Tag Archives: AAA

A different kind of challenging

An audax has been described as a journey with an uncertain outcome. If everything goes well, the time limits are usually generous enough for people of a widely varying speeds to finish. However, they take place in the real world where expected things can and do go wrong and it pays to be well prepared. To my mind, this uncertainty adds to the sense of adventure and challenge, even if it is sometimes frustrating.

Having been ill with a persistent fever and cough for most of January, I was recovering physically and desperate to get out in the fresh air. So I booked 31st Jan off work and planned my first ride of the year – a 50km DIY audax with plenty of hills, plus a little bit to and from the start. If I took it slowly it should be a gentle start to the year which my unfit body and still-sensitive lungs could manage.

It was a damp and misty day, with the threat of rain. I don’t have the luxury of much flexibility in my spare time, so I wasn’t going to let that put me off. I’ve got some good waterproofs – trousers, jacket and socks, so I put it all on and set off. I got to the start at Upper Castle Combe in about half an hour, already warming up, so I stopped to take off the waterproofs as the rain had stopped. When I did so I realised that the batteries in my front light had dropped below the level where it will actually turn on, as had one of my two rear lights. Arguably these aren’t essential in the daylight, but I prefer to use them anyway, especially as it was so misty. After a bit of switching around I worked out that one of the batteries from my front light still had enough life in it to drive the extra rear light, so at least I’d be really visible from behind. I’m glad I used all AAs, but really I should’ve checked more carefully before leaving that they were all fully charged.

I set off and whizzed downhill through “the prettiest village in England“, dodging a few tourists who were out early. After several small ups and downs, I reached the highest point of the ride near Colerne where the mist and drizzle made visibility very poor. A bit of a shame as there are often good views from up here. Nevertheless I was happy to be out in the great outdoors feeling freedom and adventure. I felt like a caged bird set free. Albeit a slightly wheezy bird. But my lungs were 95% normal and my legs still seemed to know what to do. I was happy to amble along without expecting to break any personal records.

By now I was a bit chilly again and, knowing I had a long descent ahead of me, re-donned waterproofs. Thankfully the journey through Bath was easy and unhindered by traffic. Once out in the countryside again I enjoyed some unfamiliar scenery. The last time I rode down there was two years ago, so it made a nice change. Things got seriously steep riding in and out of Wellow, but at times the mist cleared and there were glimpses of the views I’d hoped for. I returned to Bath via the two tunnels cycle path which I always enjoy. It’s a gentle gradient and a good surface, so progress is easy in either direction. Mid-morning on a weekday, there were few pedestrians about, but I was surprised by one in dark clothing – shame my front light wasn’t working.

Once out of Bath I had a choice of two climbs, the narrow, quiet, meandering Steway lane, or the busier Bannerdown hill. The latter is the obvious choice downhill as it’s possible to safely pick up speed, but on the return journey Steway lane usually makes for a more relaxing route, especially at busy times. However, the surface often gets a bit “agricultural”. In the light of the recent damp weather, I chose the simpler and cleaner Bannderdown hill, taking the long climb into the mist steadily.

As I approached the top I noticed a lot of noise from the rear tyre. A puncture. Disappointing as this one had gone on my last ride too. Never mind, I found a gap by a farm gate and looked for the hole. Normally I take the tyre and tube off and inflate then listen for the escaping air, but in this case the tube wouldn’t stay up long enough to do this. I thought this meant it was a pretty big hole, but I couldn’t see anything. Maybe the valve had failed. A light misty rain was falling and I was getting impatient. I checked around the inside of the tyre for anything sharp, but found nothing. Yes, must be the valve gone. I put my spare inner tube into the tyre and set off to finish the climb. I’d barely got twenty metres when the back went down again. I yelled some bad words into the mist and walked it up to the large lay by at the top of the hill.

