Sunday 14 December 2014

LBC Ride: Christmas Sights Allnighter 12 Dec 2014

Madness!  Midnight madness! Why would anyone in their right mind cycle at midnight at near zero degree temperature?

Twenty three fifty five (23:55) at Charing Cross Station is our meeting time and place for this London Brompton Club (LBC) ride.  I signed up at the last minute because I could not really make up my mind if I will be joining or staying home, warm and comfortable.  The near zero temperature outside and the thought of all night without a sleep is not really helping.  It reminds me of my teen years when I don't go out for the night any earlier than 11pm.

Christmas light and more lights - London Eye
But Zoomzoom has been pestering me all week to click the "join" button because he knows that once I committed myself not even the end of the world would prevent me from going. Zoomzoom will go anywhere and anytime.  I have to control him.

Curiosity finally made me click the button at the last minute.  I have heard of few riders doing this crazy night rides and the "why" question remains in my mind.  There must be something to it. Besides the thought of cycling without the peril of harsh sunshine appeals to me greatly.  I hate the sun.  I was born and I lived in places where it is sunny all year round and I'm over it.  To me anything cold is a luxury.

Getting ready to explore the city by night
However, the forecast for the night is very cold.  It would be zero degree. This is my first night ride and I have no ideal how it will going to be.  I have also no idea on what to wear.  I put my base layers on and my bib shorts over.  It looks okay and it actually feels warm and comfortable and it highlighted a bulge.  But unfortunately the bulge is in a wrong place.  The bulge is way above the belt, not under.  Not a pretty sight I am afraid to admit.

I decided against the bib shorts and just as well because when I saw the group, they were properly attired.  James Houston, an LBC celebrity, was wearing a tweed suit with matching deerstalker.  He looked stunning.  Because I have not met him before I thought I would be pushing my luck too far if I ask permission to take a photo of him.  In hindsight, I should have asked, because toward the later part of the ride I found him to be approachable, friendly and helpful. Graham Park, another LBC star, arrived in penquin overall. 

Graham Park
Mr Orange Brompton, a well respected name in LBC and beyond, was in his usual faultless and impeccable attire.  He was wearing a full reflector Provis 360 tops against black shorts over black tights and an orange overshoes matching his orange helmet.  It is a delightful understated elegance.  To me, he is the epitome of cycling fashion.  He is my idol not only because of his sense of fashion but also because of his amazing and world famous blog.
Mr Orange Brompton - the epitome of cycling fashion

No, it was not a costume party but can you imagine me arriving on my bib shorts with a bulge in a wrong place? I'll be disowned by the group and kicked out instantly.

Immediately I replied to Sleebus' posting on Facebook that I would join him from Waterloo Station and together we will cycle to our group's meeting place which is just a small loop away via Waterloo Bridge.  I have not met Sleebus before. He is one of those celebrated member of the club.  He knows many things that would make a Brompton bike bling, go fast and furious.  He is a very pleasant guy and I enjoyed his company. I am looking forward to doing more rides with him.

There were few members already waiting and chatting when we arrived at Charing Cross Station.  Zoomzoom is very happy for he realized that he will be rubbing shoulders with the big names in LBC.  Zoomzoom is a "trying hard" socialite. He wants to be in the company of famous people. 

In no time we were out on the streets of central London, cycling.  It is surprising that the place is still bustling with people at midnight.  Soon we found ourselves cycling along the banks of the river Thames staring at the amazing skyline of London with the Parliament Building , Westmister Bridge and London Eye to name a few landmarks.  I have seen this views many times over and I will never get tired of looking at them. But this particular night, it was really  a stunning picture.
Mesmerizing lights

We zoom zoomed along every street in the city, lavishly accented with Christmas lights.  The creativity and the artistic imagination of those people who decorated the streets are beyond equal. Londoners have a very good reason to be proud.  It is a beautiful place, more specially so during this time of the year.

I was like a two year old let loose in the fantasy land.  Mesmerized, stunned, and fascinated by those Christmas lights of all shapes, sizes, colours and brightness.  It was a like a beautiful constellation softly illuminating the whole and every corner of the city.  Those lights were like fire flies.  So attracted I was, that at one point I found myself suddenly separated from the group.  Thank goodness for an iPhone. Soon I was able to rejoin. 

graffiti - diverse arts in London
We went past some elegant roads, expensive looking modern buildings, historic arcades, graffiti painted lanes, iconic boulevards and beautiful bridges.   We were like Peter Pan, flying about along Regent Street, Oxford Street, Bond Street, Covent Garden - you name the place we were there.  We we chasing, overtaking, racing each other or simply slowly pedaling around.  We were like chicks let loose in the meadow going in every direction but staying together.  It was fantastic.  It was unbelievable. It was magic.  It was like a dream.
Zoomzoom posing for photo. 

