Sunny ride out to the Lockgate Coffee House near Tarporley. Cut short by the pothole from hell near Child’s Ercall not far from home.

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I’d been stuck in the office all week mad busy with work and then Chairman-ing for the Nova Raiders in any spare moment I had, so had no time for a mid-week ride like I normally do. Today looked this decent weather for getting out on my bike so I put everything to one side for a moment and off I set.

The only problem being, it was not until Saturday morning that I had a chance to think about where to ride out to and I was totally undecided. Do I go up into Cheshire and if so, which way and to where or do I keep the ride in Shropshire and have a cafe stop in Ironbridge at a new vegan cafe my friend Nicole had mentioned to me? Decisions, decisions…

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In the end, I was still totally undecided and time was getting on so I opted to head out towards Dearnford Lake and then either stop there and extend into Cheshire or go via Wales, onwards to Malpas and into Cheshire that way.

As I was just getting my helmet on for the ride a friend, Jo Coombes was riding past and stopped for a chat. We were riding the same way as far as Eaton on Tern so set off, chatting as we went along. She then turned off to head home to Hinstock and I carried on my way. Nice to see you!

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As I rode on I remembered I’d been meaning to try the Lockgate Coffee Shop on the A49 near Tarporley for ages and had an idea for a route that involved very little riding on the actual A49 (always prefer quieter lanes to busy main roads). That’s that sorted then :).

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As I approached the Peckforton Hills, I opted to do the more scenic and slightly longer west side of them as it’s even nicer that way. I took the wrong lane by Beeston Castle by mistake so ended up on slightly more of the A49 than I’d planned, but not by much.

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The cafe stop turned out to be really lovely and I’ll definitely be back very soon. It looked not long renovated, had a handy place to park my bike, very friendly staff and some of the best cake I’ve had at a coffee shop. Perfect!

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The route from the cafe to Nantwich was basically the reverse of what I remembered of part of the Audlem Cycling Club Reliability Ride from last year, via Eaton and Wettenhall. Nice wide lanes and hardly any traffic. Just as I like it!

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At Nantwich, I headed past the lakes and onwards down Coole Lane to Audlem, where I fancied a change and took and A-road down to Market Drayton. I’d normally do the lanes to the west of this but a change of road every so often keeps everything fresh.

At Market Drayton, I popped into the Raiders Sponsor’s brewery tap to fill up with water and have a sneaky pint. Then it was an easy 12 miles home on quiet lanes … or so I thought.

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As I was coming down the hill from the old WW2 airfield into Childs Ercall a car had stopped to let me past. It was dark and their headlights were obscuring the view to the side of them, where I had to ride. I know this lane is full of potholes and was keeping it slow, but was not expecting the HUGE hidden pothole just to the side of their car!

Needless to say by the time I saw it there was no avoiding it and I had to basically just go for it and try and keep myself on the bike. My front wheel took one heck of a hit from it and it pulled the tyre off the rim and all the air (and sealant) escaped.

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Worried that the wheel might be damaged and it being dark and hard to check properly, even by torchlight I called home for a lift (it’s only just over 3 miles away).

A fab day out on the bike with lovely sunny weather. Just a shame about the pothole incident at the end. I’ve reported it so hopefully it will get repaired soon as I definitely don’t want anyone else falling foul of it.

Route: click here

We launched the Wiggle The Rocket Epic Course, did an orbit and safely landed at Amberley Space Station. Rode the route unsupported the day after it had been cancelled. A sublime​ route in gorgeous countryside.

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After yesterday’s shenanigans on the MTB’s we were looking forward to a much more straightforward day today.

The Southern Rough Ride MTB Sportive was already cancelled so we planned to ride The Rocket Epic Course on our road bikes under our own steam. At least we’d get to ride a full sportive route and the weather looked to be really nice today – it was blue skies, sunny, quite warm and most importantly, not icy at all.

We drove over to the event HQ in Amberley and had a chat with the UK Cycling Events staff about our ride yesterday before setting off on our ride.

The route turned out to be a really lovely one with just the right combination of ingredients for an early season sportive: lower mileage than normal, plenty of elevation gain (but nothing too taxing) and absolutely gorgeous scenery.

Just before where the first feed stop should have been at Wisborough Green, we passed a lovely looking country pub and decided to stop for a quick coffee. The pub was not quite open but a member of staff had just arrived and let us in and sorted us out with coffee. Lovely!

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We then pressed on into Surrey, along sometimes familiar roads from other sportives in the area and were soon at the northern end of the route by Dunsfold Airfield, where they used to film Top Gear (do they still film here, I’ve no idea?).

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We planned to stop in Plaistow for another coffee as this is where the second feed stop should have been, but the only place open was a pub and they did not do coffee. We instead ploughed on and stopped at a lovely village cafe in Kirdford.

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Right after the cafe, the main climb on the route started. It turned out to not be too bad but just meandered upwards for quite a while.

