-laid wooden floor and we had to ask cyclists to remove their shoes with the metal cleats. We had loads of signs but it was amazing how often tired cyclists didn’t see them and were brought up short by our shout of “SHOES!”

STOP No Cleats In Hall

It also meant that we regularly had to pop into the hall for them as they’d put their shoes on and realised they had forgotten their helmet/bag/brevet card etc. They were all very stiff and finding it difficult to bend down to put on shoes so we didn’t ask them to take them off again, we got good at translating grunts and vague hand signals into what the item was and where they left it.

We didn’t expect many cyclists to stay that long with us, we were just a chance to refuel/use the loo/chill out before they pushed on the final 45km (30 miles) to the finish at Loughton, although some stayed over an hour in the end. We had this sign for them as they left.

Good Luck sign

Notice that the second language on the sign is German. It turned out that there was a huge contingent of Germans on this ride – I heard someone say there were 150 but it seemed like loads more. Almost all the early arrivals were Germans. I asked one of them why there weren’t many Brits yet and he said the Germans like to come and get the ride done whereas the Brits like to enjoy the scenery. Not sure how accurate this is! Whatever, I seemed to be speaking more German than English at the controls and it was good practice, although I couldn’t understand one Bavarian chap at all.

The first riders started dribbling in, each one getting a round of applause as they headed up the driveway to the Village Hall. They were all well looked after.

These two already have the thousand yard stare

Early riders with the 1000 Yard Stare

Their bikes were parked behind the village Hall and volunteers kept an eye on them, as well as helping to repair punctures, freshen water bottles and put them back on the bikes, etc.

Wednesday bike racks

Each bike had a number (the rider number) which was really handy for early identification and to know to which bike to return the water bottles.

For most of Wednesday we were never really busy and there were lots of chances for a sit down. Poppy also enjoyed being made a fuss of – here’s Deniece (a volunteer who rode LEL last time and who happens to live about two miles from me) having a cuddle.

Poppy gets a cuddle with Deniece

And this is a photo of Poppy added to the London Edinburgh London Facebook page stream by Jordan Carroll (the youngest rider of LEL at just 21 years old – what an achievement!)

Poppy at Great Easton by Jordan Carroll

Poppy was awake most of the day as people were always wandering about but she did have occasional naps when things quietened down.

Poppy sleeps during a gap between riders

Because she was tied up to a lead she did become a bit of a trip hazard and I was amazed that none of the other volunteers at the desk complained about her!

We were often asked by riders to check the progress of their friends through the tracking system. We were happy to do this although the internet signal was very poor in the village – none of our phones worked for data but there was a more high-tech 3G data router with external aerial for the two computers doing the rider check-in but we weren’t able to use the connection for anything else.

Anyway, we did have occasional visitors who weren’t riders – this young girl and her mother and dog had come over from the Netherlands to support their father/husband.

Go Papa

We couldn’t really tell them when he was likely to appear as we only knew when he had checked in at St Ives, the previous control, but not when he had left that control (he may have been there for five minutes or perhaps for an hour). We had also been told by those cyclists arriving that the stretch between St Ives and Great Easton was the hardest of the ride and so journey times for that segment were very variable. Experienced audaxer Tom told us that it wasn’t really particularly difficult, it was just that with 1350km in their legs it seemed worse than it was.

The difficulty of that stage meant that almost every rider asked us if the next section was as difficult as this one. We said no, a few hills to start with and then mostly flat. For the continental riders whose language we didn’t speak we did hand signals showing hills and flat bits – it’s surprising how much a tired cyclist can understand when it’s about how hilly his route is!

The list of nationalities whose cards I stamped was amazing. We had people from Brazil, a chap from India, several South Africans, everlasting Germans, lots of Poles, Dutch, Austrians, Swiss, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Greek, Americans… you name it. It was fantastic to hear of the different riders helping each other. One Swedish chap was in a bit of a mega hurry as his plane left from Stansted at 4pm; he was at our control at about 10am so had to get to Loughton (two and a half hours), do all his registration, pick up all his stuff and get to Stansted. He said it didn’t help that he was, at that point, only a few miles from Stansted but had to detour to London!

The team of volunteers was changing all the time as people went home to sleep (or, in Gill’s case, attempted to sleep in a tent on the stage of the village hall – she was there for the entire duration, from Monday afternoon until Friday morning!) I came in from giving Poppy a short walk at one point to discover the reception desk full of volunteers so took this pic.

At the Control Desk

The smallest member of the welcome team got a fair bit of fuss from dog-loving cyclists.

Part of the Reception welcoming team

These three young ladies helped out on the evening shift on Wednesday and were a very welcome sight to lots of weary cycling chaps!

Wednesday Evening Reception Girls

The numbers were gradually increasing throughout Wednesday and our ridiculous mountain of food started looking less ridiculous! I spent a lot of time talking German as we seemed to have more Germans than anything else coming through the controls. They all spoke some English but when they’re that tired it’s easier for them to talk to me in German. One chap had his English pretty much all desert him so I went with him to the food serving area and told him what the food was – he decided to go for rice pudding (Milchreis).

He told me how popular LEL is in Germany as they don’t have so many long rides over there (although I know there’s a Hamburg-Berlin-Köln-Hamburg audax) and that there was lots of talk about LEL on German forums so people knew about it. He was full of praise for the whole event, the staff, the facilities – and as entrants only paid just under £220 for the entire event (all food etc) it seems remarkably good value – and he thought so.

Several Germans asked if there was beer available (no), others wanted coca cola (Tom went out and got some) and there were various other small requests but overall people seemed remarkably pleased with what we offered.

One of the riders I was tracking was Rolf (C62). I noticed that he had dropped out at Barnard Castle on Monday on the way up to Scotland but didn’t know why. I was most delighted to see him roll in whilst I was at Great Easton on Wednesday.

Mango tourist Rolf

He’d had some mechanical problems with his gears and realised he wouldn’t make the whole ride within the time limit so had instead had a very leisurely trundle back towards London, using the controls for food etc. He told me he had really enjoyed his little holiday!

Having checked the rider tracking I note that someone checked him in at Great Easton and then marked him as ‘Dropped Out’ again. Clearly not me, I was out there chatting with him!

Rolf tracking

Rolf and I talked for about fifteen minutes and then it was time for him to head off to Loughton to try to get there in daylight. Off he trundled and soon after Poppy and I finished our shift (we’d gone well over the original time we said we’d be there) and headed home. I’d enjoyed the day so much that I said I’d come back the following day which Gill seemed pleased about.

Thursday 1 August 2013

Overnight one of the riders I was tracking, Gabriele/Jedrik in the Quest XS Velomobile, had been through Great Easton and finished at Loughton. I had assumed she might sleep at St Ives and that I might see her when I got to Great Easton but she was clearly keen to get through and finish. When I arrived at Great Easton Gill told me that Gabriele had found the last section very hard in the dark and had been pretty tired. She must have been among the first women to finish though!

As I drove to Dunmow I was listening to the radio and the warnings about the very hot day we were expecting, with temperatures up to 33 degrees. Not much fun for tired cyclists who had been on their bikes for four days solid. I knew that today we’d see cyclists in a worse state than yesterday, even though they are taking longer to do the ride. Today’s would include the less fit and those with less experience of audaxing.

The heat was really noticeable even at 8:45am when Poppy and I arrived at the control. I had brought along a fan which was handy except we were rather short of electric sockets in the building. At the reception desk we had two spare sockets, into one of which we plugged the fan. As the day progressed we often had to unplug the fan to charge people’s phones. I had brought along an iPhone charging lead and Gill had a mini-USB and that seemed to work for almost everyone. A few cyclists had very sensibly brought their own leads along too. There were a few occasions when there was a queue for the charging – they just wanted a quick ten minute charge so they could send a text home to say they were still alive! We were often asked about wifi availability but sadly there was none although there was at some other controls, I believe. We were hampered by being in a village with no signal!

I’d been at the desk checking in a steady stream of riders for a while when I looked out of the window and noticed a Strada velomobile (made by the same people who make the Quest and Mango, Velomobiel.nl).

S27

I went and had a look and took a photo and then went back to my job stamping cards and logging in riders (the reception team were rotating duties a bit to give people a break).