Until I noticed that I could not cycle anymore.  Without even knowing Zoomzoom succumbed to a flat tire.  Oh no. Not now.  Zoomzoom and I are having a great time.  We were over the moon.  This time is not convenient for a flat tyre.  We pulled ourselves together and were ready to say goodbye to the group.  Time to catch the train and go home.

But no.  The whole group came to our rescue.  David Parkinson and James Houston and the rest of the gang got their hands dirty and fixed Zoomzoom in no time. It was like a scene in Formula One during a pitt stop.   While Zoomzoom is loving all the attention, I felt so embarrashed.  Not only because I know we are delaying the group but because it exposed the height of my irresponsibility.  I could have at least brought my tools and a spare tube.

Soon we were back on the road pedalling.  Within 3 seconds, I have forgotten all about the  flat tyre disruption and I was back again in the dream land.  Zooming in this wonderful city. We continued our merry way. 
Glorious lights and more lights

The night just went so quickly.  I can't believe we were together for about 8 hours.  It was almost 7 in the morning and getting colder and everyone seems to be ready for a hot drink.  We found a coffee shop at Covent Garden where we gently retired for hot cup of coffee.  This was  our last stop.  We said our goodbyes.

This has been a fantastic and amazing ride.  It is beyond compare.  It is indescribable. I really enjoyed it. I will never forget this ride.  My first night ride. My first puncture. My first near zero temperature ride.  What a night !  What a ride!

Thank you to our host Anne Marshall and David Parkinson.  LBC will never be the same without you.  Thank you to everyone.  I can never thank you enough.

Yes,  It was a midnight madness and it was wonderful to be mad.

Wednesday 26 November 2014

LBC Ride : Richmond via Wimbledon Loop

Rain.  That was the forecast.

A week prior to this event, I have been checking my  iPhone to see if the weather will improve.  The opposite was true.  As the day got closer, the chance of rain is no longer a chance.  It was definite.

But I could not back out now.  After all I posted in Facebook that "rain or shine, thunder and lightning or even end of the world" I will be joining this ride.

This is my first time to join a ride starting from Richmond, so I allowed myself plenty to time to cycle there from my home. I wanted to arrive relaxed and not in a rush. I was 45 minutes early.   Few minutes have passed and there were no Bromptons around.  I was beginning to think I was in a wrong place.  Could there be another Whole Food Market in Richmond?, our meeting place.

Few minutes to 10.30 Anne and David, the host, arrived. Because it was a wet and gray sky, and because it was only me who turned up,  I was expecting David to say that we will just have few rounds in Richmond Park and then call it a day.  Which would be fine by me.  I was ready for anything that will happen that day.  I understand that they had a big ride last night and I don't want them to go ahead with the ride just because of me.

But no.  He was soon telling me and Anne that we will be completing the loop in about 4 hours and that we will be cycling along the Nightingale Lane which he added is interesting as it is a bit of an incline.

We waited for few more minutes just in case others would turn up.  Off we went and very soon we were in Nightingale Lane.  I am convinced this Lane is wrongly named.  Nightingale connotes something like caring, smooth and helpful.  This Lane I recon should be named Murdering Lane or perhaps Heartbreak Lane.  Because by the time you get to the top you would have suffered a cardiac arrest.  Yes heart failure.  This Lane looks okay from the bottom but as it turns mid way to the left, to me it looks vertical.  The shortest way to heaven ( or more suitably hell). All it needed is a rope and it would be a perfect mountain climbing site.

But it was fun.  I wont tell you how I got to the top, but I got there.  I kept blaming Zoomzoom for not giving me enough gears but Zoomzoom is telling me that I need more legs strength not gear. London is relatively flat and to have a lane this steep is a novelty.

We proceeded to Richmond Park.  It is everyone's favorite.  I could cycle here every day and I will never get tired of it.  It is beautiful anytime of the year. We exited at Roehampton Gate and from there David's navigation skill took over.   Map.

Our next stop was Wimbledon Windmill.  I am embarrass to admit that I don't know anything about this historic Windmill.  I am not a avid reader and I am short if not totally lacking in general knowledge.  This is one thing that impresses me about London, or UK or Europe in General.  You can basically touch the history.  And London Brompton Club (LBC) rides give me these opportunities.