After that, it was all pretty much downhill and a fast ride back to the event HQ in Amberley. We did manage to miss a turn on the way, just as we were distracted by a freak hail storm catching us for a minute or two. Thankfully we soon spotted our error and did not go too far off track.

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Back at the event HQ, we loaded our cars up and said our goodbye’s.

A really fun weekend, which did not go at all according to plan but we managed to salvage lots of great cycling out of it anyway and had a great time.

Route: click here

An abortive​ attempt at the Southern Rough Ride Sportive Route. Ankle deep mud and my chain would not stay on (again!). Great fun though.

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This weekend I had two different sportives, both start from Amberley Working Museum in West Sussex. Wiggle The Rocket (road) on Saturday and Wiggle Southern Rough Ride (MTB) on Sunday. Things did not exactly go as planned, but we had great fun regardless…

I drove down on Friday and stayed overnight in lovely Arundel. After the traditional pre-sportive curry, I settled in for an early night and was up bright and early the following morning. After breakfast, I was just about to set off for the venue when Andy texted to say the start time had been put back to 8:30am as things were still icy. The start of things to come…

I made the short drive over and the main car park was already full so I parked outside the station, as directed by event staff. A few of them recognised me and came over to say hello and have a quick chat. A lovely way to start an event :).

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I walked with my bike down to the event HQ and met up with Andy, then went to register and get my rider number.

I’d just done this when there was an announcement that there was sheet ice on roads not 2 miles into the ride and that in the interests of rider safety the event was cancelled. One of the event organisers showed us a video of the ice and I totally agree it was a great call to cancel the event as there would be carnage on the roads otherwise.

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Andy and I made an executive decision to return to the hotel, swap to MTB clothes and ride the Standard route of tomorrow’s MTB event as ice on that would be a positive advantage, freezing any mud on the course.

We returned shortly afterwards with our mountain bikes and set off. All was going well until about 2 miles into the ride and the dirt track we were riding up turned into a muddy quagmire. The soil is very chalky around here and this combined with the mud made for a very sticky mess around the forks and wheels in general. We kept having to stop and try and clear some of it off the bikes as we could not actually turn the wheels otherwise.

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Some of the sections were un-rideable and we ended up walking with the bikes over these. I then managed to pick up a puncture in my front tyre, which turned out to be 2 different punctures, one of which was a thorn literally about an inch long!

Puncture fixed, we were starting to feel a bit demoralised and Andy said “I’m only EVER going to say this once, but shall we swap to the Short route” :). I readily agreed as it had stopped being so much fun a while ago.

We carried on and the route took us along a ploughed field which looked like a heard of cows had trampled through and it was ankle-deep mud and really hard going.

We soon agreed we’d head to the nearest road and head back to the hotel on tarmac as we were closer to Arundel than the event HQ at Amberley by now. My Jeep was at the hotel so we could drive back to the event HQ and pick up Andy’s car.

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Near the hotel, we spotted a BP garage with a jetwash and so cleaned our bikes (and ourselves!) down. Got loads of strange looks from passing drivers, but it did what was required and was a really funny way to end what was at times a bit of a frustrating ride.

The chain on my MTB was still playing up for most of the ride and coming off all the time any time any mud came near it. I had this problem on the first ride on the bike from my local bike shop to home and we’d assumed the manufacturers had fitted the wrong chain and replaced it with the correct one.

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My MTB is a one-by and every time the chain is muddy and I swap to a bigger ring at the back and thus am cross-chaining a bit, the chain at the front won’t stay on the chainring. It’s obviously not supposed to happen like this as a MTB must be designed to get very muddy and still work, so I’ll be taking it back to my local bike shop so they can liaise with the manufacturers for a fix on this as it’s un-rideable as it is.

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Eventually, back at the hotel, we cleaned up and went into town for some well deserved food and beer. We were saying that the course was so bad we’d abandon the MTB event tomorrow and try and do the road ride we were supposed to do today, as the weather overnight was warm and the roads would not be icy.

We did also say the MTB event tomorrow should be cancelled and later saw that it had indeed been cancelled. Another great call from UK Cycling Events as it was a recipe for disaster and 200+ riders struggling (no idea of the actual numbers but there would have been a LOT of riders!) in mud would have left the countryside in a right mess, let alone potentially been dangerous for riders.

Not exactly an ideal introduction to MTB riding and MTB sportives for me, but I can see that on a drier day this would be an amazing route and seriously good fun to ride.

Onwards and upwards.

Route: click here

Getting the miles in the legs ready for the start of Sportive season next weekend. Fab ride out to the excellent Tilly’s in Bunbury via Wales and Beeston Castle. Back via Nantwich and a pint in Market Drayton.

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I’ve got the first Sportives of the year starting next weekend: Wiggle The Rocket (Road) on Saturday and Wiggle Southern Rough Ride (MTB) on Sunday, both from the same event HQ at Amberley Working Museum in West Sussex.

With this in mind, I’m conscious I need to get the miles into my legs as my cycling had been a bit curtailed in recent weeks due to work pressures and then horrible weather on a few days when I could actually have got out on my bike. Very frustrating!

