Tag Archives: Bath

Bike Bath 2016

Getting up early for sportives is a lot easier in what we amusingly call the “summer”.  It may not be hot and balmy, but the sun is up early, and when the alarm goes off, at least it’s not pitch black out there.  This time around my alarm was set for 5:45, but thanks to the (sadly necessary) morphine itch, I woke myself up at 5:20.  Being woken up (sort of) naturally still seemed better than being ripped untimely from the womb of sleep, even if I was born by c-section so should be used to it by now 😉

My usual porridge didn’t appeal, what with it being unusually seasonal out there.  The sunshine implied that maybe a granola bar and coffee would be better, so I went with that.  As I checked the laptop for the weather, whilst consuming the same,  it looked like the forecast was for more of the same!  Dragons to slay, and sunshine to do it in, how cool is that?

HQ for Bike Bath is at Bath Recreation Ground.  Having done it last year I kinda knew the drill – but only kinda, more of which later.  What I did know is that Bath being as it is, all cultural and busy and so forth, the best way to do it, as recommended by the organisers is to head to the Newbridge Park & Ride and take it from there.  So I did.  It’s less than an hour away from me, and it was a very pleasant cross country drive in the sunshine with loud music.  Result, if you’re me 😉  Which got me to the park & ride on schedule.  As an additional bonus, parking is free, as you only pay if you ride.  By which I mean ride the bus, not the bike.  I guess we were all taking Park & Ride a little bit more literally than most! 😉  And there was an ‘us’ – there were a fair few of us doing the same.  Somewhat amusingly the entrance gate to the car park has a height restriction barrier though, so anyone with their bikes on top of their cars couldn’t get in…not ideal I imagine, and considerably less amusing for those it applied to!

Park & Ride entrance signs to HQ

As ever I wasn’t entirely sure what to wear.  It almost looked like you could set off in basic summer kit & base layer and call it quits for the day.  It actually felt pretty warm, by current standards.  Blimey!  But forecasts are frequently less accurate than you’d like, and I have a tendency to get cold so….I decided to add the gilet and arm warmers.  Well, I knew I had space to stash them if I needed to, so it didn’t matter if I had to.  Before I set off I decided to head to the toilets, as you do, which for 20p will even lock behind you.  However for some reason the toilets were alarming 😉  As in there was a very large alarm sounding from the building and 20p pushed through the slot wasn’t stopping that, or locking the door.  I decided to risk it…and luckily all was well…  Which made it time to head for HQ and leave the car park.  This year there was a very clearly signposted route to HQ – black arrows on yellow background – so I managed not to get lost, even if some of the route was a little bit hairy when it came to traffic junctions and so forth.  It was also further than I remember…3.5 miles in about 15 mins.

registration queues Bath Rec

So I’d arrived, on a sunny recreation field.  I parked my bike up on one of the racks and headed for registration in the main tent.  I queued, briefly, at the relevant place for my surname, and then signed my name/life away as usual.  The friendly man behind the desk stuck my timing chip on my helmet, thus saving me from having to take it off and do it myself.  It’s not hard to figure out where to put it anyway, there’s a sticky strip on the LHS there that has clearly been used many, many times!  I was also given my bike number and two short skinny cable ties, which, when I’d found my way back to my bike, made fitting the number to my handlebars really tricky.  And getting to use the toilets was kinda tricky too, what with there only being 4 of them for what was, apparently, around 1000 cyclists on the day.  I was lucky, the queue was relatively short when I made it up there.  Last seen it was growing rapidly….

rider briefing toilet queues

All that done, actually starting was easy.  I headed towards the start line, where groups had been being let go for quite a while.  Long (80 mile) route riders were being given preference, as the short (50 mile) route were supposed to start later.  So I joined a very small group of similar riders, and after a very short & concise briefing, which given the extensive pre-ride instructions was all that was needed, I was on my way at 8:09 am.

long first climb time to climb out of Bath

Now if you’d paid attention to those pre-ride instructions, which I hadn’t until a couple of days beforehand, you’d know that the route for Bike Bath can vary each year.  I did it last year, when the route went through the (oddly exciting) Two Tunnels and around the Mendips.  Which I’d mentally sort of been expecting again – I wasn’t that keen to cycle around my own patch again, but was sort of keen to do the less familiar bits again.  All of which became academic when I discovered the route had changed completely!  See you, told you I didn’t entirely know the drill.  This time we would be heading South, East and around in a route that was to include Salisbury Plain and Lacock.  Well, novelty is good, right?  And to be honest, it didn’t really make any difference, since whatever the route was, I was going to be doing it anyway, right?

