My Prudential Ride100 Experience

Ever since I had the confirmation that I’d gotten a place in the Ride 100 ballot I’d been viewing August 10th with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Excitement, because it was going to be a great challenge, and trepidation due to the distance. I’d been building myself up since the beginning of the year, but given how exhausting even the lift from a 50 mile ride to a 60 mile one was, I wasn’t too sure about the idea of making 100 miles with anything less than complete exhaustion and, not to put too fine a point on it, severe bum-pain (not a technical term).

In the last months before the event, though, I’d put in a few much longer rides, including 94 miles about 10 days before the event. This put me in a much more positive frame of mind and “I think I might be able to do this” was being replaced by “I might actually enjoy doing this”. Trepidation started to recede and excitement came to the fore.

Then, with a week to go, trepidation was given a major boost: the remnants of Hurricane Bertha were going to be heading across the Atlantic and they might – only might – be hitting the UK on Sunday August 10th. Of course, this meant they were certain too, and indeed they did. Obsessive checking of every weather site in the days leading up to the event and trying to believe whichever forecast was the most forecast didn’t really help as they all trended downwards as the day approached. On the Saturday afternoon, the rain forecast from the Met Office was the picture below:

There were weather warnings in place regarding rain, flooding and wind. Perfect cycling conditions.

On the day, things didn’t look too bad. Rain had fallen overnight but, even lining up at the start, there were grey skies but not too much wind and only a hint of rain here and there.

One thing for sure: there were a lot of cyclists. The organisation involved in getting some 24,000 away was impressive, and I set off a bare 10 minutes after my allotted start time, although a couple of hours after the first fast riders had left.

As many had said it would, the ride started much faster than a casual ride in the country. I was overtaken by pretty much everyone as I stuck to somewhere between 15mph and 20mph, making as much as I could of sitting behind anyone going about the right speed and big enough to make a hole in the air for me to follow. The roads were wet so if they had mudguards it was even better.

Rain came and went, but the weather didn’t seem too bad. By the time we were in Richmond Park there’d been a few light showers but nothing to complain about. There was also a hundred yards of walking due to an accident that didn’t look very nice at all.

Once on the southwest side of London, however, the heavens really opened. The waterproof jacket held up for a while but nothing could keep that amount of water out, and soon my pedal strokes were accompanied by the feeling of water sloshing in the bottom of shoes. We kept going, of course, trying to avoid the rivers that were running across the road.

By about mile 35 the energy levels had dropped, though, and for about the next hour I didn’t hear a single rider speak a word. It was like we were all cycling our way across the river Styx and no-one was in the mood to talk. Also, I was dying for a wee by that point, and also hadn’t eaten as much over the past half an hour because I didn’t want whatever I consumed to be ninety percent rainwater. The top point at 40 miles were advertised by the marhalls (that must have been suffering at least as much as the riders) as “water and toilets; long queue for toilets” so I kept going. The next five miles of country lanes were strewn with men peeing in hedgerows.

Somehow, I managed to cycled up Newland’s Cornder, supposedly one of the three big-ish hills, without knowing that that’s what it was, and I was suddenly at the halfway point. I needed water refill, bladder emptying, and stomach filling, so I went into the “hub”, as they were called. Thankfully there were no queues, and after the water refill I ate my way through a ham sandwich whilst sheltering under a large tree that was keeping the worst of the horizontal rain off.

Fifteen minutes later I gave my gloves a good wring out and set off again. The rain had eased by now and was just rain rather than a waterfall, but the roads were often flooded to the point where the riders had to slow to a narrow filter to weave around lakes. The organisers had taken the decision to shorten the route to avoid the two steep hills – not because of the climbs, but because of the descents – which I don’t think anyone could disagree with, although it was disappointing that now the Ride 100 would only be the Ride 86 as there were 14 miles lopped off.

As a result, after some rolling hills and drying conditions, I found myself at mile 81 (which was really mile 67) rather quickly, and stopped for a last water refill. I ditched the rain jacket as well and took out the spare gloves that I’d wisely packed in the inside pocket for when conditions dried out. These were, of course, almost as soaked as the gloves I’d been wearing, but they were lighter material so they couldn’t hold so much water.

