Sunday was one of those days when I could hear the rain pouring down outside from the warmth of my bed. Not just a little drip, not even a light shower, but a proper drenching taking place just outside the bedroom window. That's what I woke up to.
Getting up for a CTC Sunday ride makes a pleasant change from getting up for an audax-distance ride — the difference between a 6am alarm and an 8am alarm cannot be overstated. I got up, confident that either the rain would stop before I left the house to ride to the start at Brook Street, Cambridge, or else my waterproofs would be 'proof-enough against the elements. As it turned out the rain continued and I rode the 5km to the start in pouring rain — a great early season test of the gear for the coming off-season.
Only one other rider, Alex Brown, had braved the weather, and I had expected nothing less from him, since he's targeting London-Edinburgh-London as his first epic ride on his audaxing palmarès, and so it goes without saying that a bit of weather must be tackled head on and not shied away from.
We met up with Susan, our ride leader for the day, at Brook Street. It won't be too many years before CTC Cambridge celebrates a full century of rides starting from this famous street in Cambridge. A short discussion followed about whether to take the most direct route to Saffron Walden for coffee, or whether to take the planned route. I think I won, inadvertently, because I suggested I'd like to see roads I hadn't seen before and I didn't recognise any of the roads Susan mentioned.
Today was also the day of the CTC Cambridge AGM, so it was important to get to the café stop and then on to lunch at the pre-stated times, in order to get to the AGM on time.
For the record, when in cold + wet conditions, I have an "outfit" that I have found works well at keeping me warm and comfortable. It's important to note that I did not say that it keeps me dry! Starting from the top:
- I have a Sealskin waterproof cap that I wear under my helmet in proper deluges — the top of my head stays dry, so I don't lose heat up there. It also keeps the rain out of my eyes.
- I wear a base layer and jersey, plus arm-warmers if it's a short-sleeve jersery — and I have both lightweight and heavyweight arms depending on the temperature — but the important point is to have something between my skin and the next layer …
- I wear an Endura Helium waterproof jacket — nearly as good as Goretex or Rapha, but a fraction of the price. Unfortunately it appears they've discontinued the line. It can get a bit boil-in-the-bag in warm conditions, but it's perfect for me for winter riding. And, yes it's still waterproof after two years of use.
- Underneath it all I wear a pair of thermal bib "knickers" — this is a cycling-specific term for cycling shorts that have shoulder straps (bib) and extend below the knee but not to the ankle (knickers). The thermal nature means that even when soaking wet, they are still warm.
- I swear by merino-wool socks in autumn and winter — the wool is basically nice and warm, although not too warm, but stays warm even when soaking wet. I usually wear six-inch socks, but I have a pair of 12-inchers for the really cold weather.
- And I have a pair of Shimano wide-fit, sealed-top (non-mesh) mountain biking shoes that I wear in the winter — the extra width helps fit in the bulkier merino-wool socks without over-compressing them, and the sealed top helps keep them dry for longer.
- On the hands I wear Goretex windproof gloves — I have tried waterproof gloves, but after a couple of hours they just get soggy from the inside and then get cold for the rest of the ride. At least the windproof gloves have a chance to dry once the rain stops. I have ridden in them for 12 hours in near-freezing and constant rain and, so long as my big leg muscles (glutes) are working hard, then enough heat gets into my extremities to keep them warm, too.
I find it often disappointing that so many cyclists will only cycle in the fairest of weather, because in the right clothing and with the right attitude then a bit of inclemency is to be embraced and enjoyed, not avoided — it just seems that today's society has gone soft
We set off up East Road and the took the cycle route eastwards through the houses to the station before heading off the busway and joining onto the DNA path — these are familiar landmarks to Cambridgians, but probably don't mean much to outsiders. The rain continued to course down, but a good choice of outer wear meant that it didn't make much difference.
We headed through Great Shelford and on towards Whittlesford, riding and chatting, just the three of us. As we passed the Bees In The Wall public house, a standard stopping place on the London-to-Cambridge charidy ride, Susan turned us left onto a bridle path, which I'd never ridden before. I was ahead, and on fixed-gear, so I chose to stand to ride this short rough section, which put me well ahead of the other two.
A yell from behind indicated a left turn from the bridleway onto a permissive bridle path, which took us across back fields before spitting us out on the Liverpool Street railway line level crossing, just on the outskirts of Sawston. Over the A-something-or-other into Sawston and out the other side on a road — and then a cycle path — that I've never ridden before. It was exposed here and the headwind was intense, so I bent down onto the drops and focused on pushing with my glutes, not my quads. A few minutes later I looked behind and realised that Alex was gapped and Susan was a field or so further back
I slowed down, let Alex and then Susan hook back on. We did a left and a right and then used the footbridge over the A11. The alternative of crossing the A11 on the junction roundabout is absolutely fine for confident cyclists, but in a generalised, risk-assessed context then it's unacceptably risky, so we crossed via the footbridge.
We headed up through Little Abington to cross the A1307 and took the back road to Linton. I though we might be climbing up and over to Saffron Walden via Hadstock and Little Walden, but Susan had a different plan. Instead we headed to Bartlow. Again, I thought we would turn right towards Ashdon, but Susan's plan was to ride towards Castle Camps and then return to Ashdon via the very lovely and very historic (at least in terms of architecture) road via Steventon End.
