100 mile bike ride

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What do I like about road cycling? Where on earth do I begin?

Cycling MedalsThere's something really nice about following in my father's footsteps - or, rather, cycle tracks...
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When people ask me what I like about road cycling, it can be hard to know where to start.

There is the wonderful feeling of freedom, to be powering your own journey – that feeling that you are the master (or mistress) of your own destiny. Provided your legs are strong enough, you can get to wherever you want to be under your own steam. That feeling of independence is priceless; how wonderful, to not be worried about the cost of petrol. How liberating, to be travelling by a mode of transport that you yourself can repair. Short of something going catastrophically wrong, with a well stocked saddlebag there is a good chance you can get yourself back on the road.

There is the exhilaration of what feels like flying as you soar down hills, grinning like a dog with its head stuck out of the window of a fast car, the exhilaration heightened by the effort it took to reach the top of the hill in the first place.

There is the strength your body develops: the honed muscles in your legs and the happiness you feel when you lie in bed, tensing your thighs, flexing your calves and seeing that definition. The satisfaction when you swing your bike over your shoulder without batting an eyelid to jog up a flight of steps. The lift that cycling gives to your derrière – no Spanx required here, thank you very much!

There is that incredible appetite you develop, and the insatiable hunger after a 100 mile ride, and the sweet satisfaction that you feel, knowing you have earned every mouthful of that post-adventure feast: never has a pizza tasted so good as when you have already burned 2,000 calories doing what you love.

And then there is the timelessness of it all. The agelessness. The lovely feeling of being out on your bike and seeing families riding together. Fathers teaching their small daughters to pedal solo. Old men, still out cycling together at the weekend, the way they’ve been doing for 50 years. Riding out with a cycling club whose members span generations, your cohorts on your Sunday morning ride ranging from 16 to 70. What a wonderful, inclusive activity cycling is. And, no matter how much lighter bottle cages may get or how much more sophisticated GPS devices and power meters become, the knowledge that really, very little has changed in the world of cycling.

After we completed our first century last year, the Prudential RideLondon event, my dad sent me his cycling medals. He earned them on the tough hills of Lancashire with the Clitheroe Clarion Cycling Club in the 1960s. Of course, his steel-framed steed was heavier than my carbon bike. He didn’t have a Garmin to track his speed and elevation. He didn’t have a cadence tracker, and he didn’t have the moisture-wicking, advanced sports apparel that cyclists have in 2016. But he experienced everything we did: the excitement, the camaraderie, the exhaustion, the aches and pains, the exhilaration – and the deep, deep satisfaction of completing that 100 mile challenge under his own steam.

That’s what I like about road cycling.

road cycling
There is nothing to rival the feeling of exhilaration, satisfaction and physical exhaustion at the end of a 100 mile ride. Apart from maybe the ice cold beer you are about to drink…
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The Prudential RideLondon – Surrey 100: 10 things we wish we’d known

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With around 25,000 participants and covering 100 miles, the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey sportive is a daunting prospect for many cyclists. This year we took part for the first time and we wanted to share our top tips for the event – and the things we wish we’d known beforehand.

The Ballot

When entering the ballot, be realistic but not pessimistic about the time you expect to finish in; we both overestimated by a long way (two hours!) which put us in much later starting groups. An earlier start will probably mean a faster ride with less congestion.

Disappointed that you didn’t get a place in the Prudential RideLondon ballot? Don’t worry – get a charity spot instead and raise money for a good cause. There are a huge number of charities with guaranteed places, all vying for cyclists to ride for them. They’ll typically ask you to raise a minimum of £500 – £750, which is pretty achievable for such a physical challenge!

100 miles is a long way. It makes a huge difference to flagging spirits and tired legs when the communities of Surrey turn out in droves to cheer you on.

Are you sitting comfortably?

On the run up to the Prudental RideLondon event, make sure you are completely comfortable on your bike. I was caught out with the wrong saddle which could have been rectified had I arranged a saddle mapping session in good time, but if you’re in the London area, these things book up fast ahead of such a major event. Be comfortable on your bike and don’t try anything new on the day!