With only 19 miles to the finish, and having had the distance shortened, the last hour and a bit was a very pleasant fast ride into town. Again, I skipped from back wheel to back wheel, and by this point I was only being overtaken by 50% of the riders on the road rather than 100%, which made me feel better about a more moderate easy pace. The wind was strengthening too, but it was coming from behind so it was easy to keep close to a 20mph average, even with all the wet corners we had to slow down for. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the flooded tunnel beneath some railway tracks that many of the cyclists walked around. I cycled through, but at every pedal stroke my feet dipped into the water which was a good four or five inches deep.

The Mall appeared in next to no time and then it was time to dismount, collect a medal and then suffle through to the goody bag collection and out. At least I had the ride home to top the miles up, and I think I totalled 98 miles by the end of the day. I’ll just have to do the 100 miles some other time then.

Ride London Medal

Despite the atrocious conditions, I’d completely do the whole thing again, and now need to find another cycling target to aim for. Maybe something a bit shorter, but a bit faster… maybe.

Anyway, things that I learnt:

  • As many have said, riding in a big group is a lot faster than riding on your own. Solo training is much harder than the event, and the speed you can cruise at in a group makes travelling such a long distance very satisfying.
  • If you see someone doing something like this on a Brompton, it’s likely they’re extremely fit. I know I overtook some people who passed me early, but Brompton guy was off into the distance never to be seen again.
  • Starting off slow definitely pays off towards the end.
  • If you ever get the chance to cycle on closed roads, just do it

Now I just have to see if I can get in for 2015 somehow.

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Le Tour de France? Non, c’est le Tour de Leyton

The Tour de France came through Leyton earlier today. I had a very productive afternoon watching it on the telly before deciding I’d better go and grab a spot to watch it go past in the flesh. Orient Way was empty enough to get some photos and provide a nice long view of the peloton, although at the speed they go through it was all over in a few seconds anyway. Still, I can say: I was there! And I have photos to prove it.



Before the cyclists came through there were dribs and drabs of cars. This one at least has the logo on the front, but note the French determination to persist with speaking their own language also carries over to driving on the wrong side of the road even when we know they could keep to the left if they really wanted to.

You can’t get much more French than a Carrefour car on the wrong side of the road:

Although a quirky little van with the Tour de France logo on the front comes a close second.:

I’ve always thought of French as having too many language constructs getting in the way of saying what you really mean. This gets around it by only having the important words on the bonnet and no niceties of language at all. There can be no doubt what “FranceTVSport” does”:

This is the last of the car shots honest… It’s the neutral service vehical, driving well in front of all the cyclists because… well, I don’t know why. In case one of them teleports down the road and then breaks down, I guess:

Not only are they sending cars with their supermarket logos on over here, there were a few gendarmes that snuck in with the rest of the vehicles:

As the TV helicopter came into sight I knew the peloton must be getting near and things started to get exciting:

The breakaway of Jean-Marc Bideau and Jan Barta comes around the corner. I hadn’t seen the race pictures for half an hour and my phone had given up on having a data connection so I was surprised they were still in front:

Another shot of the two valiant breakaway riders. They were soon doomed to be swept up by the chasing bunch, but they lasted longer than I would have expected just two riders to have managed:

Shortly afterwards the main peloton came tearing around the corner surrounded by motorbikes:

The main peloton came tearing past with the whirring of mechanical parts and only a few organising shouts, and within a few seconds they were down the road and out of sight again. It’s a shame it was too early to see the sprint lead-out trains forming but there was a tricky turn up ahead so they were still in a racing frame of mind:

And with that the Tour de France had been and gone, and I rode home and went back to the telly to see the conclusion on the Mall.

Update 8th July

I was on the telly! If only just. Standing on an isolated stretch on the wrong side of the road had the advantage of making me easy to spot. I’m the one in the yellow t-shirt on the right:

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Cycling A Long Way

I’m due to cycle 75 miles on June 22nd as part of the Capital to Coast ride for Norwood. Although, as the event starts at the London Eye, I also need to cycle there, so I’ll have covered close to 85 miles by the time I reach Brighton in the evening. That’s a good 20 miles farther than any ride I’ve done in the past.

