Brighton to Bristol

This Easter holiday I fulfilled a long held ambition to ride from Brighton to Bristol. It has always felt better to ride somewhere rather than just go in circles, but from Brighton the opportunity to ride out in one direction for the day are a little limited, with the sea to the south and London sprawling to the north, inevitably the armchair cyclotourist looks west. Just under 150 miles away, Bristol has always seemed a realistic objective for a days cycling and over the years I have spent many hours working out possible routes.

Bristol falls at the edge of a circle with radius of 150 miles from Brighton.

I think I was partly inspired by one of my Grandads stories of a cycling tour that he took to Wales. It was before the war, shortly after he had bought a new bike with its 3 gear Sturmey Archer hub, in fact the very bike he is riding in The Photograph. The route was planned and the date set but disaster struck the day before they were due to leave, he came down Bear Road and his wheel got caught in a tram line on the Lewes road. He fell and suffered  minor bruises and scuffs, but the rear wheel of his bike was badly buckled and needed to go to the bike shop. The plan was to leave for Wales in the morning so he went to find the friend from the cycle club he had sold his single speed racer to and borrowed it for the tour. After work the next day they rode to the New Forest and then on to Wales the following day. He often spoke about this trip, it was clearly one of the great formative adventures of his life.

A photograph of the Bottom of Bear Road in the 1930s, looking south along the Lewes Road towards the centre of Brighton. Tramlines clearly visible.

I cross this junction everyday on my way to and from work and often think of My Grandad riding around Wales on his single speed bike.

A modern version of the same view of the bottom of Bear road.

A modern version of the same view of the bottom of Bear road.

I set off early, with my new bike loaded up with food, water and a change of clothes for the 5 hour train journey back home. I put my old saddle on the new bike, feeling that this long suffering companion should be with me for one final adventure.

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Setting out, fully loaded.

There was a strong (17 mph) head wind all the way and by 50 miles in I realised I had completely misjudged the effort it was taking to ride into it. I was peddling just to go downhill at times and any schedule I had in my head was soon abandoned. I also realised that in my haste to swap saddles I had put the old one at a rather jaunty angle and my knees have not been the same since. The ride was a rather slow trudge through often flooded countryside. I found that as I got further west the fellow cyclists and drivers became friendlier.

Brighton to Bristol

I have been using MapMyRun on my phone to help simplify navigation and it has worked very well for me, allowing me to use my phone like a SatNav to help navigate some complex town centres and quieter, unsignposted routes.  It has worked out very well and allowed me to explore routes I would not have had the patience to navigate using a map.

My phone allowed me to navigate to the start of the Sustrans NCN Route 24 to Bath. For much of the way the route was straightforward to follow and on very quiet roads. It took me through Longleat safari park. By this stage I did not have the legs to outsprint any big game so I was glad not to actually be in the enclosures, but the scenary was dramatic and the road surface beautiful. The final 14 miles of this route is along the new Two Tunnels Greenway into Bath. This follows the route of an old Railway line and passes over viaducts and though two really long and dimly lit tunnels (1700m and 400m). It was the highlight of the trip.

From Bath I followed another (thankfully flat) old railway cycle path 17 miles into the centre of Bristol. I was very impressed with Bristol as a city to cycle in but was glad to be on my train back home. I had ridden 162 miles, it had taken about 13 hours, my longest ever day on the bike.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Spring!

Spring has sprung the grass is riz………

It was a long, crappy, wet winter and for much of it I found it easy to stay at home in the warm and there was not much to write about here. Since the weather improved I have been out on the bike quite a bit so here is a brief roundup of the events of the last couple of months pertaining to bikes and so on.

My asthma never felt quite under control this winter but I have been given a new inhaler that has been brilliant. I give all the credit to the inhaler for some new quicker times I recorded on long hard climbs.

My long suffering Giant creaked precariously all winter and has been demanding the replacement of nearly all of the moving parts. In the end I replaced the frame too and built up a new Kinesis T2 aluminium road bike.

I have had the new bike for not quite a month but have done some long rides, clocking up about 500 miles. I am quite happy with it. It is starting to feel like my bike. These rides have included my first Audax and a 160 mile ride from Brighton to Bristol. I plan to post an account of both soon.

Despite riding further than I ever have before and being in many ways in better shape than ever, the trip to Bristol left me sore, exhausted and with an even greater respect for what my Grandad achieved. He rode further, faster and with more basic equipment. I made some decisions about my 194 mile attempt during the ride to Bristol, during which I battled a head wind all the way and tiny niggles with the bike set up caused all manner of aches and pains;

1) I need to find a flat course and ride on a day with little wind

2) I have decided the saddle, pedals and shoes are allowed to be modern – the ride will be hard enough without a pair of badly fitting vintage cycling shoes or uncomfortable saddle adding to the difficulty. Given time and money I have no doubt I could find a combination of vintage saddle, pedals and shoes that work as well as the modern equivalents I use daily but it would be a long, expensive, uncomfortable and unrewarding process.

