I bought a bike at last!

It’s quite a frustrating thing to be such a procrastinator. I have dithered and changed decisions on which bike to buy about 10 times in the last few weeks. They’re surely all the same aren’t they? – I mean, as my daughter keeps telling me; a bike is just a bike isn’t it? I had certainly thought that myself a few weeks ago until I entered this whole new world. Then I learned about things like compact chainsets, SRAM against Campag, spacers, cleats, and whether aluminium is better than carbon. So like anything, cycling it seems is full of buzzwords and also downright snobbery. For example ‘roadies’ will not be seen dead in SPD shoes – I mean, why would they!!

So anyway, having decided that the Great British Bike Ride was going to be the challenge for now, a road bike was duly sought. I initially found a good forum online, called http://www.bikeradar.com , which is very helpful. I also decided to push the boat out as far as my budget is concerned. I can take advantage of something called the Cycle To Work Scheme, which means that you get tax and VAT relief on the cost of a new bicycle (and  accessories) from the Inland Revenue up to £1,000, and so I thought I would go right up to the limit, as if I can get up to 50% of that back, then that shouldn’t be sniffed at at all.

So on the forums if you type in “which road bike for £1,000?” you come up with a few common names, and these are Focus Cayo, Planet X SL Pro, Cannondale CAAD 8/9, and the Boardman Team Carbon. There are plenty others around this price range too (in fact there are hundreds), but these names seemed to consistently appear. As with anything of course, there are compromises to be made, and the choices don’t seem to narrow, they get harder, at least they do when you realise all of a sudden that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

It then appears that everyone says the most important thing you should do is to go and test ride the bikes and see which one feels best, which seems like the perfect advice. Then however you realise that of the above four bikes, two (Planet X and the Focus) are available online only, and the other (Boardman) is only sold via Halfords (who don’t let you test ride and are muppets in my experience anyway). Thus leaving the Cannondale as my only option to go and test. Then I had to go and find one, which proved very difficult. I then discovered that bike people have their favourites, and will try to sell you what they like as opposed to what you are really asking for. For example I came across (and was recommended) Evans Cycles, a nationwide store, and went to the Reading branch after phoning and telling them that I was interested in a Cannondale CAAD 8 or CAAD 9. When I got to the store however, I found that they did not in fact have a Cannondale for me to try, and so the sales guy tried to sell me a Raleigh instead, and for £1,200 too.

Now I will readily admit that I know very little so far about bikes. The world of SRAM Red and Cervelo are as yet unchartered territories for me. What I do know however is that the word ‘Raleigh’ for me is synonymous with something called ‘The Chopper’. For those who don’t know, The Chopper is a childs bike with big bull handlebars, that costs about £14.99 from Toys R Us , and is at best probably very dangerous. Now call me a brand snob if you like, but why should I listen to a sales guy who tells me that the shiny thing in front of me is worth parting with over a grand of my money for? What if someone laughs at me for God sake? What if, heaven forbid, someone says “nice Chopper”?. I decide however against my better judgement to go and ride the Raleigh. If you know your bikes then what I rode was the Avanti U6 Pro 2009.

So I set off in my very spandexy new cycle shorts (£14.99 from Argos – they are rubbish) and go for a spin, and am amazed. The bike goes like shit off a shovel, and I manage to propel myself around the roads of Reading like I was on a motorbike, or at least like I knew what I was doing. It was fun! I get back about 30 minutes later to the shop and am exhilirated. I can fly! Or at least I can ride scary bikes with 23mm scary tyres pumped up to 120psi. I also have no idea what I am doing with the gears. When I used to ride bikes (forty three gazillion years ago or thereabouts) they were called ‘racers’, and you had two shifters on the tube between the handlebars and the pedals, whatever that is called. Nowadays the gears are integrated into the brake levers, and are apparently designed to be counter-intuitive. I think the right brake lever controls the back brake but the front derailleur, and then vice versa. Or do I have that the wrong way round? Then you push the right lever in to move it into a harder gear, but the left lever in to give you an easier front ring. Probably.

Maybe that is all wrong, but it just serves to show you that it is a.) confusing, and b.) bloody difficult to cycle properly when you don’t know what you are doing. One minute I would be hurtling downhill and wanting to change up, and in pressing my brake lever inwards I would send it into gear 27 or something and my legs would spin so furiously I felt like a hamster on heat. Next I would be going uphill and try to change down, and it would go into something that I couldn’t have turned the pedals if I was going down a skislope. I learn later that the gear changers that I have been using are called “105”, and that they are a ‘pretty good groupset’ or something. Means nothing to me.

So I ask to try another bike for comparison purposes, and am given a Trek 1.5. Now the Trek has a ‘triple’, which for all you non-cyclists out there (hey, that includes me!) means that there are three rings at the front, thus giving you a wider range of gear options altogether. It is easy as a novice to think of the bike as a “27 speed”, but this is really just a misnoma – the number of useable gears with differences is not really very different on a double to a triple, it is about the number of teeth on the chainrings. This equates to ‘gear inches’ or ‘gear miles’ or something like that, and if you have a triple then the lowest gears are driven by a 30 tooth ring at the front, instead of a 34 tooth ring on a compact. Makes a big difference, apparently.

