Number plates on bicycles, how practical is it really?

I saw a twitter exchange on this topic recently where someone that lives on a canal boat was complaining about people riding bikes recklessly on the tow path. Ignoring the anecdotal “this happens all the time” and “cyclists are a menace” tone of that particular exchange, it still sucks. Why shouldn’t someone be able to report a cyclist that has ridden irresponsibly?

It’s difficult to separate motor vehicles and bicycles in this argument as the impact of cars in an accident (and generally) is so much greater but arguing the “what about cars” point is fallacy, a bike can still be ridden irresponsibly regardless of what someone else does in a car.

So armed with a stack of assumptions (trying to favour the ‘Yes to registration’ argument) and literally 10 minutes of googling, allow me to cobble some half baked ‘analysis’ together as I can’t find any other made up stats anywhere.

Firstly, let’s give our new bike registering thingy a fighting chance and rule out registering all 25 million bikes that exist in the UK.
https://www.cyclinguk.org/statistics

We can just assume that it’s going to cost too much (seriously, it would take forever). So we will apply this thingy to the sale of new bikes only.

It’s likely that registration of all new bikes will affect sales but for the sake of argument let’s ignore the cost of that to the industry and the effect on jobs and the economy and just assume that everyone in the country fully backs number plates on bikes as, this is important.

In 2016 there were 3.5 million bikes sold. Again, for the sake of argument let’s rule out kids bikes (30%) and mountain bikes (30% – yeah I know you can ride them on the road) and just say we are going to register road bikes/commuter bikes (we just want a practical number to get this thing going). This leaves us with 1.4 million bikes (40%) that will need to be registered per year.
https://www.cyclinguk.org/statistics

Let’s not kick the bike industry in the goolies any more than necessary and just say that the customer will pay for the registration and let’s use the experts we already have by kindly asking the DVLA to manage the whole thing.

So how much should we charge for this registration?

The cost of registering a car is £55 which is approx 0.44% of the price of the average car (£12,715)

The average price of a bike is £439 so an equivalent cost is £1.90.
http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/38063/1/BritishCyclingEconomy.pdf

That’s not going to cover much so let’s say it costs 15 quid to register a bike, bit unfair compared to cars but, this is important.

Sales of bikes less than £100 will take a hit but we are going to ignore that and say that all 1.4 million bikes will be registered willingly and on time which gives us a revenue of 21 million quid p/a.

The DVLA handles vehicle registrations (in 2018, 2,367,147 vehicles were registered in the UK – https://www.racfoundation.org/motoring-faqs/mobility#a10), driving licences, and VED taxation. Accordingly (massive assumption klaxon), vehicle registrations are a third of what the DVLA does? This sounds like a lot, so let’s be more conservative and say something equivalent to a quarter of the current business would be required.

How much is this going to cost?

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/630117/dvla-ara-2016-17.pdf

DVLA expenditure is £485 million – this is likely to reduce due to planned savings so let’s say it costs 400 million to run the DVLA, this makes our quarter estimate £100 million. Hang on, we need to handle 1.4 million registrations and we only have 21 million quid to do it. Using our new revenue we can only increase the DVLA as a business by 5% to handle these new registrations.  Given that *probably* 20% of the DVLA handles vehicle registrations it won’t be enough but, this is important.

OK, soooo all new bikes are getting registered, all old bikes have miraculously disappeared off the face of the earth, we are good to go.

How do we use these registrations?

A very important person has just had to run for their life from someone on a bike, riding like a dick. Luckily, this important person took down the reg number of the bike and phoned the police. The police track down the cyclist who (despite no evidence it was them riding) admits to the offence. The cyclist gets charged, goes to court and gets fined.

How much do we fine a cyclist for scaring an important person?

The fine for injuring or killing someone with a vehicle doesn’t appear to be consistent, it can be anything from 200 to 1000 pounds so let’s pick another fine to base this on. The average fine for speeding is about £150, you generally get let off for a first offence with some training but let’s not do that with bikes, this is important.

Given that endangering someone’s life speeding in your car costs £150, let’s assume the average ‘riding like a dick’ fine is £75.  What’s our revenue from fines likely to be?

A cross section of motorists is actually a cross section of cyclists (yes it is). Therefore the percentage of motorists that ‘drive like a dick’ should be the same for cyclists that ‘ride like a dick’ (yes it is).