I was helping with some bottle filling when one of the cyclists said to me “I think I saw you on the way from Harwich!” It turned out he was one of the riders in the velomobiles that had passed me when I had a puncture and to whom I shouted “aren’t you having breakfast with me?” We thought it was rather amusing and he talked a bit about his ride.

As he was heading out I went with him and had a good look at his velomobile. He very kindly spent a good ten minutes talking to me about it, pointing out the advantages (enclosed chainline means he is still on his original chain and sprockets etc after 42,000km!!!!!) He was about to head off and turned it round and then noticed that it had a flat rear tyre. Cue a quick demonstration of how to change the rear tyre (which is obviously harder than the front tyres).

He laid the velomobile on its side on a bit of a bank.

S27 with flat rear tyre

An interesting view of the underneath!

S27 upside down

He then removed the rear tyre. I would have thought this was really difficult but no! The axle is one-sided so you can just pop the tyre off without having to undo anything.

S27 underneath

The velomobile has loads of storage room behind the seat and he stuck his hand in there and pulled out a track pump!! He handed to to me – it may look like a reasonably short track pump but it was as light as anything, maybe only 250 grammes. Very impressive! It came free with the velomobile apparently (which costs €5,750 for the base model).

S27 fixes rear puncture

He pulled out the tube and reinflated it to discover a the puncture was on the inside which was weird. He checked the rim of the wheel but it seemed OK so he put a fresh tube in. Note the audience for this procedure!

S27 pumping up tyre with an audience

And then he was ready to head off again, very phlegmatic about his fourth puncture of this trip.

S27 heading off

You can see from the sunlight that the day was now getting really warm. People were coming in looking seriously overheated and with definite signs of sunburn. They were telling us that the headwind across the fens was like a warm hairdryer and that everything was much, much harder than they had expected in the heat.

Audaxers eating

It became pretty apparent that now, on the fourth full day of this event, that people were beginning to look a bit rough. The men all had four days’ beard (no point in wasting valuable time shaving) except for one, lone chap who had shaved that morning. How civilised!

Even more notably, as midday approached riders walked in wearing fewer and fewer items of clothing. The queue at reception desk was a display of scary stubble and unzipped jerseys displaying sweaty chests (with the occasional lady cyclist, unstubbled and zipped up, in the mix). When the men got into the hall they tended to remove their jerseys altogether (fortunately not the shorts!) We were getting pretty busy now, processing up to sixty cyclists per hour. Each of them needed checking in, food, fresh water, a rest, a squirt of our suncream or after-sun (Tom had to go out and buy some more as it was so popular).

Some cyclists had mechanical issues that we tried to help with (mainly punctures). We didn’t have a bike maintenance area like some of the controls did but the staff tried what they could. David, who was helping me on the reception desk today, disappeared for about fifteen minutes to help someone with a broken pedal. In the end David removed the pedal from his Brompton bike and fitted it to the chap’s bike; David said he probably wouldn’t see it again and would have to cycle the ten miles home with just one pedal, but he didn’t want the chap’s LEL to be over when he had so nearly reached the finish.

We had occasional visits from LEL vans and also saw this motorcycle outrider chap. He looked like he was rather overheating and spent a good time in the hall having some food and drinking!

Motorcycle outrider

Lots of bikes were stored in the shade, leaning up against the hedge.

Bicycle parking

We weren’t only visited by LEL cyclists – cycling chum Delthebike appeared around lunchtime. He was clapped by the volunteers on the driveway until I pointed out he’d only ridden from Southend. We gave him a cup of tea and traded insults.

Delthebike

I also discovered he’s not good at taking photos of me with my phone.

Auntie Helen and Poppy

Del headed off to the pub for lunch and a beer while the rest of us toiled on!

Big Martin arrived!

Big Martin

I have a real soft spot for Martin as he rode with me on my final leg of the Berlin to London ride. His average speed is around 18-19mph but he trundled along with me at my 11mph for 50 miles or so. What a gentleman! I think this was his first long audax.

I spotted this Challenge recumbent when taking a quick break – it belonged to Arvid who I know from YACF!

Arvid's bike

And lo and behold, there he was in the hall, having a quick break. And still looking amazingly cheerful!

Arvid still looks cheerful

I went out with him to watch him sail away on his recumbent.

Arvid gets ready to leave

Arvid leaves

Not long after Arvid left I noticed another velomobile all alone. It looked like it needed a bit of a clean!

J56 Velomobile

J56 was a Milan SL and the German owner had a good chat with me. He’s from the Niederrhein region of Germany which is where I will be living next year and I asked him about cycling clubs/groups around there.

He commented, when getting in, that the front flap would make a good bug screen if it were transparent!

J56 bug screen

Here he is ready to go. We, of course, commented about the water tube but he said that’s the best place for it otherwise it drips on him inside. He said if he had a Euro for every time someone commented on it he’d be rich!

J56 ready to go

I’d been waiting for some times for friends Lindsay and Chris on their tandem. Lindsay, on the back of the tandem, appeared to be tweeting fairly regularly and so we knew they had taken a detour to Saffron Walden centre for an ice cream. Eventually they rolled up looking hot but still cheerful. Chris is a seasoned Audaxer but hasn’t done a distance like this before – they were doing great though!

After Lindsay’s brevet card was stamped I took a photo of it so you can see all the different stamps from the controls.

Brevet Card one stamp to go

They had ridden in with DrMekon from YACF who was doing the ride for charity. He has the same bike as my husband, proof that James could do LEL if he fancied it!

Aravis Super-Tourist (DrMekon)

While Lindsay and Chris and DrMekon were having some food inside, yet another velomobile appeared. And, biggest surprise of all, the rider was an Englishman!

British Velomobile

It was time for Lindsay and Chris and DrMekon to head off. Here’s the tandem team with controller Tom.

Lindsay and Chris with Tom the controller

Lindsay’s not got her head down because she’s fed up – she’s fiddling with the Garmin satnav I believe. Or maybe tweeting….

Tandem Team heads off

However, we did have a gentleman with his head down this afternoon – a case of Sherman’s neck which can afflict long distance cyclists. He was with a friend who had led him the last twenty kilometres as this chap was unable to lift his neck up. He could only look at his front wheel whilst riding, not ahead at the road. There’s not much that can be done for this except rest so we suggested he stayed at Great Easton for a good long time (they had plenty of time in hand) and then see how he felt. In the end he decided it sensible to drop out so that his friend could go on ahead, but I think there was some further discussion about this and I’m not sure about the conclusion. Such a shame if he did stop with such a short distance remaining.

Edit: As you’ll see from the comments below, Lindsay informs me:

The rider with Sherman’s neck was Ron Fisher from Bury St Edmunds, a member of the West Suffolk Wheelers. He celebrated his birthday in Edinburgh on Wednesday morning, and did go on to finish, thanks to clubmate Deane Hill.

That’s great news that he finished!

Cycling is very safe but we had heard through the Facebook group that a LEL rider had been knocked off his bike. This was actually after he had finished and gone home, but he is seriously injured which is very sad news.

I also had the very strange experience of having to break bad news to someone without any preparation. Riders often ask us for details of tracking on their friends and we look it up on the website for them. The control has more information, including comments about riders such as if we’ve given them medical attention or if they’ve lost anything, and when I looked up this person the cyclist was looking over my shoulder at the screen. The Comments field told us that he had been in an accident with another cyclist and one or both were in hospital. Terrible news and I felt awful that his friend had found out like this. I hope that both the riders are OK.

EDIT: I had this message about these riders:

The two riders who came together in Ramsey are both fine: I spoke to Peter yesterday, who was on a trike and was hospitalised, and he has some bruising and cuts to his head. Alan had a bloody nose and was desperate to carry on, but his carbon bike had been broken too badly in the accident and nobody seemed able to source a loaner.

We only had a basic first aid kit but people did use our plasters and paracetamol. I was asked by one tall rider to stick a special heat pad on his neck – he had clearly come prepared. I did as requested and hoped that it made his neck feel a bit better.

Meanwhile, back at the reception desk, we were all feeling the heat – especially when the fan was off so a phone can be charged!

Tired staff at reception desk

In the hall food supplies seemed to be running low and Tom made a couple of emergency Tesco visits. He reported seeing cyclists queuing for ice creams outside every shop in Saffron Walden!