In as few mins I had a glue patch applied and was putting air back into the tyre. The problem was that it wasn’t staying in the tyre. Sighing, I got the levers back out and removed the tyre again. I only had one spare tube, so I had to fix this somehow. Part of the patch had stuck, but air was escaping from the other side. More glue on that side and try again. Nope, it still won’t hold air. Maybe a whole new patch? How about the Park Tools self-adhesive patches? A bit better, but still not good enough. Maybe the ubiquitous grime and moisture was the problem? I tried wiping the tyre down with some spare clothing from my bag, one of the few really dry things I had. This seemed to help a bit, but still didn’t quite do the job. Each time it failed I had a small outburst of frustration, before regaining my calm and trying again. I’ve fixed loads of punctures, why can’t I do this one? After an hour and a half I was considering whether to walk home. It would take three hours and I wouldn’t be able to validate my DIY audax, but at least I’d be back for dinner.

Just then another cyclist arrived. Chelsea was on her first tour from Bath to Oxford and she was having issues with her gears shifting into the spokes. This can be seriously bad news and even wreak a wheel. I did my best to help her by adjusting the limit screws, but I’m not sure it was totally fixed. It had been a lonely ride up to this point, so a bit of chat was welcome. She also kindly gave me an inner tube – I got the impression it was her only one. I felt a bit bad taking it. Fingers crossed her Gatorskin tyres are tough enough for her journey.

We said goodbye and, unsure of how much time I had to complete my ride, I sped off at a faster-than-usual pace. Thankfully the worst of the hills were behind me and there was a slight tailwind, so I made good progress. Later I found I’d finished with about five minutes to spare!

The ride was certainly difficult, but not to for the fitness-related reasons I had expected. Often long-distance riding provides more mental than physical challenges, but I’d rather not repeat this experience. Inspecting my rear tyre on my return, I found it full of tiny cuts and with little tread left. My Strava history suggests it might’ve done around 9000km – far more than I’d usually expect, so I’ll replace it before the next ride. I also plan to carry two spare tubes with me in future, partly for those times when I mess up but also so I can donate one to someone else without leaving myself at risk of getting stuck.

Hopefully Chelsea reached her destination safely and without needing her spare inner tube.

Side view of B&M Linetec light bodge-mounted on Carrdice rack

Rear bike lights round-up comparison review thing

As LEDs have become cheaper and brighter in recent years, there’s been a proliferation of bike lights, which makes choosing one difficult. Many of them can be had for under ten pounds but there are also plenty of premium super-bright rear lights available. For those with a particular obsession with gadgets, Garmin have created a light which uses radar to detect approaching cars, adjusting the light and warning you via your GPS display. Sounds fun, but I find it hard to believe it would make me any safer than listening for approaching cars. For deaf cyclists, I imagine it would be very helpful.

My search for the perfect rear light

I try to keep it simple. I need a reliable light that will keep me safe on long rides including audaxes in all kinds of conditions. There are other, more comprehensive bike light comparisons out there. This article is limited to the few (OK, quite a few now I list them) that I’ve tried. So far I’ve not quite found the perfect light for every situation, but I’ve tried some really good ones, each with different drawbacks.

Criteria

My preferences may differ from others, but here’s an explanation of what I’m looking for and my thinking behind it. I tend to carry a rear light on every ride in case I’m delayed by a mechanical problem or just want extra daylight visibility. I do use a dynamo front light for longer rides, but I’ve not got around to rigging a rear light up to this as well. Even if I did, I’m sure if want a spare in case it failed for any reason.

AA/AAA batteries: I always use lights with rechargeable AA or AAA batteries. The main reason is that, in an emergency, spares can be bought anywhere. Pretty much any corner shop or late-night service station will stock AA and AAA, albeit the non-rechargeable kind. I prefer rechargeable batteries (usually Eneloops) as I feel like less of an environmental criminal. Obviously, if I get caught out, I’m not going to put myself at risk and ride illegally, I’ll hold my nose and buy some Duracell. Plenty of USB-rechargeable lithium-ion lights claim to last 20+ hours, which should be enough, but lithium ion batteries tend to wear out after a few years and usually can’t be replaced. If I forget to charge it or find the cell is losing its mojo, I don’t want to discover that on a Welsh mountain pass at 11pm. Sure, I could take a USB charger with me, but it’s quicker and easier to simply swap the batteries. Most of the electronics I have on the bike, including my GPS, takes AA batteries and they’ll typically last well, though this depends on the light. As they’re all the same type, I can carry fewer spares.