pub bunting hill selfie

Off I go then.  Somewhat rudely the first climb, and it was a long hard one at that, came all of a mile in. No fair!  However it was gradual and consistent and not too steep and the sun was shining and crawler gear cut in and hey, happy me, even if I hadn’t warmed up yet 🙂  It did feel like kinda hard work though, even by my standards.  And after a lovely descent, and halfway up the next fairly similar up all of a couple of miles later, the bike was making a funny noise.  Like something was rubbing a bit maybe, maybe I’d picked up a stick, leaf, whatever…  So I carried on to the top of the hill and on for a little while further until there was somewhere appropriate to stop where I could check it out.  No leaves but, as it turns out, the whole back brake setup had moved so that it was off kilter and the left rear brake was permanently on, whether it was supposed to be or not.  Not massively helpful.  So I straightened things up and set off again, checking from time to time that nothing had re-shifted, and trying to not to veer all over the road as I did so.

long road ahead castle or gatehouse

Luckily I was never going to get lost, not even looking down half the time.  The signage today was the best I’ve seen in a long time – with signs before a junction, on the junction, and afterwards, and also reminders en route.  Which was good, because even with 1000 or so riders taking part over the three routes available, I was riding on my own, and it pretty much stayed that way all day.  It was nice out there though.  The gilet went away fairly soon, after both the morning and I had warmed up a bit.  And it was lovely.  Sunny, blue skies, white clouds, though it was a bit breezy, but when isn’t it?  Lots of greenery, pretty villages, posh properties to gawp at, views…as we headed south towards Frome, and then out and around Longleat forest.  There were ups and downs but nothing too drastic, but by after around 20 miles the route turned East, and went properly up again…up Forest Road to Round Hill according to Strava.

first food stop marvellous mechanics

The first food stop was at Sutton Veny, around 28 miles in.  The second was past West Lavington more around the 50 mile mark I think.  Both were at village halls, hence with decent facilities, space to hang out, and they also had a really good range of food & drink.  Cawston Press juices, flapjacks, bananas, jelly beans, bars, something involving beetroot, and even cheese & pickles at the second one!  Being a little less than at my best, lousy at eating generally, and with a tendency for my meds to wooze me out, both times I opted for the Scheckter’s Organic Energy drink on the basis that that way I was less likely to fall asleep on the bike.  Turns out it was pretty tasty too – I may have to find some of that for future use!  Even better, a very friendly helpful mechanic at the first food stop obligingly tightened up the back brake set up for me so I could stop checking it out all the time and go back to checking out the road ahead instead.

second food stop with cheese second food stop crowds

Which, both in between the food stops, and afterwards, was pretty much new to me.  And I liked it.  The middle section was flatter than the first third.  I enjoyed the stretch over Salisbury Plain a great deal – lots of lovely long rolling quiet roads, and wide open landscape.  However for all that the (novel) signs repeatedly warned us, there were sadly no tanks to dodge, and there were no men in uniform either…*sulk* 😉

Salisbury Plain Lacock

After the second food stop came more of the same, including Lacock, cute vintage cars, beautiful bridges, and assorted pretty villages.  Sadly we sort of went through the edge of Lacock rather than through the main picture perfect chocolate box bit…  In amongst all this eye candy there were a couple more long draggy climbs as well, and the inevitable somewhat annoying wind. But I can do climbs like that and I knew it wasn’t far to go, as these things go, to get back to Bath.  Besides, ups come with downs, and some of them were great!  There was one last minute, or is that last mile, proper kicker just before we got back, which was tough on tiring legs.  And then all the pretty that is Bath hove into sight once more, and I was back negotiating the busier roads of the city and heading back to HQ.

