With only one day left in England, I headed north to Huntingdonshire, for some work-related meetings. Storm clouds were threatening as I drove the A1(M). I hoped they wouldn’t interfere with my plans for the evening, namely a bike ride with Brian Goldsmith, author of The Pedalling Pensioner blog. When I informed Brian that I would be visiting the UK, he kindly offered to make the 45-minute drive from his home in Milton Keynes to RAF Alconbury, near Huntingdon, so we could go for a ride. Brian deduced that I would probably not have a bike in my possession, and kindly offered to loan me one of his. He configured the pedals to conform with my style of cleat and even adjusted the seat for my height. I was really looking forward to meeting Brian, who writes a fantastic blog and with whom I have corresponded over the past several months. The last thing I needed at this point was rain.
It then proceeded to rain. Then it stopped. Then it rained again and the wind picked up. I had resolved to go on this ride regardless of the weather, so long as Brian was up for it. During the second rain storm, I inadvertently slammed my car door on my camera and severely damaged it.
I was in an ill humor.
Eventually, the rain stopped and I managed to get my blood pressure down to normal. I was very pleased to see Brian waiting for me at the base’s main gate at our appointed time. He pulled out his bikes and I was immediately impressed. His “back up bike” was a Specialized Allez – hardly a commuter clunker – and his primary bike was a Felt F3, complete with carbon frame. I was very honored that Brian was going to trust me (a complete stranger) with his Allez. It was like saying, “Please feel free to drive my back up car. It’s a Camaro. I’ll be in my main vehicle, the Aston Martin.”
It was a very nice gesture, is what I am trying to say.
Immediately, we had our first problem. My cleats didn’t fit his pedals. Brian had asked me if I had Look Keo pedals and I foolishly said yes, thinking that is precisely what my Look pedals were. In fact, there are minute differences between these two pedals (only about 2-3 millimeters) that kept me from clipping in. Then Brian saved the day again. He had an extra pair of cleats, only one size smaller than my own. The guy had thought of everything!
After exchanging a few pleasantries, we were off. We sailed down a hill and came to an immediate rise that required shifting. It was at this point that I realized I didn’t know how to shift the gears of the Allez. They were a form of brake/shift lever (or “brifter“) that I hadn’t seen before. We pulled into a side street and Brian gave me a quick class. Feeling more than slightly inadequate, we once again took off.
After a short pedal on a somewhat busy road, we entered a roundabout – an exhilarating experience which I hadn’t partook of on a bike for 13 years. We crossed over the motorway and quickly found ourselves in farm country, heading into a steady 20 mph wind. At this point, many things flashed through my mind:
- Brian was a very strong rider.
- It was really cool riding on country roads I had last seen in a car 13 years ago.
- The wind was going to kill me.
We rode side-by-side, making conversation easy. We talked of Brian’s racing, my recent century and our personal histories. We talked about the wind a great deal. I mentioned that in the States (on much wider roads) we would be required to move into single file should a car come upon us. Brian assured me that wouldn’t be necessary here, provided the car had room to pass. Fascinating.
At Mile 18, we heaved into the village of Oundle, where Brian mercifully stopped for a look about and a drink. Oundle is a very handsome village made mostly of stone. A sign at the edge of town informed us it was established in 932, or about eight and a half centuries before my country was founded. People would live here for over 500 years before they were informed the Earth was not flat, a notion which kind of put a perspective on things for me.
As we were about to set off for the return trip, Brian offered to let me ride the Felt. “Really?” I asked. “Sure,” said Brian. “You can see how carbon feels.”
I was about to drive the Aston Martin. Awesome.
As we were leaving, Brian suddenly remembered my difficulties with the shifters on the Allez and turned to make sure I could make the Felt’s function correctly. Fortunately, these shifters were identical to my Trek’s, so it was quite easy for me. The Felt was also a double crank, like my Trek, which made my shifting decisions more natural for me. With my very first pedal stroke, I could feel the difference in weight as the bike practically lept forward. It was a great machine.
And thank God for all of that because those 18 miles against the wind had taken a lot of me. With each hill we encountered, Brian would ascend with his typical ease and I would increasingly labor. To pass the time, I made an ever-increasing list of excuses as to why this was so hard for me: jet lag, unfamiliar bike, unfamiliar shoes, improperly adjusted seat height, etc… Anything to avoid the obvious conclusion that I was simply outclassed by my gracious host. Brian laughed and helped me with my list. That’s a good chap.
The wind was now at our backs and our pace increased significantly. On the flats, we were zipping along at 20 mph, side by side. A short while after resuming our trip, we pedaled into the village of Barnwell and Brian’s trained eye spied a pub with outdoor seating. We immediately took advantage. I was very pleased to learn the pub had Scrumpy cider, an old favorite of mine from my military tour in England. I had been looking for Scrumpy without success in Amesbury and London and I finally came across it here, in Northamptonshire. Brian chose a far more sensible tonic water and we sat on a bench and enjoyed our beverages. I wondered what a pint of cider, 6% alcohol by volume, would do to my performance. I’d find out soon enough, I figured, but I wasn’t going to be denied possibly the last pint of Scrumpy I would ever taste, simply because I might vomit it back up a few miles down the road.
With the sun setting and the light beginning to fade, we set out for home with about 15 miles to go. I am happy to report I suffered no ill effects from my Scrumpy, which remained properly stowed in my stomach. We continued to make a very good pace with the wind at our backs, but the hills exposed my lack of conditioning and Brian would patiently spin his wheels at the top of each rise, waiting for me.
How much more was I suffering than Brian? Well, as luck would have it, we both have Garmin GPS systems and Brian posted his data (you can find mine by clicking on the map at the beginning of this post). A quick review confirms what I knew to be true by simply watching: Brian’s average heart rate was a mere 126 bpm, or 68% of his max. On average, he was in Heart Zone 2, which is where you sit when you are passing a lovely day on a leisurely ride. Me? My average was 154 bpm, 83% of my max, and well into Zone 4, which is where you sit when you are working very hard, but not quite so hard that you will throw up your Scrumpy. In order to move my rather more substantial frame, my body burned almost twice as many calories as Brian’s. Small comfort, that.
Our ride concluded at RAF Alconbury’s main gate with the sun almost ready to set. It was a fantastic experience for me on many levels and I am in Brian’s debt for making it happen. He was a great host and a great riding companion and it was a pleasure to meet the author of a very entertaining blog. I encourage all you Britishers to seek him out for a great ride in the Midlands.
But be warned, the dude can haul arse!