Night time visibility: In the UK it’s a legal requirement to have lights and reflectors after dark. A rear light for riding in the dark doesn’t need to be especially bright, but the illuminated area (the height and width of the light itself) should be large or there should be several lights separated by some distance. This can help drivers to judge your position and speed. This is harder with flashing lights, but they are more easily noticed, especially in busy urban environments. So a combination of different lights seems the best approach to me. Also, bright flashing lights can be dazzling to other road users, especially when riding in groups, so any way to reduce this is a good thing.

Daylight visibility: Being seen by road traffic during the day is just as important and there’s some research which shows a reduction in accident rates for bicycles with daytime running lights. These lights are about getting you noticed. Once you’ve been noticed, it should be easy for driver with the benefit of daylight to judge your location and speed. With all that daylight to compete with, a daytime running light should be small and bright, possibly flashing. Many lights include a lens which focuses the light into a narrower cone within which it can be seen over a long distance. However, if used at night, unless these are adjusted carefully, which isn’t always possible, they can be unpleasant for following cyclists and even drivers. Drivers who are part-blinded or infuriated are not much better than those who haven’t seen you.

Smart light with broken clip

Above: broken clip – it looks like the newer models are more robust in this area.

Robustness: Aside from the obvious frustration of having a light fail, longer rides mean a potentially long stretch in the dark without a light if one should fail. The vast majority of rear lights with replaceable batteries have a battery compartment which is kept shut with stiff plastic clips. These are often opened by wedging a coin into a slot and twisting. This bends the clips a little, popping the case open. There are several problems with this. First is that the clips often break, especially in cold weather which can make the plastic brittle.

Secondly, sometimes they’re too loose and the light falls apart when you ride over a bump, dropping half of it in the road, often unnoticed.  CatEye Omni mounted on saddle bag with lens and batteries missingThere are various bodges to work around this, including elastic bands and tape, but they make changing the batteries more of a faff. The better solution is a battery compartment that is closed with a screw.

The other aspect of robustness is waterproofing. When it’s raining you need the light more than ever and I’ve heard plenty of reports of leaky lights. Luckily, all the ones I’ve tried have kept the water out so far but there are numerous reports of otherwise good lights malfunctioning in rain.

Lights I’ve tried

Smart Superflash mounted on seatstay showing tape holding it together.Smart Superflash 0.5W, 2xAAA

http://www.chainreactioncycles.com/smart-superflash-1-2-watt-rear-light/rp-prod56546

A basic and popular light. Two modes, flashing and constant. Above average battery life. Bright enough main LED for daylight use. Can be dazzling. Plastic clips can come undone when bumped. Others have reported water ingress issues. Overal: 6/10

Smart rl321r held in fingers, showing broken clipSmart Rl321r – 2 Red 0.5w Superflash, 2xAAA

http://www.halfords.com/cycling/bike-lights/bike-lights/smart-rl321r-0-5w-0-5w-2-red-0-5w-superflash-leds

Features two very bright LEDs, lots of modes, including a slowly pulsing one which I guess may be less annoying to other riders. Plastic clips broke when opened at about 2 deg C. In the photos of recent models the clips look a bit sturdier, so maybe that has been improved.