Motoring offences (page 26)
https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/614414/criminal-justice-statistics-quarterly-december-2016.pdf

Sticking to the speeding comparison, 168,000 motorists were convicted in 2015.

There are 31.7 million vehicles on the road (how mad is that?)
https://www.statista.com/statistics/299972/average-age-of-cars-on-the-road-in-the-united-kingdom/

They can’t all be on the road regularly so let’s assume (klaxon) that a 3rd of these vehicles are active and reduce that number to 10 million vehicles. So from 10 million vehicles there where 168,000 convictions for speeding which is roughly 1.5% and about 25 million quid in fines.

For bikes, we won’t make the same assumption (we want this to work), let’s say ALL our registered bikes are active so we can expect 1.5% of our 1.4 million bikes to ‘cycle like a dick’ which will give us 21,000 convictions.

21,000 naughty cyclists (that are also honest and said, “yep, that was me” when contacted by police) is 13% of the 168,000 naughty motorists. So (assumption klaxon) we need to increase the machine that currently handles this for motorists (courts, police, camera’s) by 13%?

That’s way too much let’s be super conservative and say 2%.

Sounds good, we can expect £1.5 million from our ‘cycling like a dick’ fines to pay for this increase, that will easily cover it right?

Hmmm, just looking at policing, those 168,000 convictions are only a fraction of police budget and we want to increase that fraction by 2% but…that budget is completely knackered.

https://homeofficemedia.blog.gov.uk/2017/12/19/fact-sheet-police-funding-for-2018-19-explained/

“Broadly speaking, most police force funding comes from direct Government funding. Around 30% of funding also comes from council tax through the policing precept”

https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Financial-sustainability-of-police-forces-in-England-and-Wales-2018.pdf

“Police funding fell by 19% in real terms”

It doesn’t look good. Our half baked analysis has only examined two elements, the DVLA and the Police and the numbers don’t add up, not even when we try and favour the ‘Yes’ argument.

There is a great deal more to implementing this which is only going to make the whole thing cost more and it’s bonkers to think that the magic money tree is going to be uprooted from the bribe garden to cover any of it.

Alternatively, we could increase the council tax for every single household in the country so that we can pursue some cyclists that may or may not have been on a bicycle with a number plate, whilst allegedly committing an offence that is most likely testimonial.

Conclusion

To answer my original question why shouldn’t someone be able to report a cyclist that has ridden irresponsibly?

There’s nothing stopping this currently, if the offence is deemed serious then an investigation will take place and the police will attempt to track that person down regardless of a bicycle number plate, you know, kind of how they find criminals that don’t all conveniently drive vehicles that are registered to them. If it’s not serious then, what can we really expect? We have established that the policing cannot be increased, do we expect them to stop investigating crime elsewhere because someone rode a bicycle on the pavement?

Even with this extremely shallow look at expense, the numbers don’t stack up. This process won’t pay for itself so a big chunk of budget is needed from somewhere. Add to that the benefit vs cost and it works even less.

What are we going to gain from all this?

Less people on bikes, which is the real driver (pun intended).

Some random bullet points to make this bit more conclusiony

  • Registering existing bikes will be cost prohibitive – never going to happen
  • A fair price (£15) of registering a bike will not cover the actual cost of registration
    • the real cost (£55 as per motor vehicles) will be prohibitive to sales (and riding bikes)
  • Convictions for cycling offences that are linked to a cycle registration will not be effective without licensing and insurance therefore impractical. Yet more money will be needed for licensing.
  • Sales of bikes will suffer
    • Journey’s made by bike will be reduced.
    • Health care costs likely to increase due to the reduction in exercise.

 

 

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SDD CX

The South Downs Double on a cross bike

The idea of riding the South Downs Double has always appealed to the idiot in me. It’s a bit silly. Extra silly on a cross bike. Each single I’ve ridden has taken me so long I’ve never considered two were possible in a day. Add the fact that I have never ridden for 24 hours before and the whole thing just seemed ridiculous.

As is the way of such things, once the idea materialises, carrying it out is the only way to banish it forever. I wasn’t going to let facts get in the way of a nice ride, may as well just give it a go, see what happens.

