Night-time mountain biking at Coed Llandegla

I got away to Wales this weekend to spend the night mountain biking at One Planet Adventure in the Coed Llandegla (Llandegla Forest, in Welsh). The guys there very kindly offered to take me around their red and black trails in the dark to help me write a feature for the Observer.

It was a tough couple of hours for my legs and lungs, but was also some of the most mentally challenging riding I’ve ever done. Reacting to terrain like that with just a second or two’s notice (even high-end Hope lights will only cast that far) takes its toll, but does make you feel like you’re going a million miles per hour.

Often, the light won’t point where you’re going, so you have to trust that you’ll manage to take whatever springs into view at the speed you’re going. One big advantage is that when you’re on northshore sections, you have no idea how long the drop is. What you can’t see can’t hurt you. Unless you fall off.

Many thanks to Ian and the rest of their group for their time and patience. It was a night to remember, and if you’re ever in the area I suggest you check them out. They have miles of great trails, but also offer tuition, bike rentals/sales and a damn fine cup of tea.

I would say more, but I must away and write this feature. I’ll post a link when it’s up.

Interview: Sean Maher, riding-out the recession

Sean Maher graduated in the middle of the worst recession for several decades and found there were no jobs. Unperturbed, he decided to ride-out the recession, literally: cycling 12,000 miles from Cornwall to Capetown.

Sean Maher on Bodmin MoorHow did the idea for the trip come about?

Before I decided to do this trip I was a student at Exeter University. I graduated this year with a high 2:1 in Politics.

My main activity at university was Rugby and I played for the University 2nd XV in my final year.

I decided to do this trip because no matter who I applied to I couldn’t get a job! I thought this would help me boost my skills without having to do another year’s study or wait tables like some of my other graduate friends.

How have you been preparing?

I really started cycling to get to a summer job in my first summer of university. It was 10 miles there, 10 miles back and I did it on my brother-in-law’s old bike which I took the rear brake off, because it was rubbing on the back wheel!

I’ve been planning and training for this trip since the beginning of June, when I should have been revising. I tend to do around 30-40 miles, three times a week on the bike, plus running and walking a lot.

I’ve prepared for the trip by reading every book I can find about the continent and by following other expeditions. Particularly the Listen to Africa expedition. Continue reading

Take part in Ding Day ’09

ding day logoAre you in London? Do you have a bell on your bike? Excellent, you’re all set to take part in Ding Day ’09.

It works like this: you ring your bell at other cyclists.

The official website explains all: “The idea is to create a fun experience for cyclists and locals in and around London, with the hope of establishing more of a sense of community amongst fellow cyclists.”

So, if you don’t have a bell, maybe you should think about getting one. It might not suit your full-carbon road bike, but hunt around; there are some cool models out there.

Of course, critics will say that a sense of community would be more easily achieved by conversation; at traffic lights, the office bike shed or on club rides, rather than ringing a bell at each other from a distance. Who knows?

You can, of course, follow Ding Day on Twitter.

Interview: Round-the-world cyclist, James Bowthorpe

James Bowthorpe in San FranciscoJames Bowthorpe is currently cycling across the USA, 19 days from returning to London at the end of his round-the-world trip.
If he hits his target, he will do it faster than anyone in history. He took some time out to talk to me for an article in the Guardian, but here’s the full transcript.

How long have you been on the road?

I left London on the 29th of March, I’ve been away five months. Sometimes it feels like a lot longer…

How soon do you expect to finish, and how much are you hoping to beat the record by?

I’m hoping to get back to London mid-September. The current record is 195 days all in and I’m hoping to beat that by around two/three weeks. Anything less would be ungentlemanly!

What’s been hardest part of the trip?

Physically, probably the first three weeks – which were still a part of the training. In general, headwinds are the hardest thing to deal with – they’re so soul destroying. It’s an environmental and physical hardship that becomes an emotional hardship – you just can’t beat them and it can really grind you down.

Getting sick after India was really hard. I couldn’t leave my Thai hotel room for nearly three days, let alone get on the bike. It was a pretty dark time and I did think about getting on a plane home. But eventually I could keep enough food down to fuel the cycling and I just got on and did it. Continue reading

Lance takes Dublin for a ride

lance_armstrongLance’s impromptu ride last week in Paisley attracted hundreds of amateur cyclists – as well as a few pros.

Now he’s doing it again, in Dublin, where he’s hanging out after the Tour of Ireland;

Good morning Dublin. Who wants to ride this afternoon? I do. 5:30 pm @ the roundabout of Fountain Rd and Chesterfield Ave. See you there..

Terrible weather and a bad back forced Lance to pull out of the final stage of the Tour – along with 55 others.

Lance is sticking around in the country to host a three-day Global Cancer Summit.

How not to lock a bike #2

Badly locked bikeI spotted this complete failure outside one of Norwich’s best cafe bars, just before setting off on a night ride outside the city.

My bike was locked up next to it, which was probably pretty safe. It was certainly not the lowest hanging fruit for any passing bike thief that night.

The patron saint of cycling

saint christopherI spotted this while wandering through the backstreets of Norwich. You might not be able to see it clearly, what with the rust and the ill-considered camera angle, but that’s St Christopher.

What better to have on the face of a bell than the patron saint of travelers? I’m agnostic, but I still want one.

I’ve never had a bell on a bike before, but I think my town cruiser could do with one to clear the path of ambling shoppers. Does anybody know of any theft/tamper-proof ones?

Do some make a more pleasing “ding” than others? Can you buy them in certain notes? Or are they all much the same? Questions, questions…