A long winded blogpost written over a few days before, after and during the RAFBF Battle of Britain Brompton bike ride!
D Day in this respect is Wednesday 9th September - we'll be starting at 8am from Les Invalides in Paris and finishing at Buckingham Palace in London on Saturday 12th September.
D Day-8 : Almost ready!
I picked up the Brompton today from Brompton Junction after having it serviced. It was quite a major service - it's last one had been January and ridden almost everyday since then.
One of the biggest expenses was to replace the rims of the wheels - as I've a dynamo hub (probably the best purchase I've made for the Brompton) and hub gears, I can't just get new wheels and so the existing hubs need to used with the new rims. The one part I wanted replaced for the ride was the seat post shim - I'd done the seat post attachment up as much as possible but was still running into issues where the seat post could slip down and I'd have to raise it again. Not something I want to have to do regularly on a long ride!
However, Brompton had excelled themselves and whilst it was ready to collect the Thursday evening before this, I wasn't able to collect it then due to cadet commitments and DIY projects over the Bank Holiday weekend.
D Day-7 : Panic!
In the run up to the event, I'd looked at replacing my luggage for the ride, partly due to necessity, partly due to change.
For almost two years, I'd used an mini O bag for rides with the Brompton club and it had worked fine. However, on rides where I had more gear to carry, such as this one where I was planning on using my T bag as my overnight storage bag and spare clothes bag (which, perhaps somewhat cheatingly, is being carried from hotel to hotel for us)! However, this means that the mini O I would normally use wouldn't fit on the bike for my trip to and from the start/finish points and I didn't want that.
I'd written before about buying a Carradice Super C Audax bag. I'd used it and then sold it as I found it was hitting my legs. Now, I'd bought another one!
After using the Nelson Longflap on my Pashley, I thought I'd get the Super C, along with a Bagman rack. However, as noted in the previous blog post, the rack would cause issues on the train so I'd looked around and saw I could get a quick release one from Carradice. That would mean I could take the bag off, along with the rack when it wasn't needed (and so it would fit in the bike bag as I'm required to put it in a bag to take on the Eurostar).
I'd collected the bike yesterday, the bag had arrived last Friday and tonight was the first chance I'd have to install it on the bike due to cadets on Tuesday night. I followed the instructions and it wasn't until I was almost finished and everything was on the bike that it struck me - the rack isn't quick release, the bag is! Initial thought was panic!
Here I was now with a rack and bag that wouldn't fit in the bike bag I'd for and therefore I wouldn't be able to travel!
A sit down with a cup of tea and calming down meant that I came to the easiest course of action which was to remove the rack again and I can install it in Paris when we arrive. Simple. It would be a slight inconvenience but I'd survive. It just means I couldn't use the bag day to day on the commute on the train. It was pointed out that I could rotate the seat post as I folded to have the rack be placed over the folded bike which would increase the size of the fold marginally (by the length of the saddle, rather than by the rack). Whilst this could potentially work, it was still problematic. With this in mind, it's not the end of the world but does mean I'll have some work to do on the Wednesday before we leave.
Due to the SNAFU with the rack, I ended up looking either for a replacement bag or for getting a different rack. I ended up ordering a Carradice SQR rack that would remove along with the bag - in effect, doing exactly what I'd wanted to do with the first rack. To top it off, I also purchased the Carraice Super C SQR Tour bag as a backup bag for the the Super C.
I felt that a backup bag may be needed as I'd been looking at the Audax bag I'd been sent and I wasn't sure if it was a second or poorly put together bag as the front flap of the bag seemed to be to small for the actual bag.
I didn't want to get on the ride and find that the bag wasn't good enough for the ride. I asked Carradice if they considered the bag to be ok - they say that it should be fine once I pull the drawstring and put stuff in the bag, but I'm currently not so sure. Besides, the SQR bag could come in handy in the future so I'll see how big that is and how I get on with it.