Pondering this last Easter weekend, a day suddenly became free. The trails were dry, the overnight temperature was just about warm enough and the forecast was slight rain for a couple of hours. Fuck it, I’ll never be ready anyway, Sunday night it is then.

Start time 19:50

A27 to Eastbourne to A27

The day of the ride I checked the bike and packed up a small rucksack of food in preparation. After putting the kids to bed I rode to my starting point where the South Downs Way crosses the A27, started all my gizmos and set off.

I can’t deal with the scale of big rides so I split them in to chunks and just ignore the bit I’m not doing. This bit was just a ride to Eastbourne. Knowing this section quite well I could just get on with it and tick off some familiar landmarks; Kingston ridge, yellow brick road, Southease. They all came and went in the dying light. A slight tailwind along the tops of the hills helped and I pushed a bit in an effort to gain a time buffer for later.

Before I knew it I was climbing up to the golf course above Eastbourne on the way back and straight into a headwind. 100 miles of it. I tried my best to ignore it, just a ride to the A27. Thankfully I dropped out of the wind with each descent and stayed out of the wind on the climbs. Everywhere else I just had to tuck in to the bike as much as possible in prayer to my bottom bracket. Annoying but manageable. Just.

Elapsed time 4:30

A27 to A24

A brief stop at the A27 to eat and fill my bottles from the tap then a lovely standing-up-all-the-way climb towards Black Cap to get me going again.

Knowing the terrain when you’re on a cross bike is knowledge made of pure gold embedded with giant diamonds. The bits that you can push on to make up time, the lines to take on the descents, that bit where you have to slow right down or you will wreck your puny tyres make a huge difference to overall progress. If you didn’t know it already, 33mm tyres are the absolute shittest tyres on Earth to ride the South Downs Way on. Ever.

I found those hours of riding in darkness hard work. The concentration levels required to not crash, to not double puncture, to constantly watch what I was doing were mentally draining. Reaching the top of the climb from Pyecombe, I stumbled trying to avoid a large rock on the path, smashed my knee against the solid metal casing of my light and fell to the ground in agony. I lay on that rocky path looking at the stars and watching the mist from my shouts float away like tiny clouds into the night and thought to myself, this is probably the end of the ride.

After a few minutes of rolling around feeling sorry for myself, I tried standing, then hobbling a bit. It was painful, too painful to put my full weight on my left leg. I considered rolling back to the A23 bike path and home. Could I ride this off? New plan, ride to Devils Dyke before quitting; give it a go, see what happens.

Those first few wincey turns of the pedals were sticky out bottom lip time. Head down. Think about something else. Anything.

Elapsed time 7:23

A24 to A3

The pain subsided a bit but I could no longer stand on the pedals when climbing. Not ideal on 1 x 11 gearing. I was still going though which was good, but I had slowed enough that a sub 24hr time was looking unlikely. No matter, it would take as long as it took. The Downs aren’t going anywhere if I wanted to have another go.

A quick bottle fill at the A24, snack and climb up a dark lane and back on to the ridge. Take 2 bottles into the shower? I just snack and climb. The strangeness of those early morning hours had arrived and my mind tuned in to Weird.FM for a bit. I tried keeping the pedals turning and ignoring it.

Salvation at the A285, fellow doubling idiot Vic was waiting. It was great to see a friendly face after hours of battling alone in the dark. It was perfectly timed. I stopped for a bit, necked some painkillers, got loads of encouraging chat and was bullied back on to the trail with zero sympathy. ‘Just get on with it’. Perfect. I had been close to bailing. Thank you so much Vic.

Elapsed time 11:53

A3 to Winchester to A3

I’ve only ever ridden through Queen Elizabeth Country Park once and that time I got hopelessly lost in the dark. This time, in daylight and following a Garmin was much easier but I did wonder how I managed to get it so wrong before. The grassy climb of Butser hill just after QECP was a new treat going in this direction and full tacking was deployed.

I reached Winchester, rode around the King Alfred statue and back onto the Way. Just after climbing that first ridge I was back into a slight tailwind for the first time in 12 hours. The 100 miles of headwind were finally over. It was a great feeling and with the day developing from murky to glorious, thoughts drifted back to a sub 24.

