Long distance cycling over Christmas on the Thanet Silverlight
120mile day ride, fixed wheel and single speed
After doing up the Thanet Silverlight as an exciting and quirky restoration project, it was now time to return the finished article to the Parke family... but not before I got a good few extra miles in. The final ride of course being the trip home. Putting it on a train would seem like sacrilege not to mention a massive hassle with cycle reservations (don’t even get me started), so cycling it back was certainly the best option as far as I was concerned.
Admittedly the train would be a direct two and a half hours, as opposed to a not so direct and certainly not so fast 120 miles, taking approximately 12 hours door to door... but I have cycled from Bristol to Portsmouth a few times now, and I know the route well. It's a journey that means a lot to me. I never feel far from friends with both ends of the ride being a place I call home. For me the towns I pass through carry great nostalgia value, so to be completing the ride on a bike that has so much history of its own seems entirely appropriate.
Knowing I had covered all of the route previously on my road bike at one time or another, I knew I was not going to be breaking any personal records along the way. It is an amazing bike the Thanet Silverlight – lightweight with great handling – but it's running one gear with a fixed wheel so it was always going to be a relatively steady 120 miles. Although it was fair to say even with it’s limitations I was more excited about cycling the Thanet back for Christmas than I actually was about Christmas, and luckily I was able to reschedule the ride for what was predicted to be, and sure enough was the first and last full day of sunshine for the best part of December.
The flooding was still a real issue in many areas however, but besides slowing me down a little and making me regret the lack of mudguards, my ride was to be largely unaffected. Sadly many other journey goers were not so lucky. Worse still homes and villages across the country were pumping water out of living rooms, pubs, roads and schools, many roads were closed, trains were cancelled and the radio was advising people not to travel. Drains are still overflowing even a week on across the most part of Hampshire.
Getting out of Bristol along the Bristol Bath Railway Path joining Bradford-On-Avon Canal Path
I saw the first signs of the flooding devastation for myself in Bath. The River had burst its banks and engulfed the cycle path ahead. As it stands Bath was an all out disaster area for me anyhow…
I had managed to do a half decent time along the beautifully eerie cycle path that was thick with fog, but was stunted soon enough by the endless loops the city cycle path arrows led me on around Bath city centre - into one way roads, one way car park exits... bridges where cycling was prohibited and many other ‘epic fails’… all taking me to exactly where I started, a not so pleasant four stop - start miles later.
Pretty frustrated I then turned to the Garmin. It didn't do me many favours either. It took me directly to all the 30% hills of Bath city centre, which on the one gear (43/17 - 68'') were not even worth entertaining. I managed to ask directions from a few people, my best set of directions, the ones that actually got me to the infamous path that I was starting to doubt ever existed, were given to me by a walker who had walked from Saltford to Bath. I passed him early in his journey along the path, and he had caught me up by the time I had gone full circle around Bath, catching me in my moment of despair – when I saw what I thought was the path completely engulfed in the flooded riverbank...
He even caught me up again post directions (rather embarrassingly), but once I was on the canal path it was plain sailing. What I had not thought about however, was the mud situation and just how bumpy the path was for a bike with only cotton bar tape on the bars. I still have not regained the full motor functions of my left hand (or 'claw hand' as the family and I have taken to calling it).
|Keynsham floods (sorry no photos of Wylye Valley)|
Wylye Valley in all its breath taking glory
By the time I had reached Trowbridge (after seeing more flooding at Keynsham) I had averaged 8.6mph over the 34.2mi. It was not looking too good, and I was starting to worry some while later just past Warminster, when the Somerset levels didn't seem quite as level as I remembered, again there was further flooding and a few sharp hills that left me grinding to a halt and missing my cleat pedals. The vintage pedals beautiful though they are, were not making my life easier.
I was starting to feel comfort however in joining up with the usual tracks across the Wylye Valley on my route to Salisbury. It felt great to be able to recognise my route again after the new flatter route out of Bristol I plotted, as opposed to my usual lumpy Mendip ride out. I seemed to avoid the lorry route this way, and the more lethal of the hills, but it was a darn sight muddier on the canal path and I was behind schedule.
After the fog rolling across the hills at Bitton, I had not fully had my breath taken away from the sight of my surroundings until reaching the levels. Whilst I had certainly been spoilt along my route, nothing compared to Wylye Valley. I couldn’t help exclaiming under my breath how beautiful it was as I peaked the top of the first hill that looked out across the rolling fields. Besides mooing at cows they may have been the only words I uttered the whole day.
Salisbury was manic, people stepping out in front of me left right and centre, and the lorries were back with vengeance. I was glad that the Thanet had great braking power, as the pads got a lot of use through the city centre. I had stopped only a handful of times all day I realised as I pulled away from the high street, and had not drank nearly enough. I was starting to feel a bit more positive on my timings however and I dare say was even starting to get a little cocky, thinking to myself that I surly must be some kind of cycling super hero to be doing such a journey on the one gear and to be (what I mistakenly thought) was so close to home with no real sign of tiring. Being around so many facilities would surely be a good place to stop, but no, I would carry on some more and stop further towards home I decided.
Salisbury always seems much closer to home than it is. It's close in retrospect to Southampton, Eastleigh and Romsey - all names of places that I heard of a lot when growing up, and were always relatively local destinations, but that's by car and train of course. By bike it doesn't seem quite so close when you do it. Not after 70 miles on the clock already anyway.