Food and rest

The throughput of cyclists was such that we got very few breaks and were all rushing about like mad things. The cyclists were extremely polite and pleasant which was a surprise; I’d been warned they could be grumpy after so little sleep but they all seemed really grateful for our attention and most of them thanked us for our help. Their routine was to come out of the hall, put on their shoes, give Poppy a pat if they were dog lovers, then wincingly walk their way on tired, stiff legs to their bikes which would have fresh water bottles on them.

Getting ready to head off to London

This lady was apparently taking the opportunity to air her rather sore backside!

Getting some fresh air to saddle sores!

Rows of worn-out bikes, many of which have Heath Robinson repairs.

Rows of worn-out bikes

We heard reports of one man’s bike which basically collapsed underneath him in Edinburgh. A request went out on twitter and he was provided with a loaner bike within the hour so he could finish.

Edit: A comment made to my blog from Ulli Harding explains this:

I was helping out in Edinburgh – the rider with the broken frame (T32) actually left Edinburgh on his own bike! My friend Johann who brought along a spare bike ended up taking the nice old steel racer to another welder friend … and they managed to put it back together (finest Polish welding technique!)…
T32 arrived safely in Loughton according to the tracker, with an hour or two to spare… What I don’t know is what bike he was on!

Lots of people were reporting punctures and the non-Brits were all marvelling to me about how bad our roads are.

The official route had changed in the last week because of a bad pothole in Thaxted but some people hadn’t updated their GPS tracks (sometimes because they had come over to England early for a holiday and thus not been at a computer) and so were going the wrong way. We had a few comments about that so Tom went to put extra signs up but lots of cyclists went through this pothole and were lucky not to damage their wheels.

There was an absolutely magical sound mid-afternoon when we were all sweltering in the hall. The off-key music was instantly recognised by every Brit in the place and they were all cheering for… Mr Whippy!

Mr Whippy

This ice cream salesman now had 1000 new friends!

Tom bought ice creams for all the volunteers – and several of the riders bought their own too.

The evening was drawing in a bit when Dan Howard arrived on an upright trike, the only trike I had seen so far (friend John Eady on an ICE Vortex was still on the way from St Ives).

Upright Trike arrives!

The library of weird vehicles continued, with this recumbent bike with the label “old bat on a bent” – no idea who this was.

Old Bat on a Bent

The people arriving now tended to be the less fit ones and they were struggling more than those who had come through yesterday. Each one had done an amazing job to get this far though and we were all hopeful they’d make it to Loughton with no problems. At this point in the day they were still all safely within the time limit which was a relief but as evening approached it started to get a bit dicey time-wise for those who had started earlier (LEL has a staggered start from 6am until 10am on the Sunday).

Tired cyclists on Thursday

Cyclist Lawrence Loh from Singapore was very pleased to pose with our Edinburgh and London signs.

Lawrence Loh with signage

I had stayed on way beyond my original plans in order to try to see a few more chums but the heat of the day had clearly taken its toll and lots of people were struggling badly with the hills from St Ives. Friend Lara/Feline was expected in due course but had a dodgy ankle so we didn’t really know when.

I decided it was time to leave at 9:45pm and so Poppy and I headed off, just as the first of the Elliptigos was arriving. We’d been following these on the tracker – they’re a kind of Cross Trainer which actually moves you along. Here’s my very poor pic (it was dark):

Elliptigo arrives in the dark

This is a library photo of one. Imagine riding 1400km on those – and two of the three made it to Loughton in time, one with just 19 minutes to spare!

Elliptigo elliptiwent 1418km!

LEL is certainly a ride where you see a vast selection of random machines!

I had very tired feet after standing up for thirteen hours (we only ever had a chance to sit down for a minute or so as the day was so busy) but obviously not anywhere near as tired as the riders or, indeed, as Gill who was our overall boss. She was brilliant, working really hard, always cheerful, turning her hand to anything, often noticing when the rest of us didn’t that something needed to be done, like bin emptying or table wiping or whatever. She tried to get some sleep during the day in the hall but that was a struggle. Anyway, Gill was brill – as was everyone else really. Tom, of course, and Rob and Ian who wafted about doing various jobs. The other reception team were great (and, as mentioned earlier, very unflustered by having a cockapoo tripping them up half the time) and I think we’ve done a reasonable job overall with the control.

And, once again, congratulations to everyone who participated in LEL, including those who didn’t make it to the finish but who still did an amazing ride!

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Breakfast with Velomobiles

It’s not every day that, by 7:45am, you’ve seen five velomobiles ride past.

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Today, however, is the exception to that rule and I not only saw five velomobiles but also one recumbent bicycle (not sure of the type) and, of course, my own recumbent tricycle.

This little corner of Essex isn’t usually a mecca for weird bikes but today (and presumably one day next week too) it becomes part of a journey from Abroad to Edinburgh, part of the London Edinburgh London Audax.

Audaxes are long distance rides. They’re not a race but do have a time limit (minimum as well as maximum). Every four years the London Edinburgh London audax (LEL) takes place, starting at Loughton in north east London.

People travel from all over the UK as well as from Europe and even farther afield to participate (I think they have about 1000 riders this year). I have several friends who’ve ridden this audax, including the wonderful Andy Allsopp who wrote a book about LEL2009 which I typeset for him called Barring Mechanicals (well worth a read).

Anyway, LEL has been in planning for years and a lot of discussion takes place on YACF, a British cycling forum.

I read YACF regularly but not usually the audax subsection. However, as I know several people riding LEL this year I have taken the occasional look and noticed someone had asked for a good route from Harwich to Loughton (where LEL starts). As I’m familiar with the roads between Harwich and Colchester I offered some suggestions and after a few messages to and fro we (Gabriele, a German velomobile rider, and me) agreed to meet for breakfast in Manningtree. The overnight ferry from the Hook of Holland chucks passengers off at 6:30am so not much is open for food but the Crown in Manningtree agreed to open early for us to provide some hungry cyclists with a Full English.

Gabriele explained that there might be a couple of other velomobile riders as well as lots of people would be getting that ferry.

So anyway, this morning I got up bright and early (6:30am) and headed off by trike to Manningtree. Once I arrived at the Crown I saw they weren’t yet there (unlikely as it’s 12 miles from Harwich ferry port to Manningtree) so I thought I’d ride towards Harwich on the route that they were taking and meet them along the way.

It was a lovely warm morning with sunshine and very little breeze. This early on a Friday morning there wasn’t too much traffic and I enjoyed my ride. I got as far as Bradfield and then decided to wait there (rather than doing an extra hill), so when I got to the brow of the hill that goes to Wrabness I decided to turn round.

I did a U-turn on the road (there was no traffic) and then started cycling back towards Manningtree to find a layby in which to wait.

The u-turn involved my left wheel going through some grot at the side of the road for about a metre and lo and behold I had a puncture (my new fast tyres are not very puncture resistant!) so I rode on the deflating tyre to somewhere safe to stop and put the trike on the pavement.

One thing about these tyres is that they are very easy to get on and off the wheel and the puncture was really obvious too. There was nothing in the tyre, it was just a sharp stone or something that had punched a hole. I changed the tube, used my new pump (a Topeak Road Morph, worked really well) and as I was pumping up the tyre I saw two velomobiles approaching.

They called out to me “Do you need any help?” and I replied “No, I’m fine,” at which point they carried on. I assumed that this was Gabriele and some other random chap so as they continued on I called after them “I’m Auntie Helen, aren’t we breakfasting together?”

The guy who had called out to me turned round and came alongside. “I have no idea who Auntie Helen is,” he said, and then I saw that the other velomobiler was also a man. Not Gabriele then. I apologised and explained I was meeting some velomobilers. “Ah, you mean Gabriele, she went a different way at the roundabout from the ferry.”

These chaps carried on and as my bike was ready I followed them. I had a sudden thought that maybe Gabriele had taken an alternative route and was now at the Crown so it would be sensible to go back there.

I kept up with the two velomobiles without much difficulty until the downhill into Mistley at which point they shot off, turning left at Mistley Towers to go up New Road out of Manningtree. I carried on along the Stour River to the Crown. When I arrived the staff were preparing for breakfast but there were no other cyclists. I decided to wait at the Crown in case I otherwise missed them somehow.

After five minutes or so I saw, in the distance, the weird shape of a velomobile… and another… and another! They had arrived, along with a recumbent bicycle.