Elapsed time 17:10

A3 to A24

Loads of families and walkers were out enjoying a sunny bank holiday weekend on the downs, it’s great to see this beautiful place being appreciated. I wasn’t going to be a dick and spoil someones day so slowed for each group I came across. Plenty of bits without people on to make up time. This section is the longest ‘bit’ I had given myself to do and by the time I hit Washington at the A24 I was flagging. That extra speed I needed hadn’t materialised and it felt like the sub 24 was agonisingly out of reach. My maths skills had evaporated and I just couldn’t tell if it was on or not.

Elapsed time 20:51

A24 to A27

Climbing up from the A24 felt like I was finally nearing the home straight. I had just over 3 hours to get to the A27. What was in front of me? Chanctonbury Ring, Pig Farm, Truleigh Hill, Dyke, Pyecombe, Beacon, Black Cap, end. Surely this was doable? I’ve ridden this bit a few times but I just couldn’t tell in my scrambled state how long it would take, my mind was alternating between it’s just round the corner to it’s going to take all night. I had to trust the part of me that thought it was doable and just go for it. If I flogged myself for nothing at least I tried.

Just as I was starting to get my head round this my front wheel lost all air in an instant and I had to fight the bike to a stop without crashing. My only puncture in nearly 200 miles of flint and chalk and rocks the size of grapefruits hiding in every rutted dip. I should have bowed down to the flint gods in gratitude that this was the only puncture. Instead I swore at the sky at the top of my lungs. Breathe. Count to 10. Swap the tube. Just get on with it.

Perhaps it was the puncture, perhaps it was my body just wanting this thing to end but I got in the drops and went for it. No more stops. No stopping to put my arm warmers back on. No stopping to fill bottles. No stopping for anything. Don’t stop ’til you get enough. I flew down past the pigs, across the Adur, past the YHA and the lumps to Devils Dyke. Approaching each gate on the opening side, angling the bike to get through as quickly as possible and pushing the gate back with a force to let it shut with its own weight. Gritted teeth up Newtimber, not even registering the spot where I smashed my knee all those hours ago. Up past the golf course, tuck in for the blast across to Ditchling Beacon. No. More. Stops. One more ridge top ride then it was downhill all the way. I didn’t stop to check the time, I might have been hours out, I didn’t care, no more need for pacing, everything was getting chucked off the back; water, energy, sense.

That last descent down to the A27 was a blur. The last gate, the last drop down some steps, the final sprint to the tap. The last anything. Done.

Elapsed time 23:23:24

UPDATE:
 I couldn’t resist having another go a few weeks later –
http://www.kinesisbikes.co.uk/Blog/Archive/May-2017/Doing-the-double

Up the ring

A huge chunk of South Downs including Cissbury Ring, Chanctonbury Ring, and what seems like every single up and down along the ridge to Lewes. It’s a hard day out but well worth the effort. Thank you Jo for a beautifully crafted route and thank you Mark for the inspiration. 

http://velomorpha.cc/the-vanity-of-vanities-ucx-up-the-ring/

There is a rather splendid idea of making these UCX rides a brevet type thing, kind of  like a permanent Audax. More here:

http://velomorpha.cc/ucx-permanents/

The fool on Windover Hill

Alone on a hill
The man with the foolish grin
Is keeping perfectly still

Towards the Eastbourne end of the South Downs Way lies Windover Hill. The North side of the hill hides the Long Man of Wilmington standing tall above the Weald, but it’s the South side that contains the path climbing up from the village of Alfriston. The long, steep, chalky track follows the edge of this lump and curves South above a valley of farmland before rejoining the top of the South Downs and resuming its route to the sea.

It was about halfway up this track that I found myself alone on New Year’s Eve.

The battery on my phone had died, the inner tubes I had brought with me were in other people’s tyres and the tube-fixing patches I had were curling up like fortune telling fish from a Christmas cracker.

“Curling sides…….Fucked

I sat there watching the fading light, pondering this perfect alignment of the cosmos then started running the 6 miles back to waiting friends and last place in the White Chalk Hills Ultra Cross.

“50 (ish) miles over varied terrain, on Cyclocross bikes, mostly off road and on the South Downs from Selmeston to Eastbourne via Beddingham and Firle and back again

This being the 5th and final UCX saw a decent turn out for the foggy start that morning. Throughout the day riders met and merged around gates, forest tracks, at the tops of hills and invariably around punctured wheels.