vintage car pretty bridge

So.  Bike Bath done.  I rolled over the finish line with a complete lack of ceremony.  There were a couple of people around but little by way of a welcome committee.  I wasn’t quite sure what to do next.  I figured out where I could print out my time, to the left of the finish, but that turned out to be temporarily out of order.  I politely accosted a lad with a medal who was passing me to ask where we went to get those – which was apparently in the tent.  As the place was full of people sitting around in the sun and enjoying themselves, the bike racks were pretty full, so I dumped my bike (carefully) on the grass, before heading for the tent.  Not only did I get my medal, but there was also a range of FREE baguette sandwiches available.  Now bread isn’t really my thing, but I figured posh ham, salad and tomato could be removed from its gluteny grasp easily enough – and I did need some food.  I also figured that it would be rude not to have a pint of Bath Ales, at £2 a pint, to wash it down with, right?  I don’t usually but…it had been a good ride, the sun was shining, and I didn’t have anywhere particular to be particularly soon.  So I spent some time being busy doing nothing, watching the world go by, and topping up my silly tan line marks.  Eventually I was even able to print my time out.  Sitting there and unintentionally eavesdropping on those around me debriefing, it would appear that quite a lot of people had found it quite a challenge…and I was a bit bemused because I really hadn’t, I’d just had a nice Sunday ride in the sun!

riders relaxing afterwards post ride refreshment

Cycling time: 5:00
Official time: 5:28
Distance: 79.3 miles
Avs: 15.9 mph

I couldn’t stay there all day though.  Not and drive home afterwards anyway…!  It was time to head back to the car, which was harder than you’d think since there seemed to be no signage for the return route, and I hadn’t paid quite enough attention on the way in because I’d been relying on the signs…  Inevitably I got mildly lost, but I managed to get myself back to the park ‘n ride without too much delay.  Where the toilets were still alarmed…. 😉  It took no time at all to load the car up again, and head home to chill out with my mob.  All in all, a pretty good Sunday 🙂

Time print out Bike Bath 2016 Medal

Bike Bath 2015

I was asked to review Bike Bath last year but for some reason that I now forget, I couldn’t.  So this year I decided I would put it on the calendar and make sure I did it.  It seemed like I should.

Which is why, on Sunday morning, I was driving down half the course I would ride later, to get to Bath.  It being around an hour away, it wasn’t the earliest of starts, which is always good, and the sun was shining which is always better.  HQ is at Bath Recreation Ground in the centre of the city (I think it’s a city right?), but in order to promote cycling and reduce congestion, we were advised to park at the free Park and Ride facility on Newbridge Road.  Not that I knew where that was, but I presumed my satnav would get me there which indeed it did.  Unsurprisingly I was parked up next to a fair few doing exactly the same thing.

The forecast was for mild and not too windy, so there wasn’t too much faffing to do on the kit front, other than donning some arm warmers because it was still a tad chilly.  I was pleased to discover the car park was free, though the bus into town if you use it is not.  The toilets however, were not free, but I was pleased to discover I did actually have a 20p piece.  In fact I think you could say I was relieved 😉

Time to see if I could find my way into town.  Sorry, city 😉  I’d looked at the map supplied beforehand, and did so again, before heading off.  I was hoping to follow someone in but all the cyclists who had been around had suddenly vanished!  Luckily I do know Bath a bit and although I completely failed to take the right route in, I just followed the A4 until I knew where I was, found a sign pointing, presumably, to where I needed to be, and with no trouble at all other than a little traffic dodging, I was at HQ.

Claud the Butler

There was an event village set up, toilet blocks, tents, stands, all the usual, with the addition of the fabulous Claud the Butler.  I decided to go and register before I indulged my high quality coffee addiction.  Which luckily didn’t take long.  A nice smiley lady told me where to sign, gave me my number and bike tags, and stuck a timing tag on the LHS of my helmet.  Time for my short black Americano, a trip to the toilet block, and a quick break on the steps to watch everything happening.

registration getting ready to go

Things were all fairly informal, so I just kinda got myself together, grabbed the bike off the rack where I’d stashed it earlier, and joined the latest group gathering by the start arch.  The group ahead of us was just leaving so almost straight away we shuffled forwards for our rider briefing, that came with more of a sense of humour than usual, which was nice.  And then a little after 8:00am I was on my way.

rider briefing

Sometimes local rides fill me with dread.  Really, these roads, again?  And sometimes I look forward to them because I know what I’m in for and I know I can do it.  Today was one of the latter.  Not that I’d ridden all of it before but still, a case of familiarity not breeding contempt 😉