Gives a good daylight flash for about ten hours on rechargeables. Overall: 7/10

Mars 1.1 with rubber strapBlackburn Mars 1.1, 2xAAA

http://www.blackburndesign.com/en_eu/mars-1-1-rear.html

Not especially bright, so perhaps not the best daytime choice, but the 3 LEDs offer good all round visibility for longer than average. Haven’t had any trouble with the plastic clips and basic rubber washer, but not really tested this in extreme conditions. Cost well under ten pounds. Overall: 6/10

Two LED light with button between the LEDsMetro flash Dangerzone, 2xAAA

http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/NEW-MetroFlash-Danger-Zone-Tail-Light-/171708741341

Probably the brightest light that runs on 2 AAAs at the time of writing. Really unpleasant to be behind. Despite the claims on the box (usually for alkaline batteries), I found it barely lasted two hours with rechargeables on constant mode.

Could be good for a busy commute or in rain or fog.

The plastic clips holding the battery compartment shut broke so I used an elastic band to hold it together. Once I forgot to do this and it split apart when I went over a bump losing the light and batteries. The button is easy to press when riding, but can also be accidentally turned on when in a bag or pocket. Overall: 4/10

 

Glowing red stick with two black rubber ends on a dark backgroundFibre flare shorty, 2xAAA

http://fibreflare.com/products/fibre-flare-shorty-red

A rather different design featuring a bar of light with a battery compartment at each end. Can be bent slightly and mounted in all sorts of creative ways and helmets, bags, seat stays, etc. Comes in a few different colours. Not especially bright, but covers more area than most, so may make it easier to locate you at night. However it’s almost useless in daylight. Rechargeable batteries last at least ten hours, more when flashing. Had slight water ingress problems until I smeared some silicon grease under the rubber caps. UPDATE: Bending by an enthusiastic child has stopped the light working. I might be able to fix it. Overall: 7/10

CatEye Omni5 with plastic bracketCateye Omni 5, 2xAAA

http://www.cateye.com/intl/products/detail/TL-LD155-R/

A good all-rounder for about ten pounds. Five moderately bright LEDs and a clear/red plastic body mean it can be seen from every angle. 3 modes, one of which is a bit headache-inducing. Daylight visibility is ok and it runs bright enough on rechargeables when set to flash. The body is rather brittle and can easily fall apart going over a bump, ditching the batteries and half the light on the ground. Overall: 6/10

Side view of B&M Linetec light bodge-mounted on Carrdice rackB&M Linetec senso, 1xAA

http://en.bumm.de/produkte/akku-ruecklicht/toplight-line.html

Probably my favourite rear light. It’s the battery version of a popular dynamo light and can be set to always on or “senso” mode which turns on in the dark if the bike is moving. There’s no flashing mode. When you stop it waits a few minutes before turning off. This prompts helpful people to tell you that you’ve left your light on whenever you park at night, but otherwise it’s a nice feature that means less faff. It’s a large “spatial” light with a wide reflector which glows at night, all of which should make it easy for drivers to work out how far away you are. The light shines evenly across a wide area so is visible from nearly 180 degrees without being dazzling. Daylight visibility is below average, but probably still worth using if you don’t have another light. Amazingly a single rechargeable AA battery will keep it going for over 30 hours; I tested it at home. The main downside is mounting. It has two bolts spaced 80mm or 50mm apart and will fit nicely on most rear racks. If you don’t have a rack there are are various ways to bodge it but, depending on your bike and luggage this may be a showstopper for some. It’s a sensible, grown up light for tourers, commuters or anyone who knows they’ll be riding a fair distance in the dark. Coupled with a small flashing light it is probably the best option. Overall: 9/10

Rear light with silver body, red bezel and clear front with rubber strap behindBlackburn Local 20, 2xAA

http://www.blackburndesign.com/en_eu/local-20-rear-light.html

This is a recent purchase that I’ve only used on a couple of rides so far. However it seems sturdy in spite of the common plastic clips closure. It’s a bit bigger and heavier than most rear lights, but can still be mounted on a seatpost or bag. In a home test I got more than 24 hours of constant light out of it before it started to look a bit dim. There are also two flashing modes. Daylight visibility is poor due to the lack of a focusing lens leaving two tiny pin pricks of light that seem to get lost. At night however, the whole thing glows beautifully and is visible from a wide range of angles without being too dazzling. It fills a similar role to the B&M Linetec above, but is more compact. I may keep it handy as a backup light or place to store spare AA batteries in my bag. The RRP is about twenty pounds, but it can be found for less. UPDATE: This light fell apart, presumably when going over a bump, resulting in the light and batteries being lost. I think this was partly due to the angle it was at on a loose bag which might have created a “whiplash” effect adding to the downwards force. On my Carradice saddlebag it has been fine for a year or so. As they’re only ten pounds I’ve bought another. Even so I’m dropping the score by a point. Overall: 8/10 Overall: 7/10