At Birling Gap where the Chalk Hills meet the sea you can see thin dark layers of flint amongst the chalk exposed by the eroding coast. Future punctures in every single one of those black lines moving slowly to the surface. Patiently waiting in the giant slabs of downs cake for a 33mm tyre.

The present day layer of flint was doing its best to decimate our gang of friends but we progressed through farm tracks and fog and Friston forest. The pub in East Dean was another merging of riders for those that stopped. I had probably one more pint than I should have considering the long grassy climb to get out of East Dean but I was warm again. More punctures and pee stops on the downs above Birling Gap before swooping temporarily on to tarmac towards Beachy Head, then back off road for the return to Berwick.

Somewhere between Beachy head and Windover Hill on the way back there is a rutted, muddy downhill track with brambles on either side and troughs of doom in the middle you could fly an X-Wing down. It is the most ridiculous place ever to even attempt to ride a bike. It may well be my favourite bit of anything, anywhere to do just that.

We all giggle like idiots as we drop down the track towards the Long Man, then shimmy along beneath him. Simon holds the gate at the bottom of Windover Hill and I wait with him as the rest of our group continues up the track. His reward for holding the gate, a jammed rear mech which disintegrates as he tries to set off again. Between us we do our best to get him going by breaking the chain and attempting a single speed conversion but the gears keep jumping. Still, it’s coast-able, sort of and Simon turns back to Alfriston on his giant balance bike. I head off back up the hill hoping to God I catch the others before I get a puncture….

“Unsanctioned and irreverent, pointless even

And that’s it, after the puncture I run back to base, eat, fix the bike and then ride back to Windover Hill to finish it in the dark. There’s no reason to do this, just ‘cos. The end of a great day. The perfect way to finish it, seeing in the New Year with friends.

Thank you Mark for organising this wonderful, crazy thing. It’s easily my favourite ride — challenging, stupid, fun. What more could anyone want from a bike ride or from anything else for that matter?

More

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/eric-ravilious-1817
https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/whitechalkhillsucx/

https://vimeo.com/56983087
https://themanfromicon.net/tag/white-chalk-hills-ultracross/
https://www.strava.com/activities/81735985

Attachment

I’m lying on a trolley bed outside the operating theatre. I’m listening to the anaesthetist tell me how I will feel a cold sensation when the drugs are administered. As soon as I become aware of the icy pain trickling down the veins of my arm I’m in the post-op recovery room telling a nurse I feel fine. I was awake between these moments but I have no recollection of it. I know I was awake because a surgeon describes a conversation we had 15 minutes ago. 14 minutes before this memory. He told me the metal plate in my arm has been removed. The two memories are joined as if by one seamless hop through time.

The moments that led me here; a collision with a car, a bike ride through the night across the south downs, so many other points in between. Each moment like a grain of sand floating in an endless vacuum. Infinite paths between each one, each moment occurring both simultaneously and in sequence. The only linear path is the one my mind uses to piece them together. The linear distance, twenty years.

The crash. A glance from a large black Mercedes. A shove, poke, push into the kerb on Vere Street. I’ve just made a drop on Cumberland Place and radioed in “1–5, west one…”. I have the vaguest of hopes of another pick-up to take me home. It’s late, no other dockets come through on the radio so I head back to Soho with the last package of the day. The Mercedes and I meet as it moves towards the kerb on the slightest of bends. I don’t know if there is an obstruction, does the car need to move? Is the driver not paying attention? Do they even know they’ve hit me? I don’t think any of these things when I bounce off the car and fall onto the edge of the kerb. I am consumed by an intense white light of pain that blocks out all thought. When my eyes finally open a dark London street with a fuzzy white edge carries on as before.

The Downs are lit by a blood red moon. A warm breeze passes me. A herd of wild deer run past the beam of my light. I stand there for a while in the grassy valley, I can’t believe what I’ve just seen. I am in awe of this place. Later, I hunch over the bike as I climb a rocky path through a wood. I follow the path through the wood and emerge into a dark field. To my left I can feel a black expanse of nothing. The hill drops away and the space beyond is just…there. A giant cube of cool air. The world sleeps and the downs belong to me.