We were back on our pedals again.  We passed by so many interesting places, park, open spaces, football/cricket grounds,  open fields, row of apartments , expensive houses, retail areas and on and on.  I recognised the high street of Wimbledon.  I have been here before because this is where I converted my drivers license into UK drivers license.  I believed the licensing office has since closed and that transactions are  now done online only. There is also Evans Cycle shop here where I preferred to go, rather the one close to my home because the shop here in Wimbledon has parking.

We stopped for lunch at Katavento Brazilian Restaurant at Merton Abbey Mill. Lunch break is one of my favorite time of the ride.  Yes for food and drink and rest and chat.  It also gives me the time to soak in the wonderful sights and atmosphere from the hours of riding just passed.  I ordered pastel and guava juice.  It was a delight.

I also had a rare chance of chatting with Anne and David.  They are stuck with me so they have no choice but to chat with me.  We talked about the previous night ride and night rides to the coast. They shared with me many of their riding experiences. We chatted about the beautiful people of LBC and many things Brompton.

I like Anne and David. Not because they help me fix my saddle which kept slipping down, but because they are nice real people. Anne gave me a tip on how to ride on wet road.  She told me to avoid those manhole cover, the metal bits and avoid the white lines as they are more slippery when wet.

Shortly after we finished our pastel and juice, Floyd Stuart, another LBC celebrity joined for the second half of the ride.

We zoomed passed many interesting streets and parks.  We cycle along the river Thames.  It is just magic.  London is so beautiful even when it is cloudy and wet.  I felt like I was reading a beautiful fiction book of which I could not stop turning the pages because I am enjoying the read. But this is real.  I would not want to stop pedaling because I am enjoying every minute and every turn of the ride. Forget about taking picture because I am over the  moon and I would not let any interruptions.

I never wanted it to end but soon we completed the loop and reached Richmond.

What a day it was.  What a ride.  What an experience.  The best company.  A big big big thank you to Anne and David and Floyd.  It was a small group but a big, very big beautiful day and memories for me.

Tuesday 4 November 2014

LBC Ride - London to Erith

Priceless ... is how I would describe yesterday's ride.

I have seen this event on the Club's calendar but because of my unpredictable schedule I did not sign up until the last hour.

My iPhone indicated that it was going to be a fine sunny Saturday but when I looked out, the cloud was not gray, it was black and it was raining a bit.

Come on. show me yours I'll show you mine.
What to wear is the second question.  As I am still relatively new to cycling, I don't really have full wardrobe of cycling gear.  Although I bought bits and pieces of cycling attire from Aldi ( a discount store ), every time I tried them on, yes it was comfortable but equally I feel I looked ridiculous wearing them. I supposed it is the fear of being labelled "mamil" that  scared me the most.

After frantically trying on several Lycra in space of 3 minutes, ( as I have only 3 and a half minutes, else I will miss the train) after which my bedroom instantly  looked like a changing room after a boxing day sales, I settled for my usual summer shorts and and long sleeve shirt. 

Nothing appropriate for cycling and for the day's whether except for the shoes which I just purchased a day prior.  These shoes are called "Amphibiox".  It cost me an arm and a leg , although it will only cover my feet.  The label says it is waterproof. I am yet to find out.

We caught the train to London Waterloo Station for 10 am arrival which gave us an ample time to cycle to the London Eye for 10.30 meeting time.  This also gave us enough time to say hi and hello to others  joining the ride.  I find that this is one of the best time because everyone is still feeling fresh and energetic.  The bikes are also at their best, looking all well  polished and showing all the new accessories and gadgets.  Of course, Zoom zoom is all smile showing off his new name badge. 
Ready for the start

Soon David, our ride host is giving a briefing.  David Parkinson needs no introduction.  He is well known in London Bromptom Club ( LBC ) circle and  beyond.  His skill in hosting a ride has been sharpen to perfection.  He has made it into a fine art.  I won't elaborate.  Just join him in one his rides and you will know what I mean.

Off we went. There were 12 of us until Geoff Snell joined us at some early point. I made sure I positioned myself in the middle of the peloton ( if you can call it peloton) aware that the traffic lights in London change at a blink of  an eye.  Being in the middle I felt secured that I wont be left behind.
Map image of a Route from November  2, 2014

Our first stop was at A Pound of Flesh for 50p.  A house made of wax. more ... I don't know anything about it and probably I would be too lazy to know any more. But I am glad I saw it.


Our second stop was at the Tower of London to see the Poppies.   more ... The poppies are impressive enough but it is the atmosphere that is so magical.  Billions of people were there on Saturday, thanks partly for the mid term break.  It was fantastic to see so many people wanting to take part of the remembrance.