We said our hellos and everyone was introduced. Gabriele I knew previously (although had not met). I was introduced to Dutch man Bas, also in a white Quest velomobile, and two German chaps, Morten and Rolf. Rolf had a yellow Mango velomobile and Morten a very fast-looking recumbent bicycle.

Here are the vehicles parked in the Crown’s car park.

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Then it was over to the picnic table outside for our Full English breakfast.

We started with some cups of tea and orange juice.

Breakfast at the Crown

And then a good old-fashioned English Breakfast arrived, with accompanying toast.

Full English

It was a very enjoyable leisurely breakfast. Gabriele has ridden LEL before (on a normal bike) but it is a new experience for the other three riders, although Bas (the Dutch chap in the other Quest velomobile) has ridden over in the UK a fair bit.

Here are the velomobiles – firstly Gabriele’s Quest.

Jedrik's Quest 1

And Rolf’s Mango – this is shorter than the Quest but I think otherwise very similar.

Mango 1

Bas let me have a good look around his Quest.

Quest Interior 1

Quest Interior 2

You can just see written on the edge of the cockpit the words “KEEP LEFT” – an aide memoire for riding in the UK!

Quest Interior 3

And on the side the elevation profile of LEL

LEL Profile

And here is Bas and his machine.

Quest and Bas

Here is the happy band of cyclists – without Bas’s Quest and with my trike instead.

Velomobilers and trike

Gabriele and Rolf in their machines.

In the cockpits

It was time to head off. I decided I’d ride with them to Colchester and lead them through the worst of the traffic so they were confident of their route.

We set off, straight up the hill in Manningtree in South Street (at least there’s no traffic). We certainly created quite a stir, a procession of weird vehicles!

Here’s a short video I took whilst riding at the front – a bit bumpy and noisy but you get the idea!

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We then headed along the A137 between Manningtree and Ardleigh. I led the way – this was the view in my mirror.

View in the mirror

We were holding up the traffic a bit but it was fun riding and we were making a reasonable speed.

We arrived in Colchester to discover that Eastgates Level Crossing was closed. No problem, I knew a good alternative that took us up Hythe Hill, but this would have been annoying for them if they were on their own.

At the top of Hythe Hill I took a photo.

In Magdalen Street

Then it was a fast zoom around the ring road of Colchester, a dual carriageway called Southway. Not much fun really (and a rather potholey/rutted surface) but cars seemed to be very willing to give us space. We had lots of smiles from people waiting at bus stops or walking along the pavement.

We arrived at the Maldon road which is the route out of Colchester towards Chelmsford. At this point I took another photograph of everyone and then said goodbye – I was heading back home again.

4 weird bikes in Colchester

They trundled off towards London leaving lots of astonished expressions on passers by in their wake.

Good luck to everyone with LEL – I hope that they enjoy it!

And if any of you want to track the riders on LEL, here is a website link for each of them:

Gabriele
Bas
Morten
Rolf

For explanations of where they are on the route, here is the map of controls (the stops along the way to check in)

LEL Controls

And a week later I met them all on the way back. You can read all about it here: Dinner With Velomobiles

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The Joy Of Essex Cycle Ride

I don’t only tour in Germany – I also cycle in England!

I’m a member of two cycling forums, CycleChat and YACF (Yet Another Cycling Forum), and have previously organised some cycle rides in my corner of Essex which people from those forums have attended.

Having not led a ride for a couple of years I thought it was about time so organised one for Saturday 22 June, entitled The Joy Of Essex.

This was my planned route (zoomable map)

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The plan was to meet at Manningtree Railway Station at 10 for the start of the ride, but I would be at the station an hour earlier for breakfast (they do an excellent cooked English breakfast).

Alfie waiting outside the Station Café

I headed in for breakfast; after all, I needed plenty of energy for a 34 mile ride…

Half Breakfast at the Café

I was soon joined by audaxer Lindsay who was having a rest day (just cycling 35 miles with me) as the following day she was doing a tandem trike time trial (she ended up with the Ladies Time Trial record!).

Before long we were also joined by Tim Hall, my husband James, friend Mark and a new face from CycleChat, Paul.

Paul, Lindsay, Tim, James and Mark

After a short session of trying on my spare CycleChat jersey, we headed off on the first leg of this epic ride, an eleven mile jaunt over to Boxted.

Tim Hall had his camera with him and always takes excellent pics – he’s given me permission to reproduce some of them in this blog post.

He took this one of my suntanned feet following my German cycle tour.

Auntie Helen’s feet – I need to give ’em a scrub!

We headed into Manningtree (the station is on the west side) to take the scenic route along the walls to look at the river Stour. We passed the Manningtree clock with its rather unusual number arrangement.

Manningtree Clock (photo Tim Hall)

We headed along the Stour briefly, turning south and up a bit of a hill once we reached Mistley Towers.

Mistley Towers (photo Tim Hall)

At the top of the hill we had to ride along the main A137 for a short while but the traffic wasn’t too bad. A group of six can spread out a fair bit but we kept a reasonable pace (although knowing Lindsay was on a rest day we didn’t want to do anything too strenuous).

We were soon back onto quiet country roads, taking Mill Hill towards Dedham and then heading along Long Road West to Lamb Corner before heading into Langham, where we briefly stopped at Boxted Airfield (which is in Langham), an old World War Two USAF base.

Bikes at the memorial

Boxted Airfield Plaque (photo Tim Hall)

From here it was just a couple of miles until we arrived at Fillpots Nursery, a garden centre with a very good café (although Mark seemed to have been overcharged for his scone).

I enjoyed a piece of sponge.

Oh look, a piece of cake!

It was nice and relaxing after the enormous energy expediture of the previous eleven miles!

Tea ‘n cake

We headed off for the next leg of our journey – another 11 miles. We aimed towards Dedham, pootling along the quiet country lanes that are my regular cycle routes.

Another random stop to look at something-or-other

We went down Gun Hill (which is always fun) and then turned off towards Dedham, riding through it and then back up the hill the other side.

Mark was finding it rather warmer than he had expected!

Mark seems to be overheating! (photo Tim Hall)

As we were cycling up the hill out of Dedham I saw my friend Kirstie’s parents. I reckon I see them about half of the times I visit Dedham. Kirstie’s mum said “I saw a group of cyclists and thought that it might be you!” and I pointed out that I was leading from the back (everyone except James was up ahead).

Tim took a great photo of James and I as we reached the brow of the hill!

Auntie Helen and James (photo Tim Hall)

After another 11 gruelling miles we arrived at The Haywain, one of my local pubs and probably my favourite.

Parking the bikes at the pub – and the sun has come out!

I decided to have a reasonably light lunch as breakfast and cake had not been that many miles ago so enjoyed a chicken and stuffing baguette.

Food!

After lunch Paul had to head back to Manningtree Station and Mark needed to get home so he and James headed back to our house (where Mark had parked his car), so now my little band of cyclists numbered just three as we forged ahead on our final 14 miles.

We headed south from the Haywain towards Little Bentley, again on roads I cycle several times a week. Tim liked the new use for the old BT phone box – a book swap and noticeboard.

Little Bentley phone box (photo Tim Hall)

We were riding into wind now along the NCN51, the route to Harwich that I took on the way to my Konstanz to Koblenz cycle tour a month ago. It was nice to be on quiet roads and able to chat.

At Wix we turned north, crossing under the A120 and following the undulating road to Bradfield Heath which then heads for Mistley Heath and we were soon whizzing down the hill towards Mistley Towers past the Edme Maltings.

We arrived back at Manningtree Station and had time for a cup of tea before Lindsay’s train to Bury St Edmunds and Tim’s train to London. After the cuppa we said goodbye and Lindsay headed to the other platform to await her train.

Waiting for the train

Tim’s train arrived and he put his bike in the Guard’s Van before heading towards the Big Smoke.

Tim heads to Lunnun

My ride to and from Manningtree increased the total ride distance for me to a heady 42.84 miles (which I covered in 3 hours 39 minutes, so an average of 11.7mph which is pretty good for a group ride). Sadly the relatively relaxed pace meant that I only burned 1,967 calories – I leave it up to you, having seen the photos of my breakfast, cake and lunch, whether I burned them off!