The receptionist signs my sheet and hands me back my clipboard. I struggle to put it back in my bag. I smile apologetically, pathetically. I head out into the street and unlock my bike. The West End is already full of drunks, short skirts, shiny shirts, shouting, laughter. I ride to the hospital slowly, my arm hanging limply by my side. I make it to A&E. I’ve still got my radio, my bike, my bag. I’m not sure how I’m doing things, I must be on some kind of auto pilot. The x-ray shows bits of bone. The decision is taken to fix a metal plate to the bone in my arm. An attachment.

The Earth spins towards the sun and I spin along the downs past Chanctonbury Ring, the monarch of the range. A faint smudge of light sits on the horizon. The grassy ridge narrows to a rocky path beside a field. I’m on the drops pushing hard on the pedals, full of joy at the silliness of riding across the downs at night for no reason. The best reason. A bounce on the rear wheel, breathe in, nope. The next bounce is the clang of wheel rim on flint. I fix the puncture and watch the sun rise.

I become aware of my surroundings. I’m in a hospital bed. A different time hop. My dad is there. He says something to me that I will never forget, something that stays with me forever, changes my life even. The paths between the floating grains of sand are altered. He has no idea the impact those words will have on me. I doubt he even remembers it.

I stop at the gate. It’s good to see smiling faces. I’m touched that friends would want to ride out and join me on a bike-ride-for-no-reason. We ride up and down the chalk hills. We stop for tea. We ride some more through the hot summer morning until we reach the end.

The TransAtlanticWay Race 2016

The inaugural TransAtlanticWay race took place this year, starting in Dublin and heading north to pick up the start of the Wild Atlantic Way route. The race then traverses southwards along the west coast of Ireland, out and back along each peninsula and crossing several counties before finally arriving in Kinsale on the south coast. From here it leaves the Wild Atlantic Way and heads up to the finish at Blarney. 2500km of quiet lanes, stunning landscapes and hills. Lots of hills. And weather. Lots of weather.

Dublin to Derry

The start line in Dublin finds 30 or so seasoned endurance riders raring to go, and me. Having been a dot watcher until now this is to be my first experience of racing an endurance event and I stand there blissfully ignorant about what is to unfold. Too late to worry about it now, we’re off!

img_2639

The ride to the first checkpoint in Derry is surprisingly fast on rolling A roads. After the early groups split up, I’m grateful for my fellow rider Jason’s company on the final stretch into Derry. One of the many highlights of the race is meeting the other riders. Lots of them are quite experienced at this and all of them are a real pleasure to meet. Jason has some problems with his bike so stays in Derry while I carry on northwards in search of the start of the Wild Atlantic Way.

Co. Donegal

The next couple of days through Donegal are some of the most exceptional roads I’ve ever ridden but extremely tough going. Short steep climbs dropping down to beautiful beaches then climbing back up to cliff tops. Long draggy climbs past peat bogs, across moorland, farmland and acres of country park. The road always snaking its way slowly along the craggy coast. Every inch of the route is stunning.

A theme for this route is starting to develop. A long slog out to one of the many headlands (including Malin Head the northernmost point) is followed by a long slog back, all the while seeing the next headland in the distance and the next slog. The race is already physically and mentally demanding.

  

Another theme becoming apparent is the Irish weather. Relentless headwind batters my progress along each headland and frequently becomes an evil crosswind on the return. The only respite I find is in the lee of the many steep hills (Mamore Gap and Glengesh Pass being the most memorable in Donegal). Intermittent showers turn into persistent rain and I forget about the wind for a day as we race along the coast and into the town of Donegal.

img_2654 

Co. Mayo and Achill Island

The counties of Leitrim and Sligo roll by quickly in the early morning and passing through Ballina I realise I have reached Co. Mayo. The sun comes out briefly as I ride towards a giant rainbow across the bay and into the rain once more.

I make a stop in Ballycastle to stock up on my now established snack of Haribo when I spot another rider. Paula heads past into the morning gloom. She is having a tremendous race and is looking like cracking into the top few places in the next day or so (her account of the race is a good read). My own race has been patchy, a few mechanicals and a lot of tiredness has seen me put in less kilometres than I would have liked. My initial aim was to ride about 300km per day but with the terrain and the weather this is proving much harder than I’d expected. Somehow despite all this I find myself hovering around the edge of the top 10 on day 4, completely unexpected.