3) I need a more structured training plan

 

 

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Frank Southall

Southall on Hercules

Frank Southall, pictured in the 1935 Hercules catalogue.

Frank Southall is a name that keeps cropping up as I read about cycling in the 1930’s. He first came to my attention though the 1935 Hercules catalogue where he is pictured riding a Hercules with Resilion Brakes, similar to my Grandfathers. I don’t pretend to be an expert on Frank Southall just interested, what I have written here is cribbed from people far better informed than myself. I have linked to the sources I have used.

Frank Southall doing a “dead turn” on a 12.5 mile there-and-back time trial course.

Southall had enjoyed a highly successful amateur career, riding for Norwood Paragon. He set numerous records including the world amateur hour record (26 miles and 838 yards) in June 1926 at the Herne Hill Velodrome and the Road Records Association London to Brighton and Back (4h53m20s) in July 1927.

His growing dominance through the late 1920s made him an obvious choice for the Olympic team in 1928 and again in 1932.

1932 Olympic Team after winning Bronze in the Team Pursuit. From left, Charlie Holland, Frank Southall, Bill Harvel and E Johnson.

The 1928 Olympic road race was a 165km time trial, a discipline considered to suit a British rider, as massed start road racing was banned in Britain at the time. There was some controversy about the result with the British and Italian teams suggesting that the winner Henry Hansen had taken a short cut. In the News Chronicle Bill Mills Wrote

Henry Hansen, Gold Medallist in 1928 Amsterdam Olympics

The British team sent over for the 1928 Games at Amsterdam was probably the best that ever left our shores. It included the great Frank Southall, unbeatable in time-trials on the road… Our best chance was in the road race, a 165km (102½ miles) time-trial, and a sensation was caused when Southall was beaten into second place by the Dane, Harry Hansen, who took 4h 47m 17s against Southall’s 4h 55m 6s. British officials lodged a protest, alleging that Hansen had not covered the full course, but it was proved that he had and the result stood. (wikipedia)

Through the 1920s and early 1930s Southall continued to win races and set records, by 1933 he held the record for 25 miles, 50 miles, 100 miles Solo and 30, 50 and 100 miles on a Tandem. He was tantalisingly close to going under an hour for a 25 mile time trial, something that had never been achieved on the road.

In 1932 “Cycling” magazine created the “Golden Book of Cycling“, a rather kitsch illuminated manuscript of the great and good of cycling. The first page of the book was dedicated to Frank Southall, recording his record 12 hour distance at 236 miles (rather further than Ernie and a record that I am not about to attempt!).

At this time there were strict rules governing sponsorship of amateur riders. So it was difficult for riders to make money from their success or even get help with to cover their costs but Southall was enough of a household name that in 1933 Pathe recorded a short film about him which you can see here:

In 1934 Southall became a professional rider for Hercules. There were no professional road races at this time so he had to concentrate on setting place to place records as a promotional exercise for Hercules. In the Hercules catalogue they make much of these records.

Frank Southall 2

Southall 3

In 1937 Southall Competed in the Wembley six day race, a track event where riders attempt to complete the most laps in six day. Unfortunately he crashed and did not complete the race.

Hercules tried to cash in on Southall’s success by marketing a range of Southall branded bicycles. Southall himself went on to manage the careers of other Hercules riders, Ken Joy and Eileen Sheriden and went on to manage the Hercules Professional Team that in 1955 supplied many of the riders in the first British team to ride in the Tour de France.

Frank Southall died on Hayling Island in 1964 aged 59. I can’t find an obituary for him in the national newspaper archives so it seems that just 30 years after being so dominant he was largely forgotten by the public.

I think of Frank Southall as a local lad, his long standing record for London to Brighton and Back is a link to the roads I ride on. Pictured riding in the same time trialists uniform of alpaca jacket and black tights as my Grandfather, Frank Southall represents the pinnacle of the kind of competition that my Grandad rode in.

I find his cycling career fascinating, not least because it illustrates the strange cul-de-sac that British competitive cycling had gone down, where as an amateur you could only race in time trials and as a professional there was no one to race against.

Above all I think I am just a sucker for the 80 year old marketing spin of the Hercules Catalogue. What he did on the most basic of bikes seems all the more impressive and unachievable with the passage of time.

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Week 18 – Lauterwasser Sunrise

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Sunrise over the new Falmer Road cycle patth

Thanks to Strudwicks I started the week with some new handlebars. They are Lauterwasser bars, a design common through the 30’s. They have a shorter drop and are narrower than modern handlebars but sweep forward much further.  They look quite extraordinarily futuristic and I find myself stopping to stare at them as I pass the bike in the hall.

