Tuesday, 15 April 2014

First proper training ride: Henley to Streatley Hill and back

With the tail end of Autumn being so rainy, the wet, flinty Oxfordshire lanes were not the sort of thing to which one would subject a vintage Raleigh Chopper. For this reason, my weekly ride was limited to a puncture punctuated trip to Pierrepont's, the cake shop at Goring, generally in weather resistant tweed atop a 1935 Rudge Whitworth lightweight sports cycle.

Happily, no matter what the whiners whine, this sort of meteorological discord can't last. With spring in the air and a light but chilly breeze, I took the Chopper out for its first spin at lunch time on 10 April. The climb out of Henley was relatively easy. By employing Messrs. Sturmey and Archer's first speed, even the hill up into Stoke Row presented me with little trouble. I did, however, notice that unlike a racing bicycle or even a 1935 Rudge Whitworth lightweight sports cycle, the Chopper did not allow me to maintain the the sort of speed I would expect having descended and then begun a new climb. It was as though, despite its considerable weight, the Chopper shed its momentum at the bottom of every slope.  

Despite this, through Woodcote, I was feeling optimistic about my ability to climb pretty much any hill in the area. The sunny weather and disposition of drivers and walkers encountered as I rode the Chopper certainly contributed to this. I whizzed gaily across the bridges over the Thames between Goring and Streatley and up to the traffic lights, red, at the bottom of Streatley Hill.

Green: off we go, then. Straight into Messrs. Sturmey and Archer's first speed and it'll be a relatively laborious but uncomplicated ascent, I thought. There is little in the way of landmarks to which I could refer but I know the hill well enough to know how I was doing. After only about a third of the climb that could be summarised as not very well. A combination of the gear ratio and the short cranks of the Chopper caused an onset of fatigue and pain the swiftness of which I hadn't anticipated. It seemed that in only a few seconds I had gone from a relatively sustainable grind to a desperate, staccato, stabbing leg drive that took the skin off my back side as I shoved the pedals down and myself against the Chopper's banana seat. Rather than wondering how painful it might be to finish the climb I now began to wonder if I could finish it at all. I remembered weight training and pushing through the pain until it was irrelevant, causing the muscle to simply fail despite all efforts. I could sense that this was a possible outcome here. If so, I would be aboard a Raleigh Chopper on a 20% gradient rolling backwards towards the A329.

This prospect caused a surge of urgency which, unfortunately, did not improve my ability to push the pedals around. Instead, I found that the front wheel of the Chopper bounced and skipped about. The fact that I was almost stationary between pedal strokes made this instability even worse and the passing cars didn't help. I remember a car pulling up alongside me and a voice saying "I can't believe you're doing this" but I don't remember anything else about the car or the person. I pushed on, leaning forward to try to prevent the front wheel skipping about. I was amazed that the Chopper seemed to be dealing with all this stress without incident. In order to lean forward enough to stop the wheel skipping I was putting all the force I could through the long slender handlebars in order to counter the force pushed down onto the pedals. I couldn't help visualising the handlebars wrenched free from the headset and flung up smack into my forehead, still in my hands, as I plummeted backwards down Streatley Hill into oncoming traffic.

The road at the top of Streatley Hill kicks up slightly, just in case you're feeling smug and think you're over the worst. There was not an ounce of smug in me and by the time I hit this final ramp I was in a blind panic. I mean that I couldn't see properly and I could taste what seemed to be blood in my mouth. Between a couple of the final pedal strokes I was actually stationary but managed not to fall over and finally, as the road levelled out, I rolled to a stop and slumped onto my swollen forearms.

I wheeled the Chopper into the car park at the top of the hill. A person who claimed to be the owner of the voice of encouragement offered to send me the picture below. I accepted. Because of the state I was in I neglected to ask him his name, though I did thank him for the picture.

Mont Ventoux is a bit bigger than Streatley Hill. The distance to the top is more than ten times longer than the ride up Streatley Hill. It's not as steep, though...

1 comment:

  1. But what was a Raleigh Chopper like going back down Streatley Hill?!...