In fact the first hour or so provided the greatest novelty.  Cycling through Bath in vaguely cyclocross fashion through pedestrianised streets, the wrong way up roads, down cycle lanes, along cycle paths by the river, along a lot of cycle path in fact, including most novel of all – the Two Tunnels.  Which was kinda scary!  Two sections of the Somerset & Dorset railway have been turned into shared-use path, although at this time of morning there was only the odd walker/jogger to share them with.  The tunnels are both downlit at regular intervals in oddly catacomb style so you can actually see where you’re going, but the darkness around you and the sunglasses balanced down your nose do lead to a slightly unstable feeling.  The first section wasn’t that long, but the second section seemed to go on forever and I was quite glad to emerge blinking into the sunlight, in front of the obligatory photographer to capture the moment.  As I thought, sunglasses on the end of your nose is not a good look 😉

There was a brief hiatus shortly afterwards where the signage said both straight on and left up and backwards.  Logic dictated that anything other than straight on would just take you back, so presumably that was meant for one of the shorter routes.  Straight on then, to infinity and beyond!  Well to Somerset anyway. Time to go uphill then, and there were a few ups to climb out of Bath.  Nothing too drastic though, just the gradual scenic variety really, followed by lots of country lane riding.  I’m sure I should have been taking photos but I was busy warming up and looking around, and generally getting on with it!  Oh, and we have great village names around here – Norton St Phillip, Buckland Dinham, and Great Elm to name a few.

first food stop

We were getting into familiar territory now, especially when we got to Mells.  Shortly afterwards came the first foodstop at Chilcompton.  The food was plentiful, with sandwiches, pies, bananas, and more, and Cawston Press fizzy juice drinks but it was a bit chaotic as there were no bike stands, so trusted steeds were just strewn all over the gravel car park, mine included.  I nipped inside the hall for a quick comfort break, took off the arm warmers, grabbed the usual half a banana and headed off again.

country lanes leafy

I think this route might become my favourite way to climb the Mendips, though sadly I live in completely the wrong place for it to be useful.  Yes it’s essentially up, it goes on for quite a while, and some bits are steeper than others, but it just doesn’t really feel as bad as it should. And it’s pretty!  Plus all that up brings you to the top of the Mendips, and across to Priddy, from where you get to go down again.  Whoopee!  Oddly I’ve been up Deerleap loads of times, but never down it.  And I’m not sure I’d repeat the experience. Not with a classic car rally coming up it at the same time for sure!  Given a guaranteed lack of traffic I think it’d be a lot of fun though, and it still wasn’t horrible, but it being narrow, steep and/or wiggly in places, it definitely called for a degree of respect.  Mind you, once that bit was done, the flying section onwards through Wookey Hole and to the outskirts of Wells was much fun 🙂

about to go down Deerleap

Time to head to Wedmore, down a road I use at least once a week, but which somehow seemed more fun today.  Well it was still sunny, and I knew it was pretty flat!  In fact there was around 12 miles of flat, pretty Somerset roads, attractive villages and the like.  I reminded myself that just because they’re a bit like wallpaper to me these days, people do actually come here on holiday, and it’s actually very lovely!  I have to say though that having done a lot of sportives in the South West lately, Somerset really does some have the worst roads around – I found myself feeling a bit embarrassed for my county!

Wedmore heading for the Gorge

Anyway. Enough with the reflective and flat and scenic, time to go up the iconic!  Yep, Cheddar Gorge loomed ahead of us.  Believe me, it’s much nicer in the sunshine, and that we were still blessed with.  My Garmin refuses to believe I went up it in the prescribed fashion so I have no idea whether it went well or not, but it felt like it did.  It does help the PMA when you overtake people on the way up!  For those of you who don’t know the Gorge, here it is in pictures. No Horseshoe Bend though – that involves concentration and hands on the handlebars! 🙂

Gorge 1 Gorge 2 Gorge 3

Gorge 5 Gorge 6 Gorge 7

Gorge 8 Gorge 9 end of the Gorge

It was starting to get a little less pleasant by the time I reached the top – clouding over and with some wind.  Mind you, that’s often the case on the top of the Mendips, I should be used to it by now, and the cloud was still fairly patchy.  Having made it up once more I knew I was going to get one of my favourite downs shortly – down West Harptree Hill.  Which I was duly enjoying until I hit a bl**dy great pothole halfway down…  No, I didn’t fall off, but it rapidly became clear that somewhere there ought to be air there wasn’t.  I was, in so far as I could be, grateful to discover that it was at least only one tyre afflicted, and that it was the front tyre at that.  So I took myself off to the side of the road and set about getting it sorted.  Something I can do, I’m just not very fast at it.  Still, I was sat on dry grass, sheltered, in a patch of sunshine, so hey, needs must.  I was pleasantly surprised when most of the riders going past me checked to see if I was ok too – which is a good place to mention that this is one of the friendliest rides I’ve been on lately.  Lots of etiquette, and lots of friendly chatting in passing too – makes a nice change!

