By my standards, 100Km represents a longer ride, especially given a (not very testing) time limit and the need to follow a pre-defined route. Last year I completed 4 of these Brevet Populaires, and this included one starting from Hartelbury, near Kidderminster, which goes by the name 'Elgar's Wheeltracks'. On that occasion I rode my Moulton fx8, and a report is available here on the web pages. I enjoyed that ride, though it was moderately hilly, and decided to do it again this year - some changes to the route from 2004 were mentioned.
Given that it was likely to be quite hilly (1400m of climbing in the 105Km ride were mentioned in the preliminary notes), a light folder with plenty of gears seemed preferable. I chose the Airnimal Chameleon - with an 11-32 rear cluster and a triple chainring, it has as good a gear range as any of my folders, and it's also a light bike which runs very freely, and is ideal for this sort of ride. The uncertainties of weather at this time of year meant that I fitted a slightly larger saddlebag than I would ideally like, to carry some additional waterproofs etc, which did add rather to the weight. Tools, a couple of spare tubes and a spare pump (after a recent unfortunate expeirence), plus a banana (safely carried in a Bananaguard!) and other emergency rations completed the load. Most Audax rides no longer require mudguards to be fitted, but this is one where the organisers do insist on them - I leave the mudguards on the Chameleon, so this was no problem. For this ride, with longer daylight hours, I was able to dispense with the additonal weight of lights, but I did fit my R-K map holder to the bars, which makes navigation much easier.
As the ride starts fairly early on a Sunday, like most of these rides, public transport is not an option, and so the bike is loaded in the back of the Smart. The drive to Hartlebury is not far from where I live (though I would most definitely not want the additional distance and time added if I were to have to ride to and from the event). I actually allowed rather too much time for the journey, and arrived rather early. The car which had been behind me for the last couple of miles followed me into the car park, and the driver watched with some surprise as the Chameleon emerged from the back of the diminutive Smart.
After booking in, and a quick circuit of the car park to make sure that all was well with the bike (something I now make sure I do after an unfortunate experience on the Solihull ride last year), there was still quite a time to wait before the start. As I had got a bit bored with the waiting, when the ride started I did not follow my usual practice of setting of near the back of the pack, but was instead near the front. This is really a mistake if you are a weak, slow rider like myself, as there is a temptation to ride faster and keep up with others around you - just so that you don't have to worry about navigation, rather than in a competitive sense. I was soon well behind the fast riders, but I was still with people going a bit faster than I really should go on a longer ride. We were also riding into a headwind - not a real killer, but definitely enough to mean that riding was harder work.
The first stage of the ride was relatively long at 46Km, and the last 1Km involved a fairly steep climb to the cafe control, where a sticker was collected, and we then returned back down the long hill before turning off to continue the ride. There had been 3 information controls on the first section, and also a slight diversion from the intended route - the instructions referred to the second exit on a roundabout, and it was actually the third. Fortunately I spotted this almost immediately, so retracing my steps did not involve any significant extra distance or time, but some others were not as fortunate.
The second section started quite easily - no serious hills, and less problem with wind. However, the later parts of this section followed the same route as last year, with a brute of a hill, and quite a lot of climbing. This stage, to Tenbury Wells, was only 24Km. The control was at the far end of the main high street, and this time I did stop for some refreshment as well as collecting a sticker, before resuming the ride. Once again on leaving the control we retraced our steps for a while. This time it was mostly a flat section that was re-ridden, but road works blocking the main street in Tenbury were rather a nuisance.
During the second stage I had resorted to bottom gear a couple of times on some of the steep climbs - I definitely needed it for the one hill, but the other occasion was partly the result of increasing tiredness. Stage 3 of the ride, 35Km from Tenbury back to Hartlebury, again started fairly easily, but got harder in the middle section. The long, fairly steep climb at Stanford Bridge was very hard work, and here and on some other hills I was again glad of the low bottom gear - had I been less tired I should have been able to keep it in reserve, but it was a great relief to be able to resort to it as my legs were tiring.
Over the last few kilometeres from Stourport it began to rain, initially only very gently, but gradually getting rather harder. Happily I got back to Hartlebury before it got worse, and although I got a bit damp, it was not worth putting on the waterproofs. Having ridden rather faster than I would usually - at least during the first stage - I arrived back well within the maximum time allowed. Beans on toast and a cup of coffee (included in the entry fee) were very welcome before packing the bike away and driving back home.
This was onother very enjoyable ride, although I was not riding with friends this time, and it definitely does help to be with others. The route was quite hilly (though nothing compared with some Audax rides, which I would not even attempt). Because I was not riding as part of a group, and on one stage went faster than I would normally, I found it quite tiring - I'm not sure whether I will do it again next year for this reason (it doesn't get easier as you get older).
The Airnimal Chameleon behaved impeccably on the ride. The gear range was ideal for me on a longish, hilly ride, it runs very freely, and it is a light machine. Although relatively bulky in folder terms (using the quick, simple 'first fold'), it still goes in the back of a Smart without any difficulty, and it is of course designed to be a fast road bike which can be folded, rather than a commuting folder which sacrifices ride quality to compactness. Of course 100Km is not a particularly long ride - Paul Stobbs easily did a similar ride earlier this year on a Micro, and many people would be well able to do the distance on a fairly standard Brompton. However, for someone like myself it is much easier and more pleasant to use something like the Chameleon for this sort of ride, and of course, with a stronger rider, it is capable of undertaking far longer rides. For me the Chameleon is the obvious first choice for longer, faster rides. If I use other bikes for these 100Km rides sometimes, it is just for a bit of a change, or to try out a new machine.
Many thanks to the organisers for another excellent event - I thoroughly enjoyed it. Now I had better get myself prepared for the next 100Km ride, on Sunday 12th June.
7 June 2005
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Last updated: 7 June 2005