Conclusion

As you can see there are many decent lights out there so it’s all a bit different horses for stroking different blokes’ cats. Or something.

For any long ride I will have my B&M Linetec with me and I’m considering getting another for my commuting hybrid. I would also usually take the Smart Rl321r hooked onto my Carradice bag for daylight visibility or rain or fog. I also often pack the Mars 1.1 as a spare inside the bag, if only as a place to store spare AAA batteries for the Smart Rl321r. If I was travelling light after dark and only had space for one small light, I’d take the Local 20.

First 300 – The Dean

Some time ago I signed up to ride The Elenydd – a 300km ride across the remote and scenic (read hilly) heart of Wales. I was getting quite intimidated by the prospect. Much of it was beyond what I’d attempted before. The distance, the 5000 metres of climbing, even pronouncing the names of the controls made me feel dizzy. Sure, I’ve been out climbing some hills, including most of the big ones around Bath, but I’ve never done so much in a day.

So I saw The Dean advertised and entered it on a whim. It was popular, not quite so hilly and much of it was familiar territory. In fact the route overlapped with at least four other rides I’ve done in the last year.

Oxford to Stow on the Wold

StartWithBananasAfter a decent night’s sleep in a basic pub room nearby, I woke up a bit early dreaming I was late for a sailing race. Slightly excited and nervous, it was pointless trying to sleep so I got up and managed to drive to the start on time. Eight degrees felt chilly, so I layered up knowing I’d have to strip off later. I filled one water bottle with the SIS energy drink and the other just with the powder but no water. It’s hard to judge and a bit weather and effort dependent, but I thought one bottle would do me for the 50-ish km to the first control. This plan seemed to work out and I never ran out of water or felt thirsty, nor did I carry more than 600ml of water.

I had a bit of a chat with a few people at the start and as 6am arrived we set off in the usual understated Audax way. No one would appreciate a starting pistol at that time of day anyway.

We had a gentle tailwind all the way to Stow and things seemed to be easy going. As usual I was caught in a dilemma of working to stick with a fast group or to find my own pace. It being my first 300, I wasn’t even sure what my own pace should be. In any case the large turnout made for plenty of opportunities for chatting and drafting.

Gouge in the big ring caused by the chain embedding itself in the hole. Not recommended.

Gouge in the big ring caused by the chain jamming itself in the hole. Not recommended.

Just before I reached Shipton, a short incline after a junction caused me to change down from the large ring without much planning ahead. The chain jammed and I was forced to get off and fix it. I thought it would simply be a case of winding the crank backwards and re-seating it. What had actually happened is that a link had become stuck in the triangular cut-out of the large ring. I tried pushing it back the way it had come, but it wouldn’t budge. I didn’t have many tools and I wasn’t sure if the chain would be bent. It crossed my mind that this sloppy shift could end my ride. Fortunately all that was required was a bit of leverage from an appropriately sized allen key. Only five minutes lost and plenty of friendly riders checked I was OK.

I also owe thanks to the rider who shouted from behind when I day-dreamed my way off the route in Milton-under-Wychwood.

It seemed like everyone made quick progress to the first control. My receipt says 07:44 and there was a large group already there when I arrived. I bought water and drank what wouldn’t fit in my bottle. Having climbed to reach Stow I was much warmer, so packed the trousers and jersey away.

Stow to Newent

The first thing we got on leaving Stow was a long downhill, great fun if a bit cold on legs which haven’t been uncovered since September. The sun was behind me and I noticed that my shadow was a bit… flappy – one of my saddlebag pockets was open. Thankfully nothing lost and I managed to clip it shut without drama.