I spent some time debating what, if any, technology I'd take along with me for the ride. The Garmin would be on the bike and would be tracking the ride and giving directions. However, I'm not sure what the plan is for the evenings and I wanted to take the rides of the Garmin to keep them safe should I lose the Garmin or for some reason it decides to delete items. Therefore I was going to take my laptop. However, my laptop isn't the lightest and I'd need to take the power supply as well (with associated power adapter for the two days I'm in France). Not something that I'd have to carry around, even if the crew were going to be carrying it all around for me in the van!
In the end, I decided to take my Linx 7 tablet. The thing had been gathering dust since I bought it as I hadn't really played with it much. It runs a full version of Windows so it lets me connect the Garmin and save the rides to a folder, as well as upload them to Dropbox. If not really used it before as the 7 inch screen and Windows struggle a bit with my fat fingers. It can take a full keyboard and mouse but I wasn't going to bring them with me, especially as it meant I'd have to bring a USB hub for it (it's only got a single microUSB port that accepts OTG USB devices).
Testing it here at home before going seemed to show that it would do as I needed so I shouldn't have any issues. With that in mind, it should make life easier without having to carry a laptop around with my gear.
D Day-1 : Ready to go!
Everything had been packed the night before leaving so I didn't have to do to much on be morning of leaving. I just had to get some last minute bits together and then headed off into London. The bike looks like I had more stuff than I really did, thanks to having to take my bike cover as Eurostar don't allow you to take Bromptons on without having a cover.
After a quick lunch with work in Kings Cross, I headed across to St Pancras to meet the group, pick up my ticket and get ready to go.
This would be the first time that I'd got the Eurostar for over 10 years - the last time I caught the train, it was based in Waterloo and I went to Holland with the Scouts (Eurostar to Brussels and then change onto train services there to near Arnhem). I was surprised at how cramped the carriages were - I thought the commuter trains I catch daily were small, but the Eurostar seemed smaller. However, we had an entire carriage to ourselves so it wasn't to bad. It was the first chance to meet the people I'd be cycling with as well. The journey was fairly fast and reasonably pleasant with good company.
Speaking to a few of the others it reminded me of the scene from the Battle of Britain where the Squadron Leader asks the new recruit how many hours he had on Spits (Spitfires) to be told 10 hours... It seemed a large number hadn't ridden a Brompton before of had only ridden it for a few hours! There were only a few of us that had workhorse Bromptons...
Arriving in Gare Du Nord, we all piled off the train and headed to the hotel across the road.
We weren't eating as a group on the first night so that evening was our own - I decided as I was in Paris that I'd cycle over and see the Eiffel Tower. I tried to use the automated navigation feature on my Garmin Edge Touring but after about 5-10 minutes waiting for it to try and find a route, I gave up and headed into Paris without directions. Initially I thought I was following guidance but it turned out to be the next days route but as this headed near the Eiffel Tower, I didn't think I'd have an issue.
The biggest surprise was coming out from a street and into the middle of the Place de la Concorde. I'd seen the Tour De France and seen them ride the Champs-Élysées and the Place de la Concorde but I wasn't expecting to just ride into it. And most of all I didn't expect cobbles!
I managed to get to the Eiffel Tower, which was still pretty busy with tourists, even in the dark.
However, it was fairly impressive sight. I left before it got to late as we had an early start the next day.
D Day : Off we go!
We started the day off early with breakfast before getting outside ready to go.
We headed off from the station to our official start. Cycling through Paris, we tried to follow the rules of the road but it wasn't always possible...
With 50 of us trying to make it through traffic lights, we ended up going through some reds lights... However, traffic seemed to be reasonably OK with 50 cyclists riding through as a big group - perhaps the French were more concerned with the weird English bikes? Anyhow, we headed down to Les Invalides and had a photo opportunity before we started properly and headed over to the Champs-Élysées and the Arc de Triomphe. This was probably the most nervous I was during the entire ride with traffic as the Arc de Triomphe is a bit of a free for all. However, the Ride 25 team had been shadowing us in cars up until now and pulled onto the roundabout for us and managed to stop the traffic allowing us to progress safely.