I’m going to re-run this ride (or a slightly longer version) in a month or so’s time as lots of people wanted to come on this one but were unable.

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Some Ups and Downs in Essex and Suffolk

In just over a week’s time I’m off on a 2-3 week cycle tour in Germany/Austria/Switzerland. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some great opportunities for riding the local country lanes on a nice sunny day. Add in some random German cycle tourists and that makes for a great day!

My friend Peter (also known as Wowbagger) sent me an email on Wednesday:

We have a pair of German ladies staying with us for 3 nights: we met them on the ferry yesterday and said that if they were stuck for any reason to give us a shout. Well, they did. I think they are rather shell-shocked by their cycling experience to date, at the hands of Essex Man. I cycled out to Ashingdon to meet them. They took 7 hours to ride here from Gt. Totham, which was not really surprising as they were sticking to the pavements as much as they could when I was riding with them, and they were so frightened of the traffic that they got off and walked on the B1019 out of Maldon.

…I have suggested a ride on Thurs, as Jan and I are free. It’s not definite yet, but I’ll suggest to them a train to Marks Tey and then a 30-ish miler from there. We could either meet at the Chappel & Wakes Colne tea room or the Fillpotts Nursery one and then decide on a pub for lunch. If we were to do this, would you be interested in joining us or some or all of it? I think riding in a group would be OK for them, especially on the quieter roads of North Essex. Huette (sp?), the younger woman, is pretty strong and was racing away up the hill with a laden bike. Tina struggled a little with hers.

This sounded like a good idea and as I didn’t have too much to do then a ride around the lanes of Essex and Suffolk sounded like a plan.

Clearly these ladies (Jutta and Tina) had had a pretty traumatic experience of riding in England. They had cycled from their home near Hamburg across Germany and the Netherlands in seven days – and landed up at Harwich. As Peter said to me later:

Signage, particularly out of Harwich, is bad. That’s bad for everyone. However, it was definitely the traffic which gave them the biggest problems. Ute said “I will not cycle one metre in London!” I can’t see a way around the inevitable culture shock of being brought up riding on dedicated cycle paths and then being chucked in with the rest of the traffic. It’s bad enough when you are used to it. It must be terrifying when you have always been protected.

(Note he has various ways of spelling Jutta, none of which quite hit the mark!)

So anyway plans were made to meet at Marks Tey railway station at 10:30 on Thursday morning.

Peter and I often meet at Marks Tey (he gets the train up from Southend) and I often drive there to meet him as it’s a 10 mile (direct, through town) or 16 mile (scenic, cross-country) ride from my home and if we’re doing a 50+ mile road I don’t like to add that much to either end. However the route that Peter had planned gave me an option to cut across country homewards after the lunch stop and as the weather looked good I thought it would be nice to do it all on three wheels rather than a mixture of three and four wheels.

So I left home at 9:30am and headed straight through Colchester towards Marks Tey. Several miles of this were on a busy dual carriageway and I, too, had the benefit of some of the vagaries of Essex Man In His Van. It doesn’t worry me but I could fully appreciate why Jutta and Tina had been so unnerved by it all.

To Marks Tey

I made pretty good progress there, riding at an average speed of 12.6mph, taking 52 minutes to do the 10.96 miles (and burning off 482 calories). This is one of the slight advantages of riding in the UK rather than Germany/the Netherlands with regard to riding on the road. You often have a slightly faster journey as there are fewer mini-obstacles (like crossing roads) to negotiate. It’s a small advantage though.

Here is the altitude profile for this section of ride. The X axis is distance in miles, the Y axis (blue shading) is height, the orange line is my heart rate profile and the green line is my speed. The middle section is me riding on the dual carriageway (Cymbeline Way), so although it’s generally flat I have a high heart rate because of the excitement of the cars roaring past me:
To MT graphics

I had five minutes to relax at Marks Tey Station before the train pulled in carrying Wowbagger (Peter), Jutta, Tina and Wow’s wife Jan (Mrs Wow) on her solo Thorn bicycle. Mrs Wow had broken her foot over winter and also had various ailments that had prevented her cycling so it was good to see her back awheel.

I had a little chat with Tina and Jutta, admired their bicycles (Stevens bikes, a very common brand in Germany but you don’t really see it here), and then we were off.

The advantage of Marks Tey Station is that it’s right on the edge of the Essex countryside. Within a quarter of a mile you’re out into fields and quietish lanes and so we headed off up the hill to Aldham.

Here’s the route of the section I rode with the Wows and the German ladies:
With Wow

One notable thing about riding with Wowbagger (which I regularly do) is that we have a slightly different preference in terms of roads. He likes very quiet, laney roads (often narrow and winding but without much traffic) and seems to enjoy hills, although he takes them at a very leisurely pace. I dislike very narrow roads (the sort with a line of grot/flint/earth/grass down the middle) as on three wheels they are a real pain, plus it can be hard to see round corners with high hedges and I like to know any car whizzing round the corner can pass me. I tend to ride on wider (i.e. with a white line down the middle) roads which may have a better surface and be a bit faster – and maybe a bit flatter too. On this ride we wanted the German ladies to have a less scary time so it was important to take very quiet lanes, thus more Wowbagger-friendly ones. Such as this one!

Some quality Essex roads!

In the photo are Tina, Wowbagger, Mrs Wow and Jutta.

This is the road approaching Don John’s Farmhouse in Greenstead Green and it’s been closed for two years. As you can see, the lack of traffic along it has led to it looking rather more like a muddy track than a road, and the Road Closed section had a pathway for people on their feet or on two-wheeled bikes but we had to lift Alfie over. Still, it was only a mile from here to our tea stop at the Greenstead Green Tea Room (much to be recommended!)

The very last section before the Tea Room is pretty rough but there is an alternative, smoother route which I decided to take to save my wheels so arrived at the tea room a few minutes before the others.

We all wandered in to the very nice farm shop and restaurant.

Greenstead Green Tea Room/Restaurant

I had decided several weeks before to have a sort of cake/biscuit detox before going off on my cycle ride in Germany and so this meant I was having four weeks without cakes or biscuits and that included when visiting tea rooms. So I had to decide what to eat instead. After discussion with the waitress, we all concluded that a Toasted Teacake, despite having the word ‘cake’ in the title, is in fact more of a bread roll so I had one of those. Everyone else had lovely chocolate or walnut cakes.

Cakes!

Fortunately it was a nice teacake as well!

Jutta and Tina seemed to be enjoying the ride. Jutta’s English was excellent (although we spoke to each other in German). Tina’s understanding of English was pretty good, unless we spoke very quickly, but she was less confident in speaking English so I did a bit of translation for her when ordering the cakes and settling up the bill.

We headed off at midday, realising that we would end up having quite a late lunch (the route was another ten miles to lunch and our average speed was pretty slow) so we rang the pub (the Henny Swan) to see how long they served food for and it turned out they served all day so we knew we didn’t have a time constraint and were able to relax and enjoy the ride through the beautiful Essex lanes with the yellow fields of oilseed rape both sides of our route a lot of the time (and making Jan sneeze).

We passed some excellent Essex spelling as usual!

Egg Boxs

Our route had turned slightly westwards in order to take in the Maplesteads, two little villages in Suffolk (we crossed from Essex to Suffolk between Earls Colne and Halstead) and I was looking forward to visiting again the round church at Little Maplestead.

The Church of St. John the Baptist in Little Maplestead is one of only four round churches still in use in England. It was built on a site given to the Order of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, known as the Knights Hospitaller, and is still associated with the Order today… It is generally believed that there was a church near to the site of the current church in late Saxon times as a priest is mentioned in the Domesday book but there is no documentary or archaeological evidence to support this… The present church was probably built around 1335 and is the latest of the four round churches still in use in England

It is a wonderful and peaceful place to visit.

An open door to a beautiful piece of history

Nave of the church

As you can see, it had turned into a beautiful day.

And here are a pair of Thorn Raven bicycles (one with a rather slack chain!)

The Wowbicycles

We spent about half an hour at the church looking around, wandering around the graveyard and enjoying the peace and tranquility, as well as the sunshine. Then it was time to head off towards lunch.

Barely a mile further on, as we reached Great Maplestead, we happened across one of the common wayside stalls selling jam, marmalade and eggs (you see these all the time in this part of Essex and Suffolk) but this one was selling something rather more special:

Wayside cupcake stall

Yes, they had a tub of cupcakes on a shelf that you could buy!