As I sat there the silver mechanic support van came up past me, which may have been co-incidence, or maybe someone arrived at the foodstop a little further on and told them about me, who knows?  They turned around a little way up, came back down, and pulled up next to me to check that I was ok and had everything I needed, which I was and I did, so I didn’t need their assistance.  However having had a brief chat it was good to know that they were going to head back to the foodstop and that there would be a track pump waiting for me when I got there.  My little pump is pretty darn good, but getting properly back up to pressure would be good, and save me bouncing around for the rest of the ride.

hipster mechanicJob done, I headed down the rest of the hill a little more carefully, and then flew along to West Harptree proper where the foodstop was.  And yes, there was a track pump, in fact an entire tool kit, complete with a hipster mechanic to pump my tyre up for me.  Result!  The food stop had a little less food, not that I needed any, but the Cawston Press fizzy rhubarb was fab!  I also topped up my bottle with water and was rather thrilled to discover they also had Nuun tablets – my usual poison – so I wouldn’t even have to use the ones I’d brought with me – bonus!

second food stop

Right then. With around 60 miles done, I only had 20 miles ahead.  By the way it’s amazing how much easier 80 miles is to deal with mentally than 100.  Weird, no?  Of course it definitely helped that the weather was nice, the hills weren’t bad, and my legs just seemed to have it in them today.  And the rest of my body too.  I was having another good day at the office 🙂

chew valley lake

The final 20 miles took us past the very pretty Chew Valley Lake, and then back to Bath along country lanes, without too much up or down.  Sadly the weather deteriorated.  Black clouds were gathering all around, and I was really hoping that, doing a fair speed, I might get back in before they got to me in a big way.  Which I sort of did.  It did rain for the last hour or so, but since it was still fairly mild, and it wasn’t too heavy, it was tolerable.  It did stop me taking photos though, which was a shame.  After quite a while of not knowing where I was, we popped out at Saltford, and suddenly I knew, and we were turning right onto the Bristol-Bath Railway Path to head, damply, back into Bath.  At least the rain meant, once more, we weren’t sharing it with many other users.  The damp and straight and flat did get a little tedious, well, mostly the damp to be fair, but it didn’t really take that long to get back into Bath, get confused once again by road signs, albeit in a different place, manage not to fall into the river cycling alongside it, and to negotiate Bath’s now busier streets to get back to HQ again.

finish line

Rolling under the Finish arch we were all welcomed in over the tannoy by name and with time, as various staff/volunteers presented us with our medals and sent us off over to the event village again.  The rain managed to clear up for a bit as I parked the bike and then wandered around a bit trying to figure out what to do.  There was free hot food available, but I wasn’t really in the mood.  There was a Bath Ales bar doing a roaring trade, but I was driving.  So I grabbed a bottle of water, sat by my bike, and checked my phone instead.  And then the rain started again.

Right then, enough already.  Time to head back to the car.  Which turned out to be 3 miles of the wettest riding I’ve ever done.  Everytime you wondered if it could get any worse, and if you could get any wetter, the heavens would inform you that yes it could, and yes you could!  I got to the car, opened the boot, and climbed straight in!

sheltering in the boot

And it didn’t stop.  I changed into dry clothes.  And waited.  And it didn’t stop.  Eventually I managed to get the bike into the car without getting out, and the nice rider who’d just arrived at his car next to me shut my boot for me, so I could clamber over into the driver seat and head home without getting soaking wet again!  I gather it brightened up later and the whole event ended in glorious sunshine…*sulk* 😉

Still, I had a really good ride.  Well, apart from the drenching 😉  I enjoyed the route.  I had it going on, in so far as I ever do.  It was well organised, low key and most and best of all, it was very friendly.  It was definitely a nice day out on the bike 🙂

Cycling time: 5:10
Distance: 78.8 miles
Avg: 15.3mph
ODO: 10197.9 miles

Bike Bath medal