The pleasant Cotswold countryside became more dramatic and the climbing increased. With the thrilling descent into Winchcombe, I was glad that the weather was so good. I’ve heard that they’ve had snow during this event in previous years which would really spoil the downhills.

After the hills we were into one of the flattest parts of the ride and the increasing tailwind was really noticeable.

I reached Newent at 10 not feeling hungry enough to stop for a sit-down meal, so I munched a Clif bar and restocked my banana cache along with another bottle of water.

Newent to Chepstow

Looking North-East from near Aston Crews

Looking North-East from near Aston Crews

In the hills which followed Newent I found it hard to maintain a decent pace. I wasn’t too worried as was arguably the most scenic part of the ride. The Forest of Dean was beautiful and peaceful in the sunlight and partial shade. It was about 18 degrees which felt ideal. Saying that, my woolly socks were now getting a bit ripe, so I switched to a fresh thinner pair. The saddle bag may be heavy, but it brings some little luxuries.

Forest of Dean, taken from the saddle.

Forest of Dean, taken from the saddle.

I was now feeling the distance in my legs and resolved to have a proper lunch stop at Chepstow. It didn’t take much of a view to have me hopping off the bike and grabbing the camera. This happened more often when I was going uphill.

Near Soudley

Near Soudley

Most of the climbing was manageable and the scenery distracted me from the effort, but several people later agreed that the climb through Bream as being particularly draining. It seemed like the town was built on the side of a mountain. The hill was maybe 4%, but for some reason it went on much further than I expected.

Near the Forest of Dean. Sorry, can't remember exactly where. This was a fairly typical view.

Near the Forest of Dean. Sorry, can’t remember exactly where. This was a fairly typical view.

Around St Briavels I met up with a group of riders. I’m not sure whether I caught up with them or they with me, but either way the wind was now starting to become a problem, so the extra shelter was appreciated.

It was warm and sunny in Chepstow at 12:44 and the tide was out showing plenty of mud in the river. I was ready for some real food but didn’t have much of a plan. It was a “free” control, so everyone could take their pick as long as the receipt said “Chepstow” for proof of presence. The high street was one-way against me, so I hopped off and pushed the bike. I soon stumbled across the Lime Tree cafe, which I vaguely remember reading up on before the ride. They did a decent veggie breakfast although it didn’t come with baked beans. I did get my receipt, though. I remember thinking that if someone tried to mug me at this point I’d have handed over my wallet but insisted on keeping my hard-won receipts!

What was a bit annoying is that lunch took about half an hour to arrive. I’m not sure if resting mid-ride really helps me go faster later, but some digestion time is definitely good. As it was, by the time I’d finished eating I’d been stationary for nearly an hour and wanted to get going immediately.

Chepstow to Malmesbury

As is often the case after a “proper” meal I set off feeling a bit bloated and decided to take it easy for a while until I felt more athletic. The wind on the Severn bridge wasn’t as bad as expected and much kinder than on Sam Weller’s Day Trip to Wochma nearly two months earlier. Nevertheless, I appreciated the tow from a couple of other riders.

Crossing the Severn bridge.

Crossing the Severn bridge.

I stuck with these guys for maybe an hour or so, taking my turn at the front. I probably should’ve made more effort to chat, but I guess we were all just trying to keep going as best we could in the post-lunch lull. Thankfully, by the time we reached the Somerset monument, I had enough energy to keep going up the hill a little faster than my last time.

Soon I was alone again, although I’m not sure who went ahead or stopped or what. I guess I was tired and concentrating on the route and keeping the bike on the road. Funny how long-distance rides can be a mental as much as physical effort. I saw only a few riders between Thornbury and Malmesbury. You only have to be a minute or two ahead or behind another rider not to see them at all. As usual, when I reached the control there was a good crowd. Most people were a lot less chatty at this stage (after 200km), but the Hackney crowd seemed to be in good spirits. I bought some water at the Co-Op and was dismayed to receive a large pile of change. I was annoyed, quite unreasonably, with the guy on the till, but I guess earlier riders had cleaned them out of five pound notes. It was 15:54.