Tina, Jutta, Jan and Peter

As we had eaten some cake just half an hour earlier there was no need to have any more (plus I wasn’t allowing myself cake anyway) but Jutta bought some marmalade. We had spent a minute or so trying to describe lemon curd to her (that was for sale too) but clearly we didn’t make it sound very appealing as she chose not to buy it!

Anyway, we were very impressed by Lucy’s Little Cupcake Party‘s stall and I imagine the German women will be telling their friends about random things you can buy beside the road in England (with just an honesty box as well!)

Jutta decided to take a photo with me in it this time so here I am looking very yellow!

Time was really marching on so we headed off towards Henny Street (where we were going for lunch) which included a few reasonably steep hills and also a mile on a busy A-road which none of us enjoyed (lots of bad overtaking by drivers going too fast).

Eventually we were a mile or so from Henny Street and the path became very rough indeed on a long, swoopy downhill. My right hand side tyre was bouncing over flints, stones, sand, earth and grass and I had high expectations of a puncture (fortunately unrealised). I had to stop for a van to pass and then behind it was a horse (so I had to wait for that to pass too as horses tend to be really frightened of the trike), but then headed off and arrived at the pub first.

A man sitting outside with a beer said hello to me and I said hello back and then faffed with my Garmin Satnav to record this section of the route from Marks Tey (2 hours 33 minutes, 24.34 miles, average 9.5mph and 1,126 calories burned). After a few minutes Wowbagger arrived at which point the man said “Hello Peter!” and I recognised him as TimC, a cycling chum in whose back garden I have previously enjoyed a cup of tea and a biscuit. My only defence for not recognising him was that I had been told he was in America (he’s an airline pilot) but it turns out he got back at midday.

We enjoyed a rather late lunch (3:30pm!) at the Henny Swan, a venue we often choose for our rides. TimC joined us for the food and we recommended that the German ladies tried a steak and ale pie – they needed advice as to how to eat it (there was a shortcrust pastry lid). Here is Mrs Wow outside.

Mrs Wow outside the Henny Swan

Here is the altitude profile for this section of ride. The X axis is distance in miles, the Y axis (blue shading) is height, the orange line is my heart rate profile and the green line is my speed. Click to enlarge! Also please note that the scale on the left hand side is different than the first section to although it looks less hilly it was more so!
MT to Henny graphics

Time was really marching on and my dog had been on her own all day so I decided I ought to head directly home and not wait for the rest of them to accompany me as far as Bures (five miles) as I needed to ride a bit more quickly really. So after finishing our lunch I said my goodbyes and headed off eastwards (into wind!) back home.

Henny to Home

The first five miles along the river Stour (that ends up at Manningtree) are most distinctly up and down, as can be seen from the graphics of elevation, my speed (green line) and my heart rate (orange line).
Henny Home graphics

The longish flat bit about a quarter of the way is entering Bures. And then I have the distinctly un-wonderful Wormingford hill. I usually do a more country route to Wormingford but that involves more hills and I was slightly suffering from bike-maintenance-laziness in that I should have adjusted the cable length for my Alfine hub gear (as the warmer weather had meant the cable had got slightly out of line) but hadn’t got round to it. Consequently my gears 2 and 4 were a bit unreliable (kept slipping into neutral) and when climbing very steep hills after a nice lunch I struggled a bit. So I decided to take the main road hill up to Wormingford which is a better road surface and not quite as steep, although it’s still pretty steep as you can see from the graphic. (I have since adjusted the Alfine shifter cable length and all is perfect again).

Once I’m up in Wormingford it’s mostly downhill from there, as you can see from the graphic, and I had a lovely run back home. My final section of ride, on my own with the headwind, was 19.2 miles in 1 hour 38 minutes (average of 11.7mph which was good for me with all those hills and after a lot of riding) and I burned 1,024 calories as well!

Ride details in total were:
Distance 54.5 miles;
Moving time: 5 hours 4 minutes;
Average speed 10.7mph;
Average heart rate 137bpm;
Maximum heart rate 191bpm;
Maximum speed 33.9mph;
Calories burned 2,632;
Climb: 1,761 feet.

So this was a ride of ups and downs – in terms of cycling up and down hills but also in terms of our German friends’ experience of riding in England. We have some beautiful lanes and lovely scenery but we have some scary roads for riding and motorists seem much more aggressive than in Germany and the Netherlands. I think that they enjoyed the day but were relieved they had no more cycling to do after that (Jutta’s husband was coming over by car for a few days and would drive them back home again afterwards)

Here is the combined graphic of hills and speed/heart rate. Click to enlarge.
Combined Activity

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Recumbent tricycling – with dog!

Long-time readers of my blog will notice a fair few photographs where my dog is in shot – she’s always curious as to what’s going on and finds the trike seat very comfortable.

In a Facebook discussion on ICE Trikes’ page someone asked me about the dog basket I have on my trike for Poppy and I thought it worth a short blog post so people can see one option that is available.

I bought the basket before I got the puppy! This was because I was in Germany just before Poppy the cockapoo came to live with us and it’s a very common sight in Germany to see people with their dogs in a basket, trailer or running alongside. I’ve seen dogs in trailers made of a beer crate with some wheels affixed – entirely unrestrained but sitting there very happily. Baskets are much easier to get hold of in Germany and significantly cheaper. The one I bought was rated for up to 12kg but we expected Poppy to end up much larger than the basket would comfortably carry (we were wrong!) I think it cost about 45 Euros.

Anyway, the day we got Poppy (when she was eight weeks old) we tried her out in the bike basket so she could get used to it.

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This basket was a standard German cycle basket for rear rack (Hundefahrradkorb) but we had to do a bit of fettling to get it to fit on the asymmetric rack on the Trice Q.

We had also bought a trailer which we hoped our ageing Weimaraner might like to go in (she wouldn’t). As you can see, it dwarfs Poppy.
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We haven’t ended up using the trailer for Poppy. Partly because she still fits in the basket (and it’s much simpler to manoeuvre the trike with a basket rather than a trailer) but also because in the trailer she’s quite a long way away from me and she’s less keen on that – she scrabbles at the front window and barks rather a lot. The trailer is used for shopping and other stuff (although I can’t trail it from my ICE Sprint anyway as it has a hub gear and the trailer requires a standard rear axle).

Very early on we discovered Poppy considered the most comfortable place to be was on the trike seat, rather than in the basket! Here she is at fifteen weeks old in her favourite spot.
Poppy at 16 weeks on trike 2

And again.
Poppy at 21 weeks on trike 1

Even as a rather gangly teenager she still fitted in the basket.
Poppy at 24 weeks in bike basket 1

And when it’s snowy outside, a trike seat is the most comfortable place to be

When full grown at nine months old, she definitely had a sense of entitlement about where she should sit.
Poppy on Trice Q 9

Poppy on Trice Q 3

Poppy on Trice Q 5

Here is Poppy, in her third week with us, taking her first mile-long trike journey.
Poppy at 10 weeks on trike

She initially squeaked and whined a bit whilst in the basket and this has actually continued – but now the squeaks and whines are with excitement.

As you can tell from this video, her head is remarkably close to my head when riding (the headrest gives a clue). This is fine except when you pass another dog, at which point Poppy likes to bark fiercely. She’s so small (only 7.5kg) that normally she has to be submissive to other dogs, but when up in the basket she’s taller than a labrador. This makes for a fair amount of woofing which is pretty loud when it’s about 10cm from your ear.

I’ve tried to train her out of this but it’s proving impossible and I’ve just learned to live with it. She’s noisier in familiar environments (if she knows that a dog lives in a particular house she will bark as we approach it) but when off cycling somewhere new she’s just squeaks with excitement and does the odd whine rather than barking, which is a relief.

She loves going in the basket, as can be evidenced by this video taken when she was about four months old (sorry about the pink crocs):

Even if the basket is in the hallway, she likes to get in it to give us a bit of a hint.

Can I go for a cycle ride now please?

She tends to wear high-vis in the basket – this is also to keep her warm in the cooler weather. She is in the full blast of the wind as she’s higher than me on the trike.