We headed out into the outskirts of Paris for a quick stop before we could start picking up speed.
We left the food stop and carried on. We'd been told that the lunch stop was in town that Van Gogh had once lived in. I was pretty much by myself at this point though had caught up with two others. We came through a village and headed up the hill on the other side, one of the larger hills of the day. Once we got to the top, we probably went about another four kilometres before we came across another group coming back - apparently, we'd missed the lunch stop in the village we'd just left (at the bottom of the hill!) Sure enough, we turned around and got back into the village and found the rest of the riders had been more observant than we had and were ready and waiting for lunch!
Lunch was a buffet affair and we carried on after lunch. The end point of the day was Beauvis - to get there, we passed through some nice countryside and some fairly fast riding roads. I arrived about 15:30, third to arrive for the day. We end up having a nice meal there and making use of the bar facilities until it was time for a well deserved rest!
D Day +1 : Split in the group
The second day of riding started with a split in the group - three different groups of riders left the hotel at different times. The first, of the riders that were wanting to take it easy left at 0730. The next left at 0815 and the fastest riders left at 0900. The intention was that all the groups would arrive for lunch at the same time and the fastest riders would chase down the earlier groups.
I was in two minds as to which group to join and in the end I ended up (with encouragement from my roommate) to get the 0900 group. I'd see if my confidence had been misplaced or not...
We left at 0900 and very quickly I thought I might have made a mistake. The first part of the day had some rolling hills and I felt I was being left behind on the hills slightly. However, we banded together and formed a peloton and managed to start flying along. The route was nice and we made good time - arriving at the mornings coffee stop before some of the 0815 group had left! The second part of the morning saw us progress just as quickly, though the route wasn't quite as pleasant, initially along some busy French roads. However, when we reached lunch, we'd overtaken a number of other riders and were back on quieter, smaller roads.
After lunch, we moved onto the Avenue Verte and the small peloton of five riders flew - we were averaging 30kmph, pushing 40kmph at points along the flat. Needless to say, we managed to catch up with most of the rest of the riders again.
A brief stop at a nice French town allowed to grab a drink and a quick photo opportunity with the local mayor! The village had an impressive looking Château which we also stopped to have a quick look at before heading onwards.
The entire ride was advertised as not a race - however, as the fast group arrived into Dieppe, we caught up another group and it ended up slowly getting faster and faster riding through Dieppe... It ended up feeling a bit like a car chase as we skidded around sharp corners and through traffic. I can only apologise to the French drivers if you had a group of lycra clad Brits racing around your town!
After our arrival, we had some time before tea so I was able to change, have a drink and then walk along the sea front.
The evening activities consisted of an excellent group meal in the hotel restaurant with some speeches from the organisers and charity fund raisers.
D Day +2 : Cross Channel Crossing
I'd probably argue that the Friday was the worst day, or at least the hardest. We had to get the ferry back into the UK. However, we our ferry wasn't until 12 (so we were able to have a lie in) but it meant that we'd have our work cut out when we got to Newhaven to get to Crawley before it got dark.
The morning involved. for what I thought, a lot of faffing about.
However, we finally got to the ferry and cycled on.
Leaving our bikes below decks, we proceeded upstairs and got to the seats that had been reserved for us. It was a pleasant trip, though we were late leaving the docks, as we waited for this to pass.
The ferry was quite a while - it took about four hours to complete the crossing, but we were created with the sight of the Seven Sisters.
Getting back into Newhaven, we eventually cleared customs and got rolling - the route passed into Brighton where we cycled along the cliffs between Newhaven and Brighton before heading back into Brighton and out towards Crawley.