Malmesbury to Membury

Looking back West from near the top of the hill at Broad Town.

Looking back West from near the top of the hill at Broad Town.

As I live in Chippenham, much of the next section was familiar from club runs. However, even without the local knowledge, the ridge at Broad Town was obvious from some distance away. Every rider knew that unless the route took a big u-turn, there was no escaping that hill. With about 3000 metres climbing already in my legs, I crawled up it, knowing there was a second hill on the way. Hackpen hill was even more obvious with few distractions save the white horse. This took the route to 250m, its highest point since before Winchcombe. Usually when reaching the top of a second big climb like this I’d feel some sense of achievement and relief. This time the headwind, which had been niggling for some hours, stole any relief and I had to work fairly hard to keep up a decent pace on the gently rolling downhill section. Still, the expansive landscape and relatively quiet road meant it was still enjoyable.

Approaching Hackpen Hill including the white horse.

Approaching Hackpen Hill including the white horse.

Around this time another rider appeared behind me. Looking on Strava at his times on the last two hills he’d worked pretty hard to catch up. It was Alan, who made good company for the rest of the ride and with whom I gratefully shared the wind. I switched my rear light from flashing to gently pulsing as it must’ve been doing his head in. We memorised the information control in Marlborough and enjoyed a good pace through the lanes to Membury, arriving about 18:46. More water, rocky road and pinched some (OK, a lot) of Alan’s crisps. Maybe this wasn’t the best combination of food as I had some heartburn at times, but I didn’t feel I could manage anything more substantial.

MemburySrvMembury to Oxford

As we left Membury I somehow forgot that service stations tend to attract cars and blithely crossed in front of a jeep. They had plenty of time and space to avoid me, but I was a bit embarrassed to have been in the way. It was now dark enough to need the lights to see by. As Alan had forgotten his front bracket, he’d had to zip-tie his light to the stem, meaning he had a great view of the back of my head, but not much else. So I took the lead.

Around the first corner we noticed a set of of red lights ahead and agreed to try to catch the small group. They were going at about our pace and were helpful enough to warn us about any big holes or sharp bends. We stopped a couple of times to moisten the verges and change batteries in people’s lights. Despite these interruptions, riding with the group definitely brought my average speed up. I’m sure it’s also a lot safer as a group of cyclists riding two abreast with various bits of reflective and lights is much more conspicuous than an individual, who might not notice if their rear light stops working. After 250km I was fairly tired, but didn’t feel significantly worse than two thirds through a 200. Perhaps it helped that by this stage I felt I had a good chance of completing my first 300. I couldn’t have sprinted, but I managed a few brief turns at the front and we averaged over 25kph.

It was quite different to riding in the daylight earlier and there were some great moments. I was especially excited as we descended single file through the darkness into Lambourn, lights blazing in a line down the gently winding road. It’s a shame that I couldn’t get a photo, but it would’ve been a pretty stupid time to ride one-handed.

I had done a lot of homework on the route and considered a couple of detours to avoid a bit of B-road and the centre of Oxford. However, in the end I decided that the main road was quiet and well surfaced and it was worth staying with the group. Furthermore, my GPS (Garmin Edge 500), died at 290km, so I wasn’t keen to strike off on my own.

We approached Oxford around 9pm and by the time I was proudly claiming my receipt at the Peartree Waitrose it was 21:21. Alan and I congratulated each other and said goodbye. I was really pleased to have got through my first 300 without too much difficulty. I think I felt better than at the end of some of my early 200s, which may have been harder due to the wintry conditions. I’m sure the Elenydd will be harder and, I expect, slower, but at least now I feel confident I can keep going. The Dean is a great route, made better by good weather and good company. I’d certainly like to repeat it and maybe persuade my wife to join me on the tandem next year.