..a house made of wax
This is one of the many reasons why I like joining the LBC ride events.  It gives me an opportunity to see and appreciate things that is happening around. 
Poppies at the Tower of London

The farthest point of the ride is Erith. This is the first time I have heard of this place and the first time I have been. I don't know this part of London.  I have been up to Greenwich from previous ride, but not beyond to Erith.  I am hopeless with direction and most of the time I have no clue of my bearing. So bad I don't know if I was on the North or South side of the river Thames.

The route was very interesting.  We passed by several busy retail areas, houses , new and expensive looking high rise apartments, industrial areas and factories.  The scene varies almost at every meter. And I may also add that the odor changes at every turn, from the most foul smelling sewage plant to the most  alluring aroma of a coffee.

I wish I am a good cyclist.  I am envious when I see a riders who can cycle with one hand on the handle bar and the other hand holding a mobile phone or a camera. For me not to fall off, I need to keep my 2 hands firmly gripping the handle bar  and if I can use my teeth to hang unto it, I would.  It was a dilemma.  My choice was to keep pedalling or stop and take a photo.  As I did not want to hold the peloton, I kept pedalling and missed on some of the photo shots that would best describe the ride. 

We stopped at the View Cafe more... for a brief lunch/snack break.  It is a perfect choice for a rest stop.  Thanks again, Mr David. As it turned out to be a beautiful day, we all sat outdoor, to enjoy the moment and to enjoy the view of the river and The Thames Barrier.  more ...
The Thames Barrier at the background

I saw Andrew Barnett on his own fiddling with his mobile phone and I thought this is gonna be my moment.  I seized the opportunity to join him in the table.  Times like this are very rare as he is normally surrounded by fans, admirers, close friends and confidants. Like David Parkinson, Andrew Barnett needs no introduction.  He is the famous "legend", the ever famous Bubble Bee. 
Zoom zoom rubbing shoulder with the celebrities

He is a nice guy.  We chat about his just recently concluded first 100 mile ride.  I learned about the LBC's early days and I also learned that he is one of the founding members together with a guy named Mick.  Now... that is one of my wish list -- to met this Mick, personally, hopefully sometime soon in the future. 

Off , we were on bikes again. This time we went to a place with more inclines. I am not sure if I can call it a hill but certainly it was not flat.  It was interesting and enjoyable. It made me shift gear.

On the way back I heard a big "bang"  coming from the rear of the peloton. I thought it was a firecracker.  It was a puncture.  And the luckly one is Geoff Snell.  There were 13 of us, a total of 26 wheels.  We all passed by the same area on that road, but it was the last wheel that got caught out. How lucky can one be. 
look.. this is how to fix it.

As the saying goes, all things work together for good.  And so we had a good demonstration on how to change a tube courtesy of Geoff Snell.  This was also good for me because it gave me a bit of a rest.  This was my longest ride so far.

We soon reached London Waterloo station where we said our goodbye and hasta la vista.
Zoom zoom loves the view of the Tower Bridge

It was a fantastic day.  I really enjoyed it.  Beautiful day, wonderful company, interesting route ... ah what else could I ask for.  

Truly... it was priceless.  Thank you everyone. 

Monday 22 September 2014

Cruising with Brompton

Cruising with Brompton

Summary:  This is the first time I have taken my Brompton bike on cruise.

Royal Caribbean - Independence of the Seas
23 August to 5 September 2014
Ports:  Southampton (UK), Vigo, Lisbon, Valencia, Barcelona, Mallorca, Ibiza, Cadiz, Southampton
Zoomzoom and his mate Scamp .....very excited to get onboard.

This is the first time we brought our Bromptons on cruise and it raised many questions in our mind prior to boarding.

How do we transport the bikes to the ship?
Will they allow us to take the bikes onboard? What if they refuse?
How do we store the bikes onboard? Would there be a space in the cabin?
Can we use the Bromptons when the ship is docked? Will they let us take the bikes on and off the ship?

We have done many cruises before so we sort of know most of the answers. 

Southampton is the embarkation port.  We could get there by train but we decided to take the car instead as it only takes about 1.5 hours driving distance from our place. The plan was we will park the car for 14 days until we get back from the cruise.  If they refuse to let us take the Bromptons onboard then we will leave them in the car.

I was confident though that the cruise ship will not refuse.  In the worst scenario they will probably take the bikes for safekeeping then return them to us when we disembark.

Well, everything went well.  Very well.

The checking in of luggage in a cruise ship is similar to the kerb side airline check in during the good old days.  As you unload your luggage from the car, porters are there at the kerb side ready to take it from you. It will be delivered to your cabin.