They are nicer to ride with than the 1950s “W” shaped bars that were on the bike when I bought it because they give a wider range of hand positions. With your hands on the grips you have good control over the bike, you sit quite upright and the brakes are within easy reach, a little further forward and you can loop your fingers around the brake and you have a little extra leverage to honk up a steep hill but everything changes with your hands on the curved part, here they feel very different, with your hands so far forward your body takes on a flatter, more aerodynamic reminiscent of a modern time trial bike.  I don’t suppose it makes much difference, but it certainly feels faster.

I’ve always been a little dubious that the aluminium handlebars on My Bike are original. When I carefully removed the “John Bull Club Grips” I found the makers name “Stratalite” stamped on them, matching the Strata stem. They are certainly post war, but I think it likely they were a replacement, perhaps when the bike was repainted. I was never able to clamp the bars firmly before but I can get the stem nice a tight on the new bars and this has allowed me to try out a couple of hills on my way to work.

I can just about make it up the Falmer road on the new cycle path, built following a petition to Brighton council. It is nearly a mile long 4% slog that provides an important link between the coast and the university. It is a really smart bit of cycling infrastructure that is already getting a modest amount of use.  First thing in the morning, with the sun rising over the downs the view is beautiful, much nicer than the dangerous road route that it now replaces. It is a serious hill and has opened my eyes to the possibility that on the single speed I need not entirely restrict myself to the flattest routes.

This week though, the real revelation has been the bike on the descent, until now I have only ridden it on the flat but on the descent into work I have discovered the long wheelbase and trail make it very stable at high speed with none of the disconcerting high speed wobble that I have experienced to some extent on all of my bikes. It seems to soar smoothly around the bends.

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Week 17 – The first proper ride on my old bike

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A thing of torture

This week I had day off work. The weather was good and I headed out to Chichester on My (old) Bike. At about 80 miles this was the first proper ride we took together. The bike was surprisingly comfortable for a first outing, I have changed the enormous sprung seat and “hangmans gallows seatpost” which look super but was so wide and soft that you actually sit on it with your bottom like a sofa. That sounds comfortable, but for anything other than a trip to the shop, it would be a thing of torture. I am currently riding on an ugly plastic saddle which I will replace with a more suitable leather racing saddle. After making a few adjustments to the height of the saddle the riding position was quite comfortable and I had no complaints from my knees or back.

I found the bike quite nippy and whistled back with a tailwind from Chichester (37 miles) in 2½ hours.  It took a little longer in the other way but I’m not sure as I lost the GPS signal. I have one gear, a 48 tooth chainring with an 18 tooth rear sprocket giving a 75″ gear ratio. On the flat, this is just about right.

old bike to chichester

The geometry is quite different to a modern bike; the bottom bracket is lower, the wheelbase longer, the seat and head angles are much more “relaxed” and the fork blade curves forward much further. The steering is very light but the longer wheelbase means it feels a little like you steer the front wheel and the back wheel is follows along behind in a trailer. If I was riding in a group or track race this sluggishness might be a problem but on the road it makes for a very stable ride.  The development of the modern road bike geometry is explained very clearly here on Dave Moulton’s blog. On my bike the head angle is 65°, the fork “rake” (how far the fork bends forwards) is about 3½” (90mm). This combination gives a  “trail” of about 2½” (60mm). The wheelbase is about 43″ (1090mm).

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One advantage of the curved forks is that they absorb much of the vibration from uneven road surfaces. The steering was very comfortable on some very uneven cycle paths which makes sense as it was built for much rougher roads than we have today. The frame is very stiff, by far the stiffest bike I have ever owned. Generally I can feel the frame flex as I ride out of the saddle in too big a gear, but with this bike it feels completely solid, even pulling away uphill. More than once I had to remind myself that I was on an 80 year old machine and not to ride it like the hardtail mountain bike with front suspension that it feels like.

Week 17 Statistics

Total distance: 140 miles

Longest Ride: 80 miles (approx)

5 laps of the track (on the old bike): 4.54

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Getting all Inspector Morse in Chichester Cathedral.

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News from the Veteran Cycle Club

Back in August I wrote to the VCC marque enthusiast for Hercules bikes to ask if he thought my Grandads bike could be a Hercules. I believe it might be a Hercules as in my grandfathers papers I found a very early Sturmey Archer catalogue, contemporary to The Photograph in which my grandad has written “Hercules bike” by the details of the AW hub. (link to the complete leaflet)

Sturmey Archer Front Cover

Last week I got a very helpful reply. The Marque Enthusiast  pointed out the shape of the fork crown,  head badge and chainrings were consistent with a higher specification Hercules. Something like a model “O” racer or a Harlequin.