Paula has stopped for a bit further down the road and I catch up and ride alongside her towards Ballycroy National Park. It’s nice to have someone to chat to for a bit. Somehow during this section I manage to destroy my front derailleur and stop briefly to make an attempt to fix it. The outer arm of the mech has come away and there seems to be no obvious fix so I leave the chain on the big ring and carry on. I can’t keep up with Paula for long, she is a far stronger rider than me so I drop back to ride at my own pace and I watch her disappear down the road. I enter the park and find myself on long straight roads riding towards huge hills, crouching giants in the distance. This more than makes up for the continuous presence of my old friend, Relentless Headwind™.


The roads of the country park lead to Achill Island and three inner loops of the island await. I bump into Jack and have another welcome natter. He’s just finishing the island loops as I’m starting them and is very impressively munching through the miles (Jack’s blog about his race is well worth checking out).


Not long after that I bump into Stephen who I was trying to race a day or two ago but who is now well and truly out in front and pulling away all the time, another rider having a very impressive race. Achill Island turns out to be my favourite bit of the whole race. Narrow quiet roads wind their way out to the edges of the island, up and down from beach to cliff top. The rugged western edge of the island hides the most wind but this does not wipe the grin off my face. It’s a beautiful place and makes all the suffering worthwhile, just the kind of ride every cyclist lives for. 

I leave the island happy and with new sheep racing skills (they’re fast!) but slightly broken from being too lazy to manually change the chain from the outer ring….I’m sure it will be fine. I push on and race in to Westport to finally bust a more respectable 320km mark for a days riding.

Co. Galway

We’re over the halfway point and the miles are starting to take their toll. A few bad nights bivvying are also catching up with me. The saddle sores and aches and pains I’ve been putting up with are OK but I am starting to feel terrible and each day is getting progressively harder. I vow to push on whilst I can still ride.

I fix the front mech by wedging a chunk of cable tie on the bit of the outer arm at the point it used to be attached. It seems to hold and I’m able to shift between inner and outer rings but it’s probably too late, my left knee is starting to hurt.

Some more climbing and some more battling against the wind as I make my way slowly through Galway, past the Connemara National Park and onto Sky Road. This headland loop turns out to be a real treat, more fantastic views revive me a bit and I pick up the pace. I ride through some wooded lanes towards the town of Galway. Whilst getting off the bike to check something I tweak my knee a bit and the pain is excruciating. I give it a minute and gingerly ride to the outskirts of town and decide to rest up at the first B&B I see. Adrian is just behind me on the tracker so I hobble out to cheer him on. How he has managed to organise this event and race it at the same time is mind boggling, all the kudos!

Co. Clare

There’s not much improvement the next day but I carry on in the vain hope that the pain will subside. It turns out to be a tough day. It’s slow going around the Cliffs of Moher and I have to stop frequently to rest my knee where I discover that the dry bag on my bars makes a really comfy pillow.

A pharmacy stop sees me stocked up on painkillers and I carry on. I finally reach a beautiful long beach at Spanish Point and lie in the sand for a while. I’m going slowly now but I’m still going, it doesn’t matter to me where I end up in the placings I just want to keep moving. I lie there a while and ponder the Spanish fleet that was wrecked on this coast and think myself lucky that this particular Spaniard can get back on his bike.

The sun breaks through the clouds as I make my way to the Killimer – Tarbet ferry. I realise if I speed up a bit I can make the next ferry so I pick up the pace and just make the crossing in time. The ferry across the Shannon Estuary provides a welcome rest before tackling the next county.

Co. Kerry

I ride a few more miles into Kerry and as the evening fades I decide to pack in for the day and set up a bivvy spot. The following morning is not great, knee pain and other ailments are making progress difficult so I decide to rest up for a few more hours in Tralee.  I visit all the pharmacies in Tralee, tape myself up, neck some Ibuprofen Plus and slather myself in Deep Heat and Voltarol. I think I look pretty good.

I decide to skip the Dingle peninsula in order to save the knees but it’s now taking hours to get anywhere. The full-route is basically over for me. I don’t feel too bad, it’s taken more than a few days of struggling to make me realise this so I’m prepared for it. I decide on a new revised version of the route to honour the race as best I can. I plan to ride cross country to the final checkpoint in Kinsale and then on to the finish at Blarney. I’m missing some of the best bits of the route in the final few peninsulas which is a real shame so I’m just going to have to come back and do it again!