We had to initially put cable ties diagonally across the gaps in the metal cage so she couldn’t get out but she proved incredibly efficient at cutting cable ties with her teeth. Fortunately she never tried to get out properly – but she does like to stick her head through the basket, as you can see from this video.

And here she is, patiently waiting for me to change from cycling shoes into walking boots so we can go for a hike across the fields.

This is something I hadn’t considered before trying to take the dog for walks on the trike – the requirement for a change of shoes. If it’s a muddy walk then you need to somehow stuff your muddy wellies in the panniers after the walk – not great. And you have to carry your panniers with you on the walk too, which means you need to travel light (not something I’m good at). What I tend to do now is cycle with Poppy to meet a friend for a walk and stick my bags in her car while we’re walking.

She likes running alongside the bike as well

And, as you can see, her tendency to sit on my bike seat has been immortalised in watercolour (a friend commissioned this for me for my birthday – isn’t it wonderful!)
Poppy On Trike Drawing

Of course, Poppy was very excited when the new ICE Sprint arrived!

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The standard format rear rack on the Sprint means that the dog basket can be fitted and removed in less than a minute, which is very handy if I decide at the last minute to take Poppy somewhere with me. On the Trice Q we had to bolt the basket to a wooden frame we had built onto the rack and it took about ten minutes to get it all in place.

Here is Poppy in front of a field of flowers that are her namesake, this time on Alfie the ICE Sprint.

When I’m out riding Poppy shifts about a fair bit, turning round in the basket to look at the scenery. She’s never been on a normal upright bike in the basket – I wonder if the poor rider would get thrown off because of Poppy not understanding about balancing. And I wonder how it would work when you wanted to dismount from a normal bike – holding up 7.5kg of dog and about 4-5kg of basket wouldn’t be easy. The nice, stable platform of the trike is a real bonus.

Poppy has (to date – 4 March 2013) gone out on 80 rides with me and done a total of 511.11 miles. I just wish her feet reached the pedals! If you want to see a list of all her rides you can find it on MyCyclingLog.

And in case you’re worrying that we don’t give the dog enough variety in her hobbies, she also goes sailing with my husband. Here she is, 13 weeks old, on the boat with him.
Poppy at 13 weeks sailing 3

Ship’s dog

Looking out at the marina.
Poppy at 12 weeks on Mellas 2

(Please excuse the shocking excuse of a blog post to put up lots of pictures of our wonderful little doggie!)

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Filed under Alfie the Trike, Cycling in England, Recumbent Trikes

New touring luggage – Radical Banana Bags

In just under a month’s time I’m off on another long cycle tour in Germany – Konstanz to Koblenz – and, as most cycle tourers are, I’m always on the look out for things to make touring a bit easier. The other week I was idly perusing the most excellent blog of Dave McCraw (known on the yacf cycling forum as EdinburghFixed) and I came across his review of the Radical Banana Bags. I clicked, read the review and was immediately interested.

As much as I love my Vaude panniers which have given me excellent service over several years, there are some drawbacks to panniers on recumbents. Well, the drawbacks are the same on upright bicycles (you can’t reach into the panniers when travelling along), but on an upright you’ve usually got jersey pockets and a bar bag or tri bag to put things like phones into. On a recumbent you don’t have those options. In winter there might be forward-facing pockets on your winter jacket (I have three on my Altura Attack jacket which gives room for phone and gloves and keys) but in summer when you might just be wearing a jersey and shorts, there’s nowhere convenient to stash your phone whilst triking. If, like me, you regularly stop to take a photo, having to extract the phone from a pannier is a major pain. ICE trikes do have a small pocket in the seat but I find that my phone tends to drop down into it and it’s hard to extract, plus I might easily forget it and leave it on the trike when going into a restaurant or whatever.

Vaude Panniers 1

Vaude Panniers 2

The other thing about panniers is that they render the trike very difficult to move when not actually riding it. The centre of gravity is forward of the seat so with such a weight on the back it becomes very hard to pick up and wheel. I usually take the panniers off and stick them on the seat, but they have a tendency to roll off. They also make the rack wings creak a bit, as you can see from the angle.

Vaude Panniers 3

These panniers also slightly obscure my vision in my mirrors as they stick out so far.

When not on tour but doing general daily leisure cycling I tend to use my Radical Alfa sidepods, bought five years ago when I got my Trice Q. They are showerproof rather than waterproof but have never let rain in. They hang off the seat rather than the rack and – best of all – have zips that you can reach whilst riding so I can grab my phone if it rings. They can also be slung over your shoulder when leaving the trike so can be easier to carry than full panniers. They’re only 25 litres though (as opposed to 45 litres for my Vaude pannier set), which is enough for my usual daily rides to get bread and a few other groceries but not suitable for a bigger shop (when I take the panniers).

Radical Alfa sidepods

They attach to the headrest at the back of the seat although have a tendency to droop.

The view from the rear shows that they are much more sleek and give less wind resistance, plus the weight is on the seat so the trike is easy to lift by the rear rack and wheel around without any issues of weight.

Radical Alfa sidepods rear view

I had long been thinking that some much larger sidepods would be really handy for touring, but hadn’t actually done anything about it (like looking at Radical’s website). Dave McCraw’s excellent blog post spurred me into action and I visited Radical’s site. The Banana bags (larger versions of the sidepods) come in three sizes – Small, Medium and Large (there’s a surprise) – and the price differences between the three are surprisingly small. The Large bags are a whopping 70 litres – almost three times the volume of my current sidepods – so they looked like a great option for touring. I have always managed to fit everything in my 45 litre Vaude panniers for touring but a little more space might give more options for packing stuff.

Radical’s website did warn:

NB: Often too big for bikes with 2 x 20″ wheels.

(Interestingly, it’s only when copying this text to put in this blog I’ve noticed it specifies “two x 20 inch wheels”; I read it at the time as “bikes with 20 inch wheels” which could conceivably include a trike).

The bags looked great. A bit pricey but I get a heck of a lot of use out of this stuff. I was just a bit concerned whether they would fit my ICE Sprint. Dave McCraw’s review had been done with some bags loaned by his local recumbent bike shop, Laid Back Bikes of Edinburgh, about whom I have heard only good things. I thought I’d ring Laid Back and see if they still had the bags available and if they would fit. I had a good chat with David Gardiner there who kindly took some photos of the bags on a Sprint and sent me the pics. Yes, they fit, although without a great deal of ground clearance, but the bags he had in stock were now sold. We had a good general chat about recumbents, as one does, and I will definitely be recommending Laid Back Bikes to others again (and have indeed already done so to a friend looking for a recumbent).

So I decided to go ahead and order some bags from Radical in the Netherlands. In red, of course, to match Alfie’s paint job. The process was painless (well, as painless as spending 250 Euros can be) and my early birthday present arrived just a couple of days later.

They are Omnifit which means they fit hardshell or mesh seats as they have various adjustment options.

The straps were already fixed to one set of the plastic 3-bar slide buckles so I just slung the bags over the seat, tried to size the straps correctly and see where I got. I had to remove the flag to put the Banana bags on as they don’t have a click buckle thingie like the sidepods do.

Banana bags wrongly adjusted

Banana bags wrongly adjusted

You can see that the rearmost strap sits over the rack on the trike, rather than attaching to the seat. Despite doing this they were still very close to the ground and I was a little concerned about general ground clearance on tour – if they were going to be dragged through mud my belongings would not survive very well!

I was very pleased with the mesh pocket on each side but it was when looking more closely at the pocket that I noticed another set of 3-bar sliders outboard of the pocket. And when I opened the bag to have a look at the internal structure I pulled out a magic piece of paper.

Radical Bag Instructions

It would have been handy if I found this before I started! A clear explanation that I had to use the other set of slider buckles for a mesh seat (which I have).

So I quickly changed them round and things were much better.

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There’s much more ground clearance – and these bags are empty. When they’re full of touring kit/shopping they’ll be wider and a bit higher off the ground. I have lost access to those nice mesh top pockets though!

So they looked good and I have high hopes for touring. Except… the pesky requirement to remove the flag each time I take them on and off. My trike’s flagpole got run over by a car (when it unexpectedly flew off the back of the trike) and doesn’t separate into its three parts very well any longer. I try to just leave it be. These banana bags are missing the click fastener that their smaller brethren, the sidepods, have.

Here’s the strap sitting on the rack of the trike.

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You can see the arms of the rack holding the bags away from the back wheel, very handy.

Anyway, I had an uncharacteristic lightbulb moment! These straps are adjustable/removable, why don’t I put a click fastener in the middle of this strap?

So after spending the grand sum of £1.67 for six 3-bar sliders and £1.99 for two side release buckles (plenty of spares for if I got something wrong), and picking up the bit of 50mm webbing that had been lying on the road a mile from home (it appears to be the remains of a seatbelt) I was good to go. I had intended to buy a bit of webbing rather than cut up Radical’s one but my husband remembered seeing the discarded seatbelt and it was still there when he next went past. It’s a bit dirty and a bluey-grey rather than greyey-grey colour but that’s not a major issue!

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So anyway I got the kitchen scissors out and cut the webbing at its cleanest part, giving myself two lengths that my careful measurements had suggested would be about right. James then sealed the ends for me with his gas gun.

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And here is the result (with Radical’s original black webbing beside them)

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It was a matter of moments to assemble them correctly, attach them to the Banana Bags and then sling the whole lot over the trike seat, clipping in the rearward strap without having to remove the flag. Hurrah!

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Eh voilà – ready to go!

So it seemed sensible to do my first ride with these with a fair bit of stuff in the bags. I was due a trip to the charity shop to donate some unused clothing so I sorted out the clothing, put it in a plastic sack and stuffed it into the bag. It fitted easily – here you can see Alfie ready for the off.

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We headed to Colchester with a three mile ride to the charity shop. All seemed very easy, the bags weren’t noticeable as I rode along and didn’t obscure my view in my rear-view mirrors, even though the left hand side bag was fairly well stuffed.

One thing I do notice when riding with different panniers/bags is the change in road noise. On a trike with a 20 inch rear wheel your head is fairly near that wheel and you consequently get a fair bit of road noise from the tyre and mechanical noise from the gear/chain/derailleur/chain tensioner. Whenever I’ve been using one type of pannier for a while and switch to another I notice the change in noise. With the Radical Banana Bags I felt like overall noise was reduced (they buffer the noise from my chain tensioner) but that the noise that was reaching me came from a fairly narrow corridor (up the middle of the rack).

As I arrived at the charity shop I had to bump up a low kerb which I did at speed – and grounded the left hand side Banana Bag. This is obviously the disadvantage of them being low and also the weight wasn’t evenly distributed between the two so the left one had sunk a bit lower. There’s a slight scuff on the bottom of the bag now, nothing significant. If this happens more frequently I might put some duck tape on the bottom just to protect it.

It was very easy to get everything out of the bag as the zips open very wide. After giving the shop assistant the clothes I headed off to Aldi (it was Bike Stuff day). I wandered round, not buying much bike stuff but instead taking the opportunity to buy bulky items – lots of bags of puppodums, some big bags of crisps, popcorn, fresh bagged salad etc and a box of 36 Weetabix. It all fitted in just one side of the Banana Bags but mindful of the issue earlier with the heavier side slipping lower I evened out the weight a bit (Weetabix and bike bits and my tools on one side, food and phone etc on the other). The bags are lovely and easy to carry around when off the bike as there are two handles in the middle – the weight distribution is about right and I can carry them with one hand. I haven’t tried slinging them over my shoulder yet as hadn’t felt the need.

The trike is also easy to wheel around with the bags in situ. It’s not as light as with the Sidepods, which was to be expected, and if I took really big strides my knee might hit the banana bag, but it’s massively easier than wheeling the bike with panniers so that’s an excellent result.

I headed back home with my Aldi goodies. The combined weight wasn’t all that much and the trike didn’t feel any different than it did unladen (whereas pannier weight tends to be more noticeable) so I took a longer route home.

Here am I, back home with probably 40 litres worth of bags of popcorn, puppodums, salad and crisps.

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I did a small further adjustment to the middle strap of the bags when I got home – I shall probably do a couple of other fettles over time, but overall I’m happy with the bags and I think they’ll be really useful on tour. They wouldn’t be good for a winter tour when it’s likely to rain but I expect them to survive the odd shower OK and I will probably wrap my clothes in plastic bags when inside the Banana bags anyway.

For those who never carry large loads and tour with less kit than me, the 45 litre Medium size bags would probably be easier to manage (without the issues of them hanging low) but at only a 10 Euro saving over the Large bags I felt the Large were better value for money.

I’ll be off on my Konstanz to Koblenz trip in just over three weeks so the Banana Bags will get a real baptism of fire then – keep reading my blog to find out how I get on!

An update

The marvels of the internet means that, following the initial posting of this blog, a couple of recumbent cycling chums and I got into a discussion about how I could perhaps raise the lowest part of the bags so they don’t scrape on the floor again.

Of course, the obvious solution is to raise the bags up the seat by attaching them further back on the rack. So I thought about this a bit more and came up with the following idea, using parts that I already had – another 50mm buckle, 3 sliders and the original piece of webbing from Radical that I had taken off.

I attached either part of the clip buckle to a long piece of webbing, wrapped it around the rack and made sure it was fairly tight.

Mount without bags

What you can’t see from the photo above is that there are some bits of metalwork under the rack that mean the arrangement has to sit where it does (perhaps slightly further back than I would have liked).

Here is a view from the back so you can see how I’ve done it.

Mount without bags from back

And from the side.
Mount without bags from side

And now I am attaching the bag, which I can do one side at a time.
Clip removed one side

And here it is with the bags attached. It pulls a fair bit as the contraption is a bit further back than is ideal, but it’s a big improvement.
Clips in place

A view from ground level. The bag on the right hand side of this picture was full of stuff and is not that low.
trike from ground

And a side view.
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Interestingly I was able to use the pocket on the top of the bag with this arrangement. It was also noticeable that my arms slightly rested on the bags.

I have ordered 2 metres of 50mm webbing to see if I can let out the middle strap a bit more as I may be able to attach it to a different set of clips which could make things sit a bit more comfortably, but overall this seems to be working well and cost me precisely nothing! It is also quick to remove the gadget on the rack which I will need to do if I use the dog basket.

Edit after my first tour using these bags.

So I have now done a cycle tour using the new Radical Banana Bags and they don’t look as new any longer – mud, rain, grot and dust are all over them, which is to be expected. But how did they perform?

Overall I was reasonably happy. The large volume is very handy as I was able to bring back some cakes and chocolates on the last day which I could fit into the bags. They are definitely easier to ride with than panniers on the rack (the weight distribution is better) and the wind resistance issue also helps as they are tucked away more than normal panniers. I also found it handy that I could put my phone in the pocket and get it out again whilst going along (although it could be tricky to do up the zip).

Unfortunately my tour dates clashed with the heavy rains around Bodensee and there was a lot of driving rain and also some flooding. The fact that these bags aren’t waterproof was noticeable at the end of some days with water pooled in the bottom and the outsides of the plastic bags that I wrapped my luggage in wet. However the bags dried pretty quickly (always by the next morning).

The bigger issue was the fixing. Over the course of my 16 day tour I changed the fixing. In the end I found it best to fix the bags to the trike rack whilst empty (i.e. with no weight in) and I connected the straps directly to the rack. No quick-release, I had to thread the sliders manually, but everything stayed in place. Once it was tightly fixed I could put the contents in the bags. This meant, of course, that all my luggage was strewn about for people to see which wasn’t always ideal and would not have been possible in the rain. I didn’t sort this out until I’d ridden for about eight days so was struggling a bit before then with getting the rearmost strap tight enough to hold the bags up and away from the ground and floodwater.

More significantly, I noticed after about ten days that there were a couple of holes in the bags. The photos aren’t great but you can see a bit of daylight where daylight should not be!

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I was able to patch these with insulating tape once the bags had dried but it was rather disappointing.

I expect the holes developed through grounding or perhaps scraping against a stick or some other object on the cycle path (there was a fair amount of debris across the paths in places due to the flooding in central Germany).

I will be touring again in September and if the weather forecast is for mostly dry then I will take the Banana Bags but if there’s a reasonable amount of rain forecast then I will take my Vaude panniers. So these banana bags are a useful addition to my luggage library but are not the perfect solution by any means!

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Filed under Alfie the Trike, Cycle Tours, Cycling in England, Cycling in Germany, Recumbent Trikes