To follow it up, I have the 100 miles of the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 on August 10th. Although that starts only a couple of miles away, I’ll have to make it back home in the evening so it’s likely I’ll end up with 110 miles by the end of the day. This is officially quite a long way.

I’m obviously raising money, since it seems the done thing, so this is the pimp my JustGiving page section. The whole thing is actually going to be quite a stretch for me, I think, and if the few longer rides I’ve been on are anything to go by there are a couple of long days in the saddle that will not be fun by the end.

I’ve never previously taken cycling seriously. I’ve commuted and generally zoomed around London, but with the prospect of some proper rides on the horizon I thought I really should find out how to make it through them. My revelations so far are:

  • The poncy clipped shoes and pedals really work. Now I can’t imagine going back to my all-purpose shoes
  • Likewise, shorts and jerseys and wicking t-shirts are really good. I save the shorts for when I’m in cyclist-only company, but the jersey is worth wearing for anything more than a few miles
  • It’s really important to eat and drink whilst cycling. Maltloaf has been my food of choice and I can fit a few slices in each jersey pocket.
  • Don’t try to eat or drink whilst cycling up a hill.
  • For fitness, rides should either be intense efforts or long and slow. The inbetween state of getting generally tired at a middling speed doesn’t really do much beyond a certain point.
  • From riding with Lea Valley Cycle Club, and being passed by many other road cyclists, it’s obvious that there are some really fit people out there. I will not be keeping up with them on either ride.
  • However, I am better prepared now than I was last time I did a 60-mile London to Brighton ride
  • Cycling a long way is really tiring. This is probably not news.

My standard route has been growing and started with a slow ride up the Lea Valley towpath and then a loop back along the road. I’ve been lengthening it by adding loops so that the last two rides took in Waltham Abbey, Epping, North Weald Basset, and then out to Matching Green. It’s about 50 miles in all, which was plenty, especially the first time I attempted it.

Longer rides are going to be needed, especially before August, and I’ve now got about four weeks where I reckon I need to fit in at least a couple of 70 mile rides. So if you fancy encouraging me, here’s the JustGiving page again.

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Appearance on the Backendy podcast

I’ve made an appearance on the Backendy podcast in which I chat with friend and former business partner Darren Beale about flying a plane, Facebook game development and advertising of the past, and various business and business-of-tech type things.

You can download the episode here or on iTunes, where you can also subscribe for future episodes.

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Lesson 17 – First Solo

I could tell something was planned when my instructor started briefing me on engine fires during start, on the ground and in the air. I thought to myself “Uh-oh, there are some boxes to be ticked here”. And of course, it was all preparation to getting me ready for my first solo landing.

It wasn’t going to come immediately, of course. First he had to satisfy himself that I was on a half-decent flying day and, having not been up for a fortnight, I was a bit unsure that I would be.

The wind was a bit stronger than I’d have liked, but it was virtually straight down the runway. It meant the first circuit was a tiny bit wonky as I didn’t correct enough for the crosswind component, but it came together at the end. Even the touch-down was okay and, as ever, I was told I could have held off a bit. Flying the approach with a strong headwind was interesting given the amount of still days, tailwinds and crosswinds I’d had. A fair fistful of power was needed even quite close to the runway.

The second landing attempt didn’t go so well. Airspeed was a touch on the high side – closer to 70 knots rather than 65 – and alignment wasn’t perfect so I was adjusting when I was still about 30 feet off the ground. It just didn’t feel right so I started a go-around, and there was going to be no instructor-hopping-out on this run.

The third landing brought back one of my bad (involuntary) habits: it was going almost perfectly, and I was determined to keep the hold-off going with some more pull-back on the stick. Unfortunately, my other hand moved in the opposite direction and I added a few hundred RPM of power. It was time to abort and a go-around at about 50 knots and probably 2 feet off the runway. That was definitely the landing that got away.

Still, my instructor was happy with the decision and everything I was doing, so the plan was to make the next to land and stop… gulp. Except that this was the worst landing I’d ever done. After some previous hold-off attempts where I’d thought I was still a couple of feet off the runway but was only a few inches, I was trying to re-adjust my perspective. Unfortunately, that meant we pretty much dropped the last couple of feet with a big “thud” – at least on the rear wheels, but it wasn’t pleasant.