Today looked to be good weather-wise, with a bit of sun and not too much wind for a change, so I opted for a 70+ mile ride out to the lovely Tilly’s coffee shop in Bunbury, near Beeston Castle in Cheshire.

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I set off pretty late as I was enjoying a Sunday morning lie-in. The route took me up the usual Dearnford Lake route, so I had a chance to do Marchamley Hill again (second time in the last 2 days!).

At Tilstock, just before Dearnford Lake, I turned left and was soon in Wales, after crossing what must be the muddiest and pot-holey border there ever was. It’s as if the Council’s on both sides of the border don’t actually care about the road as it leads out of their area! It’s almost like doing cyclo-cross rather than road biking it’s so horrible. There is a beautiful bridge over the canal, slap bang on the border though, which more than makes up for the terrible road surface.

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I was soon in Cheshire and passing through Malpas and onwards through the Peckforton Hills to my cafe stop. As I arrived at the cafe itself, I could see absolutely tons of bikes everywhere and knew there would be LOTS of cyclists inside. Always a great thing as I can have a natter with people from other clubs and areas and pick up ideas for routes etc etc.

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After the cafe I headed through Haughton towards Nantwich. It was then down a closed road to Sound Heath, after checking with a cyclist coming the other way that the road was actually accessible to cyclists.

I was soon passing to the west of Audlem and down the back lanes past the Shavington Estate to Market Drayton, where I called into the Joules Brewery Tap to fill up with water and have a sneaky pint.

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From there it was an easy ride home, which I opted to extend just neat Stoke on Tern, to make sure I got over 70 miles for the ride. I routed out past Hinstock and Sambrook and was soon home.

A cracking day out with lovely weather and a great route.

Route: click here

Dearnford Lake for lunch with Tim and then back home via the New Inn for a Raiders meeting

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I’d arranged to go for a ride with Tim this week as I needed to get out and get some miles in the legs and Tim was off work. Always great to have company on rides too!

The weather looked better on Friday so we arranged to ride out to Dearnford Lake for lunch.

Tim rode up to our house from Newport and we set off just after 11am. I’ve got my new 11-34 cassette on my Roubaix today as I want to test it in advance of the sportives starting, so we arranged our route to go up Marchamley Hill as that’s about the toughest test round these parts (and not particularly tough if I’m honest!).

The 11-34 seemed to be geared pretty much like my usual 11-32 apart from the get out of jail granny 34 tooth ring. It was seamless to ride and Marchamley Hill was super easy as I could just spin my way up it.

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A bit later in the ride Tim picked up a puncture and we stopped for him to pop an inner tube in his tubeless tyres to get him round the rest of the ride. The culprit tuned out to be a small shard of glass that put a hole in his tyre that the sealant just could not seal in time. Just goes to underline the benefit of carrying spare tubes, even when running tubeless tyres (which I run on the Roubaix too).

At the cafe I had a lovely “tart of the day”, which was cheese and tomato today and absolutely delicious. I even had room for a small slice of lovely pecan pie too.

The plan was to ride back home, shower and get changed and drive down to Newport for my 4pm meeting with the Nova Raiders Committee members at the New Inn.

Needless to say with a slightly extended lunch, we were running late so I opted to ride all the way back to Newport with Tim and go to my meeting, via a quick chat in Nova Cycles.

We had a very productive meeting and by the time we’d done, it was dark, so I headed off home with my lights on.

Route: click here

Trying out a new Shimano Ultegra 11-34 Cassette – almost certainly overkill but what the heck, I’ll try it out…

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Whilst we were in Gran Canaria a couple of weeks ago, John Watts hired a Cannondale bike from Free Motion with an 11-34 cassette on it. He seemed to be shooting up hills spinning them out very nicely indeed. My southern cycling mate, Andy, had already mentioned this cassette to me as I was not aware of a cassette larger than 11-32 before and was wondering about trying it on sportives himself.

It got me curious and I wondered how it might fare on sportives with very steep hill sections. I’m happy to do these with 11-32 but if it’s a very long ride too, I was thinking this might help. I like tinkering and trying new things so knew I had to take a look!

It was easily fitted to my Sram Red Etap HRD setup on my Roubaix but I did need a longer B-screw, wich the fabulous Nova Cycles in Newport kindly sorted out for me.

Ideally, I also need 2 more chain links but I’ll worry about that another time as I’m not planning on riding 11-34 all of the time (in fact will only be using it when required as 11-32 is more than ok for normal riding and sportives).

With the first two rides under my belt with the new cassette on I can report that it’s not a lot, if at all different to the 11-32 I’m used to, except it has the obvious extra “granny” gear as a “Get Out Of Jail” option on steep hills.

Sounds obvious, but I was expecting a more pronounced progression between the gears as they are more spread out than the 11-32, but I guess it’s only an extra 2 teeth so the other rings are probably pretty much the same, if not identical (I’ve not checked yet!) as the 11-32.