We folded our Bromptons and hand carried them. From the photo above you will notice that we have the bike cover neatly hanging at the back of the saddle.  This is just in case we have to cover it.  But no one seems to mind so we hand carried the Brompton without the cover on.  We went thru 2 security points.  First is the port terminal security and then the ship's security. 

I thought it was the first time the ship security staff had a Brompton bike presented to him.  He seems to be quite unfamiliar on how to inspect it.  He requested me to put the folded Brompton thru to the X-ray machine. That was the first and the last time.  As the voyage progressed and as we got on and off the ship in many ports of call, the security staff did not bother to put the bikes thru the X-ray machine again.

Zoom zoom found a nice space to relax and enjoy a water view
In many instances, when the public areas are quiet, we did not also bother folding the bikes until we get to our cabin. Our cabin is on Level 7 in the front part of the ship.  When the gangway is at the back part of the ship, we would use the back elevator up to Level 4, push the bike along the side deck (where the life boats hangs above ) then use the front elevator to Level 7.  This allowed us to push our bikes right up to our cabin avoiding the busier areas of the ship and also avoiding the long and narrow corridor on Level 7. 

Zoomzoom enjoying the view of the Royal Promenade - the arcade inside the ship.
Zoomzoom  is ready to play with the kids at the pool area.
The running/walking track on top deck.  Zoomzoom pestering me to go for a ride.
25 de April Bridge, Portugal

Vigo Spain

Our first port of call was Vigo.  Unfortunately we did not cycle there.  It was raining and the City Centre is very close to the pier so we walked instead.  From what I saw the foreshore is a nice place to cycle.  I believe there are also some nice beaches biking distance away.

Lisbon Portugal

We did not cycle here which I regretted. There is a cycle lane along the foreshore. It was my first time in Lisbon and I though it is too big a city to explore by bike knowing that we only got about 5 hours to explore the city.  We use the on and off bus instead.   

Valencia Spain

Stunning modern architectural symmetry in Valencia
It is very cycle friendly city.  There are lots of cycle tracks. There is cycle way even inside the pier.  Well worth riding the bike here.  The City Centre is about 20km from the port, I recon.

Barcelona Spain

What else can I say?  Everyone knows about Barcelona.  It is one of my favorite cities. It is  well worth taking the Brompton.  The cruise terminal is quite a long walk to La Rambla, so cycling from the ship is very ideal. Cycling along the beach area is most pleasant.  We cycle up to Badalona.

This is more toward if not in Badalona near Barcelona

Palma de Mallorca

Fantastic bike way along the waterfront.  You will not be forgiven if you don't bring your bike here.  It looks really safe and cycling would be ideal for all ages.



Palma de Mallorca.  Cycle track along the waterfront.  Stunning.

Ibiza Spain

A very busy resort town.  Not as bike friendly as Mallorca but still worth taking the bike.  Where the cruise ship docks is quite a long walk from the town center. 

Ibiza. A busy resort town. 

Cadiz Spain

Very historic place.  The bike track along the waterfront is very pleasant.  If you are on cruise, definitely bring your Brompton. There are so many nice beaches.  Whatever type you like.  Family beach, lovers' beach, nude beach, busy beach, quiet beach etc etc -- all within biking distance.
Cadiz.  Time to soak the sun before heading back to London

So yes, it was worth the experiment of taking the Brompton on Cruise. One thing I particularly like is the sense of freedom to explore the port when you have the bike.

Not everyone likes cruising but for those who do, bringing your Brompton will enhance your cruising vacation.  The cruise ship normally stays only few hours on port.  With a Brompton you will be able to manage your time more efficiently.

Brompton can also save you some money.  You can avoid paying shuttle bus fare and excursion tours.  And if you are game enough, you may just follow the route of the Hop On and Hop Off bus to see the cities major attraction.

One thing more.  When you cycle you won't feel as guilty when you eat too much on board. Drinking?  well, that is another topic.  You don't want to have a hangover the next day you are cycling.

I will not be surprised to see if more and more people takes their Brompton on cruise.  And it has to be Brompton.  Other folding bikes will just not work.  As you know, it is all about the fold and the quality of Brompton.

Happy cruising.  Happy riding.

Post Script:
An appeal:  If you take your Brompton on cruise, always think about the other passangers.  For the space you occupy for your bike, is the space you did not make available to other people.  Be considerate.  Be a good Brompton citizen.

Other Services we used:
For Parking in Southampton - Eze Parking. About  100 pounds for 14 days