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When I first started cycling seriously, after I had become a bicycle courier (or bicycle messenger, if you prefer), I really had no idea about how to ride longer distances successfully. One of my earliest excursions was an attempt to ride to York in a day. In January.

I had no idea how far it was, but I guessed that it was a little over 100 miles, maybe 120 or something. My route choice was not at all sophisticated. I had decided to ride up the A10 all the way to Royston, and then head up towards Peterborough, taking in a short section on A1, and then pick up the A14.

I left very early in the morning. As it was January, I rode for a couple of hours in the dark. Miraculously, I managed to negotiate the dual carriage-way section of the A10 in the darkness without incident.

Shortly after dawn, somewhere near Royston, I began to think that I had broken the rear axle, as the rear wheel of the bike was snaking around under me. A couple of more miles, and I suddenly found myself lying on the verge, partially submerged in freezing water. I hadn't realised that there was black ice around, and that the snaking around was the wheels hitting small patches. I had gone down on a larger section.

As I had hit the wet verge, I wasn't hurt. Not even after I fell over again when I tried to stand up on the black ice. (Despite the fall, I didn't notice the black ice until I slipped over on it for the 2nd time).

Muddied, but unbowed, I continued. Never having really ridden a bike outside of London, the experience was entirely novel. Market Deeping, Sleaford and those other small towns were unlike anything I had ever seen, never having visited eastern England before. There wasn't a lot going on, it seemed to me, unless you counted youths milling around the bus shelter.

As I progressed into Lincolnshire, I began to tire. Like the novice I was, I had started too fast, far too fast. And the wind picked up as I rode into the wide open spaces of Lincolnshire.

I had never before been exposed to what I know now is called a block headwind. It's not that you don't get wind in London, it's more that there aren't any really straight roads, and you are constantly turning into and away from the wind. The buildings also serve as wind-breaks, so one is generally not exposed to full force of the wind, apart from when one is passing a really tall building, which create a vortex around them.

The wind that I encountered riding up the A14 from Sleaford towards Lincoln was strong, and was blowing from the north east. The road goes almost exactly straight north mostly, with the odd tack to the right, or almost directly in the direction that the wind was coming from. It was strong enough to almost completely bring me and my bike to a complete stop.

I rode into this wind for some miles, getting more and more demoralised, riding slower and slower until finally I stopped by the side of the road and sat under a tree, feeling defeated and eating biscuits. I may have thrown my bike into a ditch, but I can't remember if I actually did or not.

Biscuits eaten, I decided that I would go no further than Lincoln. At Lincoln station, waiting for the train, I felt ashamed. I thought I was a weakling, beaten far too easily by a straight road and a bit of wind.

I looked up the mileage of that ride the other day. 130-odd miles more or less, from north London to Lincoln. That's a proper ride, not into the head-banging, arse-ripping category of long-distance, but well over 200 km, and therefore into Audax territory.

York? York is miles and miles further. At least 80 miles further. Google maps gives various alternatives and also offer the option to: 'take Public Transport'.

 

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There’s a school of thought, with which I broadly agree, that insists that a bike ride is not really a ‘proper’ bike ride unless at least one night has been spent in a ditch or somewhere else equally unsuitable, such as a bus shelter.  Jack Thurston, the presenter, writer & producer of the excellent Bike Show podcast, is a man that thinks that any bike ride could be enhanced by a night in the right ditch, but not just any ditch. Jack, whilst being a hard and hardy rider, will not needlessly inflict discomfort upon himself or any companion.  He views the riding of a bicycle as the literal pursuit of hedonism, albeit ameliorated by some passing and minor inconveniences.

Jack’s approach is reflected in ‘Lost Lanes’, which is a collection of 36 rides in southern England.  Most are day-rides, none require the intervention of a motor-vehicle to transport rider & bike to the start and, as the author says, all of ‘the rides can be ridden on any bike that’s in good mechanical order’, i.e. they are rides that anyone, not only ‘proper’ cyclists, could do, if they desired.  All the rides pass by excellent pubs, cafes & restaurant, which are noted in the text.

These are rides for the pleasure of being in the countryside (mostly – one ride is entirely within urban east London), because Jack believes, and I agree with him, ‘of all the modes of travel, only the bicycle combines freedom and speed with total immersion in the surroundings’.

The format of the book is that the actual routes are downloaded (either as turn-by-turn route sheets or as GPX files suitable for use with GPS route-finders) from elsewhere, and the book is descriptions of the routes in lyrical prose, which includes topographical and historical details, and pencil-drawing outline of the route that could be transferred reasonably easily to a map and illustrating photographs.  The photographs are superb. My girlfriend’s reaction to the book was that ‘it makes England look like France’.  I think she meant beautiful and warm.  She also said the book made her want to get on her bike and go do one of the rides.

Jack has written a Tour de Horizon as part of the introduction, as well as a section on lanes and another on wild camping, which I rather like.  It really is a literal panorama – Jack describes the country we will be riding in from ‘the shingle spit of Dungeness’ to ‘Suffolk’s cluster of stunning medieval towns and villages’ and on to ‘the gently rolling landscape of the upper Thames Valley’.  He briefly covers the geology, topography and demography of the whole area, which I found admirable.

At the back of the book, he has included some suggestions for organised rides, and includes the Dunwich Dynamo, which most London cyclists are probably familiar with, and one which I have never heard of ever, the Foulness Island Bike Ride, but which I very much want to attend, having read Jack’s description of it.

I haven’t ridden outside of the M25 quite as much as Jack has, but I have ridden fairly extensively in the south east, but there was plenty in this book to inspire a jaded old hack such as myself. Like Anna, flicking through the book made me want to get on my bike and ride somewhere new.  I am looking forward to an opportunity to ride ‘The Fifth Continent’, a loop in Kent from Ashford to Rye and along to Dungeness.

Being an east Londoner, I have had to make do, for the moment, with Ride No. 28, the Eastern Excursion, which passes from Hackney to North Greenwich and south across to Charlton and back to Hackney.  I can report that the route card and the GPX file work well, and the fact that I took 3 hours to do a 2 hour ride is entirely down to my own dawdling and inability to look at the route sheet at the correct points.

If you listen to the Bike Show, and enjoy it (which I am sure all readers do), then you should buy this book.  Not least because it would only be polite to show your appreciation of Jack’s efforts, which have hitherto cost you nothing, but also because this is an excellent book from which everyone can learn something.  If you are planning to buy the book, please consider buying it directly from the Bike Show web-site, rather than somewhere else – Jack will get more money if you do.