Hercules Gents' Racer 'O/B'
A number of Hercules catalogues are available online through private collections such as the Online Hercules Museum,  the fat tire trading blog, the wonderful threespeedhub blog and the VCC library, which is easily worth the £20 club membership, holds many more copies.

A couple of these catalogues from 1935 and 1938 are very elaborate booklets which have full page, full colour plates showing the bikes in some scenario illustrating a healthy outdoor life. These pages are interspersed with. “humorous” or informative articles about cycling. These elaborate catalogues are odd when you consider that Hercules were mass producing cheap bikes at the end of the depression but they make fascinating reading.

O Racer

None of the Hercules pictured in the catalogues quite match the specification of My Grandads bike, in particular few have the Resilion brakes that are clearly visible in The Photograph. I do not think this is strange, none of my bikes have the catalogue specification because parts have broken, worn out or been upgraded, my Grandad would certainly have worked on his bike and the Resilion brakes,  with their reputation for safety and complexity would have been a coveted upgrade.

“Fit a cantilever/Live life’s allotted span/Stop just where you want to/And not just when you can …” – An advert for Resilion Brakes in Cycling 14th September 1934

I will finish with an account of “Cycling the other side of the Channel” from the 1935 Hercules Catalogue.

Cycling the other side of the channel

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Week 14 & 15 bumper round up.

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I find this time of year the most rewarding to cycle to work. I see the sun rise on my way to work and sunset on my way home. The view from the racehill is usually spectacular. I took this picture one morning last week when the valleys were filled with mist but on the top of the hill was a beautiful clear crisp morning. This is short lived though and soon we will be in the dark days of November, I bought new winter gloves this week in preparation.

My plan is to do shorter, faster rides over the winter and build up some strength in my legs and leave the longer rides until next summer. After the sportive I was full of good intentions to do some interval training, which I read somewhere was the proper way to ride. It seems to mean going as fast as you can for a bit and then resting and then doing it over again and again, so I gave it a go. First sprint up the school drive on the way home, the gears felt like they needed adjusting. Second sprint up a steep little hill, the chain didn’t seem to be very happy. Third sprint on the flat, in top gear, giving it everything the chain popped off the top chainring and I went flying, I wasn’t badly hurt but I grazed my knee, elbow and pride. This is not the first time I have crashed after a dropped chain, both times I had warning signs that I ignored and I write this now as a reminder not to let it happen again. Unlike last time, after cleaning up the graze I put Savlon on it and it has healed much quicker. I couldn’t really ride for a couple of days after that and the longest ride I did was a 14 mile round trip along the undercliffe to Saltdean on the Ute to pick up a new Hoover. Here is the Ute in action on a sunnier day thanks to my Dad.

This weekend I had a plan to ride west out to Chichester and beyond. With heavy rain forecast for midday I set off early. The ride to Chichester was my first long bike ride. I was 16 and it was the Summer holidays after my GCSE exams.

Pimple in Shoreham

Pimple in Shoreham

I packed 500 ml of water, a cheese and pickle sandwich and a £2.50 I set off. I also had a spanner with me, as every 5 miles or so the crank would work itself loose and need to be tightened up. It was a blistering hot day and I was soon stopping regularly at farms and pubs and anywhere that would fill up my tiny bottle of water. Unsurprisingly After eating my sandwich at about ten o’clock I was starving by the time I got home about 5 o’clock. Now when I ride along the seafront by Shoreham harbour I remember the ignomy of having to push my bike the only slight incline on an otherwise completely flat road.

This time my adventure was nearly as misguided, this time snotty, wet and frustrating rather than sunny. Generally I avoid riding west from Brighton, it is very flat and it should be perfect cycling country but in fact it is a terrible mess of roads that go nowhere. I dimly recall my Grandad saying his 12 hour ride was out that way, which would make sense as the rider in The Photograph next to him is on a single speed. I imagine 12 hours ridden on a single speed would have to be somewhere quite flat. I had planned to follow the south coast cycle route but I left so early it was actually too dark to see the signposts and it turns out Ferring has no lamposts. I used the cyclestreets app on my phone which is ok but I struggled to follow it around the one way system of Littlehampton, eventually I just followed the smell to find the river. I got to Chichester later than I expected and with the battery fading on my phone I thought I could remember the way back but I was wrong, with many detours turning what was supposed to be about 70 miles into a 88 mile trip, the last hours in really heavy rain. If the weather forecast for next Sunday is good I intend to do the whole thing over again to attend a Veteran Cycle Club ride in Portsmouth.

Lost in Space

Lost in Space

Week 14

Estimated Mileage: 64 miles

Longest ride: 14 miles (on the Ute)

Week 15

Estimated Mileage: 148 miles

Longest ride: 88 miles (in the rain)

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