No time to dwell and the plan continued, but we’d do another attempt the him in the other seat “just for confidence, even though your flying is fine”… yeah, right. This one went well, though, and everything felt in control all the way down. Of course I could have held off a bit more, but I’d rather keep getting a feel for how far to pull and land slightly early than go too far the other way and balloon all the time. And as the instructor said: once you’re slow enough and it’s on the rear wheels, it’s going to be a good enough landing.

So we taxied to a patch of grass near the holding point and after a radio-in for a callsign change to “Student Golf Mike Juliet” out he hopped. I ran through the pre-take-off checks, waited for a couple of other planes to taxi past, one of which I probably didn’t have to but I just thought I didn’t want to feel like someone was waiting for me. Taxi, ATPL checks, radio call, line up, and then I was off.

Take-offs are rarely anything worth talking about, and this was the same – thankfully. It felt like the wind was maybe stronger, but less gusty, which suited me fine. Then the turn onto crosswind, downwind, radio call, BUMFLITCH checks, and in no time at all I was turning onto the base leg and getting set up for the approach. It passed in a flash.

Given the wind, and having experienced it a few times now, I had a better sense of how much power to leave in on the approach. Apart from seeing the speed get close to 60 knots when I added the third stage of flap (when the magic number to aim for is 65) the approach was as good as any.  There seemed to be no trace of crosswind as I passed over the aerodrome threshold and, adding a touch more power to make sure I got to the numbers, I think I timed the flare well-enough. Maybe it was a fraction of a second late, but soon we were nose in the air flying level just above the runway. A touch of hold-off and then I felt the rear wheels touch and let her settle down on the nose wheel when good and ready. That was a relief!

If there’s anything in the post-mortem of landings I’d do better it would be, of course, more hold-off. But at that time the last thing I wanted to do was to end up going back into the air again and, in my book, touching down gently at 50 knots is a landing I’m happy with.

After-landing checks, taxi back, park in a gap that I thought looked tight but turned out to be fine, and then my first solo shutdown – more stressful than I thought it would be with plenty of “did I leave the iron on?” type thoughts as I walked away from the plane.

Apparently “all the old guys” (whoever they are) were also watching my landing from the radio room to check on how well I’d been taught! I’m glad not to have shown either of us up.

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Lessons 13, 14, 15 and 16

Too much excitement to write about the flying… Lesson 13 was a second dose of stalling, this time in flap and base to final configurations i.e. stalling in situations that are more likely to happen on an approach. The stalls were all cut off as soon as the warner sounded and, to be honest, the process is fairly straightforward. The only thing to watch is making sure I dip the nose before putting the power on rather than doing both simultaneously.

After stalling up at 3,000ft or so we had some spin recovery sessions while we had the height to lose. Again, it seemed fairly straightforward: power to idle, wings level, then pull up. It might be different close to the ground but at a couple of thousand feet there’s plenty of time to sort it all out.

Lesson 14 (if I remember) was some great fun in practice forced landings out over some deserted marshland on the south side of the Thames. Being able to put some dramatic(ish) weaves in to lose height and get approaches sorted out was a lot of fun, although I still found myself going quite long into the field at the point that I’d ideally be aiming for. I feel like the landings would happen, just I’d rather get them at the near side and not have to still be losing height at the point that I’d really like to be touching the ground.

Still, there are plenty more of those to come, which is something to look forward to as they were one of the most enjoyable things yet.

Lessons 15 was back to circuits and getting ready for my first solo. Apparently the landings were good enough now, even with winds outside of those that I’d be allowed to fly solo in, so it’s just a case of waiting for the right weather – which could be any time between now and Spring. The funny thing is that although it’s definitely a big milestone to get out of the way, and I’m keen to do it, I don’t feel like I need to tick the “I flew solo after X hours” box. So we’re just going to carry on with the course and let the weather do what it likes.

Lesson 16 was steep turns, which was short and, again, relatively straightforward. It shows how much more natural being in the cockpit becomes after all these lessons as the steep turn I got to do on my trial lesson (albeit with the instructor at the throttle and balance ball) felt like we were spinning around with no idea which way I was facing. This time, rolling in and holding altitude came fairly naturally, and after a couple of practices even rolling out onto more-or-less the right heading was okay too.