So I ride the Trek and find that it is very difficult to change between each of the three front rings. This is probably as I haven’t got a clue which lever does what, but pressing each in turn as randomly and as often as possible doesn’t seem to do a whole lot anyway, so I conclude that a triple is probably more complicated than I need or can handle. In any case, next to the Raleigh at least, I find the Trek dull and uninvolving. It feels a bit like, a bicycle or something. I get back to the shop and ask to be shown something different. And so then I was given a Bianchi. It was a Via Nirone 7 with Ultegra, for those of you who know your onions. And it rode like a dream, it was great. I think the much more seamless gearchanges helped, but nonetheless the bike felt much more involving and responsive. When I got back to the shop after about 30 minutes I tell the guy that the bike was great. He said “It’s  a Bianchi!” So I told him a few other things and they just elicited the same “It’s  a Bianchi!” response. This was very nice, but I wasn’t quite ready to do the high five and cartwheels across the floor thing yet, especially as the price tag on it was £1,300 this time.

So I hum and hah a bit more, and then just don’t know what to do, and I ask him about Cannondales again. He suggests that I go and talk to one of the other guys about them, as he ‘doesn’t like them’. Fair enough. I wait my turn in line and then get to hear from someone about how amazing the Cannondale CAAD9 is, but that no they don’t have them in stock, and it might be the end of May. I decide that I want a Cannondale if they are that good, but can’t wait that long, and so take my leave.

So to cut a long story short I spend the next week or so trying to find a Cannondale CAAD9, which proves really hard. It even took me on a two and half hour trip to Milton Keynes and back to someone who told me he had one in, for me to find he didn’t when I got there! So I thus went and bought myself a new iMac instead, so that was an expensive trip then! I found it even more frustrating that I can go and impulse buy an iMac, but can’t choose a bike for love nor money!

So last weekend I found one! A nice shiny new Cannondale CAAD9! It was in Oxford, and was great. It even had the colours I wanted (it comes in red, black, or Liquigas Team colours, which are sort of white, green and blue). I went and rode it, and it was fabulous! I rode it at the end of the day however, and by the time I got back from riding the shop was shutting, and so there wasn’t time to do the deal. I told the guy that I would come back the following day, but work took over, and so I googled a few things more the following night.  I then decided that I should email Heather and ask her to have the casting vote, as she knows a whole bunch more about bikes than I ever will. I tell her it is a choice between the Cannondale CAAD9 and the Planet X, expecting her to choose the CAAD9 over a bike she hadn’t heard of. So the reply came back “The Planet X for sure – you don’t want aluminum!”.

So that was that then, decision made. The very next morning I press the button on the internet and order me a shiny Planet X SL Pro Carbon SRAM Rival in white. I have never seen one let alone ridden one:) But they must be good right? And it isn’t even made of aluminum, so there. And if it is no good, then Heather will never live it down. All I need now is for it to arrive:) Piccie below:

White, isn't it?

So all I have to do now is buy myself some pedals, a helmet, a lock, some lights, a trip computer, some tyre levers, a backpack, some spare inner tubes, a pump, some bib shorts, some cycling shoe things with those clips on, and god knows what else. Erm, this could take me forever to even get down the end of the road and back at this rate! Oh well, it is fun………

Kilimanjaro, charitable donations, and blogging

It is a funny thing this blogging business. Before I started doing it I had no idea what to do (still haven’t really:)), but most of all it has been an absolute blast to do. It has also been hard work, and lots of late night effort, caused mainly by a busy life, and also an incredibly frustrating typing speed. As I look back now and reflect (and I do, daily, if not hourly still) on all that transpired over the last nine or so months since I first decided to do it, a lot of things have happened to me. Some of them are related to the mountain specifically, others have quite frankly nothing to do with it, and some are jumbled up right there in the middle. I am acutely aware that my trip has also influenced some things that other people have done, and that is scary in a way, but also nice, whenever positive.

Some examples of the above are the charitable donations that I received. Bowel Cancer UK has received almost £1,200 as a result of my blog, and I am bloody proud of that. I am going to keep my Justgiving page open until the summer, when I will close it by putting some money in myself – thank you enormously again to all of the kind people who donated. The majority of these were from people close to me, but some also from people I did not even know. How amazing is that! My blog has received something like 4,000 views since I started, which is staggering to me. I am delighted beyond compare with that, and also each and every one of the comments that I have had has touched me. I want to keep the blog itself going now, despite the fact that I have been remiss in recent weeks in doing so. I also am so grateful for people like Paul and Darina, who I do not know from Adam, but they found my blog apparently. They are doing Kili in September this year, and I got a lovely donation from them the other day, which was hugely appreciated. Good luck to them on their adventure – if you want to follow their blog it is linked below:


I have also been in touch with a mutual acquaintance from work who will be doing the mountain later this year. I wish John very well in his endeavours.