We had a brief stop outside Brighton after we'd climbed over the South Downs and out of Brighton. I didn't stop long as the sun was beginning to drop and I left the pub. I headed out by myself, but was caught up by two of the fast group before we formed another peloton and helped each other onwards.
The day found us having more hills than the previous days and there were a couple that were pretty tough but I made it eventually and we arrived in Crawley for about 19:30. We didn't manage to eat until about 22:00 but I slept well that evening!
The next day would be the last and final day and they decided to split the route - the proposed 58 mile route and a shorter, less hilly, 48 mile route. I decided to leave early and do the long one.
D Day +3 : Finish Line!
A bit of chaos to start the day as the breakfast room wasn't large enough for everyone to eat at once and whilst this hadn't been an issue previously, I think everyone wanted an early start today to get going! We'd been told that we needed to be in Kingston for 12:00 to allow us to eat and then cycle into London for arrival about 15:30 where we had supporters waiting for us.
The morning wasn't the most pleasant start - it had been raining during breakfast and overnight and the roads were greasy and it was humid.
There were some really nasty hills on the long route - there was one where I almost got off and walked as I begun to lose traction on my rear wheel in the wet, but I was able to clear that patch of tarmac and continue. I then cleared the biggest hill of the day with some help of wobbling all over the road! Luckily a car didn't arrive or I might have had to have walked!
We stopped just before Box Hill where I had a nice cup of tea (something missing in France!) and an excellent Millionaire's shortbread to fuel me on the road.
Arriving in Kingston, the weather couldn't have been more different than the morning!
Lunch was a quick affair before we formed up into a large peloton again and continued on our way. We followed the rules of the road more now in London as we were approaching the end goal and it was a more sedate ride.
Riding through London, we ended on the Mall with a formation towards the Buckingham Palace and ended at Wellington Barracks.
With the ride complete, I picked up my kit and then headed out to work to collect my suit and then headed over to the Victory Services Club where we had a celebration meal.
D Day +4 : Not over yet!
That isn't the end though! I spent the night at the Victory Services Club for the dinner. It was a great night and a good round up of the ride, which was really good. However, all good thinks have to come to an end and I had to get back to Welwyn somehow. I left the VSC and headed over to Kings Cross and upon arriving, I found that trains to Welwyn weren't running due to engineering works. It looked like I was stuck with a long bus ride home with the bike or a bike ride from High Barnet underground which would have been an hours cycle and about 20-25Km. However, as I was sat in Kings Cross, I saw that the Hertford branch was still running and that I could get a train to Hertford North. Hertford is closer to Welwyn than Barnet so I decided that I'd catch the train out to Hertford and cycle home along the Cole Green Way - it's a bit nicer than the A roads from Barnet.
So that's what I did! I thought I'd have the day off the bike (other than the cycle from Welwyn station to home) but it seems that it wasn't to be!
This was probably only my second long distance tour and a few things I picked up from the journey...
- The addition of an EU plug to to UK adapter/extension lead, such as this one, was a wise investment. Not only did I make use of it, it was handy to share with the room mate as well.
- I managed to take a plug with me that didn't work - I should check all my kit before leaving!
- Riding in a big group like this is good fun.
- Investing in a decent set of ear plugs or paying for a single occupant room would be a wise move for the future! At times, I struggled to sleep.
- The Brompton is a great little bike, however, there even times when the 6 gears struggle. However, it managed to get me the whole way and a number of the others had never ridden the Brompton before and were impressed with the abilities of it.
- I really enjoyed the ride and would love to do another long distance ride like this - even self supported would be good.
Overall, I want to thank the RAFBF for creating the ride, Brompton for helping out make it memorable, Ride25 for doing the organising and to all the sponsors, such as Thales, VSC and Strava, for helping making it a cracking event!
All my photos of the ride can be found on Flickr.
My Just Giving page is still available as well if you want to donate - it can be found here.