I had had a brilliant 70 miles though I could not argue with that, I loved every minute of it, but I have to say quite soon after my spectacular high (and subconscious decision to just keep going all the way as best I could, continuing to move goal posts along the way) I soon encountered a colossal fail in the form of what Bristol South and many other cycling clubs would call 'the bonk' I was starting to flag. A hand full of times I forgot I was fixed, and even lost my feet from the pedals on one occasion. Luckily the brakes were good enough to get me back on. But I needed the toilet, I needed a drink and most of all I needed a break.
It was almost as though a sign from the cycle gods had been sent, and after I had yet again set myself another goal post and surpassed it , only to put in place another a little further ahead (a cruel trick I was starting to hate myself for), at 80miles in I started to hear a hissing sound.
I stopped to check it out... I could see nothing, feel nothing... was I imagining it?? I was sure I could still hear it. I was so tired however I was starting to question whether it was all a part of my bonk experience and was something between an illusion and tinnitus.
|Muddy - very muddy. (It was worse out of shot, trust me.)|
A jogger with his dog stopped to see if I was ok. I assured him rather unconvincingly that I was and that I had everything I needed if it indeed was a puncture. He suggested it might be my over shoe. I looked down at my rather odd looking over shoe that does indeed often fill with and expel air as I pedal in its incredibly cheap design, and I thought that he might be onto something, so I hit the road again trying to shake off any doubt.
About 20 feet down the road my tyre was all over the show and I knew then it was a flat. Damn it.
I did indeed have everything I needed to get the offending object removed and the inner tube changed, everything except a half competent person to administer the change that is.
I have never been great at puncture repair on road bikes. Mountain bikes are no problem, and hybrids too are OK, but road or touring tyres I find such a struggle to get on and off, and this time especially was hard as my left hand was cramped up from the path to Bradford-on-Avon.
Two bits of flint and a thorn later (god knows which of the three actually penetrated and made the puncture) I put in the new tube, with no time for patches, and wrestled with the tyre.
There was blood, sweat and tears quite literally, and too much time to even mention with any dignity, but it did get done, and I did take the opportunity to eat half a Soreen loaf and energy bar whilst I was at it. I wished I had a drink, but I had drunk everything I had with me 10 miles ago. More worryingly my Garmin seemed to be incredibly low on battery.
Back on the road again and it was now dark, the sun had long set on me disagreeing with an apparently puncture resistant continental sport tyre. The stop was the penultimate break in my journey with still another 40 miles to go, and although it was barely 4.30 I felt I should be closer to home by now than I was with the pitch-black road ahead.
Racing the clock between Bishops Waltham and Southsea (sort of…)
Luckily my light is sufficiently bright and the Soreen had given me a well-needed boost. The Garmin battery was a real worry though, and even with auto pause and the heart rate monitor disabled I was still conscious of the lack of green in the battery bar when I really needed the navigation for a good few miles yet.
The miles between Eastliegh and Bishops Waltham seemed to go on forever. I have never done a ride of this length in the depths of winter before, and I can't say I'd be in a hurry to do it again. It was beautiful weather, I was incredibly lucky, but the hours on the bike by dark were more than I would have preferred, 800 lumin or not. It was nearly 50/50 in terms of day light to dark sky on the saddle, but once I reach Bishops Waltham the miles seemed to fly by.
I took my final stop at Wickam where I handed over a soggy and ever so slightly muddy ten-pound note in exchange for a feast of energy drinks and snacks fit for a king. 'Sorry about the note' I said - 'It's been a bit of a muddy day' I had only recently become aware of just how ridiculous I looked when everybody not just in the queue, but perhaps the entire shop was looking at me in horror, like I had been involved in some kind of mud related accident or had escaped from a home.
After downing a chocolate milkshake, devouring half a falafel wrap, a banana and a flap jack – all crouching next to a bin not even thinking about how oddly I was acting in my near primitive state of hunger – until receiving another of those looks – I filled my bag with my remaining two bottles and took back to the road where I raced (best I could) the final stretch, turning off the directions to save battery once I knew I was safe to.
Cycling from Southwick up Portsdown Hill
The hill was not something I was looking forward to. In many ways it was where I wanted to be for so many of the miles past, because it meant I was nearly home, but on the 68'' I knew it would be a struggle and I knew the traffic wouldn’t be at its best this time of day.
Cars were indeed fast and close but the climb was not quite as bad as I had expected - although I do remember that approaching the top was so painstakingly slow with so many miles under my belt (100+ miles at this point) that I was sure had the auto pause been on that it would have had a field day.
Reaching the top was spectacular, looking out to the lights of Portsmouth had never been such a welcome sight, and rolling down the hill again was amazing. I can barley believe it but I apparently reached 38mph at one point. My legs must have been pedalling like mad without the freewheel.
I got to the Parke's front door two miles after my Garmin died, ready to deliver them their almost comically muddy bike at 8 o'clock, a good hour later than I originally estimated. I guess this was a consequence of the puncture (embarrassingly – yes that’s right… an hour).
Riding the Thanet Silverlight long distance, cycling on fix
The bike itself is a wonderful ride. It's a shame about the Bradford-on-Avon path as it really did ruin my hand with all the bumping around; wrapping presents, writing labels and eating with a fork have all been very difficult this Christmas. But it’s really due to bad route planning for the bike choice, and perhaps a need for better gloves. I can't see the Thanet having anything other than the beautiful and simple cotton tape across the bars, and I suppose in fairness it's a racer, not a tourer after all.
I loved cycling the Thanet the distance, and really enjoyed the challenge on what is fast becoming a routine ride for me over the summer - not sure I'll be riding anything that long in the winter again though, (certainly not without mudguards) but I guess we will see if I stick to that when we get to next year.
Post Author Christina