If possible, stay locally the night before the event to reduce stress – it’s an early start! Local hotels – including the major chains – are really accommodating to cyclists. We stayed at the Radisson Blu New Providence Wharf and the staff couldn’t have been more helpful: a handwritten note in our room wished us luck, we were able to keep our bikes in the room with us, and an extra early breakfast was laid on to ensure riders had something to eat before setting off. Much easier than a long journey at an ungodly hour.

Remembering registration

You must register for Prudential RideLondon the day before the event, and we would recommend allowing plenty of time for this exercise. This year’s registration was at Excel – allow lots of time to get there, because it is vast. We wouldn’t want to be parking 15 minutes before registration closes – it might take you half an hour to reach the hall from the car park! (Also, parking is £15 – and that’s a flat rate. Ouch.)

Diversion due diligence

The morning of the ride, bear in mind that the closed roads make reaching Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park something of a challenge. We stayed locally the night before and cycled – if you do the same, ensure that you allow plenty of time to get there because you might not be able to take the most direct route depending on diversions. Reaching the park was a little bit more stressful than we had anticipated!

It’s a rare opportunity to experience Central London and the Surrey Hills free of traffic, in the company of other cyclists. Relax and enjoy it!

BFF finding

If you plan to ride Prudential RideLondon with a friend, be aware that you will most likely be allocated different start time and different zones. You can’t do anything about this, but don’t worry: provided you’re not setting off hours apart, it is easy to meet up just a few miles into the ride. We chose to meet just after St Paul’s church in Shadwell where it was easy to pull off the main road and wait.

It can be nerve wracking to set off ‘alone’ – or, at least, without your buddy. Don’t be afraid to make conversation with other cyclists in your wave – remember that everyone’s in the same boat and plenty of people are feeling nervous. A chat will calm your nerves! And don’t be afraid to ask for help from fellow riders –  and someone will help you, like the wonderful guys who helped me when my chain suddenly dropped off 90 seconds before my wave was due to depart…

Hub hubbub

The feed stations and hubs are fantastic and a great opportunity to replenish your water (and energy powder) supplies. We wished, though, that we had packed a greater variety of snacks in our pockets; Clif Bars are decent fuel but get very boring (not to mention dry) on such a long day.

Rather than telling our supporters to watch us from Kingston bridge, we wish we had realised that the hub at Hampton Court would have been the ideal spot with the opportunity to stop and say hello. Indeed, if you can meet someone at a hub, they can even supply a range of snacks – we envied the guy we saw tucking into a tupperware of pasta provided by a friend!

Elevation reconnaissance 

We live in Surrey and we thought we were fairly familiar with the route. However, Box Hill – though famous – is not the challenge on this course. We wished we’d done all the hills before the event so that we knew exactly what to expect. Newlands Corner is not the most well known hill on the course, but it’s a tough climb; try and have a go beforehand to familiarise yourself. (The descent does make it worthwhile, though. We promise.)

Rapturous reception

100 miles is a long way. It makes a huge difference to flagging spirits and tired legs when the communities of Surrey turn out in droves to cheer you on, so engage with them – a wave and a smile will let them know you appreciate their support, and will help keep your spirits up.

Post-ride fatigue

At the end of the ride, we wished we had arranged transport for our bikes, either back to Excel or even back home. We were very tired, I was very saddle sore, and the traffic was daunting after a day of riding closed roads. If you haven’t arranged transport, bear in mind that you can always get a cab to take you and your bike where you need to go – but it will be very busy and you might have a long wait…

The Prudential RideLondon is a day to remember

Finally, go with the flow! There might be hold ups along the way due to accidents, or overcrowding – don’t fret about your finishing time, just soak it all up. The Prudential RideLondon event is not a race – it’s a rare opportunity to experience Central London and the Surrey Hills free of traffic, in the company of other cyclists. Relax and enjoy it!

Prudential RideLondon