I miss so many things about the mountain, and I will not let it fade. I miss it, but won’t let it dominate – it is just what it is.

I have much to tell about bikes and the Three Peaks Challenge, but they can wait for another day.

Lala salama (or sleep well in Swahili).

The Three Peaks!

OK so there had to be some mountains come back into my life before long didn’t there? Now I know that the Three Peaks are not exactly the biggest mountains on this whole planet, but it is a great challenge, pretty hard work, and it will be a whole lot of fun. So what is this all about then I hear you say?

Well, whilst I was on the mountain, one of the people who I work with (she can remain anonymous for now, although actually her name is Kerry:)) decided to suggest a Three Peaks Challenge for the members of our company. I think she also nominated me as ‘expedition leader’ since a.) I have a penchant for the odd hill or two, b.) She probably figuredthat if I was up for Kilimanjaro then the perils of the mountains of England, Scotland and Wales wouldn’t daunt me too much, and c.) I wasn’t there at the time so couldn’t object.

So after a week or so of regaling tales of my adventures to people who asked me about my recent exploits, (and regaling also to plenty who neither asked nor probably cared), the subject of the Three Peaks was raised. I so want to do this, and so I grasped the nettle and got on with organising it accordingly. For those of you who don’t know much about it, here are some facts and stuff, which is in fact it is an extract from the note that I sent around the office:

A.)   The Three Peaks Walk takes in the three highest peaks in Scotland, England and Wales. These are Ben Nevis (1,344 metres or 4,409 feet), Sca Fell (978 metres or 3,209 feet) and Snowdon (1,085 metres or 3,560 feet). We will do the mountains in that order.

B.)    It should be pointed out that this is literally a walk, and that there is no climbing involved. The paths are however tough, and involve a mild scramble in places.

C.)    The tradition is to complete the challenge within 24 hours. This is no mean feat, as the driving distance alone between the mountains is some 450 miles.  It is non-stop, and unless you manage to grab a few hours sleep between Ben Nevis and Sca Fell in the bus, you will be very tired by the end of it all. We will also have to drive 480 miles to Fort William on the way there alone.

D.)   Normally, Ben Nevis is a 6-8 hour trek. Sca Fell is normally 5 hours, and Snowdon also 5 hours. In order to do this within the time however, we will need to do Ben Nevis in 5 hours, Sca Fell in 4 hours, and Snowdon in 3.5 hours. It is therefore important for you to know that you will be ‘pushed’ (though not literally!!), and that it is against the clock. It is by no means a race, but we are as slow as our slowest person, and some of us (me very much included) want to beat the deadline, and time will be tight regardless. The driving distance to Sca Fell from Ben Nevis is seven hours, and from Sca Fell to Snowdon is four hours. If we do everything to plan without a hiccup of any kind we have 30 minutes to spare!

E.)    You are going to have to be fairly fit, and have some reasonable walking gear (including good boots) and waterproof clothing, amongst other things. There can be bad weather on the mountains at any time of year, and this coupled with not being ‘ready’ can end in trouble. We don’t want to be calling out Mountain Rescue for anyone, so please don’t attempt this if you are not fully committed and prepared!

F.)  If you manage to do this you need to know that you will complete approximately 10,000 feet, or 3,000m of ascent, during one day, and you will also cover in that same day approximately 26 miles, or 42km, of walking, the same distance as a marathon. It is really not therefore for the faint hearted or unfit.

So there we have it – another new adventure! It looks also like we are set for early July, which is really fast approaching – I am just trying to sort out the logistics of minibuses, driver, guide, food, accommodation etc etc. It will be fantastic. Although each hill is not huge by any means, to do 3,000m of ascent in one day and 26 miles walking is no mean feat. I shall have to get fit again – I have certainly let myself slide somewhat over the last few weeks, and waiting for myself dithering over bike choices most certainly doesn’t help!

More very soon –  I am back in blog mood now, so this will get more regular again. Thanks to Sky for his biking advice last week, and so if any more of you out there are Three Peaks fans then let me know – any and all comments/advice are much appreciated. In particular I would love to know whether we should start Ben Nevis at noon or 5pm, and why!……….

Oh and finally some new news here for those of you who like the spirit of all things adventurous – as you will no doubt know I met six other wonderful people on that mountain, and I have been swapping photos with both Heather and Caroline of late, which is fantastic. It keeps everything more than hugely alive. I also invited Heather and Caroline (and also Ronan, Kamal, Tayma and Tamara if you are reading this, then you are now hereby invited too) to come and do the Three Peaks with me, but both have other commitments and so it cannot happen this time, which is a shame. However…..Heather has invited me to come over to New York next month (or did I invite myself, who knows:)), but anyway I am thrilled and delighted to be going there. Apparently it will also involve going to see ‘The Yankees’ or something like that – and here was me thinking that New York was full of them anyway;)

Until maybe tomorrow, who knows….