We faced down an incredible headwind on the climb towards Castle Camps — Alex and I gamely took the lead, shielding Susan a bit and enabling her to keep up with us, at least as far as the right-turn. Alex did his constant-power spinny-thing on the climb away from the main road, while I chatted to Susan. At one point I suggested Alex was just showing off — Susan didn't exactly agree, but she didn't deny it, so I took off, climbing on top of my one gear (44-16 or about 72 inches) and going for it, passing Alex quickly and getting near the top of the short climb before the climb and the headwind took their toll — I got to the top first, but I still have plenty of work to do before London-Edinburgh-London next year. We waited for Susan.
It's a straightforward main road run over the top from Ashdon to Saffron Walden and it wasn't long before we arrive at Bicicletta café con velo. Dave is quickly out to offer us locks to lock our bikes. He recognises my fixie and we discuss a couple of fairly long rides I did earlier in the year.
Inside we caught up with into other CTC riders who had chosen to avoid the rain by riding straight to Walden after the rain had stopped. We collected Andy and Sarah, as well as Ed and Mike — Mike being a revered Bicicletta customer as he's still an active cyclist and he's in his 80s! I hope I'm still going in my 80s
Alex headed straight back to Cambridge. I had intended to do the same, but I changed my mind, because the lanes above Wendens Ambo are so nice and very rideable
We dropped down the recently converted Wendens Ambo road — it is now a one-way road for motor vehicles, but two-way for cycles. As we drop off the Saffron Walden massif I let the fly-wheel effect take over and pass all the clickety freewheelers on the descent and pull up on the ascent the other side to take photos — without Nigel Deakin in tow then someone has to:
The rain had stopped completely and it was beginning to look like a nice day so I had swapped my waterproof for a windproof at the café. A nice chat with Sarah — someone who has raised her and Andy's kids with bikes front and centre — that's four kids on two bikes! Wow!
As we approached the turn for Arkesden, I recognised it — and the climb up it — and realised I've got some work to do. I'm on fixed-gear, 72-inches, and we have a steady but steepening climb imminent. I drink and compose myself … as we turn L on RHB eff SO, I climb on top of the gear and charge off up the hill …
Climbing on fixed-gear is a very solitary affair, unless you're riding with other fixed-gear riders, or idiots. With just the one gear, you climb at your own rate, which is typically very different to those with a choice, and often quite a bit higher. I climbed away from the group.
When I got to the top, I had enough time to strip my top layer off and stow it before getting my camera out and taking photos of the other five riders as they crested the brow of Arkesden hill. Enjoy!
A drop into Arkesden and then another climb — more gentle this time. At this point there's a rather excellently named hamlet, which I managed to grab a photo of, from a cyclist's point of view:
Shortly after, Susan complained of a somewhat indirect-feeling cycle, the cause — a rear-wheel visitation. Andy and Ed leapt to lend a hand. Since they had it covered, I chatted with Mike and Sarah about the benefits or otherwise of calliper brakes over disks.
With air back in place, we proceeded towards The Bull at Langley, which was only a few miles away. I chatted with Mike at the back about his forthcoming lecture on providing cycling access between Melbourne and Cambridge — a thoroughly enjoyable chat with a gentleman who has contributed so much to cycling in the wider Cambridge area.
At The Bull I left them to park up and headed on having promised Mrs W that I'd be home in time for (late) lunch. I tagged onto the wheel of another cyclist just passing the pub. It turned out he'd ridden up from Harlow area and was going the same way as me for a few miles before turning for home — in Duddenhoe End he turned right while I turned left.
By now the weather had improved greatly and I was treated to some lovely autumnal views and a complete contrast to the weather we'd had that morning. My route was to take me up Essex Hill to Elmdon and then down to Ickleton, but I changed my mind and headed over to the Chrishall Grange descent instead, cutting along Grange Road along the edge of Duxford Airfield.
There was still plenty of evidence of the heavy rain we'd experienced in the morning with standing water in many places, but nothing impassable. Once your feet are wet then they're probably going to stay wet for the duration.
In Duxford I turned left and took the straight road to the A505 cycle path crossing and headed along Hill Farm Road towards Little Shelford and then Great Shelford.
In Gt Shelford I waved to a group of cyclists pulling out of a side road. As I played back the scene in my head, I recognised David T and figured they were probably the afternoon CTC group, so I doubled back and hooked onto the group — they were indeed the later, fair-weather CTC group, many of whom had decided to skip the rain in the morning for a longer lie-in. I chatted with David and Sheila to Whittlesford, going back the way I had just ridden.
I rode to the front to introduce myself to the ride leader, John, and pass on information about the morning group, since everyone was heading to the same AGM — Andy passed in the opposite direction, too — before riding off the front to take some photographs and then turning back around for Cambridge.
Shortly after turning back I passed Nigel D riding to catch up with the group, presumably having missed them at the set-off.
On my own and riding back towards Great Shelford I spotted a distant cyclist and it took a couple of kilometres to catch up with him. Another fixed-gear rider, Clive from Cottenham, we chatted and headed towards the station area of Cambridge on the DNA path, stopping to chat with some Sustrans volunteers out canvassing riders. An unlucky clip of the kerb on the busway and Clive caught himself a puncture, so, at his insistence, I left him to it and rode on.
Straight back home from there. 115km all told. A nice day out without worrying about audaxes or any of that nonsense