Returning to the Flatlands

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I first rode the Flatlands a couple of years ago, my first season of audaxing and indeed my first 600km. I got in with the wrong fast crowd at the start that time and hung on as best I could. I’d brought a bivvi bag, but never used it, a 15 minute nap on the petrol station shop floor at Sleaford was all I got. This (lack of) plan got me through to Chatteris by dawn where my body finally refused to cooperate any longer and the drag back through Saffron Walden was some of the most miserable riding I’ve ever done. I loved it, I hated it, I knew I could improve on this first experience.

Fast forward a couple of years and I’m back to have another go, this time riding fixed gear. I’ve got a rough plan this time, no sleep again, so no hotel booked and not carrying any sleeping bag / bivvi either. Just going to ride fast, try not to spend too long off the bike and hopefully I can get round quicker than last time too! I started riding fixed at the end of the last season, seeing it as a new challenge to keep my riding exciting and to get another badge of course! I’ve been riding a 73″ gear for most of this summer, but that’s included some fairly hilly excursions, so I changed up to 78″ for this ride, the first long ride I’ll have done on the higher gear, though it’s not a huge step up.

The other change from my last attempt is that I stayed in a local hotel beforehand rather than in the hall. I didn’t get a great night’s sleep last time and that’s definitely not a good way to start a sleepless 600! I felt more rested at the start, though still not as much as I’d like. It’ll have to do and I’m still glad I went for the hotel option this time.

So, on to this year’s ride. Starting in the middle of the group, I soon worked my way up to the front again, I was hoping to find a similarly paced group to share the work with, but ended up on my own from about 7km. Checking the speed/HR display occasionally and telling myself “slow down, take it easy”, the legs had other ideas. Eventually I sighted another rider in the distance and alternate between trying to catch up and trying not to ride to hard. We’re approaching Red Lodge now and I’ve almost caught them as they turn off down a bridleway/track shortcut and I roll on knowing the control isn’t even open yet, so there’s no rush! The sun is still shining.

Being early to the café means I’ve got a few minutes to chat to the other rider, Chris, and to Nick before he starts stamping cards. I was planning to bounce Red Lodge and push on. The first few drops of rain fall, we take shelter as best we can under an awning since the café isn’t even open yet. Noting that if we continue at this pace, we’ll be at Whittlesey before the control opens, I make provisional plans to eat there first and get a second receipt before I leave.

Card stamped, gilet on to keep the worst of the rain off but not overheat and we’re away again. Nobody else has arrived at Red Lodge yet so it’s just the two of us. We ride together for a bit, comparing luggage options and handlebars. I have bullhorns and aeros on the Pompino, it’s a bit of an unusual choice on a ride like this but works well for me. Having broken my wrist earlier in the year, being able to take the weight off my hands is invaluable.

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I soon get my head down low and power off into the rain, leaving Chris behind and knowing that there’s nobody ahead of me now. Thankfully the wind’s mostly behind me and the rain isn’t hitting me in the face. I’m glad I fitted my new mudguards, I had a pair of Gilles Berthoud stainless steel ‘guards sat in the shed for over a year, just waiting to be fitted. The rain persists mostly, and eases up only as I get to Whittlesey about 10 minutes before the control opens. Really need to slow down a bit and save something for later! I take the chance to stop for a sandwich, then pop back into the shop for some sweets and a valid receipt.

The rain comes and goes as I push on, stopping only briefly in Boston for an ATM receipt. The ride on to Kirton-in-Lindsay seems to take forever, the wind seems to have turned against me now, it’s hard work and I start to wish that I’d made a proper stop, but I still end up making good time and quickly refuel in Kirton before pushing on again. The rain has stopped now, the wind has eased and the sky is brightening, so the final stage on up to Goole is rather pleasant and my spirits are certainly lifting as I realise that I’m already over half way round.

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I arrive in Goole at 6pm in sunshine. This feels good! ;D I decide to treat myself to a hot meal from McD’s as this is what I seem to be craving and have my first coffee since leaving the hotel this morning (though I have been putting caffeinated tablets in my water all day). The staff are very interested to hear where I’ve ridden from and, realising that I’m part of *that* ride, they make plans to ensure they have lots of staff on later. I pop over to the petrol station for a few provisions before leaving Goole and bump into Chris, who’s just arriving. He’s seen a couple of riders going the other way as he’s come in, so I wish him luck and press on again in the hope of some company for the night stretch.

The legs were a bit stiff after stopping at Goole and I never did catch anyone up. By the time I was approaching Gainsborough, the temperature was starting to drop and I was slowing down. I had a quick stop at Gainsborough to eat a little and put on some extra layers, but soon pressed on for Sleaford before I got any colder from standing around. I’d already planned to ride around the middle of Lincoln to avoid the cobbles and to press on down the A15 taking me straight to the 24h petrol station. The climb out of Lincoln proved a little too much for my now tired legs and this ended up being the only section I had to walk. I wasn’t getting any warmer though.

At Sleaford I stopped for a hot coffee and a sandwich in an effort to warm up a bit and try to get myself going again. I put on my waterproof too, to keep the wind out. A new bag of liquorice allsorts in the jersey pocket, extra provisions in the bag for the Chatteris control, and I was ready to go again. Still cold though and the temperature was gradually falling, I was slow and getting sleepy too. I had to stop regularly to stop myself from falling asleep on the bike and I hit a pothole in the dark shortly after Whittlesey that left me with a sudden flat tyre. The break while I fixed it actually seemed to help.