Co. Cork – Kinsale and Blarney

It’s probably only about 100 miles or so to Kinsale and then onto Blarney from Tralee but it takes me 2 days of torture to get there. Stopping every few miles and riding like I’m on some kind of clown bike with square wheels but I make it, slowly. I’m immediately glad that I have when just after reaching the finish I see Jack arrive and into 2nd place overall (1st full-route finisher) behind Bernd Paul who had been out in front for most of the race and finished the day before.

Jack has ridden 600+kms in one go, 30 something hours to take 2nd place, a truly phenomenal ride and I’m completely speechless! It’s a real honour to witness his achievement and makes the last few days of torture worth the effort.

Later that evening we are joined by Paula who takes 3rd, another amazing ride and then that night and the next day the rest of the top few places arrive, including my buddy Stephen who has had a cracking race. The remainder of the riders arrive over the next few days and I enjoy hearing their stories and seeing the immense efforts that they have all put in.

Chapeau to all the riders, finishers and non-finishers alike. It has been a beautiful, brutal but ultimately rewarding race and I’m very honoured to have been a part of it and privileged to have visited this beautiful country and met its lovely people. A huge thank you to Adrian O’Sullivan for organising the race and Michael Marks for top work as Race Admin. In fact a big thanks to everyone involved in the race, including the dot watchers and friends at home whose support has been overwhelming.

Would I do this again?

Of course I would!!

See you on the start line for the next one.

UPDATE: Just published; a fantastic account of the 2016 race by Jesko Werthern. This is really worth a read, captures the experience brilliantly.

https://jeskowerthern.wordpress.com/2017/05/08/transatlantic-way-bike-race/

 

 

A permanent Audax (or two)

I love an Audax, especially an Audax that counts towards the nicest looking Audax-y badge in the South and possibly the world. The Brevet des Grimpeurs du Sud is a collection of hilly rides, 5 of which will get you a nice shiny badge.

Grimpeurs-du-Sud-b

With summer finally making an appearance what better way to spend the day than combining two 100 km Audaxes (and ticking off a couple of rides towards my GdS badge). I’ve planned to ride The Reliable first, starting and finishing in Ringmer, then a short ride across to Barcombe to ride the AAA Milne to complete the doubleBoth rides are ‘Permanent‘ Audaxes which is a kind of DIY type affair; you purchase an entry and ride it on a date you choose (as opposed to ‘Calendar’ events where you ride with other people on the same day).

The start from Ringmer sees me on roads I know well, slowly making my way towards Crowborough and the edge of my lanes knowledge. Shortly after leaving Crowborough, turning east at the Boars Head inn starts a section of beautiful, quiet roads that roll alongside fields and climb through dark wooded clumbs towards Etchingham. This turns out to be my favourite part of the ride and carries me along the rest of the route south and back towards Ripe.

I linger at the village store in Ripe a bit too long, drawn into village life by friendly locals before heading back to Ringmer to complete the first Audax. A short ride west to Barcombe and I’m at the start of the next Audax.

A large chunk of the AAA Milne Audax is in the Ashdown forest (hence the name) and it is in this direction that I head with heavy legs. The route meanders towards Ardingly and the western edge of Ashdown Forest. The hills start shortly afterwards and by the time I arrive in East Grinstead I’m feeling the effects of the day’s climbing and have to stop to consume some Audax fuel (chocolate milk).

Rolling roads tick off the towns of the northern edge of the forest, Forest Row, Hartfield and Groombridge, where the route turns south and into the forest proper. Despite aching legs I enjoy the long slow climb to the top of the forest. A quick descent to Chuck Hatch followed by another slow climb to Wych Cross and the route heads into the southern part of the forest between the cattle grids at Nutley.

This part of the forest with its downland, gorse and tree clumps is quite peaceful and I stop for a while to watch the cattle and gaze at the distant South Downs.

It’s not far to the finish from here and a lovely downhill stretch combined with a second wind sees me back in Barcombe in no time. The village pub is packed with punters enjoying the evening sun and I can’t resist a pint to round off the day and spice up the ride home.


https://www.strava.com/activities/598554872

Further reading: