The neurological problems suffered by my former riding partner and ‘stoker’ (the rider sitting at the back of a tandem) was such that he could no longer feel for the pulse in his young patients using his right hand. Fear of losing the same capability in his left hand meant he was not prepared to make a second attempt at the Lands End to John O’Groats (LEJOG) tandem record. I decided that whilst I hunt for a new stoker I needed an interim challenge. At 840 miles, London Edinburgh London (28th July – 2nd August) seemed the ideal stop gap. Best of all, with five days to complete the ride, there will be time for sleep, otherwise denied to us on the tandem record attempt. Sheer stupidity and a love of all things simple meant the obvious choice of bike for this challenge is my trusty custom built single speed.
London Edinburgh London is an Audax ride held every four years. Following mostly the same route there and back it tracks up the East Coast of Britain. An Audax is not a race. It’s more a test of reliability. You have to ride the distance within a certain period of time neither going too fast nor too slow. Every few hours there is a control which thankfully means getting off your bike and getting a card stamped.
I’d like to draw upon my vast experience of riding such events, but I can’t because this will be my first Audax. 13 years ago I hatched the idea of setting myself awesome and quite frankly ridiculous challenges. My first triathlon was an Ironman distance event. My first bike race the epic 525km Race Across the Alps climbing some 13,500 metres of Alpine pass in one non-stop ride. My first mountain bike event was the Transpyr, the length of the Pyrenees, off-road which I completed on a single speed mountain bike climbing the 24,500 metres of mountains along the way. My first tandem ride was an attempt on the LEJOG tandem record. It made perfect sense then that this should be my first Audax.
I’m slowly getting a sense of what this will be all about. The stereotypical view I had of the beard ridden, steel steed, faded jersey mile muncher, happy to drift along at snail’s pace audax rider, has been replaced by the sense of a very laid back tolerant group of exceptionally capable cyclists whose only gripe is riders ill equipped to look after themselves properly when things go wrong. I’m finding myself slowly sliding into their way of doing things with surprising pleasure. I used to abhor oversized saddle bags but now I am enjoying the luxury of a little space to store abandoned layers having started riding at sub zero temperatures in the morning and the temperature having risen to 11 or 12 degrees at midday. I’ve even swapped my 23c super lightweight racing tyres for some oh-so-comfortable 28c tyres.
But I don’t plan on making a meal of this. 5 days may be the time allowed, but having ridden LEJOG in 2.5 days which is roughly the same distance I’ll stop for a kip or too but basically it’s about keep on rolling along. In honesty, I have to do it in less – my wife has booked a holiday which means there is not much margin for error and riding to Heathrow is not an option.
The training commenced last October. Since then, up until the end of March, I’ve completed nearly 500 hours of training. If we are going somewhere for the weekend, I’ll ride there whilst the family go in the car. I’m up at 5am and on the road by 5:30 putting the hours in. Some rides are hill reps, others are intervals and some are longer, slower rides. I’m slowly working my way around the South of England in ever increasingly long rides that loop around the countryside.
The hard work has only just started. Reading the blogs, I’m a bit behind with the distances I am riding. It’s time to step up to 400km to 600km rides. This will include riding through the night, something I’ve done a lot off before but riding at 3am never gets any easier. On the tandem we used to play children’s games like “I went to the supermarket and I bought…” or sing songs, anything to keep us going until dawn came. On your own it’s harder. I know I am losing it when I can’t do my four times table. The choice however is simple. Either I suffer in training or I suffer even more in the event. The confidence that comes from surviving a night on the road cannot be underestimated.
Almost all of my rides are filled with doubt about whether I can do it or not on my single speed. With just one gear it’s almost always going to be the wrong one. At the same time it’s always the right gear – because it’s the only one I’ve got. My bike is getting slowly heavier as I add more kit to make such a long ride possible. The addition of a dynamo hub that runs the lights and charges the GPS and my phone came first. Then the larger saddle bag – a traditional cotton duck affair that holds the spare layers, copies of the maps, spares and bike tools, and finally I have attached some mudguards. My bike has gone from being a Porsche to a Mondeo estate.
Why do it?
Why do it? There is something beyond description about completing an event like this. There are fantastic highs and desperate lows. Above all, there is an inner sense of contentment and confidence that comes from having pushed yourself further than you thought possible and finding out there’s still more to come.
By Dom Irvine