Arriving at Chatteris in the middle of the night, everything was shut. The first cash machine I found wouldn’t let me print a balance or mini-statement. The next bank I found had no ATMs. Eventually I found a closed petrol station with an ATM in the forecourt and got a receipt there. Phew. I was really starting to worry that I wouldn’t be able to get any proof of passage.

The last stretch is hard work, the guided bus way is shut and I detour around without looking at a map, not wanting to lose time, just hoping I can find the way. I pass a few dead-end signs but the road looks vaguely familiar and I think this is the route I rode two years ago, so I keep going. Terrible road but it gets me back on course, thank goodness. The final drag over the hills into Dunmow is bearable, the sun is coming up and shining in my eyes, which only makes this harder, but at least it’s warming up! I finally get into Dunmow and grab an ATM receipt before the Angel & Harp opens.

Finally, I wander around town for a bit, finding a shop for a recovery milkshake and pork pie, then head on down to the Angel & Harp for a proper breakfast. I’ve done it, completed the Flatlands, and another SR, my first fixed SR, in the process. It’s been a bit antisocial this time around and a tough night ride, but I made it!

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Getting ready for my first 600km audax

When I started audaxing earlier this year, I really didn’t expect to be completing my first Super Randonneur series this season and yet, I’ve only got a 600km to complete the set of rides required and I’m doing the Flatlands this weekend.

It’s a bit of a step up from the 200, 300 & 400km rides completed so far, as it’s long enough that I’m probably going to have to get some sleep at some point along the way. Being a no-frills event, there aren’t any facilities provided at the controls for sleeping, so I’m taking a bivi bag and a few other bits and pieces so that I can stop wherever tiredness catches up with me and get a couple of hours kip in a field or, if I can find one, a convenient bus shelter!

Carrying the extra kit presents a bit of a challenge as I took the racks off my bike a long time ago and I don’t really want to put them back and use panniers if I can help it. I’ve got a decent sized saddle bag and hopefully with that and a stuff sack tied to the bars, I can carry everything I need without adding too much weight or wind resistance.

After a few attempts at folding and rolling the stuff in various ways, it all seems to fit:

Good to go with bivvi bag and tarp
Good to go with bivvi bag and tarp

On the front, there’s a bivi bag, self inflating mattress and a silk sleeping bag liner (~1.5kg). On the back, tied to the top of the saddlebag, a basha and pole (~1.5kg). In the bag, 6 aluminium pegs, 15m of paracord and a knife (?.?kg).

The old light mount doesn’t work with the saddlebag support attached, so I’ve thrown together a new one which attaches under the bag:

Lighting up!
Lighting up!

Hopefully it’ll all hold together and I’ll get round without too much trouble or too many regrets!!

Rack mount light, without the rack

I’ve got a Busch & Muller Toplight Line Plus rear dynamo light. It’s a lovely light with good off-axis visibility. The strip of light it produces helps following traffic judge distance and it’s fairly gentle on the eye for any drafting riders at night.

It’s rack mounting, but I took the rack off my bike ages ago, so I need a bracket to fit it. Time to make something!

I took a piece of aluminium and cut, bent, drilled and filed it to fit around the brake and stays. Seems to do the job.

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Going aero with barcons (and dynamo lights)

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Original cable routing

I’d had enough of the big loops of cable from my barcons. They get in the way of the front light, they’re not very elegant, they’re not very aero. I wanted to run the gear cables under the bar tape right up to the top, coming out alongside the brake cables. I was concerned that shifting would suffer, due to the extra length and bends in the cable, but a quick internet search revealed that others had tried this with great success. I also learned that I’d need a tandem gear cable and extra cable housing for the rear shifter.

I ordered a couple of cable kits (one for the brakes, one for the gears), some extra gear cable housing and a couple of tandem gear cables (I’ll need a spare). I also bought some proper cable cutters as I was tired of messing about with cheap cutters and having to clean up the ends.

I picked a time when I wasn’t planning any long rides, so I could try out the new cable routing for a while before I needed to depend on it. Stripped off the old bar tape, took off the old cables and cleaned everything up while I had easy access to some bits of the bike that don’t normally get much attention.

Fitting the new cables went pretty well, until I found that the housing caps in the gear cable kit didn’t fit. I had to do my 30km commute without shifters for a day, and popped into my LBS to buy some. Back to it and I got all the cables fitted without too much trouble. Just held with insulating tape for now, I’ll add new bar tape once I’m happy that everything works well.

New cable routing
New cable routing

While I was at it, I also wanted to improve the routing of the cable for my rear dynamo light, so I cut some lengths of heat shrink tubing and threaded the cable through this, and then over the brake housing, to get a neat run. The cable is then taped to the frame in-between to keep it out of the way.

Heat shrink holds the dynamo cable
Heat shrink holds the dynamo cable
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and at the back

So far, so good. I’ve done a couple of short rides and shifting seems to be working well. The bars are still comfortable. I still need to fit some new bar tape, but I’m pretty happy with the result.