After the turns we came back for another couple of circuits, with first an overhead join and then a flapless approach. The crosswind was gusting a bit, and again more than I’d be doing on a solo, and the approach was going well until I tried to get as much hold-off as I could and felt like I’d pulled back a bit too hard. Apparently it was actually fine, but I was worried that we’d keep going up into the air and losing speed at the same time. As it turns out I must have done all of this at between about 6 to 12 inches off of the runway and, what I thought was a balloon (over-pulling and ballooning up into the air) wasn’t much of one. Still, I wasn’t sure about it so went into a go-around which my instructor says should give me some confidence as I was doing about 50 knots and under 2 feet above the runway at the time. I still think I did the right thing once uncertainty entered my mind, but I also wish I’d known that we were only 2 feet over the runway and not the 6 feet or so I felt we were as we’d have landed just fine.

Still, the next (or one of the later) approaches to land worked well, even with a good dozen or so knots of crosswind. Given how much pain crosswinds had caused me in the past this was the highlight of the lesson and helps my confidence no end. Being able to feel what was happening with the gusts and direction, and the correcting rudder on touchdown, really felt like flying. I can’t say that I won’t have many more over-control moments, but if all of my crosswind landings were like that then I’d be happy.

Now I just need the weather to clear before I forget how to fly, let alone land.

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Lessons #12a and 12b: More Circuits, First Flapless and Glides

Lesson 12 started in grey conditions, but with circuits to do the cloud was high enough, but at the end of the first circuit the rain came down and the touch-and-go became a full-stop. Still, it had been nearly two weeks since my last lesson and although I forgot almost everything, culminating in turning onto approach with no flaps, it came out okay in the end as I got the approach under control and did a half-decent landing. The most important thing was that in the 10 minutes we’d been in the air I’d erased the bad memories of the terrible approaches in the previous lesson and I was feeling much more ready to start going forward again.

The following week saw one lesson cancelled after checks due to rain coming in so we covered yet more briefing, this time on forced landings. I feel well and truly briefed up now, having had flapless approaches, glide approaches, and now unpowered forced landings briefed. Hopefully I can remember it all when it comes to using them.

The next day was perfect for more circuits, though, and it turned out to be a nice long lesson at 1 hour 10 minutes, with a total of 11 circuits completed (albeit 1 was a demonstration glide that was aborted due to someone coming onto final, 2 were my own glide attempts which were only partially successful, and another 1 became a go-around as there were heavier planes taxiing back down the runway to avoid the soft grass).

The lesson was fantastic, though, and the first couple of circuits and touch-and-go’s went well. My problems with timing the flare are going away now I’m trying the “fly along the runway” approach, and especially making sure I’m keeping my eye on the end of the runway rather than fixing too much on the tarmac nearest to me. It helped that for the first time there was no cross-wind too.

After a couple of normal approaches, James requested I do a flapless one for the first time. We took the circuit out a bit wider and initially I had a bit too much power. The speed kept nailed to 70kts, though, which I was very satisfied with, and the numbers started to come back as we got closer to the airfield. Even from a few hundred feet away I thought we were still a touch high and was getting all ready to call a go-around, when a minor gust of wind not only needed a small adjustment but also helped us lose the small amount of altitude to put us exactly on course. Not that I can count on that every time, but still. The gentle flare was slightly early but as I didn’t overdo the pull-back we were still descending slowly.

The downside was I seemed to have developed some bad motor habit of pressing ever so slightly on the throttle during the hold-off. It’s not intentional, and it’s surpising just how much even an extra 50 rpm can keep a 152 in the air for longer, but it’s the black mark against all of the landings I did. I’m not too worried about squashing that reaction – I just need to focus on “don’t push the damn throttle” during the hold-off the next few times until my body learns to do what it’s told.

The glide approaches were less successful. Not that we wouldn’t have been able to land if we really had to in a real emergency, but we were certainly high and nowhere near the numbers. The judging of the approach was certainly far from accurate enough, though, and I think it’ll take another few at least before I get my eye in. Trying not to think in terms of the normal turn onto final is the key here, I reckon, but having just gotten into the “habit” it’s hard to get out of it.

All-in-all, if every lesson goes like this one then I’ll be very happy indeed!

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