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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

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.


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:


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


Filed under Cycling in England, Recumbent Trikes